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The GSG MP40-22 SBR: Burp Gun on a Budget

By Will Dabbs, MD

My wife’s grandfather started his war in North Africa as an infantryman and ended it in Northern Italy. He enlisted in 1940 as a private and left the military in 1945 as a sergeant major. His meteoric rise through the ranks was driven—sordid though the observation is—by the deaths of most everybody he worked for during nearly three years of combat.

When he boarded a troopship returning home, he had in his possession a captured German MP40, a Walther P38 and a Beretta Model 418 .25ACP. He had mailed a brace of unfired Karabiner 98k rifles back to himself only to find the box arrive empty when he got home. The empty box contained a ridiculous note claiming that he could travel from Mississippi to New Jersey to reclaim the guns from the Postal Service if desired. The MP40 was stolen from underneath his bunk on the ship never to be seen again.

A remarkably clever man, he used a jeep battery and a silver dollar to silver-plate the P38 during the voyage. He sold the plated pistol to an unsuspecting Army doctor on board for $400, a king’s ransom in the day. The hapless physician had not been within miles of the fighting and believed that a silver-plated P38 must have been owned by Himmler himself. In the end, the diminutive Beretta was the only souvenir firearm that made it home with my wife’s grandfather intact.

There was a time in America when classic German machine guns were both commonplace and cheap. Nobody much cared about such stuff in the decade or so after World War II, and vast stockpiles of war materiel were sitting in Europe awaiting essentially unfettered importation. Countless thousands of war trophy guns made their way back into the country in sea chests and duffle bags, including the one stolen from my wife’s grandfather. Demilled weapons with their receivers intact and bolts welded shut were available through the mail for a song. The world was a very different place back then.

Now fast-forward more than seventy years and...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N7 (August 2018)
and was posted online on June 22, 2018

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