The Submachine Gun

Very much like the assault rifle, but in a smaller package. Some sub guns can fill the requirement for a rifle if one of the supplementary guns is of a heavier caliber (example: an UZI, with a sniper rifle filling the rifle requirement, as either can be used as a rifle with the other as a supplementary weapon). Sub guns are superior weapons for those who travel light but need a lot of close range firepower. They get far more shots per pound of weight carried than almost any other shoulder fired gun and are usually lighter than shotguns.  These are the weapon of choice for the high priced bodyguards to the rich.   Part of this is that if the host government is going to tolerate a contingent of armed bodyguards under the control of some VIP, they would prefer that private force not be armed in a way that could be dealt with by that government's regular army which is armed with weapons that have a longer reach.  

For the most part, the submachinegun is a compact weapon that is optimized for close combat.   They are usually not concealable, but they are usually more portable than a conventional rifle.   Barrel length is usually around ten inches and guns are chambered for pistol caliber ammunition.   Because of the longer barrel, a pistol caliber submachinegun will be slightly more powerful than a pistol firing the same bullet.   This gives a little more range than you would get with a handgun in the same caliber.  

9mm parabellum is by far the most popular caliber for these weapons.   Since submachineguns are designed to handle full auto fire, they tend to be more robust and "beefier" than pistols.  That has led to the development of powerful 9mm ammo that may be unsafe for some handguns but offers better power and reliability with submachineguns and pistol caliber carbines.  This high power ammo is usually packaged or marked differently than pistol ammo but sometimes it is not.  Israeli submachinegun ammo usually has bullets with the tips painted black to designate it as possibly unsafe for use in handguns.  Egyptian surplus submachinegun ammo is only marked differently on the shipping cartons which are commonly discarded by dealers and distributors. 

Submachine guns are among the best weapons for fighting indoors and around vehicles.  They are also useful in dense forest or jungle environments - especially at night where engagements can be at short range and from any direction and you may not be certain of the location of the enemy.  While the Shotgun can put as much lead downrange, the sweeping action of the subgun can cover a room or jungle path more thoroughly and more controllably.  While a single bullet from a subgun is not much of a fight stopper, a short burst of two to four rounds can bring down a moving enemy.   A relatively unskilled user will most likely score two or more hits at close range against an opponent at close range by simply holding the trigger back and firing the magazine dry into the direction of the enemy.   Expert operators stick to short controlled bursts when using the subgun.  European police generally favor the subgun as inherently safer and more practical than the shotgun. 

One should also note that while the submachinegun requires less overall skill to operate effectively, a highly skilled pistol shooter with a quality pistol can outperform the submachinegun user under many circumstances, especially those where the pistol shooter has a distinct target to aim at.   Part of this is the result of pistol technology advancing at a steady rate since WW2 and easier access to pistols has facilitated a more widespread development of skill in their use.    Thus, skilled pistol shooters are not entirely uncommon, and a semi-skilled shooter may likely need to use a submachinegun just to match the effectiveness of skilled pistol shooters.   Understand that in WW2, submachineguns were favored for troops less trained in the use of the rifle, or those troops in situations where the long range capabilities of then current rifles were not easily brought to bear.   These weapons have also been favored by clandestine military and guerilla forces which have not had the luxury of long and thorough training with other weapons.  

Subguns score about middle of the scale on collateral damage.  They are not usually chambered in calibers capable of penetrating body armor, thick walls, or vehicle bodies.  On the other hand, people do tend to fire these guns more than semi-autos or shotguns, thus putting more lead in the air in the general direction of the enemy.  Given a choice with legal considerations aside, the subgun is a better and more versatile weapon than a short barrel shotgun.  A reasonably accurate sub gun with a folding or collapsible stock and decent sights is a great city gun. 

In the semi-auto or short burst mode, the sub gun acts as a large pistol or small rifle, with some models performing as least as accurately as standard carbines at shorter ranges. Submachine guns are also available as legal class III collectors' guns (prices vary from $450 to $7,000) and as black market items (prices vary greatly, but are usually in the $400 to $1,200 range).  Government cost of an MP-5 9mm is $895 (source - USMC).   Black market wholesale runs around $1600 for a German model and about double that price for the end buyer.   Sources for black market guns are usually smuggled military surplus from countries that are phasing older models out of military inventories and clandestine manufacturers.   Clandestine manufacture of submachineguns is somewhat easier than that of other combat firearms. 


Illegally manufactured submachine guns are commonly available in some areas of the world.  Most clandestine manufactured subguns are crude but effective.  They tend to be more reliable than accurate, but then that may vary by design.  

