'Almost everyone finds silenced weapons interesting – they are unusual and exotic, they often involve clever technical solutions, and they tend to be associated with covert operations, another common area of interest.
I started doing some structured research into the topic a little while ago, initially to decide whether they would make a viable topic for a book in the Osprey Weapon series. I rapidly decided that they didn’t suit the format especially well – an Osprey book requires around 50 photos, whereas operations that require silenced weapons rarely permit a photographer to tag along.
However, it seemed a shame for the work to go to waste, so I decided to develop it into a short article instead.
One key thing when writing on a subject like firearms, where a considerable literature exists, is to decide what the article will do that isn't already being done. After all, there is little point in putting time and effort into writing an article, if the reader could simply pull up the same information on Wikipedia!
Looking through the existing literature, there were several clear gaps.
First off, most of the coverage tended to treat all silenced weapons as a single category, without really analysing how they were used tactically. Even a quick analysis suggests if weapons as different as the Welrod (a single shot silenced pistol), the De Lisle carbine (a bolt action silenced rifle) and the Sten Mk II (S) (a silenced submachinegun) were intended for exactly the same role, it begs the question about why they were all being manufactured and issued at the same time by the same country.
Trying to explain the roles the different weapons were intended for also helps to explain why some of the design decisions were taken, and comparing a selection of weapons in each category shows how each weapon makes different compromises between stealth and performance.
Secondly, very few of the sources really answered the question “How quiet is a silenced weapon?” except by giving anecdotes. Partly, this is understandable – the Decibel system used to measure sound levels is not intuitive, and easy to misunderstand if you aren't used to it. For example, a 20 decibel sound is 10 times louder than a 10 decibel sound, not twice as loud.
On the other hand, I had no desire to turn the article into a science lesson. However, with a little explanation and a hypothetical example, it will hopefully become much clearer just how “quiet” a silenced weapon actually is, and how it can be used on the battlefield.
Finally, the article covers the one of the less common technologies for creating a silent weapon, which has seen little use in the west but does have significant advantages (and disadvantages) in certain applications.
While a relatively short article obviously can’t cover every possible aspect of the subject, I hope people will find that it brings enough new information to the subject to be interesting.
Thank you very much Neil! The full article, illustrated with photographs, can be read here.