20 Apr 19
Nazi Germany’s “Paratrooper Rifle,” or “Fallschirmjägergewehr 42,” was a mid-war attempt by Nazi war planners to develop and deploy a compact, light, select-fire rifle/LMG, chambered for a full-power, long-range cartridge (7.92×57 Mauser, AKA ”8mm”), specifically designed for the needs of paratroopers.
Hitler had scant regard for paratroopers, nor for military operations based on their use, particularly after the disastrous “Battle of Crete” (“Operation Mercury”) in May of 1941, where German paratroopers (who did not jump with their weapons) were forced to scurry about the battlefield after landing, desperately trying to recover widely-scattered containers of weapons, which had been dropped separately!
In order to regain Hitler’s confidence, the German Air Force (“Luftwaffe”), under the direction of Hermann Göring, in late 1942 sought to procure its own rifle, exactly suited to the needs of airborne operations. They wanted a rifle that paratroopers could jump with, and put to use immediately!
The result was the famous FG42, contrived mostly by obscure weapons designer, Louis Strange.
Borrowing heavily from the famous WWI American “Louis gun,” Strange put-together an exquisite, elegant, ingenious, graceful, but hopelessly-complicated weapon that was difficult and slow to manufacture (what few copies remain are highly sought-after today).
Yet, politics sealed the fate of the FG42 before it enjoyed significant production. Few were ever produced, and the
few that were never had any influence on the outcome of the War.
The biggest problem was wartime territorial rivalry within the German military (“Wehrmacht”)!
The German Army (“Heer”) vehemently opposed the entire FG42 project from the beginning, and for good reason!
By the fall of 1942, Hitler’s string of initial, spectacular successes, began to stammer.
Operation Barbarossa in the USSR was bogging down as winter approached. It would end in catastrophe at the Battle of Stalingrad in February of 1943 (generally regarded as the turning-point of the European War).
America had entered the War!
The British were defiantly holding out!
The tide was turning, and Germany’s over-committed Wehrmacht could ill-afford to devote valuable resources and energy to this specialized, abstract individual weapon, desired only by the Luftwaffe, no matter how elegant the ultimate product turned-out to be!
By contrast, the Heer was looking in the direction of an easily-manufactured, stamped, coarse, semi-auto bullet-squirter, which eventually took the form of the MP44 (later designated the STG44), the product of yet another weapons-design genius, Hugo Schmeisser.
Yet, even that project had to be kept secret (at least in the beginning) from Hitler himself, who was increasingly disinterested in the development of any new rifle.
The MP44 was chambered for the mid-range 7.92×33 or “8mm Kurz” (for “short”) cartridge, and nearly a half-million were manufactured before the end of the War, compared with fewer than ten-thousand FG42s.
But, in order to keep even the MP44 Project secret from Hitler, clandestinely-manufactured MP44 rifles were confined to the Eastern Front, so they would escape notice from the Western press.
In the end, this rifle too (entering service late in the War) would have scant influence upon the ultimate outcome!
The Luftwaffe was banking on a spectacular, glamorous success, starring the few FG42s they managed to actually get produced and deployed by fall of 1943.
Their wish was granted with the famous “Gran Sasso Raid” in September of 1943, personally ordered by Hitler himself. It was an attempt to rescue Hitler’s ally and personal friend, recently-deposed Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, from his captors.
Mussolini had ignominiously fallen from power in Italy in July of 1943, in the wake of the Allied Sicily Invasion and the areal bombing of Rome. Mussolini had been arrested by his successors and was being held captive at a remote Italian ski-resort hotel, near the town of Gran Sasso.
The Gran Sasso Raid was dramatically successful!
In fact, it was too successful!
German paratroopers and glider-borne troops, all equipped with shiny new FG42s, staged a daring and exquisitely-planned operation. They swooped-in, catching guards by complete surprise, and quickly spirited Mussolini away to Germany and safety.
The Luftwaffe was ecstatic! This is exactly what the had hoped for.
The only problem was:
Their dashing, FG42-equipped paratroopers never fired a shot!
Mussolini’s contingent of guards broke and ran away almost instantly!
So, the FG42’s intended awe-inspiring debut, fizzled!
Afterward, the FG42 saw virtually no action during what remained of WWII, although a few showed-up as late in subsequent world history as the Vietnam War!
Mussolini and his mistress, having foolishly returned to Italy after their rescue, attempted to flee to Switzerland in the spring of 1945, but both were captured by Italian partisans, and both were summarily executed by firing squad shortly thereafter. Mussolini’s bullet-ridden body was subsequently transported to Milan, where it was hung upside-down in public (along with several others), so his death (unlike Hitler’s) could never be disputed!
The gas-piston/gas-adjustable FG42, with its clever side-mounted magazine, spring recoil-buffer, spring-loaded magazine well dust-covers, advanced muzzle-break, and integral bi-pod, was light, short, compact, and very reliable. It ingeniously fired single shots from a closed bolt, full-auto from an open bolt.
The FG42 was clearly ahead of its time, and its elegant design heavily influenced later military weapons, including the American M60 GPMG, and even the current, wonderful Robinson Arms XCR Rifle
Under different circumstances the FG42 might have represented a celebrated milestone in military weapons history, rather than just an obscure footnote!
The FG42 suffered a similar fate to that of the famous “Pederson Device,” brainchild of prolific gun-designer and genius, John Pederson.
The Pederson Device instantly converted the American 1903 bolt-action Springfield Rifle into a SMG, and in secret production and deployment, it was destined to dramatically enhance the WWI Allied “Grand Offensive of 1919″!
However, the Great War ended in 1918, and the Pederson Device thus never saw the light of day!
Not all great designs win awards.
Neither do all great men!