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Old 01-11-2020, 03:53 PM
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Default The Welrod pistols...

Here's another draft article - as always, comments welcome.

John

The Welrod Suppressed Covert Pistols



These were strange-looking pistols, and when their two assemblies were separated, the top part could pass for some type of specialized tool when thrown into a toolbox with other implements, or even be disguised as a bicycle tire pump. The bottom part could easily fit into a workman’s glove or a jacket pocket. Designed to be covertly smuggled into enemy territory, these guns had but one definite purpose: undetectable silent assassination. They are definitely some of the quietest sound-suppressed pistols ever made. Though conceived and made during early WWII, many still exist and may in fact still be in the special equipment stocks of a number of nations, kept for possible clandestine use.

Even the name “Welrod” was of somewhat obscure origin. The British had a custom of referring to clandestine objects originating at a secret facility (later referred to as “Station IX”) near Welwyn Garden City with names beginning with “Wel,” such as “Welbike” or “Welman.” The “rod” part of the name was merely obfuscation for the true nature of this tool. A document originating near the end of the war revealed the identity of the inventor, who was British Major Hugh Reeves. His quirky turn of mind also developed a single-shot “sleeve gun” that could be concealed up a shirt sleeve.

During the war, the Welrod was used principally by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) but was also employed by the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and resistance forces in Europe.

For plausible deniability, the Welrods were unmarked with anything revealing their origin. BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company) did confirm after the war that they made at least some of these pistols. Most had serial numbers applied, probably by the military after they were manufactured. A five-pointed star and/or other obscure stampings have been noted on many.

The first model was the Mk II, which was chambered for the .32 ACP cartridge. The magazine within the grip assembly was modified from the one used in the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless pistol. After extensive usage in the field, the Mk II was superseded by the Mk I. It was developed to use the more powerful 9mm Luger cartridge, utilizing a different magazine. Why the Mk II preceded the Mk I is anybody’s guess - I don’t know. It’s estimated that about 14,000 Mk IIs were produced, and they constituted the bulk of Welrod production. Each of these earlier guns weighed about 2 1/3 pounds.

The initial Mk II was constructed using a 1.25-inch-diameter cylinder, slightly longer than 12 inches long. At the rear of the cylinder is a rotating 2-lug bolt. A bolt action was chosen for reliability and quietness of operation. The knurled knob at the rear of the bolt serves to operate the bolt, and it turns 90 degrees to lock and unlock. When locked, a notch on the knob lines up with a similar notch at the rear of the cylinder for visual and tactile verification of its status. A spring-loaded firing pin is contained within the bolt, which also has an extractor. The expended cartridge case is ejected vertically through a port on top as the bolt is pulled back. Pushing the bolt forward loads another round from the magazine and cocks the firing pin. When the knob is twisted clockwise to lock, the arm is ready for firing. The middle portion contains the barrel, which is vented to ensure that the exiting bullet is subsonic. The vents discharge into an expansion chamber. The front section contains 11 thin metal baffles and 3 leather wipes, acting to confine escaping gases and suppress noise. When the suppressor components were installed at the factory, the wipes were not perforated for the bullet to pass. The bullets, when fired, did their own perforating. The wipes deteriorated in use, and needed to be replaced after about 10 to 15 shots to maintain the gun’s maximum sound deadening capability.

The later Mk I measured 2.22 inches longer than its predecessor and was more robust to accommodate the more powerful 9mm round. It weighed in with 14 additional ounces over the Mark II, at about 3 1/4 pounds. The forward suppressor part of the gun can be unscrewed for easier maintenance. About 2,800 were produced, and this model was more often used in post-war operations because of its now more universally available 9 mm cartridge. Of course, most of these usually clandestine missions were classified and not much is known about them.

The grip is combined integrally with the magazine, and can be removed and stowed when separated from the upper assembly in the interest of better concealment. The Mark II magazines hold eight .32 rounds, while the Mark I versions hold six 9 mm cartridges. The arm is equipped with a grip safety. The single-action trigger lacks a trigger guard on the Mk II, but one is present on the Mk I, and it incorporates an additional manual safety behind the trigger. The muzzle is recessed a short distance from the mouth of the cylinder, making the pistol more efficient for sound deadening in pressed-to-the-body firing and helping to reduce slippage against the enemy when so employed. The Mark I manual suggests that the gun is most effective when in actual contact with the target. The front sight is fixed, while the rear is drift-adjustable for windage. The sights had fluorescent paint on them for use in low light. The manual states that the Welrod is accurate up to 30 yards in daylight, or 20 yards on a fairly lit night.



A Mk II with the action open and the magazine/grip detached.

In 2002, a restored Welrod was tested by Small Arms Review magazine. The article that was published stated that the gun’s sound was almost imperceptible 15 feet away from the discharge in a quiet environment, and that it would probably be inaudible in a noisier situation if the muzzle was in contact with the target.

Historically, there was a 1943 plan to drop Welrods into German-occupied Europe, to provide a means for resistance forces to mass assassinate SS and Gestapo officers and soldiers, all within a one-month time frame. This plan was scrapped following Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, leader of the combined security services of Nazi Germany, by the Czech resistance. Immediately after this event, the Germans arrested and interrogated an estimated 13,000 civilians, and about 5,000 were murdered in reprisal killings. The villages of Lidice and Ležáky were totally destroyed. The risk to indigenous civilians was considered too high to follow through on the mass assassination plan.

The Germans did capture some of the Mark II Welrods dropped to resistance forces in Europe. The Waffen SS special operations group led by Otto Skorzeny is reported to have had and carried some to further their deception and disruption efforts following the D-Day invasion by the Allies.

Welrods were used in Denmark by their special forces during the war, and were dropped to other countries as well. Some may have been used in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Their use was reported during the 1982 Falklands war, “the troubles” in Northern Ireland and during operation Desert Storm by British Special Forces.

The U.S. Navy also received some Mark IIs, and they were officially designated by the Navy as the “.32 Hand Firing Mechanism Mk 1 Mod 0” to obscure their true nature. Some of these were later sent to the CIA for possible use.

The Welrod has occasionally been imitated but never entirely duplicated. Mitch WerBell, a former OSS and CIA officer who founded the suppressor-manufacturing firm SIONICS (an acronym for Studies In the Operational Negation of Insurgents and Counter-Subversion) reportedly made a few similar guns in the 1960s, but they have been pretty much lost to history.

At the present time, approximately 100 Welrods exist in military museums and only a few examples are held legally in private hands. Needless to say, the asking prices for those that do turn up on the collector market are impressive – it’s estimated that each would be worth around $10,000 or more to well-heeled collectors.

The Welrod suppressed pistols are legendary, but few have handled or even seen one. They were ethereal products of World War II, and even today, little is known about them or most of the many secret operations in which they were used. Who knows, in some dark corner of the world, a very quiet “pop” might be heard – or maybe not at all. They are still out there!

(c) 2020 JLM
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Last edited by PALADIN85020; 01-12-2020 at 11:07 PM.
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  #2  
Old 01-11-2020, 04:15 PM
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Cool piece of history. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-11-2020, 05:03 PM
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There was also a Welgun, another product of the British SOE. A SMG, it was none too successful.
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Old 01-12-2020, 12:38 AM
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They are not even arguably some of the quietest sound-suppressed pistols ever made.

Do you mean "inarguably" or "unarguably"? Perhaps "indisputably"?
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Old 01-12-2020, 03:13 AM
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Perhaps it should read:

They are inarguably some of the quietest sound-suppressed pistols ever made.
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Old 01-12-2020, 08:40 AM
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Why not just "They are some of the..."?
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