By Anders Thygesen
Having reached the final design, the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), in all probability and under great secrecy, was commissioned to mass produce the Welrod pistol. The only distinguishing markings on the pistols were that of a little five-pointed star and square along with a serial number. All markings were stamped underneath on the tube right behind the pistol grip.
The serial numbers, numeric only, are either 4 or 5 ciphered and in addition to the above mentioned position also stamped into the breech and etched into the magazine with an electrical pen. Not all magazines bear serial numbers though. The very first bore no markings at all and the moulded ebonite grip was slightly differently shaped than on most of those we find today. Also, the magazine was of a different model which can best be distinguished on the magazine jaws.
The square and the five-pointed star appear without exception on all of the inspected weapons. Yet it has not been possible to establish their true significance.
BSA claims none of the pistols bore serial numbers or other markings that could reveal the manufacturer. They do however confirm having produced parts for the Welrod as well as entire pistols but adds that several other British companies were involved in the production. Following is an excerpt from their correspondence: “Regarding the information that you are requiring on the Welrod pistol, although we have in the past manufactured specific parts for these particular pistols, we have no information regarding production development or variations of these pistols. All we know is that they were produced by a number of companies in Britain including BSA and these were developed specifically for covert operations in occupied Europe. They, therefore, bore no serial numbers or indication as to where they were manufactured.”
But if BSA did not mark the weapons then who did? Some assert that the star and the square are American markings, but I believe this theory can be excluded on the basis of correspondence from The Naval Historical Centre who states: “The Navy purchased an unknown number of Welrods for use. It is my understanding that they were given US Navy markings, with a final acceptance marking that was either “USN” or a stamped anchor…The US Naval Gun Factory and other manufactures have small proof markings for some items, but none use the star. Part markings for NGF – made items may include blueprint drawing numbers, such as “NGF – 12345.”
I regret not being able to account for the significance of the markings in a more precise manner other than what is mentioned above. I will leave it up to each individual to draw their own conclusions. It is a fact however, that entirely unmarked Welrods do exist. It is plausible that the pistols could have left BSA unmarked only to be stamped at the point from which they were later distributed.
The production of the Mk II was not officially up and running until late 1943, but several documents reveals that it was indeed available at the beginning of 1943. According to the serial numbers, at least 14,000 were supposedly produced. Only at the end of 1944 was the production of the Mk I under way, and the amount produced is unknown. The beginning of the production of the Mk I is so late in the war that it is undoubtedly the reason it was never dropped to the resistance.
At long last, documentation proving that the USA apparently, too, produced a number of Welrods has been found. However, there is no information as to when and how many. I rest convinced though that the Welrods used by the Americans during World War II were all manufactured and delivered by the British. This assumption is further supported by a written report from a meeting between some British liaison officers and American OSS agents at the Maryland Research Laboratory, August 16, 1943 concerning silenced weapons. The Welrod was highly praised by all the participants and the report concludes: “It was felt that for that special type of mission, it was the best available design and the U.S. should proceed with purchase of production model Welrods rather than trying for a home-built version.”
Still the Americans at some point began manufacturing their own. At the MOD Pattern Room (now S.A.T.I.C.) in England they retain a specimen with a full inscription on the silencer tube. (Dan’s Note: The late H.J. Woodend told me that he found this U.S. Navy example in Hong Kong and personally brought it back to the MOD Pattern Room. Herbie delighted in showing everyone how we Americans liked to conspicuously mark our so-called clandestine weapons.)
Right after the serial number is stamped the anchor of the U.S Navy with a “U” on its left side and an “S” on its right. In addition is engraved #422072—1 on top of the silencer tube, #422074—2 on the muzzle cap and #422072—6 on the back of the breech. These engravings can very well be serial numbers for the individual parts as described in the letter from The Naval Historical Centre. As there are no stampings of the star or of the square on this model, the engravings agree well with the statement from The Naval Historical Centre. Even if at first glance it appears to be a British Welrod, there are discernable differences. The difference are clearly seen on the individual parts that bears resemblance of a different manufacturing process; just as the gun itself differs markedly by having something best described as an angle bar welded onto the side of the breech, presumably to facilitate operation of the weapon when wearing gloves.
