Jerry really had firepower

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

Germany started the war with bolt guns and then developed a semi-automatic rifle, the Gewehr 41, that was, as Dunlap puts it, “not a production-line weapon.” They also developed some submachine guns:

The submachine gun appealed to the German mind as a fine weapon, though they fooled around and never put out any one model in any quantity excepting the Schmeisser Models 38 and 40. This is the familiar machine pistol, the all-metal and plastic “burp” gun with the folding stock and Buck Rogers styling. Originally intended as an in-between weapon, to replace pistols and rifles in the hands of special units such as paratroopers, motorcycle and bicycle troops, tank men and special guards, it became so popular that it seemed just about every fourth Kraut had one. The other three? One had a Mauser with a telescopic sight; one had a Spandau all to himself, with unlimited ammunition; and the fourth man had an 88. If you think I am exaggerating much, just ask the nearest guy who lived through Italy. Jerry really had firepower.

MP 40 with Folded Stock

The MP 38 and MP 40 were known as Schmeissers — to us, that is:

The MP 40 was often called the “Schmeisser” by the Allies, after the weapon designer Hugo Schmeisser. Schmeisser had designed the MP 18, which was the first mass-produced submachine gun in the world, and carried some resemblance to the MP 40. He did not, however, have anything to do with the design or development of the MP 40, although he held a patent on the magazine.

A Spandau was any German machine gun:

The [MG 42] (like the MG 34) was sometimes called “Spandau” by British troops, a traditional generic term for all German machine guns, left over from the famous Allied nickname for the MG 08 Maxim-derivative used by German forces during World War I and derived from its manufacturer’s plates noting the city of Spandau where some were produced.

An 88 was an 8.8 cm Flak gun:

Paul Fussell wrote that American troops “knew that the greatest single weapon of the war, the atomic bomb excepted, was the German 88 mm flat-trajectory gun, which brought down thousands of bombers and tens of thousands of soldiers. The Allies had nothing as good”. The 88 mm was used in two main roles: as a mobile heavy anti-aircraft and as an anti-tank gun. Other uses included firing in support of the troops at the front; and as a more static anti-aircraft gun for home defence.

Dunlap had a few things to say about submachine guns:

The little squirt gun, which is the only German gun to our notion that deserves their name of machine pistol rather than be known as a machine carbine or submachine gun, has been ridiculed by a lot of people who should know better. Sure, it is no long-range gun and it shoots too fast and it looks funny, but it killed a lot of people just the same. There is nothing amusing about the way one sounds when the proprietor holds the trigger down a second or two.


The M40 was simply the 38 with all possible machining and manufacturing operations omitted or simplified.


The Jerries had trouble; a lot of them managed to snag that handle on the back of the belt or the shirt or bandolier, with the result that it pulled out of the safety notch, the bolt flipped forward, scooped up a cartridge on the way and finished by shooting our superman in the leg or the seat of the pants, depending on how he had hung the gun on himself.

It was even rumored that sometimes the bolt received a little unofficial help. In a lot of spots a nice clean 9mm hole through the calf of the leg or a gouge across the fanny can look like a damned good ticket out of a front line hole.


  1. Kirk says:

    Coupla’ things here:

    Fussell may have known some things, but what he didn’t know about weapons could have filled volumes. The Allies had several fine equivalents to the 88; the thing they didn’t have was bloody-minded commanders like the Germans did, who put pistols to the heads of the Luftwaffe flak commanders who refused to do anything else besides shoot at airplanes, in order to get them to, y’know, use their guns on tanks.

    If I remember rightly, the Germans were assed-up facing the French Char-B; their AT weapons were literally bouncing off those things in several battles during the Battle of France in ’40. The German maneuver commanders told the AA guys to fire at the tanks, the AA guys got an offer to either take part in the anti-tank battle or receive summary execution, and… We have the myth of the 88.

    Allies had several weapons that were just as good, or better than the Germans had. What they didn’t have was the willingness to break the stovepipe between using those guns for things other than shooting at airplanes. The Germans were forced into that by circumstance, and wound up institutionalizing it when they went into the Soviet Union and discovered that there were reasons the Soviet exchange officers had been looking at them funny when they’d shown them their latest tank offerings. The Soviets, for their part, and knowing about the T-34, were certain that the Germans were sandbagging them about tank development. They were incredulous that the Germans were just building the relative lightweights that they were…

    Which makes you wonder how thing would have played out, in reality, had Stalin gotten his chance to come West.

