“Allied troops fighting in close quarters in places like Monte Cassino and Stalingrad quickly learned to fear the unmistakable staccato sound of the MP-40’s bursts.”
THE MP-38/40 Maschinenpistole was the standard Wehrmacht submachine gun of World War Two. Here are six things you should know about this famous firearm.
Don’t Call It “Schmeisser”
British and American troops incorrectly referred to the 9-mm MP-38/40 as the “Schmeisser”. In reality, Hugo Schmeisser, the prolific German gun maker behind history’s first mass-produced submachine gun, the MP-18, was not at all involved in the design of the weapon. Schmeisser factories did however manufacture parts for later variants and magazines were often stamped with the Schmeisser trademark. The gun, which was originally designated the MP-38, was in fact engineered by Berthold Giepel of the ErfurterMaschinenfabrik company (or Ermawerke for short). It was based on an early 1930s weapon developed by Heinrich Vollmer known as the Erma EMP. The MP-38 entered service in 1939.
The MP-38 was a robust and effective weapon. It featured a heavy bolt and a powerful return spring, which made it very accurate for an SMG, even in full automatic mode. Allied troops fighting in close quarters in places like Monte Cassino and Stalingrad quickly learned to fear the staccato sound of its bursts. Its effectiveness and the convenience of its folding shoulder stock meant that it had a long postwar career. Captured models were added to the arsenals of a number of Warsaw Pact militaries during the early Cold War and even turned up in North Vietnam, Spain and Israel. Some were still being used by Norwegian tank crews into the 1980s.
Germany Couldn’t Build Them Fast Enough
As with many German small arms, early models of the MP-38 were heavily dependent on machined parts – perhaps too dependent. As a result, each weapon took more time to manufacture than stamped metal weapons like the British Sten gun. From 1940 onwards, the majority of the parts (apart from the barrel and breech block) were made by stamping, pressing and welding processes. The resulting gun was re-designated the MP-40. But even refined for speedy production, supply still couldn’t keep up with demand. About one million MP-40s were producedby 1945. While an impressive run, the numbers pale when compared to the four million Stens or the six million Soviet PPSh-41s that poured out of British and Russian factories during the war.
A Slow Rate of Fire
The MP-38/40 pumped out lead at just 500rpm – far slower that the 900rpm offered by the PPSh-41 or the 800rpm American Thompson M1928.
Small But Cumbersome Mags
The 32-round MP-38/40 magazine was a relatively compact design, especially when matched up against the 71-round drum magazine of the Soviet PPSh-41 or the 74 rounds of the Finnish Suomi KP/-31. An attempt was made to remedy this problem with a new design, the MP40/2. The new weapon featured an improved magazine housing that was modified so two clips could be fitted side-by-side with the spare ready to be quickly slid into the firing position. It sounds simple enough, but changing magazines was a complex process. The dual design made the gun very heavy. Worse, the long magazine was cumbersome and difficult to use from behind cover. And if the clips were gripped too hard while firing, the feed would malfunction. Few MP40/2s ever saw active service.
Although a fine weapon by most standards, there were some operational problems with the MP38/40. The cocking mechanism had to be redesigned – jostling, knocking or dropping a cocked weapon could result in it going off. Other shortfalls included its non-insulated barrel. After firing off a few bursts, users risked burning themselves, particularly if the hands slipped off the magazine. Dirt could easily get into the weapon through the cocking handle and ejection port – a definite drawback in the slush and mud of the Eastern Front or the sands of North Africa.
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