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German Small Arms of World War Two

Updated on January 12, 2013

When people think of the German army during World War 2 they think of tanks. They think of the rapid movement of blitzkrieg tactics. It is often forgotten that the majority of the fighting was done by Infantry. There are three things an infantry man must rely on; his training, the man next to him and his weapon.

Throughout the period leading up to and during WW2 Germany researched small arms relentlessly.

The sheer amount of guns produced by German arms manufacturers is staggering. Between 1935 and 1945 production figures were around;

  • 14 million Karabiner (Kar) 98K
  • 1.2 million Lugers 7 and 9 mm
  • 1.1 million Walther P38
  • Over 1 million MP series
  • 500,000 Sturmgewehr 44
  • 400,000 Maschinengewehr (MG) 34
  • 700,000 Maschinengewehr (MG) 42

That’s more than 20 million small arms in the space of ten years.

Luger P08 pistol
Luger P08 pistol

The Luger P08

The Luger was named after its creator; Georg J. Luger. It was the elite side arm of the German military. The Luger was recoil operated, Semi-automatic pistol. It carried 8 rounds in its magazine and weighed about two pounds loaded.

The Luger was first produced in 1901 the design stayed the same until production ended in 1942. The only major change was that of it firepower. The pistol was originally a 7mm calibre but this was seen as too little firepower. Thanks to the principles the Luger was designed on it soon became a 9mm with little change to the internal workings; A testament to the reliability and practicality of the design.

The Luger was designed with a swept handle and grip; this meant it fitted the arch of a hand. This allowed the Luger to be one of the most well balanced pistols created. As such once a shot is lined up and fired the Luger sights fall comfortably back to the target. This design also led to the Luger becoming, arguable, one of the most recognizable pistols in the world.

8mm Mauser ammunition
8mm Mauser ammunition

Karabiner (Kar) 98K

The Kar98K rifle was designed and built by the Mauser brothers. The Kar is a rifle, although it was not labelled as a ‘rifle’ but a ‘carbine’ due the treaty of Versailles.

The rifle was bolt operated; meaning the bolt had to be pulled back manually after every shot. It was fed from an internally held 5 rounds per clip of 8mm Mauser ammunition. There is arguably little difference between then Kar and the Gewehr 98, which the German army had used in WW1. So ultimately the 98K rifle was an old fashioned design but the rifle was reliable and accurate. So much so that every German soldier used a Kar 98K during their training.

The Kar was also an important building block of the new tactics of the German army as it provided solid and valuable support for the machine gun.

Kar 98K
Kar 98K

Maschinengewehr (MG) 34

The MG 34 was the first machine gun to become standard in the new German army. It was light (weighed 27 pounds), especially compared with other machine guns. Because of this the MG 34 was easy to carry.

The MG 34 was air cooled and recoil operated. Its rate of fire was around 800 rounds per minute.

It had a 2 man squad. One man carried the machine gun and the other the tripod and ammunition.

However, the machine gun could be used in nearly every combat role. It could be carried and fired by just one man. It could be fired, while advancing or retreating, off the back of another man so that no fixed position was needed. It could be fired from a tripod in a fixed position or on a bipod from the ground on the move. The MG 34 could be used in every situation.

This meant there was no need for the classification of heavy or light, mobile or fixed. Other nations had designed different machine guns for different roles the Germans designed one machine gun for all roles.

Maschinengewehr (MG) 34
Maschinengewehr (MG) 34
9mm round
9mm round

MP 38

MP stands for the German meaning Machine Pistol. The MP 38 was a submachine gun; this means that it fired pistol calibre bullets, to be exact 9mms. The magazine held 32 rounds. Its rate of fire was somewhere between 450-550 rounds a minute depending on condition. It weighed 9 pounds unloaded and 10.5 loaded.

Depending on the use of stock and length of burst it could be used at close or mid-range.

Many allied forces personnel used captured MP 38s instead of their own weapons as they preferred them and the ammunition was readily available.

It was replaced later on in the war by the MP 40, although there was not enough to go around so MP 38s were used by some units until the end of the war.


Walther P38

In 1940 mass production was begun on the Walther so it could replace the Luger as the side arm of all German military forces as well as all MPs and other occupation forces.

The Walther was semi-automatic and held 9 9mm rounds in its magazine similar to the Luger. The main difference was instead of a closed system the Walther had an exposed hammer. This mean jams and such could be easily attended to in a combat situation.

The pistol did not need a slide, like many other pistols of the time, just a cock. The trigger does all the work in bringing another round into the chamber.

Walther P38
Walther P38

FG Series

Specialist weapons designed for the German paratroopers; the Fallschirmjäger. The literal translation of the name is parachute hunters rifle. There were two main models of the FG series but both called FG 42s.

The FG 42 was shorter than the MP 38, and was a rifle, not a pistol. The FG 42 was only carried by airborne troops.

The FG series rifles weighed about 10 pounds and their magazines could either hold 10 or 20 round of 7.92 calibre (full size rifle cartridge) dependent on model and attachments.

It was a glass operated and air cooled rifle meaning it was generally quite reliable. Equip with a bipod its effective range of about half a mile!

The problem with the FG series rifles was they had massive kick back and were therefore very difficult to control on full fire setting. Because of this, and the early abandonment of airborne tactics, the FG series only saw limited use.

FG Series
FG Series
7.92mm (full round)
7.92mm (full round)

Maschinengewehr (MG) 42

The MG 42 was the mass produced version on the MG 38. It weighed roughly the same as the MG 34; about 25 pounds. It was also similar to the MG 34 as it was air cooled and recoil operated as well.

The main difference between the two was the MG 42 had a massive rate of fire; between 1200-1500 7.92mm rounds per minute. That’s twice the firing rate of a browning machine gun. As such individual rounds being fired could not be heard, just a blank noise. This can be seen as a very stunning psychologically. But make no mistake; it was a physically devastating weapon. Because of the massive rate of fire the MG 42 was designed so the barrel could be replaced as overheating was common. Another would be placed inside while the first cooled down.

7.92 short round
7.92 short round

Sturmgewehr 44

‘Sturmgewehr’ translates roughly to ‘storm rifle’ or ‘assault rifle’. It was apparently the world’s first classified assault rifle. There is a debate about that still raging amount experts today, so I won’t go into it.

The Sturmgewehr had selective fire modes; semi through to full auto. The rifle was air cooled and when Loaded weighed 11 pounds. It used 7.92 short ammunition carried in a 30 round magazine. Its rate of fire could be anywhere between 500-600 rounds per minute.

The 7.92 short round was a ‘mid-range’ cartridge; not as powerful as rifle cartridge but more powerful than pistol cartridge.

The rifle was treasured by soldiers of all ranks and as such it was issued everywhere it could be. 500,000 were produced in a year but less than 170,000 saw combat. It is often argued that had this rifle been designed, tested, mass produced and issued sooner the war would have gone very differently.

Sturmgewehr  44
Sturmgewehr 44


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    • jaskar profile image

      jaskar 6 years ago from England

      thank you very much MPChris

    • MPChris profile image

      MPChris 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Great Article!