By Gorazd Tomic
Submachine guns saw the first large-scale combat use in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, while during World War II these light automatic firearms proved their effectiveness on battlefields all over of the world. After the war their important role was reduced due to the introduction of assault rifles with versatile intermediate cartridges. These new weapons were often as light and compact as many submachine guns but had the punch of a rifle round.
However, there are situations where submachine guns are the best choice today as well as they were decades ago, not because of their firepower, but because of their undemanding design. This property is of upmost importance in cases when somebody is forced to arm himself with an efficient firearm, manufactured in the shortest time in improvised facilities. Therefore, submachine guns were frequently produced in secret workshops by underground groups during World War II (e.g. in Denmark, France, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia), and also later on in Israel, Vietnam, Algeria, etc. A similar situation, where one party suffered a severe shortage of weapons, happened in Europe two decades ago. In the beginning of the 1990s in the war in Yugoslavia, two northern republics decided to separate from the Socialistic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The war in Slovenia ended in ten days (successfully for it), while fights in Croatia were much heavier and lasted for years. Especially at the very beginning the Croatian units did not have enough weapons, while on the other side the Yugoslav army was “armed to the teeth.” About 75% of the federal army armaments were of domestic production- including small arms, artillery, ammunition, tanks and other vehicles, aircraft and military vessels. Unfortunately for Slovenia and Croatia, only 9.8% of the military industry was located in these republics, while about 44% of all defense plants were in Serbia, 42% in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest in Montenegro and Macedonia. As regards small arms, not a single manufacturer was located in Croatia. To make the situation even worse, the United Nations proclaimed the embargo on military equipment against all the republics of ex-Yugoslavia.
In such circumstances the manufacture of different simple firearms started in several mechanical facilities, the personnel of which were without any gunmaking knowledge or experience. Several single shot pistols and rifles, mortars, hand grenades and submachine guns were developed in the year 1991. Some items were produced in thousands, some in much smaller quantity. An example from the last group is a little known, primitive 9mm submachine gun called the M.P. 91 Vila Velebita.
Markings on the Weapon
Improvised weapons, produced in clandestine workshops, are often without markings as to the name of manufacturer, model, caliber and serial number. The M.P. 91 is a bit different in this respect, because it bears the following inscriptions: M.P. 91, MK II, “Vila Velebita” located on the left side of the frame, near the magazine housing, the caliber designation “CAL. 9 .PARA.” on the right side of the frame, near the magazine housing, a three digit serial number stamped on the left rear, both on frame and on receiver (in case of the examined gun, the first digit from the left side is zero), letters A and P, denoting positions of the fire selector. “A” means “automatsko” (= automatic in Croatian language) and “P” means “pojedinacno” (= single).
The number 91 means the year of manufacture (1991), which has also been confirmed by the Croat owner of this relic. The meaning of other abbreviations is open to speculation. There are no such general words in the Croatian language which would make these letters make sense. Perhaps they are symbols of the designer or manufacturer of the weapon, however it is also possible that letters M.P. and MK were taken from foreign weapons / languages, like German “Maschinenpistole” or English “Machine Pistol / Mark”.
The words “Vila Velebita” are easier to understand – they mean “Fairy of Velebit”, a mythic being from Croatian history. The Velebit itself is a Croatian mountain chain above the Adriatic coast. “Vila Velebita” is therefore the nickname of the weapon.
The fact that there is no clear name of the manufacturer or at least his location is understandable, because the people involved had to take care for their own safety. It is only known that M.P. 91 was produced in the littoral region of Croatia, close to Split, the capital of Dalmatia. As we were told, about one hundred guns of this model were made.
The configuration of M.P. 91. is that of the second generation of submachine guns – with the barrel fixed inside the front part of the tubular receiver and the bolt with the main operating spring behind it. Such configuration, which is typical of classic submachine guns, allows the simplest design. The gun operates in the usual blowback principle, with the weapon firing from the open breech position. The trigger mechanism is simple as well, and it is located inside of the box-like housing under the receiver. The extreme simplicity of M.P. 91. is evident both in general characteristics as well as in details.
The receiver / barrel jacket consists of the sheet steel tube of 30 mm outer diameter. In the front part of that tube the barrel is mounted, while the rear end of the receiver is closed with a cap, fixed in place by a prominent cross-bolt. The bolt is a simple cylinder with a fixed firing pin and cocking handle, which moves together with the bolt. The extractor is located on the upper part of the bolt face, and because the ejector is located centrally as well, the cases are ejected straight upwards. The bolt is rather light and its maximal longitudinal movement is a mere 65 mm, which is about half in comparison with other blowback submachine guns. The consequence of this combination is a high rate of fire.
The Croatian gun can fire in automatic or semiautomatic mode, which is chosen with a fire selector, built as a small lever on the left side of the housing above the trigger. The safety is separately built as a longitudinally moving knob, mounted centrally between the trigger guard and the magazine housing. When the knob is in the front (fire) position, a red dot is visible on the base of the knob.
Probably the most interesting feature of the M.P. 91. is the design of its magazine. Obviously, the unknown manufacturer of the Croatian gun had no access to sufficient supply of factory made magazines from any of the existing 9×19 submachine guns, so he developed his own magazine. Being aware of the rather demanding technological operations needed in production of two-row high capacity box magazines, he developed a simple single-row box magazine with 17-20 rounds capacity. The designer followed the maxim that it is better to have a lower capacity reliably working magazine than a bigger capacity but less reliable two-row magazine.
The magazine retainer is also unusual, built as a lever located in the front wall of the magazine housing. Sights are rudimentary, both front post and rear “U” notch are protected by side walls.
The pistol grip and folding stock are uncomplicated as well. The grip is a flat piece of wood, screwed to the mechanism housing. The one-piece metal stock is of a vertically pivoting design. To fold (or unfold) it, it is necessary to push in its axis, protruding on the left side of the weapon. The spring loaded stock axis acts as a retainer too. The butt plate is just a simple metal strip, welded to the stock’s tubular arm. Welding has been used for fastening of the magazine housing to the receiver, while the trigger mechanism housing is connected to the receiver by pins and screws. Simple production methods were obviously applied as much as possible.
Field stripping follows known paths: after clearing the firearm the rear cross-screw is removed to free the rear cap; then the cap and mainspring are separated from the receiver and the bolt is pulled to its rear position, where the cocking handle must be extracted through the side opening. Then the bolt is removed from the receiver. As a rule, the reassembly is performed in the reverse order.
Several emergency submachine guns were developed in Croatia in 1991, and the M.P. 91. is one of the earliest among them. It is not a direct copy of any factory-made model, and though it is very crude, it provided the user with a much higher firepower than improvised single shot weapons, which were also made in significant number at the beginning of the Yugoslav conflict.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V16N2 (June 2012)|