By David R. Albert
The Harrington and Richardson (H&R) produced Reising submachine gun has a unique story in many ways, and the original instruction manual produced by H&R for the weapon tells us a lot about the U.S. war effort, and H&R’s strategy as a company with sights set beyond V-Day.
The H&R Reising SMG manual, first printed in 1942, is the first firearm manual advertised to the general public, and available for free to anyone by writing to H&R. This was out of the ordinary, especially for a submachine gun manual. Some advertisements included cutout coupons to send in for a free copy, and some simply contained H&R’s address, and gave instructions to write the company. It is believed that H&R was well focused on gaining brand value, and sought soldiers and individuals who may have been exposed to the weapon in combat, or during home guard duty, to purchase H&R’s civilian firearm offerings as customers after the war. A number of various ads have been encountered for the weapon and the manual in WWII era magazines. One 1943 H&R advertisement for the weapon included the headline, “This Gun Is Blasting Japs From The Jungles,” and encouraged individuals to write in for the free manual, from which they could “See, Read, Study, and Learn.” H&R wanted potential buyers to “Learn what sportsmen and shooting fans can expect from Harrington and Richardson Arms Co. in the post-war world.” The original Reising SMG manuals contain advertisements for H&R products such as the Defender .38, the H&R Line Throwing Kit, and the Mark IV Flare Pistol. One difference between the 1942 dated manuals and the later editions is the total length. Original 1942 versions contain 47 pages, and later manuals include an additional one-page advertisement for the new 10-shot Reising .22 Rifle, for a total of 48 pages.
The manual has a grey colored cover with red and blue printing, and contains medium blue background printing and illustrations on the inside, with many black and white pictures throughout, including an excellent disassembly sequence of photos. The cover is made from a slightly rough paper of a grade about equal to card stock. The manual contains basic operation and maintenance instructions for the Reising Models 50 (Standard SMG), 55 (Paratrooper SMG), and 60 (Semi-Automatic Rifle). The date of publication for each Reising manual can be found on the bottom left hand corner of the contents page. Also featured is a 3-page biography of the designer of the weapon, Eugene G. Reising, who joined H&R in 1940. The short biography of Mr. Reising serves as an introduction to H&R, which is touted as being “exceptionally well suited to large-scale production of his new design.”
H&R received the Army-Navy “E” award for production excellence on January 21, 1943 in a ceremony that was attended by the Governor of Massachusetts, the Mayor of Worcester, and representatives from the Marine Corps, as well as H&R company executives. As a result of the award, H&R began to place a sticker on the front of their free Reising SMG manuals, as well as on their stationary, and employees of H&R were awarded lapel pins of the same design. The lapel pins were presented on a card with FDR’s signature on it, in a cellophane envelope. The sticker that H&R began affixing to the manual cover after receipt of the award is a red, white, and blue pennant-style flag, and has a wreathed “E” for “Excellence” positioned in between “Army” and “Navy.” Some manuals encountered today still have this sticker present. It should not be mistaken for a sticker that a child placed on the manual for fun, but rather a symbol of the significant wartime production efforts put forth on the home front. One 1943 H&R ad boasted “We’re going to keep on deserving our “E”...Watch our smoke.”
H&R experienced some commercial success with marketing of the Model 50 Reising SMG after the war to various police departments in the United States. In 1951, they produced a manual specific to the Model 50. The manual has a greenish colored, slightly shiny cardstock cover, and is similar to the previous Reising manual in coverage, but does not serve as an H&R marketing tool like the World War II manuals that were freely distributed by the company through the mail. The first page of the manual states, “This manual is presented as a text in the mechanics of the H&R Reising Submachine Gun and as a guide for mechanical training in this arm.” It is 23 pages long, and has H&R’s logo on the back cover. This manual is not encountered as often as the original World War II era H&R manual, but is sometimes found with Reising SMG’s that became available to the NFA market from U.S. police departments.
The U.S. Marine Corps produced a manual for the Reising SMG in 1942, which was titled appropriately, “Manual for the Reising Submachine Gun, Caliber .45, Models 50, 55, and 60.” It is not clear why they included the semi-automatic Model 60 in the manual title, as it does not appear to be specifically covered. This was a simple, 23 page manual that is extremely scarce today. Many reprints exist, as is the example included for this article.
For purposes of today’s Reising SMG owner, the H&R manual is better suited to most shooter’s needs. It includes an excellent disassembly sequence that is not present in the Marine manual. It also includes detailed photographs of all parts, and a history of the development of the weapon. The Marine manual, on the other hand, covers some military information not contained in the H&R manual. If you seek instructions on carrying the weapon, slinging the weapon over the right shoulder for inspections, or slinging it on either shoulder during marches and field exercises, then the Marine manual is the only place to find this information. The Marine manual also contains good exploded parts diagrams, and has some technical information, such as the effect of the selector bar in the 3 functional positions. These are features that some people might want, and for them I recommend both publications. If you’re just looking for a good operator’s manual, then buy the H&R.
Firearm manual collecting often provides a fascinating historical perspective, as well as pragmatic technical information for today’s NFA firearm owner or enthusiast. The Reising Submachine Gun is one of the best examples of this facet of firearms ownership.
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