MP 18

The MP 18.1 manufactured by Theodor Bergmann Abteilung Waffenbau was the first practical submachine gun used in combat. It was introduced into service in 1918 by the German Army during World War I as the primary weapon of the Sturmtruppen, assault groups specialized in trench combat. Although MP18 production ended in the 1920s, its design formed the basis of most submachine guns manufactured between 1920 and 1960.

The firepower of this new class of weapons made such an impression on the Allies that the Treaty of Versailles specifically banned further study and manufacture of such light automatic firearms by Germany.

MP 18
Class Manportable
Type Machine Guns
Manufacturer Theodor Bergmann
Origin Germany
Country Name Origin Year
Germany 1918
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Germany 1918 1945 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Theodor Bergmann View

What became known as the "submachine guns" had its genesis in the early 20th Century and developed around the concepts of infiltration and fire and movement, specifically for the task of clearing trenches of enemy soldiers, an environment within which engagements were unlikely to occur beyond a range of a few feet.

In 1915, the German Rifle Testing Commission at Spandau decided to develop a new weapon for trench warfare. An attempt to modify existing semi-automatic pistols, specifically the Luger and C96 Mauser failed, as accurate aimed fire in full automatic mode was impossible due to their light weight and high rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The Commission determined that a completely new kind of weapon was needed. Hugo Schmeisser, working for the Bergmann Waffenfabrik was part of a team composed of Theodor Bergmann and a few other technicians. They designed a new type of weapon to fulfill the requirements, which was designated the Maschinenpistole 18/I. It is not clear what the "I" designation is intended to indicate, although its successor, the MP28, was designated the Maschinenpistole 28/II.

Full-scale production did not begin until early 1918. Though technically not the world's first submachine gun, being beaten by the double-barreled Italian Villar-Perosa of 1915, in modern usage of the term the MP 18 is considered the world's first submachine gun since the Villar Perosa had been designed to be used as a light machine gun on aircraft before it was adapted to infantry use as a single-barreled shoulder-fired weapon in late 1918.

The MP 18 primarily served in final stages of World War I in 1918, especially in the so-called Kaiserschlacht offensive. At least 5,000 MP 18.1s were built and used during World War I, based upon observed serial number ranges of captured weapons; however, it is possible that up to 10,000 were built for the war. Though production was outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles, manufacture continued in secret into the early 1920s, as the final production total (again, based upon observed serial numbers) ended at around 35,000.

The MP 18 proved to be an excellent weapon. Its concept was well-proven in trench fighting. The basic design directly influenced later submachine gun designs and showed its superiority over the regular infantry rifle in urban, mobile, and guerrilla warfare. The MP 18 served with German police and paramilitary forces after the end of the war. It was widely used in combat by the Freikorps Von Epp against the Spartacus League in Bavaria and by other Freikorps in Berlin, where its efficiency in urban combat was demonstrated. Since the Treaty of Versailles prohibited the use and manufacture of pistols with a barrel over four inches (102 mm) and/or a magazine capacity over eight rounds, all Trommel Magazines TM 08 were destroyed.

All the limited conflicts between 1920 and 1940 saw an increasing use of this new class of weapons, first in South America during the Chaco War, then in Europe during the Spanish Civil War, and in China during the Japanese invasion, where its use by well-trained Chinese troops was costly for the invaders as in the Battle of Shanghai, where fierce street fights prefigured World War II urban combat of Stalingrad, Warsaw, Vienna and Berlin.

Since the treaty allowed the Weimar Republic to keep a small quantity of submachine guns for police use, a few hundred MP 18.1s were modified to accept Schmeisser's original 20-round magazine design. This modification, conducted by Haenel Waffenfabrik, required removal of the existing magazine well collar, and replacement with a different one. These weapons were overstamped with the date "1920" on the receiver and magazine well to show they were legitimate weapons owned by the Weimar Republic and not war bringbacks or clandestine weapons.

Bergmann sold the license of the MP 18. 1 to SIG Switzerland; the Swiss made model was known as SIG Bergmann 1920. It existed in .30 Luger, 9mm Parabellum and 7.63 mm Mauser. The Bergmann MP 18.1 represents a milestone both in terms of armament technology and warfare tactics. It opened the way for a whole new class of weapons and triggered the research for lighter automatic firearms to be used by mobile troops. Its first direct competitors did not see service in World War I, but most of them saw use in all the limited conflicts taking place in the inter-war period.

Type Submachine gun
Place of origin German Empire
Service history
In service 1918–1945 (Germany)
Wars World War I
Second Sino-Japanese War
Chaco War
Chinese Civil War
World War II
Spanish Civil War
Production history
Designer Hugo Schmeisser
Designed 1916
Manufacturer Bergmann Waffenfabrik
Qingdao Iron Works
Produced 1918–1920s
Specifications
Weight 4.18 kg (9.2 lb)
Length 832 mm (32.8 in)
Barrel length 200 mm (7.9 in)
Cartridge 9×19mm Parabellum
7.63×25mm Mauser
Action open bolt blowback
Rate of fire ~500 round/min
Muzzle velocity 380 m/s (1,247 ft/s)
Feed system 32-round detachable drum magazine TM 08 (World War I); 20-, 30- and 50-round detachable box magazine (post-World War I)

End notes