    Other thing I note here: Examine the parallel between the MP38/40 issue and the M4 Carbine. In both occasions, the Ordnance/Logistics types thought “Oh, these are fine weapons… For the rear echelon types.”, and the combat guys wound up glomming onto them and taking them over wholesale, and in a lot of cases, replacing the supposed “standard individual infantry weapon” with them.

    Which argues that even today, the Ordnance/Logistics bubbas have little clue about what is actually needed, or how combat is actually being conducted out on the sharp and pointy end. The parallels between the WWI “standard rifle” and the carbine-class weapons that were supposed to be for issue to the support troops are yet another example of the fantasy-land these people live in, and how poorly served the average soldier is by his “supporting agencies”.

    Although, to be fair, the Springfield ’03 was actually short enough to fall into the carbine class, and was on general issue, so perhaps I’m being a bit too demanding. Still…

  2. Mike says:

    Kirk, as an ex-army guy you’ve probably been asked this question many times before, but what approach would you take with regard to the basic infantry weapons: would you give individual units, or even soldiers, more freedom to choose what they want? Either wholesale freedom (they effectively buy their own gun and then army logistics supplies them with the relevant ammo and parts), or limited freedom (they can choose a gun from a widevariety offered by the army)? Or would you stick with the current practice of supplying a few standard issue weapons to a given unit? Cheers.

  3. Ezra says:

    German paratrooper units far-outgunned the U.S. 29th ID in the bocage of Normandy immediately after the landings of 6 June. Germans not only out-gunned USA but more dynamic and put their firepower advantage to good use in combination with the terrain. Bocage that second most suitable terrain in the world for conducting a defensive operation.

  4. Kirk says:

    Mike, you pose an interesting question.

    On the one hand, the average soldier is usually an idiot about weapons and other important matters, like body armor.

    On the other hand, the people running Ordnance and procurement are often equally idiotic about what the poor bastards down at the pointy end require.

    The gripping hand is that reality will take its course, and the guys down at the sharp end of things will eventually learn what they need the hard way, demand it of Ordnance and procurement, and we wind up coming kinda-sorta close to what we actually need, in the ideal sense. If they’re all talking to each other… Which, oftentimes, they’re not. Which is how the M14 happened.

    I would liken it to the same thing we were talking about here awhile back with regards to sidewalk design–In a new facility, sometimes the best way to do that is leave putting in the sidewalks until after the facility is occupied and in use, and then observe where the users are walking by the paths that they make, and then pave the paths. This is often what they do by accident, and is how we wound up with the M4 carbine. Nobody sat down to redesign the M16 for modern use, but when the Infantry saw the M4, they glommed on to it to such a degree that the original intended users in the support arms never got the damn things…

    Which is a little nuts, when you think about it. Neither the users nor the designers realized they needed the M4, and indeed, that whole design has issues. They set the barrel length not by what was an ideal compromise for internal ballistics or external, but because of what bloody accessories would still fit it!!! There’s no real reason we settled on the 14.5in barrel and the gas tube length we did, other than that’s what fit the bayonet and the grenade launcher. No real money was put into it, either–It was all back-of-the-napkin engineering, with no real attention paid to what would be optimal. See, it was just going to the support troops, who needed a more compact weapon…

    The optimal path, arguably, might have been a 16in barrel, and what is now referred to as a “mid-length gas system”. That configuration was never tested, until the civilian market demanded it, and it turns out to have some actual merit.

    This is not how one should run a railroad. At. All.

    What I’d advocate for would, in essence, be a blend of the two approaches. The soldiers down at the coalface are going to have an idea of what they need, as well as what works, but at the same time…? They’re very often magical thinkers with no real grasp of why or how things are working (or, not working, as the case may be…). Still, the user needs to drive the train. In that regard, I say they need more input into the issues, but it needs to be carefully proctored input, curated as it were by people who are themselves knowledgeable and practical, but with the necessary technical background to make wise and informed decisions. The design and procurement guys need to take more cues from the user, serving as an interface between the realities of the battlefield and the realities of production and technical possibility.

