The Gewehr 43 is a 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser caliber semi-automatic rifle developed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was a modification of the G41(W) using an improved gas system similar to that of the Soviet SVT-40.
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 proved unreliable in combat when introduced in 1941 and only several thousand were made. The Walther design fared better in combat but still suffered from reliability problems. In 1943 Walther introduced a new modified 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 1944, with production amounting to just over 400,000. The Gewehr 43/Karabiner 43 joined the ranks of the Tokarev and Garand as general issue semi-automatic rifles during the war.
Gewehr 41(M) and G41(W)Edit
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 arms 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 Soren H. Bang. In this system, gases from the bullet were trapped near the muzzle in a ring-shaped cone, which in turn pulled on a long piston that opened the breech and re-loaded the gun. This is as opposed 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 magazines that were loaded using two of the stripper clip from the Karabiner 98k, utilizing the same German-standard 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser rounds.
The Mauser design, the G41(M), failed. Only 6,673 were produced before production was halted, and of these, 1,673 were returned as unusable. The Walther design, the Gewehr 41(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. Ironically, the M1 Garand 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: Walther at Zella Mehlis, and Berlin Luebecker. 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 grade. Varying sources put production figures between 40,000 and 145,000 units. Again, these rifles saw a high attrition rate on the Russian front.
Gewehr 43 / Karabiner 43Edit
In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa. Just prior to the opening of hostilities the Red Army had started re-arming its infantry, complementing its older bolt-action rifles with the new semi-automatic Tokarev 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 Tokarev used a simple gas-operated mechanism, which was soon emulated by Walther in the G41(W), producing the Gewehr 43 (or G43). The simpler mechanism of the G43 made it lighter, easier to mass produce, and far more reliable. The addition of a 10-round detachable box magazine also solved the slow reloading problem. 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 save for the letter stamped on the side. The G/K43 was issued in limited numbers in 1944 and 1945 to units of the Wehrmacht.
Total production by the end of the war was 402,713 of both models, including at least 53,435 sniper rifles: the G43/K43 was used as a designated marksman weapon, fitted with the Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4) telescopic sight with 4x magnification. The weapon was originally designed for use with the Schiessbecher device for firing rifle grenades (standard on the Kar 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 was also not equipped to use a bayonet. The Gewehr 43 stayed in service with the Czechoslovak army for several years after the war.
Although a better rifle than the G41(W), the Gewehr 43 was still known for its mechanical malfunctions, mainly due to cheap parts and exposed extracting spring, causing jams if not cleaned constantly. When parts wore out or broke it was difficult to get replacements in the field and many German soldiers simply got rid of it when this happened. It was also a complicated design, and required some practice to know how it all worked. When put up against the M1 Garand, it was apparent that the Gewehr 43 was outclassed by the M1's superior machined parts, extremely reliable design, better gas system, better sights, faster and more reliable en-bloc clip system, simplicity and ease of maintenance, as well as it being general issue to all infantry; whereas for every 50 Mauser rifles produced by Germany during the war, they only produced 1 Gewehr 43 rifle. The German High Command saw this, and decided to issue 3 Gewehr 43 rifles for every platoon, 2 of which were to be used as sniper rifles away from frontline action, fitted with a Zielfernrohr ZF 4 scope.
According to accounts and testimony from German veterans of World War II, many German soldiers disliked the Gewehr 43, and preferred the tried and true Karabiner 98k, or, if they were lucky enough, scavenged American M1 rifles and Carbines whenever possible, despite this being officially against regulations. However, as a sniping platform many German snipers liked the Gewehr 43's semi-automatic abilities, good range, good ammo capacity and accuracy, however extreme long range sniping was best left to the more accurate bolt-action Mauser rifles.
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.
Though most G/K43's 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 a broken-off butt are common, as German soldiers were instructed to render semi-automatic rifles useless when in danger of capture.