The MP40: An Iconic German Machine Pistol


MP40 Photo Album

OSS Agent Manon Batiste stands with her MP40.

OSS Agent Manon Batiste stands with her MP40.

Although about 1.1 million were built, the German Maschinenpistole 40, or MP40, was not as ubiquitous as many video games and movies have made it seem.

The submachine gun was initially given only to officers and paratroopers, with the majority of footsoldiers carrying the Kar98k rifle, as the Germans based their infantry tactics around supporting each squad’s light machine gun. However, rifle-based squads found themselves outgunned in the later years of the war by entire units wielding automatic weapons, and the MP40 was issued to more soldiers.

As its name indicates, the weapon was first produced in 1940, a descendant of the MP38 and MP36, and the design was simplified with each iteration.

It was designed by Heinrich Vollmer, who had worked on the MP36 and submitted a prototype that was approved by the military as the MP38. The gun has often been called the “Schmeisser,” after weapons designer Hugo Schmeisser, who had created the MP18 during World War I, but he did not work on the MP40.

MP40 production featured a number of cost-saving measures, including the use of stamped steel rather than machined parts. When metal is stamped, a press is used to punch out a specific form, while machining involves cutting the desired shape out of the material. While stamping may have higher initial costs, this is offset by lower costs for mass production.

A real MP40.

A real MP40.

Even so, production of the MP40 was expensive due to raw material and labor costs, making it hard to produce enough of them alongside the popular Kar98k, which remained in high demand throughout the war. The Wehrmacht eventually replaced both weapons with the StG 44, a gun widely considered to be the first modern assault rifle.

The MP40, which translates to “machine pistol,” weighed about four pounds and was about 33 inches long with its stock extended; about 25 inches without. It fired 9x19mm Parabellum rounds – the same cartridge used in pistols like the Walther P38 – at about 500 to 550 rounds per minute and was effective up to about 200 meters. It also featured a small spur on the underside of the barrel that allowed it to be hooked onto the side of vehicles for steady firing.

The weapon’s most glaring fault was its 32-round magazine, in which the bullets were stacked in two columns but were fed into the firing chamber via a single-feed system that increased friction and sometimes resulted in jamming – a problem aggravated by the presence of dirt or dust. Furthermore, the magazine was occasionally misused as a handhold, which could cause malfunctions due to pressure from the hand pulling it away from the rest of the gun.

Lt. Mike Powell uses an MP40 to clear his way out of a building in the Kriegsmarine base in Trondheim, Norway.

Lt. Mike Powell uses an MP40 to clear his way out of a building in the Kriegsmarine base in Trondheim, Norway.

In Allied Assault, the MP40 fires at about 550 rounds per minute and is most often used by German officers and paratroopers, though it lacks the power of the Thompson, which used .45 ACP rounds. The smaller cartridge, however, gives the MP40 less recoil. In later missions, such as “Behind Enemy Lines,” Lt. Mike Powell uses it as his main submachine gun, mainly because he’s working in an area where Allied weapons are not available.

It’s hard to tell whether or not Powell and other characters hold the MP40 by its magazine or by the handhold just above where the clip attaches to the gun. In most cases, it looks like their hands are in the wrong place, which, in reality, would be risking a weapon malfunction.

The MP40 can be resupplied by picking up the green German ammunition boxes, and bullets can also be scavenged from dropped Thompsons. As with all Allied Assault weapons, this commonality between ammunition isn’t realistic, but it makes the game less confusing.

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~ by John on July 21, 2014.

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