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20th Century German Military Arms and Ammo

20th Century German Military Arms and Ammo

France's adoption of the Fusil d'Infanterie Ml. 1886 (Lebel) firing a 8mm smokeless powder cartridge threw the German Military High Command into a panic. So much so that the Gewehr-Prufungs-Kommission (GPK - Rifle Testing Commission) at Spandau Gewehrfabrik was ordered to design a smokeless powder rifle posthaste. The result was the Infanteriegewehr 88, Germany's first magazine-fed infantry rifle.

The Mauser Infanteriegewehr 98 was the standard rifle of German soldiers from 1898 through the late 1930s.

Paul Mauser was no doubt irritated at not being consulted on his country's new service rifle and was not the type of man to take this slight lying down. Over the next eight years, an R&D program at Waffenfabrik Mauser saw the introduction of the one-piece bolt with integral with frontal lugs that locked directly into the receiver ring, a box magazine which could be topped off at any time with loose rounds and a stamped steel strip - known as a "charger" - which allowed five rounds to be loaded into the rifle's magazine quickly.

In 1897, seeking a replacement for the Infanteriegewehr 88, the German military purchased 2,000 of Mauser's new rifles for trials. It proved such a superior weapon that on 5 April, 1898, the Kaiser approved its adoption as the Infanteriegewehr 98, chambered in the 7,9mm Patrone 88.

Peking, 1900. Soldiers of the Deutsches Östasiatisches Expeditonkorps in China during the Boxer Rebellion. They are armed with the new Infanteriegewer 98.

The Gewehr 98 saw its first combat in 1900 with the Deutsches Östasiatisches Expeditonkorps which was sent to China to help suppress the Boxer Rebellion. By 1907, all regular German military units had been reequipped with Infanteriegewehre 98, and by 1912, all first line reserve units had received them.

In 1900, the French army adopted the Cartouche 8mm balle 1898 D which was loaded with a 198-gr. pointed, full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullet made from solid brass. It provided a flatter trajectory, longer range and improved on-target performance over the round nosed projectiles previously used.

Once again the German military had to play catch up with their Gallic foes. By 1905, it modified to Patrone 88 to use the new style projectile which, in German, was known as a Spitzgeschoß (pointed bullet) which was soon abbreviated to "Spitzer."

Comparing an Infanteriegewehr 88 clip (L) and Infanteriegewehr 98 charger.

7,9mm Patrone S

This round used the same case as the Patrone 88 but was loaded with a 154-gr. FMJ Spitzer bullet that was propelled to an impressive 2900 feet per second (fps). The diameter of the bullet was also increased from 0.318 inches to 0.323 inches.


The 7,9mm Patrone S was the standard rifle cartridge of the German military during WWI and performed admireably

Late in WWI, the German military introduced a heavy bullet in the 7,9mm cartridge intended for use in machine guns. Known as the schweres Spitzgeschoß (heavy pointed bullet), in official records is was sometimes abbreviated Patr. sS.

7,9mm Patrone s.S.

This round used the same case as the Patrone S but with a 198-gr. FMJ boattail, spitzer bullet traveling at 2575 fps. The aerodynamic shape of the bullet, and its greater sectional density, allowed it to retain velocity and provided in excess of 1000 meters of additional range than the S bullet.

Because of restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans were not able to develop or sell any military equipment. In the post-war years, the 98-type Mauser rifle was adopted by dozens of armies and was produced in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Mexico, Austria and China. This led to the 7,9mm Patrone S becoming the most widely used military rifle cartridge in the world during the inter-war years.

The Karabiner 98k was the most widely used German rifle of WWII.

Tests in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s showed that the s.S. cartridge provided the same advantages when fired from a rifle in addition to producing less muzzle flash. When Hitler came to power, Germany began to rearm, and one of the first priorities was a new rifle for the German military. Mauser modified its commercial Standard Modell to produce the Karabiner 98k (k for "kurz" - short) and chambered it for the 7,9mm Patrone s.S. so as to have a common cartridge for all 7.9mm weapons.[1]

German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) armed with the select-fire Fallschirmjägergewehr 42.

