Homemade Guns Couldn’t Save the Polish Resistance
The Błyskawica was an ingenious weapon — but it didn’t matter
by MATTHEW MOSS
The Polish Home Army manufactured between 500 and 700 Błyskawica submachine guns before the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
The name Błyskawica, meaning “lightning,” refers to the three lightning bolts the makers engraved onto the butt plates of many of the guns.
While resistance groups in France were well-armed and supplied by frequent parachute drops from Britain, the Polish Underground was less well-equipped.
They did receive various small arms in supply drops once airfields in Italy were in Allied hands, but the demand for weapons exceeded the meager supply.
This forced the Poles to improvise and develop and covertly-manufacture their own submachine guns.
Mechanical engineers Wacław Zawrotny and Seweryn Wielanier began working on the problem in September 1942. With no prior experience in firearms-design, they examined the available STEN and German MP40 and developed an amalgam of the two weapons.
The Błyskawica shared some characteristics of the MP40, such as its vertical, bottom-loading magazine and pistol grip, while the open-bolt action was largely based on the STEN’s own action.
With limited tooling, the Poles abandoned conventional spot-welds and forgings in favor of micro-grooved threads and screws. The Błyskawica was ingenious in that it took advantage of readily available materials and simple manufacturing techniques and still managed to be a serviceable weapon.
Chambered in nine-by-19 millimeter, the blowback, open-bolt submachine guns used STEN magazines. Steel tubing made up the gun’s receiver while the barrel shroud and butt plate were aluminum. It weighed 7.2 kilograms, boasted an extremely simple trigger mechanism and had a trigger safety lever that prevented accidental discharges. The Błyskawica had a small rear peep sight and a rudimentary pointed front sight modeled on the STEN’s sights.
The first prototype was ready by late 1943 but suffered from chronic jamming. The designers quickly rectified early problems. They drew up blueprints and spread production across 20 small manufacturers around Warsaw. The Home Army ordered 1,300 guns for delivery in the summer of 1944.
The guns saw action during the Warsaw Uprising, where their firepower was invaluable during two months of street fighting. But the dust of the urban environment meant that, despite the bolt’s machined grooves — which channeled dirt out of the action — the guns required frequent cleaning.
The Błyskawica was difficult to field-strip — a consideration that had not been a high priority for the designers.
Sadly, the Warsaw Uprising failed. With limited supplies and little help from the nearby Red Army, the Polish Home Army was eventually overwhelmed by the Germans. The Błyskawica becoming a footnote in Warsaw’s valiant but futile self-defense.