The submachine gun was the most common handheld automatic weapon of World War 2. They are a fully automatic weapon (will continue firing as long as there is ammunition and the tigger is depressed) that fires ammunition normally intended for pistols. There are also machine pistols, and where they start and submachine guns begin is a bit blurry. To my mind the submachine differs from its smaller cousine by having a two handed grip, and an extended barrel length that classifies it as a carbine.
The submachine gun, likely because of its general handiness, inexpensive ammunition and relatively light penetration through obstructions has remained more in use with police forces than with militaries.
Militaries instead now the automatic carbine - which for various political infighting reasons the Germans came to call the assualt gun or assualt rifle. Rather than firing pistol ammunition, they fire light rifle (varment ) rounds or scaled down (short bullet) rifle caliber rounds. This tends to, not very surprisingly give them a ballistic performance somewhere between the pistol round and the full sized bolt action rounds. To the extent that most combat occurs within 330 yards distance, and at least some of the earlier bolt action rounds were larger than needed so the infantry could use the armies standard medium machine gun round, the trade off of lighter weapon and ease of carrying ammuntion was felt to be a fare trade off for the greater hitting power of the bolt action round.
So in net, you don't see the submachine gun around as much as you used to. Within a military context that is perfectly understandable.
But civilians use their weapons to different purposes than the military. Even when civilians have become involved in skirmishes and firefights in what some might think of open warfare, they are going to have different needs.
I will let Gabe Suarez at Warrior Talk make the case for the submachine. Note that he sells a variety of SMGs so he does have a vested interest in highlighting their advantages. But a vested interest does not mean the points he is making are wrong. No doubt he could, and does sell other weapons, but he is choosing to sell SMGs. You will also note that he does not claim that it is a super weapon, best in all catagories.
The Submachine Gun For EDC and HD
Gabe Suarez, Warrior Talk, 29 March 2012
Every so often we have this discussion, and well - its time again. This usually coincides with a family shooting session. I have a very good collection of weapons and can produce just about anything one can bring up in conversation as an EDC PDW [every day carry - personal defense weapon].
I have Suchkas in 5.45 and in 7.62x39, so the issue of availability is not an issue. I can run anything you put in my hands well. But when I see the junior staff and the XO shoot an SMG faster, more controllably and with greater accuracy than either AK [-74 assualt rifle] or M4 [short barrel successor to M-16 assualt rifle], it makes me reconsider the SMG.
I will say that the SMG has a niche. In the realm of the pistol, the SMG is king. But in the realm of the rifle, it is a janitor. The SMG beats the shotgun for anything except a very narrow spectrum where collateral damage is not an issue and you have to move at speeds that would not be possible with any requirement to use sights. But outside of that, the SMG defeats the shotgun. Don't believe me? Shoot a shotgun qual with the SMG and then report back. But before you do, try to shoot an SMG qual with the shotgun.
Compared to the pistol used in the proactive application, the SMG wins again. Go find the most difficult pistol qual you can find, and then shoot it with the SMG. It will be very simple to meet the times and accuracy standards. It is easier to hit, and hit fast and repeatedly with a weapon like the SMG with multiple points of contact and a cheekweld. That someone can use a pistol well is not the issue. That same person would do better with an SMG. You can prove it to yourself at will if you are honest.
When distances begin exceeding pistol ranges, penetration of barriers becomes an asset rather than a liability, and the issue of muzzle blast is not a concern, then the Short Barreled Assault Rifle outdistances the SMG. And don't dismiss these points an inconsequential because they are that on a shooting range. The shooting range is not the world.
Shooting an adversary at 200 meters is easier with a weapon firing a rifle cartridge rather than a pistol cartridge. But that is irrelevant inside a structure or if distances do not exceed 50 meters.
Being able to penetrate a car door is not an issue, unless you need to do so...or would rather not do so. And if a shot is missed, which often happens in real gunfights - how far will that round travel is a concern (the notion that every bullet must be accounted for is a myth - even the police miss most times they press the trigger).
And while muzzle blast may not be an issue at the local Three Gun meet, try touching off a handful of shots in rapid succession inside your living room at 2 AM one night and report back on how the muzzle blast is not that big of a deal.
