By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2021
“We could get twice as many hits in the same amount of time with the .22 LR. There were also fewer misses…It’s terrifying how swiftly and accurately I can shoot this carbine!”
— Edward “Ed” Head, Operations Manager,Gunsite Academy, AZ, October 2010.
The innovative, MGV-176 submachine gun, manufactured since 1980 by ORBIS, of Ljubljana, Slovenia (formerly a region of communist Yugoslavia, until 1991), holds the unique distinction of being one of the world’s only, combat-proven submachine guns chambered exclusively in .22 Long Rifle (5.6x16Rmm).
According to the instruction manual provided with this special, fully-automatic weapon, “The MGV submachine gun is designed for short-distance combat, up to 150 meters, specifically on difficult terrain and in populated areas…It is especially suitable for police, military units, combat-vehicle personnel, and others in need of a handy, quick-firing weapon…The effectiveness means rapid, automatic firing against live targets, obstructions, and also protective equipment.”
The unusual, design features of the MGV-176 (literally, “Machine Gun Model 176,” in English), with its top-mounted, pan-shaped magazine, were derived from the famous Lewis (British) Machine Gun of 1914, which saw considerable action in the First World War, and the Degtyaryov (Russian) DP-27 infantry machine gun of 1928, which was widely employed in the Second World War, both utilizing standard, 47-round, pan magazines. The MGV-176 itself is a direct copy of the American Arms International “American-180,” or A180, submachine gun, designed in 1969 by Richard J. Casull, but with some very specific improvements.
The American-180 was produced in .22 LR, with a 177-round, overhead, pan magazine, firing from an open bolt with a conventional, straight-blowback mechanism, and barrel lengths of either nine or 18.5 inches. But it had a wooden stock, pistol grip, and forend, and was very heavy, at 10.5 pounds fully loaded.
The A180 was adopted by the Utah Department of Corrections (and selected other law-enforcement agencies), the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) commandos, and the South African 4th Reconnaissance Regiment, which apparently used it in combat only once. In September 1979, the regiment was raiding Communist-bloc shipping in the harbor at Biera, Mozambique, during Operation Boxer, and a heavily-armed, Mozambiquan Liberation Front (FRELIMO) patrol suddenly appeared near the South Africans at the end of an alleyway.
Two of the Recon Regiment officers, Captain Wills and Lieutenant Rich, were armed with suppressed A180s, and they opened fire on the FRELIMO guerillas, killing their two leaders instantly. Due to the very quiet A180s, the rest of the guerrillas initially did not realize that they were under attack, and the temporary confusion allowed the South African team to slip away over a wall and safely withdraw to an extraction site.
Strangely enough, the A180 was actually manufactured by Voere Präzisionstechnik GmbH in Austria (a neighboring country to Slovenia.) Despite the comparatively low power of the .22 LR cartridge, extensive testing with this weapon revealed that fully-automatic fire could penetrate cinder blocks, concrete, and even ballistic armor vests from the cumulative damage of multiple impacts.
The MGV-176 was essentially copied from the A180’s basic components, but it was modernized to 1980s standards, with “durable (impact-resistant), plastic materials” (we call it polymer now) replacing all of the wooden parts, and an under-folding, wire stock instead of a wooden stock, reducing overall weight to 3.99 pounds empty, or 7.5 pounds fully loaded, with a transparent, plastic, pan magazine containing 161 rounds (although originally designed for 176 rounds, hence the name “MGV-176”) in three stacked rows. Loading the magazine is simple and straightforward, taking only about five minutes. Empty, brass casings are ejected straight downward, out of the shooter’s field of view, minimizing distractions.
The weapon comes packed in a sage-green, airtight, plastic box labeled: “Avtomat Kal .22 HV, MGV-176,” with a canvas sling, a maintenance kit, instruction manual, two 161-round magazines, and an M88 clamp-on suppressor as standard equipment. The firearm itself is produced with iron sights, adjustable at the rear for ranges of 100, 150, or 200 meters, a 10.2-inch barrel, and overall lengths of 18.9 inches with the wire stock folded, or 31.3 inches with the stock extended. And, in the immortal words of Henry Ford, describing his 1908 Model T automobile, the MGV-176 comes in “any color you like, as long as it’s black.”
As with the A180, the MGV-176 fires from an open bolt of machined steel, with a straight-blowback mechanism and fixed firing pin. There’s a manual, thumb safety on the left side, a grip safety, like the Colt M1911 pistol series has, and a drop-safe, multi-stage, steel trigger instead of a selector lever (although the A180 had a selector.) Pulling the trigger lightly results in semiautomatic fire, while a harder pull activates the fully-automatic feature. It’s designed to perform best with high-velocity (HV) ammunition. The weapon will readily accept a variety of scopes, combat optics, laser-aiming devices, night-vision gear, or other accessories.
