Early Fábrica de Itajubá SMG Designs

By Ronaldo Olive

To most Brazilians, the mountainous regions of the Southern Minas Gerais State are generally better known for its excellent climate, hospitable population, first-class dairy products, and mouth-watering gastronomy. But to us gun lovers, what immediately comes to our minds is Fábrica de Itajubá (Itajubá Factory), an industrial facility founded there on July 16, 1934 and starting operations a year later by what was then the Ministério da Guerra (War Ministry), the controlling organization of the Exército Brasileiro (Brazilian Army). Originally called Fábrica de Canos e Sabres para Armamento Portátil (Barrel and Saber Factory for Portable Armament), its primary goal was the local production of the Mauser M1908/34 bolt-action rifle in 7x57mm caliber, which was carried out smoothly in the years to follow. In World War II, a 25,000-strong Brazilian Army Expeditionary Force fought alongside the U.S. 5th Army in Italy starting in September, 1944, but the troops were all equipped with American-supplied infantry weapons in .30-06 caliber (M1903 Springfields, M1 Garands, BARs and Browning M1919s). This prompted the Brazilian Army to switch from 7x57mm to the U.S. round as standard in 1949, which resulted in Itajubá manufacturing the so-called Mq .30 M949 and .30 M954 in .30-06 chambering. Another rifle development that took place at the factory following WWII involved the adaptation of the German Mauser G43 gas-action, semiautomatic rifle to fire .30-06 ammunition, which resulted in a pre-series test batch of 300 or so copies being manufactured as the Mq. S/Aut .30 M954, these featuring a BAR-type 10-round magazine. Results were poor, so the program did not progress further. A different, unnamed G43 adaptation was made at about the same time at the Arsenal de Guerra do Rio de Janeiro, a single prototype being known to exist.

Following the Brazilian Army official adoption of the 7.62x51mm FN FAL rifle in 1964 (Fz 7.62 M964 and Fz 7.62 M964A1, the foldable-stock PARA-FAL model), with full local production following suit, Fábrica de Itajubá modified about 10,000 Mauser-type rifles to chamber the NATO round, under the official designation Mq. M968, but which were general and informally called the Mosque-FAL, or “Mosquefal.” These featured modified rear and front sights, as well as a FAL-type grenade launcher on the muzzle. Other than rifles, Colt M1911A1-type pistols, both in .45ACP and 9x19mm (Pst M973) have for long been manufactured in Itajubá. For the record, Fábrica de Itabujá became a part of the IMBEL – Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil S.A. conglomerate on July 15, 1975.

Submachine guns, however, have also received the attention of the guys on the Minas Gerais mountains, but this has remained pretty much unrecorded so far. The earliest mention of a SMG design at the Itajubá Factory appeared at a Oficina de Protótipos (Prototypes Workshop) document dated February 3, 1970, illustrating and mentioning a “Sub. Mtr. 9mm” or 9mm Submachine Gun. Later designated FI/70, the resulting prototype was a pretty conventional blowback-operated weapon that fired from the open-bolt position. The tubular receiver housed the similarly-shaped bolt with the fixed firing pin being machined to the bolt’s head. The small cocking piece was located 90 degrees to the right side and reciprocated with the bolt when the gun was fired. The ejection port was on the same side, but located about 45 degrees upwards. The lower body, or firing mechanism housing, was made in aluminum with wooden covering. A safety lever was fitted to the rear of the pistol grip, blocking the bolt if not fully pressed inwards by the firing hand.

The fire-selector lever (safe, semi-auto and full-auto at about 800 rounds per minute) was located on the left side of the body, near the magazine housing, and was clearly intended to be operated by the supporting hand. The magazine release button was on the front side of the housing, being pressed rearwards to actuate. The side-ears protected sights had a radius of 210 mm, including a two-position (100-200 meters) flip-type rear sight and an elevation-adjustable front post. The stock fitted was a wire-type that folded down and forward, two different shapes having been built before it was finally replaced with a more practical, firmer tubular model that folded to the right side. The external wooden panels were also eliminated.

FI/70 Specifications:
Caliber: 9x19mm,
Magazine: 30 rounds
Barrel length: 210 mm
Overall length: 745 mm
Length with folded stock: 460 mm
Empty weight: 3.4 kg.

