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Gewehr 43 from the collections of the Swedish Army Museum
|Place of origin||Nazi Germany|
|Used by||Nazi Germany
German Democratic Republic
|Wars||World War II|
|Weight||4.4 kg (9.7 lbs)|
|Length||1130 mm (44.5 in )|
|Barrel length||550 mm (21.5 inches)|
|Action||Gas-operated short-stroke piston, tilting bolt|
|Muzzle velocity||746–776 m/s (2,448–2,546 ft/s)|
|Effective firing range||500 m, 800 m with scope|
|Feed system||10-round detachable box magazine, stripper clip fed|
|Sights||Iron sights, Zf42 optical crosshair sight|
The Gewehr 43 or Karabiner 43 (abbreviated G43, K43, Gew 43, Kar 43) is a 7.92×57mm Mauser caliber semi-automatic rifle developed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The design was based on that of the earlier G41(W), but incorporating an improved short-stroke piston gas system similar to that of the Soviet Tokarev SVT-40, and it incorporated innovative mass-production techniques.
Germany's quest for a semi-automatic infantry rifle resulted in two designs – the G41(M) and G41(W), from Mauser and Walther arms respectively. The Mauser design was introduced in 1941 and at least 12,755 were made, but it proved unreliable in combat. The Walther design fared better in combat but still suffered from reliability problems. The problems with both designs stemmed from a demand made by the Army that the rifles not use holes drilled into the barrel, known as ports, to run the automatic loading mechanism. Meeting this requirement meant the designs had to use uncommon mechanisms that were simply unreliable and highly prone to fouling.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union led to small numbers of the SVT-40 being captured and returned to Germany for examination. These used a simple gas mechanism powered from a port cut into the barrel about 1/3 of the way back from the end, and replaced the conventional stripper reloads with a modern box magazine. It was clearly much better than the G41's, and simpler as well. In 1943, Walther combined a similar gas system with aspects of the G41(W) providing greatly improved performance. It was accepted and entered into service as the Gewehr 43, renamed Karabiner 43 in April 1944, with production amounting to just over 400,000 between 1943 and 1945.
Gewehr 41(M) and G41(W)
By 1940, it became apparent that some form of a semi-automatic rifle, with a higher rate of fire than existing bolt-action rifle models, was necessary to improve the infantry's combat efficiency. The army issued a specification to various manufacturers, and both Mauser and Walther submitted prototypes that were very similar. However, some restrictions were placed upon the design:
- no holes for tapping gas for the loading mechanism were to be bored into the barrel;
- the rifles were not to have any moving parts on the surface;
- and in case the autoloading mechanism failed, a bolt action was to be included.
Both models therefore used a mechanism known as the "Bang" system (after its Danish designer Søren H. Bang). In this system, gases from the bullet were trapped near the muzzle in a ring-shaped cone, which in turn pushed on a long piston that opened the breech and re-loaded the gun. This system is in contrast to the more common type of gas-operated system, in which gasses are tapped off from the barrel, and push back on a piston to open the breech to the rear. Both also included 10-round fixed magazines that were loaded using two 5-round stripper clips (the same kind that were used for the Karabiner 98k), utilizing the same German-standard 7.92×57mm Mauser rounds.
The Mauser design, the G41(M), failed. Only 6,673 were produced before production was temporarily halted, and of these, 1,673 were returned as unusable. The Walther design, the G41(W), is in outward appearance not unlike the Gewehr 43. Most metal parts on this rifle were machined steel, and some rifles, especially later examples utilized the bakelite type plastic handguards. The Walther design was more successful because the designers had simply neglected the last two restrictions listed above.
These rifles, along with their G41(M) counterparts, suffered from gas system fouling problems. These problems seemed to stem from the overly complex muzzle trap system becoming excessively corroded from the use of corrosive salts in the ammunition primers, and carbon fouling. The muzzle assembly consisted of many fine parts and was difficult to keep clean, disassemble, and maintain in field conditions. The rifle was redesigned in 1943 into the Gewehr 43 utilizing a gas system somewhat similar to that on the Tokarev series of rifles, and a detachable magazine for easier cleaning. Coincidentally, the US M1 rifle followed a similar course being first designed with a gas trap mechanism which was quickly discarded in production.
G41(W) rifles were produced at two factories: Waffenfabrik Walther at Zella-Mehlis, and Berliner-Luebecker Maschinenfabrik (BLM). Walther guns bear the AC code, and WaA359 inspection proofs, while BLM guns bear the DUV code with WaA214 inspection proofs. These rifles are also relatively scarce, and quite valuable in collector's grade. Varying sources put production figures between 40,000 and 145,000 units. Again, these rifles saw a high attrition rate on the Eastern front.
Gewehr 43 / Karabiner 43
In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa. Just prior to the opening of hostilities the Soviet Red Army had started re-arming its infantry, complementing its older bolt-action rifles with the new semi-automatic SVT-38s and SVT-40s. This proved to be somewhat of a shock to the Germans, who ramped up their semi-automatic rifle development efforts significantly.
