MG 42 Machine Gun
|Country of Origin||Germany|
|Rate of Fire||1200 rounds/min|
|Muzzle Velocity||755 m/s|
Contributor: C. Peter Chenww2dbaseThe Maschinengewehr 42 machine guns, or MG42 for short, were developed by the German firm Metall und Lackierwarenfabrik Johannes Großfuß AG after seeing need for machine guns with greater rate of fire than the MG34 machine guns. In 1941, a limited production for MG39/41 machine guns provided 1,500 guns for combat trials; they were accepted for service in 1942 under the designation of MG42. Großfuß, Mauser-Werke, Gustloff-Werke, and several other armament manufacturers were given contracts. The design of the MG42 machine guns were purposely similar to that of MG34 so that soldiers assigned these new machine guns would require minimum amount of training before taking the new weapons to battle.
In addition to producing a machine gun that had a greater rate of fire than the already-in-service MG34 machine guns, the MG42 design further improved from the MG34 in that each MG42 machine gun required 75 man-hours to build, compared to MG34 machine gun's 150 hours. Among the many reasons for the improved production rate was the employment of "hammer rifling" for the rifling of these weapons' barrels, in which a machine forges them using a pattern; this significantly shortens the production time at the expense of lesser accuracy when compared to barrels created using "cut" or "button" rifling methods. Coupled with needing less metal during the production process, the cost of each MG42 machine gun decreased to 250 Reichsmark, compared to MG34 machine gun's 327 Reichsmark. Nevertheless, since the war demands for machine gun were so great, MG34 machine guns continued to be in production despite the arrival of the new MG42 design.
The rate of fire of 1,200 rounds-per-minute was unmatched by any contemporary machine gun of the period. Taking the British Vickers and American Browning M2 machine guns as examples, MG42 machine guns enjoyed twice the rate of fire. The high rate of fire gave MG42 machine guns a very distinct and nearly continuous noise, caused by humans' inability to distinguish the sound of each individual bullet; this led to the nick names of "Hitler's buzz saw" or "Hitler's zipper" for MG42 machine guns. Similar nick names existed on the German side as well, such as Hitlersäge ("Hitler's saw") or "Bonesaw".
There were also other nick names for the MG42 machine gun. British soldiers often referred to them as Spandau as they found plates with that name mounted on captured MG42 machine guns; the word Spandau actually referred to the place of production, which was a district of Berlin, Germany.
The high rate of fire was as much a blessing as it was a curse, as it led to more overheating troubles. The fast rate also led to the problem of ammunition being exhausted quicker than usual; this problem was partially resolved by having all troops nearby carry extra ammunition for the machine gun as backup supply. A smaller problem for the MG42 machine guns was the high recoil which disturbed aiming for less-experienced gunners.
MG42 machine guns had an optimum operating crew of six: one officer, one non-commissioned officer, one gunner, and three ammunition carriers/loaders. For defense, the first two usually carried pistols, while the latter three were armed with rifles. As the war became more demanding on bodies, MG42 machine guns were often manned by as few as three. Ideally, multiple crews were deployed at once so that each machine gun position was covered by another, thus cover one another especially during the time that one of the machine guns needed reloading.
At the end of the war, 408,323 MG42 machine guns were built; 17,915 were built in 1942, 116,725 in 1943, 211,806 in 1944, and 61,877 in 1945. Many of them remained in service until today, most notably in the Serbian Army. The design has heavy influence on other modern machine gun designs as well.
Robert Stirling, Special Forces Sniper Skills
Last Major Revision: Jan 2008
MG 42 Machine Gun Interactive Map
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945