Submachine guns (SMGs) were born of necessity during World War I and went on to become incredibly important to modern warfare. These handheld, rapid-firing, light-recoiling, full-auto firearms offered a rifle squad a ton of firepower and dominated the field before the arrival of assault rifles and true LMGs.
Over time, the SMGs’ role shrunk, and by the 1980s, they were commonly associated with close-quarters combat and anti-terrorism forces. Two SMGs that have always stood out due to their duality are the Colt SMG and the Russian PP-19.
Breaking down the Colt SMG and the PP-19
The Colt SMG came to be in 1982 as an addition to the Colt lineup of military weapons and was developed at a time where SMGs were primarily used for police and special operation forces. It offered a closed-bolt design that ran against the open-bolt designs of many SMGs at the time.
A closed-bolt design ensures high reliability, greater accuracy, and a gun that’s easier to control, but at the cost of a more complicated and expensive design. The weapon was fed from a modified Uzi magazine that held 20 or 32 rounds. Colt adapted basic M-16 lower receivers to 9mm magazines by pinning in a magazine well block to allow the use of smaller magazines.
Across the world, the PP-19 was developed in 1993 by the Russians at the behest of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Mikhail Kalashnikov’s son, Victor, and Yevgeny Dragunov’s son Alexei both worked on the design. In 2008 the gun developed into the PP-19 Vityaz.
The Bizon and Vityaz are mechanically the same, but the Bizon originally used a very odd helical magazine that held 64 rounds of ammunition and which created reliability issues; these were fixed in the Vityaz.
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What makes these weapons interesting is their overall design and layout which reflects their country of origin. In the U.S., at the time, the main military rifles of choice were the M-16 and the CAR-15. These 5.56 rifles formed the footprint of the Colt SMG, which readily shows its AR-15/CAR-15 background.
On the other hand, the PP-19 series disguises its origin a little more depending on the magazine that the gun uses. The service rifle for the Soviets of this era would be the AK-74 and a close glance shows that the PP-19 is very clearly an AK-based design.
Why external design matters
Both the Colt SMG and PP-19 were designed for the police and military forces of their respective countries.
The United States Marine Corps adopted the Colt SMG for embassy defense and special operations and Marines FAST teams were seen using them during the Invasion of Panama. The gun was also chosen by several law enforcement agencies including the DEA, LAPD SWAT, and many more.
In Russia, the PP-19 Bizon and Vityaz models were produced for special operations, counter-terrorism, police and security forces. The weapon has been in the hands of personnel inside vehicular armor and of Spetsnaz forces.
To make training and logistics easier, the design of these two submachine guns mimicked the standard service rifle used by their respective countries. If a user had been taught how to handle an AK-74 or M16, then picking up either gun required very little additional training.
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Inside and out
Although the two guns are very different externally, internally they are similar. Both guns use pistol calibers: Colt SMG fires the 9mm Luger round and the PP-19 fires the 9mm Makarov round. Both rounds were the main sidearm cartridge of their respective countries.
Further, both guns use a direct-blowback system of operation. Their predecessors, the AK and M-16 series, use a locked breech design with gas operation (the AK uses a long-stroke gas piston, and the M-16 uses direct impingement.) However, the PP-19 and Colt SMG use unlocked breeches that rely on the energy created by the fired projectile.
Into the SMG world
The Colt SMG and PP-19 represent the firearms of their era and their smart design choices — ease of adoption and a similar layout to popular rifles — guaranteed that they had some measure of success.
These two weapons are interesting firearms that have as much in common as they have dissimilar.
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