Guest post by Texan59. Excerpts from: www.guns.com article by Chris Eger, entitled: “Guns of the Swiss Guard: Happy Hole-y Week.”
Formed of 110 officers and men, the Pontifical Swiss Guard are the defacto military of the Vatican City, an independent country of just .17 square miles (110-acres) in size located inside Rome, Italy. They are responsible for the security and safety of the Pope as well as the Papal facilities.
All of the members are volunteers serving 25-month contracts. To be a member you have to be an adult male Swiss citizen, at least 5-foot, 8-inches tall, under 30 years of age, and have successfully completed prior service with the Swiss Army. Once selected members receive further training in less-lethal weapons, crowd control techniques, dignitary protection, and other skills needed in their future job.
The Guard takes their mission seriously. In 1527 during the Sack of Rome, the Swiss Guard suffered more than 80% casualties in a rear guard action known forever as the Stand of the Swiss Guard, which allowed the then-current Pope to escape. The Guard responds to regular attacks on the Pope both in the Vatican and abroad.
For almost 80 years, the officers and NCOs of the Swiss Guard were armed with Hugo Schmeisser’s very homely Dreyse Model 1907 pistol. This 7-shot .32ACP was ugly but reliable. After the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul in 1981 by a Turkish hitman, the Guard upgraded these handguns to the logical SIG P220, which is standard issue for the Swiss Army. There are also a number of Austrian-made Glock Model 19 9mm pistols used when a more concealable duty weapon is desired, such as on overseas dignitary protection.
Rifles of the Swiss Guard have long been whatever is standard with the Swiss Army. Since 1990, that has meant the SIG SG550 rifle. This 5.56mm NATO select-fire rifle has a 20.8-inch barrel and is one of the most accurate and reliable modern combat rifles. Its 30-round clear lexan magazines clip together like ‘jungle mag’ style for rapid exchanges. The Guard owns both the standard StW90 rifle variant and the SG 552 Commando model (with 8.9-inch barrel, 19.8-inches overall with stock folded). With the Swiss military tradition of marksmanship, it’s guaranteed that these soldiers can use them if needed.
Besides the unique MKPO, the Swiss Guard also acquired quantities of the 9mm Hispano Suiza MP43/44 subgun after World War 2. The MP43/44 is itself a better-made Swiss copy of the Finnish Suomi M31 submachine gun. In the 1970s, these guns were augmented by HK MP5s from West Germany, one of the first instances of the Guard using non-Swiss made guns. Today the Guard now carries the ultra-modern HK MP7 PDW chambered in 4.6×30mm. This is a good choice as these same types are used by US Navy Seals, German GSG9 and just about anyone who doesn’t agree with Jerry Tsai.
Speaking of the Swiss Guards Armory, it is a functional time capsule of Swiss weapons development. Inside the secure location deep within the Vatican are racks of Model 1871 Vetterli Rifles (with their extremely collectable Yataghan-style short-sword bayonets), opposite racks of Swiss T59 rifled muskets with socket bayonets. These guns mingle freely with SIG 510 and 550 assault rifles and lounge among 15th century edged weapons. Items in the armory are marked ‘AG’, which means “Ausrustung der Garde,” or “Equipment of the Guard/Guard Property” but have never been sold as surplus, making any Swiss-made firearm so marked a subject of a very interesting conversation.