SOF Tests the Uzi, Israel's "State Of The Art" SMG

by Peter Kokalis

The Uzi, without doubt the most widely distributed submachine gun in the Western world, has finally arrived in quantity in the United States. Available in unique semiauto and full auto (for police departments and Class-3 dealers only), it is being imported by Action Arms, Ltd. (Dept. SOF, 4567 Bermuda St., Philadelphia, PA 19124).

An officer in the Israeli army, Uziel Gal, developed the Uzi in the early 1950s. It is produced in Israel by Israeli Military Industries and under license at the FN plant in Herstal, Belgium. As the bolt design clearly demonstrates, the Uzi's origins are the Czech models 23 and ZK476 family of submachine guns.

The Uzi's most distinctive characteristic is its wrap-around bolt design. The primary advantage of this feature is compactness, while still utilizing a relatively long 10.2-inch barrel in the full-auto weapon and a 16.1-inch barrel in the semiauto carbine. At the moment of ignition, the recessed bolt surrounds more than three inches of the barrel. Thus by placing more weight over the chamber - where the explosion occurs - upward climb during recoil is reduced. The bolt is also partially responsible for the Uzi's natural pointing traits. Finally, it is an added safety factor in the event of a blown case - important in view of the dubious quality of some surplus 9mm ammo now so prevalent.

The Uzi's magazine well is located in the grip assembly - a desirable feature as it leaves the point of balance directly above the grip, provides a firm support for the magazine and aids in rapid magazine changes, using the well-known principle of "hand finds hand."

The Uzi magazine, a direct adaptation from Beretta submachine guns, is of the two-position-feed type. Minimum bolt energy is required to strip rounds from this type of magazine; single-position-feed magazines, such as those encountered in the MP 40, Sten, M3A1 (grease gun) and MAC 10, are harder to load without a tool and malfunction more frequently. All Uzi magazines have viewing holes in the sides so the contents can be seen at a glance.

The Uzi comes equipped with a 25-round magazine. The Israeli army once tried a 40-round magazine - however, as in the case of its 40-round Beretta cousin, constant feeding problems accompanied the large-capacity magazine and it was withdrawn from service and manufacture. Action Arms says a 32-round magazine will eventually be provided. A special clip is available to join two magazines together in an "L" configuration. This is useful because, when both magazines are loaded, the one not in use lies under the barrel and helps reduce muzzle climb. Then, when the first magazine has been expended, the second lies back under the butt.

The Uzi has two safety systems, independent of each other. The first is controlled by the fire selector, located on the left side of the receiver above the grip assembly. When it is placed in the rearward position, marked "S," the piece is locked. The second is a grip safety at the rear of the grip assembly.

In my opinion, grip safeties on submachine guns are less useful, and potentially more disconcerting, in combat than magazine-disconnector safeties on semiauto pistols. Back in the late '50s, when issued Danish Madsen M50 submachine guns, I remember clearly that my first alteration was taping the grip safety to the rear of the magazine well. Under stress, it is easy for one's sweating hand to slide off the rear of the grip assembly and, momentarily at least, leave the firer with a locked piece. In any event, this problem is simple enough to remedy with a short strip of electrical tape.

The full-auto version has a third safety in the form of a ratchet on the bolt-retracting slide, which locks the bolt if the retracting knob is accidentally released from an incomplete cocking motion.

The Uzis currently being imported by Action Arms have a baked-enamel finish. Although painted firearms have never appealed to Americans - presumably because chipped finishes that occur through use are unsightly to collectors - the British and Belgians concluded long ago that such finishes are far more durable and corrosion-resistant, especially in tropical climates, than either bluing or Parkerizing. Earlier specimens, brought in for police departments and the U.S. Secret Service (which chopped several inches off the barrels in an effort to facilitate concealment in attache cases), were Parkerized. The Action Arms weapons appear to be Parkerized under the enamel-like finish.

Although using Stampings and high-impact plastics extensively - as do most modern military small arms - the Uzi exhibits quality in design and manufacture. As an example, long, narrow ridges stamped into the sides of the receiver act effectively as dirt traps, ensuring reliable operation under the most extreme conditions of debris and sand.

Accessories abound, and some are quite useful, such as the previously mentioned "L" clip. Well-designed two- and three-magazine pouches are available, featuring sturdy Velcro flaps. The magazine loader appears to have been designed for use with a stripper clip of Israeli issue, as it is not compatible with the strippers found on commonly available Czech surplus ammo. Not as easy to use as the Sten, MP 40 or MAC magazine loaders, it is, nevertheless, better than nothing.

The bayonet cannot be used on the semiauto carbine, as its 16.1-inch barrel would extend almost the full length of the blade. But then, bayonets on submachine guns are not very useful.

The front-sight adjusting tool, although complex in design, is effective.

