During World War 2, dozens of new weapons were rushed into service around the world. One of those that you may not have heard of was the M-42 submachine gun. You may be interested to know that a certain well-known firearms manufacturer made this rare and exotic weapon by the name of Marlin.
Why the UD M-42
At the entrance of the United States into World War 2 in December 1941, the standard US submachine gun was the Thompson Auto. The Thompson was and still is a beautiful gun but it was expensive, heavy, and complicated. Word on the street was that the US was looking for a smaller, cheaper, and less labor-intensive sub gun to replace it with. High Standard firearm's owner and best engineer, Carl Gustave ("Gus") Swebilius, tackled the problem and came up with an offering that became the M-42
Design of the M-42
The blowback operated select fire little submachine gun was a handy instrument of steel and walnut. Firing from an open bolt like the later-designed MAC-10 and Uzi, it was very zippy, delivering some 880-rounds per minute cyclic as long as the 25-round magazine held out. With an 11-inch barrel, the overall length of the gun was just 32.25-inches. Its heavy construction of finely machined steel coupled with a walnut stock and grip assembly kept it heavy at some 9.25-pounds. In the steel butt plate of the sub gun a trap was built for the oilcan. Its sights were very workable and adjustable for both windage and elevation. An innovative feature of the gun was that the magazines were grooved and slotted to be attached together for fast tactical or emergency reload. Originally, the firearm was to be in .45ACP.
United Defense, a government-formed corporation tasked with rapidly finding and negotiating new contracts for modern weapons for the military, liked the M-42 and wanted it in production.
During 1942 negotiations of up to 150,000 of the little sub gun with a delivery rate of 1,000 per day when placed in full production was requested. These guns were to be made by Marlin for $46 a pop, and then turned over to United Defense who would inspect and deliver them to the military that would collect a total of $53 for each rifle. Marlin, who manufactured each of the firearms, marked all of these "United Defense Supply Corporation" Those few made by High Standard themselves were marked as such.
Unfortunately for Marlin, the M2 and M3 sub guns were cheaper than the M-42 and the bulk of the government's interest moved to those platforms, leaving the M-42 as an orphan. It was then that the OSS stepped in and picked up the project. The M-42, chambered for 9mm Parabellum, would be perfect to drop behind enemy lines to arm weaponless resistance groups. The 9mm cartridge was common to both the Nazi and Japanese supply chain and replacement ammunition could conceivably be captured.
Orders, however, never approached that optimistic goal and only 15,000 were produced by Marlin for the US government.
Use of the UDM-42
Training with the M-42 'Somewhere in Nazi-occupied France'
The 9mm sub gun was never meant for front-line use by US military forces and never saw such. What is known is that by 1943 the guns were being dropped into China, Africa, and Europe behind enemy lines. They were used by OSS and SOE teams whose exploits, popularized and highly dramatized by the recent movie Inglorious Basterds, are legend. Many of these arms caches, originally intended for rag-tag resistance groups, instead found their way into Nazi hands. Over 6,000 were parachuted into occupied France alone in 1944. By the end of the war, most of these fine weapons were unaccounted for.
The M-42 today
In 1948, Marlin bought the rights to the gun from High Standard and tried to shop the gun around to arm any US ally who showed interest. With no takers, Marlin scrapped the machinery and closed the line down for good in 1952. Some of those delivered to Europe were imported back to the US before 1968 and sold commercially. Today the few working models in the US are NFA registered Class III weapons that go for a pretty penny, usually in the five-figure range.
Not bad for a gun that was thrown out of the back of an airplane with a parachute on it.
*Special thanks to William S Brophy's excellent work, Marlin Firearms: A History of the Guns and the Company That Made Them, which covers the UD M-42 in much greater detail than the scope of this article allows.