By Jon Miller
Two political events scared me as I grew up. One was the US-USSR Cuban Missile crisis. Here was brinkmanship epitomized. The other was the downing of a CIA U-1 spy plane flying a reconnaissance mission over central Russia. I was sure that this incursion into Russian air space would result in escalation into armed conflict.
I remember Francis Gray Powers being paraded through the headlines and across the television screen. His spy equipment was displayed as proof of “Yankee imperialistic aggression against the peace loving peoples of the Soviet Union”. The wreckage of the U-2 aircraft, its camera, Powers’ uniform, knife, suicide kit and suppressed pistol were used as evidence in his trial. The artifact of special interest to High Standard collectors is the .22 caliber USA Model HD MS (s/n 120046) carried by Col. Powers as he ejected from his disabled aircraft (See photo). The Powers pistol and evidence used in the propaganda trial is now exhibited by the successors to the KGB in the Lubyanka Prison Museum in Moscow. The NFA and ATF have given me written opinions that under current law the Powers Pistol can not be repatriated to the USA.
That pistol is similar to the approximately 2,620 USA Model HDs fitted by High Standard with a suppressor adapted by Bell Laboratories and delivered to the Office of Strategic Services in 1945 for use in clandestine missions. The suppressor was adapted from a “Kulikowski Polish” suppressor.
Colonel Rex Applegate remembers a Sgt. Jackson developing a prototype suppressor for the High Standard HD at Camp Richey Maryland during the early stages of WWII. Colonel Applegate was then a First Lieutenant at the Military Intelligence Training Camp where military intelligence students were taught about foreign weapons. Up to that point Maxim silencers had been state of the art for submachine guns. These were the same Maxims already available to British farmers for use in pest control. Sgt. Jackson worked in the machine shop maintaining the foreign weapons. One day he said he could do better than the Maxim. After a time he presented his prototype to Lt. Applegate who was duly impressed by the work. Jackson had made his prototype by drilling holes through the barrel, covering it with wire mesh and then a housing. Lt. Applegate submitted the gun to the War Department “where they tested all kinds of kooky devices like cross bows or slings that threw grenades. The next thing I knew Washington types showed up and started taking over in the device. That’s when we lost track of it. One thing I do remember is the difference ammunition made in the report. Standard velocity .22 caliber long rifle would often but not always make a loud report. Long rifle ammunition was not consistent enough. I used .22 caliber Long ammunition instead. It was subsonic and made no noticeable report. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had discovered the importance of the bullet not breaking the sound barrier”.
An early story about the efficiency of the suppressor states that General “Wild Bill” Donovan, then head of OSS, entered the White House carrying a sand bag. He had also concealed on of the first MSs under his uniform. Reportedly he entered the Oval Office where FDR was dictating a letter. Donovan surreptitiously placed the sand bag in a corner. He then emptied the ten round magazine into the sand bag without being noticed. He then approached FDR, explained what he had done, and presented the MS to him butt first. FDR stated something to the effect that Donovan was the only Republican he would trust to perform such an act.
While this story may have some basis in fact the report of this suppressed pistol fired indoors is certainly noticeable, if not identifiable to persons with average hearing.
That pistol was exhibited for several months in FDR’s Hyde Park home until somebody realized the breach of security in displaying the then classified pistol. It was subsequently returned to the OSS.
The Model H-D was not the first suppressed High Standard nor the only High Standard produced suppressor. Although it never went to production, High Standard already had government contracts for experimental production of suppressors for the M1 carbine in 1943. Several months after the H-D contract came a contract for M-3 grease gun suppressor.
In October 1943 forty four Model A,B.D. and E pistols were among a shipment of one hundred ten Bell Laboratories suppressed firearms delivered to the OSS for testing. The suppressed High Standard pistol showed promise. The design was modified and was approved. On 22 November 1943 a contract was awarded for production of 1,500 units.
The addition of the letters MS to the USA Model HD connotes “Military Silencer” modification.
The first shipment of five hundred and three USA HD MS pistols was delivered in January 1944. Within a week Major Lucy had demonstrated them in Algiers. Within two weeks twenty had been shipped to General MacArthur and six were issued to Alamo Scouts.
By the end of July 1944 six hundred nineteen pistols had been issued to troops in Europe, four hundred eleven to the Mediterranean and three hundred sixty seven to the Far East. One hundred ninety three remained available in the continental U.S.
Within a year a total of four hundred ninety five went to the Mediterranean and six hundred thirty six to the Far East.
