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The Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 (FG42) was a light automatic rifle produced for Nazi Germany during World War II. The weapon was developed for paratroopers, who wanted a lighter machine gun after their experiences in the Invasion of Crete. While other nations had fielded large numbers of light machine guns, such as the Bren, there was no such weapon fielded by Nazi Germany. Paratroopers had to make due with a limited number of MG-34s, which, even in their LMG configuration were significantly heavier than other LMGs, and individual weapons like the K98k and M40. As a result, the FG-42 was developed. It could fire single shots semi-automatically, but also serve as a light support weapon. Its development was authorized by Hermann Göring.
The Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 was developed in response to paratroopers' demands, after they took heavy losses in the Invasion of Crete . After the inception of the G41 and G43 semi-automatic rifles into the German army (Heer) and the Waffen SS, Hermann Göring (then the commander of all Luftwaffe forces) insisted that his Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) be supplied with an even more advanced self-loading rifle. The requirements were that it be light enough for the individual paratrooper to carry with him on the drop, incorporate fully automatic fire, and serve the role of a rifle when needed. Six manufacturers were given contracts to produce the gun but only a few thousand were actually made.
By the time the FG42 Mark II was developed, the war had significantly changed for the worse. Frequent allied bombing raids had crippled Nazi Germany, and the only weapons that could be produced were made out of second-rate materials and were subject to poor production methods. In all, only about 5000 of them were produced, and only a limited number found their way into the hands of troops. The weapon was ultimately written off as a expensive failure, and was superceded by more useful and easier to produce weapons such as the, Karabiner 98k rifle, MP40 sub-machine gun, and MG42 heavy machine gun.
The FG42 filled a missing niche in the Nazi arsenal and was somewhat well-received by the paratroopers when tested, but it did have its drawbacks. The FG42 had a 10, or sometimes 20 round magazine that was mounted on the side. Though a side-mounted magazine was common in some other weapons of the era, it was found to significantly unbalance the FG42. On account of its shorter barrel, the FG42 was found to be less powerful, have a shorter range, and produce more flame than most other light automatic rifles firing the standard-issue 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser. In addition, the recoil produced by this heavy rifle round was substantial, even when prone. The added flame made it easier to find the location of the shooter, and also obscured the view of the target of the shooter. (Modern weapons often have a splitter to direct the gas to the sides and stop the flame from obscuring the line of sight.)
The FG42 also incorporated a design feature that came as a mixed blessing to field troops: when fired in semi-automatic mode, it fired from a traditional closed-bolt position, though on full-auto it fired from an open bolt. This design was expensive to make, and caused some of the technical problems which greatly limited its production. In all, only about 5000 of them were produced, and only a limited number found their way into the hands of troops. Commandos under Otto Skorzeny were the first troops to use this weapon during their daring rescue of deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The weapon was written off as a expensive failure, and was superceded much the more useful Mp43/44/StG44. Some features, such as the details of the gas-operated bolt selection process, were studied by Army engineers after the war. These, along with some aspects of the MG42, are commonly reported to have been incorporated in the similarly troubled M60.
- Country: Nazi Germany
- Caliber: 7.92x57mm Mauser
- Weight: 4.5 kg (9.92 lb) for version I, 4.9 kg (11.2 lb) for the version II
- Length: 937 mm (I); 1060 mm (II)
- Magazine Capacity: 10 or 20 rounds
- Cyclic Rate: 900 (I); 600 (II) rounds per minute
- Effective Range: roughly 500 meters (550 yards)
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