First came the Welrod: conceived by "Station IX" − the Inter-Services Research Bureau of the British military, out of Welwyn Garden − and manufactured by Birmingham Small Arms Ltd. (BSA), this manual repeating pistol − chambered for the 9x19mm "Parabellum" (a.k.a. Luger) round although also made in a .32 ACP variant − was issued to SOE operators, the members of the Special Operations Executive who infiltrated enemy lines in Nazi-occupied continental Europe and provided support to local resistance movements.
Simply and sturdily manufactured, the Welrod was a little more than a 30-centimetres long, 3.5-cm wide metal tube hosting a manually-repeating rotating bolt and a silenced barrel, feeding through a single-stack magazine and actuated via a rudimentary single-action trigger.
The roughly 2800 Welrods ever manufactured were used in countless military and guerrilla actions, proving themselves extremely effective despite their limited range − 20 metres claimed, a few steps in real life.
As a matter of fact, the Welrod was incredibly silent, probably the only truly effective silenced firearm of its times. Its noise signature is often described as "a snap of fingers", and that was thanks to its long silencer (which also slowed down its 9x19mm ammunition to subsonic speed levels) and its manually-operated rotating bolt, which sealed the system upon firing and prevented any gas to vent outside.
The Welrod was so well built that, according to some sources, many of the samples that survived World War II were later used by British forces during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War against Argentina, and as late as 1991 in Operation Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
Times are changed, and so are the needs of special operations forces, but despite all evolution of modern warfare, one thing still remains: the necessity for a compact package that would deliver quite stopping power at short distances in high-stake operations.
Swiss-based B&T AG. company − formerly known (up until 2011) as "Brügger & Thomet" − answered these needs by showcasing at several trade expos in early 2014 a new silenced pistol, dubbed the VP9; declaredly inspired by the Welrod, the VP9 has been engineered and manufactured taking into due account the most recent "lessons learned" by operators from Special Forces and intelligence/security/secret services from the field, and taking advantage on the latest findings and technologies in machining, materials, and sound suppression.
It's interesting to note that the VP9 name stands for "Veterinary Pistol, 9mm"; that's because the main intended "secondary use" of the VP9 in the civilian field is with professionals of the veterinary, forestry and health services who may need to swiftly, safely and humanely take down wounded animals, runaway dangerous ferals, cattle to be slaughtered, and similar.
For said purpose − and only and solely in these Countries where local and national laws and regulation allows civilian trade, ownership and use of a silenced pistol − civilian customers who will purchase the VP9 will also be issued with a guide that lists the brain stem location on many dangerous animals and on cattle; this will allow them to perform accurate and humane killings even in high-risk situations by aiming at a point − the brain stem − that will cause instant and painless death even on a large-size animal, and even with a "mere" 9mm.
Much like the Welrod, the B&T VP9 is built to be utterly simple: its main structure is nothing short of a machined stainless steel tube, sporting a black corrosion-resistant, anti-glare finish.
The receiver sports a top ejection window and standard fixed sights; on its lower portion, a small rectangular, hollow protrusion with a polymer sleeve hosts the transfer bar and acts as a magazine well. The rear portion of the receiver hosts the arming knob, while on its front is the threaded crown where the silencer must be attached before the gun is put to use.
Each VP9 is issued by B&T with a "Training" silencer and an "Operational" silencer.
Both are manufactured out of a lightweigh machined aluminium tube, but while the "Training" silencer is a full-aluminium design, more akin to the one created by Heckler & Koch for the MP5SD series of silenced sub-machineguns, while the "Operational" silencer sports a series of silicone rubber deflectors and a front seal.
The difference is significant: the "Training" silencer won't degrade with use but has no significant sound suppression capabilities, and has been conceived to help users to familiarize with the operational procedures of the VP9 before fielding it.
The "Operational" silencer is highly versatile: it provides the best performance for twenty rounds or so, after which it will start degrading although it may still be used for quite a while; full sound suppression can be achieved by stripping the silencer and replacing the seal and silicone deflectors. These parts can be obtained by B&T as spares, and field replacement takes merely three minutes.
The VP9 pistol is chambered for the 9x19mm caliber (a.k.a. 9mm "Parabellum", 9mm "Luger" or 9mm "NATO), and feeds through single-stack metal magazines which are nothing but old SIG P225 pistol mags, procured by B&T and modified in-house to house not more than five rounds. Magazines are fitted in a full polymer sleeve that dubs as the grip for the VP9.
The magazine seat features two buttons on the left side: a wider spring-loaded button allows drop-free release of the magazine, while a smaller push-button will activate the manual safety, blocking the transfer bar until it's pushed again from right to left. The low-profile trigger has a single-action-only pull, and its shape allows both instinctive use and safe carry.
The B&T VP9 is a manually-repeater, shot-by-shot firearm, whose bolt has to be manually operated after each round. The short rotating bolt is akin in design to a "micronized" Mauser bolt, and sports two sturdy locking lugs.
A rear round knob dubs as the cocking handle for the VP9: after each round is fired, the user will have to turn it 90-degrees clockwise to unlock the bolt, pull it all the way rearwards until the bolt locks open, then push it down all the way again and turn the knob 90-degrees counter-clockwards until two red signs − one on the knob itself, one on the rear portion of the receiver − won't match, a visual confirmation that the system is perfectly locked and the gun can be fired.
Perfect locking of the bolt is fundamental in the VP9, and that's not just about safety: the rotating bolt manual repeating system is fundamental for the sound suppression capabilities of the design.
The barrel of the VP9 features a number of holes that will allow the gases generated by the ignition of the propellant to expand only front-wards, inside the expansion chambers of the silencer.
This means that when the bolt is closed, there is no other way these gases may vent. The drastic sound suppression of the VP9 design is achieved on both levels: such an ermetic locking system prevents the gases from expanding outside the gun, while the gas itself, fillinf the expansion chambers inside the silencers, will act as "brakes" for the bullet as it passes through it, slowing it down to subsonic speed and preventing it from causing a sonic bang as it leaves the muzzle.
Results are astounding: the declared average noise signature reduction level is 31.5 Decibel, meaning that a standard supersonic 9x19mm FMJ 124-grains round will generate only 129 Decibel... which can become as little as Four (roughly the noise of a car door being closed) if silencer-specific, subsonic loads are used instead. The system is so good at preventing gases from venting out of the gun that once the bolt is operated after a round is fired, a muffled Puff! can be heard: that's the only moment when exceeding gases will be free to leave the system.
Around 28 centimetres long without the suppressor (which lenghtens the barrel up to 50 centimetres), and weighing merely 862 grams empty, the B&T VP9 is also highly concealable: as it may be fired without the magazine in, it can be turned into a "sleeve gun" to be hidden in the sleeve of a coat or a jacket for covert operations.
Its maximum declared range is ten metres, with astounding precision, as five rounds can be placed in an extremely tight group: a level of accuracy that similar firearms could only dream of in the past is easily achieved today thanks to modern manufacturing technologies and materials. As the VP9 is most likely to be used in field operations at much closer ranges than ten metres, its accuracy on the field is probably going to be even higher than declared.
Innovation is never (or almost never) born by itself: there has never been a design that hasn't borrowed at least partially from previously experimented concepts, and this is even more true when it comes to a tendentially conservative field such as the firearms sector.
With the VP9, the B&T Group shows once again that a tried-and-true concept such as the Welrod's can be upgraded in materials, manufacturing and technologies to serve well into the third decade of the 21st Century.