The Welrod: World War II Suppressed Spy Pistol

U.S.A. – -( Spies have always had access to some of the coolest gadgets and firearms, and the integrally suppressed pistol known as the Welrod is just one example. It was designed during World War II by Major Reeves at Station IX, which was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) research and development facility. The SOE was a British organization similar to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the United States, which was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Without a magazine, it doesn’t look like a gun. (T. Logan Metesh photo)

The SOE facility where Reeves designed the gun was located near the town of Welwyn, and the first three letters of the town’s name gave the prefix to the name of many Station IX inventions. The Welrod followed the same naming scheme and combined Welwyn with the word “rod” – possibly because it didn’t really look like a gun; it looked more like, well, a rod.

Made by the Birmingham Small Arms Company, the Welrod was quite unique. It was – obviously – designed to blend in and not look like a gun upon first glance. Part of this was accomplished by making the magazine pull double-duty and also act as the pistol grip. With the magazine removed, it just looks like a metal tube that was often noted for its resemblance to a bicycle pump.

The Welrod was chambered for the .32 ACP cartridge and operated like a bolt-action, with the bolt being manually turned 90 degrees to unlock and pulled back to eject a spent cartridge. Once locked back into place, a grip safety needed to be depressed before the trigger could be pulled.

Lacking a guard, the trigger was a bent metal rod underneath the barrel. Simple and crude in design? Yes. Effective nonetheless? Without a doubt.

Intact wipe at the muzzle. (T. Logan Metesh photo)

Its barrel and suppressor shroud was split into two distinct sections. The front section contained 14 baffles and three solid rubber wipes. The rear section acted as an expansion chamber, allowing the gases to be reduced before reaching the baffles and wipes. This made for an exceptionally quiet pistol. Modern tests have shown it to have a 34 dB reduction with an audible sound level of 122.8 dB.

The first shot perforated the solid rubber wipes, and their lifespan was only 10 rounds or so before they would need to be replaced. That didn’t really matter, though, because the Welrod wasn’t designed to be a primary weapon, subjected to hard, repetitive use.

Instead, its purposes were much more clandestine, which makes perfect sense given that it was designed to be used by operatives with the SOE and the OSS. The gun’s operational manual explains its primary function: “The nose cap of the weapon is hollowed to enable an operator to place it tightly against the body of a person and fire. The noise is then still further reduced. This will allow the shooting of a man in a crowd with the minimum chance of detection.”

The Welrod had a manually operated bolt. (T. Logan Metesh photo)

The pistols were dropped to SOE and OSS agents all across Europe. They were successfully used to to kill guards during sabotage missions and covertly assassinate enemy combatants. The gun’s effectiveness as a suppressed weapon is best evidenced by the story of a French resistance member being able to assassinate a man in a crowded bar and escape without anyone realizing what had happened.

After World War II ended, the Welrod continued to see use across the globe for decades to come. There are reports confirming their present all the way through the Vietnam War, and it’s been reported that the pistols were used as recently as Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Welrod has proven to be incredibly effective, so it’s entirely possible that it’s still in use today both by British and American operatives – and if they are doing their job properly, you and I will never know.

The author with the Welrod in the USMC Museum’s collection. (T. Logan Metesh photo)

About Logan MeteshLogan Metesh

Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.