In 1971, however, the Prototypes Workshop technicians decided to play with Uzi-inspired, magazine-in-pistol grip SMG configurations, resulting in two separate models. The FI Modelo 1971 (or CE 71, CE 971) featured a cylindrical receiver housing a wrap-around bolt (fixed firing pin) with a reciprocating cocking handle located about 45 degrees to the left and the ejection port to the right side. A wooden cylindrical hand guard was fitted, and the barrel projected externally. The firing mechanism was housed in a rectangular structure from which the pistol grip extended vertically below; this featuring a safety lever at the rear. The fire selector was a sliding button on the left side, above the grip, with the settings “A” (Auto, forward), “R” (Repetition, center), and “S” (Safety, rear). The magazine release button, pretty much an Uzi type, was on the left lower side of the in-grip magazine housing. Sights had a radius of 240 mm, and included a two-position (100-200 meters) flip-type aperture rear sight and a post–type front sight, both protected by metal ears. A right-side folding tubular stock was fitted.

The subsequent FI Modelo 1971A (or CE 71A, CE 971A) shared the same overall configuration, but was full-auto only, the two-position (“A”, forward, and “S”, to the rear) fire selector being located on the left side, immediately above the trigger. Cyclic rate of fire was about 900 rounds per minute. The wooden hand guard was slightly reshaped to a conical front, and the rear peep sight was fixed for 100 meters, only. A similar folding stock was used.

CE 971/CE 971A Specifications:
Caliber: 9x19mm
Magazine: 30 rounds
Barrel length: 250 mm
Overall length: 680 mm
Length with folded stock: 430 mm
Empty weight: 3.6 kg/3.3 kg.

During the first half of 1978, when Fábrica de Itajubá was already part of the IMBEL, the design staff decided to take a better look at the original FI/70 prototypes and try to improve them somewhat, this resulting in a so-called CE 70, its “Military Designation” according to a contemporary document. Although pretty much retaining the earlier general configuration (tubular receiver and bolt, rectangular firing mechanism housing, right-folding tubular shoulder stock), a closer examination will reveal several changes. The reciprocating cocking piece was moved from the left side to an almost vertical position to the right. The magazine release was now a small round button on the left side of the magazine housing, while the fire selector took the shape of a small transversal-moving button located where the trigger guard met the lower receiver. Pushed sideways to the right, it gave the full-auto-only (about 1,300 rounds per minute) setting, while pushed to the left set the gun to safety, blocking the trigger mechanism. The grip safety feature was maintained. At a later stage, the gun’s cyclic rate of fire was reduced to about 900 rounds per minute, still much on the higher side, with the addition of more weight to the bolt and increasing its travel distance.

Still in 1978, a prototype with no apparent special designation was built using the same lower body. The longer receiver and bolt, however, took a rectangular shape with a detachable tubular stock being used. The cocking piece was non-reciprocating with a central U-shaped channel so as not to interfere with the use of the sights. Ejection of empty cases was upwards through a port located just behind the front sight, and the cyclic rate of fire was finally brought down to more manageable 600-700 rounds per minute.

CE 70 Specifications:
Caliber: 9x19mm
Magazine: 30 rounds
Barrel length: 212 mm
Overall length: 880 mm
Length with folded stock: 483 mm
Empty weight: 3.5 kg

During the second half of 1978, two prototypes of an M978 model were built on modified CE 70 lower bodies, where the magazine housing was moved closer to the trigger guard, the push-forward release lever being positioned at the rear. The first prototype was full-auto only (rate of fire: about 650-700 rounds per minute), and fired from the closed-bolt position with a hammer-and-striker arrangement; this example possessing a straight line-configured detachable shoulder stock. The second prototype was a selective-fire version (three-position selector above the trigger), while the detachable stock fitted was somewhat curved to the bottom leaving the butt plate about 50 mm lower. Significantly, the M978 featured a non-reciprocating cocking knob on the top side of the rectangular receiver, the same shape of the bolt fitted. A central U-shaped channel in the cocking piece was used so that it did not interfere with the use of the sights (fixed U-notch rear sight to 100 meters). The receiver was a stamped structure with reinforcing ribs, the ejection window being located 90 degrees to the right. A wooden hand guard was fitted.

M978 Specifications:
Caliber: 9x19mm
Magazine: 30 rounds
Barrel length: 230 mm
Overall length: 690 mm
Length with stock removed: 452 mm
Empty weight: 4 kg.

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on April 4, 2014


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