The British Viper Submachine Gun Spit Bullets Like, Well, a Viper
But the weapon couldn’t beat the STEN
by MATTHEW MOSS
In April 1944, the British General Staff issued a set of specifications for all future machine carbines, a.k.a. submachine guns. In order to be considered for adoption, the weapon must weigh less than six pounds unloaded, fire 600 rounds per minute and have a 30-to-60-round magazine capacity. The weapon also had to be able to fit the No. 5 sword bayonet.
In 1945, Derek Alfred Hutton-Williams designed a submachine gun he called the Viper. Hutton-Williams’ submachine gun met almost all of the General Staff’s specifications.
While impressively fast-firing, the Viper entered a crowded field of similar weapons and never managed to, ahem, sink its fangs into the market.
The Viper weighed for pounds, 14 ounces, but its cyclic rate was 692 rounds-per-minute. The Viper, chambered in nine-by-19 millimeter, fed from 32-round MP40 magazines that loaded at the front of the receiver.
The magazine acted as an extension of the weapon’s pistol grip, which also housed the magazine well. The Viper had a push-button combination safety and fire-selector with full and semi-automatic settings. The trigger mechanism allowed the Viper to fire single shots with a half-pull when set to fully automatic.
Hutton-Williams’ design allowed troops to fire the Viper one-handed with a detachable stock designed to tuck under the arm for support. The Viper prototype was accompanied by three different barrels with varying lengths including 4.7 inches, six inches and 7.5 inches.
The weapon’s overall length varied, measuring 21.4 inches with the shortest barrel. The Viper also had an enlarged trigger guard to allow users to alsowear thick gloves. The Viper’s sights consisted of a simple rear peep and a protected front sight.
Hutton-Williams produced at least two prototypes. The British military showed little interest in Hutton-Williams’ design and rejected the Viper before its designer could make further improvements.
By 1945, the British military had over a dozen machine carbine designs to choose from. Many, like the Viper, were quickly rejected. Production of the improved STEN Mk. V was in full swing by the end of the war. The Sterling submachine gun followed in 1953.
Hutton-Williams later served as the Deputy Director of Housing at the Ministry of Supply before later acting as superintendent of the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield and the director general of Britain’s Royal Ordnance Factories. He retired in 1975 and died in 2001 at the age of 87.
Originally published at Historical Firearms.