It was 1939 and the British were preparing for a fight. The German war-machine awoke like a barbed wire snake, ready to strangle the island nation and dominate all of Europe. War Office officials needed a simple, mass produced weapon that would fit in the hands of every able bodied man in Great Britain.
So in early in 1939 the British goverment contacted American firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson to design a pistol-caliber carbine for battle. Smith & Wesson began crafting a simple blow-back operated rifle chambered in 9x19mm Luger and by 1940 the rifle was being tested by the British.
The rifle would become known, then lost in obscurity, as the Model 1940 Light Rifle. Designers kept the method of operation simple, allowing the rearward force of the propellant gas to cycle the bolt. The barrel was fluted (longitudinal grooves) to increase surface area and promote cooling in rapid fire.
Overall, the bolt, barrel and recoil assembly could be fit into a slender tube-like receiver, with an early plastic-like stock attached at the rear. The M1940 was easy to manufacture and maintain.
Yet, the M1940 from the outside seems rather odd looking. In profile the M1940 had a very wide magazine silhouette, puzzling an observer from afar. What made the M1940 different in appearance was its combination magazine well and ejection chute.
The magazine well assembly to our modern eyes appears like a video tape sleeve, with a notch cut out of the front. This notch allowed the fingers of the operator to grasp a magazine as it was loaded or unloaded from the M1940. The magazine was slipped upwards, rocked back and into the magazine well assembly.
Within that same assembly was the Light Rifle's downward facing ejection chute. As the bolt moved out of battery, instead of the spent casing ejecting from the side of the weapon it was directed down.
Some firearms aficionados argue this places brass directly below the shooter, therefore creating a potential slipping hazard. However, in close quarters, spent brass tends to bounce or roll wherever it wants as it ejects from a gun, from down a shirt collar to directly under foot. Also, the downward ejection made weapons like the M1940 (and the modern P90) available for ambidextrous shooting.
Using domestic British ammunition, the M1940 showed its short comings as the higher pressures of the European 9x19mm created an unreliable action. Modifications were made to the rifle, resulting in the MKII, but it would be nearly 1,200 MKI that were delivered to British forces.
Overall, the simplicity of the weapon proved unremarkable and the British diverted attention and funding to other domestically produced small arms.