WEAPONS OF THE WORLD WAR II MARINE

 


(above) A Navajo Code Talker on Bougainville with the M55 Reising SMG. USMC

The Reising Submachine Gun

Characteristics

Weight– 6.5 pounds
Maximum effective range– 300 yards
Cyclic rate– 450 rounds per minutes
Method of loading– 12 and 20 round magazine
Ammunition– .45 ACP round
Muzzle velocity– 900 feet per second

The Reising SMG was an air-cooled, delayed blowback, magazine fed, shoulder weapon



(above) Sgt Mike Strank, 3rd Raider Bn, with his Reising gun on Bougainville, early 1944. He later served with the 5th MarDiv and was killed in action on Iwo Jima. USMC

The Reising Submachine Gun was a weapon unique to the Marine Corps. It was adopted into service in the early stages of World War II when the armed forces were expanding rapidly. Firearms manufacturers were challenged to provide quality weapons in the numbers required by the military services.

The Thompson Submachine Gun had been issued for many years prior to the war and was the standard weapon of its type. As the Army and the Marine Corps ramped up their size to meet the needs of war, there were simply not enough Thompsons available. The Marine Corps began to search for a suitable submachine gun to equip its combat units, especially the new parachute battalions.

Eugene G. Reising was the designer of the gun that bore his name. He had worked closely with John Browning in the development of the M1911 .45 automatic pistol. Later, he was employed by several firearms companies. As World War II flamed in Europe and the Pacific, Reising realized that the armed forces would need large numbers of cheap, easily produced submachine guns.

Receiving a patent for his submachine gun in June, 1940, Reising searched for a manufacturer. The firearms firm of Harrington and Richardson agreed to build the weapons and production began in December 1941. The Army Ordnance Department conducted trials of the Reising gun at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1941. Accuracy was acceptable, but the gun required constant cleaning to prevent stoppages. The Army chose not to adopt the Reising gun.

The Marine Corps tested the Reising gun sometime late in 1941 at MCB, Quantico. The test board found the weapon to be acceptable when maintained to standards. With little other choice, the Corps adopted the Reising in early 1942. Identified by Headquarters, Marine Corps, as a critical weapon, the Reising was rushed into the hands of Marine units preparing to deploy overseas. It was widely issued to the elite parachute and Raider battalions. But use of the Reising gun was not limited to these units. The new submachine guns were distributed throughout the Fleet Marine Force, especially to the First and Second Marine Divisions. Thousands of Reising guns went with Marine units embarked to the campaigns of the Solomon Islands.


Paramarines in training on demolitions prior to deploying overseas. On the railroad track at right is an M55 Reising gun. USMC Photo

The Reising gun was chambered for the .45 ACP round. Three different models were produced. The Model 50 was outfitted with a fixed wood stock and muzzle compensator. The Model 55 was issued with a collapsible wire stock and no compensator. Both of these models were equipped with 11 inch barrels. The Model 60, which was issued in very limited numbers, had a 18 inch barrel and was semi-automatic only.

The Reising gun was a complex weapon manufactured with tight tolerances. This caused significant problems from the start of its service on Guadalcanal. The magazines were poorly constructed and prone to rusting. Sand and powder fouling made it impossible to rely on the guns in combat, since Marines were often not able to perform regular maintenance.

A group of Marines poses with their Reising submachine guns. The two kneeling Marines carry the M55 wire-stock model.

Two magazines were developed for the Reising; a twenty-round double-stack magazine, and a twelve-round single-stack magazine. Both were the same length, but the smaller capacity version had fluting pressed into the magazine walls. The single-stack magazines were considered to be more reliable than the larger-capacity ones.

 

Photo courtesy of SgtMaj Hubert Caloud, USMC (ret)

In combat, the Reising gun quickly developed a reputation for failing at the worst moments. Some outfits simply threw away their Reisings into the rivers and streams on Guadalcanal and issued rifles in their place. Many Gyrenes simply replaced their Reisings by 'moonlight requisitioning,' especially after M1-equipped Army units began arriving on the island. In the story of the 1st Raider Battalion in World War II, historian Joseph Alexander noted some of the Reising gun's issues:

"It was four pounds lighter than the Thompson, and because it fired from a closed bolt the weapon was uncommonly accurate for a submachine gun. But the Reising could not sustain heavy combat use in the jungle. So tightly designed were the tolerances between its bolt and locking recesses the the weapon would frequently malfunction amid the slightest dirt or debris. Nor could the magazines sustain rough handling. Many troops quickly lost confidence in their reisings. Jumping Joe Chambers dismissed it as "a poor man's Thompson submachine gun." Sam Griffith called it "an absolute dud." Photographs taken of Raiders after the Battle of the Ridge portray a diminished number of Reisings in evidence."

By early 1943, increased quantities of Thompson submachine guns and M1 carbines were available. The Marine Corps cancelled its contract with Harrington and Richardson that year after about 55,000 Reising guns had been acquired. All Reisings in service with the Fleet Marine Force were withdrawn and replaced with other weapons. The Reising continued to equip Ships' Detachments, and other posts and stations of the Corps. Shortly after the end of World War II, all models of the Reising gun were declared obsolete and disposed of.

 

Nomenclature of the Model 50 and 55 Reising Submachine Guns from course material issued to Reserve Officer Candidates at MCB, Quantico, in mid-World War II. USMC

 

   Seabags Brown slammed his Reising gun down on his bunk angrily. "Dirty no good armpit-smelling son of a bitch. These goddam pieces are worthless as tits on a boar hog," the farmer ranted.
   "Yeah," Ski agreed.
   "Yeah," Andy agreed.
   "I shot 'expert' at the range," Danny said, "and look at this goddam thing. I never hit a bullseye all day, even inside fifty yards.
   "The bastard that sold them to the Marine Corps ought to have his balls cut off."
   "Semi-automatic machine gun," Danny continued. "Christ, my kid brother's Daisy air rifle is deadlier than this thing.…
   "…How about that wire stock? Mother, I've come home to die."
   "Maybe," Marion mused, "That's why they teach us so much knife and judo.…"
   "…Mine clogged four times today."
   I moved over to the bitching session. "Gunner Keats says you guys better learn to shoot these pieces," I said.
   "They ain't no fugging good, Mac!"
   "I don't give a big rat's ass what you guys think! Maybe if we hike to Rose Canyon for target practice, your aim might get sharper."
   "Mac," Danny said, "How did you shoot today?" I turned and walked away.
   "I guess I need a little practice too," I said as I picked up my gun and shook my head sadly.

Battle Cry by Leon Uris
   



Paramarines take a break at Camp Lejeune–1943. The Marines at left holds a Model 55 Reising SMG. Another one is propped against the log at the right. Library of Congress

A Marine at MCB Quantico displays the two models of the Reising SMG. In his right hand is the M55 folding stock version. In his left hand is the M50 fixed stock version. USMC Photo


(Marines in training at MCB Quantico. The Marine at left is armed with the M55 and the Marine at right with the M50. USMC Photo

 

Sources:

"Dope on the Reising" by Anonymous Leatherneck Magazine September 1942
Edson's Raiders - The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II by Joseph Alexander
U. S. Infantry Weapons of World War II by Bruce Canfield
Pacific Warriors by Eric Hammel
Battle Cry by Leon Uris

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