Initially met with reservation the pistol soon proved effective and gained wide acceptance in the field. It is probably the only suppressed pistol to see significant use in WWII. Donovan himself stated that the pistol’s accuracy seemed unaffected by the addition of the suppressor. Col. Applegate concurs that they were effective at distances of about one hundred feet.
Existence of the MS was leaked to the press in 1944 when Admiral Nimitz released photos of his pistol to the press. Nimitz was one of the dignitaries issued the MS by the OSS. Others went to Admiral Leahy and the five OSS theater commanders.
The first contract pistols had blued frames and Parkerized barrels. All OSS pistols were roll stamped with the Ordnance acceptance “crossed cannons” on the right side of the frame. “Property of U.S.” was stamped on the right frame as well. A test target and instructions on cleaning both the pistol and suppressor were included in the hinged black box. The left end of the box had a yellow label lettered with
HI-STANDARD MODEL D 4 1/2” BARREL
The label was overstamped by hand with the crossed cannon Ordnance acceptance mark and the word “SILENCED”, both in black ink. The serial number was hand written on the label in pencil.
In August of the same year a second contract was awarded for an additional one thousand pistols. The cost was $38.93 per pistol. Shipments were delivered in late September and early October. All these had Parkerized frame and barrel. This second run had the above markings and added two small numbers stamped on the base of the barrel and tube. A new inclusion in the box was a bristle brush to clean the bore and standard four and one half-inch barrel.
Records indicate High Standard also produced a limited number (possibly all prototypes) of a shoulder stocks for use with the pistol. The author has not located any examples of these as yet.
There was a final contract for one hundred and twenty pistols at the same price in January 1945. As yet I haven’t found records showing the destination of these pistols.
In a 1966 letter to Bill Douglas, Will Lawson, High Standard Sales Manager, stated “Upon completing this government contract all finished parts and subassemblies including records were turned over to the Government arsenal.”
High Standard also produced other runs for the Central Intelligence Agency. These guns had both Parkerized and blued frames but all had Parkerized barrels. The frame and tube were numbered but lacked the Ordnance acceptance or “Property of U.S.” markings. Reliable sources also state that some were “totally sterile without any visible markings or stamps”. Unlike the OSS pistols, which were shipped in black High Standard boxes, these were shipped in a brown kraft box. The CIA kit included a .22 short magazine not found with the OSS.
The Powers pistol was one of these. The serial number 120046 is blank in the High Standard shipping records. It was probably on inventory but not used during the war. It must have been suppressed for the CIA after WWII.
These were the preferred suppressed side arms issued for use in Vietnam and South East Asia and are still in use today. The CIA is rumored to have less than four hundred High Standards left in its armory.
At the request of the OSS in late 1944, High Standard developed a suppressed prototype HD pistol in .380 caliber. Colt had been approached initially, but had refused to make the necessary longer and heavier barrels for .32 or .380 caliber. High Standard delivered the prototype in January 1945 and was awarded a contract for 1,000 pistols in April 1945. Initial cost was to be $65 per pistol. The contract was re-negotiated and price reduced to $57. Black plastic grips were substituted for checked walnut grips. Production began in September but was terminated by the end of WWII. Only one was delivered to the OSS. A picture of it can be found on page 252 of Pate’s book.
Although slightly louder than the .22 (88 dB vs 70-77 dB) the increased noise of the .380 was considered an acceptable trade-off for the increased power. The .380 also offered a quick-change type G barrel not available with the .22 HD. After the war this pistol sans suppressor became the G-380.
Records show that High Standard worked with a suppressed .25 caliber pistol as a trade-off between the .22 and .380 calibers. Information on this work is limited.
The High Standard H-D was suppressed by turning down the forward 4.70” of the 6.75” barrel to .406” external diameter. Eleven vertical and horizontal .125” “bleeder” holes were then drilled completely through the barrel .250” apart giving a total of forty four holes. (The early version used four rows of eight holes.) The frame end of the barrel was threaded to accept the 7.75” long .98” external diameter .843” internal diameter shroud. The forward end of the shroud was threaded to accept a .06” cap drilled with a centered .234” diameter exit hole. Both ends of the shroud had holes where spring loaded detents on the cap and frame locked the barrel in place. A front sight was affixed by solder.
