Fit For Purpose

Reader JohnO asks the question:

I just finished reading “Vengeance” about the Israelis’ revenge operation for the Munich Olympic massacres. One aspect that piqued my interest was the agents’ use of a .22 for close combat fire. I found myself reading the eliminations via the .22 and thinking, “Kim duT would never approve”. But it seemed effective for the operation. So what’s your opinion on this? I mean, I already ditched my Glock 19 9mm in favor of a Springfield 1911 and a Walther PPQ both in .45 based. Is the .22 a viable self defense calibre?


Now, is a .22 a better self-defense weapon than a Whiffle bat or a rolling pin?  Of course, but as a self-defense caliber, it falls far behind pretty much all the larger ones.  Would I like to be shot with a .22?  Of course not;  but I’d far rather be struck in, say, the leg or arm by a .22 than by a .357 Mag or a .45 bullet from your 1911.

All that said:  the .22 LR cartridge is a nigh-perfect assassin’s caliber.  At any distance under twenty feet and especially at very close ranges, a head shot with a .22 bullet — properly placed, as opposed to a glancing blow — will generally result in instant death:  the little boolet will penetrate the skull easily, and then pretty much bounce around inside the cranium, turning brain tissue into something resembling rice pudding, functionally speaking.  (In passing, I should note that when my Dad lived on the farm, they used a .22 rifle to slaughter cattle — a close-range single shot into the animal’s skull had the above result, every single time:  drop, a couple of kicks, and then game over.)

The .22 has a couple of other advantages for the assassin:  in a silenced semi-auto pistol, the noise is negligible compared to a shot from a 1911, for example (a “silencer” doesn’t do much to attenuate the blast from a larger caliber);  and using a .22 revolver means that you don’t have to bother about leaving expended cartridge cases bouncing around the room as clues for the investigators.  Likewise, it’s easier to conceal a .22-sized handgun about your person than a large-frame revolver or semi-auto pistol.  Using even a 9mm pistol shooting subsonic rounds requires a longer moderator to achieve the same degree of noise reduction as a much-shorter .22 moderator, so even a silenced .22 pistol is less bulky and more concealable.

And it’s in that capacity that the Mossad agents used .22 pistols, with excellent results, rather than as self-defense weapons.  Certainly, the end result seemed satisfactory to all except the deceased terrorists.


  1. Back around the first Intifada as I recall, (cant recall if before or after the broken bones campaign) the Israelis also employed snipers with 22 rifles. The job was to shoot the ring leaders of the troubles in the head from 50 yards or so. While the individuals shot ceased their trouble making, it did nothing to solve the overall problem. The only ones to whom life is worth less than to a sniper are the Palestinian leaders.

  2. If I recall correctly, silenced High Standard .22 pistols were used by the OSS in WW2 to deal with troublesome individuals on missions.

  3. Actually, .22LR can be a very viable defensive cartridge, if it’s used properly, and if sufficient training is provided. I discussed it at some length a few years ago, with reference to training disabled and handicapped shooters:

    If you follow the training program I outlined there, I guarantee you, you’ll be able to stop almost any attacker before he reaches you. It works. I mentioned in that article that three of the shooters I’ve trained that way had survived lethal threat encounters. The number is now up to five, and still going strong. My students are alive, well, and uninjured. Their attackers . . . not so much.

    As always, the answer is “bullet placement”.

    1. Peter, of course it is. When I taught an ex-wife to shoot, she was able to put all ten rounds from the Beretta 72’s mag into a face-sized target at 20 feet, inside seven seconds.

      However, when I stood behind her and started shouting at her (to mimic panic), she missed with all ten because her hands were shaking from the stress.

      Large-caliber bullet, center mass. The .22 head shot comes a very distant second.

      1. All true: but the same panic reaction would be evident with any handgun. I won’t argue for a moment that the bigger the round you can control, the better; but the two-way range will always be a heck of a lot more stressful than the one-way.

  4. When I was stationed in Germany, I lived on the economy, in the local town. As it happened, I lived across the street from a farmer, and his barns… Being German, his barns and livestock rarely gave any cause for offense…

    One day, he was getting ready to slaughter a hog…He dragged the hog out to the small courtyard, and attempted to dispatch it with a .22 pistol, something he had done countless times.. This time, he must have missed the right spot, the bullet glanced off. So he now tried again, and missed again. And the hog was in a very bad state, bleeding, screaming, trying to get away…And the farmer was out of ammo.

    I offered to use my (personal) .45. That settled it… Also attracted attention from everyone in town, of course.

    The farmer offered me some sausages, which were delicious. I offered him a brick of .22LR.

  5. Mafia Lore has it that a popular dispatch was to use a .22 revolver with a muffler, and the obligatory one to the head. If outside, try one to each leg to put them on their knees and then the follow-up to the head.

  6. IIRC, the Israelis were quite fond of .22 Berettas with suppressors. They’d dump 5-6 rounds into the chest, the rest into the head…and walk away.

  7. A while back, one of the larger US importers brought in a small lot of Beretta model 71’s from Israel. Complete with Israeli markings on the slides. Supposedly these were ex-Mossad pistols being put out to pasture. Needless to say they went almost as fast as the company put them up on their website.
    Did I mention that they all had threaded 4″ barrels?

  8. Working from memory but wasn’t there an incident at the Zurich airport where a Israeli operative with his 22 took on 4 would-be hijackers with AKs. Killed two, disabled one and the 4th fled into the arms of the Swiss police to save himself. Training matters.

  9. Not the best choice for defensive use. 22 is great for executions. There are several reasons for using small calibers (the Katyn Massacre was done mainly with 25 ACP):
    – The bullet mushrooms making it difficult to trace lands and grooves.
    – Low signature (noise, ,smell, and flash) and recoil.
    – There are cases where the small entrance wound is not detected in a routine examination of a corpse.

Comments are closed.