The United States military and creativity go together rather well. Supposedly, a Soviet Officer once said, “A serious problem in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.” I take that as a compliment; a testament to the creativity and adaptability of the American fighting man. And if you want to look at American ingenuity, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example than the insurgency weapon concept.
The concept first came to be in World War 2. The idea behind an insurgency weapon is simple: design a cheap, easy-to-build firearm, and produce a metric ton of them. Then drop them into nations where you want to arm an insurgency force. In World War 2, the idea was to drop them to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries. In Vietnam, it was to support American-backed guerillas.
While most of these weapons never found a fight, they speak directly to America’s ability and willingness to think outside the box when it comes to waging war. Of course, insurgency weapons are common in different forms around the globe, but America was the first to take the concept into mass production.
Origin of the Insurgency Weapon
The idea for an insurgency weapon came from a Polish military attache, and soon, the U.S. Army Joint Psychological Warfare Committee undertook the original insurgency weapon project. Why would the Psychological Warfare committee undertake a small arms weapon project?
Well, the project was as much about psychological warfare as it was producing an insurgency weapon. An abrupt surge of millions of guns being thrust into the population would have a palpable effect on the enemy. In a real way, a wave of insurgency weapons could demoralize the enemy through sheer paranoia. Every local could have a weapon… and they hate you.
Like so many World War II efforts, perception was just as important as reality, and as such, the Allies spread disinformation about what these insurgency weapons were capable of, making them even more effective in the imaginations of the Nazis than in real life. On top of that, flooding low-cost weapons into Nazi territory would lead to resistance fighters creating chaos behind the lines. The insurgency weapon, very simply, creates more work for the enemy.
So now the insurgents are armed, the occupying force is demoralized, and you’ve created more dangerous work for the occupiers. It’s a winning proposition.
So, you might be asking what does an insurgency weapon look like? Let’s look at the three the United States produced.
The Liberator FP-45
The OG of the insurgency weapon concept, the gun that started it all, is the Liberator FP-45 pistol. The Liberator was designed to be super cheap, easy to make and to be airdropped to fight Nazi scum. FP also stands for flare projector caliber 45. This was a means to hide the fact they were mass-producing a new pistol.
The Liberator fired a single shot from a striker-fired, single-action design. It required the user to manually poke out the casing to reload. The sights were terrible, and the gun was made to be used at near point-blank ranges. It cost 2.10 cents to produce in 1942.
America produced a million FP-45s in 11 weeks. It seems like the insurgency weapon was ready to go, right? Well, it met opposition by Generals Stillwell, MacArthur, and Eisenhower. They didn’t see much of a need for it, so most were never actually used.
Some were dropped to resistance fighters, given to the OSS to be distributed to Greek resistance forces and Filipino police and resistance fighters. As far as we know, we don’t have any actual on-the-ground reported uses of the gun. We melted most down or discarded them after the war.
The Winchester Liberator
Another insurgency weapon bearing the Liberator name came from Winchester and a man named Robert Hillberg. Hillberg initially designed the Hillberg Insurgency Weapon, and he went in a different direction than the original Liberator. He knew insurgents needed a small gun, but pistols and SMGs required training and practice.
The shotgun provided an easy-to-use and more effective weapon platform. The Winchester Liberator wasn’t your grandpa’s bird gun. It was a four-barrel shotgun that fired one barrel at a time. While technically, it’s not a semi-auto insurgency weapon, it does function effectively as one.
The gun utilizes a double-action trigger and a rotating hammer and firing pin. Winchester and Hillberg designed the weapon for Vietnamese guerillas, with DARPA behind them.
The Liberator Mk1 was a wooden mockup, the Mk2 came in 16 gauge, and Mk3 chambered 12 gauge rounds. The system never entered full production, as interest from the military wasn’t there, and the police and the civilian market had no use for it. The Mk2 had issues with its magnesium casting and barrel alignment. His insurgency weapon died, but Hillberg continued to design firearms and was successful in his other designs.
The CIA Deer Gun
Another Vietnam-era insurgency weapon came in the form of the Deer Gun. The CIA took a page out of the Liberator’s design book and built a small, single-shot pistol for distribution to guerilla forces in Vietnam. Instead of America’s favorite 45 ACP round, the Deer utilizes the 9mm Luger cartridge. A smaller round makes for a smaller gun, and smaller guns are easier to conceal.
The CIA cast the Deer gun from aluminum. The end result looked more like a hot glue gun than an actual firearm. It fired a single shot and required the removal of the barrel to unload.
The sneaky Petes at the CIA built 1,000 of the Deer gun for insurgents in Vietnam to fight the commies.
But the Deer gun never made it to Vietnamese insurgents. American forces escalated in Vietnam to full-on war, eliminating the need for the Deer Gun. Instead of arming the South Vietnamese with Deer guns under the table, we flipped the table over and gave them Tommy guns. The CIA evaluated Deer guns, but the program ended without issuing the weapons to anyone.
The Fate of the Insurgency Weapon
The Insurgency Weapon concept made a lot of sense in World War 2, but in modern warfare, there seems to be no shortage of firearms. With the proliferation of modern manufacturing producing effective firearms faster and more efficiently than ever, the insurgency weapon is somewhat of a dead concept. Who wants a single-shot pistol when an AK 47 likely costs the same to acquire? That being said, the insurgent weapon was a fascinating idea and contributed to the American military’s reputation for creativity.