Inside the shroud is a two chamber suppressor system. The first consists of a 4.375” long. 795” diameter tightly rolled tube of tin plated #20 mesh bronze screen. The mesh is soldered on both ends and side as well. It was designed to be discarded after 200-250 rounds. Next is a .06” wide .828” diameter brass washer with a .410” hole drilled to slip over the barrel to separate the rolled screen from the forward compartment.
The part of the barrel (approximately 1”) extending beyond the rolled screen and washer has .828” diameter size thirty mesh bronze screens drilled with .410” holes fitted tightly over it. Filler screens occupy the remaining space to the muzzle cap. They are of the same material and .828” diameter but not fitted to the barrel. They are stacked tightly to fill the space. They have a central .243” central hole to allow passage of the bullet.
The assembled pistol is 14” long. It weights 2.37 to 2.75 pounds. The silencer alone weighs .63 pounds. The free volume of the suppressor is 1.84 cubic inches with .76 cubic inches in front of the barrel. Muzzle velocity is reportedly 930 fps with 75 foot pounds muzzle energy with standard velocity .22 caliber ammunition.
Several variables can affect the efficiency of this or any suppressor. Most of the suppression is a function of trapping expelled gases and slowing the projectile to a subsonic speed. Part of the perceived noise is also from the mechanical action of the pistol’s slide. Standard velocity .22 ammunition is subsonic. Using .22 shorts further reduces the report by decreasing escaping gases and speed. Mechanical noise is almost eliminated with .22 cal shorts as the powder charge is insufficient to blow back the slide.
Coating the screens with heavy oil or other fluid such as shaving cream also increases efficiency. The fluid absorbs heat from trapped gases reducing gas volume and thereby volume of gas expelled through the muzzle.
When a round is fired powder continues to burn in the barrel or in this case the suppressor. This combustion produces more gas and increases report. To reduce combustion a first shot is fired in advance to burn out the oxygen. A piece of cellophane tape is then applied to the muzzle to control reentry of oxygen. Combustion is minimal and report is reduced. Muzzle flash is also eliminated in this fashion.
Placing a piece of cellophane tape over the muzzle also creates a “wipe”. The tighter the seal between the muzzle and the bullet the better the control of escaping gases. With a wipe the bullet punches a hole of minimum size. This tighter hole retards gas escape and diminishes report. Repeated use of the same hole decreases its efficiency.
Use of jacketed ammunition reduces fouling of the screen and does extend suppressor efficiency. In the Bell Laboratories designed High Standard suppressor system this was not considered critical as replacement screens were issued with the guns.
Regarding the early use of the OSS pistol the Hague Accord Regulations prohibited the use of non-jacketed ammunition by uniformed combatants during hostilities. Jacketed T-42 .22 caliber ammo was specifically designed for this pistol to circumvent this regulation. Most kits included non-jacketed Remington .22 cal standard velocity ammunition however. When captured with an OSS pistol most operatives did not expect treatment in accord with the Geneva Convention on Treatment of Prisoners of War.
There were 2,620 suppressed pistols produced by High Standard. An unknown number of copies have been produced by machinists and armorers in and out of the armed services since that time.
Reportedly High Standard and X-ploraco, a Texas based company, also custom manufactured a number of legally suppressed HDMs in the 1950s. The X-ploraco combination suppressor and pistol was sold for $125.
Of the total produced, other authors give either three or nine as the number of guns Amnesty registered and legal for private ownership. ATF has responded to the author’s requests for the correct number amnestied by stating that their records are not setup to give a specific number of any particular type of firearm. The author has located one Parkerized and two blued privately owned amnesty registered OSS pistols. I have not seen any examples of the CIA contract or custom shop work but would welcome the opportunity to do so. The Rock Island Arsenal, FBI and CIA collections have pistols in their collections as does the Lubyanka Prison KGB history museum.
References and sources of information
Firearms Silencers vol I/II/III
John A. Minnery
El Dorado, AR
OSS Special Weapons & Equipment
Spy Devices of WWII
H. Keith Melton
Sterling Press, NY 1991
John W. Brunner PhD
Phillips Publications, Williamstown
Personal conversations with Colonel Rex Applegate
Personal conversations and correspondences with
John W. Brunner PhD
Personal conversations with Charles Petty
Silencers Principles and Evaluations, Report R-1896
Dept of the Army. Frankford Arsenal
Philadelphia, PA 19137
Silencers, Snipers and Assassins
J. David Truby
Paladin Press, 1972
US Handguns of World War II
Andrew Mowbray Publishers 1998
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N3 (December 1998)|