WWII German Infantry Weapons
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- Last updated: 21/12/2016
When Germany attacked Poland in September 1939 the world was introduced to a new form of warfare, the likes of which had never before been seen. However, it was not such a great secret if military planners had only taken the time to make themselves fully conversant of events in places such as Spain, and if they had bothered to read the works of German officers such as Heinz Guederian and Erwin Rommel.
During the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, Germany demonstrated some of the new army tactics so that by the time of the Polish campaign in September 1939 the stratagems and the new forms of weaponry were all tried and tested. Until 1935 the armed forces of Germany had been constrained by the Treaty of Versailles which limited the size of the army to 100,000 men and denied it certain types of weaponry such as anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns. When Hitler dismissed the Treaty it allowed the army to expand rapidly and undergo a re-armament programme with the introduction of many modern weapons, and the troops also trained vigorously for an aggressive fast-paced method of fighting. This is the army which re-enactment groups such as Das Heer, the Second Battle Group and Kompanie 1 display at events around the country.
Konigin Aller Waffen
In the six years of fighting total war the German army would prove itself to be a very formidable force and capable of the most surprising feats of arms. It would show itself to be resilient in defence, stalwart in the face of even the most dire of situations, such as the siege of Stalingrad, and tenacious in attack. The troops were to prove their worth many times over and even when lacking senior officers had a resourcefulness not seen in some other armies. Several small units were capable of regrouping into a cohesive force to continue fighting when other comparable forces would have collapsed.
The infantry was regarded as ‘Konigin Aller Waffen’ or ‘Queen of Arms’ and declared to be such through wartime recruiting posters. The German army fought using an array of issue weaponry which was both modern and functional, but it was not averse to employing those weapons of their enemies if deemed to be practical such as the Russian 7.62mm calibre PPSh sub-machine guns. These were captured in such large numbers the Germans modified them to fire the 9mm cartridge. The weaponry of the German makes for a fascinating study and at re-enactment events the static displays attracts many visitors to see the weapons of the period.
The German army used different pistols at various stages of the war, but essentially only two remained as standard service arms. Firstly was the Pistole Parabellum Modell 1908 (P08) or more commonly referred to as the ‘Luger’ after its designer Georg Luger. It used a 9mm cartridge and was 223mm in length and weighed 0.87kg. The ‘Luger’ was synonymous with German officers and prized as a ‘war trophy’ by the Allies. However, the pistol more likely to be encountered by the Allies was the smaller and more serviceable Walther Modell 38 (P38), which also used a 9mm cartridge. This weapon was 213mm in length and weighed 0.96kg, being taken into service in 1940 and continued to be used throughout the war and post-war years. It was a standard side arm and being used in all theatres of the war. At static displays groups often exhibit both types of pistol in de-act form.
The mainstay of the German army was the Mauser 98K bolt-action rifle which fired ammunition of 7.92mm calibre. This weapon had been developed from a rifle dating back to 1895, but like the Lee-Enfield of the British army, the 98K had been modified to produce a weapon suitable for conditions wherever the German army fought. Thus, it was used in North Africa, Italy, north-west Europe and the harsh winter conditions in Russia. Two gas-operated rifles, the Gewehr 41 (W) and Gewehr 43 were produced in limited numbers and never entered general service.
The Fallschirmjagergewehr 42 was another gas-operated rifle, but when the army showed no interest in it, the weapon was offered to the Parachute units of the Luftwaffe. Also referred to as either the FG42 or FjG42, some considered it to be an un-necessary weapon when other perfectly serviceable weapons were available. A production figure of only 7,000 is often quoted for the FG42 and even today it is something of a scarcity even in museums. Despite this limited usage some members of re-enactment groups depicting parachute units do use it in displays and battle re-enactment and it attracts much attention. It had an unusual configuration with the pistol grip being raked back at a sharp angle, side-feed magazine using 7.92mm ammunition and a bipod and a bayonet.
The Maschinenpistole 43 or Sturmgeschutz 44 was more commonly referred to as the MP43 and set new standards when it first appeared and was issued to units in Russia in 1943. It used a special short round of 7.92mm calibre known as the ‘kurz’ round. The MP43 used a 30 round box magazine and when demonstrated to Hitler it was termed ‘Sturmgewehr’ or assault rifle - a title which remained and is in use today with many modern rifle types. This is another weapon which attracts many comments when used by members of groups in battle re-enactment and compliments the comprehensive the range of German army weaponry. From this weapon it is possible to see how it influenced modern designs such as the Kalashnikov AK47 rifle.
The German army used two main types of sub-machine gun known as the MP38 and its derivative the MP40. Other SMGs were used, but it was these two designs, firing 9mm with cyclic rates of 500 rounds per minute, which were most associated with the German army and handy weapons in close fought actions particularly in street fighting from Stalingrad to Berlin. The MP38 weighed 4.14kg and the MP40 3.97kg but apart from a ribbed magazine housing on the latter there was little difference between the two weapons. They were used in all theatres of operations from North Africa to sub-zero conditions in Russia. There were versions of the MP40 such as the MP40/2 and a model called the MP41 with wooden butt stock was built in small numbers. The MP40 is popular with re-enactment and make a good impression during battle re-enactment when fired. The public are impressed by such demonstrations of firepower and the weapon MP40 will always be associated with the German army and with an estimated one million believed to have been produced - no wonder.
