Feeding the Tiger
By Jean-François Legendre

Ammunition Belts for German MG 34 and MG 42 Machine Guns

German doctrine for machine gun operation involved the multiple reuse of the ammunition belts. Difficulties encountered during the First World War with fabric belts, very sensitive to meteorological conditions as well as chemical attacks, quickly led to the investigation of belts incorporating metallic links. However, the adoption of such metallic belts for ground use did not occur during the war.

It is only at the beginning of the 1930’s, that studies concerning metallic belts were resumed. In 1931, Simson & Co. in Suhl designed a new metallic “clamshell” non-disintegrating belt for modernized MG 08 and MG 08/15s, therefore fitted with a special feed-block to accommodate both fabric and metallic belts.

A few years later, Simson & Co. again designed another prototype multipurpose metallic belt intended for use with both modernized Maxims and the newest machine guns under development. For the latter, the feeding system was based on the direct push-through of the cartridge out of the link into the gun’s chamber. Accordingly, the link had to be of the half-open type to enable the motion of the bolt through the link.

The earliest belt fitted with these half-open links and connected with springs that has been examined so far, is dated September 1934. This belt is composed of a thick flat starter tab, four square connecting plates, a simplified feed link which remains empty and then 250 links containing the ammunition. The trailing-end incorporates an odd solid-machined piece whose precise role remains unknown. This early belt is manufactured out of stainless steel sheet exhibiting a typical bare metal appearance. The exact official designation, if any, for that belt is not known.

The Gurt 33

At the end of 1934, the final assembly was established, still using the same previous half-open links. This belt was officially adopted under the designation “Gurt 33”. At those early dates, the “Gurt 33” was involved in operational service with the MG 08 and 08/15, as well as for the development of the prototype machines guns which eventually led to the adoption of the MG 34. The belt incorporates a corrugated starter tab, three square connecting plates, a simplified feed-link which remains empty and then 250 identical links containing the cartridges. The trailing-end incorporates a simplified feed-link which remains empty, two square connecting plates and finally a curved end-piece drilled with two holes aimed at fastening the belt on a spool center axis. However, it has not been possible so far to find any reference about any large feeding spool that can accommodate a 250-round belt, either for the MG 08 or the MG 34.

The earliest Gurt 33’s were assembled with stainless steel links. However, this material, besides having the advantage of being corrosion-free, is somewhat brittle and, very often, such stainless steel belts examined today show some broken links.

At least since mid 1935, heat-treated carbon steel sheet has been used instead, therefore requiring extra anti-corrosion surface treatment, generally black phosphate.

Gurt 33’s are marked on the starter tag with the manufacturer code, month and year of production as well as a Waffenamt Abnahme acceptation mark. The curved end-piece remained unmarked until 1939 when the manufacturer code and month/year of production were then marked. Gurt 33’s reported to the author so far, are dated between December 1934 (125-round belt) and March 1940.

The Gurt 34

In order to enable proper ammunition feeding in light machine guns, for which moving with a 4-meter-long trailing empty belt was not convenient, another standard metallic belt was adopted under the designation “Gurt 34”. This belt was then specifically assigned to both the MG 08/15 and MG 34 light machine guns.

The belt is composed of the same individual links as those of the Gurt 33, but organized in 25-round segments that can be assembled with one another. The connection between two segments is achieved by means of a male connecting tab which engages a female link of the adjacent belt. The two belts are locked together when a cartridge is inserted. They separate automatically when this cartridge is removed during firing. An official instruction published on April 21, 1938, ordered the modification of the Gurt 34 from 25-round to 50-round capacity. Besides new belts which, from that date on, should be manufactured in 50-round configuration, all 25-round belts already in service were also to be reworked. Therefore, unit armorers were provided with extra loose individual links, together with extra connecting springs, to enable themselves to make the modification to the belts in service.

Original 25-round belts, dated before 4-1938, whose authenticity is guaranteed, are rarely seen. Only a few specimens got away without having the modification. Modified belts to the 50-round standard and dated before 4-1938 are commonly encountered. These belts can be identified by a thorough examination at the middle of the belt to locate the added link, as noted by the slight difference in the shape of the connecting springs (hand-mounted) compared to those evenly factory-mounted.

Several different surface treatments have been examined: a light uneven blackening on a Simson specimen dated July 1935 (which might be an original stainless steel belt blackened afterwards, which could explain the poor fit of the treatment on the metal surface), gloss deep gun-blue on a BSW specimen dated August 1937 and, finally, the most commonly encountered phosphate finish with a color ranging from dark gray to green and black. So far, no Gurt 34 entirely assembled with stainless steel elements (including male and female connecting pieces) has been examined by the author.

The 50-(or 25-) round segments usually bear on the male connecting tab the manufacturer code, month and year of production and a Waffenamt Abnahme (WaA) acceptance mark.

The design of the 50-round segment of Gurt 34 remained unchanged until at least up to August 1941 - the latest productions observed.

