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Hotchkiss Type Universal aimed to become a paratrooper’s best friend

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3rd Battalion paratroopers jump

World War II witnessed the emergence of numerous innovations, including paratroopers and submachine guns (SMGs) that were employed by both the Axis and Allied powers to secure territory and suppress adversaries respectively. By the war’s end, paratroopers and SMGs had become integral to military operations. After the war, French arms manufacturer Hotchkiss et Cie introduced a firearm that embodied the essence of both paratroopers and submachine guns and christened it the Hotchkiss Type Universal.

As the joke goes, 70 pounds of “lightweight” gear is still 70 pounds of gear. Paratroopers are strapped up with everything they need for a jump and an extended fight. These include belts and parachutes, E-tools, bayonets, ammo, grenades, water, food, and possibly a radio – not to mention flares, smoke grenades, machine guns, barrels, tripods, and anti-armor weapons. 

During WWII, if you were lucky, you only carried your rifle and no other weapons, yet weapons of the era weren’t small and often had to be disassembled and carried in Griswold bags. However, that presented its own problems, as, after jumping, you’d have to ditch the chute, hastily put your rifle together, load it, and prepare for contact – and this would be even harder if Hans was right down the road, and was not looking to share his bratwurst.

Thus, there was a need for smaller, lighter weapons that were easier for most troops to jump with. The Hotchkiss Type Univeral came in response and aimed to be a paratrooper’s best friend. 

The original variants of the gun were designed as semi-automatic carbines for police use. However, it wasn’t long before Hotchkiss et Cie realized the weapon’s military potential, and the Hotchkiss Type Universal was quickly produced as a select-fire weapon for militaries.

Just fold it 

Hotchkiss Type Universal
A folded Hotchkiss Type Universal. (MJL Militaria)

Many guns had under-folding stocks, even back in the 1940s. What was uncommon with the Type Universal was that its pistol grip folded up with the stock. Following the pistol grip, the magazine well folded forward. The user didn’t have to remove the magazine to fold the magazine well. Finally, with all the furniture folded, the barrel could collapse into the receiver with the press of a release lever. 

The Hotchkiss Type Universal measured a mere 17.2 inches when folded and collapsed and when ready to fire 30.6 inches. That’s an impressively small submachine gun for the 1940s. 

Compact firearms can benefit many soldiers besides paratroopers, including armor crews, pilots, and even special operations troops.

Related: The Welbike – A motorcycle for Nazi-killing British paratroopers

The weapon chambered the 9mm cartridge and fed from stick magazines. One innovative feature was its closed-bolt design: Most submachine guns were open-bolt, but closed-bolt designs offer enhanced reliability. The weapon features a simple set of iron sights and sling points.

The French military quickly entered the weapon into trials, but it was beaten by a little submachine gun known as the MAT-49 which had a few folding elements as well. 

Nevertheless, the Type Universal did see some action with French forces carrying it into Indochina in small numbers. Some were sold to the Venezuelan military and ended up fighting in the coup that ousted dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Somehow, at least one of these guns made it to the Soviet-Afghan War and was captured by pro-Russian Afghan forces. 

Problems with the weapon

unfolded Hotchkiss Type Universal
An unfolded Hotchkiss Type Universal.

The Hotchkiss Type Universal folds up quite nicely and has a fascinating design.

Yet, all that folding and innovation cost a lot of money as designing and producing a weapon that folds in so many ways and still works is tough.

Around that time people wanted their SMGs cheap and guns like the American M3 and British Sten proved the SMG could be cheap and simple as well as effective. 

Nevertheless, the ripples of the Type Universal are still felt to this day. Guns like the U.S. Air Force’s GAU-5A use some similar folding elements; and commercial guns, like KelTec’s SUB 2000 and the S&W FPC, prove that folding 9mm rifles are still viable. It all started with the Hotchkiss Type Universal. 

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.