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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I guess you need to make 25 posts to do any stuff with the trader forum now, so I'll have to make some posts. Copying posts I've made elsewhere so I can access it. I can't really put this in the machineguns board as my particular example is not one. I don't really want to put this in civilian handguns either because mine is the only one I'm aware of that wasn't made with military and police in mind.


A couple months ago, I had the privilege of being able to pick up a very interesting piece of firearms history: one of John Hill's prototype submachine guns.




For better or worse, my gun is not full auto. While I can only find references to open bolt, full auto guns having been made, mine is neither open bolt nor full auto. For this reason, I suspect that my gun may have been the work of a close associate of John Hill's, Herman Mueschke. I want to cover the gun itself before I get into the history, so I'll delve more into that in a bit. I also have some letters related to the John Hill guns that I'll include below as .pdf files.


While most of the operation of the H15 seems to me to be fairly unremarkable (perhaps aside from the slick exterior and lack of any external moving parts), the feed system itself is truly unique. Much like the P90, the H15 has its magazine placed longitudinally on the top of the receiver. Unlike the P90 where ammo is rotated to the correct position prior to being stripped from the magazine, the H15 has a turntable in the gun itself located directly behind the barrel. When the bolt is pulled fully back, the turntable is inline with the ammo stored in the magazine while being perpendicular to the barrel and bolt. As the bolt rides forward, the turntable rotates a full 90° to bring it inline with the barrel and bolt while perpendicular to the ammo stored in the magazine. Also unlike the P90, this gun was first made in the 1950s, not 1990.
The images spoilered below should help explain this better than I can. The red circle in the first spoilered image shows a spent cartridge as it is about to be ejected through the bottom of the pistol grip.






The magazines themselves are interesting as well. While I have no way to examine any others, I do have the ones that come with mine. While some Hill guns used double stack magazines, my particular example sports a single stack. Unlike most guns, the H15's magazine release is a small pin driven through a wedge at the rear of the magazine, not something located on the gun itself. This wedge functions very much like the latch a door in your house. When inserting the magazine, the wedge presents an angled face to the gun that helps compress it. The opposite side of the wedge however is not, keeping it locked in once it is locked in. While I would imagine a more elegant solution would have been used should these have seen actual production, the pin at the rear of the magazine allows you to retract the wedge that keeps the mag secured.



On the other side of the magazine, a slot is cut for the ammo to go through, as well as there being an opening for the "feed ramp". Unlike pretty much every other feed ramp out there, the feed ramp of the H15 only interacts with the side of the casing, not the nose of the bullet. This means regardless of bullet shape, the H15 will feed any type of 9mm ammo just as fine.
Another interesting feature is a total lack of feed lips. When not inserted, the ammo is retained by the follower pushing the first round slightly past the feed hole. When like this, the first cartridge is too far forward to go through the hole while the second cartridge isn't far enough forward to. When inserted into the gun, the feed ramp pushes back the ammo, lining it up with the feed hole. A small black plastic tab is fixed to the top of the follower and aids greatly in loading and unloading the magazine.



(excuse the fuzzies, they came with the gun and I still need to clean them out)


While it certainly weighs more than any of my pistols as you'd expect ro, it mostly just looks like a brick instead of weighing like one too thanks to the heavy use of aluminum. I don't have a scale on hand to measure it, but the 4.5lb quoted elsewhere sounds about right.

The gun itself seems very well made. The finish is very nice and the deep polished bluing on the trigger almost makes me wish the frame were steel too. Machining marks are few and few between. While the charging handle is a bit diminutive to put things lightly, the action is pretty smooth. The trigger is incredibly smooth as well, though the pull itself is weird and uneven. In fact, just about everything about the gun (other than the brick-like shape) is nice and smooth.
The sights on the gun don't exactly lend themselves to precision shooting however. It's very awkward having so much gun behind the rear irons and having the rear irons be more where I'd exact the front ones to be. Sight radius is very short for a gun of this size too, about 5.5". The barrel itself is 6" while the OAL is 16 3/8". This gun wasn't meant for precision shooting though, it was meant as an SMG. While I'm not cool enough to have experience with shooting SMGs, I feel like this one would fit the rule very well. Unlike mine, most had detachable stocks too which would undoubtedly make aiming less awkward.



