Object Title

Bergmann MP 18,1 submachine gun

Bergmann MP 18,1 submachine gun


The MP 18,I was the first of an entirely new class of weapon. In 1915 the German army requested a hand-held, short-range machine gun for attacks by assault troops against enemy trenches. By 1917, designer Hugo Schmeisser had created the first submachine gun. This is a retrospective term coined in 1921 by Colonel Thompson of Thompson submachine gun fame; the German term was (and remains) 'machine pistol'. The key ingredients were the existing Luger pistol cartridge and 32 round 'artillery' drum magazine, and a new blowback mechanism. This was simple and easy to maintain, consisting of a heavy tubular bolt that flew forward when the trigger was pulled and, in one motion, collected a round from the magazine, pushed it into the chamber, and fired it. The bolt then recoiled against a spring to repeat the process for as long as the trigger was held down and ammunition was available. This system was potentially hazardous, as banging the butt on the ground could result in the entire magazine being fired unintentionally. The MP 18,I was modified post-war to accept a straight box magazine instead of the complicated and unreliable drum magazine. Contrary to some sources, this improved weapon was not the 'MP 18,II', a designation that does not exist outside of a misprint in a German manual. The designation remained the same until the further improved MP 28,II was produced.

Use and effect

The MP 18,I reached front line troops in August 1918, too late to see much use in the war, and was limited to use by Stosstruppen (assault troops). Relative to the low power of the cartridge it fired, it was heavy, but short and convenient for close quarter battle. Its weight and low rate of fire made automatic fire very controllable and single shots possible without the need for a selector switch. Effective bursts could be fired from the shoulder using the fixed, rifle-style stock. As would become the norm with portable automatic weapons, at ranges of less than ten metres, the Bergmann would more often be fired instinctively and from the hip. Acknowledging the need to maintain a supply of ammunition, each weapon was served by a crew of three; one gunner and two assistants who carried chests containing 448 rounds. The weapon, along with the improved MP 28,II with safety catch and selector switch, went on to arm Germany's inter-war security services. The type was also produced in Switzerland and exported, and original German examples saw limited service in the Second World War. Importantly, it spawned a whole generation of submachine guns based on the same mechanism. The first British submachine gun, the Lanchester machine carbine, was a straight copy of the MP 28, itself a direct derivative of the original Bergmann. This family of weapons also gave rise to the nickname 'Schmeisser' to describe a submachine gun, which was later misapplied to the more famous MP 40 encountered by the Allies in the Second World War.


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Bergmann MP 18,1 submachine gun being loaded and fired into ballistic soap target.


Action / Operating system Blowback
Barrel length 19.8 cm (7.8 in)
Calibre / Bore 9x19mm (.36 in)
Capacity (rounds) 32
Country of manufacture Germany
Crew 3 (1 gunner, 2 assistant gunners)
Date entered service 1918
Effective range 200 m (219 yd)
Feed Box magazine
Manufacturer Bergmann Industriewerke
Muzzle velocity 329 m/s (1080 fps)
Overall length 81.3 cm (32 in)
Primary operator Germany
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 450
Weight 4.17 kg (9 lb 3 oz)


Jonathan Ferguson