Articles

This machine gun was big with Green Beret, CIA agents, and the cast of 'Star Trek'


(Photo: Screenshot of "Bread and Circuses" episode of "Star Trek" that aired in 1968 and featured Roman Security Forces firing Danish Madsen M50 Submachine guns)

It's another weekly episode of Star Trek: The Original Series: The title – "Bread and Circuses."

This time, Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy beam down to Planet 892-IV, a planet identical to Earth in almost every way – except Rome never fell.

Along with scantily clad space babes and gladiatorial games there are gun-toting Roman legionnaires. Not only did Rome never fall in this story, but apparently Denmark rises to become supplier of submachine guns to the empire, and a pretty badass submachine gun at that.

They are toting the Madsen M-50 9-millimeter submachine guns by Dansk Industri Syndikat. Its simplicity and ease of maintenance are stellar even if its popularity back on Earth was somewhat limited.

The M-50 is an open bolt, blowback submachine gun that fires only in full-auto at a cyclic rate of 550 rounds per minute. It has a 32-round box magazine and is slightly more than 30 inches long with the stock unfolded.

However, it's most unusual feature is the way the operator field-strips the weapon. A barrel nut holds two halves of the hinged sheet metal receiver together – when the operator closes the stock and removes the barrel nut, he can open the receiver like it is clamshell housing, exposing the inner parts of the gun.

All the parts such as the bolt, operating spring and guide, and the barrel easily remove for cleaning. When finished, the person cleaning the weapon just reverses the process and snaps the sides of the receiver shut and replaces the barrel nut.

Besides, it looks exotic and foreign – probably one of the reasons movie and television armorers loved using it.

In the original Planet of the Apes films the M-50 was mocked-up in a futuristic shell to make the gun look even more alien – perfectly suited for a world where apes carried the guns and made the laws.

Also in 1968, the film Ice Station Zebra portrayed Soviet paratroopers carrying the gun, no doubt because of its foreign look.

Even legendary cinematic Italian crime families packed the gun. In The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Corleone "made men" are carrying M-50s as they provide security around the various family compounds depicted in the movie.

But "movie gun" was not what the Madsen's manufacturer intended. In a world full of cheap, mass-produced World War II submachine guns like the M-3 "Grease Gun" or the Sten,  the Madsen put up with a lot abuse without jamming.

The Special Forces Foreign Weapons Handbook describes it as a "well-made weapon" that "incorporates low-cost production features, sturdiness and simplicity of disassembly seldom found in weapons of this type" and that it possessed a stock that was "one of the most rigid types available and the weapon can be fired as easily with the stock folded as it can with the stock unfolded."

Latin American military and police units used it widely. During the 1950s, Dansk Industri Syndikat sold thousands of M-50s to Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

Brazil also purchased the gun, but then produced its own licensed version called the M-953 or the INA – for Industria Nacional de Armas of Sao Paulo.  The Brazilian makers of the INA originally chambered the weapon in .45 ACP, a caliber popular with most of their nation's armed forces and police.

However, during the early 1970s Brazil's defense ministers decided that 9-millimeter Parabellum would be a better choice in ammunition. They eventually ordered a massive conversion program to re-chamber the weapons in 9-millimeter as well as add a select-fire modification.

Special Forces and CIA operators during the Vietnam War frequently carried the M-50 or armed the "indigs" with the gun.

In South Vietnam, Green Berets frequently placed the weapon in the hands of the montagnards, the indigenous hill people who defended villages against the Viet Cong and served as rapid response forces alongside special operators.

Small enough to be secreted inside their woven pack baskets, M-50s gave the montagnards real firepower as they scouted hills and trails for Viet Cong activity.

Despite obvious interest in the M-50, sales of the weapon were good but not great. Its biggest competition was the veritable flood of surplus submachine guns from World War II that inundated the military market during the 1950s.

So, it became a movie gun – whether it was in "space, the final frontier" (at least as it was portrayed on television) or in dozens of movies on the big screen.