MG 42: The Deadliest Machine Gun In Military History?

The Second World War unsurprisingly saw the employment of many a famous machine gun, carrying forward the deadly legacy that the weapon type first established in the muddy trenches of the previous World War.

Some of them, like the Vickers machine gun and Bren gun, are now historical relics. But others, like the Browning M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber, continue to impact present-day battlefields.

A few machine guns split the difference. They are no longer in production, but their legacy marches on through other machine guns that are still in use by modern military forces. One such legacy gun is the Nazi German-designed MG 42 7.92x57mm Mauser general purpose machine gun (GPMG).

MG 42 Early History and Specifications

The MG (Maschinengewehr) 42 was created by small arms designer Werner Gruner in 1942 and entered into the operational service of the Third Reich that same year. It proved a much more reliable, user-friendly, and cost-efficient successor to the MG 34. That GPMG was so overengineered that Will Dabbs described it as “a nightmare to build.”

Specifications for the MG 42 included a weight of 25 pounds, a barrel length of 20.9 inches, and overall length of 48 inches. It had a mind-numbing rate of fire of 1,200 to 1,800 rounds per minute.

Battlefield Performance

Just how effective was the MG 42? Writing for We Are The Mighty in March 2021, military historian Paul Huard penned an article titled “This is the deadliest machine gun in military history.” Huard explains:

“The sound alone of the MG 42 took a psychological toll on troops. The situation became so bad the U.S. Army produced a training film intended to boost the morale of U.S. soldiers terrified of the machine gun’s reputation…’Their bark is worse than their bite.’ But the reality is the MG 42 bit hard, killing or grievously wounding many thousands of Allied soldiers…In fact, it was so deadly the MG 42 shaped German infantry tactics during the war. U.S. and British tacticians emphasized the importance of the rifleman, with machine guns tasked to support infantry assaults. Because of the MG42’s devastating power, the Wehrmacht placed the machine gunner in the central infantry role with riflemen in support.”

German troops nicknamed it the “Knochensäge” (“bone saw”). American GIs called it “Hitler’s Buzz Saw,” and the Red Army called it “The Linoleum Ripper.”

Post-WWII Legacy: Inspiring America’s M60

The American military’s iconic M60 machine gun, AKA “The Pig,” owes much to the MG 42. According to a Jesse Beckett, writing for War History Online, American weapons designers were so impressed by both the MG 42 and FG 42 automatic rifle that “the United States looked to borrow some of their better features for use in future designs,” and the M60 was the end result.

What would John Rambo and Animal Mother of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket think?

Where Are They Now? Want Your Own?

Yes, you can legally buy display-only MG 42s, and even fully functional specimens, within the U.S., but not only will you need a ton of monetary ammunition in your wallet, you will also need to be quick on the draw. For example, while International Military Antiques still has an MG 34 available (act fast, that one’s going at a mere $4,495), their MG 42 is listed as “Sold Out.” IMA’s website doesn’t bother listing the price they got for it, but for a frame of reference, West Virginia Federal Firearms License dealer George Denkins recently sold a firing MG 42 on for $29,995. Rock Island Auction sold one ten years ago for $51,750. So if you keep your eyes and ears peeled to these websites, you might be lucky down the road.

Want to actually fire an MG 42, but are content to rent rather than buy? Well, you have at least two venues in Las Vegas to choose from: Battlefield Vegas charges $80 to shoot 20 rounds, and a slightly volume-discounted $150 for 40 rounds. The Range 702 lists a price structure of $149.95 for “Shooter” and $50 for “Double Rounds [unspecified number] + Free Totebag.”

Content to view an MG 42 in a museum? There are various options, such as the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Louisiana, and the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. I can personally vouch for the latter venue. If you can, ask for a tour guide by the name of Ernie Lyles. Not only is he friendly and superbly knowledgeable, he also sports one of the coolest handlebar mustaches you will ever see.

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

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