Israeli engineer who invented Uzi sub-machine-gun
The Israeli engineer Uziel Gal, who has died of cancer in the United States aged 78, was the inventor of the Uzi sub-machine-gun, one of the most famous, lethal and notorious little weapons of the 20th century.
With its distinctive snub barrel and folding shoulder stock, the Uzi became the largest-selling sub-machine-gun in the Western world; it is estimated that some 10 million have been manufactured. Small, technically adept and potent, it was popularised in numerous action films, and was eventually used by some 20 armies around the world.
American gangsters and Latin American drug barons also adopted it with relish, presumably because they appreciated its utility as a one-hand firing weapon.
Few who saw it will forget the television images of Uzi-toting Secret Servicemen hustling away a stunned President Ronald Reagan in 1981, after he narrowly escaped assassination.
None of this was imaginable when Uziel Gal first offered his design in a competition for Israel's sub-machine-gun in 1951. Born in Germany, he and his family had moved to England after the Nazis came to power, and, in 1936, moved on to British mandate Palestine. At the time, Jewish forces in the Haganah and Irgun militias made do with a variety of illegally acquired or home-made weapons.
These included ersatz Sten guns, and the Dubigun, a six-round drummed beast that was often more dangerous to its operator than its target. After the 1948 Israeli war of independence, Gal soon gained a reputation as a weapons expert of rare acumen.
Despite his youth, he was invited to submit his 9mm Uzi, inspired by Czech sub-machine- guns, for competition. But he found himself ranged against a senior figure in the form of Major Chaim Kara, head of the Israel defence force's light weapons division.
After extensive trials, the Uzi prevailed over Kara's more traditional design. What won the day for Gal was his firearm's economy - it was made from stapled metal plate - and its extraordinary ability to withstand grit and dust, important factors in the context of Middle East conflicts.
Moreover, Gal drew on his own battlefield experiences to ensure that the Uzi could suit even the weariest of soldiers operating in the dark. With few parts, it was easy to strip and reassemble, and he housed the magazine in the pistol grip - an audacious innovation that enabled soldiers to reload according to the simple "fist finds fist" principle.
The Uzi was almost impossible to misfire, thanks to its famous safety catch and limited recoil, even though it pumped out 10 bullets a second in automatic mode. And its lightness and compactness made it highly portable, placing no great burden on soldiers in action.
The weapon first saw active service in Israel's Sinai campaign of 1956. In ensuing years, the crude original was transformed into more sophisticated variants - there were electric and gas-operated models, and semi-automatic mini-and micro-Uzis, no bigger than a pistol, which were favoured by security guards and special police agents. Manufactured in bulk by Israel Military Industries, it accrued more than $2 billion for the country's coffers.
Israelis feel their weapons are a necessary evil; while proud of their technological achievements, some are ashamed that instruments of death have become such a major export of the state. Though the Galil assault rifle (modelled loosely on the Russian AK-47) has since replaced the Uzi as standard issue in the country's defence forces, the Uzi remains a collector's item.
Gal lived for most of his life on Kubbutz Yagur, a collective farm near Haifa, in northern Israel. In contrast to the ferocity of his creation, he was said to be a modest man who wanted to work in orthopaedic medicine. Even so, guns were what he knew best, and at the time of his death, he was working on a new pistol that one Israeli newspaper said might "revolutionise the international weapons market".
Gal also suffered a measure of personal tragedy. In 1976, he moved to Philadelphia so that his daughter Tamar could receive treatment for a rare brain disorder. She died in 1984, and his wife also died there in 1998. He is survived by his son, Iddo.
Uziel Gal:, born 1923; died September 7th 2002.