Demonstration: Slow Motion Video of VOCO FP-45 Firing
Here is a unique footage of the VOCO FP-45 Liberator firing in slow motion. I dare say this is the first time anyone has ever recorded high speed footage of a Liberator being fired. The first scene is at 600 frames/second, which is about 1/20th normal speed. The remaining scenes are at 1200 frames/second which is about 1/40th normal speed.
As is commonplace with Liberators, the cocking piece is blown back on firing. Interestingly, the cocking piece going to the side under recoil appears to be caused by the back of it hitting the shooter's hand. Sometimes it goes left, sometimes it goes right, and sometimes it stayed straight. I suppose it all depends on which hand they’re shooting with and how they hold the gun. The amount of recoil can really be seen in this footage. In the first scene, you can see the shock wave propagate back through the shooter's arms. The remaining close-up frames are too small to see the shooter's arm, but it is apparent the gun definitely works your wrists over. The load was a standard 230 gr. FMJ military ball. We did this demonstration so you won't want to!
The trigger pull is not conducive to good accuracy. Just like the original, it takes a lot of squeeze to move the cocking piece back and get the connector cammed off the sear. I measured it between 10 and 11 pounds.
At a hair over one pound, this little pistol packed a powerfully lethal punch. It took me two shots to get the hang of it. An inexperienced shooter could certainly master it for the close range work it was intended with the ammo provided. It must have been a great relief to the freedom fighters bearing these pistols to ultimately replace them with a Mauser or Arizaka.
As a person with experience in this subject, I can attest that shooting the replica was just like shooting the real pistol only worse. Nobody in their right mind would shoot an original pistol once much less 50+ times. During the course of my testing of our prototype pistol, I fired over 100 rounds in numerous sessions. It took a day to recover enough from the pounding this little pistol gave me to go at it again and finish the testing. These marathon firing sessions with high pressure .45 ACP 230 gr. loads in the FP-45 Liberator were the most unpleasant experience in my 30 + years of shooting. The recoil is very stout for sure, but it is aggravated by the small grips and the grip angle. In my hand, I found that I had to angle my wrist upward to the limit of its range of motion to get proper sight alignment. I simply can't hold the pistol tightly enough to prevent it from snapping my wrist back past that limit. I didn't feel it so much in the first ten rounds but it got progressively more painful to shoot the pistol. I finally resorted to heavily tapping my right wrist during the second shooting session and pulling the pistol down as hard as I could with my left hand into a folded towel over a sandbag. It helped, but the upcoming shot still filled me with dread. I should mention that I am a regular .44 magnum and .41 magnum shooter and no shrinking violet when it comes to recoil.
I shot the pistol for accuracy rested at six yards and later 20 yards with results similar to Ralph Hagan's tests of the original gun. I shot two groups at each distance. Vertical alignment of the sights was complicated slightly by the cover slide's tendency to move up and down as it bears against the retracting guide pin on the top of the cocking piece. Once I noticed that it settled back into bottom position just before let off, it wasn't a problem. I also found that it is better to pull the trigger with two fingers (i.e. left and right trigger fingers) as it helps to steady the gun against the forces of my white knuckled vise-like hold on the small grip frame.
I found that bullets seemed to keyhole randomly, though all were clearly cut with rifling upon inspection after the fact. This may have been a function of the load itself, which was selected for maximum pressure and velocity rather than accuracy.
At six yards I found the pistol to shoot approximately 9-1/2 to 10" above point of aim and slightly to the right. The targets below are the actual tests. Both groups were 3-1/4" which is certainly suitable for the pistol's intended purpose. With a few practice shots a partisan or guerilla fighter could easily get a feel for the kentucky-windage required to but the bullet on target. I found that I could consistently burst gallon jugs of water with a one hand hold at that range.
Shooting original pistols today is not just unwise from a safety standpoint. These are rare guns of significant historical importance and subjecting them to the abuse of firing, and it is abuse in the case of the FP-45, is an inexcusable risk of a very limited historical resource. In the museum business we used to call this sort of thing consumptive use, and for very good reason.
