The Howlett Submachinegun
By Frank Iannamico

In World War II many Americans, both those serving in the military and civilians, were anxious to offer their inventions, ideas and Yankee ingenuity to the U.S. Government to assist in the war effort. Among the most common suggestions submitted were ideas for new weapons; in particular, small arms. In a few cases, individuals constructed actual working models of their guns. While these inventors were considered patriots in the 1940s, today they would be regarded as felons and would be subject to arrest and prosecution.

During the war, one such idea for a new weapon was the Howlett Machine Pistol designed and developed by a Douglas Aircraft factory worker from California by the name of C.C. Howlett. The Howlett weapon impressed U.S. Colonel James T. Workman who was the Army Air Force resident representative at the Long Beach Douglas plant where Mr. Howlett was employed. Colonel Workman arranged for a firing demonstration at the nearby Los Angeles proof range after which he felt that the light, compact weapon had definite possibilities as a military small arm. The Colonel agreed to assist Mr. Howlett in getting the government to examine and test his new submachine gun. The Howlett submachine gun was a select-fire, short recoil, blowback operated weapon that used standard .30 caliber carbine ammunition and fifteen round carbine magazines. The original prototype weapon weighed six pounds with an overall length of eighteen inches and a barrel length of twelve inches. When fired, the recoil-operated weapon’s barrel recoiled back approximately 5/16 of an inch to unlock the mechanism. The inventor stated that the weapon had the muzzle velocity and effectiveness of a rifle with the maneuverability of a pistol.

The square receiver was fabricated from steel with a removable plate at the rear for stripping the weapon. A knurled cocking handle was located on the receiver’s right side. The wooden rear pistol grip was similar to that used on the Thompson submachine gun. The wooden foregrip was horizontal and extended almost to the muzzle. The lower housing that contained the trigger mechanism was made from aircraft grade aluminum alloy. A single thumb-operated fire control lever controlled the safety, semiautomatic and full automatic operation of the weapon. The control lever operated on a disconnector lug between the trigger bar and bolt sear. The twelve-inch finned barrel was threaded into the receiver and secured by a set screw. The barrel was enclosed inside a perforated steel barrel jacket. All of the external steel parts were blued, while internal parts remained in the white. The breech bolt featured a separate firing pin that could be easily replaced by the troops in the field. The entire weapon could be field stripped without the use of any tools. The weapon had no provisions for a buttstock and was intended to be fired like a pistol, but using a two-handed hold. The inventor felt that his weapon would be perfect for aircraft and armored crews where interior space was limited. The .30 carbine cartridge would provide more effective fire and penetration than similar .45 caliber submachine guns or pistols then in use. The prototype weapon appeared to be very well made.

Perhaps in an attempt to enhance its desirability, the Howlett weapon was renamed by the inventor as the Japeradicator or the Model JE 1. Mr. Howlett continued to develop his basic idea resulting in a second .30 caliber model he named the Japeradicator Model 2, or JE 2 for short. The slightly redesigned JE 2 had a lower housing made completely of wood with an integral pistol grip. The second weapon (that was not completed) boasted a lighter weight and fewer parts than the original JE 1 Model.

The .30 carbine round was an intermediate rifle cartridge that had a slightly tapered brass case and a 110-grain full metal jacket projectile. The carbine projectile had a muzzle velocity of 1,970 feet per second when fired from the eighteen inch barrel of the standard U.S. M1 and M2 carbine. Although details of the firing tests were not included in the official report, it is believed that the Howlett weapon was probably quite difficult to control when fired full automatic, and had quite a severe muzzle blast and report due to its short barrel length.

In November of 1944, Colonel Workman sent a formal letter to the U.S. Army New Developments Division instructing them to investigate a new experimental machine pistol. Colonel Workman’s letter included a detailed description of the Howlett submachine gun and a number of photographs of the weapon. After personnel from the New Developments Division read the letter and examined the included photographs, they forwarded the documents to the National Inventors Council, offering the design to the U.S. Government. Two months later a letter was received from the Council advising that, “the submachine gun looks very interesting and its possibilities are being thoroughly investigated.”

While awaiting word from the Council, personnel from the Air Technical Services Command of the U.S. Army Air Force encouraged Mr. Howlett to continue to develop and improve his weapon, assuring him that every effort would be made to present the finished article to the War Department.

On 3 March 1945, a letter was received requesting a working model of the new Howlett submachine gun and magazines be forwarded to the Commanding General Army Ground Forces, Army War College, Washington, DC for further testing and study. Encouraged by the news, Mr. Howlett carefully packed up his submachine gun and shipped it through Army channels to Washington, DC.

On 10 March 1945, the Army Air Force Plant Representative of the Douglas Aircraft Company, Lt. Colonel James T. Workman, who was assisting Mr. Howlett with presenting his weapon to the government, sent a follow up letter to the War College in Washington. The letter stated that Mr. Howlett has emphasized that his machine pistol was an original hand-made model and still in development. He further stated that due to lack of funds and machine shop facilities, work on a new improved model has been slow. Additionally, Mr. Howlett has offered to travel to Washington, DC at his own expense to assist in the testing, and explain the advantages of his weapon, which has now been dubbed the “Japeradicator”. Colonel Workman asked to be advised of the testing and examination results and if further development is not practical or advised, that the subject weapon be returned to his office for delivery back to its owner.

Colonel Workman received a letter dated 15 June 1945, from Colonel R.A. Meredite, assistant to the General, U.S. Army War College. The letter stated that the subject weapon, now known as the Japeradicator, had been thoroughly examined and after careful consideration it was determined that the subject weapon offered no advantage over the current U.S. .30 caliber M2 Carbine. The official War College test report of the weapon was forwarded to the Commanding General, Army Service Forces for their information and such use as may be required in the development program of small arms.

Within a few months a letter was received by Colonel Workman from the Army Service Forces Office stating that; “after careful consideration it was determined that the Howlett machine pistol did not offer the advantages now obtainable with the M2 Carbine and it is markedly inferior to that weapon.” The letter further stated that a few of the disadvantages of the Howlett were that the weapon as submitted was fourteen ounces heavier than the standard U.S. M2 carbine, and that it could not be fitted with grenade launcher or bayonet. The official government letter effectively eradicated the further development of the Japeradicator.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N12 (September 2005)
and was posted online on April 19, 2013


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