The MG 42 (shortened from German: Maschinengewehr 42, or “machine gun 42”) is a German recoil-operated air-cooled general-purpose machine gun used extensively by the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS during the second half of World War II. Entering production in 1942, it was intended to supplement and replace the earlier MG 34, which was more expensive and took much longer to produce, but both weapons were produced until the end of World War II.
Designed to use the standard German 7.92×57mm Mauser rifle round, be low-cost and easier to mass-produce, the MG 42 proved to be highly reliable and easy to operate. It is most notable for its very high cyclic rate for a gun using full-power service cartridges, averaging about 1,200 rounds per minute compared to around 850 for the MG 34, and 450 to 600 for other common machine guns like the M1919 Browning, FM 24/29 or Bren gun. This ability made it extremely effective in providing suppressive fire, and its unique sound led to it being nicknamed “Hitler’s buzzsaw”.
The MG 42 was adopted by several armed organizations after the war, and was both copied and built under licence. The MG 42’s lineage continued past Nazi Germany’s defeat, forming the basis for the nearly identical MG1 (MG 42/59), chambered in 7.62×51mm NATO, which subsequently evolved into the MG1A3, and later the Bundeswehr’s MG 3, Italian MG 42/59 and Austrian MG 74. It also spawned the Yugoslav unlicensed nearly identical Zastava M53.
|Mauser Werke AG|
|Wilhelm Gustloff Stiftung|
|MAGET (Maschinenbau und Gerätebau GmbH, Berlin-Tegel)|
|Unit cost||250 ℛℳ (1944)|
|1010 EUR current equivalent|
|Produced||1942–1945 (Nazi Germany)|
|Variants||MG 45/MG 42V, MG 1, MG 2, Rheinmetall MG 3, M53, MG 74|
|Mass||11.6 kg (25.57 lb)|
|Length||1,220 mm (48 in)|
|Barrel length||530 mm (20.9 in)|
|Rate of fire||1,200 rounds/min (varied between 900–1,500 rounds/min with different bolts)|
|Practical: 153 rounds/min Fully-automatic only|
|Muzzle velocity||740 m/s (2,428 ft/s) (s.S. Patrone)|
|Effective firing range||200–2,000 m (219–2,187 yd) sight adjustments|
|3,500 m (3,828 yd) with tripod and telescopic sight|
|Maximum firing range||4,700 m (5,140 yd)|
|Feed system||50 or 250-round Patronengurt 33, 34, or 34/41 model belt|
|50-round belt drum|
|Sights||Iron sights, antiaircraft sight or telescopic sights|
In order to address these issues, a draft specification was made and a contest was held for an MG 34 replacement. Three companies were asked in February 1937 to submit designs: Metall und Lackierwarenfabrik Johannes Großfuß AG of Döbeln, Rheinmetall-Borsig AG of Sömmerda, and Stübgen AG of Erfurt. The design and mock-up gun proposals were submitted in October 1937. Großfuß AG’s entry proved to be the best design by far, employing a unique recoil-operated roller locking mechanism whereas the two competing entries used a gas-actuated system. The Großfuß company had no earlier experience in weapons manufacture, specializing in pressed and stamped steel components (the company’s staple product was sheet metal lanterns). Dr.-Ing. Werner Gruner, one of the leading design engineers with Großfuß, knew nothing about machine guns when he was given the task of being involved with the project, although he specialized in the technology of mass production. Gruner would attend an army machine gunner’s course to familiarize himself with the utility and characteristics of such a weapon, also seeking input from soldiers. He then recycled an existing Mauser-developed operating system and incorporated features from his experiences with army machine gunners and lessons learned during the early stages of the war. Being made largely out of pressed and stamped appropriately hardened carbon steel metal, only the most important parts were elaborately milled from solid steel, and using spot welding and riveting to connect parts the new design required considerably less machining and fewer high grade steel alloys containing metals that became scarce in Germany during World War II. It was much simpler to build than other machine guns — it took 75 man hours to complete the new gun as opposed to 150 man hours for the MG 34 (a 50% reduction), 27.5 kg (61 lb) of raw materials as opposed to 49 kg (108 lb) for the MG 34 (a 44% reduction) — and cost 250 RM as opposed to 327 RM (a 24% reduction).
The initial trials of the Großfuß functional model presented in April 1938 gave rise to improvement requests by the machine gun contest board. The resulting Großfuß MG 39 prototype gun presented in February 1939 remained similar to the earlier MG 34 overall, a deliberate decision made to maintain familiarity and capability to use the various mounts and other accessories developed for the MG 34 to adapt the gun to different roles. The only major changes from the gunner’s perspective were dropping of the saddle-drum-magazine feed option, leaving the weapon to fire belted ammunition, or from a single 50-round drum-shaped Gurttrommel belt container fitted to the gun’s receiver, and simplifying the weapon’s open sights for aiming purposes. All these changes were intended to increase, maintain, or accommodate the gun’s high cyclic rate of fire and dispersion. Although made of relatively inexpensive and simple parts, the prototypes proved to be considerably more rugged and resistant to jamming than the precisely machined and somewhat temperamental MG 34. Further trials resulted in selecting the Großfuß MG 39 prototype gun for final production development. A limited run of about 1,500 of further improved MG 39/41 pre mass-production model guns, was completed in 1941 and by the end of 1941 tested in combat trials.