The most-interesting feature is the standard, steel-and-aluminum, M88 suppressor, which has no threads, but clamps to the end of the muzzle via a rotating collar, resulting in an overall sound reduction of 20 decibels. Normally, the report of a .22 LR rifle or carbine emits about 145 decibels of sound (a 5.56mm NATO round, for comparison, emits 155.5 decibels), which is just above the human threshold for ear pain, so reducing the report to 125 decibels does not totally “silence” the weapon, but reduces its noise to that of a typical chainsaw or power drill for a mere fraction of a second, while substantially minimizing muzzle flash and blast. A .22 LR weapon is already fairly quiet, so adding a suppressor reduces the noise signature to among the very lowest levels for any firearm.
The M88 suppressor is 6.7 inches long, and only adds about 5.9 inches to the overall length of the weapon. The clamp attachment does not require a threaded barrel, so the barrel itself is easier and less-expensive to manufacture (threading currently costs about $140 by a competent gunsmith.) The barrel protrudes only .787 inch (20mm) from the barrel shroud, for attaching the suppressor.
But the MGV-176’s truly-amazing feature, inherited from the A180, is its astounding rate of fire: 1,200 to 1,600 rounds per minute, or 20 to 26.6 rounds per second! In a very brief, quarter-second burst, for example, in just the time it takes to say the word “Wow,” the MGV-176 will fire at least five to six rounds of high-velocity, 40-grain ammunition, averaging 1,200 feet per second, and it’s relatively easy to limit the burst length to about six to 10 rounds. The .22 LR cartridge has demonstrated one-shot stops against armed assailants 31 percent of the time, or 38 percent for high-speed CCI Stingers, but that’s only for a single shot. The combined effects of five or six impacts within a mere quarter-second, however, increase the relative stopping power to about 99 percent.
The use of high-quality, hollowpoint ammunition further increases .22 LR stopping power, though. In my Gunpowder Magazine article published on February 11, 2020, I wrote about “.22 LR Self-Defense Ammo Testing,” firing seven different, hollowpoint loads into wet, clay blocks to simulate the consistency of a human body. Two of these loads, the CCI Stinger and Browning BPR, produced temporary wound cavities that were nearly as large those created by some 9mm hollowpoints, so we should not underestimate the stopping power of even a single, .22 LR round with high-quality ammunition. In reality, no one wants to be shot with any caliber, and even a single, non-fatal hit will usually make an adversary stop his aggressive actions immediately.
Freelance writer Jim Grant recently wrote for International Sportsman magazine that it, “Makes one wonder just how hellacious this thing (the MGV-176) could be if loaded with CCI Stinger high-velocity rounds.”
With all of this background information in mind, it’s important to remember that the MGV-176 actually saw extensive, combat service during the Ten-Day War (the Slovenian War of Independence) from June 27 to July 7, 1991, in the hands of the Slovenian National Police and the Territorial Defense (Militia) Force, resulting in a Slovenian victory over the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), and total independence for the new nation.
Likewise, the MGV-176 later served admirably in battle during the early phases of the Croatian War of Independence (1991 to 1995), but particularly during the Battle of the Barracks, which lasted from September 14 to November 23, 1991, in the hands of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG, which later became the Croatian Army) and Croatian Police. The objective of this series of engagements was to neutralize dozens of JNA barracks, weapons storage facilities, and outposts in Croatian territory, and to secure modern arms and ammunition for the poorly-equipped ZNG.
The fierce Battle of the Barracks resulted in a Croatian victory, hugely increasing their armament capabilities by capturing 180,000 military arms, two million tons of ammunition, 250 tanks, and up to 500 artillery pieces. All Yugoslav forces were withdrawn, and Croatia became an independent nation.
During all of this scattered fighting, the MGV-176 submachine gun was very highly-regarded by Slovenian and Croatian soldiers, policemen, and militiamen, who stated that whatever the weapon lacked in one-shot, stopping power, it more than compensated for in its sheer volume of fire. It was especially effective in defending urban areas during close-range engagements, providing a high volume of firepower with as little recoil as possible, so it proved to be extremely accurate and easy to use. The recoil and torque during fully-automatic firing is virtually nonexistent, so shooters do not flinch, and accuracy is therefore greatly improved.
After the regular Croatian Army was formed, however, with captured, H&K MP5 submachine guns in 9mm Luger, the MGV-176 quickly fell out of favor, since the tiny, .22 LR cartridge is not what military forces or intelligence agencies really want, and the Slovenian National Police Force has also adopted the popular MP5.
The battle-tested MGV-176 is apparently still manufactured in small quantities by ORBIS in Slovenia, and was used by the Slovenian police for a time, but it’s no longer a frontline weapon. They can still be purchased occasionally through Helvetia Defense of Vésenaz, just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, and other international arms dealers.
In Slovenia and Croatia today, the unique weapon is common among criminal gangs, due to its local availability and high rate of fire, but elsewhere in the world, it’s currently used mostly by collectors and recreational shooters, as a very rare example of a rimfire, combat weapon. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, however, to find a couple of MGV-176s in the Delta Force armory at Fort Bragg, NC, for very special missions requiring an especially-quiet weapon with pinpoint accuracy and high-volume firepower.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.