The SMG is usually more compact than an SBR Rifle. My UZI for example is far more compact than either of my AKSU-74 rifles. The UZI can fit in a Swiss Army backpack - the SBR cannot. Compactness of storage and carry will mean it will be probably go with you rather than be left at HQ.
The SMG is just as accurate as any rifle inside its niche, just as fast to use and as easy to manipulate. What it does not do, and it was its main drawback, is that, being a pistol caliber, it cannot defeat body armor. That itself is what deselected it for law enforcement in the 1990s after the North Hollywood debacle knee-jerked the police world toward the rifle as the answer to everything.
Recently on WT, an industry professional and former soldier pointed out that with the modern body armor that protects well against rifle threats, that is not as much an issue as it was a decade ago. And that a weapon that can be fired repeatedly into the exposed unprotected area has some advantage over a weapon where that is not as easily done. With his MP5 semi auto clone he can dump 1/3 magazine into a coffee cup sized target at room distances much faster and accurately than he can with an SBR M4. Interesting point.
Now I am not too sure about the last point. In Afghanistan a lot of the combat takes place at extended ranges because the guerilla fighters are opening up beyond M-4 (or SMG for that matter0 range. In closer combat, I am not sure I would be to thrilled about taking either a .308 (NATO 7.62x51) or 30-06 round in the ceramic plates of my vest. Especially when so much of the .308 ammuntion is military surplus full metal jacket.
Note that there is another competitor out there though. The assualt rifle with a bullpup layout.
Anthony G. Williams, 15 July 2010
To sum up, there need no longer be any practical objections to the bullpup layout: those raised by supporters of traditional rifles can either be overcome, or on examination are not significant and usually boil down to personal preference. Conversely, the major advantage of a saving of around 20cm (8 inches) in overall length for the same length barrel is very significant in modern combat, in which troops may be fighting at short range in a village at one moment (requiring a compact gun) then need to respond to long-range fire as they leave (requiring a long barrel). The other major bullpup advantage is the much superior weight balance when UGLs and other increasingly common accessories are added to the gun.
Traditionally the magazine is place below the bolt of a gun to ease operation of the weapon with bolt-action rifles. With fully automatic weapons, there is not need to operate the bolt after the first round is chambered. So the magazine can be placed behind the trigger as part of the shoulder stock assembly - this makes for a multi-purpose shoulder stock, and shortens the weapon length.
When the U.S. Army turned the M-16 into the M-4, essentially turning it into a personal defense weapon for specialists much like the light handy M-1 Carbine of World War 2, it is entirely unclear to me why they did not go with a bullpup design. At this point nobody can claim we are trying to train another generation of Seargent Yorks. The M-4 is an oversized sidearm. or alternatively an oversized submachinegun.
It should be noted that they make bullpup SMGs. They are nasty looking critters, that bring the SMG down to machine pistol size, while retaining the carbine power of the longer barrel.
So why don't you see more submachine gun style weapons (semi-automatic) in the hands fo the general public? Two in particular tend to dominate:
The submachine gun has become relatively expensive for what it was originally intended to be. The reason that the submachinegun was used with such frequency early on was that its blowback design, using intertia and a spring was very simple to produce. Using pressed metal, you could produce them in the thousands without any problem. As you go to the larger carbine cartridges, you have to bleed off some of the power of the recoil, which complicates the design. But while modern carbines are expensive, submachine guns are not much of a deal themselves.
Second, they are not -generally- legal in full automatic fire mode. Since the full automatic fire cabablity of handheld weapons (IMO) is most useful in tight quarters, the loss of that advantage is more consequential to a short range weapon. Even where Suarez is making a fine case as to why an SMG might be more effective than a shotgun in many instances, he is noting that you wouldn't expect it to be engaging beyond 50 meteres. A semi-automatic SMG is coming awfully close to just being a bulky pistol with a lot of ammunition. It was the pray and spray house, trench, or country lane clearing cababilty that made the SMG an effective weapon. The automatic fire, brought people to ground, it stopped the charge. It really isn't clear that the one shot per trigger pull gets you there at 20 meteres.