One of the most common illegally manufactured subguns in the world is the Sten.  Hundreds of thousands have been produced in several countries, scrapped and then rebuilt from scrap parts.   The example to the right is an early British version used in WWII.   Cheap and reliable, the Sten can be found on almost every continent in the hands of revolutionaries, collectors, criminals and survivalists.   Cost of a component parts kits can run below $100 with finished pieces selling around $500.   Prices vary greatly depending on quality and condition.  Never very high on anyone's Christmas list, the Sten is built to get the job done and nothing more.   It can be broken down into component parts and hidden in a small space.   For more info on the Sten, Click here.  

An improved version of the Sten has been in use in the UK since the late 1940s and has been used by police and military forces within the British sphere of influence.  The Sterling submachinegun has a greatly improved grip and stock assembly and was commonly available in a special silenced version with an effective integral silencer.   It has largely passed from military service but is still used by some police.  Most notably the Royal Ulster Constabulary which patrols the mean streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland.  Sterlings have also been fairly common use by mercenaries in Africa and the Far East.  Copies have been produced in Canada and India and have been available on the world market.  

UZIs are also very popular on both legal and illegal markets.  Properly converted semi-auto guns are reliable and robust, but in my experience not very user friendly.   The selector is badly located for left handers and the grip safety is about the most irritating on any gun.  Any grip other than a very firm hold on the main pistol grip will stop the gun from working.   This was intended to keep the gun from firing if it is dropped or fumbled, but also prevents the gun from working if you shift your hold on it while firing.  UZIs can take a lot abuse and keep working, but they are not engineered to last forever like the venerable Thompson.    For more info on the UZI, Click here

Submachineguns were most popular from the 1930's to the 1960's when they were mostly eclipsed by the proliferation of more advanced assault rifle designs.   Very little was done in the way of submachinegun development after the 1970's.  Many, if not most of the submachineguns in circulation on the world market trace their roots to WWII in design if not manufacture.  One such gun is the Russian PPSH-41.  It is large and heavy, but probably the most brutally powerful submachinegun ever mass produced because of its unusually high cyclic rate and common high capacity 71 round drum magazines.   The gun is not concealable or lightweight, but short range firepower, low prices and world availability make it a viable weapon.  For more information on this weapon Click here

Some jurisdictions consider the mere possession construction manuals and parts kits to be evidence of intent to manufacture illegal weapons.  Keep in mind that even though the purchase of these items may be legal, the purchases can possibly draw unwanted attention and legal repercussions from BATF and state agencies that regulate and/ or restrict the manufacture of fully automatic weapons. This is not to say that legal repercussions are, or are not, going to happen, but they are possible.  Another complication regarding the gray market acquisition of machine guns is the need for testing newly built or converted guns. This testing can be time consuming, require special facilities, and is often difficult to conceal because of the noise that that these guns make. One trick is to purchase one or more legal class III machine-guns that are similar to those that you will be building or converting. The legal gun can act as a working model to guide the construction of copies. Outsiders who hear the test firing will probably not be able to determine from a distance if you are firing the legal guns or illegal copies.  In either event, I suggest getting or building a silencer (sound suppressor) for you subguns.  Silencers are not as hard to get through legal channels as the guns themselves and greatly enhance the utility of these weapons.  Silencers also help keep unwanted attention away from the subgun user, even when shooting a legal weapon on private property.  

Unfortunately most of the newest and best subguns are made in countries that are firmly aligned with strong UN sponsored gun control.  Namely Italy and Germany.  Italian guns can be a little easier to get, but either way the game is tough.  You need brains, connections and money in order to get the best German hardware like the UMP .45 but I hear it can be done.  Real world cost to government buyers is low.  In fact the average subgun is cheaper than the average assault rifle.  The H&K UMP .45 shown here costs only $650 to government agencies, complete with some accessories and mags, although they are well advised to add the vertical foregrip and some sort of optical sight.  Advancements in technology make these weapons lighter in weight, more reliable, and more usable at night.  

The most common users of these guns are law enforcement organizations.   Since these organizations commonly are made up of private citizens who interact on an everyday basis with the general population, as opposed to isolated military units, sub guns do end up on the black market from time to time.   Their market price often far exceeds the cost of manufacture and distribution.   This "status" as a costly and hard to get, but available item makes the high tech subgun a prize among the wealthy and 'connected' of the world.  

A growing trend in police and military submachinegun development is toward compact assault rifles that are about the size of a submachinegun but are chambered for standard assault rifle ammunition.  The most popular caliber being 5.56 NATO (.223 Remington).  The East Block counterpart 5.45X39 being commonly used in the now ubiquitous Krinkov and derivatives.    I personally see this trend as being driven by post cold war marketing efforts of manufacturers who wish to simplify the manufacturing process and integrate more of a weapon systems approach for their client's shrinking small arms budgets.  Since the modern assault rifle cartridges derive much of their power from velocity rather than bullet size, short barreled guns in these calibers are considerably less powerful than their full size cousins.   For example, a .223 bullet exiting a standard twenty inch M16a2 barrel travels at 3200 feet per second while the same round fired from a gun with a ten inch barrel will only travel about 1900 feet per second.   That means the short barreled gun will have a shorter effective range but still retain most of its lethality under 200 yards.    This is not necessarily a detriment to performance in comparison to the average pistol caliber submachinegun.   

