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Innovation in mechanised warfare.

Looking over my gun vault, it dawned on me for the first time in my life I own several guns with either folding or collapsible stocks. They are an interesting genre of firearms, most generally associated with military weapons, and their purpose is immediately evident. They were meant to be both handier and lighter in weight than the same firearm would be with a standard stock.

A cursory study shows why. Folding stock military weapons were originally developed for use in the cramped confines of armored vehicles. Paratroopers quickly realized how handy they would be when jumping out of airplanes. Let's look at a few examples. To the best of my knowledge the first standard issue

Collapsible Stock
Note the difference in overall length of these guns with folding or collapsible buttstocks with all extended (top, clockwise) of the Colt CAR-15, M1A1 "Paratrooper" Carbine, M3 "grease gun" .submachine gun, and MP40 submachine gun, compared to them collapsed or folded (below).
Best Pictures

military weapon equipped with a folding stock was Germany's MP38, soon followed up by the very similar MP40. These two full-auto only submachine guns differ mainly by how they were manufactured.

Anyway, both version's metal buttstock with hinged shoulder piece folded under the pistol grip and receiver when not in use. It was locked and unlocked from position by a knurled button at the left rear of the receiver. With the stock extended the MP40 is 32.5" long. With it folded it is only 24.5". If you ever happen upon an AK-47 type firearm with a folding stock, examine it because it's very similar to the German design.

The M1A1

As early as 1942, even before the M1 Carbine got into full production, the US Army realized a special version would suit paratroopers better. Therefore a skeletonized metal folding stock was developed. When an M1 Carbine barreled action was dropped into it, then it immediately became an M1A1 Carbine. (However, the marking on the receivers were always just M1.) Although M1 Carbines were actually made by 10 manufacturers during World War II, only Inland Division of General Motors produced M1A1s.

M1 Carbines are pretty small weapons anyway at 36". Put the folding stock on them, close it up, and the overall length is only about 26". Whereas the MP40's stock folds under the receiver, the M1A1 Carbine's stock folds down the left side of the carbine. Also, it doesn't have a lock and is held in either position by spring pressure.

Now let's look at a couple of examples of collapsible type stocks. Early on the US Army recognized the Thompson submachine gun in its various models (M1928, M1928A1, M1, M1A1) was not an ideal military weapon. It cost too much, was too heavy, and didn't have a folding or collapsible stock for use inside armored vehicles. (Most American tank crews were issued with a submachine gun.)

When the M3 submachine gun was developed, a collapsible stock was part of the basic design. And basic it is. It is simply a wire folded into an L-shape with prongs extending down either side of the M3's receiver. A small button on the left rear of the receiver allows it to move. Press the button and it can be pulled back or if already back it can be pushed inwards. Keep the button down while pulling the wire stock out and it will come clear of the gun. With the stock extended the M3 measures 30" long. When closed it's only 22.5" in length. That made it far handier to handle inside a tank's turret. And, this is an interesting fact: Some American tanks went into Desert Storm in 1991 with M3s still in their turrets.

Armored use was not the only purpose of the M3 either. Some of the very first ones in combat with Americans fell into Normandy with 82nd and 101st Division's paratroopers on D-Day. It was about four pounds lighter than an M1A1 Thompson and 8" shorter. M3s arrived too late to figure prominently in

Duke's friend, Pat Ryan Operation Manager for Redding Reloading Equipment, shoots the MP40 with buttstock extended. Brass flies, but not a lot of muzzle climb.

Duke's friend, Pat Ryan Operation Manager for Redding Reloading Equipment, shoots the MP40 with buttstock extended. Brass flies, but not a lot of muzzle climb.

WWII fighting, but they and the later M3A1 saw much use in Korea and even in Vietnam in the 1960s.

The collapsible idea for buttstocks has been refined considerably nowadays. Look at virtually any brand of AR and you will see a version with the telescoping buttstock. We only have one here, and in all honesty it belongs to Yvonne. It's a Colt CAR-15. Extended the little carbine is 35.5" long. Press its lever and the buttstock slides easily in and out. Then it is 3" shorter. That doesn't sound like much but people who have used similar ones in military vehicles say it matters.

If there has ever been a sporting type firearm made with a folding or collapsible buttstock, I can't think of it at this sitting. There just wouldn't be too important a need for such. But, they do make for an interesting sub-variant of military weapon. If you don't believe me look for a genuine M1A1 Carbine. They will sell for between two to four times more than a similar condition standard M1 Carbine!

PS: Since writing this column, I've bought a WWII military pistol with detachable buttstock. I'll write it up in the near future.

Near Future Pistols



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