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Opening Salvo: German Crew Served Weapons
by Michael J. Canavan, Sr
Command Sergeant Major
US Army (retired)

Machinengewehr 42 (MG 42)

Considered by many as the world's best machinegun of the era, the MG 42 was reliable, powerful, lightweight, and easily maintained. Manufacturers such as Mauser-Werke AG, Gustoff-Werke, Grossfuss, Magnet, and Styr-Daimler-Puch produced over 400,000 of these machine guns from 1942 through 1945. The same new manufacturing techniques used to make the MP-40 were used in producing the MG 42. Earlier guns such as the MG 34 were made with painstakingly machined parts. By contrast, the MG 42 was made from pressed, folded, induction welded steel, so it was fast and cheap to manufacture. The precision of this gun was found in the bolt and barrel extension.

The MG 42 featured a unique delayed blowback system, which was instrumental in its high rate of fire (the highest of any machine gun in WWII). The gun had a replaceable barrel that could be swapped out in less than 30 seconds.

German infantry employed the MG 42 as a light, medium, and heavy machine gun, depending on how it was configured. In light machine gun mode, the gun was mounted on a bipod and used conventional iron sights. For use as a medium machine gun, the MG 42 was mounted on a tripod and fitted with long-range sights. The configuration for the heavy machine gun was essentially the same as that for the medium machine gun, but a heavier barrel was used.

This 7.92 x 57mm caliber gun was often crewed by three men (gunner, loader, and spotter). A junior NCO usually acted as gunner -- that job was not usually entrusted to less experienced non-NCO ranks. Much of the squad and platoon tactics used by German infantry revolved around getting the MG 42 set up and into action as quickly as possible.

The MG 42's high rate of fire (from 1,200 to 1,800 rounds/minute) consumed large quantities of ammo, so almost every rifleman was tasked with carrying additional ammunition for the machine gun. The gun had a muzzle velocity of 2,477 feet per second and was fed by a 50 round belt. It weighed 25.3 pounds and was 48 inches in length. In direct fire mode, the MG 42 had a maximum effective range of 500 meters -- in indirect fire mode, the maximum effective range was 3,500 meters. The high rate of fire caused vibrations which would throw off an inexperienced gunner's aim.

The MG 42 was produced for many years after the war by Yugoslavia as the MG-42/56. It is still used today virtually unaltered (except for a different caliber) as the MG3.

50 mm Pak 38 Light Antitank Gun

This piece was the mainstay of the German infantry antitank artillery. It was designed in 1937 and first issued in April of 1940. It was used primarily at focal points against enemy tank attacks.

The Pak 38 weighed just over 2,000 pounds. It featured a double shield with a very low silhouette on a spreading, tubular mount on a two wheeled carriage. The gun could traverse 65 degrees and elevate from -8 to +27 degrees. The barrel was 63.5 calibers (just over 10 feet) long and was equipped with a muzzle brake. The breech was a semi-automatic, flat wedge, vertical mechanism. The gun was fired by a push button trigger. Some guns had an auxiliary Pak aiming telescope.

The Pak 38 fired three types of rounds with varying effects. It could fire antitank shell types 39 and 40 at 823 meters per second for a maximum range of up to 9.4 kilometers. This shell weighed 2.2 kilograms. The high explosive (HE) fragmentation round weighed 1.96 kilograms. Fired with a muzzle velocity of about 550 meters per second, this round had a maximum effective range of 2,652 meters. The 680-gram payload had a burst of 13 meters to either side and 8 meters forward of the impact point. The hard core, 0.98 kg shell was fired with a muzzle velocity of 1,180 meters per second. There was also a "stick grenade" round which could penetrate 180mm of armor, but this was rarely used because of its terrible accuracy and short range.

The 50 mm Pak 38 initially was towed by a 1-ton towing tractor (SdKfz 10). Each Panzerjager unit received 45 vehicles for this purpose. In 1941, German High Command issued orders to equip the Panzerjager units with the 1.5-ton type A (all wheel drive) truck.

The 50 mm Pak 38 saw combat service throughout the war. Its crews suffered many casualties. The German Army lost 269 guns between December 1941 and February 1942. Total replacements of 37 mm and 50 mm Pak antitank

guns for the period June 1941 through March 1942 was more than 2,700 guns.

50 mm Light Mortar (Liechter Granatwerfer '36)

The 50 mm LG 36 was the standard light mortar of the German infantry. It was introduced in 1936, and although production was halted in 1941, it saw use until the end of the war. This light mortar (it weighed 31 pounds and had an 18-inch barrel) was designed exclusively for high angle fire. It could only fire at angles greater than 45 degrees.

This mortar had a minimum range of 55 yards and a maximum range of 568 yards. It could traverse a total of 600 mils, 300 mils to either side of zero. Rates of fire of up to 6 rounds in 8 seconds were possible, but this rate of fire could not be maintained. The LG 36 was muzzle loaded and trigger fired. Those mortars manufactured before 1938 were equipped with sights. Mortars made during that year and after were laid using aiming stakes and/or a white line on the barrel. There was a range scale on the left side of the barrel that was graduated in increments from 60 to 520 meters.

The 50 mm mortar fired a finned, high explosive round (5 cm Wgr 36) that was 8.5 inches long and weighed about 2 pounds. The mortar used a nitrocellulose propellant. The fuse (WGR.Z. 38) was a quick-acting, nose percussion type equipped with graze pellet and booster. The fuse armed the round about 60 yards from the muzzle of the barrel once fired. Until then it was in safe mode.

This mortar needed a crew of two. For transport, one crew member carried the base plate with traversing and cross leveling gear on his back. The other crew member carried the barrel and elevating screw.

The LG 36 was eventually replaced in front line units with other designs, but second line and garrison units continued using the mortar until the end of the war.

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