By Frank Iannamico
Transferable machine gun prices have continued their meteoric rise since the ban of 1986. Today, the popular machine gun boards on the Internet have seen these prices hit new plateaus. Figuring into the equation is the dwindling supply and increasing demand; the past several years have definitely been a sellers market. When the question “when is the best time to buy a machine gun” is posed, the best answer is usually “last year.”
Some machine guns have increased in price at a much higher rate than others, such as the Thompson submachine guns; both the 1920s era Colt and military models. Reising submachine guns have also seen a modest increase in value, though nothing like the popular Thompsons have enjoyed.
There are several reasons for the Reising to be near the bottom of the Class III food chain. One of the primary reasons for the Reising’s unpopular position is its reputation, which for the most part is hearsay and quite unfounded. Generally, functioningproblems can be attributed to a faulty magazine or ammunition. The only major parts problem is the original firing pins, which will break. One precautionary step is not to dry fire a Reising. Some contemporary manufacturers, knowing of the firing pin weakness of the gun, have manufactured and marketed some very reliable replacement pins.
Most enthusiasts’ opinions of the Reisings are based only what they have heard or read. Statements of “Reisings are junk” are usually made by a person who has never owned or even fired one. There are certainly better submachine gun designs available, but not for the price of a Reising. Another negative against the Reising is its humble carbine-like appearance. The gun lacks the classic lines of the Thompson or the sinister look of the UZI. On the positive side, Reisings are available. A quick Internet search will reveal no shortage of the submachine guns being offered for sale. Although there were far less Reisings manufactured than the Thompson, many Reisings were sold to police departments and are fully transferable.
Attributes of the Reising are that they are original U.S. manufactured submachine guns produced by the Harrington and Richardson Arms Company from 1941 until 1957. The guns are select fire, classified as a Curio and Relic and are chambered for the American .45 ACP round and, as mentioned earlier, they are readily available. The .45 caliber Reising is beginning to look attractive to many of those who would like to own a Thompson, but, mostly for economic reasons, a Thompson is not an option.
1941 to 1943
The very first Reisings manufactured for police and Marine contracts were the Model 50 and folding stock Model 55, with a 28-fin barrel and commercial blue finish. The Model 55 is the rarest of the Reising genre and can often fetch twice the price of a comparable full stock model 50.
The early blued Reisings are often referred to as the “commercial models.” This often used description is inaccurate as the blued guns were procured by the military as well as the police. Feedback from the field resulted in an improved Parkerized variation, which has also been incorrectly referred to as the “military model.” There have also been transition variations observed with mixed features. There was never any distinction of the two guns by the factory: they were just marketed as the Model 50 and Model 55. Historically, the later Parkerized models have been the most sought after, but the earlier blued models are much less common. In addition to the finish there were a number of improvements implemented into the basic design of the later manufacture Reisings.
The first Marine contract for 2,000 Model 55 Reising submachine guns was signed on 26 February 1942. These early gun were the blued so-called “commercial” models. By the third Marine contract of 13 July 1942, many design changes had been implemented. One of the most obvious was the reduction in the number of cooling fins on the barrel from 28 to 14. This was done to both increase overall strength and reduce machining time. The front sight was changed so that it could be drifted right or left for windage adjustments. The area where the auto-connector hooked onto the action bar was redesigned for better durability. A larger threescrew trigger guard was added along with a larger knurled take-down screw and a two-piece rear bumper plug/guide rod was utilized to alleviate the earlier breakages associated with the one-piece plugs. Other design changes included a new style selector lever and a screw to retain the rear sight. The magazine release lever was modified for easier manipulation and a heavier stock with large reinforcing tie screws was fitted. Lastly, the finish was changed from blue to a more durable Parkerized finish. There were a number of transition production guns that had a mixture of both the old and new features. By the time production hit the 40,000 to 50,000 serial number range, the transition to the second design was complete. Approximately 114,000 Reising Model 50 and Model 55s were made from 1941 until 1943. There was also a semiautomaticonly Reising designated as the Model 60.
Unlike most submachine guns, the Reising operates from a closed-bolt position. This feature has a few positive characteristics; one is that the weapon is much lighter than similar submachine guns because it doesn’t require a heavy bolt, and the gun is very accurate when delivering semiautomatic fire. However, the light weight also makes the Reising difficult to fire accurately in the full-automatic mode, although with practice it can be mastered.