    So, no… I’d not plump down for giving every soldier what he wants, because he very often doesn’t know what he actually needs. At the same time, giving the technical whiz kids their heads is about equally stupid, because they’re designing for use cases that exist only in their heads. Heads that are often screwed on backwards and cross-threaded…

    I suppose that if the Army consisted solely of the sorts of men that Dunlap was, fully-operant agents on the field of battle who knew the intimate details of the technology as he did, then giving the user full control might work. You’d need an army of friggin’ engineers, though, and what you’d wind up with would likely be individual, highly idiosyncratic, and not at all standard. Because, everyone would be doing their own thing, and modifying everything they were issued to suit their own needs and perceived desires. Standardization? LOL… With everyone being their own armorer, you’d better hope that revolution in manufacturing came through, and was able to cope.

    It’d be a thing of wonder to see, though–And, I’d hate to go up against an enemy like that, because everyone would be optimized out to the nth degree for their own personal “way of war”. You’d have to plan against wildly variable capabilities–”Oh, yeah, that’s the 509th Parachute Regiment, they love them some sniper rifles… Lethal out to 900m, but no machinegun capability to speak of, so if we swarm ‘em… Oh. The 203rd is with them? Damn… All they have is beltfeds… This ain’t good…”.

    The loggies would likely want to shoot themselves, though…

  5. Paul from Canada says:


    Interestingly Canada’s experience with the M-16/AR-15 etc follows a similar re-design what you got as you go along approach.

    We had to pay extra to keep the older style rear sight on the C7. We also wanted to change the barrel profile, since we didn’t (at the time), use the M-203, and the light barrel under the hand-guards was not necessary for us.

    We wanted either a medium contour barrel overall, or more meat at the chamber end for heat. Even though we were going with a new cold hammer forged barrel and it could have been done, Colt said no, we had to keep the A2 barrel contour to get the license.

    We were able to keep the older full auto fire control group, since we felt that the 3 round burst mechanism added unneeded complexity and “Fire discipline is a matter of training, not some fancy gadget”. We would have been happy to get rid of the forward assist (the FN C1A1 didn’t have one, and we didn’t feel the need), but didn’t care enough to complain when Colt insisted we keep it in.

    The C8 was an abomination. We ended up with a carbine length gas system and a 16 inch barrel because that is what Colt was producing at the time! (Mostly for civilian sales in the US, hence the 16 inch barrel). Having the extra length of barrel made no sense. looks stupid, and you only save about 4 inches with the stock extended, so why bother! Especially since this was supposed to replace SMGs for vehicle crews only, and it was never intended for Infantry use.

    Interestingly, the latest version of the C-8 has a slightly shorter barrel (15.something), because the engineers at Diemaco/Colt Canada figured out that that length was a natural harmonic node, and theoretically reduces vibration and improves accuracy. We are STILL stuck with the carbine length gas system.

    Having to make do for budget reasons, our C7A2 is a full length rifle with a carbine butt-stock so as to do something to reduce overall length without having to buy new rifles. With accessories mounted, it is unwieldy and front heavy.

    If I had my druthers, we would have a gas system re-designed from the ground up to duplicate the pressure curve of the original full length barrel and gas system as closely as possible, with roughly 15-16 inch barrel, and find a way to make the stock fold for in vehicle carry as well.

    As for the M-4 barrel length, I heard that the length came from Marine testing, where they took a longer barrel and cut it back a half inch at a time till it stopped functioning reliably, then added a half inch back. I don’t remember where I read that though, so I can’t site a source.

  6. Kirk says:

    The Canadian experience with the AR-15 is an interesting counter-point to that of the US, much as the Italian BM-59 is an interesting counterpoint to the M-14… Neither of which go to show good things about the US system of small arms procurement, which is an insult to logic and good sense in that realm. When the Italians are doing it better than you are, it’s time to stop, look at what you’re doing, and reflect on the utter failure that is your program. And, the BM-59 was a far more affordable modernization of the M1 Garand, built on M1 tooling, designed in less time, and seamlessly produced on existing machinery. Or, so it seems–Not enough is in print about the BM-59 program in English, possibly because it would be an embarrassment to have it easily comparable to the travesty and disaster that was the M-14 program.

    Likewise, with the Canadian C7/8 program. There are good and sufficient reasons that the Dutch and the Danes prefer the Diemaco/Colt Canada product over the Colt-USA version–Mostly due to that CHF barrel. And, other reasons…

    The Canadians have gotten better value out of the US research establishment than we have, to be honest. CADPAT, from what I understand, was originally a Natick Labs initiative that the Canadians borrowed/took over, and then had the Marines file off a few color shades and re-invent as MARPAT.

