By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Seventy-five years ago today, more than 160,000 allied soldiers, supported by more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft, stormed five landing zones, spread out along 50 miles of beach near Normandy, France.
At D-Day’s end, more than 9,000 allied troops were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 troops to gain a foot-hold in Europe, and ultimately claim victory over the Third Reich at the end of World War II.
U.S. soldiers had several different small arms available for use, because the war department had hundreds of companies manufacturing assorted firearms and accessories for the war effort. Gunpowder Magazine has profiled many of these weapons previously, but today, let’s take a quick look back at some of the most prominent weapons used by both sides:
Allied Battle Rifles
The 5-shot, bolt-action 1903 Springfield was still in wide use at the time of the D-Day invasion – a rugged rifle used also by the Brits in WWI.
The M1 Garand was a favorite amongst the troops. With its semi-automatic operation, 8-round magazine, and chambered in 30.06, the Garand provided accurate, reliable, firepower for the troops. In 1945, Gen. George S. Patton stated the Garand was “the greatest battle implement ever designed.”
The British Lee-Enfield Mark 4 No. 1 in Caliber .303. was another rugged battle rifle that also saw action in WWI.
The M1 Carbine in .30 carbine was also in use during the D-Day invasion. Designed by David “Carbine” Williams while he was in prison!, the M1 was used by officers and tank crews as a high power replacement for their pistols. The M1 was also produced with a folding stock for airborne troops, and as a full-auto version designated as the M2.
The M1 was produced by 10 different companies, including GM Saginaw, the Underwood typewriter company, and my personal favorite, the “Rock-Ola” jukebox manufacturing company.
The M1 Thompson “Tommy Gun” .45 caliber produced by auto-Ordinance was issued to many soldiers with 30-round stick magazines. Many Gunpowder readers remember Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan toting a Thompson, along with a “six pack” of magazines!
The M3 “grease gun” .45 Caliber produced by General Motors was a simple design that was still in military service after the retirement of the Tommy Gun.
The British Sten 9mm Sub Gun came with a distinctive side mounted 32-round magazine. It began production in 1941 and was such a simple design that it took only 5.5 hours to manufacture. At one point, 20,000 units were being produced per week!
The BAR – Browning Automatic Rifle. The “Trench Sweeper” was in use and highly effective.
The BREN used by British Troops. Chambered in .303, had a top mounted magazine.
Virtually all machine guns used in WWII were designed by the weapons genius John Moses Browning, including:
The M1917 Browning water Cooled chambered in 30.06.
The 1918/M2 Browning chambered in .50 Caliber. The legendary “Ma Deuce” is still in service today in the U.S. Military and some foreign militaries.
The government model 1911 in .45 ACP: The “Old Slabsides” was the G.I. issue pistol during the war. Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolvers were also in service, but went primarily to the Navy, as the Army first priority over production. The 1911 was also a John Browning design.
Guns of the Wehrmacht
The 98 Mauser was the workhorse rifle of the German infantry during WWI & WWII. Chambered in 7.92×57, the K98 was hard-hitting and accurate.
The MG42 or “Hitler’s Zipper,” was a highly reliable weapon, and with its incredible 1,200 rpm rate of fire, was quite devastating. Its distinctive buzz saw sound alerted G.I.s to its presence. It has been documented that on D-Day, one MG-42 gunner fired more than 12,000 rounds without a malfunction!
The Walther P.38 in 9 mm was the first double-action pistol accepted by the military for use.
The Luger P.08 also in 9mm had a distinctive profile due to its toggle-link system, which was engineered by American Hugo Borchardt.
On this 75th Anniversary of D-Day, let us all remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers that day and every day. If you are lucky enough to come across a Normandy veteran, thank him! Operation Overlord was the beginning of the end of WWII.
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. He is a contributor to The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.