And some more familiar items for scale. I still don't own a glock (though the idea of having IGB make a 16" Glock 17 barrel in .30 Luger amuses me greatly). Additional pictures of the gun are included in the spoiler below here.










Back to the history, Herman was the president of a manufacturing company and had purchased the patents to the H15. According to an article written by a man who knew Herman (linked at the end of this), the ATF had required at some point that new H15s would need to fire from a closed bolt. Herman additionally had designed a crossbolt safety for the gun, though such guns supposedly never went into production. While I do not know the name, I do know that he had some other business partner and they're likely the "B" from H & B Enterprises as engraved into the bottom of my gun. Herman was located in Houston, Texas as well. While most of the original John Hill guns were made by John in his garage, my understanding is that some were made by others as well in small amounts.

John Hill was a fighter pilot in the first World War and while not an engineer by trade, had a passion for developing firearms. First conceived of by him in 1949 and submitted to US Army Ordnance in 1953, Mr. Hill had come up with a rather novel design for a submachine gun. Unlike any SMGs of those days, the Hill gun (aka H15) had its magazine placed flat on top of the receiver, much like FN's P90 that would come several decades later. This first prototype used a fairly conventional wooden stock and a barrel from a German MP 40. Several further improved models were submitted, but the weapon never went any further with them. He tried marketing his gun to other potential customers like the FBI in 1956 and various law enforcement agencies, and while they were able to acknowledge the merits of the Hill gun, he found no customers there either.



In 1963, John Hill was invited to Belgium by FN to demonstrate his design to them. While they were interested, FN did not immediately do anything with it and returned the gun in 1965 (though US Customs of course destroyed it before Mr. Hill got it.) While at FN, Uzi Gal was also present and reportedly was very impressed with the lighter and more compact Hill Gun. While the Uzi weighed a good 7.7lb, the prototype that John had presented to FN weighed a meager 4.5lb.
While FN hadn't accomplished much in the short term with it, they hadn't forgotten about it either. When FN began developing their P90 over two decades later, two of John Hill's patents were cited in the patent for the P90's feed system. While both magazines are functionally very similar, FN has the rounds rotated within the magazine itself instead of using a turntable within the gun itself as John had.



Linked below is the aforementioned article by the guy who knew Herman, as well as my .pdf files. I have the appraisals in a separate document as I believe that none of those apply to my gun, but instead the 9 early guns that were donated to the Lone Star Flight Museum after Mr. Hill passed away in 1991. Those guns are now in private collections I believe. Mine came from the estate of Herman Mueschke through a Texas FFL. Frankford Arsenal had an H15 in their possession until 1975 when they shut down, but I don't think anyone really knows what happened to the gun after that. The letter to Robert Hillberg that I have in one of my .pdfs seems to imply that there were more of these guns around in private hands, though it is possible that Mr. Hillberg's gun was lost in a house fire he had at some point.

The Hill 15 Submachine Gun
John Hill h 15 Letters | Bureau Of Alcohol | Government
John Hill H15 Appraisals
 

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Thank you for an extremely interesting and well-presented post.

I am puzzled as to why --if, as you say, this gun is not full-automatic, and fires from a closed bolt-- anyone thought it was subject to the National Firearms Act and the transfer tax requirements of that law. Unfortunately none of the correspondence references this gun either by its unique characteristics compared to other known Hill SMG prototypes, or by serial number.

It would be pertinent to see what exact markings are engraved on it.

To get a more complete picture of this gun's history, you might wish to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to BATF for the Form 4 and related paperwork relating to all of its previous transfers, specifically noting that you are the present owner, and referencing the gun by serial number. There is a possibility that your example is not the same gun as the one transferred to Robert Hillberg.

Mr. Hillberg, incidentally, was never a BATF agent. He was a prolific gun designer in his own right. He worked at Winchester during WWII and later for High Standard. He was a partner with Bellmore-Johnson Engineering and and did considerable design work on a free-lance basis for Colt, Ruger and others. He is perhaps best known as the designer of the Whitney .22 pistol. I was acquainted with him for many years. In the '90s he had a catastrophic fire in his home in Cheshire, Connecticut and most of his gun collection was unfortunately destroyed.

Details on the Hill SMG were first presented in Thomas B. Nelson's The World's Submachine Guns, published in 1963 -- now out-of-print but still the authoritative reference on this subject.

M
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you for an extremely interesting and well-presented post.

