A submachine gun (SMG) is an automatic carbine, designed to fire pistol cartridges. It combines the automatic fire of a machine gun with the cartridge of a pistol. An assault rifle, in contrast, uses an intermediate-power cartridge with more power than a pistolbut less than a standard rifle or battle rifle.


In the early 20th century , experiments were made by converting stocked pistol from semi to fully automatic. Stocked automatic weapons firing pistol rounds were developed around the same time during WWI, by Italy, Germany, and the United States. The first dedicated designs were developed in the latter stages of World War I both as improvements on earlier stocked pistols, and to offer an advantage in trench warfare.

They were popularized in the 1920s and '30s as weapon of choice of American gangsters and police, in the form of the famous Thompson submachine gun, commonly referred to as the "Tommy Gun". Submachine guns rose to prominence as a frontline close-quarters combat weapon and commando firearm during World War II. They are now widely used by police, SWAT, military commando, paramilitary, and counter-terror team members for a variety of situations. Submachine guns are highly effective in close quarters; their lower-powered pistol cartridges make them generally more controllable in fully-automatic fire compared to assault rifles, while their small size and light weight grant maneuverability. However, pistol cartridges generally have low effectiveness against targets protected by body armor or cover, and are short-ranged compared to intermediate and rifle cartridges.

19th century to 1920

The first automatic weapon to fire a pistol round was a scaled-down version of the Maxim machine gun, used for demonstrations in marketing the Maxim in the late 19th century, especially when a full-sized firing range was not available. First-generation submachine guns were characterized by machined metal parts, Blowback designs with the bolt directly behind the barrel. The submachine gun appeared during the later stages of World War I. It first saw action in trench warfare where grenades, pistols, sharpened entrenching tools, improvised clubs, and bayonets were commonly employed.

The Italians developed the Villar Perosa, introducing it in 1915. It fired pistol calibre 9 mm Glisenti ammunition, but wasn't a submachine gun in the sense that the weapon type would later be defined, as it couldn't be fired from shoulder and without support. Originally developed as an aircraft weapon, it also saw some use by infantry as a light machine gun. This odd design was eventually modified to become a traditional submachine gun, the OVP 1918 that evolved into the Beretta 1918 after the end of WW1 .

However, the Bergmann MP18 is the first true submachine gun and has been used intensively starting with Operation Michael in March 1918.

The Thompson submachine gun program began in roughly the same period. The various dates and achievements of the first generation submachine guns creates a contentious area for firearms historians, with conclusions much to do with their nationality and interpretations. The only pictures of SMGs used in combat and reports of captured SMGs refer to MP18 captured in France after the German Spring Offensive.

The Beretta 1918 had a traditional wooden stock, a 25-round box magazine, and had a cyclic rate of fire of 900 rounds per minute. The Germans had been using heavier versions of P08 pistols, equipped with larger capacity "snail" drum magazine, and longer barrel; these were semi-automatic. Bergmann, by 1918 had developed the MP18. The MP18 used 9x19mm Parabellum round in a snail-drum magazine. The MP18 was used in significant numbers by the German stormtroopers which, in conjunction with appropriate tactics, achieved some notable successes in the final year of the war. However, they were not enough to prevent Germany's collapse in November 1918.

The Thompson submachine guns had been in development at approximately the same time as the Bergman and Beretta, but development was put on hold in 1917, when the US and the weapon's designer (Thompson) entered the war. The design was completed afterwards and used a different internal system from the MP18 or Beretta, but it had missed its chance to be the first purpose-designed submachine gun to enter service. It would however go on to serve as the basis for later weapons and have the longest active service life of the three.

1920 to 1950

In the inter-war years the submachine gun became notorious as a gangster weapon; the iconic image of pinstripe-suited James Cagney types wielding drum-magazine Thompsons caused some military planners to shun the weapon. It was also used by the police, but many criminals favored the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. The submachine gun was nevertheless gradually accepted by many militaries, with many countries developing their own designs over the period, especially in the 1930s.

Argentina manufactured a wide range of high quality submachine guns during the interwar years, most notably the Hafdasa C-4 and Halcon M-1943 which were chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum and .45 ACP calibres depending on service. A weapon ahead of its time was the Hafdasa C-2 machine pistol issued to armoured vehicle personnel which would be today classed as a Personal Defense Weapon.

