The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Preview – MG42

Hitler’s Saw

Photos by Jamie Slaughter and Rutsen Eagle

The chilly gray waters of the English Channel slowly became visible in the weak light of the early morning. The surf rolled over the sand, almost rhythmically, as the world prepared for another day of war. This day would be different. A vast armada approached the coast; so numerous were its vessels that the sea was darkened. The date was June 6, 1944. The Allies were coming.

Heinrich Severloh manned an MG42 in Wiederstandsnest 62 overlooking Omaha Beach. He began firing at the American infantry sometime before the ramps dropped on their landing craft. Belt after belt disappeared into his gun. The pile of spent cartridge cases quickly grew around his feet. He switched barrels frequently to keep the gun running. Soldiers brought him more and more ammunition as he pounded away at the infantry littering “Bloody Omaha.” By the end of the action, he fired over 12,000 rounds of ammunition through his MG42 and inflicted over 2,000 casualties on the Americans storming the beach.

This story is absolute rubbish. But people still believe it. People believe not because Severloh was a verifiable Nazi superman, but because of the weapon he used, the MG42. In truth, there were about 3,700 casualties on Omaha Beach from all sources. Legendary weapons are like legendary people; there’s usually a solid core of truth surrounding the myths. Such is the case with the MG42. The MG42 didn’t win World War II more than any other high-tech German Wunderwaffe. However, it was, and indeed remains, an excellent machinegun by almost any standard.

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The MG42’s predecessor, the MG34, was an excellent machinegun. It represented a sort of punctuated equilibrium in development. Suddenly, a lightweight, air-cooled, easily man-portable GPMG was a reality. Early attempts such as the water-cooled MG08/15 (and the later, unfortunate air-cooled boat anchor M1919A6) were too bulky to be overly practical. The MG34 was accurate, fired a very hard-hitting 7.92×57 round, and sustained a reasonably high rate of fire. The MG34, however, was complicated. It took considerable hours and materials to construct, and it could be temperamental in harsh climates, such as those encountered during Russian winters and in the hot dusty environments found in the southern USSR and North Africa.

The MG42 emerged from demands to improve upon the successful MG34. While the MG34 continued to be manufactured almost until the very end of the war, the MG42 was simpler to produce than the MG34. It took less time and material to manufacture. What set the roller lock MG42 apart though was its reliability. Whereas the MG34 was a finely machined, hand-finished gun, especially in its early stages of production, its design contributed to its reliability problems under harsh conditions. Something new was needed. That something new was the roller-locking mechanism of the MG42.

The MG42 was immediately popular with German troops and almost immediately as quickly dreaded by the Allied troops facing it. It required far less maintenance than the MG34. It could go for far longer periods without cleaning than the MG34. In combat this was a major advantage. Unlike the keyboard commandos who keep meticulous count of how long they can go without cleaning their direct impingement guns before they blow up (and for no reason), in combat it’s not always convenient to stop and perform weapons maintenance. From Kursk to Kurland to Salerno, Cassino, and Normandy, the MG42 repeatedly proved its reliability.

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