The strangest accessory is a so-called spotting light: a spotlight, complete with battery pack, attaches to and hangs under the barrel. What function this would serve in combat, besides inviting enemy fire, is unclear.

A wooden stock can be supplied for either version and, though certainly sacrificing compactness, there can be little argument that it is generally easier to score effective hits with wooden-stocked submachine guns.

Other than the obvious - such as barrel length and the full-auto mode - in what ways do the two Uzis differ? In an effort to comply with provisions of the 1968 Gun Control Act, Israel Military Industries has sufficiently altered the design of the semiauto carbine to discourage attempts to convert it to full auto or interchange parts with the submachine gun. While both are of blowback operation, the semiauto carbine fires from the closed bolt using a floating firing pin, in contrast to the submachine gun which utilizes a fixed firing pin firing from the closed bolt.

The barrels (of differing outside diameters and configuration), bolts and trigger-housing assemblies of the two Uzis cannot be interchanged. Of course, any semiauto firearm, including pistols, can be altered to fire full auto. However, attempts to do so with this weapon are not only illegal, but potentially dangerous.

Blowback submachine guns with fixed firing pins operate on the principle of advanced primer ignition. This simply means that the primer is actually detonated before the cartridge is fully seated in the chamber and while it is still moving forward. The cartridge's force of equal and opposite reaction (one of Newton's laws) is thus dissipated in not only overcoming the inertia of the stopped bolt and driving it rearward, but in stopping its forward movement as well. This concept permits designers to use a much lighter bolt.

Weapons using advanced primer ignition commonly contain slightly tapered chambers. Attempts to use a barrel of this type with the floating firing pin of the semiauto Uzi could be disastrous.

How do the two Uzis stack up against each other in an actual firing test? Armed with both models and a large supply of the no-longer-quite-so-cheap surplus Yugoslav, Finnish and Czech ammo, a group of auto-weapons enthusiasts subjected them both to several days of intensive testing. The results are interesting and informative.

First, a reduction (measuring only 19 inches in height and 9 inches in width) of the NRA B-27 silhouette target, designed to be fired from 50 feet, was placed at a distance of 25 yards from the firing line. Using the 25-round magazine, two experienced individuals - one with the semiauto carbine and one with the submachine gun - were directed to place aimed fire from the standing position into the targets as quickly as possible.

As expected, the semiauto carbine consistently scored more hits, but in slightly longer time frames. The operator of the semiauto averaged 19 hits out of the 25-round magazine in 20 seconds. Using two- and three-round bursts, the submachine gun yielded an average of 15 hits out of 25 rounds in only 16 seconds. Both excellent results.

Curious as to the actual cyclic rates attainable, the two weapons were fired as rapidly as possible and carefully timed. It takes just 6.7 seconds (about 225 rounds per minute) to empty the 25-round magazine of the semiauto Uzi and only 3.1 seconds (500 rpm) of the full-auto submachine gun. Theoretical cyclic rate of the full-auto Uzi is 600 rpm.

Given the limitations imposed by overall weight considerations, the pistol calibers most commonly used and the necessity for reasonable controllability in the full-auto mode, cyclic rates between 450 rpm to 650 rpm are considered ideal by modern submachine-gun designers.

More than eight persons - again using both weapons - fired repeatedly, and consistently scored hits on man-size targets out to 90 yards, firing from both the shoulder and hip assault positions. Without exception, all commented on the natural sense of balance and pointing characteristics of both Uzis, which border on the phenomenal. Several thousand rounds were fired with no malfunctions.

That the Uzi is a garbage eater was attested to by the external condition of the Czech ammo, which bordered on disgusting.

Certainly the Uzi is among the very best - a "state of the art" submachine gun without peer. But, is it not doomed to almost disappear within the coming decade? With the ever-growing dominance of the assault-rifle concept, submachine guns appear destined to limited standard status with every major military power in the world. Short-barreled assault rifles, such as the XM177E2, AR18S, HK33KA1, SIG SG543, AUG and the Galil SAR, offer compactness almost equal to, and cartridges far more potent and accurate out to far greater ranges than any submachine gun.

The Soviet Union, in WWII the greatest proponent of massed submachine-gun firepower in the history of warfare, long ago dropped them from front-line service in favor of the Kalashnikov series of assault rifles. The U.S. military has shown no interest in the development of a new submachine gun. Israel itself plans to replace the Uzi with the Galil SAR as soon as possible.

In the hands of terrorists, overseas as a police weapon where no stigma against its use as such exists, and in highly specialized military ops, we shall continue to see the submachine gun for quite some time. But, despite these exceptions, the use of the submachine gun as a major infantry weapon, which began in the waning days of WWI and crested in WWII, is proving to be one of the shortest-lived in military history.

first published in the September 1981 edition of Soldier of Fortune Magazine