In the USSR, the PPD34 and PPD34/38 were developed. In France the STA 1922 was adopted as MAS 1924 and evolved into MAS-35 later adopted as MAS-38 using the 7.65mm Long round of the Pistol PA 35, a cartridge derived from the .30 Pedersen. In Germany some improvements on the MP18 were employed, namely the MP28/II and the MP34. Also, Nazi Germany adopted the MP38, unique in that it used no wood and a folding metal stock, though it used similar amount of stampings as the MAS. Italy further developed a number of its own designs, with similar attempts at improvements in lower production cost, quality, or weight.


During the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, the MP38 production was still just starting and only a few thousand were in service, but it proved very popular especially in towns and cities. It was far more practical and effective in those environments than the standard-issue German rifle, the Kar 98K. From it, the nearly identical, but safer and cheaper to make, MP40 was developed; about a million MP40s were made in World War II. The MP40's design used even more stampings, and less strategically-important metals such as aluminum, but still managed to be lighter because it avoided some of the heavier machined parts of the MP38.

Britain adopted the Lanchester submachine gun, based on the MP28/II. Britain was also interested in acquiring M/31 Suomis but this project was canceled in 1939 when Finland needed every one for her own defense. However the high cost of manufacture and low rate of production led to the much simpler, cheaper and faster to make Sten submachine gun. The Sten gun was so cheap to make that near the end of World War II, Nazi Germany started manufacturing their own copy of the design (the MP 3008). Britain also used many M1928 Thompsons early on (the inter-war period version with a drum magazine), and also many of the improved version M1 (the one seen only with a box magazine). After the war, the Sten would be replaced by the Sterling submachine gun.

America and its allies used the Thompson submachine gun, especially the simplified M1 version that was not machined to accept the drum magazine. Because the Thompson was still expensive to produce, the M3 "Grease Gun" was adopted in 1942, followed by the slightly improved M3A1 in 1944. The M3 was not necessarily more effective, but was made primarily of stamped parts and so could be produced with a fraction of the expense and time of the Thompson. It could be configured to fire either .45 ACP ammunition, which the Thompson and M1911 pistol also fired, or the 9mm Parabellum, widely used by Allies and Axis. It would be among the longest serving of the submachine guns designed during the war, being produced into the 1960s and serving in US forces officially into the 1980s.

Finland had developed the M/31 Suomi before the Winter War in which it saw much use. The weapon fired 9 mm Parabellum rounds from a drum magazine with the capacity of 70 (although often loaded with up to 74). Although America used box magazines in the Thompson, and Russians carried only a few drum magazines (usually one drum, if any, and remaining ammunition as box magazines), the Suomi was mostly deployed with drums. They were also less prone to jamming than the box or "casket" magazines developed for the weapon. The weapon was used until the end of Lapland war, and in peacetime service, to the late 1970s.

By the end of World War II, the USSR had fielded the largest number of submachine guns, such as the PPSh-41, with whole infantry battalions being armed with little else. Even in the hands of conscripted soldiers with minimal training, the volume of fire produced by massed submachine guns could be overwhelming in an urban environment. The German forces formed similar troops of their own in response to this. Key realizations made during World War II, notably the fact that most small-arms engagements occurred within 100 yards (90 meters), and that a high rate of fire was generally more effective than the slower but more accurate fire, (such as provided by bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles) were some of the key causes for the development of the assault rifle.

1950 to present

Submachine guns lend themselves to moderation with suppressors, particularly so in cases where the weapon is loaded with subsonic ammunition. Variants of the Sten and modern-day Heckler & KochMP5 have been manufactured with integral suppressors, and such weapons are on occasion used by special forces and police units. After the Korean War, the role of submachine guns in military applications was gradually diminished. Both submachine guns and battle rifles were supplanted by the new assault rifles, such as the CAR-15 and Heckler & Koch HK53. Submachine guns are used by special forces and counter-terrorist units operating in urban environments or cramped interior areas, and as defense weapons for air crews, armored vehicle crews, and naval personnel. Though submachine guns still have a strong hold on niche users, due to their advantage in compact size, they are facing competition from carbines and shortened assault rifles. The dominance of submachine guns in law enforcement tactical operations has been diminished by new developments since the 1990s. Factors such as the wide availability of assault rifles and carbines and the increasing use of body armor have combined to limit the appeal of submachine guns to government agencies. Assault rifles and carbines have been supplementing submachine guns in some roles. However, assault rifles are not a complete replacement, since they are generally heavier, have greater muzzle blast, more recoil, and may be likely to overpenetrate due to their use of rifle rounds.

During the Apartheid era, the Rhodesian and South African governments supplied some citizens with modified submachine guns which were known as Land Defence Pistols (LDP) such as the Kommando LDP or Sanna 77, loosely based on the Czech CZ Model 25. LDPs sold to civilians were basically submachine guns capable of semi-automatic fire only, similar to assault pistols.

