The ‘Standschutze Hellriegel’ Submachine Gun Is a Mystery
Let’s try to solve it
by MATTHEW MOSS
The Austro-Hungarian Standschutze Hellriegel debuted in 1915. Today the automatic, light firearm is something of a mystery.
The prototype blended pistol-caliber ammunition with the firepower of a machine gun, making it one of the first weapons which could be considered a “submachine gun.”
That much, we know. The rest is … conjecture.
The images in this story come from an Austrian archive, where they all fall under the title “Maschinengewehr des Standschützen Hellriegel.” The photos are dated 10.1915 — presumably meaning October 1915 — and show what appears to be a test-firing of the weapon at a shooting range.
The archival entry indicates that the weapon was named after someone with the second name “Hellriegel.”
“Standschützen” may refer to the designer being a member of the Austro-Hungarian reserve force, the Standschützen, whose mission was to defend the Austrian states of Tyrol and Vorarlberg.
The Standschutze Hellriegel may have been developed for this corps or by a member of it.
There is little public information about the Standschutze Hellriegel. Sources often describe it as a belt-fed submachine gun. However, it in fact fed from a large drum magazine that held approximately 160 rounds.
Much like the German Trommel magazine. the Standschutze Hellriegel’s drum appears to have a coil spring attached to a knee-jointed follower arm.
How the shooter loaded the drum is unclear. It had a hinged cover and what seems to be a removable lever that served to tense the spring. There don’t appear to be any dummy rounds attached to the follower to aid feeding. The weapon may have had another coil spring projecting from the follower to feed the last rounds through the drum’s flexible chute.
The magazine itself was not fixed to the weapon’s receiver and instead linked to it via a flexible chute. This may have caused feed-reliability issues. In the photographs, the operator is depicted firing from prone with the drum resting in a cradle.
The gun also appears to have fed from box magazines, which may have held 20 or so rounds. One photo indicates that there were at least two types of box magazines. Nine-millimeter Steyr was Austro-Hungary’s standard pistol ammunition, so it’s likely the weapon was chambered for this round.
We don’t know for sure how the Standschutze Hellriegel operated, but it probably used a blow-back action. The two projections from the rear of the receiver may suggest it had dual recoil springs. The shooter aimed the weapon by way of a folding ladder sight situated on top of the receiver.
In one photo, the gunner is accompanied by an assistant gunner wearing an ammunition carrier with slots for five drums and two small draws. The gunner appears to be wearing a sort of over-shoulder brace harness with wide straps, which may have interfaced with the weapon at the gunner’s waist — where a metal fitting is just visible.
This would be similar to the Browning Automatic Rifle’s walking-fire bracing belt cup.
Another interesting feature of the Standschutze Hellriegel was its water-cooled barrel and leather-encased barrel jacket that held the water. It had a pair of ports to fill and drain the jacket. In one photo, a tube-style hand grip is visible beneath the jacket.
How a user would have employed the drum magazine’s flexible chute attachment is hard to say. Maybe the box magazines were for walking fire and the drum was for stationary, sustained fire.
Unlike the Italian Villar-Perosa, which the Italians initially used as a support weapon, the Standschutze Hellriegel doesn’t appear to have any provision for a bipod, which would indicate its offensive primary function.
The Standschutze Hellriegel doesn’t seem to have progressed beyond the prototype stage — and the reasons for this remain unclear. With refinement to the drum’s attachment and perhaps a substitute for the water jacket, the weapon could have been very useful.
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