I am puzzled as to why --if, as you say, this gun is not full-automatic, and fires from a closed bolt-- anyone thought it was subject to the National Firearms Act and the transfer tax requirements of that law. Unfortunately none of the correspondence references this gun either by its unique characteristics compared to other known Hill SMG prototypes, or by serial number.

It would be pertinent to see what exact markings are engraved on it.

To get a more complete picture of this gun's history, you might wish to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to BATF for the Form 4 and related paperwork relating to all of its previous transfers, specifically noting that you are the present owner, and referencing the gun by serial number. There is a possibility that your example is not the same gun as the one transferred to Robert Hillberg.

Mr. Hillberg, incidentally, was never a BATF agent. He was a prolific gun designer in his own right. He worked at Winchester during WWII and later for High Standard. He was a partner with Bellmore-Johnson Engineering and and did considerable design work on a free-lance basis for Colt, Ruger and others. He is perhaps best known as the designer of the Whitney .22 pistol. I was acquainted with him for many years. In the '90s he had a catastrophic fire in his home in Cheshire, Connecticut and most of his gun collection was unfortunately destroyed.

Details on the Hill SMG were first presented in Thomas B. Nelson's The World's Submachine Guns, published in 1963 -- now out-of-print but still the authoritative reference on this subject.

M
Thanks for the thorough response, I'll have to look into that book. Best I had to go off of were the letters included in the listing, the little that the guy I bought it from knew, and what all I could find online. I've got a couple other threads I made on glocktalk that I'll be porting over to here too, probably will post my one on Benelli pistols into the modern handguns board later today or tomorrow. I've got a third on Polish handguns from the 90s that'll likely be posted soon as well.

Also, I am completely incorrect with what I said in the last paragraph of the OP, I should have written Herman Mueschke there instead. The envelope I have was addressed to Mueschke but the letters within were written to Robert Hillberg for whatever reason. I'm pretty sure that Mueschke was the previous owner of my specific firearm as he passed away in 2015 and lived very close to the FFL that I got the gun from. This would also make sense as to why my gun is so different from the rest of the stuff Mr. Hill made. Mr. Mueschke did work on these guns as well, so my assumption is my example is one he made for himself or a friend to own. I bet that somewhere along the line, some envelopes and letters got mismatched and the letters to Herman are now lost in some unrelated envelope elsewhere.
I'm glad I made that error though as I somehow never realized that it was the Robert Hillberg. The Whitney Wolverine is one of my favorite plinkers, so to know this crossover exists at all is very interesting to me.

This newer formatting I'm realizing doesn't have the spoiler buttons stand out as well. The only markings on the gun aside from the H on the charging handle are these. I wasn't able to find anything on who H&B Enterprises were, though I'm also not very experienced in searching up that sort of stuff either.
 

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Very interesting! Thanks for posting!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Why not submit an FOIA request to BATF for H&B Enterprises? Presumably they held an FFL.

M
I'll have to look into doing that. I'm not super well versed in digging into this stuff beyond surface level web searches, but a FOIA sounds like it'd be worth a shot. If and when I finally hear back on it, I'll probably update this thread if I learn anything notable.
 

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Very interesting, thanks for the write up!

I think it's pretty clear from the construction of yours that the upper was milled out of several peices, but I wonder if they also milled the entire pistol grip section or if it was some form of casting they finished afterwards.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
A familiar Youtube channel took a look at this last year, so I may as well add a link to that here



Very interesting piece, have you shot it by chance or are you not going to risk it given the apparent fragility of the magazine?
I put a few rounds through it, but the magazines are a huge concern of mine when shooting. The few rounds I put through it were some el cheapo Aguila 115gr, but that wasn't enough to cycle the gun fully so it'd need something with a little more spice to it for sure. I'm a big baby and don't want to risk damaging it, so for now I've not got any immediate plans to shoot it more.



Very interesting, thanks for the write up!

I think it's pretty clear from the construction of yours that the upper was milled out of several peices, but I wonder if they also milled the entire pistol grip section or if it was some form of casting they finished afterwards.
If the grip section was cast, I don't see anything left on the part that'd indicate it. Judging by how the rest of the gun seems to have been made, I'd guess it was just some aluminum stock milled to shape.

I should probably make more posts here
 

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This is an interesting piece of US gunmaking history and I find it fascinating to read about the Hill 15 in general and your gun in particular. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy!
 
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