The early starter segment is composed of elements identical to those used with the Gurt 33 (starter tag plus 3 connecting square plates plus simplified feed-link) but ends with just the male tab for the connection with a 25-round ammunition segment. Although this starter-segment is absolutely required to feed the belt into an MG 08/15, it is optional with the MG 34 and mostly helps to feed the weapon without having to open the feed cover.

When a starter-segment is installed, the very first cartridge of the belt is fitted within the female connecting link with the inserted male tab of the starter. This generates a tighter grip of the link on the cartridge case. This somewhat harder extraction of the first cartridge out of the link, then only driven by the force of the bolt main spring when opening fire, could generate feed incidents. This drawback has been overcome by the adoption of a new starter-segment assembly, which has been first described in an instruction published on December 5, 1939. This instruction requires the modification of the former starter-segment by the addition of two extra links prior to the male connecting piece. This moved the position of the cartridge with the tightest fit from the first to the third link in the belt. Therefore, the extraction of the tight cartridge occurs during the first firing burst and not at the very beginning. Besides the manufacture of starter-segments according to the new design in the factories, once again, instructions were given to modify all existing starter segments. The required extra links and extra connecting springs were officially to be gathered from the dismantling of any spare belts available. Such a reworked starter segment dated September 1939 has been examined fitted with the two extra added links being of the old stainless steel pattern. This second model of starter-segment remained unchanged until the end of the Gurt 34 standard in mid-1941.

Gurt 34 starter segments are marked on the starter tag with the manufacturer code, the month and year of production and a Waffenamt Abnahme acceptance mark. On the male connecting piece, manufacturer code, month and date of production are noted but devoid of inspection marks.

The Gurt 34/41

The recent discovery of a French patent enlightens the initial motivations to design the new range of belts adopted under the designation Gurt 34/41. The relevant patent, No. 869.345, was applied for in France (occupied by the Germans) on January 17, 1941 by the Stocko Metallwarenfabrik. It gives reference to a prior German patent application inquiry dated January 26, 1940. However, the corresponding German patent has not yet been found by the author and it is questionable if it had ever been granted. It is useful here to present some key abstracts of the literal translation of the patent claims.

“ [...] Half-open metallic link pockets used to date, exhibit the drawback that since their lateral sides are curved inwards for gripping the cartridge, the smallest burr that might exist on those sides could generate marks and scratches on the cartridge case. It is important to avoid such scratches since cartridge cases are intended to be reused repetitively. [...] the present invention is to stamp, at both the median line (a) and the two lateral sides (d) of the link pocket, guiding ribs (respectively g and h) oriented parallel to the longitudinal axis of the link; these three ribs are protruding inside the link so that the cartridge case rests on them. The cartridge case is then slightly separated away from the link inner surface and therefore away from the lateral sides of the link which, whenever a small burr remains, will not scratch the cartridge case. These stamped ribs furthermore have the advantage to allow the use of thinner sheet steel than previously. Instead of the 0.6mm-thick sheets, 0.4mm-thick sheets can be used while keeping the same mechanical resistance and elasticity. This allows savings of up to one third of metal quantity. In addition to the ribs used for guiding purposes, for reinforcement purposes ribs (i) can also be stamped on connecting-wings (e) and small ribs (k) stamped along the main body (c) [...]”

It clearly appears now that the initial motivation for designing a new belt was quite mundane: only to prevent scratching the cartridge case so that they can remain “pristine” for further blank bullet reloading. No doubt that this kind of claim has not been considered of major importance when it was first applied for in Germany on January 1940. It is probably only later in 1941 that the second claim for that design might have been found more attractive. Indeed, saving up to one third of metal became an important consideration for the German War Industry being in a reorganization process to be able to cope with a longer lasting “total-war” than had been initially expected.

Under the common designation of Gurt 34/41, a variety of successively modified designs have been produced. Compared to the Gurt 34 pattern, the Gurt 34/41 modifications concern the individual link geometry, the reduction of the steel thickness and the reduction of the diameter of the connecting springs. The latter point, besides a slight saving of material, mainly enables a greater flexibility of the belt. Actual measured thickness of the sheet steel involved gives 0.7mm for the Gurt 34 and 0.5mm for the different variants of Gurt 34/41.

In order to provide both the required mechanical rigidity for thinner metal sheets and the smooth guiding of the cartridge case slightly away from the inner link surface, extra stiffening and guiding ribs have been employed as described in the patent. The only difference between the patent and the actual specimens are the numerous small ribs “k” of the patent which have been systematically replaced instead by friction dimples only.

The two main features to tell apart the different variations of the Gurt 34/41 rely on the geometry of the guiding and stiffening ribs and the number of friction dimples.

The organization of the belt segments (starter-segment and 50-round main segments) remained the same as for the latest Gurt 34. Although some official German documents indirectly state on the existence of a continuous 250-round Gurt 33/41, no such specimen has ever been reported to the author and it is doubtful whether such design has seen effective production.

