|Pistol||FP-45 “Liberator”||Manufacturer||Guide Lamp|
|Cartridge||.45 ACP||Overall Length||5.56″|
|Action||Single Shot||Barrel Length||4″|
The United States of America entered WWII with a manufacturing capacity untouched by the wars raging in Europe and the Far East. Without saboteurs at their back or bombers overhead, US arms industry was able to spend valuable time and resources on alternative weapons of war. One of these projects ultimately ended the fight in the Pacific with two huge blasts, but a lesser-known operation attempted to undermine the Nazi’s with 1,000,000 armed civilians.
Despite a crushing defeat at the hands of both the Soviets and the Germans, Polish resistance remained the highest in occupied Europe. When the Americans became involved in the war, the Polish military attaché quickly requested any means to arm the civilian population for insurgency. This request was handed to the US Army’s Joint Psychological Warfare Committee (J.P.W.C.) in March of 1942. J.P.W.C. saw an opportunity to demoralize and drain resources from the Axis armies by threatening occupying forces. It also sought to embolden the occupied peoples by giving them the comfort of knowing they could shoot back. Expectations were that an armed populace would deter the Germans from their usual methods such as reprisal killings for acts of sabotage. They immediately decided on the manufacture of a huge quantity (5 to 10 million) of inexpensive, high-caliber handguns to be distributed as widely as possible.
Army Ordnance provided rudimentary plans for a small, single-shot, .45ACP pistol. Cutting edge manufacturing of the day involved forming inexpensive stamped steel shaped and welded quickly and inexpensively. Barrel rifling has long been and remains a major factor in machine time and was thus omitted entirely. Inland in Dayton, Ohio received the rough designs and made a fair number of changes in order to optimize the pistol. Production was moved to Guide Lamp of Anderson, Indiana because Inland was buried under M1 carbine production. Since the project was a secret, the new gun was referred to as a Flare Projector, or FP-45.
Despite its simplicity as a weapon, the FP-45 was composed of 23 separate parts and all of them were renamed to avoid identification as a pistol. The barrel became a “tube” and the trigger a “yoke” and on and on. Components were produced individually and assembled with simple spot welding and riveting. Each pistol was test fired once with some being selected to be fired up to 50 times to check manufacturing quality.The first production model did not last long as test firings revealed a problem with the cocking knob rotating out of alignment and failing to strike home. A guide pin was added to the top of the cocking knob and a matching hole drilled into the breech block in order to prevent the rotation when cocked. The second model also failed, as the strong recoil would crack the cocking knob around the guide pin. The third and final model was strengthened by casting a single, U-shaped firing pin/guide rod in a zinc cocking knob. This, unfortunately, did cut into the sight picture on the pistol. As you can see from our example, a little bend on the guide rod was enough to block out the rear sight entirely. The only other variation is that one oil hole on the right hand grip was eliminated later in production. 1,000,000 were produced by June 17th 1942, at which point production stopped.
These were packaged in cardboard with 10 rounds each along with a wooden dowel and pictorial instructions meant to allow the guns to be dropped anywhere on Earth without translation. The box was glued shut and sealed in wax to allow for storage and transportation. Additional evidence has suggested that some pistols were simply wrapped in paper and stored in crates of 50 units, although these are not confirmed by any government records, they have been witnessed coming back as souvenirs from theater operations.
FP-45 pistols take a bit of labor to fire. To ready the gun, pull back the cocking knob and rotate it in order to access the breech. Lift up the breech block and load a single round of .45ACP and drop the block back down. Rotate the cocking piece back into position. The pistol is now armed and ready to fire. Pulling the trigger will discharge the weapon but there is no extraction. Instead you must ready the breech again and drive out the spent casing with an included wooden dowel before reloading. Accuracy is extremely poor and the .45ACP cartridge leaves the gun around a leisurely 750fps. This leads to tumbling and severe wound trauma. At 5.6″ long and only 1 pound unloaded the FP-45 was extremely easy to conceal and could be smuggled nearly anywhere. This definitely supports the mission statement of a single shot, instant kill weapon that could strike fear into occupying forces.
Service life, or the lack thereof, for the FP-45 may well reveal some of the distinct differences in thought between the USA and Britain in the 1940’s. As an independent nation, the US sought to arm local populations and encourage revolution in nearly any form. The J.P.W.C wanted to sow chaos behind enemy lines and convert civilians into combatants. As a colonial giant, Britain wasn’t always happy to arm native peoples. Initial offers for FP-45 pistols included 25 rounds per pistol, the SOE requested only 10 be packaged and that they be left separate from the pistol. When told that 1,000,000 were available and that production could easily quintuple this number, the British said the current run was double anything they would ever need in the European theater. They also debated the merits of taking up valuable aircraft flight time and fuel with these popguns.
By the time London had decided to fully support local resistance groups (especially in the Balkans) production of inexpensive submachine guns and supplies of US carbines had displaced any need for the single-shot FP-45. In the end Britain only accepted 500,000 of the pistols in July of 1942 and it is unclear if they ever left storage. Certainly there is no account of their being distributed. With 500,000 spare pistols the US Army started offering the wares to their officers and other organizations. General MacArthur took 8,000 pistols for use in Australia and New Caledonia and requested 42,000 more be held in reserve storage for his use. 2,000 were later taken from storage to be issued in Guadalcanal and Tulagi. These were sometimes found by soldiers and, because of the FP-45’s secret nature, confused with Japanese-issued arms of crude construction. Australia’s intelligence forces also dipped into the reserve from time to time to arm native guerrillas on occupied islands. 450,000 remained to be issued. The newly founded Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) wasn’t one to waste and readily took the remainder. 100,000 were shipped to India in 1943 and offered up to Chinese forces resisting the Japanese by S.A.C.O. The Philippine Commonwealth Army apparently received a fair number of pistols and account for the broad majority of GI encounters with the FP-45. Many were apparently on hand for issue to local guerrillas and post-war peace keepers.
There are stories of sealed boxes of the pistols being given out as souvenirs to departing soldiers in 1946. These most likely came from MacArthur’s reserve as locals thought they were made in Australia and took to calling them ‘kangaroo pistols.’ Smaller batches of the FP-45 were offered up in the O.S.S special weapons available to field operatives. This is where the gun got it’s infamous name. The Weapons Catalog listed the FP-45 as the “Liberator (Woolworth Gun).” The exact origin of the name ‘Liberator’ isn’t known but represents an obvious choice given the weapon’s nature. Woolworth was the Wal-Mart of the day and a nickname given to inexpensive (often poorer quality) items. The Liberator Pistol moniker stuck, carried over to collecting circles, and has remained affixed to the FP-45 ever since. Some were procured for operations in Greece and Macedonia but any other records of their distribution were probably lost in the haphazard and classified operations of the O.S.S. A great majority were most likely melted down or otherwise destroyed after the war.
Overall the FP-45 “Liberator Pistol” was an incredible idea. Simple and cheap, 1,000,000 were turned out within one month for only $2.10 for each complete kit. They were concealable, reliable, and powerful. Their inherently short lifespan, inaccuracy, and slow follow up may seem like weaknesses, but viewed from a foreign power’s military agenda these were bonuses. Axis captured weapons were likely to just be destroyed, as they served almost no use for a professional military force. The guns could threaten individual occupiers but wouldn’t go far on a standard battlefield. I’m certain that many Europeans would have found use or at least comfort in the tin toy .45 pocket pistols. While it is unfortunate the project never reached the scope of the original expectations, these now rare little guns represent the best of what the US brought to the fight: Imagination, Ingenuity, Self-Determination, and overwhelming Production.