Object Title

Villar Perosa Modello 1915 light machine gun

Villar Perosa Modello 1915 light machine gun

Development

Technically the first submachine gun to see military service, the Villar Perosa was designed by Italian Army officer Abiel Bethel Revelli di Beaumont (1864-1930). This talented designer also developed the Revelli-Terni rifle in 1909, the Glisenti Modello 1906 and 1910 self-loading pistols and later he invented the more famously known Fiat-Revelli Modello 1914, machine gun.

Submachine guns are often referred to as 'machine pistols' due to the pistol ammunition they chamber, however they could never render the machine gun obsolete. Pistol cartridges greatly limited their effective range and 'stopping power'. Though each round would be approximately half the weight of a rifle cartridge, more than twice the rounds would be needed to even begin to match the firepower of a rifle-calibre machine gun. However, for close-quarter combat, the submachine gun allows a high volume of fire in a portable package. The concept was ideal for trench combat and, in theory, was also suitable for the mountain warfare for which the Villar Perosa was intended.

The story of the Villar Perosa is a curious one. Manufactured by Officine Villar Perosa (OVP), this delayed blowback weapon was originally intended for use mounted on aircraft, however it was made obsolete due to the improvements in aircraft durability. It chambered the 9mm Glisenti, which was specially developed for the Modello 1910 pistol. Based on the German 9x19mm Parabellum, it was significantly less powerful, producing a lower muzzle velocity, in turn affecting the penetrative power of the round. In essence this weapon was simply a pair of submachine guns mounted side-by-side and fitted with a spade grip firing unit. This reflects its intended role in Italian service as a form of short range light machine gun rather than a true submachine gun like the German MP 18,1. Available for use with the gun was a shield, upon which the gun could be mounted. Even bicycle mounts were available, for transport in the mountains.

Use and effect

The Villar Perosa was used, as intended, by the Italian army. After experiencing trouble with their heavy machine guns in the mountains, the Italians in 1916 began to equip their infantry with the Villar Perosa. Compared to the Revelli machine gun it was light and portable; ideal for mountain war on the Italian front.

The disadvantages to the Villar Perosa are evident from its appearance. It has no practical grip or stock, limiting its use as a true submachine gun. This was overcome by attaching a harness to it and eventually, tactics were developed to use it in 'marching fire'. However, proof that this was not entirely effective comes from the fact that most Villar Perosas were supposedly broken down and their components used to build the OVP Modello 1918 submachine guns. Essentially, one half of a Villar Perosa was fitted with a wooded stock and foreend and a conventional rifle-style trigger mechanism.

The advantage of the Villar Perosa as originally deployed was its extremely high rate of fire. An English language manual for the weapon boasts:
'Fifty shots in one second, or at the rate of 3,000 per minute. The action is instantaneous and does not require any time to speed up - the entire fifty shots are discharged in one second.'

This potential rate of fire would have played an important role upon the Italian front. Unfortunately, a magazine feed system limited the effective rate of fire to something closer to 200 rounds per minute. Nonetheless, whilst suffering defeat at the battle of Caporetto in 1917, the use of this weapon against 'Hutier tactics' of the Central Powers gave Italian forces a small advantage. It was eventually the use of poison gas by the Germans which led to the collapse of the Italian Second Army.

Statistics

Action / Operating system Delayed blowback
Barrel length 43.5 cm (17 in)
Calibre / Bore 11.6 mm (.455 in) (British Trials)
Calibre / Bore 9 mm Glisenti (.35 in)
Capacity (rounds) 50 (2x25)
Country of manufacture Italy
Date entered service 1915
Effective range 300 m (328 yd)
Feed Box magazine
Manufacturer Officine Villar Perosa (OVP)
Muzzle velocity 320 m/s (1,050 fps)
Overall length 63.5 cm (25 in)
Primary operator Italy
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 1200-1500
Weight 22.4 kg (49 lb 6 oz)