The Polish Home Army manufactured between 500 and 700 Błyskawica submachine gun before the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The name Błyskawica, meaning lightning, stems from three lightning bolts engraved onto the butt plate of many of the guns.
While resistance groups in France were well armed and supplied by frequent parachute drops from Britain the Polish Underground was less well supplied. While they did receive various small arms in supply drops once airfields in Italy were in Allied hands, the demand for weapons was high. This forced the Poles to improvise and develop their own covertly manufactured submachine gun. Mechanical engineers Wacław Zawrotny and Seweryn Wielanier began working on the problem in September 1942. With no prior experience in firearms design they examined the available STEN and German MP40 and developed an amalgam of the two designs. The Błyskawica shared some characteristics of the MP40 such as its vertical, bottom-loading magazine and pistol grip while the open-bolt action was largely based on the STEN’s.
The Błyskawica disassembled (source)
With limited tooling and machinery needed to produce a submachine gun the Poles abandoned conventional spot-welds and forgings for micro-grooved threads and screws. The Błyskawica was ingenious in that it used readily available materials and simple manufacturing techniques to create a serviceable weapon. Chambered in 9x19mm, the blowback, open-bolt submachine guns used STEN magazines. The Błyskawica weighed 7.2kg with a heavy bolt and while the weapon had an extremely simple trigger mechanism it had a trigger safety lever which prevented the trigger from being accidentally pulled. Modeled after the STEN, the Błyskawica had a small rear peep sight and a rudimentary pointed front sight.
The first prototype was ready by late 1943 and despite suffering initial jams the early problems were quickly rectified. Steel tubing made up the gun’s receiver while the barrel shroud and butt plate were aluminium. The designers drew up General assembly drawings and parts production was spread across twenty small manufacturers around Warsaw. The Home Army ordered 1,300 guns with delivery scheduled for summer 1944 with the last guns made in August.
The guns saw action during the Warsaw Uprising where their firepower was invaluable during the two month street battle. The photographs above show some posed and candid shots of the Błyskawica in action. The dust of the urban environment meant that, despite the bolt’s machined grooves which channeled dirt out of the action, the guns required frequent cleaning. The Błyskawica was difficult to field strip - a consideration which had not been a high priority for the designers. Sadly, the Warsaw Uprising was doomed, with limited supplies and little help from the nearby Red Army, the Polish Home Army was eventually overwhelmed with the Błyskawica becoming a footnote in Warsaw’s valiant defence.
The colour images above come from ‘Powstanie Warszawskie’ (2014) a documentary film featuring colourised contemporary film.
While other images come from Leszek Erenfeicht’s excellent article for Forgotten Weapons: ‘Polish Błyskawica SMG’, Forgotten Weapons, L. Erenfeicht (source)