Also touted as a further evolution of the submachine gun is the personal defense weapon (PDW), a machine pistol-like weapon which fires armor-piercing pistol cartridges. The PDW is similar in operation to submachine guns and is often considered as such. However, the PDW's specialized ammunition is incompatible with common pistol and rifle rounds, and it is less effective than rifle rounds against unarmored targets.[citation needed] The trend in modern submachine guns had been toward lighter, smaller weapons utilizing plastics to a greater degree. ==

Legal ownership by civilians

Private ownership of submachine guns is illegal in most nations, but there are a few notable exceptions, including the following:

Czech Republic

Civilian ownership of submachine guns is regulated by the Ministry of the Interior, which classifies such weapons as Category A (Restricted Firearms and Accessories) under the provisions of Act 119 of 2002.[3] In addition to a valid gun license, the prospective civilian owner must obtain a Category A Exemption from a local police agency and demonstrate the reason for owning a submachine gun, e.g. a legitimate firearms collection.


The Firearms Act of 1998 (amended in 2001) outlawed possession of submachine guns by the general public, although licensed collectors in good standing can obtain permits for older submachine guns from the Gaming and Weapons Administration. Police must verify that the collector is able to store the gun securely to discourage theft.[4] Deactivated and replica submachine guns are legal for historical re-enactment and plays.


Civilian gun licenses in Pakistan vary considerably in terms of region and class of firearm. Local police agencies can issue permits for submachine guns that are only legal in the state in which they are issued, although a license issued by the Prime Minister will allow the gun in question to be transported anywhere in the country. There are complaints that the licensing process has become too politicized.[5]


Submachine guns may only be owned by licensed collectors, but cannot be fired in full-automatic mode. Civilians may purchase semi-automatic versions of such firearms.

United States

Civilian ownership of submachine guns is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under the provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934 as amended by Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. In addition, the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 outlawed the manufacture of submachine guns for the civilian market and currently limits legal ownership to units produced and properly registered with the BATFE before May 1986. Some states enforce their own laws regulating or forbidding civilian possession of submachine guns. Civilians may purchase semi-automatic versions of such firearms without requiring NFA clearance, although some states (including California and New Jersey) enforce their own restrictions on such weapons.


Submachine gun Manufacturer Cartridge Country Year
Alpha GPI Instituto Brasileiro de Administração Pública (IBRAP) 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil 19??
American-180 American Arms .22 Long Rifle United States 1970s
ARES FMG ARES Incorporated 9x19mm Parabellum United States 1986
Arsenal Shipka Arsenal 9x18mm Makarov

9x19mm Parabellum

Bulgaria 1996
Arsenal submachine gun Arsenal 9x20mm SR Browning Estonia 1926
Austen MK I Diecasters Ltd.

W.T. Carmichael Ltd.

9x19mm Parabellum Australia WWII-era
BARZ n/a 9x18mm Makarov Transnistria 19??
Benelli CB M2 Benelli 9mm AUPO Italy 1980s
Beretta M12 Beretta 9x19mm Parabellum Italy 1959
Beretta Model 1918 Beretta 9mm Glisenti pistol Kingdom of Italy 1918
Beretta Model 3 Beretta 9x19mm Parabellum Italy 1956
Beretta Model 38 Beretta 9x19mm Parabellum Kingdom of Italy 1938
BSM/9 M1 Companhia de Explosivos de Valparaiba 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil Late 1970s
BXP Mechem 9x19mm Parabellum South Africa 1988
Błyskawica Armia Krajowa 9x19mm Parabellum Poland 1943
C-2 CETME 9x19mm Parabellum

9x23mm Largo

Spanish State 1950s
C-2 Hafdasa 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Argentina 1938
C-4 Hafdasa 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Argentina 1938
Calico 960 Calico Light Weapons Systems 9x19mm Parabellum United States 1990
Carl Gustav M/45 FFV-Carl Gustaf 9x19mm Parabellum Sweden 1945
CEV M9M1 Companhia de Explosivos de Valparaiba 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Brazil 1974
Chropi GP10 Chropei 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Greece 1975
Cobra n/a 9x19mm Parabellum Rhodesia 1965–1979
Colt 9mm SMG Colt 9x19mm Parabellum United States 1982
CPW ST Kinetics 9x19mm Parabellum