The two main types of machine gun used during the Second World War were far superior to anything the Allies had, and went on to influence post-war designs for general purpose machine guns. Both the MG34 and the more powerful MG42 were used as secondary armament on vehicles including tanks. They were also used in a variety of roles in the infantry role with either a tripod mounting for the sustained fire role or the integral bipod during infantry attacks. The MG34 was developed in the 1930s and could fire 850 rounds per minute, while the MG42 could fire 1,200 rounds per minute, making them formidable weapons. They were more usually belt-fed, which looks great during battle re-enactment scenarios, but they also had special ‘saddle’ magazine fittings. These machine guns were even adapted to the anti-aircraft role with special high-angle mountings and multiple mountings were also developed. These weapons were produced in their hundreds of thousands and were feared by the Allies. The Germans did have other machine gun designs, but it was these two models which were the backbone of an infantry unit and provided the fire support in attack and defence.
Mortars are generally considered to be the infantry’s personal artillery and the Germans certainly made full use of their mortars and although they used a version which fired a bomb of 120mm calibre, the Schwere 12cm Granatwerfer 42, these are unlikely to be found in a re-enactment scenario. Instead it is the lighter mortars, with their greater flexibility, which one sees at events. The Germans captured enormous stocks of Russian mortars during their rapid advance in 1941 and these were taken into service with the suffix (r) to denote captured Russian equipment. However, it was 50mm Granatwerfer 36 and 81.4mm Granatwerfer 34 mortars which were in use with infantry units.
The lighter 50mm mortar was a complete weapon held at platoon level and could fire up to forty rounds per minute out to ranges of 500m. It was easily carried around the battlefield and was nicknamed the ‘Gypsy’ because it could be moved with ease. The larger 81.4mm comprised of the barrel, bipod rest and base-plate and used in the support companies of an infantry regiment to provide fire support. It could fire fifteen rounds per minute out to ranges of 2,500m and included high explosive bombs and smoke bombs. A shortened, light weight version the GrW42 or ‘Stummelwerfer’ was developed for airborne units, but the range was reduced to half that of the standard weapon. The 50mm and 81mm mortars are the types most commonly seen at re-enactment events and some enterprising groups have even made reproduction models of the Granatwerfer 34 for static displays.
Anti-tank weapons tended to be of the recoilless design and were very effective at all levels. The Panzerschreck or to use its more correct title 8.8cm Raketen Penzerbusche 54 was the German equivalent of the American ‘bazooka’. Its great length of over five feet led to it being called ‘Ofenrohr’ or ‘Stovepipe’. It was a formidable weapon firing a hollow-charge projectile out to ranges of 150m and capable of penetrating 100mm of armour. Some groups have made reproduction models which look very good.
The German army had a range of lightweight anti-tank weapons known as Panzerfaust which were developed as a result of fighting in Russia. Today reproduction versions of these are put on display by groups as part of their static exhibition. They were built in five types, ever-more powerful, they were the original one-shot disposable anti-tank weapon. All were designed to be used at close range and the 30K fired a projectile of some 3kg which could penetrate 140mm of armour. The later versions included the 30, 60, 100 and 150, the figures denoting the range, and fired projectiles of varying weight to defeat armour up to 200mm thickness. The Panzerfausts were used by Hitler Youth and Volksturm (German Home Guard) units along with regular troops during the fighting against the Russians in Berlin in 1945.
The German army also issued a range of field guns to infantry units for engaging tanks and mines to be laid in defensive belts around positions. The anti-tank guns ranged from the 3.7cm PaK36 through to the massive Pak43 8.8cm which was so large it was referred to as ‘Barn door’. These were specialist weapons but some re-enactment groups do have them in their displays such as the Second Battle Group, and as such deserve individual attention as specialist weapons. Hand grenades and rifle grenades were issued to infantrymen as part of their personal armament and a whole range was developed. The most common type was the Steilhandgranate 39 or ‘stick grenade’ which is another weapon which will forever be identified with the German army. The design had been developed in the First World War and was a successful design. It was approximate 400mm in length and the sheet steel head contained an explosive charge of some 200gm of TNT. On being primed by pulling the toggle the thrower had 4.5 seconds to throw the grenade which weighed some 600gm.
It is quite remarkable how the German armaments factories maintained an output of arms, equipment and ammunition almost until the very last days of the war. For example, between January and April 1945 some 100,000 Panzerfausts were produced, and the story is repeated with vehicle and artillery production. Germany may have lost the war, but the legacy it passed to the Allies produced some incredible weapons from assault rifles to anti-tank weapons. The German armaments industry had risen almost Phoenix-like from the ashes of the First World War and severe restrictions, yet still managed to produce some extremely advanced weapons for the time. But even so, for all their technological expertise they could not turn the tide of war and it would be the quantity of output from Russia and America which would overwhelm Germany.
Where To Get Them
Examples of these weapons as either deactivated or blank firing models, are available to collectors and re-enactors, and can be obtained from dealers such as Saracen Exports, Ryton Arms, Worldwide Arms Ltd and JC. Militaria. The details of these dealers and their Websites are in the pages of Gun Mart, so it is worth scanning the adverts.
The classified adverts also turn up some bargains and unusual items, so it is always worth scanning these small ads in the pages of the Militaria Mart section of the magazine or at our Classifieds section http://www.gunmart.net/guns_for_sale/.
Indeed, many re-enactors portraying the German army 1940-45 have obtained their weapons through the pages and are more than pleased with the service they have received. But don’t just take my word for it, speak to the guys and telephone the dealers to have a chat about your wants and needs in WWII German weaponry.