By: Friedrich Seiltgen
The MG42 was one of the most fearsome weapons of WWII, and quite possibly the best machinegun ever designed.
The MG42 fired a 7.92X57 Mauser round at 2,480 fps with an effective range of almost a thousand yards. With a cyclic rate of 1,200 rounds per minute, combatants on both sides knew the distinctive sound made when “Hitler’s Zipper” went into action.
The MG42 went into production in 1942 with almost half a million units produced by 5 different manufacturers. It was designed with mass production in mind. The MG42 was a lower cost, easier to build machine gun to replace the MG34, which was more expensive and time-consuming to produce. It took 75 hours to manufacture the MG42, as opposed to 150 hours for the MG34. The cost went down from 327 Reichsmark’s to 250, a savings of 24 percent.
High Rate of Fire
The MG42 earned several nicknames during its use, due to its high cyclic rate. “Hitler’s Buzzsaw,” “the Singing Saw,” and “Bone Saw” were a few. A group of Brazilian soldiers fighting in Italy called it “Lourdina” after one of the soldier’s wives who was a seamstress, because the sound of the MG42 reminded them of a sewing machine!
Due to its high rate of fire, the MG42’s barrel required changing frequently. The assistant gunner, wearing asbestos gloves, would help change out the barrel – a process that took about seven seconds. The gunners were ordered to fire short three to seven-round bursts, or when mounted to the Lafette 42 tripod, short bursts and occasional 20 to 50-round bursts. With these regulations in place, the MG42’s effective rate of fire was reduced to about 150 rounds per minute.
The MG42 had many roles during the war: Mounted in motorcycle sidecars, on Panzers, in airplanes, as a tripod mounted medium machinegun, and as a soldier carried light machinegun with bipod attached.
The MG42 lent many of its features to the Belgian MAG and the U.S. M60 Machinegun. Design features which enabled mass production, such as sheet metal stampings, belt feed, a semi bullpup design, and a quick-change barrel were incorporated into the M60.
Years after the war’s end, the German military was resurrected in West Germany in 1958. The MG42 had to be reverse-engineered, as original design plans had been seized by the Russians.
The main producer, Rheinmetall, was given the task of manufacturing new MG42s for the newly created Bundeswehr. The Bundeswehr consisted of WWII soldiers, so it made sense to use a weapon they were already familiar with. Rheinmetall constructed new manufacturing facilities and went to work changing the caliber to the standard NATO 7.62X51. To speed up the acquisition of guns, the West German Government purchased ex-Wehrmacht machineguns from other countries.
The MG42 was built under license after the war by Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Italy, and others. The MG42 has evolved into the MG3 chambered in 7.62X51, and is still used by the German Bundeswehr today. At least 20 armies currently use the MG42/MG3, which attests to the sound engineering principles employed in the construction of this machinegun.
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Patrol Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, firearms, and law enforcement vehicle operations in Florida. Contact him at [email protected].
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, By: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-587-2253-17 / Schneiders, Toni / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5413046