To operate the Reising, insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well until it snaps into place. The action bar or cocking handle that is located under the barrel is accessed through a hole cut in the stock. Pull the handle rearward and quickly release it. This action will pull the bolt rearward and upon release will strip a cartridge from the magazine and place it in the chamber. The weapon is now ready to fire. When the weapon is in the cocked position as described above, the hammer spring is compressed, and the cylindrical hammer is held in the cocked position by the sear. When the trigger is pulled to fire the weapon, the disconnector that is connected to the trigger, moves forward. The sear, being engaged with the disconnector, rotates on its pin releasing the hammer. The hammer under the tension of a compressed spring moves rapidly forward and strikes the firing pin whereupon the firing pin strikes the primer of the cartridge firing it.
The pressure from the gas of the firing cartridge is exerted against the face of the bolt and causes it to unlock and begin moving rearward. The camming lug of the action bar is hooked into the recess on the underside of the bolt, pulling the action bar rearward with it. The camming of the bolt out of the 23 degree locking shoulder in the receiver and the resistance of the retracting spring delays the overcoming of the inertia of the moving parts until the bullet is approximately 2.62 inches from the muzzle of the barrel. At this point the chamber pressures are reduced and the bolt moves rearward. As the bolt moves rearward the extractor and the residual pressure extracts the empty cartridge case. The case is then cammed out through the ejection port by the fixed ejector attached to the receiver. The rearward motion of the recoiling parts is terminated by the hammer and bolt striking the bumper plug. During the rearward motion the action bar cams the disconnector out of engagement with the sear allowing the sear, under the action of the sear spring, to engage the hammer. The hammer spring is compressed over the recoil spring guide. When the trigger is pulled again the cycle will repeat itself. When the selector is positioned in the semiautomatic mode, the extension of the selector holds the auto connector lever out of the path of the action bar.
With the selector set in the full automatic position, the extension of the selector allows the auto connector lever to hook onto the action bar. The hook of the connector, under the action of the connector plunger spring, will rise into the connector recess in the action bar. When the bolt and action bar have nearly completed the movement caused by the first shot, the action bar pulls the auto connector lever, which is attached to the sear and causes the sear to rotate on its pin, releasing the hammer. This action continues until the trigger is released or the magazine is emptied. When the trigger is released, the trigger spring plunger rotates on its pin; the trigger stud bears against the rear arm of the connector, forcing the connector out of the path of the action bar. The disconnector then re-engages the sear and the firing is stopped. The full automatic action of the Reising is actually a series of very rapid semiautomatic shots.
Post War Production
During the 1950s era, H&R resumed production for police and foreign sales. All of the post-war Reisings were full-stocked later design guns with a Parkerized finish.
The year that a particular post World War II Reising was manufactured can be identified by the letterprefix of its serial number. Guns manufactured in 1950 had a letter K prefix. A total of 872 Reising Model 50s were produced that year with serial numbers ranging from K101 to K973. During 1951, 3,488 additional guns were built with serial numbers ranging from L101 to L3589. Apparently, enough guns were made in 1951 to keep up with orders as none were made during 1952. In 1953, only 216 Model 50s were made with serial numbers N111 to N327. The last year of production was 1957 with 907 guns produced with serial numbers ranging from S4700 to S5607.
Original magazines were first manufactured as a twenty-round double-stack single feed design. All twenty-round magazines were blued. Reliability problems were experienced in the field with the twenty-round magazine resulting in a new twelve-round single-stack, single-feed design. The sides of the magazines were impressed with ribs to alter the design to a single cartridge stack in the magazine. Some guns had narrower magazine housings to disallow the use of the earlier twenty-round magazine.
Adequate spare magazines have always been a problem for Reising owners. During the 1980s, entrepreneur Ken Christie introduced a new aftermarket 30-round magazine for the Reising. Available in either blue or Parkerized finish the magazines proved to be well-made and reliable. The infamous 1994 law banning the manufacture of magazines with over a ten-round capacity ended Ken’s Reising magazine production. Since the expiration of the ban, Ken has resumed his magazine production with even better quality control.
For those who want a genuine, US made, World War II era submachine gun either as an addition to their collection or as an entry level submachine gun, with the relatively low price and availability, the Reising is a viable candidate and should not be overlooked.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N11 (August 2007)