|Region of Origin:||Nazi Germany|
|Rate of Fire:||~900 rounds/min|
|Action:||Gas-operated, rotating bolt|
|Years Active:||1943 - 2017|
The FG 42 was a selective fire battle rifle produced in Nazi Germany during World War II. The weapon was developed specifically for the use with Fallschirmjäger airborne infantry in 1942 and was used in very limited numbers until the end of the war.
It combined the characteristics and firepower of a light machine gun in a lightweight form no larger than the standard-issue Kar 98k bolt-action rifle.
Considered one of the most advanced weapon designs of World War II, the FG 42 influenced post-war small arms development and ultimately helped to shape the modern assault rifle concept.
In 1941, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), requested a selective fire hand-held weapon for the paratroopers; Senior Staff Air Secretary Ossenbach at the GL/C Erprobungsstelle-6 (GL/C E-6—the Luftwaffe Weapons Development Branch at Tarnewitz near Lübeck) was approached informally to develop this special new weapon.
The Reich Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium or RLM) sought to develop a universal shoulder-fired automatic rifle that could replace the bolt-action rifle, submachine gun, and light machine gun in the air assault role. The proposed weapon would also simplify logistics and provide greater firepower to the individual paratrooper.
The RLM attempted to initiate a formal weapons development program through the Heereswaffenamt (the HWaA, or Army Ordnance Department)—responsible for German small arms development—but conflicting priorities and friction with the Army (the HWaA dismissed the undertaking as unrealistic and offered their G 41(W) semi-automatic rifle instead) led to an independent development by the Luftwaffe. Plans were laid out to form a central authority for the new program at the Luftwaffe testing station at Tarnewitz. The engineers on staff had acquired considerable expertise developing lightweight automatic weapons, having successfully converted the MG 15 aircraft machine gun to a ground configuration.
However, due to the high casualties sustained by the paratroopers during Operation Mercury, Hitler changed his mind about the tactical importance of airborne assaults and the plans were terminated. Nevertheless, Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring privately ordered the continuation of the project.
The RLM went directly to German industry with its plans—the so-called LC-6 specification issued 14 December 1941 mentioned amongst others that the weapon should not exceed 1,000 mm (39.4 in) in length, should not be significantly heavier than the Kar 98k rifle, should be able to fire single shots from a closed bolt, provide fully automatic fire from an open bolt, feed from detachable 10 or 20-round magazines and be able to fire rifle grenades. Despite the introduction of the intermediate 7.9mm Kurz cartridge promoted by the Heer (developed for the promising MP 43 assault rifle), the Luftwaffe favored the long-range potential of the standard 7.92×57mm Mauser rifle round and this caliber was one of the main design prerequisites.
Six manufacturers were solicited for prototype designs: Gustloff-Werke, Mauser, Johannes Großfuß Metall- und Lackierwarenfabrik, C.G. Hänel, Rheinmetall-Borsig and Heinrich Krieghoff Waffenfabrik.
Several contracts were awarded but only a few prototypes are known to have been submitted. Mauser offered a version of the MG 81. While Krieghoff presented a rising-block prototype, which too was quickly dropped.
A design credited to Rheinmetall-Borsig's Louis Stange of Sömmerda proved satisfactory and underwent military trials conducted by the GL/C E-6 test station at Tarnewitz in mid-1942.
This early prototype, known under the factory designation Gerät 450 ("device 450") or Ausführung "A" ("type A"), was intended to be a pure sheet metal design, using pressed steel in the construction of the receiver, buttstock and corrugated handguard. The proposed system of operation was modeled on that used in the World War I Lewis light machine gun, with a gas-operated turning bolt action geared to a spiral (clock-type) recoil spring.
The type "A" was never produced beyond model form, but the basic design layout was retained for further development.
With the basic characteristics of the LC-6 accepted, a series of modifications followed. The revised Ausführung "B" replaced the sheet metal handguard with a resin-impregnated fiber type that provided protection against heat and a better grip when wet.
These tests exposed several shortcomings, addressed by Stange in April 1942 with the LC-6/II prototype. The prototype was then submitted to a series of endurance tests led by the HWA and further modified to increase functional reliability and durability, resulting in the final LC-6/III prototype variant that was ultimately accepted into production as the FG 42. Fifty rifles were fabricated by Rheinmetall-Borsig for evaluation purposes by the end of 1942.
A pre-series batch of 50 rifles was produced in early 1943 and 6 examples were sent to GL/C E-6 for additional testing. Almost identical to the LC-6/III, these guns differ from later models by using a smooth sheet metal buttstock and an experimental muzzle brake. The weapons experienced serious malfunctions: one rifle suffered a catastrophic failure after firing only 2,100 rounds, a soldier was injured when attempting to fire a rifle grenade and the pressed metal buttstock would deform after launching only several rifle grenades.