World War II Weapons: Infantry Weapons--Small Arms

World War II infantry weapons
Figure 1.--Here Wehrmacht soldiers are showing Hitlker Youth boys, probably at a summer cmp, how a heavy machine gun works. Similar weapons were available in Woirld war I, but World war II infantrymen also had light-machine guns as well as automatic assault weapons. The photograph is not dated. We believe it was taken before the War, perhaps 1936-37. As the War developed, light machine guns and assault weapons appeared that gave the ordinary infantryman the ability to carry weapons with similar fire power into battle. The magine gun here is a Maxim Model 08 which uses a 7.92mm bullet. As you can see it is water cooled. That large round container surrounding the barrel would hold about 1 gal. of water. First made in 1908 (indicated by the model number) and was main machine gun used by the German Army through World War I and even was even used in World War II. The principal Gernan machine gun in World Wae II was the MG-34 and the MG-42.

World War II saw the perfection of many older weapons system as well as the introduction of many entirely new weapons system. Perhaps no changes were more profound than the fire power which could be provided the individual infantry soldier and small unit teams. This included both auomatic weapons, arillery, and tank killing weapons. And the industrial capacity of the major combatants mean that these weapons could be supplied in quantity. World War I inantrymen had bolt-action rifles, no easily portable artillery that could be carried, and no way of stopping tanks. The World War II infantryman, despecially after the first 2 years of the War had tremendously increased firepower capable of stopping majpr attacks with armored support even if air cover and artillery were unavailble. Infantry units received light-machine gun and asault rifles as well as heavy rifles like the American BAR. The Americans hesitated to use the BAR in World War I because it used so much amunition and might fall into enemy hands. There was no such hesitation in Workd War II. And the American M-1 Grand was argubly the best infantry weapon of the War. Infantry units also got mortars which were light and could be operated by a two-man team. This provided infantry units their own artillery that could provide immediate fire. The tank was a weapon that infantry men had no way of resisting in the first years of the War. This was the case in Poland, the Low Countries, France, and the Balkans. This changed with the invention of the American Bazooka and German Panzerfaust. This gave a single infantryman the ability to stop a tank in its tranks. And as a result, tanks could not be sent into battle without infntry support. Other improvements were weapons like flamethrowers and grenade launchers. The Germans built some of the finest weapons, but theyu were often complicted nd difficult to mass produce. Here Hitler intervened. He often resisted the massproduction of weapons that did not have the look and feel of a finely crafted weapon rather wapons that had been stamped out in high speed presses.

Country Trends

The different World War II combatant countries had different attitudes as to weapons development and usage as well as varying industrial and technolgical capabilities which affected weapons devlopment and manufacture. Access to raw materials was another factor. The Germans built many of the finest weapons of the War, but they were often complicated and difficult to mass produce and maintain in the field. Here Hitler intervened. He often resisted the massproduction of weapons that did not have the look and feel of a finely crafted weapon rather wapons that had been stamped out in high speed presses. The quality of German weapons created problems for the German logistical train. Men had to be ordered not to fire machine guns on full automatic or if they did, limit bursts, The Soviets took a different approach. They were more prone to produce simple weapons that could be easily mass produced and maintain in the field. The fine tolerances in German weapons meant that a little mud and dirt could could reder the wepon inoperable. Sovier weapons often were more capable of operating in the actual battlefield conditions. The American infantry soldier was forced to fight the Germans while outclassed in virtually every weaons category. There were one notable exception--the M-1 Garand semi-automatic rifle. The reason for this was the very limited military budgets in the inter-War era. The United States sinply did not have time to develop weapons comparable to the Germans after Pearl Harbor thrust the country into the malestorm of World War II. And their was a major focus on the air war with American military planners. Two decades of almost non-stop attacks by pandering politicans and pacificts on the arms industry, labeling industrialists as 'merchants of death' was not helpful in arms development. A series of Congressional investigations set out to prove that the arms industry not only profited excessively from the War, but drew America into it, turned up no such evidence. Still the charges continued. The United States did produce some oustanding non-lethal equipment that was absolutely vital for the war effort. Among them were the deuce-and-a-half truck and a range of communication equipment. The inability of the Germans to produce equioment in the same quantity as the Americans, substantially weakened their combat effectiveness. And the American weapons production significantly affected its Allies because it played a major role in arming its Allies. The new French Army formed after D-Day for example was almost tolly arnmed with American military equipment. British infantry equipment was affected by the stratgic decession to focus on the air war. After Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, a substantial portion of the country's industrial capacity was devoted to building a massive strategic bombing force formed ariound the Aero Lancaster bomber. The Japanese infantry soldier was forced to fight the War with some of the worst weapons of any major combaranhts. Many infantry weapons were not only poorly designed, but also not well manufactured. This was the result of the military leadership's decesion to fight a war with a relatively limited industrial base. And as the pressurs of the War increased, especially the American naval blockade, and the drafting of skilled workers, the quality of Japanese infantry weapons declined even further. , and the drafting of skilled workers, the quality of Japanese infantry weapons declined even further.

Specific Weapons

World War II saw the perfection of many older weapons system as well as the introduction of many entirely new weapons system. Perhaps no changes were more profound than the fire power which could be provided the individual infantry soldier and small unit teams. This included both automatic weapons, artillery, and tank killing weapons. And the industrial capacity of the major combatants meant that these weapons could be supplied in quantity. World War I infantrymen had bolt-action rifles, no easily portable artillery that could be carried, and no way of stopping tanks. The World War II infantryman, despecially after the first 2 years of the War had tremendously increased firepower capable of stopping majpr attacks with armored support even if air cover and artillery were unavailble. Infantry units received light-machine gun and asault rifles as well as heavy rifles like the American BAR. The Americans hesitated to use the BAR in World War I because it used so much amunition and might fall into enemy hands. There was no such hesitation in Workd War II. And the American M-1 Grand was argubly the best infantry weapon of the War. Infantry units also got mortars which were light and coulkd be operated by a two-man team. This provided infantry units their own artillery that could provide immediate fire. The tank was a weapon that infantry men had no way of resisting in the first years of the War. This was the case in Poland, the Low Countries, France, and the Balkans. This changed with the invention of the American Bazooka and German Panzerfaust. This gave a single infantryman the ability to stop a tank in its tranks. And as a result, tanks could not be sent into battle without infntry support. Other improvements were weapons like flamethrowers and grenade lsuncjers. The Germans built some of the finest weapons, but theyu were often complicted nd difficult to mass produce. Here Hitler intervened. He often resisted the massproduction of weapons that did not have the look and feel of a finely crafted weapon rather wapons that had been stamped out in high speed presses.








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Created: 11:19 AM 12/14/2011
Last updated: 2:30 AM 8/2/2013