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Welrod (Assassin's Pistol) Bolt-Action, Silenced Pistol (1939)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 8/17/2012

The Welrod appeared in World War 2 for use by special forces and resistance elements.

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The Welrod was designed in the early part of World War 2 after a very short development period by the British War Office. The system was a silenced assassin's pistol, meant for close-up execution of predetermined high-value targets or unsuspecting sentries. Design of the pistol was credited to British Major Hugh Reeves (for a time known covertly as "Major Dolphin") who served with the Station IX research facility of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War 2. As such, many of these products were developed under the highest levels of secrecy to not offer the enemy any known advantages. As such, all production Welrods were completed without any identifiable manufacturer markings consistent with other weapons, instead affixed with a serial number by British government authorities receipt of the weapon. The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) was a known producer of Welrods and some 2,800 were ultimately delivered for use by elements of the SOE, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - forerunner of the modern-day Central Intelligence Agency - and resistance fighters, particularly those acting in Nazi-held Denmark. Amazingly, the Welrod maintained a rather quiet existence over the decades since the end of World War 2, used once again in British actions concerning the Falklands War, in rumored clandestine work in volatile Northern Ireland and in the 1991 Gulf War. It is thought that the Welrod also made an operational appearance in the Korean War and Vietnam War to an extent.

The Welrod was of a basic external design, appearing as nothing more than a relatively featureless steel cylinder fitting a vertical handgrip/magazine well with an integrated single-stage trigger and protective trigger ring. The cylinder measured in at 12 inches in length and was the heart of the weapon. Its shape was specifically designed to catch, and slowly disperse, the resultant gasses from a successful firing. This maintained all outgoing ammunition at subsonic levels and produced a sound pressure level of 73B, helping a given assassin maintain his/her covert status. The center compartment of the cylinder housed an expansion chamber while the major working components were held in the aft portion, this accounting for the bolt-mechanism, firing pin and the loading system. As a bolt-action weapon, the Welrod depended upon the user to manually operate the rear-set knob in order to cycle a new cartridge into the chamber making her a single-shot firearm. The knob was turned a quarter to the left and pulled, ejecting any cartridge in the chamber. Pushing the knob forward introduced a new cartridge from the magazine and delivered it into the chamber. During this action, the firing pin was cocked. A quarter turn to the right and the weapon was fully loaded and ready to fire. A basic safety mechanism was fitted to the weapon at the rear though this was the single safety the weapon maintained. Rudimentary front and rear iron sights were provided for ranged accuracy though the Welrod was designed from the outset for its short-range prowess - its cut-off muzzle made especially for pressing up against human targets. Effective range is thought to be out to 50 feet at best. The forward sight was actually set about midway across the top of the weapon. The cartridge ejection port was set directly above the magazine. Empty weight was approximately 2.65lbs (1.2kg).

Two versions of the Welrod were ultimately produced, these differing only in their caliber. One was designed for use with the 9mm Para cartridge while the other for the .32 ACP cartridge. Depending on the caliber model, the weapon could hold six (9mm) or eight (.32) rounds of ammunition in a single-stacked magazine column. The magazine effectively made up the pistol grip so, for improved portability, the component could be detached from the cylinder receiver (via a release under the trigger found inside of the trigger ring) and carried about in a pair of compact pieces. Once at a target area, the two components could once again be assembled to form the complete functional Welrod.

Incidentally, the interesting "Welrod" name comes from the designation system adopted by all of Station IXs clandestine products. As Station IX was based in Welwyn, all of its developments took on the first three letters within their product names - "WEL-rod". The Welrod can also be known under its more descriptive moniker, the "Assassin's Pistol".

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Specifications for the
Welrod (Assassin's Pistol)
Bolt-Action, Silenced Pistol


Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1939


Overall Length: 370mm (14.57in)
Barrel Length: 304.00mm (11.97in)
Weight (Empty): 2.65lbs (1.20kg)


Caliber: 9mm Para; .32 ACP
Action: Bolt-Action, Manually-Operated Rotating Bolt
Feed: 6-rounds (9mm); 8-rounds (.32)
Rate-of-Fire: 5 rounds per minute
Range: 40ft (12m; 13yds)
Sights: Forward and Rear Iron Sights


Variants:
Welrod - Base Production Series Designation; some 2,800 examples believed produced; produced in 6-shot 9mm PARA and 8-shot .32 ACP forms.


Operators:
United Kingdom; United States; Denmark