The submachine gun was born in a World War 1 requirement seeking a high-volume weapon capable of clearing enemy forces from their trench positions. Such a weapon would have to be portable and fire (controllably) through a full-automatic action with lethal results at short-to-medium ranges. Semi-automatic pistols proved only a partial solution and machine guns of the period were simply too cumbersome to field in this fashion. As such, the "submachine gun" was born as a weapon class - first through the Italians and, later, refined into the classic form by the Germans. From then on, the class became an accepted portion of any military inventory.
The FIAT-Revelli Model 1915 - better known as the "Villar Perosa" - became (from a technical standpoint) the first submachine gun ever adopted by a national power for it fired a pistol cartridge through an automatic action and was of a highly portable design. However, the weapon was a far cry from the accepted "classic" submachine gun form, even by World War 1 standards, and this triumph was largely handed to the Germans for their Bergmann MP18 of 1918. Additionally, the Italian Army initially fielded their Villar Perosas in the light support role as a light machine gun (LMG), primarily issued to alpine forces for mountainous fighting. It was several years of warfare that the Italians finally realized what they had and rewrote tactics to suit the new weapon class. The Villar Perosa, therefore, became more of a mobile assault-minded weapon instead of a limited automatic support weapon.
It should be noted that the Villar Perosa is can be referred to by several names which tends to add to confusion - "FIAT" is the primary place of manufacture while Bethel Abiel "Revelli" di Beaumont is credited with its design. "Villar Perosa" is from the Turin-based headquarters of Officine Villar Perosa (OVP) where the original prototype was conceived and evaluated.
As originally manufactured, the Villar Perosa of 1915 featured no true stock or wooden body of any kind - it was essentially a utilitarian-minded receiver with protruding twin barrels at front and spade-type grips at the rear (complete with thumb triggers). A folding metal bipod was affixed at the muzzle and used as a forward support in the usual way - hence the idea of the weapon carrying on as a light machine gun in combat). Sighting was through an iron arrangement. Another distinct feature of the Villa Perosa was its use of 2 x 25-round curved magazines, these inserted into the top of the receiver at the middle of the weapon - the feed system allowed for firing of the weapon from the two barrels. The action was of a retarded blowback method while the weapon was fed with a modified version of the German 9x19mm Parabellum pistol cartridge known to the Italian Army as the 9x19mm Glisenti - this cartridge also powered the famous Italian Glisenti semi-automatic pistol.
An unorthodox submachine gun to the core, the weapon nonetheless proved handy and lethal for its portable high volume fire. All told, the weapon sported a running length of 21 inches with 2 x 12.5 inch barrels installed. Cyclic rate-of-fire was listed at 1,200 rounds per minute thanks to the well-designed action within. Muzzle velocity was 1,200 feet per second.
In early practice during 1915, the Villar Perosa was primarily used as a static suppression system more akin to the modern light machine. The Italian firearms concern of Beretta then took the Villar Perosa design, split the barrels to return a dedicated single-barreled submachine gun design, an in-house trigger group and single-piece wooden stock was attached to the weapon. The Italians now held a truer submachine gun form as Beretta manufactured these as the "Modello 1918". In combat, these proved the submachine gun vision as an offensive weapon true and, from 1917 on, the Villar Perosa was used in more of an assault-minded role. All original Villar Perosa guns the "double gun" systems and some were even fitted onto tripods and on vehicles (including bicycles!).
By the end of the war, the Villar Perosa had seen its peak combat days. As the "true" submachine gun form was now adopted by world powers, remaining stocks of Villar Perosas were appropriately modified into Beretta Modello 1918s or the simpler Moschetto Automatico OVP (Officine Villar Perosa). In the latter, the gun was nothing more than the original Villar Perosa simply halved to produce a single-barreled dedicated submachine gun development. No wooden body was added though a traditional looped trigger group and wooden stock was. This allowed for low-cost modifications heading into the uncertain interwar years.
So while the submachine was born with the Italians, it was evolved and refined by the Germans through their MP18. Many of the features exhibited by the German design were then adopted throughout many future submachine gun designs appearing prior to World War 2. It should be noted that the unique Italian design did beat the German MP18 to the front lines by some two years of warfare. Some examples were captured by Austrian-Hungarian and German forces in the fighting.
Manufacturing FIAT-Revelli - Italy
Austria-Hungary; German Empire; Kingdom of Italy; United Kingdom (evaluated)
- Close Quarters Battle (CQB) / Personal Security
- Fire Support / Suppression / Defense
Model 1915 - Base Series Designation by FIAT.
Villar-Perosa - Alternative Name
Moschetto Automatico OVP - Split Model 1915 guns to serve as traditional, standalone submachine guns.
Beretta Model 1918 - Dedicated submachine gun form by Beretta; utilizing action, feed and receiver mechanisms of original Model 1915 weapons with Beretta adding new trigger and single-piece wooden body; bayonet support.
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