Excerpt from original blueprint.
It is our position at Vintage Ordnance Company (VOCO) that it is flatly unadvisable to fire any original FP-45 Liberator Pistol because of some inherent weaknesses related to their design that could result in damage to the weapon and injury or death to the shooter or others in the vicinity. In addition, compared to modern arms of the same era, FP-45s appear to be more likely to accidentally discharge if jarred or dropped while cocked or carried with the cocking piece resting on a chambered round. (A Vintage Ordnance replica made in 2009 would share this in common with a 67 year old original.)
Examination of original guns shows two design features in the breech area of note from a safety standpoint. First, the chamber itself is conical rather than straight. A cartridge will wiggle easily back and forth in it. This feature is an asset when loading the weapon in dirty field conditions. The FP-45 chamber provides room for a little mud or a leaf or two, both of which you would expect to encounter as a guerilla fighter in the jungles of Luzon. This loose conical chamber is not so good for absorbing the explosive forces of a .45 ACP cartridge. In the fractions of a second after the firing pin ignites the cartridge primer and the powder begins to burn and rapidly expand as a gas, the cartridge case walls need to expand too and grip the chamber walls monetarily to retard some of the rearward force trying to push that casing rearward out of the chamber. In a chamber as loose as the FP-45’s more energy is transferred rearward, in this case, directly into the cover slide and tube strap.
The second issue in the breech area is excessive head space. Most guns have poor headspace and some have really horrific headspace. We have measured up to .020” free play between the cover slide and the breech end of the barrel on original guns. You would not fire a modern weapon with headspace that loose. Basically, the empty cartridge case is quite a little battering ram. Unlike a robust revolver frame, the thin tube strap and cover slide can’t hold up to the beating for long.
Every FP-45 that left the factory for service was tested once and some were test fired 50 times to the point they were deemed unserviceable as a part of the quality control process. This is recorded by noted Liberator Pistol authority Ralph Hagan in his 1996 book The Liberator Pistol, Development, Production, Distribution. Hagan conducted firing tests with one of his own pistols, discharging it between 50 and 70 times with cast bullet low powered target loads (of unspecified pressure and velocity) after which he deemed his pistol to be in excellent condition. However, when he switched to standard military 230gr. jacket ball ammo (actually of WWII vintage) he observed the same pistol begin to show signs of fatigue after 27 rounds. He noted that both the cover slide and tube strap were beginning to bow. The condition worsened with continued firing until after 35 rounds he decided it unwise to continue lest he risk damage to pistol or shooter. His book provides photographs of the test gun and we heartily concur with his decision to halt further testing. The problem with firing any original pistol is that you can almost never know how many rounds were fired through it since 1942. A bent tube strap or cover slide could be carefully hammered back into shape again and again and, lacking a very careful inspection, appear to be in excellent shape. Each time physical forces are applied to metal beyond its point of elasticity (the point at which it no longer springs back but takes on permanent deformation) the metal endures some fatigue. Eventually, it will fail.
From a material selection standpoint, the original Liberator is not as strong as it could have been. The plans do not indicate any type of heat treating on the very low carbon steel used to make tube strap or the cover slide. In fact, the cover slide material is noted as being “half hard” temper. This means that it is soft enough to be bent across the grain at a 90 degree angle without cracking. This temper material is quite common in stamping operations but not what one would commonly expect in a firearm. In fairness, the FP-45 was not built to last. It is a model of manufacturing economy in that it is made as well as it needed to be to do the job it was intended to do. Anything more would have been a waste of valuable resources.
by Frank Jardim, Director Vintage Ordnance Co., LLC (VOCO)
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At twenty yards the point of impact was about 30" high and groups tripled in size from 8-1/2" to 14-1/2" despite my best efforts. This was clearly beyond the useful range of the original weapon so it comes as no surprise that the replica performed in a similar manner. A target pistol this is not.