By Friedrich Seiltgen
In the early years of WWII, Army strategists were looking for a weapon that could be mass-produced quickly for use by insurgents against the Axis powers by underground forces throughout the world. The Liberator pistol was the answer.
The theory behind the Liberator was the pistol could be air dropped into enemy territory, and resistance forces could use the pistol to kill the enemy and take their weapons! If enough Liberators were dropped, it would cause a psychological effect, as the enemy did not know who was armed or not! The Liberator was conceived by the U.S. Joint Psychological Warfare committee in March 1942, and full production would be finished by August 1942.
Design and Production
The U.S. Army Ordnance Command met with both Inland and General Motors Guide Lamp division to discuss production of the Liberator. After the meeting, GM was selected, as Inland was busy producing the M1 Carbine. The Liberator was given the codename “Flare projector 45” to throw off any spies as to its true mission.
GM engineer George Hyde designed the Liberator. It was manufactured from 23 stamped or turned pieces of steel. Hyde’s design had a total cost per unit of $2.10! With approximately 300 employees, General Motors completed the full production run of 1 million pistols in three months, from June 1942 to August 1942!
The Liberator was packed in a waxed cardboard box with 10 rounds of ammunition, five of which were stored in the grip, a comic book style operators manual, and a wooden dowel to push out spent casings. Due to its stamped steel construction, no markings, and crude appearance, the Liberator earned the nickname “The Woolworth Pistol.”
Caliber: .45 ACP
Velocity: 850 feet per second
Range: 25 ft
Action: Single Shot
Total Length: 5.5 inches
Barrel Length: 4” non-rifled barrel
Weight: 1 pound
The pistol allegedly had an effective range of 25 feet; however, with its non-rifled barrel, the pistol was to be used as a close-in weapon, with basically a contact shot to the victim! With only one shot chambered and a slow reloading time, the shooter better hit their mark the first time!
Production was fast, but distribution had its problems and critics. Five-hundred thousand Liberators went to Europe, and the same number to the Pacific Theater. General Eisenhower’s staff didn’t think the pistol was practical and dropped a total of 25,000 Liberators to the French resistance, with a few thousand going to the Greek resistance.
In the Pacific Theatre, Gen. Macarthur was also a critic and turned most of his Liberators over to The Office of Strategic Studies. The OSS likewise was not enthusiastic about the Liberator, as they preferred to supply more effective weapons, like the Sten Submachinegun. The Sten could be made in resistance workshops and could use the more common ammunition of the Wehrmacht occupying France, like the 9mm Luger. The Sten Gun’s simple design could be also be manufactured by resistance gunsmiths and used with German MP-40 magazines.
The number of times a Liberator was used to take out an enemy combatant will never be known. No records were kept, since resistance forces didn’t keep records, and there is only one first-hand account of the use of a Liberator in France. At war’s end, most Liberators were melted down or dumped in the sea.
If you’re interested in owning a piece of military history, the few remaining originals sell for big money. Have no fear, though. If you absolutely must have one, the Liberator lives on! Vintage Ordnance Company makes a reproduction, complete with cardboard box, dowel push rod, and the comic strip instruction manual for $515.
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He is currently an Officer with the Starke, Florida Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons