Zielfeuergerät 38 Blank-Firing Training Aid

When the Allied examined the weapons discovered in the German Reich after the war, they came across a device which was classified as a “spring gun” or “trip wire activated static defense machine gun”. Nevertheless, in actual fact it was a practice device with the name “Zielfeuergerät 38” (short “Zf.Ger.38”). For very realistically exercises on the training areas, it was necessary to create a well armed enemy. For this purpose the company C.G. Haenel from Suhl developed a blank-firing device in the German standard caliber 7.92 x 57 mm which could fire at the attacking soldiers…

For more details, see the full article on this by Michael Heidler:

Many thanks to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels for access to this very rare piece! Check them out here:


  1. My reaction is typical German overengineering – let’s buy something specialized when we have at least 6000 MG08’s that we were allowed by Versailles that are being replaced by the MG34 and that could be modified to do the job.

    • My thoughts were similar: it would have been equally effective – yet so much cheaper and easier – to slap a similar trigger, BFA, and tripod on something like an MP-40.

      • Well, it is a bit more portable than an MG08, and even the lightened 08/15. And this being Nazi Germany, it’s a way to give some “gratitude money” to Haenel, a Party supporter (we forget that so much of Nazi weapons procurement was just graft). The MP40 idea is intriguing, but if you have great stocks of 7.92×57 wooden-bulleted blanks lying around, then a 9×19 device is a no-go. I wonder if trainees got to throw real live grenades at these things? Could they survive blast? They are simple, well-built, and as Mr. M. mentions, made of thick metal.

        As to the Allies, I have read that the Commandos trained under live fire; the author added, “regrettably, there were casualties …”

        • You make some great points. I’d question whether a country struggling to re-equip after Versailles and the Depression had war materiel “lying around” beyond the bare essentials, but graft was definitely a possibility.

          • Well, too… There’s the probability that they were looking to give experience to the manufacturer, as well. Especially with those magazines…

            I’m certain that they could have done something like the US Army did, and come up with a compressed gas “popper” that would make enough noise, but the fact that they went with this sorta militates for it being a case where they were seeking to give the factories and the employees of said factories some actual firearms-adjacent manufacturing practice.

            On that level, it’s not so stupid; you do have to look at other peripheral goals they might have had, though.

          • Kirk,
            Interesting theory, but what meaningful experience could Haenel gain from building an 8×57 STEN (i.e. something with no real correlation to how a functioning 8×57 MG would work, and few/no parts that would practically cross over to a functioning blowback SMG)?

            Also, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that not only did the army (who threw spaghetti at the wall for all kinds of crazy ideas) not try anything similar later, but (by that time) were committed to the GPMG concept and hadn’t even left a niche for a mag-fed 8×57 LMG.

          • It was Nazi Germany… Looking for logic and consistency in anything is a lost cause. I’d say that anything is possible, and all I’m pointing out is a possible rationale that some Nazi party official or other functionary had.

            You couple Nazi lunacy with Germanic attention to detail, and you get some decidedly odd results, is all I’m gonna say.

    • “(…)6000 MG08’s that we were allowed by Versailles(…)”
      This was not so, see https://www.statista.com/statistics/1086739/treaty-versailles-total-army-weapon-restrictions/
      quantity of light machine guns was limited to 1134 total
      quantity of heavy machine guns was limited to 792 total

      “(…)could be modified to do the job.(…)”
      Certainly, but why to use complicated, recoil-operated, water-tight-keeping requiring weapon whilst you can use simple blow-back with drastically smaller number of parts?

  2. The bolt is lightweight, but the firing pin and the spring-guide-tube attached recoil with it, so adding their weight. Obviously not enough to safely fire a 7.92 Mauser, but not 360 grams. The entire recoiling mass is probably around 800gr-1kg.

  3. The only remotely frontline use for this training device I can imagine would be distracting idiots in order to set them up for a machine gun massacre. Just think about it. A defending party could rig up the Zfg-38 and a decoy dummy to “ambush” from some up a tree or behind a rock. Nosy attackers would waste plenty of ammo shooting back at a nonexistent attacker before coming close and realizing that they were effectively shooting nothing more than a tricked-out scarecrow. Meanwhile, the defending party would have readied real machine guns by this point and commenced the real ambush, cutting down the attacking party at the “scarecrow” position. Did I mess up?

  4. By building something specifically for training, that only takes blanks, you reduce the chance of one of your soldiers getting Baldwined by an ammo mix up.

    • Except that a wooden-bullet-blank gun doesn’t have a blank-only chamber because it accepts cartridges meant to mimic the profile of service ammunition.

      A training SMG, OTOH, could easily be built with a [crimped] blank-only barrel.

  5. Daweo – You forget all the stuff that was hidden away in 1918. In Myrvang, F, “MG-34 – MG42, German Universal Machine Gun” there are the following figures provided (MGs in service in the German army on Sept. 1st, 1939):

    84,087 MG34
    42,722 MG08, 08/15 (Maxims) and MG13
    31,204 MG26(t) (ex-Czech ZB26)
    12,672 MG07/24 (Schwarzlose), MG37(t) (ex-Czech ZB37)
    4,122 MG30S (Austrian Solothurns)
    3,024 MG07/12 (Schwarzlose)
    I doubt DWM and Spandau turned in the Maxim spigots again in the mid-1930’s

    “Certainly, but why to use complicated, recoil-operated, water-tight-keeping requiring weapon whilst you can use simple blow-back with drastically smaller number of parts?” So you can build real weapons for the combat troops instead of training aids

    • Exactly. This device frees up real machine guns to arm the troops of a rapidly expanding Wehrmacht and uses blank cartridges common in the supply system. Instead of having to supply propane bottles for a different type of machine gun fire simulator.

      The Bundeswehr uses a similar device that feeds from 100 round box magazines that fit the G3 as well shooting 7,62 × 51 mm blanks only. Commonly called the “Erma” after the manufacturer. Freeing up machine guns in theory, although we often simply used our issued MG3 for shooting blanks, while playing opposing forces. But then I served in Panzerlehr and we had many MG3 in the armoury for the Leopards.

    • “(…)hidden(…)”
      I was not claiming that there were not, only that 6000 was not numbered allowed by Versailles Treaty.

  6. I wonder how US law (the NFA) treats these. You sure get more than one blank fire per trigger pull, but it doesn’t actually fire anything, it’s just a noise maker. Does it even qualify as a firearm, let alone a machine gun?

    • Tell that to the idiots who can’t tell proprietary 9 millimeter pistol blanks from .44 Magnum. To a politician and a lawyer, if any firearm cycles multiple times per trigger pull, it is a machine gun even if it wasn’t designed to fire live projectiles. It seems to be a matter of not-reading-the-freaking-history-book.

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