    There are things I wish we’d copy from the Canadians, first and foremost their tripod for the C6 MG. Compared to the abysmal M122/192 that we issue, that’s a decent design that has most of the capabilities I would want. Ain’t the strongest thing in the world, but it’s ahead of the damn antiquated crap we issue.

    Canada has a very professional set of armed forces, and if they ever get away from the politically-correct BS that’s been forced on them, they’ll be a lot better. Also, if they ever get properly funded…

  7. Paul from Canada says:

    “Canada has a very professional set of armed forces, and if they ever get away from the politically-correct BS that’s been forced on them, they’ll be a lot better. Also, if they ever get properly funded…”

    Amen!!, and thank you!

    My service, (which was as a junior air-force officer in the early ’90s), happened during what we called “The decade of darkness”, over-committed and under-funded.

    I have commented over at Ian’s place before, agreeing with you re: employment of the GPMG. If there is one thing we got right up here in Canada, it is using the C-6 (M240/FN MAG) GPMG in the sustained fire role. A multi-position and adjustable tripod and the C2 dial sight for indirect fire is exactly the ticket, no need for the 25mm “Punisher” and the “overmatch” bullshit!

    Ironically, for many years, our main MG was an M1919A1, converted to fire 7.62 and M-13 link using the crappy original tripod. The only saving grace was that we still taught proper machine-gunnery, (beaten zone, oblique fire, etc.) We only ended up with the C-6 the same way you got the M-240, having adopted the FN-MAG as a tank flex/co-axial gun and “borrowing” it for infantry use. Why the South African SS-77 isn’t more widely used is a mystery to me, since the only objection to the MAG/M240 is the weight. Better yet, why has nobody adopted a PKM converted to 7.62 NATO?

    I am lucky enough to have service as a cadet/reservist that encompassed the FN C1 and as a regular that used the C7. My Basic Officer course in ’91 was the first to use the C7, so I have experience of both, and I own a genuine C1A1. I also own a Norinco M-14S and I have upset a number of people comparing the two, with my overall preference for the FN. I always wonder how much better off we would all have been with an FN/T-48 in something like .280/30, and an FN MAG in the same caliber, several pound lighter.

    As for CADPAT, my understanding is that at least one or more of the Nazi-German designers of their WWII patterns were consulted, and that the colour palette was chosen by feeding photos of Canadian boreal forest scenes into a computer to pick the four dominant colours, on average, so it was deigned to work best in the domestic environment.

    Our curse in Canada, is that we adopt the cutting edge/generation ahead, and than keep it in service until it is a couple of generations behind before replacing it.

  8. Kirk says:

    My personal choice for someone to remove from history would be COL Studler, who was single-handedly responsible for most of the chicanery surrounding the 7.62 NATO and M14. That cluster-fark set back rational small arms decisions here in the US and in NATO by decades, if not a full century. The M-14 was arguably the rifle we should have been fielding for WWI, but was never, ever the rifle we actually needed for any war–Except, against the targets at the National Matches.

    I’ve said it many times before–The problem with a lot of the US small arms decisions is that they have been optimized for the competitions at Camp Perry, and since those matches have never, ever been updated to actually reflect the realities of combat as she is fought, well… We’re continually screwing things up. It’s not an entirely bad idea to have competitions, but the problem is that if you’re going to do what we do with them, then the fidelity to reality has to be carefully and stringently policed–Or, you’re gonna wind up letting the match tail wag the combat dog. Which is, I submit, most of our problem with these issues. The M-14 and the M-16A2 were both optimized for the match range mentality, and it shows; both weapons failed to meet the needs in combat, and were supplanted by guns that did it better.

    I do agree about the .280 British and the FN-FAL. That combo would likely still be in service today, with perhaps a convertible MAG-58 that could do .30-06 for MMG work, and .280 for light support, kinda the way the SS-77 and Negev manage things. Or, we could have done a nice light version of the BREN…

    So many superior options to what we actually did, which was idiocy personified.

    I’ve enjoyed working with the Canadian Forces every time I’ve had occasion to, and I’ve always come away very impressed. They do more with less, and have a lot of very good ideas that I found worth copying. Learned something new, every time I was around them, and I wish I could have done more training with them.

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