As the fear of communism spread across the globe, the spirit of 76 arose – the Model 76.
They aren’t clones or knock offs, but a pair of guns with roots in Scandinavia both bearing the Model 76 moniker and sharing similarities with other guns.
The Valmet Model 76 can quickly trace their lineage to the AK-47, while the Smith & Wesson Model 76 shares similarities with another Scandinavian gun, Sweden’s Carl Gustaf M45 or K gun. The K is for Kulsprutepistole that translates to “bullet-squirting pistol.”
Both the Valmet M76 and the Smith & Wesson M76 will be available in Rock Island Auction Company’s May 19-21 Premier Auction.
M76: How It All Began
The roots of the Smith & Wesson M76 begins in Sweden during World War II. The Swedes, neutral during the war, didn’t have a submachine gun in their arsenal and feared one was needed since Finland, to the east, aligned with Germany for a time, and Norway, to the west, was occupied by the Nazis. Borrowing from the MP40, the British Sten, and the Soviet PPSh-41, Sweden started producing its own stamped metal submachine gun, chambered in 9mm, though not until the war was nearly over. The Carl Gustav M45 was an open bolt, full-auto only machine gun that held a 36-round magazine and spit lead at 600 rounds per minute.
In later years, U.S. Navy SEALs and other covert operators came to appreciate the Swedish submachine gun for its cyclical rate of fire, its reliability in the jungles of Vietnam, and the plausible deniability a Swedish gun offered American forces operating outside of Vietnam. However Sweden, trying to remain neutral, refused to sell more of its guns to the United States.
In the meantime – sort of, Finland feared falling into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Mother Russia is what drove the Finns into the arms of the Nazis for a time during World War II.
Valmet’s Rk 62 that later became the semi-automatic Model 76 for the civilian market is Finland’s version of the AK-47. The M76 available in the May 19-21 Premier Auction was converted to full auto by Hard Times Armory of Smyrna, Georgia before the machine gun ban prohibited the manufacture of new machine guns.
In the 1950s, the Finns obtained Kalashnikov AK-47s, did some testing to see if they would work in the harsh arctic climate and decided some changes were needed. The government asked Finnish companies SAKO and Valmet to submit a more suitable AK-style design. Valmet’s design was chosen and named the Rk 62, with some differences from its Russian relative, making it what many consider a superior AK-style rifle and others call the finest AK ever made. The gas system was modified to reduce recoil. The sights were improved with tritium inserts and the front sight was put on the gas block and the rear sight was moved back, expanding the sight radius. The stock was made of synthetic material and the barrel received a flash suppressor.
M76: Almost There
The U.S. Navy approached Smith & Wesson about making a submachine gun chambered in 9mm similar to the Swedish M45 and provided a list of characteristics wanted in the new gun. Though the designer claimed to not be aware of the Swedish gun, the Smith & Wesson shared its tubular shape, 9mm chambering, size, and distinct folding metal stock. By January 1967, Smith & Wesson had a prototype of an open bolt submachine gun that could fire 720 rounds per minute. It featured an ambidextrous selector switch, perforated heat shield, smooth pistol grip, and grooves in the receiver to keep maintenance minimal. A test lot of 100 guns, called the Model 76, were made, but by this time the Navy wasn’t interested in a submachine gun.
Meanwhile, in Finland, gun maker Valmet decided to export the Rk62 as a semi-automatic version chambered in .308 Winchester, .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, and 7.62×39, calling it the Model 76.
The Smith & Wesson Model 76 shares similarities with the Carl Gustaf M45 as a tube-like, open bolt full auto-only machine gun that takes 36-round magazines, and fires at 600 rounds per minute. The Smith & Wesson’s rate of fire was slightly faster at 720 rounds per minute.
M76: What Next?
A small number of the Smith & Wesson Model 76 did end up in the U.S. Navy arsenal, but they were also sold to police agencies and the general public. The Smith & Wesson was one of the only submachine guns marketed to the public, matched only by the Thompson submachine gun in the 1920s. Buyers had to pass a background check and pay the $200 transfer tax. About 6,000 were made when production ended in 1974.
After Smith & Wesson ended production, other companies made clones of the M76. MK Arms Company acquired the rights to the M76 and produced copies designated as the MK760 starting in 1983. Global Arms/Southern Tool, that had a principal partner in MK Arms before they went their separate ways, also made a copy, the M76A1. The 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act’s ban on new machine gun production killed both companies.
As for the Valmet M76, the company exported to the United States civilian market starting in the 1970s, having already introducing shooters to the AK-47 through a civilian Rk62/S. It came in the M76W with wood buttstocks and M76P with plastic buttstocks. Valmet also offered the M76/S that had a plastic handguard and molded pistol grip. It was available in .223 Remington and .308 Winchester.
President George Bush implemented an assault weapon ban in 1989 that forbid importing the guns, shutting off the market. The Valmet that will be available in Rock Island Auction’s Premier Auction, May 19-21, was made in Finland and imported to the United States as a semi-automatic rifle. It was later converted to full auto by Hard Times Armory, of Smyrna, Georgia prior to the 1986 machine gun ban. The receiver has been modified to restore the original bottom position on the selector switch for semi-automatic fire and the mid position for full auto.
M76: The M Stands for Movie
The Smith & Wesson M76 had a brief but prolific on-screen life, with much of its filmography occurring from 1971 to 1978, mostly in action movies featuring plenty of firepower, like “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Magnum Force,” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” though one was wielded by The Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Night.”
Its star turn was also the first film it appeared in, “The Omega Man,” a sci-fi thriller starring Charlton Heston based on the novel “I Am Legend.” Heston’s character, Robert Neville carries an M76 throughout most of the movie.
The Valmet M76 and its predecessor, the Rk62 has a much shorter list of film appearances, with Jason Statham’s “The Mechanic” the most recognizable title. He carried a M76.
M76 for Sale: Valmet or Smith & Wesson
Class III submachine guns with Scandinavian inspiration will be on offer in Rock Island Auction Company’s May 19-21 Premier Auction with a Valmet M76 and a Smith & Wesson M76 available, as well as a MK Arms M760, that copied the Smith & Wesson.
The Valmet offers the reliability of the AK-47 with the precision of Finnish gunmaking, while the Smith & Wesson offers the quality and reliability that the gunmaker has offered for over 100 years but in full auto. Both guns, along with the MK Arms M760 were available in limited numbers, especially as Class III weapons, so a collector looking for a submachine gun shouldn’t pass up these opportunities.
Not to be forgotten is the MK Arms Model 760 that is a licensed copy of the Smith & Wesson M76. This full auto submachine gun will be available in Rock Island Auction Company’s May 19-21 Premier Auction.
The Swedish K in Vietnam and Beyond, by Henrik Jansson, American Rifleman
Smith & Wesson 76: American’s Vietnam 9mm SMG, Forgotten Weapons
Classic Guns: Valmet M76, by Martin K.A. Morgan, Shooting Illustrated
Smith & Wesson M76 Submachine Gun: A Vietnam War Killer, by Peter Suciu, National Interest
Rock Island Auction Company