5.7x28mm 4.6x30mm

Singapore 2000s
Daewoo K7 Daewoo 9x19mm Parabellum South Korea 2003
Danuvia 43M Danuvia Gépgyár 9x25mm Mauser Kingdom of Hungary 1943
Delacre machine pistol 9x19mm Parabellum France 1936
DUX Oviedo Arsenal 9x19mm Parabellum Spanish State 1950s
Enarm SMG Enarms 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil 1980s
F1 Lithgow Small Arms Factory 9x19mm Parabellum Australia 1963
FAMAE PAF FAMAE 9x19mm Parabellum Chile 1970s
FAMAE SAF FAMAE 9x19mm Parabellum Chile 1993
FBP Fábrica do Braço de Prata 9x19mm Parabellum Portugal 1948
Floro MK-9 Floro International Corporation 9x19mm Parabellum Philippines 2001
FMK-3 Fabricaciones Militares 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1974
FN P90 Fabrique Nationale de Herstal 5.7x28mm Belgium 1993
Halcon M-1943 Fabrica de Armas Halcon 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Argentina 1943
Halcon M57 Fabrica de Armas Halcon 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Argentina 1957
Halcon ML-63 Fabrica de Armas Halcon 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1957
Heckler & Koch MP5 Heckler & Koch 9x19mm Parabellum

10mm Auto .40 S&W

West Germany 1966
Heckler & Koch MP7 Heckler & Koch 4.6x30mm Germany 2001
Heckler & Koch UMP Heckler & Koch 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP .40 S&W

Germany 1999
Imperia Ateliers de Fabrications Electriques 9x19mm Parabellum Belgium 1950s
INA Model 953 Industria National de Armas S.A. .45 ACP Brazil 1950
Intratec TEC-DC9 Intratec 9x19mm Parabellum Sweden
United States
Jatimatic Tampereen Asepaja Oy 9x19mm Parabellum Finland 1983
K-50M Covert North Vietnamese workshops 7.62x25mm Tokarev North Vietnam 1958
KGP-9 Fegyver- és Gépgyár 9x19mm Parabellum Hungary
Kommando LDP Kommando Arms / Lacoste Engineering 9x19mm Parabellum Rhodesia 1965–1979?
Labora Fontbernat M-1938 Labora-Fontbernat 9x23mm Largo Spain 1938
Lanchester Sterling Armament Company 9x19mm Parabellum United Kingdom 1941
Lercker .25 ACP Italy 1950
Lettet-Forsøgs Dansk Industri Syndikat 9x19mm Parabellum Denmark 1939
LP02 VB Berapi 9x19mm Parabellum Malaysia 2000s
Lusa INDEP 9x19mm Parabellum Portugal 1983
M3 grease gun General Motors .45 ACP

9x19mm Parabellum

United States 1942
M42 submachine gun Marlin Firearms/United Defense 9x19mm Parabellum

.30 Carbine

United States 1942
M50 Reising Harrington & Richardson .45 ACP

.22 Long Rifle

United States 1941
Madsen M-50 Dansk Industri Syndikat 9x19mm Parabellum Denmark 1950
Magpul FMG-9 Magpul Industries 9x19mm Parabellum United States 2008
MAS-38 Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne 7.65mm Longue France 1938
MAT-49 Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Tulle 9x19mm Parabellum

7.62x25mm Tokarev

France 1949
MEMS M-52/60 Miguel Entrique Manzo Sal 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1952
MD2A1 IMBEL 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil 19??
MGP-15 SIMA-CEFAR 9x19mm Parabellum Peru 1990
MGP submachine gun Peruvian Navy 9x19mm Parabellum Peru 1979
MGV-176 Gorenje .22 Long Rifle Yugoslavia 1979
Minebea PM-9 9x19mm Parabellum Japan 1990
Zastava M92 Zastava Arms 7.62x39mm Serbia
MP 18 Bergmann Waffenbau Abteilung 9x19mm Parabellum German Empire 1918
MP 34 Steyr Mannlicher 9x19mm Parabellum

9x23mm Steyr 9x25mm Mauser

Federal State of Austria 1934
MP35[1] Bergmann Waffenbau Abteilung 9x19mm Parabellum Nazi Germany 1935
MP 40 Erma Werke 9x19mm Parabellum Nazi Germany 1940
MP-57 Mauser 9x19mm Parabellum West Germany 1957
MPA 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1977
Northwood R-76 Northwood Development 9x19mm Parabellum Rhodesia 1976
Orinoco II CAVIM 9x19mm Parabellum Venezuela 1983
Orita M1941 Uzinele Metallurgice Copșa Mică și Cugir 9x19mm Parabellum Kingdom of Romania 1941
Owen gun John Lysaght 9x19mm Parabellum Australia 1939
Parker Hale PDW Parker Hale 9x19mm Parabellum United Kingdom 1999
Patria 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1980
Patria Mod 2 9x19mm Parabellum Argentina 1980s
Pindad PM2 PT Pindad 9x19mm Parabellum Indonesia 2000s
PM-63 RAK Łucznik Arms Factory 9x18mm Makarov