Due to the lack of surviving official German documents, it has only been possible for the author to propose an evolution of the designs of Gurt 34/41 (probably incomplete) with regards to the numerous specimens examined. The multiple designs manufactured by different factories during the same time period, and the suppression (after approx. June 1942) of the date in the marking, make the reconstruction of the evolution even more complicated. So far, up to 7 different models of variations have been proposed.

The earliest and probably first model shows a complex set of stiffening and guiding ribs pretty close to the original patent claims: a long continuous rib in the center, two short lateral stiffening ribs on the cartridge positioning tab and two more stiffening ribs on the connecting-wings. Finally, two lateral side guiding ribs which are common to every Gurt 34/41 variants. Those links are found with 4x4 friction dimple groups. Specimens examined are dated from August to November 1941 and some are quite logically manufactured by the Stocko Metallwarenfabrik (cvo) which patented the original idea of that design.

The second model is characterized by the suppression of the two stiffening ribs on the connecting-wings and remains fitted with 4x4 friction dimples. This model, very frequently encountered, has been observed for dates ranging from October 1941 up to March 1942.

The third model is identical to the previous one but is fitted with only 4x3 friction dimples. Only few specimens of this transitory model have been observed dated April 1942.

The fourth model shows the suppression of the two small lateral stiffening ribs on the cartridge positioning tab and is fitted with the old 4x4 friction dimples configuration. Only a very few specimens have been examined dated March 1942.

The fifth model exhibits only a single long central rib and 4x3 friction dimples. Here again, this design has been observed only dated March 1942.

The sixth model is identical to the previous but is fitted with only 4x2 friction dimples. Specimens examined are undated, which indicates manufacture after June 1942.

The seventh model retains the 4x2 friction dimples but the center guiding rib becomes interrupted. Those specimens are usually undated but very few have been observed dated June 1944. It is probable that this seventh model was the very last design in the Gurt 34/41-family. It is this latest version which survived WW2 and emerged in the postwar years as the German DM1 belt for the MG 3 machine guns in caliber 7.62x51 NATO.

According to the numerous evolutions of the link design, sometimes 50-round belts can be found assembled with individual links of various models. Generally these different shapes are of two successive models and represent a clue for a transitory period during which old and new individual link designs shared the assembly line. Starter segments were fitted successively with every of the seven individual link variations. The corrugated starter tab and the smooth simplified feed-link remained unchanged whatever model of the links was used.

The Gurt 44

An instruction dated November 1, 1944 indicates that a new belt denoted Gurt 44 is adopted and is aimed at replacing every existing material (Gurt 33, 34, 33/41, 34/41). This belt is said to be characterized by the use of rolled metal sheet connectors instead of the previous connecting springs. The German author Hans-Deieter Handrich in his book “Sturmgewehr: From Firepower to Striking Power”, published by Collector Grade Publications in 2004, gives a list of projects carried out under the supervision of the Sonderkommission Infanteriewaffen (SKInfWaffen) = Special Commission for Infantry Weapons. It is indicated that among the projects examined at the first meeting of this commission held on July 14, 1944, the one referenced “Class II Projects, No. 14” concerns “cartridge belt without linking wire”. This project is said to be conducted by the links manufacturer Boehme & Co (code dwc) and most probably refers to the Gurt 44 design. To date, such belt has never been reported from specimen to the author and accordingly the exact constitution is not known. It is not sure that such belts have been used in combat and maybe they have not even progressed beyond the prototype stage.

The process of coding the manufacturers has evolved along three main periods:
  • From 1934 to end 1939: Initials that directly recall the name of the manufacturer, for example LW (Lohman Werke ), ST (Stocko ), BSW (Berlin-Suhler Werke ).
  • From end 1939 to mid 1940: For confidentiality reasons, beginning of the use of coded manufacturers’ designations. Usually 3-digit numbers or sometimes 2-digit and one letter have been used.
  • From mid 1940 until 1945: 3-letter codes. During this latter period, the classical marking configuration “manufacturer code - date - WaA” has changed. From mid 1940 to mid 1941, some belts could be found without manufacturer code but still bearing date and WaA stamps. It must be emphasized that sometimes those belts bear WaA numbers that are not found with letter-coded belts. Therefore, identification of such belts remains very difficult. At the end of 1941, some belts are found without WaA acceptation stamps but still bear manufacturer code and date. Finally after mid 1942, date and WaA inspection stamps are usually omitted and the belts are only marked with the manufacturer code.

Acknowledgements :

“Respectful acknowledgments are due to the late Herb Woodend for his encouragement and data from his huge collection. The author is also grateful to C.F. Kooger and H. E. Wanting (The Netherlands) and K. Huddle (USA) who contributed to the table of manufacturers’ and WaA codes.”

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N6 (March 2005)
and was posted online on June 7, 2013


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