Nazi Germany's FG42 – The Granddad of the American M60 Machine Gun
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During World War II, Nazi Germany developed some impressive small arms, including the MG42 general-purpose machine gun and the StG44, the world's first assault rifle. Another notable weapon that is not well remembered, but which was quite innovative - if not perfect - influenced post-war weapon design, particularly the American M60 machine gun.
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Get to know the paratrooper rifle 42 (paratrooper rifle, model 1942).
The German paratroopers were the first elite unit of the German armed forces. They played an important role in the invasions of the Netherlands in the spring of 1940 and took part in the first mass deployment of airborne troops during the invasion of Crete in May 1941. Due to the high casualty rate and the loss of Adolf Hitler ordered the troops to be used only as elite infantry.
The paratroopers were part of the Air Force, which had its own weapons procurement plans. At the outbreak of war, however, the paratroopers were still armed with the standard weapons of the German army.
In these early attacks, paratroopers usually jumped with only a sidearm while their MP40 submachine guns, K98k rifles, and MG34 submachine guns were thrown into canisters. When it was decided that the units would fight as infantry, the Air Force commanders decided that these elite soldiers needed a weapon that could serve both as a single shoulder rifle and as a light machine gun - something that the MP40's rate of fire could deliver, but that Range and accuracy of the K98k along with the suppression ability of the MG34.
Developing such a weapon was not an easy task, and previous weapon designers struggled to meet these requirements - a notable "close but not quite" example would be the American Browning Automatic Rifle.
The German army had a similar thinking and developed a new cartridge for their new weapon. The result was the StG44 mentioned above, but the Air Force went in a different direction and decided to stick with the full-size standard 7.92mm x 57mm rifle cartridge. The idea was that this would meet the requirements to provide the range of a rifle and still allow the weapon to behave similar to a light machine gun.
In early 1942, two companies, Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krieghoff, began developing prototypes of the selective fire rifle. The Rheinmetall version, which used a long-stroke gas piston, was selected and production of the Paratrooper 42 (FG42) began. It was a revolutionary design with a strongly inclined handle and an embossed metal shaft. However, the bipeds turned out to be too fragile, while the shaft could easily be damaged. The grip was also perceived by users as uncomfortable, and all of this made it difficult to control the weapon in fully automatic mode.
Around two thousand of the first model or type A versions were made before the weapon was redesigned by Krieghoff. The so-called second model or “Type B” was heavier and a little longer - with a wooden buttock and a heavier bi-pod. Despite the improvements, the weapon was still too light to fire fully automatically. By the end of the war, however, about five thousand copies of the second model were said to have been produced.
Interestingly, and perhaps because two different companies made the guns, practically none of the parts of the two models are interchangeable, including the 20-round box magazine.
The gas-powered, air-cooled weapon was expensive to manufacture, but still innovative for its time. It was designed to fire from a closed bolt in the semi-automatic direction and an open bolt in the fully automatic direction, and it contained a magazine that was inserted horizontally from the left. It was one of the many "too little, too late" weapons that Germany used during the war. However, it served as the basis for the American M60 machine gun.
For collectors of modern military weapons, it is also considered the "holy grail". When one was offered by Rock Island Auctions in 2016, it sold for a record price of $ 330,000 plus fees!
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military headwear, including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
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