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The M.P. 18,I: The First German Maschinepistole

By Frank Iannamico

A belief commonly held among submachine gun historians is that the Italian Villar Perosa devised in 1915, was the very first submachine gun. This is to some extent true, but the Villar Perosa was originally manufactured to be mounted on aircraft or vehicles. The Villar Perosa was actually a scaled down machine gun, except that it used pistol caliber ammunition. Altering the Italian Villar Perosa into a personal shoulder fired weapon by adding a wooden stock, was done at a later date. So it remains controversial among historians as to which gun, the Villar Perosa or the German M.P. 18,I, was actually the first shoulder fired submachine gun. The Villar Perosa was originally chambered to fire the 9mm Glisenti cartridge, which is less powerful than the 9mm Parabellum round.

The requirements for a new type of weapon were set up by the German Rifle Testing Commission at Spandau in 1915. The using branches of the services wanted a lightweight, fully automatic, short range weapon. The proposed weapon had to be simple, robust and able to be easily carried by one man. Desired was a weapon that combined the handiness of a pistol, with the firepower of a machine gun. It was also requested that the new weapon to be chambered for the standard German pistol cartridge, the 9mm Parabellum. One of the early attempts at meeting these requirements was done by altering a long barreled Artillery Model of the 9mm Luger pistol. The modifications included a buttstock and adding a few internal parts to provide full-automatic capability. After an intense evaluation, the transformed Luger was deemed unsuitable for adoption. The weapon was considered to have too fast of a cyclic rate of fire and excessive muzzle climb. Adapting existing weapons to fulfill a specific requirement generally results in a compromise; an entirely new concept was needed.

By 1916, two German weapon designers, Andreas Schwarzlose of Berlin and Hugo Schmeisser of Suhl, both submitted prototype weapons that were deemed superior. Both of the weapons were thoroughly evaluated and tested. Schmeisser’s weapon was developed with the...


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