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FG 42

 FG-42 rifle, first model.
FG-42 rifle,  ‘Type A’ – original model.

FG-42 rifle, second model.
FG-42 rifle, ‘Type B’ – second version.

 

FG-42-1 FG-42-2
Caliber 7.92x57mm
Overall length 937 mm 1060 mm
Barrel length 508 mm 525 mm
Weight, empty 4.38 kg 5.05 kg
Rate of fire 900 rounds per minute 600 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity 10 or 20 rounds

 

The FG 42 (Fallschirmjagergewehr 42, or ‘Paratrooper’s rifle, model 1942’) is a rather interesting, yet ultimately unsuccessful experiment in the small arms development of Nazi Germany.

The paratroopers, or ‘Fallschirmjagers’ were the premiere elite unit of the German armed forces, and belonged to the Luftwaffe (Air Forces). Because of this, they had their own procurement plans and ideas separate from the German Army (Heer).

At the start of WW2 Fallshirmjagers were armed with standard issue small arms, most notably P.08 and P.38 pistols, Kar.98k bolt-action rifles, MP-38 and MP-40 submachine guns and MG.34 general-purpose machine guns. Paratroopers usually operated far from home, and had to carry all of their firepower with them. So the RLM (Reich’s Air Ministry) issued a request for a universal hand held weapon, which would be a combination of  bolt-action rifle, submachine gun and machine gun and effectively replace them all in one package.

Early in 1942 two companies, Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krieghoff began the development of the requested weapon. This had to be a selective fire, lightweight rifle, firing standard issue 7.92x57mm ammunition, and capable of controllable fully automatic fire and accurate single shot semi-automatic fire. It must be noted that the HWaA (Army department of armaments) was quite reluctant about the feasibility of the selective-fire full power rifle. At that time the Army put forward the intermediate 7.92×33 Kurtz cartridge and much more sensible Mkb.42 automatic carbines instead, which later evolved into the Stg.44 assault rifle. But the Luftwaffe insisted on the full-power weapon.

First prototypes from both companies were submitted for initial tests by mid-1942. After tests the Rheinmetall prototype, developed under the leadership of Louis Stange, was selected as the winner. Since Rheinmetall was already very busy delivering other weapons to the armed forces, the production contract was handed over to Krieghoff.

In its original form, also known as FG 42 1st model or ‘Type A’, this rifle was made in limited numbers – no more than 2 000 rifles were delivered to the Luftwaffe. It soon became apparent that the lightweight rifle lacked the necessary robustness to handle powerful rifle ammunition in full automatic mode. There were injuries and a catastrophic failure of at least one weapon. It was also too expensive to manufacture. Recognizing that, Krieghoff engineers by early 1944 redesigned the FG 42 into the so called 2nd model or ‘Type B’. Being heavier and slightly longer, the FG-42-2 was still too light to be effectively fired in full auto, even from its integral bipod, and still too expensive, especially compared to the Stg.44 assault rifle.

Before the end of the war about 5 000 2nd model FG 42 rifles were produced by Krieghoff and several other minor manufacturers. The FG 42 has made no direct impact on postwar developments in small arms, except that it served as the basis for the relatively unspectacular American M60 machine gun.

The FG 42 is a gas operated, air-cooled, selective fire weapon. The long stroke gas piston is located under the barrel, and it operates the rotating bolt with two lugs. The gas system of the 2nd model FG 42 featured a gas adjustment valve (manual gas regulator). The trigger unit was designed so that the rifle fired from a closed bolt in single shots (for maximum accuracy), and from open bolt in full auto (for better barrel cooling). The magazine was inserted horizontally from the left, and contained either 10 or 20 rounds. The spent cases were ejected to the right. FG-42-2 also featured a spent case deflector just behind the ejection port (to deflect cases away from the shooter’s face), with spring-loaded dust covers on the magazine port. Both variants were equipped with muzzle brakes, but of differing designs.

The original model of the FG 42 had the pistol grip severely inclined to the rear, to facilitate shooting downward from a descending parachute, but this proved unnecessary, and the FG-42-2 featured a more straightened pistol grip. Early FG 42 rifles had buttstocks made from stamped steel, while the 2nd model FG 42’s had wooden buttstocks of a slightly different shape. On FG-42-1 the integral bipod was hinged to the front of the receiver, and folded forward; on the FG-42-2 the integral bipod was strengthened, and mounted closer to the muzzle, and hinged rearwards. The open sights were mounted on folding posts, as the straight ‘inline’ layout of the weapon required them to be mounted relatively high above the barrel. All FG-42 rifles also had an integral dovetail, which accepted mounts for the German ZF-41 optical scope.