The German Fallschirmjägergewehr 42

By Frank Iannamico

During the Second World War the German Wehrmacht fielded some of the most unique and advanced weapons of the conflict. Many of the design features and manufacturing methods can still be found utilized in the modern weapons of today. Although German arms like the MG42, MP44 and the MP40 were certainly innovative, there was one design that really stood out. That weapon was the rare Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 or FG42.The FG42 was manufactured especially for the elite Luftwaffe (German Air Force) paratroopers the Fallschirmjäger.

The FG42 is a lightweight select-fire weapon that appears to be very similar to a modern assault rifle except that it is chambered for the full power 8mm Mauser cartridge. The 8mm (7.92x57) cartridge was the standard rifle and machine gun round of all the German forces in WWII. The German paratroopers insisted on the full power cartridge because of their experiences in the invasion of the British held Greek isle of Crete in May of 1941.

The German airborne invasion of Crete was a disaster for the Fallschirmjäger. For one thing the 38,000 British, New Zealanders and Greeks who held the island were fully aware of the forthcoming invasion and were well prepared. Even though the Germans eventually won the battle their casualties were extremely high. Adolph Hitler was infuriated with the high cost of taking Crete and lost all confidence in the future of the airborne concept of warfare.

After the German gliders and paratroopers landed on Crete they discovered that they were well dispersed from one another and separated from much of their equipment, which included their rifles, machine guns and ammunition. The machine guns and much of the paratrooper’s equipment had to be air dropped separately in containers because of the weight. The Fallschirmjäger troops were left only with their short-range MP40 submachine guns and pistols with which to fight the British Empire troops that were well dug in 1000 meters away. The virtually defenseless Germans were easy prey for the defending troops that were equipped with long-range .303 caliber Enfield rifles, Bren guns and artillery.

The development of the proposed FG42 was first requested by the Air Ministry through the German Army Weapons office, the Heereswaffenamt. The request was denied partially because of the rivalry that existed between the German Airforce and the Army. The German Air Ministry took up the task themselves and began searching for contractors to develop and produce their proposed new weapon exclusively for the Luftwaffe. Many German companies were contacted, but only two companies, Reinmetall and Kriegoff, were interested in pursuing the development of the new arm. Both companies submitted prototype weapons, and Reinmetall’s design was chosen for further development. Even though Reinmetall designed and developed the FG42, Kriegoff -Suhl was eventually chosen to mass-produce it.

Design engineer, Louis Stange, conceived the FG42 at the German Reinmetall-Borsig factory. Mr. Stange was a very talented weapons designer having designed, among others, the MG34 and MG42 machine guns. While the FG42 was being developed and tested, the new 7.92x33 Kurz cartridge was also being developed by the army. As the principle designer of the weapon, Louis Stange thought that the new midrange Kurz round would be ideal for the new FG42, and a few weapons were converted to fire the 7.92 Kurz cartridge. The small 7.92 Kurz round made the required weight and other design specifications of the FG42 much easier to meet. The Luftwaffe paratroopers however, adamantly opposed the use of anything but the full power 8mm cartridge for the weapon. The Luftwaffe’s original concept of the FG42 was that it would replace the service rifle, sniper rifle, machine gun and submachine gun with one weapon. Such a weapon would be ideal for lightly equipped paratroopers and perhaps prevent future disasters as had occurred on Crete.

The FG42 had its combat debut in May of 1943 against the British Army at the battle for the island of Rhodes. Certainly the most famous exploit involving the FG42 weapon was the German rescue of Italian leader Benito Mussolini on September 12, 1943. Mussolini was being held at a mountain top resort in Italy by Italian partisans. A daring glider attack was planned by the Nazis, and Mussolini was successfully rescued by the Fallschirmjäger and SS troops that participated in the operation.

The FG42 was produced in a number of variations. There were several prototypes and experimental models. The only FG42’s that were manufactured in any substantial numbers were the E and G models. The early E models differed so much from the final G variation that they hardly appear to be the same weapon. Even the magazines are not interchangeable between early and later versions. There was even a fair amount of minor feature variations within each model designation. Some features that were common among all models were the folding bipod, straight-line buffered stock, the high profile folding sights, and the 4-sided spike bayonet. Another characteristic all models of the FG42 share is an excessive muzzle flash. The steel double-stack magazines were manufactured in both 10 and 20 round capacities.

