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Gewehr 41

The Gewehr 41 (G 41) was a German World War II semi-automatic rifle design. It proved rather unreliable in combat when first introduced, and was later withdrawn and re-released as the improved Gewehr 43 (G 43). However by this time the Sturmgewehr 44 (then known as the MP43) was available and was a far more powerful weapon, so the G 43's remains little known.


In the early stages of the war, the German army had considered the rifle to be a "support" weapon only. The primary weapon of the infantry was the machine gun, and in a typical squad the soldiers carried considerably more ammunition for their MG34 than they did for their own rifles. The MG34 could pour out considerably more fire than all of the rifles put together, so they were almost an afterthought.

In combat things were never so simple. The machine gun proved to be far too large to be operated on the move, meaning that the troops often had to use their rifles while moving up. Of course the defenders they were moving up on were in fixed positions, and therefore had no limitations in the use of their own machine guns. For an army depending on the fast-moving blitzkrieg, they found themselves outgunned almost constantly. These problems were magnified in the cities and towns, where the weapon could not be brought to bear on their targets before they disappeared into the next building.

For this reason the troops started making increased use of submachine guns, forming squads known as assault troops which could keep up a high rate of fire while on the move. Unfortunately the submachine gun's use of pistol-sized rounds made for poor range, and the assault troops were really only useful in urban settings. Once out in the country it was back to the rifles again.

Gewehr 41

By 1940, it became apparent that some form of a semi-automatic rifle with a higher rate of fire was needed to improve the infantry's combat efficiency. The army issued a specification to various manufacturers, and both Mauser and Walther submitted prototypes that were very similar. Both models used a mechanism known as the "Bang" system (after its Norwegian designer Soren H. Bang), due to a limitation being placed on the design that no holes should be drilled into the barrel. In this system, gases from the bullet were trapped near the muzzle in a ring-shaped cone, which in turn pulled on a long piston that opened the breech and re-loaded the gun. This is as opposed to the normal gas-actuated system in which the gasses push back on a piston to open the breach to the rear. Both also included 10-round magazines, using two of the "stripper clips" from the Karabiner 98k, firing the same German-standard 7.92x57mm Mauser rounds dating back to the turn of the century.

The Mauser design, the G 41(M), failed miserably. Only 6,673 were produced before production was halted, and of these 1,673 were returned as unusable.

The Walther version, the G 41(W), faired somewhat better, but again proved to be too prone to failure. The Bang system was too complicated and broke down frequently under the stress and wear of combat. The gun was also too heavy, notably due to the complex and heavy operating machinery located near the front, which pulled the nose down. Reloading the gun also proved difficult and time-consuming. Since it was the only self-loading rifle available to the German army, it had to be produced in numbers, but this too proved difficult as the gun was hard to mass-produce. Numbers are difficult to come by, but 14,334 appears in some publications.

Gewehr 43

In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa. Just prior to the opening of hostilities the Red Army had been re-arming its infantry, replacing a hodge-podge of ancient rifles with the new Tokarev SVT38 and ST40s. This proved to be something of a shock to the Germans, who soon started capturing as many as they could for their own use.

The Tokarev use a much simpler gas-operated mechanism, which was soon copied by Walther into the G 41(W), producing the Gewehr 43. The simpler mechanism of the G 43 made it lighter, easier to mass produce, and far more reliable. The addition of a 10-round detactable box magazine also solved the slow reloading problem. It was put into production in October 1943, and followed in 1944 by a shorter version of the Gewehr 43, the Karabiner 43 (K 43), even though it was only 50mm shorter.

Total production by the end of the war was 402,713 of both models, including at least 53,435 sniper rifles: the K 43 was the preferred sniper weapon, fitted with the Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4) scope with 4x magnification. The weapon could use the Schiessbecher device for firing rifle grenades (standard on the Kar 98k as well) and could use a Schalldämpfer silencer; however the G 43 could not use a bayonet. The Gewehr 43 was excellent in its sniper role and stayed in service for the Czech army for several years after the war.


For K 43:

Caliber: 7.92x57mm Mauser
Muzzle velocity: 775m/s (2,328 fps)
Action: Gas operated
Overall length: 1130mm
Barrel length: 546mm
versions with barrel lengths of 60cm, 65cm and 70cm existed as well
Weight: 4.1kg, (9.7lb) unloaded and without the scope
Rate of fire: 20-30 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 10 rounds
Sights: One of several scopes, typically 4x or 1.5x, backup "iron sights" as well