Nazi Germany's MP 38 and MP 40 submachine guns are among World War II's most iconic weapons, but it is often forgotten that they continued in use all over the world for many decades after 1945, even being seen during the fighting in Libya in 2011. Widely issued to Fallschirmjäger (parachute infantry) owing to their portability and folding stocks, the MP 38 and MP 40 became the hallmarks of Germany's infantry section and platoon leaders; by the war's end the Germans were following the Soviet practice of issuing entire assault platoons with submachine guns. Over 1 million were produced during World War II, many finding their way after 1945 into the hands of paramilitary and irregular forces, from Israel to Vietnam; the Norwegian armed forces continued to use them until the early 1990s, and examples and derivatives saw widespread use in the Yugoslav wars of that decade.
The submachine-gun concept had its origins in the trenches of World
War I, as German designers sought to develop a new weapon that
utilized pistol ammunition to deliver devastating bursts of
automatic fire at close ranges. The massively influential Bergmann
MP 18, the world's first purpose-built 'machine pistol' (submachine
gun), spearheaded the German assaults of 1918 and, although the
Treaty of Versailles banned the study and manufacture of light
automatic weapons in Germany, weapons designers like Berthold
Geipel and Heinrich Vollmer of Erfurter Maschinenfabrik (Erma)
covertly continued to innovate in this field.
An open-bolt, blowback-operated weapon with a single-feed 32-round
magazine offering fully automatic fire only and a patented
telescoping return spring guide that served as a pneumatic recoil
buffer, Geipel and Vollmer's MP 38 drew upon earlier prototypes
such as the VMP 1930 and MP 36, as well as the EMP 35, another Erma
design that was widely exported and saw combat in the Spanish Civil
War. The MP 38 was one of the first of the lighter, more compact
"second generation" of submachine guns, utilizing stamped-steel and
plastic components that made it easier to produce than earlier
types such as the M1928 Thompson and the MP 18, which featured
wooden stocks and employed machined-steel parts. It was rapidly
adopted by Germany's armed forces and first saw combat during the
invasion of Poland in 1939. An improved version, the MP 40, made
greater use of stamped steel and electro-spot welding to simplify
production further; a twin-magazine version, the MP 40/II, was
briefly and unsuccessfully considered as a counter to the
select-fire Soviet PPSh-41 with its 71-round drum magazine.
The MP 38 and the MP 40 saw combat in the hands of German troops in
every theater in which they were involved, and have become
synonymous with Nazi Germany's war effort in popular perception.
Even during the war Geipel and Vollmer's designs, mistakenly
attributed to the rival designer Hugo Schmeisser by the Allies,
profoundly influenced the British Sten and the US M3 "grease gun"
as well as postwar weapons such as the Spanish Star Modelo Z-45 and
the Yugoslav M56. Featuring specially commissioned full-color
artwork and period and close-up photographs, this is the story of
the origins, combat use, and lasting influence of two of World War
II's most famous firearms.