A survivor who opts for a compact assault rifle should still consider getting a longer range gun as a supplement.   As a rule, firepower, or the number of bullets a weapon can put in the target area in a limited amount of time, is less of an issue at longer ranges and more of an issue at shorter ranges.  Thus, a supplementary long range gun does not even need to be semi-automatic if the survivor is equipped with a compact assault rifle or submachinegun.  Many military experts believe that the traditional pistol caliber submachinegun will not longer play an active role in military arsenals and that police use will be limited when the newer generation of ultra compact assault rifles becomes as popular with law enforcement as they have with the military.  

The real problem with the compact assault rifles is the noise.   With ammunition engineered to burn in a minimum of a 14" barrel, you get incomplete burn in the 8" to $12" barreled guns which translates to powder burning in the atmosphere in the flash hider and in front of the muzzle.   That gives a massive noise and flash signature which is not only irritating, but can cause permanent hearing loss when done inside of small rooms.   Hearing protection is a must when using these types of guns. 

It is the "current" obsolescence of the pistol caliber submachinegun that has brought many to the open market where they have not been before.  Financially strapped militaries with post cold war budgets and the perceived need to upgrade have been making these weapons available at very attractive prices.   The subgun is fairly easy to upgrade with the use of off the shelf accessories.   A subgun with only a limited number of these upgrades then becomes a fine weapon for the survivor.  In fact, an upgraded subgun may be one of the best choices for a survivor looking for the ultimate in lightweight versatile weapons.   Probably the single most important upgrade you need on any subgun is going to be a reflex sight or optic of some sort.   Preferably an Aimpoint, holosight, or something similar.  Otherwise, the subgun in even fairly skilled hands is not going to be much more effective than a quality pistol in the hands of a competent shooter.  

Most of the modifications are similar to what you would want for your assault rifle.  This includes mods that make the gun more usable at night and under low light conditions.  Improved ammunition can make these weapons very effective at ranges under 200 yards.   Subguns are effective with normal ammunition at 100 yards but are deadly at longer ranges.   Many users opt not to modify their subguns because most of the modifications ad weight and too much weight defeats the purpose of using a fast handling short range weapon.   Others, especially the collectors, are loathe to modify the guns because many modifications can hurt the resale value and "originality" of the guns.  

Recommended upgrades include a red dot sight of some kind.  The high quality Armson is pictured on the Sig 550 pictured above.   It uses an amber reticule that is illuminated by a tritium glow element that only needs to be replaced once every ten years.   Less costly but effective sights like the excellent Aimpoint pictured on the Sterling are also rugged and reliable.  One thing to note with battery operated scopes is that it is a smart idea to keep extra batteries around.  

The red dot scopes are not more accurate than a conventional crosshair reticule but they offer two advantages that fit the subgun well.  First, they are very fast to use.  The red dot scopes use a prismatic system to compensate for parallax error at shorter ranges.  This means that even through the shooter may not be looking directly through the center of the scope, the reticule will still be aligned with the bore.   You can test this with a properly sighted in red dot scope.  You simply hold the gun on target and then move your head a little from right to left while holding the gun steady.  With a normal scope, the image would disappear or go out of focus as your eye lost alignment with the center of the scope.  With iron sights, the moment the front and rear sight are misaligned, they become worthless.   With the red dot scope however, the red dot will actually follow the target as you move your eye.  It will only go off the target if the gun is off target.  My eliminating the sight alignment stage of the aiming process, the red dot scope greatly enhances the speed of the process.  You should note that this benefit diminishes at longer ranges since these scopes do have some parallax error when the red dot travels more than halfway to the outer edge of the field of vision in the scope.  Another advantage of these scopes is that it is fairly easy to aim with both eyes open.   That is important in dynamic short range firefights and CQB where speed is critical.  

Red dot scopes are also compatible with night vision goggles and some night vision scopes.   The great majority of conventional scopes are simply not compatible with commonly available night vision equipment.  

Another very useful accessory is the weapon mounted light.  One of the most popular for the MP5 and Colt 9mm subguns is the sure-fire.   It is a powerful and compact light that takes camera batteries.  Popular police models come built in to special fore ends of popular subguns while the more generic models can be adapted to barrel clamp mounts.  If you are desperate, light mounts can be improvised with hose clamps and wood.  Dedicated light housings cost upwards of $300 with stand alone lights costing as little as $40.   There are a few reasonably priced high power compact flashlights on the market.  Pretty much anything that takes 3 volt camera batteries will match the performance of the sure-fire.  

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Specific product reviews:  HK UMP Subgun