During World War II, the fighting forces that were Allied and Axis paratroopers were the cutting edge of warfare. Today, special operations have the cache, but 70 years ago, the swagger and elite belonged to the paratroopers. And along with that stature, came a series of special weapons designed specifically for them.
One such weapon was the unique FG-42, the automatic rifle of the Fallschrimjager.
The FG-42 was designed specifically for the Luftwaffe's airborne force from disasterous lessons learned on Crete. When the Fallschrimjager jumped into the island nation in May of 1941, they landed on the rock without weapons. The machine guns, small arms and other equipment were dropped seperately in containers.
Airborne doctrine, still in its early stages during WWII, was still realizing that when paratroopers jumped into a drop zone they needed to have instantaneous and overwhelming superiority of fire. Without light, but potent, jumpable weapons, paratroopers were landing in a storm without a rain jacket.
So, the word was passed down that the German paratroopers needed their own rifle, and the FG-42 was born.
Looking at the FG-42 is a sleek, unusual looking weapon. Its method of operation is fairly conventional, gas tapped from the barrel, pushing upon a piston, which actuates the bolts, cycles the weapon and fires again. It was also a select-fire rifle, meaning that it could fire automatic or semm-automatic.
The FG-42, when in automatic mode, fired from an open bolt. When a rifle fires automatically, one trigger pull releases stream of rounds, it quickly develops tremendous, potentially weapon killing heat. To remedy that heat, some automatic weapons of the day fired from an open bolt. This allowed better disipation of the heat built up during automatic fire.
The bolt on the FG-42 remained locked back as each round fired in automatic fire. It ran forward, fired and returned back again, in fractions of seconds, just enough to keep the weapon cool. However, with open-bolt came the degradation of accuracy.
The FG-42 selector allowed the user to switch to semi-automatic, or one round per trigger pull. This came with the bolt locking forward with each cycle. This lock-up with breach and bolt made for a more accurate weapon
All of these features have been used in numerous weapons through small-arms history.
What made the FG-42 unusual from other magazine fed rifles of World War II was its placement of the magazine. Where most magazine fed rifles had traditional under receiver wells, the FG-42 put the magazine on the weak side of the weapon. This allowed for a more jumpable, snag free rifle as well as on the face of it, a faster magazine change. Side fed weapons had been confined to sub-machine guns of the time.
However, what worked against the rifle was the magazine was filled with the full-sized 8x57mm rifle round of the Kar98K. This was demanded by the Luftwaffe, they wanted a full power round for true dominance. What this did was make the weapon a bit heavier, but also unbalanced. Interestingly, there was hope that the FG-42 would end up chambered in the new 7.92 Kurz, shortened round that went into the Stg-44, considered the first true"assault rifle."
Also, with the full-power 8mm round in a fairly short rifle, there was excessive muzzle flash. This lead engineers to come up with a very intricately designed muzzle brake. And still, the FG-42 belched quite a flame when fired.
The sights on the rifle were designed to be robust, accurate, but also foldable. These were small, but important concessions to the needs of airborne forces. One less thing to snag. Folding sights are now de riguer for combat rifles. The FG-42 also came ready for a 4x scope mounting, another standard to most modern rifles.
When the first FG-42 saw combat in Rhodes, tweaks were being made to the design. The flash reducer was one change, so was the addition of a spring loaded magazine well cover. Superficially, but important to the functional use of the rifle, was putting on a more traditional pistol grip.
The first model FG-42 had a grip that was angled for hip-fire rather than firing from the prone or standing. A more ergonomic pistol grip was added to the final versions of the paratrooper rifle.
A second change was the integrated bipod. The first generation of FG-42 had a bipod that folded up and forward beneath the barrel. Soldiers found that in automatic fire the weapon of course recoiled back, collapsing the bipod legs. On the next generation of rifle, the bipod was flipped, so it folded with the feet towards the breach.
A rare rifle now, the FG-42 was only produced in numbers between 5,000 to 7,000 for the Luftwaffe.