The Winchester Liberators are a series of prototype American shotguns.
An implementation of Robert L. Hillberg's Hillberg Insurgency Weapon design, the Liberator was envisioned as a weapon which could be easy to use, cheap to manufacture, and actually be effective in the hands of someone who had never actually handled a firearm before, and was chosen as it provided a high hit probability along with a very high volume of fire; pistols were out of the question as special training was required for effective usage of the latter.
Some point after, the designs had fallen out of favor with the military and Winchester had been practically left to market the weapons on their own. Winchester then went out and marketed the Liberator to the police and civilian markets with no success, as it was deemed too impractical for use. As such, major production for the Liberator never actually began and the project was shelved; in fact, Winchester already had problems when they were almost ready to put the Liberator into serious production, such as barrel alignment issues.
A similar weapon, the Colt Defender Mark I, was also developed by Hillberg, but introduced around the time of the Vietnam War and marketed to civilian law enforcement agencies; it was never actually marketed to any militaries. Four Winchester Liberators are known to still be in existence (one Mark I mock-up, one Mark II and two Mark IIIs), all located and kept in the Cody Firearms Museum.
Originally, the Liberator was to be made out of magnesium castings with steel inserts and loaded with pre-loaded shells in four-round packets instead of individual shells; this was later changed to it using shells as opposed to packets of ammunition as the pre-packed cartridges proved to be too difficult to perfect.
In the final version of the firearm, the Liberator resembled a derringer and used four fixed barrels. The weapon was hammer-fired; the hammer and a fixed firing pin rotated behind a fixed breechblock that is located behind the barrel cluster. A lock action was cocked via a coil spring located in the hammer's rotation axis, which drives a ratchet mechanism that rotates the hammer after every shot. A similar, downscaled version of this action would later be used in the Compact Off-Duty Police derringer, which Hillberg would later design.
The weapon does have iron sights, but they appear to be of rather crude quality; as such, the Liberator is best suited to be fired from the hip.
The Liberator had three variants, designated the Mark I, Mark II and Mark III, which are identical in function but different in appearance.
- Mark I
A non-functional wooden mockup, the Mark I had a wooden foregrip and no stock. It would have used four-round packets of shells. However, due to manufacturing difficulties in manufacturing packets so that the shells within them would properly align with the barrels, the Mark I was scrapped. It would have also had a large, squeeze-lever trigger.
- Mark II
An updated variant of the Mark I, the Mark II had a trigger guard that could be swiveled out of the way if the user was wearing heavy gloves or something of the like. The Mark II also had a collapsing stock, which is removable and can be stored in the front end. Like the design for the Mark I, it had a squeeze-lever trigger. It had a rotating component that fires each barrel in sequence with each trigger pull, a large, T-shaped latch, and a round extractor. It also has a trigger guard, which swivels upwards and out of the way for when the user is wearing heavy gloves. Drawbacks to this model lie in manufacturing; When Winchester attempted to get the Mark II Liberator into serious production, it proved difficult to get the barrels properly lined up and regulated as molten magnesium then covers them with the final shape being cast, as well as cost also being a problem. Like with the Mark I, it was scrapped.
- Mark III
An updated version of the Mark II, with a more conventional trigger assembly and metal pistol grips as opposed to wooden ones. The Mark III came in two sub-variants; one with a wire-folding stock and another without. In addition, the Mark III is chambered for 12 gauge shells, rather than 16 gauge of the previous models.