Hitlers' Germany entered the World War 2 with the MG-34 as a major multipurpose machine gun, but it soon was discovered that MG-34 was less than suitable for high volume wartime production, being too time- and resource-consuming in manufacture and also somewhat sensitive to fouling and mud. The search for newer, better universal machine gun begain circa 1939, and in 1942 the final design, developed by the German company Metall und Lackierwarenfabrik Johannes Grossfuss AG, was adopted as a MG-42. It was manufactured in large numbers by companies like the Grossfuss itself, Mauser-Werke, Gustloff-Werke, Steyr-Daimler-Puch and some others. Being undoubtfully one of the best machine guns of the World War 2, MG-42 still shines and is still in production in more or less modified forms in many countries. In most countries, like the Germany ,Italy and Pakistan, it is used rechambered for 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition, under the names of MG-42/59 and MG-3. In some countries, like Yugoslavia, it is used in its original chambering, 7.92mm Mauser. In any case, some 60 years since its first adoption, MG-42 and its direct descendants are among the best in the world in its class. Total numbers of the MG-42s built during WW2 are estimated as not less than 400 000, and keeping in mind that it is still manufactured in some countries, total numbers of the MG-42 and ist direct descendants produced in the world up to date, can be near the million.
MG-42 was designed with the some wery basic ideas in mind: it must be universal in use, fast and cheap to manufacture, and as reliable as possible. It also had to provide maximum available firepower by adopting a relatively high rate of fire. To achieve the fast manufacturing and a relatively low cost, Grossfuss company used as much steel stampings as possible. In fact, instead of the separate barrel sleeve and receiver, both machined from blocks of steel (as found in MG-34), MG-42 used a single piece receiver/barrel sleeve unit, stamped from one sheet of steel. This feature alone saved a lot of steel and time, but other measures also have been taken, so overall cost of the MG-42 was about 30% lower than of MG-34, and it required 50% less raw materials and man labour, than MG-34.
MG-42 is a short recoil operated, automatic fire, belt-feed weapon. To simplify the design, select-fire and magazine-feeding features of the MG-34 were abandoned, and MG-42 could be fed only from the left side. The belt feed of the MG-42 is quite simpe and effective, and it was used as a pattern for numerous latter designs. It uses a single swinging arm that operates a belt-feed claws. Both arm and claws are mounted on the hinged receiver feed cover. Arm has a curved cam track, in which the bolt stut rides forward and backward, when receiver is closed, thus oscillating the arm and operating the feed. MG-42 used same belts as MG-34, in same 50-round truncated cone shaped containers or 250 rounds boxes.
MG-42 uses a short recoiling barrel with muzzle recoil booster, somewhat similar in appearance to one found on MG-34. This booster uses muzzle blast to accelerate barrel recoil, and also served as a flash hider. Barrel locking is acieved by the pair of the rollers, located in the bolt head. When bolt becomes in the forwardmost position, bolt body, with its forward inclined part, pushes two rollers aside and into the locking recesses in the barrel extension, achieving a rigid lock between the barrel and the bolt head. When shot is fired, after the short recoil of the barrel with the bolt locked to it, rollers are pushed inward by the shaped cams in the receiver, releasing the bolt head from the barrel. Barrel is then stopped and bolt continued to travel backward, extracting and ejecting a spent case, operating a belt-feed and chambering a fresh round on its return into the battery. MG-42 is fired from the open bolt, allowing for fastest possible barrel cooling. Due to high rate of fire, barrel must be changed quite often (about every 250 - 300 rounds of sustained fire), so a very simple and effective method of barrel change was introduced. Barrel is held iside its sleve by the simple bearing at the muzzle and by the yoke at the rear. To remove the barrel, one must simply unlatch the yoke and swing it out, so rear part of the barrel will be withdrawn out of the sleeve to the right. After that, barrel can be simply withdrawn to the back and replaced by the fresh and cool one. Then, simply turn the yoke back and gun is ready to rock. Barrel replacement could be made in as short time as 6 to 10 seconds, allowing for high practical rate of fire. Every gun usually was issued with two or three spare barrels, which were stored in special containers.
Every MG-42 has a light, folding bipod from which it could be fired in Light machinegun role. It also could be used from earlier infantry and Anti-Aircraft tripods, designed for MG-34. It was issued mostly to infantry and was rarely seen on the vehicles or tanks, because the MG-34, with its ambidextrous feed capabilities and straight-backward barrel withdrawal, was more suited for tank mountings. There also was less dirt inside the tanks than in front trenches, so MG-34 worked quite well in this role, while MG-42's unsurpassed reliability ruled the battlefields.
As a last note, i should point out that MG-42 system of operations is often confused with one, developed by the Mauser-Werke in 1945 and made famous by various CETME and Heckler & Koch rifles (G3), machine guns (HK21, HK23) and submachine guns (MP5). These systems, while both using two rollers located between the bolt head and the bolt body, are completely different in operations. In MG-42, the barrel is movable and recoils for short time, while being rigidly locked. In H&K designs, barrel does not move, and rollers are used not to lock the barrel, but only to slow down the bolt head rearward motion at the initial stages of the reloading cycle. The only other weapon, produced in large numbers, that used MG-42 roller locking, is a Czech-made vz.52 pistol, not to mention the MG-3 machine gun, which, in this respect, is the same as MG-42.
Collector's Comments and Feedback:
1. The MG42 shown in the picture virtual tour is an exceptionally low serial number. It's even earlier than the data collected for Folke Myrvang's reference book on German MG42's manufactured in 1943 at Mauser Werke, Borsigwalde. See his notes in the specifications above. It should also be noted that it has been deactivated in compliance with Canadian firearms laws. ...... (Feedback by "Badger")