Friday, July 1, 2011

The pressure of war

War pressures produced some very successful designs, such as the American Ml carbine; some very innovative designs, such as the German FG42; and some rugged, conventional but battle-worthy weapons, such as the British bolt-action No. 4 rifle. The German Gewehr 41, by contrast, was unreliable and too heavy to be popular.

The M1 Carbine
The American-designed Ml carbine was used in World War II by US forces, by the British in Malaya during the Emergency (1948-60) and by the French in Indo¬china in the 1950s. It was described by one veteran as "one of the most appealing of weapons, light, handy, easy to shoot and totally useless over 200 yards [183m] since it fired a pistol bullet". The US Carbine Cal .30 Ml was produced with a folding stock for airborne forces as the M1A1; it weighed 2.7kg/6lb with a loaded magazine and folded down to a compact 630mm/25in. The wooden-stock Ml weighed a little less at 2.5kg/5.5lb, but it folded down to only 890mm/35in. Both weapons had a cyclic rate of 750 rpm and fired from a 15- or 30-rciund box magazine. A popular practice was to attach a two-magazine webbing pouch to the wooden stock, which gave the soldier two ready-to-use magazines with his weapon.
A US Army squad leader briefs his patrol in Normandy. Most of the men are armed with the M1 Carbine, which was a handy weapon although it fired a short range .30 (7.62mm) pistol bullet and was useless at long range.

The Gewehr 41
At the start of World War II, German Army commanders knew that they needed a self-loading semi-automatic rifle to replace the bolt-operated Karabiner 98k. A specification was issued for the weapon in 1940, which resulted in the Mauser Gewehr 41 (W). But it was not a success in the field. The main problem was the complex gas-blowback system, which proved unreliable in the dust and dirt of the front line, primarily on the Eastern Front. It was also very heavy, weighing around 5kg/l lib, and the manufacturing costs were unacceptably high.

The paratrooper's rifle
The FG-42 (Fallschirmjagergewehr-42), also known as the Paratrooper's rifle, Model 1942, was designed for German airborne soldiers. Powerful yet light, the FG-42 was air cooled and gas operated, and sturdy-despite the widespread use of stamping and the minimum use of metal to reduce weight. It also had a unique spike bayonet, fitted as an optional extra. The ammunition feed was from a side-mounted 20-round box magazine, which could be loaded separately or from standard five-round Mauser clips with the action open.
The German FG-42 developed for parachute troops was an innovative weapon, but was too light to fire successfully in full automatic mode and too costly to produce.

No more than 2,000 examples of the original weapon, also known as the FG-42 1st model or FG-42-1, were delivered. This was because the lightweight rifle didn't have enough strength to handle powerful rifle ammunition in full automatic mode. In addition, the manufacturing cost was too high.

A redesigned weapon, the FG-42-2, was introduced in early 1944. It was heavier and longer but even so it was still too light to be fired accurately on full automatic even from the prone position using the bipod. Just as importantly, it was too expensive, particularly when compared to the StG44 assault rifle. By the end of the war in 1945, some 5,000 FG-42-2 models had been built. The mechanism of the FG-42 reappeared as the basis of another flawed weapon: the US M60 machine gun.

The Lee-Enfield No.4
A new bolt-action rifle, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 replaced the SMLE during World War II, was less expensive to manufacture and had improved tangent sights. The No. 4, which would arm British and Canadian infantry at D-Day and through numerous post-war campaigns including Korea, the Malayan Emergency and Suez, was replaced only in the 1960s, by the 7.62mm SLR. At 3.9ft/1.2m long, the No. 5 or Jungle Carbine was shorter than the No. 4 at 1.4m/1.5yd and lighter at 3kg/6.6lb compared to 4kg/8.8lb. It looked a handsome weapon but suffered from a wandering zero, pronounced kick and a muzzle flash, which made a flash eliminator necessary. As the 7.62mm L42A1 sniper's rifle, the modified No. 4 was used by the British Army until the early 1980s. All weapons had a ten-shot detachable box magazine.
Allied soldiers in street fighting in north-western Europe. The man in the foreground is armed with a .303in No. 4 rifle while the lance corporal has equipped himself with a captured German MP40 SMG.

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