The Karabiner 98k was the primary long arm of the German military, although it was supplemented with limited numbers of semiautomatic rifles such as the Mauser Gewehr 41(w), Walther Gewehr 41(w) and Gewehr 43 (also known as the Karabiner 43). The Luftwaffe issued small numbers of the select-fire Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 to its paratroopers, and after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Wehrmacht issued large numbers of CZ vz. 24 Mausers to their troops. All were chambered for the 7,9mm Patrone s.S.

As the war progressed, the German military experienced shortages of strategic metals such as brass and lead. In 1940, production began of 7,9mm ammunition with lacquered steel cases loaded with bullets that had iron cores known as Spitzgeschoß mit Eisenkern (pointed bullet with iron core). [2]

The Wehrmacht used large numbers of Czech vz. 24 Mausers during WWII. (courtesy Stuart Mowbray & Joe Puleo)

7,9mm Patrone SmE

This round consisted of a lacquered steel case identical to the 7,9mm Patrone s.S. loaded with a 178-gr. FMJ boattail bullet traveling at 2525 fps. The bullet had an iron core surrounded by a lead sleeve which allowed it to compress while passing down the barrel. Bullet jackets were made from mild steel plated with gilding metal or zinc.

7,9mm Patrone SmE (Lang)

This round used the same steel case as the SmE but loaded with a 162-gr. bullet with a longer (Lang) iron core that was plated with zinc. Muzzle velocity was 2460 fps. [3]

The lessons of WWI had shown that the 7,9mm Patrone S was more powerful than the average infantryman needed, had a longer range than the average rifleman could take advantage of, produced too much recoil and the weapons firing it were overly heavy and long. They wanted a cartridge that produced light recoil so it could be used in select-fire weapons at close range but still provide rifle-like accuracy out to 300-400 meters bridging the gap between submachine guns and rifles.

The Walther-designed Gewehr 41 was one of the semiautomatic rifles used by the Wehrmacht during WWII.

In the late 1930s, the Polte Munitionfabriken in Magdeburg developed a cartridge that met the German military's specifications. Contracts for rifles firing the new cartridge round were given to both Walther and Haenel , who were asked to submit prototype weapons. Both designs were gas operated, select-fire weapons with high capacity magazines and made extensive use of stamped metal components. So as to conceal their development they were referred to as Machinenpistolen (MP - submachine guns) and the cartridge the Pistolenpatrone (pistol cartridge). [4]

7,9mm Pistolenpatrone 43

This round consisted of a 33mm bottlenecked, rimless case containing a 125-gr. iron core FMJ boattail bullet that that was propelled to 2250 fps. Early production ammunition used brass cases.

The new cartridge and the Haenel-designed rifle firing it - known variously as the MP 43, MP44 and later as the Sturmgewehr 44 ("Assault Rifle 44") - proved so successful that even the Führer's opposition to them was overcome.

7,9mm Kurzpatrone SmE

This round was dimensionally and ballistically identical to the Pistolenpatronen 43 but used a lacquered steel case.

The Haenel-designed Sturmgewehr 44 (Stg 44) was the most widely used of the various assault rifles developed in Germany during WWII.

But the new weapons were not enough to stand up to the overwhelming firepower and manpower the Allies were able to bring against Nazi Germany. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945, to avoid capture by the Red Army, and a week later, General Alfred Jodl signed the terms of unconditional surrender.

Germany was divided into four zones of occupation: American, English, French and Russian. By the terms of the surrender, Germany was not allowed an army. To maintain order in their zones, the occupying powers established local police/gendarmerie forces who at first were only armed with pistols and revolvers.

An early contingent of Allied military police outfitted and armed by the Allied occupying forces.

Increasing tensions with the Soviets led to the Allies arming the Bundesgrenzschutz (Border Police, founded in 1951) and Lander Gendarmerie (State Rural Police) with carbines, the most common being the U.S. M1 Carbine. [5]

  • Patrone für Karabiner Kal. .30 M-1 (kurz) — as the .30 Carbine was known in German service. It consisted of a rimless, tapered case 33mm long, with a 110-gr. round-nosed, FMJ bullet that is propelled to 1975 fps.

Members of the post-WWII Bundeswehr armed with U.S.-supplied M1 Carbines. (courtesy James Mock)

Germany was divided into two nations, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany - FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany - GDR). In response to the Soviets rearming the GDR, in November 1955, the Allies allowed the FRG to form a new military, the Bundeswehr, whose role was defined by the German constitution as purely "defensive." That same year, the FRG became a member of NATO.