The SVT series used a simpler gas-operated mechanism, which was soon emulated by Walther in its successor to the G41(W), producing the Gewehr 43 (or G43). The simpler, sturdier design and mechanism of the G43 made it lighter, easier to produce, more reliable and also much tougher than the Gewehr 41; elite German mountain troops would use them as ladder rungs during climbing. The addition of a 10-round stamped-steel detachable box magazine was an improvement over the integral box magazine of the G41(W). The Gewehr 43 was intended, like the G41, to be loaded using 5-round stripper clips without removing the magazine. Soldiers armed with the weapon typically carried one standard stripper clip pouch and a Gewehr 43 pouch with two spare magazines. The G43 utilises the same flapper-locked mechanism as its predecessor. The Gewehr 43 was put into production in October 1943, and followed in 1944 by the Karabiner 43 (K43), which was identical to the G43 in every way except for the letter stamped on the side. The name change from Gewehr to Karabiner (carbine) was due to the fact the rifle was actually two centimetres shorter than the standard Karabiner 98k and therefore the term Gewehr (meaning: long rifle) was somewhat unfitting. The Wehrmacht intended to equip each grenadier (infantry) company in the army with 19 G43s, including 10 with scopes, for issue as the company commander saw fit. This issue was never completely achieved.
Gewehr 43s were made by Berlin-Lübecker Maschinenfabrik in Lübeck (Weapons coded "duv," and later "qve"). Walther (Weapons coded "AC") and the Wilhelm Gustloff-Werke (Weapons coded "bcd"). Walther used its satellite production facilities at Neuengamme concentration camp in addition to its main production facilities at Zella-Mehlis to make the rifles (It does not appear that complete weapons were assembled in the camps, similar to how Radom P35 pistols were assembled in occupied Radom, Poland without their barrels, which were built and installed by Steyr in Austria), Wilhelm Gustloff-Werke used some slave workers to augment its depleted staff from Buchenwald concentration camp. The total production by the end of the war is estimated to have been 402,713 of both models, including at least 53,435 sniper rifles: these G43/K43s were used as designated marksman/sniper weapons, fitted with the Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4) telescopic sight with 4× magnification. The weapon was originally designed for use with the Schiessbecher rifle grenade launcher (standard on the Karabiner 98k as well) and the Schalldämpfer suppressor, however these accessories were deemed unsuccessful in tests and were dropped even before the rifle made it to serial production. The rifle also lacked a bayonet mount.
The rifle has multiple weaknesses, linked to poor inherent design and rushed production. The fragile flapper-locked system required very precise machining and good fit. Hence, the locking flappers between two rifles are not designed to be interchangeable. Another weakness is the structural integrity of the receiver. Since production shifted to a sheet-metal construction, combined with large bolt mass, over-gassed operating system, and lower quality steels, the complex-shaped receiver was prone to warping, cracking and peening after prolonged firing. The safety lever on the G43 is not readily replaceable and is rather fragile. The open slot on top of the receiver exposed all the internals of the rifle to dust and other contaminants. Although various types of dust covers were implemented and tested, none were very well received.
The Gewehr 43 stayed in service with the Czechoslovak People's Army for several years after the war. Likewise the East German border troops and police Volkspolizei or VoPo were issued reworked G43 rifles, which are recognizable by a sunburst proof mark near the serial number and the serial number engraved by electropencil on removable components.
There were many small variations introduced on the G/K43 throughout its production cycle. The important consideration is that no changes were made to the rifle design specifically to coincide with the nomenclature change from Gewehr to Karabiner, with the exception of the letter stamped on the side. Careful study of actual pieces will show that many G-marked rifles had features found on K-marked rifles and vice versa. There is therefore no difference in weight or length between the G43 and the K43. Variations in barrel length did exist, but those were the product of machining tolerances, differences between factories, and/or experimental long-barreled rifles. An unknown number of late-war K43 rifles were chambered for the 7.92×33mm Kurz cartridge and modified to accept StG44 magazines.
Though most G/K43s are equipped with a telescopic sight mounting rail, the vast majority of the rifles were issued in their standard infantry form without a scope. When equipped with a scope, it was exclusively the ZF 4 4-power telescopic sight. No other known scope/mount combinations were installed by the German military on G/K43's during World War II. Many strange variations have shown up after the war, but all have been proven to be the work of amateur gunsmiths. Rifles with broken-off butts are common, as German soldiers were instructed to render semi-automatic rifles useless when in danger of capture.
- List of World War II firearms of Germany
- Itajuba Model 954 Mosquetao, Brazilian derivative chambered in .30-06.
- MAS-49 rifle
- M1 Garand
- Chris Bishop (2002). The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-58663-762-0. gives both G41(W) and G43 at 776 m/s
- David Westwood (2005). Rifles: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. pp. 338–339. ISBN 978-1-85109-401-1. give G41(W) at 776 m/s and G43 at 746 m/s
- Chris McNab (2013). German Automatic Rifles 1941-45: Gew 41, Gew 43, FG 42 and StG 44. Osprey Publishing. pp. 34 and 40. ISBN 978-1-78096-387-7. gives the G43 at 746 m/s
- "Gewehr 43". Imperial War Museum Collections. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
- Senich, Peter R., The German Assault Rifle, 1935-1945, Paladin Press, Boulder, Colo. USA, 1987 p. 147
- Historic Sniper Scopes - A comparative Study - The ZF4
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gewehr 43.|
- Modern Firearms - Gewehr 43 / Gew.43 / Kar.43 semi-automatic rifle
- G43 / K43 Collectors Homepage
- Axis Ordnance Report, US intelligence report on the Kar 43 written in 1945.[dead link]