Erma Vollmer EMP Submachine Gun
By Jean Huon

The Erma EMP submachine gun was designed by Heinrich Vollmer in the mid thirties. Production only occurred from 1935 to 1938 and while a few guns were used by the German army and police, most of the guns were sold for export.

Like many submachine guns designed during this period (Schmeisser, Suomi, Steyr-Solothurn, etc.), the main use was during the Chaco War in South America between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-1935) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

Many Erma EMPs were used by Spanish Republican troops and kept by the French when the Republicans come back to France after their defeat. Like many other foreign submachine guns seized, they were kept in a French Army Ordnance plant in Clermont-Ferrand in the center of the country.

After nearly twenty years of development of a national submachine gun, and trials of various foreign models, the French Army was not able in 1939 to choose a submachine gun. So when they entered the war with the German, no submachine guns were issued for the French troops.

On November 1, 1939, 3,750 Thompson 1921 and 1928s were ordered from the United States but they did not arrive until February 1940. Because of the urgency of the situation, the army looked at the guns stored in Clermont-Ferrand and several of them were tested. They included the Labora 38, a Spanish gun shooting the 9mm Largo cartridge, the F.A.I. Spanish copy of the Schmeisser MP28, also shooting the 9mm Largo, and the Suomi, a Finnish submachine gun in 9mm Luger.

But the most numerous and important weapon in the French arsenal was the Vollmer Erma. 3,250 were present at this time but only 1,540 magazines. A same gun coming from the Swiss Company Etablissements Mécaniques de Précision was also submitted to trials. Because of the lack of magazines, only 700 to 800 Erma submachine guns could be used. They were given to the Corps Francs, commando units fighting at the rear of enemy front each night to get information and take prisoners. Some other Erma Vollmers were used by the Gendarmerie. A provisional user manual was published on December 26, 1939, and another edition is dated January 6, 1940. Some war photographs exist showing the Erma Vollmer in the hands of French troops and some others later in the hands of the small Vichy Government army.

Several copies of the Erma Vollmer EMP were made in Spain that included the Modelo 1941/44, manufactured by Fabrica de Armas de La Coruna and the V.P.K., without cooling sleeve. Both fired the 9mm Largo cartridge.

The gun works on the blowback system. It has a wooden stock with a short forend and a vertical front grip. The frame is cylindrical and the barrel is mounted inside a tubular cooling sleeve with oval holes. The cocking lever is on the right side. The bolt is cylindrical with an independent firing pin, and there is a small diameter recoil spring with telescopic guide rod. For safety, the cocking lever can be placed in a recess of the frame. Some models have a device to lock the bolt, located in the rear of the ejection port. A selector is located on the right side, just over the trigger. In vertical position (A or D), it permits full automatic fire, and in the horizontal position (T or E), single shots.

The front sight is on the top of the cooling jacket and the tangent rear sight is graduated from 50 to 1,000 meters. The gun has a horizontal magazine located on the left side.


Remove the magazine and clear the gun. Put the selector in the full auto position and press the trigger. Hold the cooling jacket and turn it to the right or left with a movement to the front. Separate the frame and the stock. Extract the recoil spring and bolt from the frame. To reassemble operate in the reverse order.

Erma Vollmer

Caliber: 9mm
Ammunition: 9mm Luger
Overall length: 0.895 m (32.23 inches)
Barrel length: 0.250 m (9.84 inches)
Weight w/o magazine: 4.150 kg (9.16 lbs)
Cyclic rate of fire: 500 rpm
Magazine capacity: 20 or 32 cartridges

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V14N8 (May 2011)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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