When World War I started, the men fighting it were armed with bolt-action rifles and machine guns that weighed tens of pounds. The need for a lighter, faster firing weapon became obvious. This need developed into two categories: The first was the automatic rifle; and the second was the submachine gun. Both sides got submachine guns on the field before the end of the war. However, along the way, the world witnessed the creation of the machine pistol.

Steyr gets credit for producing the first machine pistol. The Steyr M1912/P16 was a 9mm, single-stack service pistol with a fixed magazine loaded with stripper clips; admittedly an odd weapon. The magazine was still fixed but now contained 16 rounds and could be fitted with a shoulder stock to improve control. With a firing rate of 1,000 RPM, it most certainly needed a stock.

(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Steyr never saw serious use and less than a thousand were produced. In the 1920s, the Mauser C96 became a machine pistol when Spanish gunmakers did their magic. In the 1930s, Mauser produced its own model, the Model 712, with a detachable 20-round mag and stock. Since then, machine pistols have come and gone with the times.


Machine Pistol vs. Submachine Guns

Submachine guns are typically defined as select-fire weapons that utilize a pistol caliber. So, in some ways, machine pistols could be considered a subset of submachine guns. They offer selective-fire capabilities alongside the utilization of a pistol caliber. The line between machine pistol and SMG is a fine one and it can be debated.

Sometimes it’s evident which is which. For example, a Glock 18 is a machine pistol and an MP5 is a submachine gun. The differences are clear, but where does the line get drawn? The deciding factor shouldn’t be the barrel’s length because guns like the APC9K have incredibly short barrels. Additionally, it shouldn’t be the addition of a stock, because guns like the Beretta 93R can be fitted with a stock.

machine pistol
(Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately I make the distinction in several ways. First, what’s the overall size of the weapon? A machine pistol should be somewhat easy to conceal with normal clothing. Second, I also believe that machine pistols should have their magazines located in the pistol grip and could be fired without a stock in semi-auto with relative ease.

Some guns like the Uzi use the pistol grip method but are still full-sized SMGs. However, the Micro Uzi fits the description of a machine pistol. This is just a rule of thumb, and it’s certainly debatable, but guns like the 9mm and 380 MAC series, the Micro Uzi, the Glock 18, Beretta 93R all fit this description. However, when I look at a gun like the Vz 61 Skorpion, I still classify it as a machine pistol.


Problems With the Concept

Machine pistols are incredibly difficult to control in full-auto fire. Their small size and high fire rate make them very difficult to handle. They are so small that short bursts of full-auto fire will quickly have you sending rounds into the air. The addition of a stock helps, but that takes away their ability to be concealed.

machine pistol
(Courtesy Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Nevertheless, designs like the Vz 61 figured it out somewhat. They mixed a top folding stock, controllable firing rate, and a mouse gun caliber to make the weapon easy to control. In general, a compact SMG is easier to control than any machine pistol and can be easily outfitted with accessories like optics, suppressors, large magazines, and lights.


What’s the Perfect Role for a Machine Pistol?

Machine pistols might be the most niche weapon ever created — more niche than the standard SMG or a shotgun. The machine pistol can work in specific roles, but oftentimes a compact SMG might still be a better choice.

Machine pistols work well for plainclothes VIP protection where they can be used in semi-auto for the majority of the time and turned to full auto to offer Personal Security Detachment (PSD) teams a short burst of automatic fire to establish fire superiority as they secure the principal and bug out.

Machine pistols are still pistols, so they do offer semi-auto fire with just that one additional option. They work well and are easy to use from vehicles. Again, this makes them okay for VIP protection. For extreme close quarters, they can do well, too. I’m not talking normal room-to-room combat, but fighting inside an airplane fuselage, bus, or a similar extreme situation.

machine pistol
(Wikimedia Commons)

As you can see, the few roles in which they are effective are also rather rare. VIPs who might be faced with a threat big enough to justify machine pistols will likely not be concerned with bodyguards concealing firearms. In such cases, their bodyguards would carry an SMG or short carbine, in the first place. Likewise, threats inside a school bus or airplane are quite rare in the western world. Rare enough, that’s it tough to justify the purchase and training needed to properly use a machine pistol.

As far as niche weapons go, the machine pistol just doesn’t do too well. Personally, in any situation in which I’d need to carry something with selective capability, I’d prefer an MP5K, a Micro Scorpion, or APC9K alongside a standard handgun.

What say you? Are you a fan of the machine pistol concept? Let us know in the comments below!