The M1942 Liberator was a crude, breech-loading, smoothbore .45 caliber pistol
develped by the United States
during World War II. Made entirely of stamped metal, of very low quality, the Liberator cost the United States government roughly $2.40 apiece to produce.
Under the cover name "Flare Pistol M1942", the Liberator was secretly developed by the United States Army Joint Psychological Committee as a cheap, crude, expendable assassination weapon designed to be produced in mass quantities and airdropped into German-occupied Europe. This idea was sold to the Office of Secret Services (OSS), who provided funding for this interesting little project. Developed by the United States Army Ordinance Department and produced by the Guide Lamp Division of the venerable General Motors Corporation, over one million were manufactured between June and August 1942.
The M1942 Liberator is of very simple design. A 102mm long unrifled barrel is mated with a hollow pistol grip, a crude trigger, and a rear cocking piece. The unrifled bore, while contributing to the gun's innacuracy, lowered production costs and greatly increased its power. To load and prime the gun, one would pull back the rear cocking piece and rotate it 180 degrees counter-clockwise until it locked in place, place a single cartridge in the breech, and then return the rear cocking knob to its original position. The firearm would be discharged by depressing the trigger. To clear the spent cartridge, one would once again open the breech and push the cartridge from the barrel by poking a suitably long object down the muzzle end of the barrel. Up to five rounds of extra ammunition could be carried in the handle of the gun, which was intentionally hollow for such a purpose. There were two small metal protrusions, one at the tip of the barrel and one at the rear, that were to serve as a very rudimentary point sight at close range.
The Liberator literally took longer to load than it did to be manufactured, and was only effective at point-blank range. It was intended as a covert assassination weapon, and was never issued directly to American or Allied soldiers - the idea was for large quantities of this weapon to be airdropped into German-occupied territory prior to an Allied assault, allowing local resistance members to use this weapon to kill enemy soldiers and take their weapons. Large quantities of this weapon were delivered to French and Polish resistance members, and a suprising amount of them had been deployed to Chinese and other Eastern resistance groups by the end of World War II. Very few records pertaining to the use of this pistol exist today.
When dropped into occupied territory, the Liberator came packaged in a small, clear plastic bag, along with ten rounds of ammunition and a series of instructions for its use, presented in the form of a wordless comic strip. This allowed the simple weapon to be used by just about anybody who could follow simple visual instructions, without the need for any sort of familiarity with firearms.
While crude and inaccurate, the Liberator was incredibly powerful. Firing the large .45 Ball M1911 cartridge at a muzzle velocity of over 1,100 feet per second, the bullet could, at an incredibly optimistic 25 yards, easily penetrate over 8 inches of dry sand - or a soldier's helmet. As a hold out weapon at very close range, the Liberator was undeniably quite lethal.
During the Vietnam war, a similar, albeit more modern weapon known as the "Deer Gun" was produced by the thousands but was never issued - by the time the guns were ready, most of Vietnam's occupants were more likely to use the guns against an American than at their intended targets.