Next to the Thompson submachine gun, the German Mp40 is one of the most recognizable and famous guns ever produced. Called a MachinenPistole by the Germans, the Mp40 saw service with every branch of the German Army during World War Two.
Introduced in 1940 by its designer, Heinrich Vollmer, it was rather incorrectly termed as a "Schmeisser". Hugo Schmeisser did design weapons but only patented the Mp40's magazine, somehow his name got associated to the entire gun and he has remained forever synonymous with it.
Vollmer however, was practically unknown and his name was never associated with the gun that he designed. The Mp40 has gone through history being known as the Schmeisser rather than the Vollmer.
The Mp40 was so well designed that nearly seventy years after the end of World War Two, original examples can still be fired. Standard military grade 9mm ammunition has to be fired in them, as modern high pressure rounds would destroy the seventy year old working parts. YouTube video below depicts a modern day World War Two re-enactor, wearing fully authentic infantry kit, firing an original Mp40 from various stances.
The Mp40 was manufactured at the Erfurter Maschinenfabrik Werkes (ERMA) in Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany and was actually a replacement for the rather expensive, unreliable and accident prone Mp38 that was first issued in 1938.
The Mp38 as seen below, could fire accidentally if knocked or dropped and hence needed to be improved. Both were designed to be cocked with the left hand whilst the right hand held the grip, presumably for faster firing once the magazine was home.
The Mp40 had several design improvements over its predecessor and became a highly successful and reliable weapon, that would not now fire if dropped or knocked.
Made almost entirely from pressed steel fittings and synthetic parts, the Mp40 was a modern, mass produced weapon and over one million of them were made until production ceased when the allies took over the factory at the end of World War Two.
It fired the standard German 9mm parabellum round that was in abundance with their army as it was the same ammunition for the Walther P38 pistol, Luger P08 pistol and the Bergmann SMG. The 9mm Parabellum was and still is quite a high power round and a 115 grain bullet can exceed 1200 feet per second. This exact bullet the 9x19mm parabellum, is still used today with modern armies and police forces around the world.
As stated earlier the Mp40 was made from pressed steel and consequently it was relatively cheap and easy to mass produce. The grip and some other parts were made with high-pressure moulded phenolin resin, reinforced with paper fibers to afford the best insulation when the gun got hot.
With such an abundance of these coming of the production line it was easy to equip almost every soldier in the German army with them.
There is a lot of disinformation on the internet and in books, brochures and articles as to who actually got issued with these guns. I believe that they were eventually if not initially issued to all combatants of every branch and rank of the German army. Along with other units and not just to NCO's and Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers). Although it can be argued that the Mp40 with its folding stock is somewhat more reminiscent of a paratroopers weapon, one can assume that they were indeed made with the Fallschirmjäger in mind.
It is accepted of course that many German infantrymen were issued with the bolt, action Mauser Karbiner model of 1898 - Kar98 as their main weapon. The Mp40 however, saw action in every battle ever fought with the German army in World War Two, it was utilised by many detachments such as the Waffen SS, even though they also had the Bergmann SMG, the Fallschirmjäger as earlier stated, tank crews and even some members of the Luftwaffe. All this proved that it was a very versatile weapon and in every conflict with the German forces the enemy could expect to come under automatic weapons fire and not just the sporadic single shot fire from bolt action rifles.
The YouTube video below shows some modern day shooters letting rip and having some fun with a genuine Mp40.
As seen in the video above, it had a low and controllable rate of fire of 500 rpm along with low recoil, meaning that it was quite accurate for a "spray and pray" weapon as most SMG's are. Firing ammunition from a 20 or 32 round box magazine that was also quick to change when empty. There was a metal lug on the underside of the muzzle...
...so that the barrel could be fired from the port of an armored vehicle without fear of it slipping back into the vehicle if jolted by rough terrain. It was also an easy gun to field strip to its base components for ease of cleaning.
Weighing at just under 9 lbs empty, the Mp40 was not too heavy or cumbersome for the average infantryman to carry with him 24/7. Don't forget, soldiers ate, slept, marched and went to the toilet with their guns, as they never left their side and an overly heavy or cumbersome gun would have procured more curses than plaudits from those they were equipped to. As it was, the Germans were delighted with them albeit from the occasional jams due to some minor issues with the magazine.
The allies also became fond of the Mp40 and when they captured these guns they would always opt to use them...ironically, against their former owners. The British 9mm Sten gun used the same ammunition, but as the Mp40 was far more superior, it was often swapped whenever they were captured. The Mp40 is just as famous as the U.S Thompson Submachine gun aka Tommy Gun and has been widely depicted in almost every World War Two movie ever made. Its hard to visualize a German soldier without an Mp40 and Hollywood movie producers fully realized this too.
The pictures below are of Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in the 1969 movie Where Eagles Dare, both with Mp40's that were used extensively throughout the entire movie. Of course these movie 'props' were adapted for firing blank rounds only, otherwise there would have been a lot of dead actors lying around the movie set! A special gas restrictor was fitted up the barrel to enable the gun to fire in a realistic way, as blanks do not produce enough pressure to operate the cyclic rate of the gun.
The MP40 is truly an icon and you cannot mention the German army in World War Two without really mentioning it along the way. Below is an Mp38, it is often mistaken for an Mp40 and can sometimes be seen in movies, books etc as being depicted as an Mp40. The ridges along the top of the receiver and the hole in the magazine housing give it away as an Mp38.
The Mp40 though, is now forever heavily associated with both World War Two and all the movies that came thereafter. A German soldier cannot really be imagined as being without one, either slung over his shoulder or firing it at an advancing hoard of enemy soldiers. It was a reliable and dependable sub machinegun and served the Germans quite well all throughout World War Two.
This iconic gun deserves its place here in my intersting firearms section as it is indeed a part of some very interesting history.
Page created May 3rd 2010. Updated April 8th 2013