During the 1960’s, a modified version of the Welrod Mk IIA was produced by Military Armament Corporation headed by Mitchell WerBell. The main differences from the original design consisted of replacing the ebonite on the grip with plastic and replacing the original insides of the tube with the more up-to-date silencer technology of Sionics. It has not been disclosed how many were made but most likely it was no more than a handful.
Newly released (2002) documents from the National Archives UK, reveals the planning of “Operation Execution Month” in June 1943. The operation called for the occupied countries to simultaneously assassinate as many Gestapo and SS officials as possible within a given month. For this purpose alone, a message went out to increase the production of Welrods in order to meet the demands of the pending campaign.
The operation was never carried out, probably due to fear of retaliation from the occupational forces. The Allies must have begun to realize the incalculable consequences of the previously carried out “Operation Anthropoid” at this point. This resulted in the terrible massacre in the Czech town of Lidice near Prague, where the entire male population was executed, all the women were deported, and the town itself was literally razed to the ground with bulldozers in retaliation for the assassination of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich on May 27, 1942 by two Czech S.O.E agents.
I have studied the manuals for both the “Type A” and “Type B”, but to the best of my efforts there are no visible differences between the two. The difference is most likely in the internal suppressor tube construction.
In the manuals, under Function, General Description and Notes on Use, the texts are identical and read as follows. Function: The 9mm Welrod is a silent single shot pistol, intended for use by specially trained operators for specific tasks. General Description: The Weapon is a specially constructed single shot pistol with a detachable silencer. It is silent, reliable in action and easy to conceal. It is accurate up to 30 yards in daylight or 20 yards on a fairly light night, but is most effective when fired in contact with the target. Notes on Use: The gun has three distinct and separate uses. A) For aimed and deliberate shots in daylight or darkness. The effective range of the gun with normal handling is 15/30 yards. For deliberate shots, extreme accuracy is required and can only be obtained by correct trigger squeeze, i.e. a gradual squeeze by the whole hand. With training and practice it is possible to obtain very accurate groups at the distances mentioned. The gun should be held with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand as close up to the muzzle as possible, the pistol grip being held by the right hand. For standing shots, the left elbow should be as close to the body as possible and the rear of the gun approximately 6”/7”from the operator’s eye. B) Without its silencer and used as a single-shot weapon. C) By use of the weapon at the closest quarters, i.e. with the muzzle against the target. For this purpose no special training is required.
The construction itself is practically identical to that of the Mk IIA with the exception of a few details. The grip safety is slightly different in appearance but functions in the exact same manner. Placed underneath the tube right behind the grip safety, a secondary manually operated safety catch has been added. The trigger and trigger-function remains the same, but is now protected by a trigger guard. The magazine release has, due to the previously mentioned problems on the Mk II and Mk IIA, been moved in front of the grip and inside the trigger guard. The magazine is most likely from a .38 Colt Automatic, and the manual directs that although the total capacity allows for 6 bullets, that only 5 be loaded. The true difference lies with the suppressor tube that is two-piece. The rear piece, as with Mk II and Mk IIA, contains the breech, barrel and expansion chamber, whereas the front piece contains the baffles and washers section. The front piece, detachable just in front of the front sight, has a length of 4.9 inches bringing the pistol to a total length of 14.2 inches. The tube diameter is 1.4 inches, and the weight of the pistol is 48.2 ounce.
The advantage to a detachable front piece is obvious as this makes the weapon considerably easier to conceal. The pistol will function despite the front piece being removed; however the noise reduction will be minimal.
The few examples I have had the opportunity to examine have all been marked with a 5 digit serial number as well as the familiar “star and square” stamp under the receiver.
The barrel is perforated with 16 holes, allowing the powder gases to escape into the expansion chamber surrounding the barrel. In this case the holes serve the purpose of preventing the bullets from going supersonic as is the standard of 9mm Parabellum ammunition. The suppressor piece differentiates markedly from Mk II and Mk IIA. It consists of 2 washers and a couple of baffles separated by a metal spacer best described as looking like a spool from a sewing machine and perforated by 24 holes. The spacer creates yet another expansion chamber for the gases to cool off in before passing through the last washer. The muzzle velocity is approx. 1,000 fps. (305m/s).
