Hungary’s 39M & 43M

Story & Gun Photography by Jean Huon

Machine Gun Designer Saw His Weapons Used by China, Japan, Columbia, Finland, and the Vatican

Pál Király was a Hungarian automatic small arms designer whose work was very interesting indeed. Born in Budapest in 1880, he acquired professional experience at the Mechanical Science University, where he became an assistant teacher in 1902. He published a book on automatic small arms in 1915. During his military service, he was a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment, and during WWI he was assigned to a small arms research office. After also spending time as an observer-machine gunner, he ended the war as a captain.

After WWI, like Germany, Austria-Hungary was struck with a ban on the development and manufacture of armament. Pál Király therefore went to work at the SIG factory in Neuhausen, Switzerland, where he contributed to several projects. With Gotthard End, he developed the KE-7 light machine gun (KE-7 = Király End 7th model), which featured a short recoil barrel action and a tilting bolt. It was fed by a 25-round vertical curved magazine and can receive a bipod or tripod. It was not adopted by Switzerland, but it was sold to several other countries (China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Japan and the Dutch Indies) and was built from 1929 until 1938.

Király also designed the MKMO submachine gun with two Swiss engineers: Jacob Gaetzi and Gotthard End. It looked like a small carbine, fired the powerful 9mm Mauser cartridge and worked with a delayed blowback bolt. Lighter models that fired less powerful cartridges with a blowback action were designated MKMS and MKPS. These models were built between 1933 and 1941—only 1,228 were produced. They were used in Finland and in Vatican City by the Papal Swiss Guard!

In 1929, Pál Király returned to Hungary, but the Swiss did not allow him to take the plans of the guns he designed with him. He worked at the Danuvia factory in Budapest and designed a 9mm pistol known as the KD, of which 20 examples were made. The German Army expressed their interest in it for a time, but they instead embarked on the adoption of the P-38. From 1932 onwards, Király developed a semiautomatic rifle in several variants. All possessed an impressive muzzle brake.

39M Submachine Gun

The designer did produce a submachine gun very similar to the MKMO model; it looked like a small carbine, with a single-piece wooden butt, a delayed blowback action and a folding magazine. It could receive the same bayonet as the 35M Hungarian carbine. However, it was too long (more than 3 feet long) and had disastrous handling. To reduce its length, a redesigned 39M was tested; it had a folding wooden stock, but it was not kept. The exact number of 39M submachine guns produced is not known, but it is between 13,000 and 177,000 models from 1942 to 1944. Finally, another, completely different model was made in 1943 and was adopted as the 43M.

43M Submachine Gun


This gun works like the 39M, but most of its parts have been modified. The stock can be folded under the frame, it has two metal rods covered with wood and receives a folding butt plate. The magazine can also be folded under the frame, but its design differs from that of the 39M. A wooden handguard covers the barrel and is locked by a ring, to which the sling attachment is connected. Ventilation holes can be seen on both sides. The frame is made of a cylindrical tube and receives a rear plug. On the right side are the ejection port and the cocking handle. The 9mm-caliber barrel is screwed into the frame and features six right-hand twist lands and grooves.

The bolt is made of three parts: the main bolt at the rear, which holds the firing pin; the bolt head, which features the extractor and ejector; and a simplified inertia lever. This bolt differs from and is not exchangeable with that of the 39M. The grip is a wooden part with horizontal grooves. The three-position selector is mounted at the rear of the frame and is turned left for automatic shooting (S = Sorozat), right for safety (Z = Zàarva) and top for single shot (E = Egyenkén). The gun receives a 40-round straight magazine. Cartridges are arranged in two columns and are fed alternately from left and right, as for the Thompson. When in a firing position, it tilts forward slightly. For transport, it can be pulled down under the frame. The 43M magazine is not the same as that used for the 39M! The front sight is located on the barrel and the rear sight aids shooting between 50 meters and 600 meters. Between 5,000 and 9,000 43M submachine guns were produced in 1944. A 44M variant, without a shoulder stock, was also made but was not adopted.


The 43M features a patented two-part delayed blowback bolt. When shooting, the gas pressure pushes both the bullet and the bolt head, which is locked by the high pressure. When the bullet exits the barrel the pressure lessens, and the bolt can then unlock and open. The empty case is extracted and ejected, and the main spring is compressed. The device is complicated, but its design permits a 60% reduction in recoil and the use of a light bolt (only one pound).

Disassembly and Reassembly

Put the weapon on safe. Depress the receiver cap-retaining plug located on the rear left side of the receiver. Give the cap a quarter turn, while maintaining pressure on the cap to prevent the main spring from flying out of the rear of the receiver. Remove the receiver cap and main operating spring. Retract the bolt assembly to the rear. Push the bolt assembly retaining pin out and separate the heavy rear portion of the bolt and the cocking lever. The firing pin may also be removed. To assemble, reverse the above procedure.


Accessories include a leather sling; 35M bayonet with a 33-centimeter blade and a wooden handle; the scabbard is made of sheet metal with a leather holder.


The 39M and 43M submachine guns were used by the Hungarians on the Eastern Front, as they were allied to the Germans against the Soviet Union. In 1944, Pál Király escaped from Hungary before the arrival of the Soviets. He travelled to Spain and proposed some of his designs to the Spanish arsenals, but they were not interested. He made his way to Switzerland and then to Santo Domingo, where he arrived with a passport delivered by the Red Cross! There, he found his fellow countryman Alexander Kovacs, who supervised La Armeria, a Dominican arsenal that repairs various small arms.

Later, Király developed the M2 Cristóbal carbine, a light assault rifle that fired the .30 M1 cartridge and employed a delayed blowback action, like the 43M. It was produced between 1950 and 1957. The designer worked at La Armeria until 1962 and died in 1965.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N2 (February 2018)
and was posted online on December 22, 2017


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