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Smith & Wesson M76: A Super Gun for U.S. Navy SEALs?

Though the M76 didn’t achieve the real-world success that its manufacturer had hoped for, the gun was at least partially immortalized in action-adventure fiction.

Smith & Wesson M76
Smith & Wesson M76. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

When one thinks of Smith & Wesson (S&W) – one of the “Big Three” American gun manufacturers along with Colt and Sturm, Ruger & Co. – one typically mentally associates the name with submachine guns (SMGs).

Rather handguns, mainly revolvers like the S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum and M19 .357 Magnum, and to a lesser extent its autopistols, whether old-school classics like the Model 39 or newer models like the M&P.

When one thinks of SMGs, one is more likely to think of the German Heckler & Koch (HK) MP5, Israeli Uzi, and American MAC-10.

But sure enough, Smith made an SMG back during the Cold War, and it was “recruited” (so to speak) for the Vietnam War. Say hello to the Smith & Wesson Model 76 9mm SMG.

S&W M76 History & Specifications AKA “A Rose, er, Swedish K By Any Other Name …”

The S&W M76 made its debut in 1967 and ceased production in 1974. Cold War SMG-savvy readers will note the gun’s resemblance to the Carl Gustaf m/45 AKA “Swedish K” SMG, which in turn was produced from 1945 to 1964. That’s no accident

The U.S. Navy SEALs had been using the Swedish K during the early years of the Vietnam War. However, the Swedes, being true to a longstanding policy of neutrality during the Cold War – remember, this was many decades before Sweden finally made the decision to join NATO – were upset over one of their products being used in that controversial war, so they halted their export of weapons to the U.S. as a protest gesture, thus leaving the SEALs without a suitable weapon. The military branch was out of readily available stock of m/45s and spare parts.

The fine folks at Smith & Wesson, being the American patriots that they were, decided to make an effort to fill in the gap. The end result was the M76, which was a virtual spitting image of the Swedish gun, but with a few extra tweaks, as noted by Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons: “The S&W gun had an ambidextrous selector lever allowing either semiauto or full auto fire, and a permanently fitted magazine well for use with a close copy of the Suomi 36 round double stack box magazine. Most interestingly, the inside of the receiver tube is cut with long rifling-like grooves to allow dirt and fouling to accumulate without impacting the gun’s reliability.”

M76 Submachine Gun. Image: Creative Commons.

Alas, the Smith SMG didn’t score the big bucks Navy contract that Smith had expected: “Only a relatively small number of 76s were procured by the Navy (under the designation Mk 24 Mod 0), as the availability of AR15/M16 carbines proved more attractive option than 9mm submachine guns. The company would continue making them until 1974, with a total of 6,000 produced. This particular example is a T prefix serial, which I suspect (but cannot prove) was Navy purchase … The reputation of the S&W 76 has been unfortunately tarnished by a succession of full auto and semiauto clones, none of which are as well made or as reliable in use as the original S&W production.”

M76 Submachine Gun. Image: Creative Commons.

The S&W M76 was a blowback, open-bolt SMG with a barrel length of 8 inches, an overall length of 30.5 inches with the stock extended (22.5 inches with the stock folded), an empty weight of 7.25 pounds, and a fully loaded weight of 8.75 lbs. The cyclic rate of fire on full-auto was 720 rounds per minute.

Appearances in Fiction

Though the M76 didn’t achieve the real-world success that its manufacturer had hoped for, the gun was at least partially immortalized in action-adventure fiction. In the Phoenix Force action novel series, a spin-off from the bestselling Mack Bolan/The Executioner series that was published from 1982 to 1991, one of the members of the eponymous team, Calvin James – who ironically had a background as a SEAL during Vietnam – carried the Smith SMG in several of the novels. 

The M76 has also appeared in 30+ movies, including the Steve McQueen film “The Getaway,” “Magnum Force” from the Dirty Harry series, and “Black Sunday” (movie buffs may remember that one for the Goodyear Blimp being commandeered for a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl).

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

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Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).