By Frank Iannamico
In March of 1941, Harrington and Richardson Inc. received a contract to supply 4,000 Model 50 submachine guns for French Indo-China. This was the first substantial order for the new Reising weapon. This was followed by an order of 2000 Reising Model 50s for Great Britain and 6000 Model 50s for Russia. In February 1942, the United States Marine Corps ordered 2,000 Model 55s. This initial Marine contract was followed by three others, for a total of 80,000 Model 55 and 50 Reisings for use as a supplementary submachine gun. The Marines were first issued the Reisings in early April of 1942. The first Reisings procured by the Marines were those that H&R had in stock at the time, all of which were the early “commercial” design. The Marines officially announced the adoption of the Reising SMG on August 22, 1942.
Up to the point in time of the Indo-China order in 1941, production of the Model 50 had been as low as 10 weapons per day, mostly for police sales. The initial production run that included the “commercial” Reising Model 50 extended up to April of 1942. At this juncture, Mr. Frank A. Smith was appointed general manager at H&R Inc. In order to expedite Reising production, and complete the Marine contracts on a timely basis, Mr. Smith put into place an intense quality control and production plan. Mr. Smith’s efforts dramatically increased production within a six-month period.
Soon H&R Inc. was turning out 2000 Reising submachine guns a week! The redesigned “military” model was placed into production beginning with the second contract during February of 1942. The factory parts bins along the assembly line still contained many of the early style parts. These were used on many early military guns creating “transitional” models. By October of 1942, the transition to the military model was complete, and most all the guns were being Parkerized at the factory. The change-over was complete between the 43,000 to 50,000 serial number ranges. The serial numbers for the total 1940s production went up to approximately 114,000.The Reising “military” model evolved from the earlier “commercial” version for two reasons, to speed up production or improve any areas that had proven to cause functioning or reliability problems. Harrington and Richardson Inc. was very successful in meeting their contract commitments and received several E for excellence awards from the United States Government during WWII Reising production.
As mentioned earlier in the first part of this article the receiver was redesigned and was first used on Reisings in the early 15,000 serial number range. Another subtle change that first appeared on the “commercial” model was a front sight that could be adjusted for windage by loosening a small allen screw. Prior models had the front sight staked into place after the weapon was sighted at the factory.
There were a few “transitional” period Model 50s that had the 28 fin barrels and were equipped with military style stocks. Many of these guns had the milled 3-screw trigger guards and push-type magazine release levers. These guns had a factory applied blue finish.
At approximately the mid 19,000 serial number range a few 14 fin barrels began to intermittently appear. The Reising barrels were believed to have been manufactured by several sub-contractors due to the varying configuration of the barrel fins. Some fins are rounded on the outer circumference while others appear flat. All 14 fin barrels have the aforementioned adjustable front sight. At approximately the 43,000 serial number range all Reisings being manufactured were being fitted with the 14 fin barrels.
Note: Although collectors often use the terms “commercial” or “military” to describe a Reising’s features, H&R never offered or acknowledged any separate model other than the Model 50 or the folding stock 55 regardless of the weapon’s features.
The “Military” model
The so-called “military” version has several features that differentiate it from an early “commercial” model. One of the most obvious is the finish that is a military gray/green Parkerizing rather than being blue. (Though some transitional military guns were blue.)
The second most obvious feature is the stock. The early “military” stocks were the same as the “commercial” models, but had the lateral reinforcing screws added. The later stocks were redesigned to be more durable. The later “military” stock was beefier and also had lateral tie screws to keep the wood from cracking. There were at least two different diameters of tie screws used. Finger grooves in the forearm area are found on some stocks. The overall length of a Reising is .75 of an inch shorter when equipped with a late style military style stock. The cavity in the forearm area was enlarged for easier access to cock the action bar with a gloved hand. All of the military stocks were equipped with sling swivels mounted at the bottom. A large knurled disassembly fastener that could be loosened or tightened without tools was also fitted. Early military Reising stocks had the hardware blued, while on later production the fittings were Parkerized.
As mentioned earlier the number of radial cooling fins on the barrels were reduced from the 28/29 fins found on the early models to just 14. This was done to give the barrel more lateral strength and to expedite barrel manufacture. The engineers were reluctant to eliminate the barrel cooling fins altogether as was done on the late manufacture Thompson, because of the Reising’s closed bolt operation (although H&R introduced an “improved” prototype model in 1943 that had no barrel fins). All .45 caliber Reising barrels were manufactured from premium nickel steel, and rifled by the time saving broaching method.
The fire control selector lever was redesigned by enlarging it slightly, and turning the outer edges upward. The changes were incorporated to allow the selector to be manipulated easier in harsh combat environments. All fire selector levers were case hardened for increased durability.
There were a few subtle changes during production to the military model as well. A screw was added to retain the rear sight, and two reinforcing ribs were stamped into the area where the sight leaf turns 90 degrees vertically. This gave more strength to the fragile rear sight. Early military versions used the receiver end cap (bumper plug) with the integral, solid guide rod pin. This design was unreliable, causing jams or stoppages when it bent or broke loose from the end cap. Eventually the recoil spring guide rod was made as a separate piece from the end cap. The two piece end cap/ hollow guide rod design proved to be very reliable. The two piece design appeared on mid production “military” models. The breakage of the one piece spring guide rod/end cap was eventually traced to the receiver threads for the cap not being cut concentric to the receiver.
Early “military” production transitional Reisings had a three screw milled trigger guard installed. The milled guard is identified by a pointed projection between the two forward attaching screws. The milled guard was soon replaced by the more cost effective stamped three-screw guard. Another feature that appeared on transitional guns was a two piece magazine release lever that was designed to be pushed, rather than pulled to release the magazine. This design soon gave way to the common two-piece “push or pull’ type release lever. There were several internal changes introduced midway in production of the military model. The action bar and auto connector lever were redesigned to require less machine work and be more durable under extreme use.
In 1943 as the M1 carbine and Thompsons became available, Reising production ceased. Early in 1950 the Reising was placed back into limited production for police and foreign sales. Production continued sporadically until 1957. All Reisings manufactured in the 1950s were Model 50 submachine guns in the late “military” configuration. The folding stock Model 55 was no longer offered. Reisings manufactured in the 1950s are identified by a letter prefix in the serial number. The letter designated the actual year of manufacture. Reisings were advertised for law enforcement use well into the 1960s.
The content of this article was excerpted from the new book “The Reising Submachine Gun Story” available from Moose Lake Publishing 207-683-2959
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N1 (October 2000)|