by Tom Laemlein
As World War II progressed, the Luftwaffe looked to increase firepower wherever possible, from deploying large-caliber air weapons or increasing the rate of fire with smaller, rifle-caliber weapons. Such is the case with the MG81, chambered in 7.92 x 57mm, belt-fed and firing at up to 1,600 rounds per minute. Mauser designed the MG81 during the late 1930s, and the Luftwaffe first deployed the weapon during 1940. In 1942 the MG81Z (“Zwilling” or twin) entered service. The MG81Z was used as close-range defensive armament for a number of Luftwaffe bombers, including the Do217, He111, He177, Ju88, Ju188 and the last variants of the Ju87 “Stuka”. The MG81Z was also mounted in under-wing canisters (three MG81Z in each canister) on Ju88 and Ju87 to provide maximum ground strafing capability.
Almost simultaneously with the original MG81’s introduction, the Luftwaffe began to move away from rifle-caliber weapons. The extreme rate of fire produced by the twin-barreled MG81Z kept in Luftwaffe service for the most part, but a few of the MG81Zs made it to Luftwaffe field divisions, where some were used in the rare quadruple MG81 (2xMG81Z) anti-aircraft mounts. However you do the math, that is a lot of firepower for use against enemy ground-attack aircraft.
Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems.