Click here to plan your next WW2 tour

The FG 42 paratrooper rifle

A camouflaged German paratrooper with an FG42 in Normandy in the summer of 1944 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
A camouflaged German paratrooper with an FG 42 in Normandy in the summer of 1944 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

One of the most remarkable and rarest German weapons from World War II is the Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 (or FG 42) paratrooper rifle. The German paratroopers not only had a unique uniform and helmet (Read our earlier article – The Stahlhelm) but, with time and in limited numbers, were issued a specialized assault rifle. It was designed to meet the specific needs of airborne troops for an easy-to-carry multi-purpose light rifle that had greater firepower than a conventional rifle.
 
The German paratrooper units (“Fallschirmjäger”) were created by the German air force, the Luftwaffe, in 1935. The commander of the Luftwaffe, Herman Göring was inspired by a demonstration by the newly set up Soviet paratroopers. The German paratroopers were commanded by General Kurt Student until the end of the war. They were involved in several successful airborne operations in the early years of the war, for instance the attack against Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and the daring operation against Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium. Their last major deployment in an airborne operation was in Crete under Unternehmen Merkur (“Operation Mercury”) in May 1941. It resulted in a bittersweet victory for the paratroopers due to their heavy losses, which also ended up in war crimes committed against the locals. Subsequently, they were mostly used as normal infantry units.

German soldiers mourning the fallen paratroopers after the Battle of Crete (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
German soldiers mourning the fallen paratroopers after the Battle of Crete (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

One of the reasons for their grave casualty rate was that their heavy equipment was dropped in separate cannisters and that they could only use pistols, grenades and knives before collecting everything else after landing. They could not take larger weapons with them due to their unique parachutes which enabled them to jump from lower altitudes to avoid detection by the enemy. In addition to other reasons, these factors led to the idea of developing a weapon specialized for paratroopers. The quite utopistic idea was to create a universal weapon that could unite all the advantages of the Kar98k carbine, the MP38/40 submachine guns and the MG 34 machine gun and that could replace them. Due to differing internal views between the different branches of the German armed forces, the Luftwaffe started to develop the weapon independently. After the debacle at Crete, Hitler decided to stop the process but Göring ordered to resume the project behind Hitler’s back.

Senior Luftwaffe officers inspecting an early FG42 in 1943 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
Senior Luftwaffe officers inspecting an early FG 42 in 1943 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Six companies were approached in December 1941 with the plans outlining the technical requirements of the weapon. The prototype should not be longer that 1m / 39.4in. It should not be heavier than the Kar98 carbine and should be able to mount a scope, a spike bayonet and fire rifle grenades. It should fire single shots from a closed bolt in semi-automatic mode, but should be able to fire in full auto mode from an open bolt, too (the latter solution helped reduce cook-offs). It should be fed from 10- or 20-round box magazines of 7.92×57mm Mauser rifle cartridges which would provide a longer range. It was supposed to have a bipod to enable shooting from a prone position.
 
The design of the talented arms developer Louis Stange from the Rheinmetall-Borsig company was selected eventually. During the trials, the team corrected some weaknesses of the model and an initial fifty pieces of the final version (LC-6/III) were produced in 1942 for further evaluation. Among others, due to short supplies, the chrome-nickel steel components had to be replaced by manganese steel. Due to production capacity problems, the Heinrich Krieghoff company had to take over the manufacture from Rheinmetall. As a side note, we should also mention that the head of Krieghoff was good friends with Göring, which could have contributed to the change of the manufacturer.

Louis Stange, the developer of the FG-42 (Photo: www.guns.fandom.com)
Louis Stange, the developer of the FG 42 (Photo: www.guns.fandom.com)

After having produced around 2,000 pieces, Krieghoff also faced material shortages and had to find other resources and solutions. This brought about an improved version of the rifle. Although there were several versions of the gun, nowadays FG 42s are divided mostly into early or late (or pattern I and II) models. The late model moved the bipod from the handguard to the muzzle, the stock was changed to wood from stamped steel to reduce the risk of overheating, and the angle of the pistol grip was changed also to a more comfortable angle. It could fire an impressive 750-800 round per minute with an effective range of 1,312 yards / 1200m. This was hindered by the limited amount of ammo provided by the mostly 20-round magazines, thus it was mostly used in semi-automatic mode which provided much better accuracy. Both models had a very unique and effective muzzle brake which greatly reduced the recoil. Despite the simplifications, the FG 42 was still complex and expensive to manufacture; Germany only produced around 7,000 pieces during the war.

The comparison of an early and late model FG-42 (Photo: NARA)
The comparison of an early and late model FG 42 (Photo: NARA)
Click here to plan your next WW2 tour

It saw action for the fist time during the Gran Sasso raid in September 1943. German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos, including the infamous Otto Skorzeny, rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from the well-guarded Hotel Campo Imperatore on the Gran Sasso mountain where he was held captive after the capitulation of the Italian armed forces. The Fascist dictator’s guards were disarmed without a shot, so the FG 42s were not used in actual firefight. On the contrary, during the Allied siege of the historic abbey of Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line in the first half of 1944, FG 42s were very much put to the test in the bloody fighting.

A German paratrooper with an FG42 in Monte Cassino (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
A German paratrooper with an FG 42 in Monte Cassino (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

The 500th SS Parachute Brigade also used the FG 42 in its only wartime combat jump onto Jozef Broz Tito’s mountain cave headquarters at Dvrar in Yugoslavia on May 25, 1944. The objective of Unternehmen Rösselsprung (“Operation Knight’s Move”) was to kill the leader of the Yugoslav Communist National Liberation Forces and thus eliminate his increasingly dangerous guerilla organization. Although Tito narrowly escaped, the impressive firepower of the FG 42 allowed the greatly outnumbered SS paratroopers to hold off much larger partisan forces until a German ground relief unit reached them.

A German paratrooper with an FG 42 after the Gran Sasso raid (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
A German paratrooper with an FG 42 after the Gran Sasso raid (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Another battlefield where the FG 42 was used on a wider scale and can be seen on several wartime photos was the Battle of Normandy fought between June-August 1944. It could be put to good use in the infamous bocage which was a mix of thick hedgerows, numerous small fields and narrow roads. This made Allied soldiers’ life difficult since it provided excellent defensive positions for the determined German forces.

German paratrooper with an FG 42 in Normandy in the summer of 1944 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
German paratrooper with an FG 42 in Normandy in the summer of 1944 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

It was a versatile weapon: the FG 42 was used as a powerful machine carbine, as a short-range self-loading rifle, or as a light machine gun when mounted on the bipod. It was greatly valued by the German troops and respected by the Allied, too. It was considered to be one of the most advanced weapon designs of World War II. At the same time, similarly to other German weapons, due to its expensive and labor-intensive production it could not be manufactured in the quantities that could seriously influence the outcome of the war. After WWII, the FG 42’s inventor Louis Stange was convicted by the Allied military tribunals for war crimes and spent two and a half years in prison. After 38 years in the arms industry, he never dealt with weapons again and died in the small town of Haßleben in 1971.
 
The FG 42 influenced post-war small arms development and helped to shape the modern assault rifle concept. Some features of the FG 42 were studied by US Army engineers after the war, and they combined the advantages of the FG 42 and the MG 42 machine gun and incorporated them in the M60 machine gun. This was preceded by the belt-fed light machine gun prototype called T44.

The prototype of the American T-44 light machine gun (Photo: Public domain)
The prototype of the American T-44 light machine gun (Photo: Public domain)

During the Vietnam War, American forces captured many WWII Axis and Allied weapons from the Viet Cong. German guns were most probably supplied by the Soviet Union from their surplus gun stocks collected from their enemies in WWII. According to some reports, this also included some FG 42s, too.

A U.S. Green Beret soldier firing an FG-42 captured reportedly from the Viet Cong (Photo: reddit.com)
A U.S. Green Beret soldier firing an FG 42 captured reportedly from the Viet Cong (Photo: reddit.com)

Original versions are extremely difficult to come by. In 2014, one of them was sold at an auction for 299,000 USD in Rock Island, Illinois. For collectors and military enthusiasts with a smaller budget, good quality replicas are offered by several companies such as the German HZA Kulmbach GmbH, the American Smith Machine Group (SMG) or the Japanese Shoei, etc.

The FG-42 sold for USD 299,000 at an auction in 2014 (Photo: rockislandauction.com)
The FG 42 sold for 299,000 USD at an auction in 2014 (Photo: rockislandauction.com)

Since this weapon is lesser known among the public, probably this is the reason why it was not used widely in movies. One of the few examples is the 1976 WWII movie The Eagle Has Landed starring legendary actor Michael Caine. The film was based on a novel written by Jack Higgins and told the story of a group of German paratroopers sent to kidnap prime minister Winston Churchill and bring him to Germany.

FG-42s in the hands of German paratroopers in the movie The Eagle Has Landed (Photo: imfdb.org)
FG 42s in the hands of German paratroopers in the movie The Eagle Has Landed (Photo: imfdb.org)

In contrast to moviegoers, the FG 42 is much wider known in the gaming community since it is featured in several video games. Younger generations got to know this iconic weapon from popular first-person shooter video games such as Medal of Honor or Call of Duty.

Beaches of Normandy Tours
An FG 42 in the Call of Duty video game (Photo: imfdb.org)
Click here to plan your next WW2 tour
Facebook Facebook
Instagram Instagram
Website Website
YouTube YouTube
Reply this email
Copyright © *|CURRENT_YEAR|* *|LIST:COMPANY|*, All rights reserved.
*|IFNOT:ARCHIVE_PAGE|* *|LIST:DESCRIPTION|*

Our mailing address is:
*|HTML:LIST_ADDRESS_HTML|* *|END:IF|*

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

*|IF:REWARDS|* *|HTML:REWARDS|* *|END:IF|*
Plan
yourtour