While they were at first equipped with a hodgepodge of former German military and Allied small arms, the Bundeswehr eventually standardized on U.S. weapons and between 1950 - 1963 the U.S. supplied West Germany with 46,754 M1 Garand rifles and 34,192 M1/M2 Carbines.

  • 7,62mm Patrone für Gewehr M-1 — the German version of the U.S. .30 Ball M2 consists of a 63mm rimless, bottlenecked case loaded with a 150 gr. FMJ spitzer bullet that achieves a velocity of approximately 2800 fps.

During the Cold War, the Bundeswehr was the core of NATO's conventional defense in Central Europe. At its height, it had a strength of 495,000 military and 170,000 civilian personnel.

In 1956, the Bundeswehr adopted the FN-FAL as the Gewehr 1 (G1).

In the late 1950s, the Bundeswehr began looking for a new rifle to replace its aging M1 weapons. After testing the Armalite AR-10, CETME Mo. 58 and FN-FAL, in 1956, the FAL was adopted as the Gewehr 1 (G1), and approximately 100,000 were ordered from FN in Belgium. The Germans wanted to manufacture the G1 locally, but FN refused to grant them a license which led to a mini political crisis within NATO. Accordingly, the Germans adopted the CETME in 1959 as the Gewehr 3 and arranged for it to be manufactured in Germany by Heckler & Koch and Rheinmetall. The finalized versions, the G3A3 and G3A4 (folding stock) would remain the standard rifles of the Bundeswehr for the next 40 years.

The Heckler & Koch G3A3 was the standard rifle of the Bundeswehr for 40 years.

Patrone AB22, 7,62mm x 51 DM41

All the above rifles were chambered for the standard NATO cartridge based upon a rimless, bottle necked case 51mm long loaded with a copper washed, steel jacketed 148-gr. boattail spitzer bullet at a velocity of 2750 fps.

Over its service life the 7,62x51 cartridge went through several changes.

Patrone AB22, 7,62mm x 51 DM111

This round used a cupronickel-coated steel jacketed bullet. Late production ammo used lead-free "green" primers.

Patrone AB22 7,62mm x 51 DM111A1 

This round was loaded with a gilding metal jacketed bullet and "green" primer.

While a staunch member of NATO, West Germany resisted changing over to 5.56mm weapons longer than most member armies. In 1990, Heckler & Koch introduced their HK G11 rifle which fired a unique 4.7mm caseless cartridge developed by Dynamit-Nobel. While the Bundeswehr expressed interest in it no other NATO member did and it never entered full production due to the political changes of German reunification.

Members of the Bundeswehr armed with H&K G36 rifles.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous satellite nations left the Warsaw Pact. A series of protests by East Germans led to the GDR's first free elections in March 1990 and to negotiations between the GDR and FRG that resulted in the unification of the two countries on October 3, 1990. About 50,000 East German Volksarmee personnel were integrated into the Bundeswehr.

Bowing to the inevitable, the German military adopted the 5.56mm Heckler & Koch G36 rifle in 1995. The 7.62mm Heckler & Koch G28 is issued to designated marksmen.

  • Patrone AB 5,56mm x 45 DM11 — identical to the FN SS109, it uses a bottlenecked, rimless case 45 mm long loaded with a 63-gr. FMJ spitzer bullet with a steel insert in its tip, traveling at 3000 fps.

In 1994, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that "defensive" was defined to not only include protection of the borders of Germany, but also crisis reaction and conflict prevention, or more broadly as guarding the security of Germany anywhere in the world. Accordingly, German military personnel have served with UN and NATO forces in the former Yugoslavia, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

[1] By 1934 most rifles in German service had been modified for the Patrone s.S. and production of the Patrone S ceased.

[2] The Germans had experimented with steel cartridge cases late in WWI but they were less than successful.

[3] Late production SmE cases used a single flashhole rather than the two more commonly encountered with Berdan primed cases.

[4] Reportedly these designations were used to conceal the development of the cartridge and rifles from Adolph Hitler who opposed the introduction such weapons.

[5] After 1955 some Bundesgrenzschutz units in the British and French zone were supplied with Lee-Enfield and MAS Mle. 1936 rifles while others used ex-Wehrmacht Karabiner 98k Mausers.

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