By Michael Heidler
Most well-read collectors of German small arms are aware that the Maschinenkarabiner 42(H) of the Haenel firm was the predecessor of the production German assault rifle for the 7.92x33mm intermediate cartridge. The MP42(H) weapon eventually led to development and subsequent adoption of the refined Sturmgewehr 44. The firm of C. G. Haenel, that was located at Suhl in Thuringia, had been one of the primary producers of German assault rifles during the Second Word War, but a lesser-known fact is that Haenel also made a simplified assault rifle near the end of the war. No official documents about the weapon have ever been found, but fortunately one example has survived the war, and was captured by the U.S. Army when they occupied the Haenel factory at Suhl on 3 April 1945. The weapon was originally sent to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for test and evaluation by the U.S. Ordnance Department. Today this rare weapon is located in the outstanding collection of Springfield Armory’s National Historic Site in Massachusetts.
During April of 1944, Hitler launched his Infantry Armament Program. This program was meant to ensure that a sufficient output of weapons, ammunition and equipment for the entire Wehrmacht would be available, in case restricted production capabilities of the industry were encountered. A special commission called the Sonderkommission Infanteriewaffen with representatives of all arms manufacturers and the Wehrmacht was established to oversee all current manufacturing programs as well as the development of new weapons and equipment. The chairman of the commission was Ott-Helmuth von Lossnitzer, the Technical Director of Mauser Oberndorf.
Soon after the commission began work in mid July 1944, their members began to reduce the number of existing armament programs. Only a handful of projects were considered important enough to be continued, freeing up the valuable time of the German skilled laborers. One of these so-called class 1 projects was the simplification of the MP44 weapon, a venture that had been in-process at Haenel since the start of series production of the MP43/1. Four other firms, Mauser, Gustloff, Steyr and Grossfuss, were listed as developing new MPs utilizing the Kurzpatrone 7.92x33mm cartridge. At the critical time period facing Germany it seemed strange to be developing a new weapon, but the intention was to generate new ideas for more radical simplifications, than the small steps that are possible on an existing model already in series production. The main goals were a reduction of material requirements, production time and a maximum use of parts made from stamped steel.
By August of 1944 the set requirements for new development projects were increased to a time and material reduction of at least 50% compared to the MP44. Interestingly enough, all projects could not comply with these conditions, but the commission only suspended a few of them. That came as no surprise, because von Lossnitzer at the head of the commission surely recommended the Mauser Gerät 06H weapon. The acceptance of a new weapon by the Waffenamt would have been a lucrative proposition for Mauser, so only Mauser and Grossfuss were allowed to continue with their work, whereas Gustloff’s project was cancelled. Additional requests from Haenel and Erma were again denied as new competition was undesirable. So Haenel went on with the simplification of their MP44 under Hugo Schmeisser’s direction.
This situation continued until mid December 1944, when after some protests Haenel finally got the allowance by the commission to develop their own simplified MP. The efforts resulted in an assault rifle that at first glance appears much like an Mkb42(H). Both weapons were gas-operated with a rigidly locked tilting bolt system, but that’s all of the commonalities.
The receiver of the new rifle was put together by two halves of box-like components made of stamped steel, one on top of the other. A hinge was located at the front end, so that the lower receiver could be folded down. This part of the receiver also contained the trigger mechanism and a fixed wooden buttstock. The bolt assembly could now easily be removed from the upper receiver. Due to this construction, it was much easier to field strip the weapon. There was no need to remove the buttstock as was required on the MP44 lessening the chance of losing the small connecting-pin. There was no separate grip-piece: the firing mechanism was hidden in the lower receiver, with only the trigger protruding outward. The push-through fire-control selector and the safety lever were the same identical parts as used on the MP44. The adjustable rear sight, less a separate sight-base, is now fixed directly on the receiver top.
The majority of the internal parts of the weapon were also made of stamped steel. The bolt carrier was one-piece with the hook-style handle. The flat cocking handle permitted a very small slot on the side of the weapon to prevent the ingestion of foreign matter. In the forward position, the bolt carrier covered the ejection port from the inside, eliminating the need for a separate flip-up dust cover. The simplified gas piston was mounted to the bolt carrier by a nut with locking or jam nut.
The conspicuous gas tube of the late war Haenel assault rifle was also a result of the simplification. The front sight sat on the top of the tube, so that no front sight base is needed as was used on the MP44. The gas block that connected the gas tube and barrel was similar to that of the MP44, but with a smooth surface, lacking the characteristic indentations on both sides. Unfortunately, the long tube prevented the use of the German standard rifle grenade cup launcher - a requirement on every German infantry rifle at that time, making it quite doubtful that the simplified Haenel assault rifle would have been accepted by the Waffenamt in its existing configuration.
The simplified assault rifle was easy to produce and would have conserved a lot of time and material. But it came too late in the war for even for a troop field trial, all that remains today is the single weapon in the collection of the U.S. Springfield Armory.
(The author wishes to thank James Roberts and Richard Colton. Springfield Armory National Historic Site / www.nps.gov/spar)
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