The FG42 weapon is gas operated, featuring a gas piston and cylinder assembly located under the barrel. The bolt is attached to the top of the gas piston assembly. The bolt has a camed slot cut into it that rotates the two bolt lugs in or out of the locked position via a fixed stud that protrudes from the gas piston rod. The spring-loaded firing pin is mounted on top of the stud. The sear is moved right or left by the detent stud on the selector for semi or full auto fire. The gas piston has two sear engagement notches, one for semi-automatic fire, the other for full automatic. The FG42 fires from the closed bolt position for semi-automatic and from an open bolt when in the full-automatic mode. Although when firing from the open bolt position, the bolt still turns and locks to the breech before firing.

The 1st (production) model, also often referred to as the model E, is most easily recognized by the radical angle of its pistol grip. The E model featured a receiver painstakingly machined out of steel. Little thought of expense or difficulty of manufacture was given to the early FG42. The E model featured a buffered stamped steel (or aluminum) buttstock, and a bipod that was located just forward of the forearm. The bipod folded forward when not in use. The magazine well is located on the left side of the receiver. The magazine could be replenished via five round stripper clips while remaining in the weapon through a guide machined into the receiver. A single selector lever marked E-S-D controlled the safe-auto and semi-automatic modes of fire. When the selector is placed in the safe position the detent stud of the selector fits into a locking hole in the sear, preventing it from moving. The cyclic rate of the E model was fast at 800-900 rounds per minute. A threaded muzzle brake was installed on the end of the barrel. The E model brake has 32 small 1/6-inch holes drilled in it. The ZFG-42 four-power scope was often issued as standard equipment with the weapon. The E model was very compact with an overall length of just 37.2” and a weight of 11.06 pounds fully loaded. The finish on the E model was a dark blue-black color.

The 2nd (limited production) model, also known as The F model, was totally redesigned and was quite different from the E model. One of the biggest differences was the use of a stamped sheet steel receiver instead of the milled steel receiver used on earlier versions. Critical wartime shortages of steel forced the design to be altered to use more stampings. The pistol grip was re-configured with a more conventional and ergonomic angle. The F model also featured a spring-loaded ejection port cover, a spent case deflector, a wooden buttstock, a redesigned muzzle brake and a variable gas regulator. The bipod was relocated to the muzzle of the barrel and now folded rearward against the barrel when not in use. The model GWZF4 scope was issued with the F and G versions. The safety and fire selector controls were now two separate levers. The newly located separate safety lever blocked the tail of the sear when applied, preventing it from moving. The rounded cocking handle of the E model was replaced with a hook style lever. The overall length of the F model was slightly longer than the E model at 38.2 inches. The F and G models were generally finished in black or the clear phosphate often seen on German weapons of the era. The F or 2nd model was only made in limited numbers and is extremely rare.

The 3rd model, or G model, was the final production version and differed only slightly from the F model. One of the most obvious changes was that of the muzzle brake, that now was a ribbed design. Both the F and G models were fitted with durable double wound springs throughout. Most of the G models were manufactured by Kriegoff, stamped with the code fzs, or L.O. Dietrich using code gcy. Waffenampt inspector stamps, normally seen on other German weapons, are not present on FG42s, because the weapon was not obtained through the normal channels, of the Hereswaffenamt, the German Army Weapons Office.

Accessories issued with the FG42 weapon included a leather sling, and a grenade launcher that screwed onto the barrel in place of the muzzle brake. A cloth bandoleer that was worn draped around the neck was provided, The bandoleer could carry eight spare magazines.

Although the exact number of FG42s manufactured is unknown, it has been estimated that only 5000 to 7000 were made. Only a few of that number survived the war and only a fraction of those made their way to the United States. This of course makes it one of the rarest weapons available on the class III collector’s market today. As a class III enthusiast you certainly know the word expensive is always used in conjunction with rare, and this certainly applies to all models of the FG42. The magazines alone for the FG42, when they can be found can cost as much as many lower end class III weapons. Although the wartime production of the FG42 was relatively small, it had great impact on post war weapons development.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N6 (March 2001)
and was posted online on August 8, 2014


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