The Uzi was One of the World’s Most Popular Submachine Guns

Photo Credit: 1. David Rubinger / CORBIS / Getty Images 2. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
Photo Credit: 1. David Rubinger / CORBIS / Getty Images 2. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

The Uzi submachine gun is a weapon famous the world over. An icon of cinema, it’s of choice for gangsters, policemen and, of course, the Terminator. This Israeli weapon has been in service since the 1950s, and is one of the most popular submachine guns ever made.

Development of the Uzi

The story of this small but deadly submachine gun began shortly after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. A Captain from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) named Uziel “Uzi” Gal designed the weapon following the conflict and submitted it to the Army for evaluation.

Israeli Female Marines lined up, holding Uzi submachine guns
Israeli Female Marines. (Photo Credit: Willem van de Poll / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0)

The weapon is constructed primarily out of stamped metal, making production significantly faster and cheaper. Inside, is an open-bolt, blowback-operation, which allows the gun to cool during automatic fire. However, it also lets dirt enter the weapon, increasing the chances of stoppages.

The bolt itself wraps around the breech of the barrel, instead of sitting flush against it. This allows the barrel to be mounted further back into the weapon, reducing its overall length without affecting the mass of the bolt, which needs to be heavy enough to cycle the system. Many weapons with a telescoping bolt have a magazine inside the pistol grip. This makes it simpler to use and improves balance. A drawback, however, is that it’s hard to use while prone.

Portrait of Uziel Gal
Captain (later Major) Uziel “Uzi” Gal, creator of the Uzi submachine gun. (Photo Credit: Fritz Cohen / National Photo Collection of Israel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Gal’s submission was eventually selected over more conventional weapons for its simplicity and ease of manufacture. He asked for it to not be named after him – Israel then proceeded to do the opposite.

The Uzi’s service

The Uzi was adopted in 1951. While it wasn’t given to troops until 1956, the IDF’s Special Forces were given access two years earlier. These early versions were delivered with a fixed wooden stock, which was eventually replaced by a folding metal stock.

Its compact size and easy portability made it ideal for use by those in secondary roles, such as artillery troops, vehicle drivers and logistics men. It was also perfectly suited to tankers, as it could be stowed in the confines of a tank without needing much room.

Female Israeli soldiers walking in formation while holding Uzi submachine guns
Israeli soldiers on parade in Jerusalem, 1968. (Photo Credit: מאוסף יהודית גרעין-כל / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5)

The Uzi saw plenty of action during the 1967 Six-Day War, where it was used in its ideal environment: clearing bunkers at point blank range. During the Sinai Campaign of the Yom Kippur War, Uzis suffered in the sandy conditions and a concerning number failed to operate. Although, this was not an issue limited to just the IDF’s Uzis, as all small arms (except the 7.62MM FN MAG) were hampered by the sand.

In the 1980s, the IDF began withdrawing Uzis from frontline service. In 2003, it was announced all Uzis were to be retired, replaced by the Micro Tavor.

A member of the Armed Forces of Niger holding an Uzi while standing next to a mobile medical unit
A member of the Paratroop Regiment, Armed Forces of Niger (FNIS), stands at attention next to a mobile medical unit, as part of a humanitarian airlift from the US. (Photo Credit: SSGT Keith Walker / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Uzi was sold in enormous numbers around the world, with around 10 million produced. While no longer in service in Israel, it continued to be used by other nations. Its simplicity, compact size and cheap price also makes it an attractive weapon for modern militaries and guerrilla fighters alike. It was sold on the civilian market with great success.

Uzi variants

A few main variants of the submachine gun were produced: the standard Uzi, the Mini Uzi, the Micro Uzi and the Uzi Pro.

The Mini Uzi was introduced in 1980 and, as the name indicates, was a smaller version of the standard weapon. Still chambered in 9MM, the Mini Uzi is 360MM with the stock folded. The standard Uzi is 470MM when its stock is folded. This smaller variant has a shorter bolt, which increases the rate of fire from 600 to 950 rounds per minute.

Member of the Argentinian Special Forces crouched down, holding a Micro Uzi
Argentinian Special Forces member holding a Micro Uzi. (Photo Credit: Cpl. Brian J. Slaght / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Micro Uzi was introduced in 1986 and is even smaller than the Mini Uzi. At just 282MM in length with the stock folded, it is comparable in size to a normal handgun. As it is shortened further, it fires 1,200 rounds per minute.

Finally, the Uzi Pro is an updated and modernized version of the Micro Uzi, fitted with Picatinny rails and a blowback, closed-bolt mechanism. Its lower portions are enlarged to enable users to hold the weapon with two hands.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE