• True, the issue of MP38 and MP40s began with Fallschirmjaeger and motorized infantry units, NCOs etc. By the end of the war, however, the issue had risen a great deal to augment the firepower of ever smaller units of infantry, etc.

      Certainly it is very iconic indeed.

      Hugo Schmeisser’s last name appeared on some magazines, so the inaccurate moniker from allied soldiers–vs, say, the “Vollmer” or the “ERMA–Erfurter maschinenfabrik” is understandable. Also, there was a tendency early in the war in the UK to refer to all SMGs, or more accurately “machine carbines” irrespective of type, as “Tommy Guns” after the Thompson SMG. Thus popular writing discusses .450-cal. Tommy guns, German parachutists with 9mm “Tommy guns” and I even think I’ve read of the Soviet Shpagin PPSh41 as a “Tommy Gun”…

      What never appears in popular films about WWII is the bewildering array of SMGs in use, particularly by the SS in the earlier part of the war, and then also the systematic use of Italian-origin weapons by the end of the war.

      • What did you expect when people don’t do the homework? The movie makers want to make something profitable, not always accurate. Hence they give the viewers what they expect from the very start. I also think that if the script writer and prop handlers had to get it right, they would go insane from the lack of standardization of small arms procurement for SS units! After all, political police tend to get leftovers after the proper army gets its wonderful toys… or am I wrong?

        • The SS included the Nazi political police organizations, namely SD and Gestapo, but it wasn’t strictly just a police organization. It is still true that during the early years of the war Waffen-SS used whatever they could get, because it wasn’t yet considered important enough by Hitler to give them any kind of priority. As the Heer became less victorious in Russia, Hitler’s interest in expanding the Waffen-SS begin to grow, in particular after Stalingrad.

      • “(…)Soviet Shpagin PPSh41 as a “Tommy Gun”(…)”
        Well, in fact Red Army does used Thompson SMGs during World War II (were delivered as equipment of American made tanks send under Lend-Lease Act)
        Visually Kalashnikov 1942 sub-machine gun (not to be confused with Kalashnikov 1947 sub-machine gun) is quite close to Thompson SMG, due to usage of front wooden grip:
        though has also differences – metal stock and “banana” magazine instead of Thompson’s straight stick

    • Yes! One would get the impression from watching a lot of WW2 movies that the entire war was fought with MP40’s & Thompson M1A1’s. What little film is devoted to Russia would have us believe Russians only used the PPSh41.
      I watched a WW2 themed movie a while back that did not feature a single M1 Garand.
      I’ve heard it’s either easier for prop houses to source submachine guns, SMG’s are more dramatic (firing & appearance) on screen than rifles or the smaller SMG’s allow more of the actor to be seen on screen.

      • And thus reality is thrown out the window because the studios tend to think “awesome hero=LOTS OF VIEWER MONEY.” If only some films or games could focus on the more mundane areas of deployment. Not all action was “big battle between the Axis and the Allies.” German troops (and affiliated collaborators) faced off against partisans aplenty (especially in Eastern Europe), and such actions did not require every soldier or “policeman” to get an MP40. By B-movie logic, the setup for such an encounter would have occupying Heer and SS units all armed with MP40’s and MG42’s charging and spraying ineffectively towards partisans with Sten guns, Brens, and Thompsons. It would be a complete mess with extra-bright tracer rounds flying everywhere, chewing up the surroundings without hurting any of the Allied-affiliated partisans. On the other hand, the German soldiers would be reduced to hamburger, even if a Tiger tank was with them (and somehow, the partisans magically explode the tank to Kingdom Come by ripping the tank’s turret entry hatch open and lobbing tons of grenades into the tank).

        Did I mess up?

        • Nah. Seen _Defiance?_. Of course, that is Oscar-worthy compared to utter dreck schlock like _Fury_ where WWII is reduced to a single U.S. Sherman broken down in the heath and mire of some German village beset by legions of crack SS…

          As far as tanks used in anti-partisan sweeps: All kinds of obsolete and/or captured vehicles while the surviving Tigers tried to stem the Red tide of SU100 self-propelled AT guns and T34/85s… I’ve even seen photos of a destroyed French-made German-used Somua M35 in Lappland on the front with the USSR alongside the Finnish armed forces…

          • S35 and H35/H38 tanks were used in Lapland by the Panzer-Abteilung 211 and later by independent tank platoons formed after the Panzer-Abteilung 211 was disbanded. The roads in the area were so few and poor that the tanks did not achieve much.

          • While watching Fury, I kept wondering where the massive CAS presence of the Allied fighter bombers would have been in that highly unrealistic German breakthrough situation.

      • I think a big reason you don’t see a wide variety of different weapons in films is just that it would be a lot more for the armorer to keep track of. The more common ones will be easier to supply with blank ammunition for one, and you won’t have several different non interchangeable clips or magazines to keep sorted out. An average Western Front WW2 film is going to need .45 9mm 30-06 .303, 8mm Mauser, and .50 which is already a lot of ammo to supply, and if you start adding in all the other calibers that saw use you just end up with a logistical nightmare for the crew.

        • “An average Western Front WW2 film is going to need .45 9mm 30-06 .303, 8mm Mauser, and .50 which is already a lot of ammo to supply, and if you start adding in all the other calibers that saw use you just end up with a logistical nightmare for the crew.”
          But notice that, for usage of blank ammunition, most weapons might be converted, additionally some movies uses Star Model B firing 9×19 instead of Colt Government: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Star_1911_Series#Star_Model_B

      • This kinda applies to all settings. I suspect this is why Hollywood actors (who get all their guns from movie armories that don’t actually have to follow the law) have no idea machine guns are illegal.

  1. For several years I worked in a building just a block from the Kentucky Military History Museum, which overlooks both downtown Frankfort, Kentucky, and the Kentucky River. Occasionally I would walk over during lunch and look around the old building. The staff of that period actually got to know me, mostly due to few others visiting during that time of day. I also occasionally made use of their library, which was open to the public but most visitors didn’t know about.

    One day I got lucky, and arrived just as a TV news crew was starting in interview with the curator. I kept quiet and followed them around. I got to hear the entire interview, including some stuff which didn’t make it into the final segment. I also got to watch as the curator opened the vault and hauled out several models of Thompson submachine gun to point out the differences between them. I was a bit late getting back from lunch on that occasion. 😉

    Happy days.

  2. That safety on bolt handle looks similar to PPSH-41 safety. Is it coincidence? The only difference – there was two recesses in receiver for sliding safety of PPSh (bolt can be locked in front or rear position).

  3. Cross of Iron is a rare exception. In keeping with the book, and actual German practice, Corporal Steiner and several of his men used captured PPSh 41s.

  4. Apropos of Ian’s remark on the MP38/40 only having “safe” and “full-auto” capability, I looked up the rate of fire of both, which turns out to be about 500 rounds/min. This is interesting in light of this bit from the Emeric Daniau document;

    (The)reduction of the dispersion of a hand-held weapon firing at high rpm was well documented during the studies made for the FAMAS development, when it was discovered that due to muscular response, the lowest dispersion would be achieved for a firing frequency lower than 10 Hz (600 rpm) or higher than 20 Hz (1200 rpm), the highest dispersion of a hand-held rifle would be achieved with a firing frequency between 14 Hz (840 rpm) and 18 Hz (1080 rpm).


    So, firing at 500 r/m, the MP40 should have been quite controllable, especially when fired from the shoulder. (Even allowing for the rather flimsy folding stock, later perpetrated on numerous SMGs and AK variants.)

    By the same token, the MG42 firing at 1200 r/m should be more controllable than you might think, since its RoF would result in what amounts to a sustained, steady shove against your shoulder rather than a staccato hammering as with, say, an MG34.

    An interesting experiment would be to take an MG1 or MG3 (the postwar Bundeswehr version of the MG42 in 7.62 x 51mm NATO) out to the range with all three of its interchangeable recoil buffers. The one for ground use allowed fire at 550 r/m, the one for a vehicle mount (such as the coaxial gun on a Leopard 1) allowed 800 r/m, and the one for AA use (such as the gun on the loader’s hatch of said Leo) allowed the original, no-holds-barred 1200 r/m of the 7.9 x 57mm WW2 version.

    Fire it with each buffer for about two belts’ worth of ammunition, and measure the dispersion, plus get the shooter(s)’ impressions of the differences, if any.

    This might also explain the complaints about inaccuracy of the 5.56 x 45mm class of rifles on full-auto, notably the M16 and M16A1. They generally have cyclic rates in full-auto of 750 to 900 r/m, and it has generally been believed that their recoil impulse is low enough that such s CR should not adversely affect dispersion. But they do enter that “maximum dispersion” Hz range at the upper end of the scale.

    By comparison, most 7.62 x 51mm NATO rifles, if they fire full-auto at all and relatively few ever did) have CRs of around 700-750 r/m. The recoil impulse of the 7.62 NATO round is bad enough, but a CR in that range can’t have helped much in terms of dispersion.

    Note that the BAR in M1918 or M1922 versions fired at a sedate 550 r/m, and the 1918A2 version with selection of “low” and “high” autofire rates and no single-shot setting gave you a choice of 300-450 r/m (low range) or 500-650 r/m (high range). So even at the very upper end of its RoF, it should still have been eminently controllable in short bursts, which is all you’re going to be able to deliver with a 20-round magazine, anyway.

    Just a thought, take it for what it’s worth.



    • Interesting findings about the most controllable rate of fire. There are still other factors, which should be taken into account when choosing a rate of fire for a weapon. For SMGs, higher rate of fire makes it easier to get multiple hits on a moving target with a short burst. For light machine guns higher RoF makes it less likely for moving targets to avoid being hit at all. This was one of the reasons why the Germans in WW2 did not consider the RoF of the MG 34 or even MG 42 excessive. From what I have heard from Germans who served in the Bundeswehr, the lowest possible RoF of the MG3 was not actually used in the squad LMG role, either, probably for the same reason.

    • “An interesting experiment would be to take an MG1 or MG3 (the postwar Bundeswehr version of the MG42 in 7.62 x 51mm NATO) out to the range with all three of its interchangeable recoil buffers.”
      What about Thompson sub-machine, Wikipedia query:
      gives 1500 rpm for M1919, 600…725 for M1928 and 700 for M1A1. I am wondering about is difference in accuracy between M1919 and later variants.

    • “An interesting experiment would be to take an MG1 or MG3 (the postwar Bundeswehr version of the MG42 in 7.62 x 51mm NATO) out to the range with all three of its interchangeable recoil buffers.”
      MAC Model 10 and its derivatives might be also interesting, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAC-10 gives:
      1250 rpm for 9×19
      1090 rpm for .45 Auto
      1380 rpm for .380 Auto
      and also name Lage Manufacturing variants with lower rpm (600 for .45 and 700 for 9×19)

      • Having fired all three versions of the MAC, I can personally attest that the 9 x 19 and 9 x 17 were significantly less “bouncy” in automatic mode than the .45 ACP.

        The .380 MAC-11 might seem an odd sort of SMG (although no stranger than a Vz61 Skorpion in 7.65 x 17 or a Vz68 in 9 x 18 Makarov), but even without the suppressor attached to act as an off-hand hold, downward tension on the “loop” attached to the forward sling mount would easily keep it on target for half-second bursts- each one delivering about a dozen rounds to the target’s vital area at 10-15m.

        By comparison, the .45 ACP was best used with the suppressor in place and also firing half-second bursts or better yet single shots. It was very quiet, due to the 230-grain bullet being subsonic, but the “clatter” of the action operating was a bit noticeable when not masked by the muzzle signature as usual. Mostly, though, in burst fire (9 rounds per 1/2 second burst), it tended to “wander” a bit even though technically, it should have had approximately the same free recoil energy, shot per shot, as the 9 x 19mm (~11 rounds per 1/2 sec.). I found it was best used on single shot, placing its slugs at 25-30m. In that mode, it was about as accurate as a 1911 in good condition.



  5. The 7.9 mm MG42 had a cyclic rate of 1500 rpm (not only German sources but also meaaured in the UK, for example).
    Postwar Bundeswehr MG1/MG3 had only one cyclic rate, officially given as 1150 +/- 150 rpm. Due to lower recoil of the 7.62 mm NATO compared to 7.9 mm. Tank machine guns did not have a reduced cyclic rate, because it would be a mistake to need more time on a (typical) 50 round burst than necessary.
    To significantly change the cyclic rate, it is required to use a different buffer as well as a much heavier bolt (850 g versus 550 g), as was done in Italy and Austria (MG74).

    • 1,500 rpm was also the cyclic rate of the aircraft MG 81, which was mechanically the same gun as MG 42. Considering the same cyclic rate it probably had the same bolt and buffer as well, although I have no certain data about that.

  6. MG81 has a turning bolt head, very similar to MG15/MG34 designs. It is mechanically very different from MG42. Cyclic rate is given as 1600 rpm in technical manual DLuftT 6081.

    • Thanks for the correction. This again shows that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. I remember seeing in a couple of different sources that the MG 81 is the same gun as MG 42 adapted to aircraft use. Since it would make certain sense, I was inclined to believe it.

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