9x19mm Parabellum .380 ACP

People's Republic of Poland 1964
PM-84 Glauberyt Łucznik Arms Factory 9x18mm Makarov

9x19mm Parabellum

People's Republic of Poland 1984
Policeman n/a 9x18mm Makarov Transnistria 19??
PP-19 Bizon Izhevsk Mechanical Works 9x18mm Makarov

9x19mm Parabellum .380 ACP 7.62x25mm Tokarev

Russia 1993
PP-90 KBP Instrument Design Bureau 9x18mm Makarov Russia 1990s
PP-93 KBP Instrument Design Bureau 9x18mm Makarov Russia 1993
PP-2000 KBP Instrument Design Bureau 9x18mm Makarov Russia 2000
PPD-40 Degtyarev plant 7.62x25mm Tokarev Soviet Union 1935
PPS many 7.62x25mm Tokarev Soviet Union 1942
PPSh-41 many 7.62x25mm Tokarev Soviet Union 1941
RATMIL RomArm via Uzinele Mecanice Cugir 9x19mm Parabellum Romania 1996
QCW-05 NORINCO 5.8x21mm DCV05 People's Republic of China 2005
Rexim-Favor W+F Bern 9x19mm Parabellum Switzerland 1950s
Ruger MP9 Sturm, Ruger 9x19mm Parabellum United States 1995
Sa vz. 23 Česká Zbrojovka Uherský Brod 9x19mm Parabellum

7.62x25mm Tokarev

Czechoslovakia 1948
Saab Bofors Dynamics CBJ-MS Saab Bofors Dynamics 9x19mm Parabellum

6.5x25 CBJ-MS

Sweden Early 2000s
Sanna 77 n/a 9x19mm Parabellum South Africa
SIG MKMS Schweizerishe Industrie-Gesellshaft 9x19mm Parabellum Switzerland 1934
Škorpion vz. 61 Česká Zbrojovka Uherský Brod 9x18mm Makarov

9x19mm Parabellum .380 ACP .32 ACP

Czechoslovakia 1961
SM-9 Cellini-Dunn 9x19mm Parabellum Guatemala 1985
SM-03 LAPA 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil 1980s
Spectre M4 Sites S.p.A 9x19mm Parabellum Italy 1985
Sten Royal Small Arms Factory 9x19mm Parabellum United Kingdom 1941
Sterling submachine gun Sterling Armaments Company 9x19mm Parabellum United Kingdom 1953
Steyr MPi 69 Steyr Mannlicher 9x19mm Parabellum Austria 1969
Steyr TMP Steyr Mannlicher 9x19mm Parabellum Austria 1990s
Suomi KP/-31 Konepistooli Oy 9x19mm Parabellum Finland 1931
TC-10 Royal Small Arms Factory 9x19mm Parabellum United Kingdom 19??
TDI Vector Transformational Defense Industries .45 ACP Switzerland
United States
Thompson submachine gun Auto-Ordnance Company .45 ACP United States 1918
Type 2 Nambu 8x22mm Nambu Empire of Japan 1935
Type 66 Nambu 9x19mm Parabellum Japan 1966
Type 79 Norinco 7.62x25mm Tokarev People's Republic of China 1981
Type 85 7.62x25mm Tokarev People's Republic of China
Type 100 Nambu Arms Manufacturing Company 8x22mm Nambu Empire of Japan 1942
Uru Mekanika Industria e Comercio Ltd 9x19mm Parabellum Brazil 1974
Uzi Israel Military Industries 9x19mm Parabellum

.22 Long Rifle .45 ACP .41 Action Express

Israel 1950
Vigneron State Arsenal at Rocourt 9x19mm Parabellum Belgium 1953
Walther MP Walther arms 9x19mm Parabellum

.380 ACP

West Germany 1963
ZB-47 Zbrojovka Brno 9x19mm Parabellum Czechoslovakia 1947
ZK-383 Zbrojovka Brno 9x19mm Parabellum Czechoslovakia 1938
Z-4 Hafdasa 9x19mm Parabellum

.45 ACP

Argentina 1938

The Heckler & Koch MP5.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.