Apart from the manually operated safety and the magazine release, the Mk I is operated and functions as the Mk II and Mk IIA. The iron sights are coated with a fluorescent material that, according the manual, renders the weapon efficient at 20 yards on a bright summer eve. The effective range in daylight is reported to be 30 yards. The recommended maximum shooting range is 24 yards.
Misinformation & Myth
It is necessary to mention the fact that in literature, the Welrod .32ACP is consistently referred to as Mk I just as the Welrod 9mm Parabellum is referred to as Mk II. In the case where the referral is to British Welrods, this is an error. It is safe to assume that the mix up occurred when the American .32ACP’s were designated Mk I, just to further confuse the issue. The Welrod Mk II was, from the beginning, constructed around caliber .32ACP. It was only later when some field operators, due to bad experiences, questioned the efficiency of the caliber .32ACP, that it was decided to further develop the Mk II. The result was the British Welrod Mk I, 9mm Parabellum.
To further add to the confusion, you will find that the American weapons literature in several places refer to the Welrod as “Hand Firing Device Mk I”. But on the Welrod that is kept in the Ministry of Defence/Pattern Room, the marking on the suppressor tube says: “.32 Hand Firing Mechanism Mk I.”
Additionally, in several places in literature, it can be found that the Welrod was developed by a British officer codenamed “Major Dolphin,” and that his real name was never revealed to the public. It is a fact that the Commander of the Frythe was Major John Robert Vernon Dolphin (later Lt. Col.). That he should have chosen a codename identical with his real name seems rather unlikely. This allegation is simply not true. Newly released documents from the National Archives UK, features a document that was produced towards the end of the war to ensure that the right persons would be properly credited for their inventions. The document reveals that the inventor of both the Welrod and the Sleevegun was Major H.Q.A. Reeves.
Major Hugh Quentin Alleyne Reeves was born in Seaford, Sussex late in 1909. Major Reeves was one of the most productive and creative engineers attached to Station IX. He was, among others, behind the Sten gun silencer, fluorescent night sights, the Sleeping Beauty and the Welgun but to mention a few. After the war he became involved in a project concerning noise reduction in jet engines. Unfortunately he was killed in an accident on October 25, 1955 at Bitteswell Airfield. Mr Reeves was investigating the problem of reducing noise from jet engines running on the ground. He was carrying out tests on a Hunter Mark V fitted with a Sapphire engine. While making an examination he was suddenly drawn into the intake of the silencer and received fatal injuries.
There are persistent rumors stating that the Welrod was also manufactured in calibers .380ACP and .45ACP. So far, this can not be confirmed, as I have been unable to find firm and trustworthy information on the subject.
Twice during my research I have come across information, stating that the Welrod was part of the equipment carried by 2nd Lt. Francis Gary Powers on board his American U2 spy plane when he was shot down over the USSR. This is not correct. Lt. Powers was armed with a silenced Hi-Standard model USA-HD caliber .22LR, serial number 120046. The serial number is not listed in High Standards annals, as the gun was delivered to the CIA, but that is another story entirely.
Welrod Mk I and Mk IIA stayed in service for many years after the end of the war. Several, now retired, SAS (Special Air Service) operator’s report that the Welrod was in use during the Falklands, in Northern Ireland, and even as late as in the 1991 Gulf war. It is equally well documented that the American SOG (Studies and Observations Group) were using the Welrod in Vietnam.
I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the following in no particular order: Mr. J.M. Ramos for allowing the use of his drawing in my article. Dr. J. David Truby, Dr. John W. Brunner and Mr. Ralph Hagan for contributing with their help and knowledge. Museum Inspector Esben Kjeldbaek and Storage Manager Soren Rasmussen, both of The Museum of Danish Resistance 1940-1945, Copenhagen. Police Inspector Ole Rasmussen and Weapons Technician Palle Larsen, both of the Federal Danish Police department of weapons technology.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N5 (February 2006)|
and was posted online on March 15, 2013