The German MP40 Submachine Gun

The MP40 SMG was a true workhorse for the German armed forces during the Second World War, and was the rival of firearms like the British Sten and American Thompson submachine guns. In this installment of TFBTV, we get behind one of these iconic weapons to demonstrate its form and function.

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The full video transcript follows …

– Hey guys, this is Alex C. with TFBTV.

Today we’ve got a really cool historical gun to review.

This is gonna be a German MP 40.

It’s in really good shape for being as old as it is, most of you will recognize this from movies with World War II in them, the image of the German soldier, or NCO carrying one of these is a pretty iconic sight.

So today we’re going to shoot it and see how it goes.

(bursts of firing) I gotta say, it’s really easy to keep on target, and the recoil is ridiculously low.

All right guys, so one of the reasons the MP 40 is so smooth is because it operates under a principle that we know now as constant recoil.

That is to say that the bolt doesn’t actually contact the rear of the receiver, it’s got a telescoping firing pin that acts as a pneumatic buffer, which is really cool, and I’ll show you that a little later.

But kinda to show how it works under shooting, here’s where the sear is so watch how far the bolt recoils.

And you’ll notice it does not go all the way back.

(fires single shots) (fires short bursts) I gotta say that pneumatic buffer really helps with recoil.

It’s even lighter than an Uzi, I mean, I’m very impressed with this gun.

(constant firing slowed down) So the MP 40’s a pretty simple gun, it’s full auto only, so it lacks kind of the user-friendliness of a gun that’s select fire, like a STEN and I never thought I’d say user-friendliness and STEN in the same sentence, but it is nice to have a single shot option.

However, with the MP 40, the cyclic rate’s slow enough to where you can pull off singles.

(fires single shots) And then three-round bursts are also (drowned out by firing) And all in all, the gun’s just a pleasure to shoot.

I’ve shot all the big 9mm submachine guns, and this is just about as controllable as the best of them.

– So now that Alex told you a little bit about the gun, I’m gettin’ a opportunity to go ahead and put some rounds through it.

I’d say it’s kind of a dream come true.

Kind’ve lusted after the opportunity to shoot one of these for a long time.

(short bursts of fire) You know, Alex is right, this thing is possibly the most controllable sub’ gun I’ve had the opportunity to get behind.

I think they were really on to something.

So now one benefit that this gun has over the M1 Thompson that we were using well, the U.S. was using is that the stock can be folded.

You know, that really makes a difference when you’re dealing with crew vehicles and tanks or whatever have you.

We did have the ‘grease gun’ but they really kind of beat us to the punch here.

So I’m gonna give it a shot, see if we can’t go ahead and get it cycle properly.

with the stock folded.

(two short bursts) That really is pretty controllable, and (three short bursts) Such an outstanding gun.

So Patrick hit a little bit on the folding stock.

The folding stock is one of this weapon’s greatest legacies.

All the AK-47 folding stocks that you see are based on this mechanism, which is very cool, simple button with the swiveling buttplate here.

And you can’t go to the range with a machine gun without doing a Magnum.

(fires continuously) That’s just satisfying.

All right, so I wanted to give you a little overview of the MP 40, how it works, how it field strips, et cetera.

You notice there is a safety notch for the bolt handle.

In this position the gun cannot be fired.

So to field strip the gun, first you’re gonna wanna undo it from the notch, let it ride forward, and then there’s a small disc on the bottom of the gun that you pull down, and rotate a half-turn.

After you’ve done this, you can separate the upper and lower receivers by pulling the trigger and rotating them away from each other.

The last and final step is to grab that bolt handle pull back, and out comes the telescoping firing pin and the bolt.

Now here you can really see how the telescoping firing pin works, it contains the recoil spring, and it is pneumatic, you’ll notice there is a hole on both sides of the front section, and this allows air to help with a sort of a buffering mechanism.

All in all, it’s a very cool system.

All right guys, now you’ve heard us yammer on about this thing, I think it’s time for us to just have a little fun.

(bursts of fire) And fun that is.

(bursts of fire) Ahhh! It’s good stuff.

(bursts of fire) So we got one mag left for the MP 40 and I’ve loaded it up with a mix of 124-grain brass case and 115-grain steel case.

Both of which kinda were right for the gun.

So I wanted to see if the rate of fire changed with the different bullet weights.

Well, here we go.

(steady firing) Looks like it’s pretty consistent.

– All right guys, we hope you enjoyed our MP 40 video.

I know I really had a lot of fun shooting this gun.

– Yeah, I know, it’s a fabulous gun.

– You know, our next video actually might be or well, not the next one, but coming up soon’ll be a Thompson versus the MP 40 We’re both experienced submachine gunners, and I think it would be cool to showcase how those two went head to head.

– You know, I’m gonna be honest, but I’m not puttin’ any money on the Thompson.

This thing is fabulous.

– I will say, this thing is probably more fun than a Thompson, but you know, we’ll compare accuracy and everything and factor that in.

And see which one emerges.

– Obviously we’re gonna give ’em a fair shake, but you know, based on what we’ve seen today, the Germans really did a fabulous job with this gun.

– They did, they did.

Anyway guys, thanks again for watching TFBTV, we really hope you enjoy the program so far.

If you haven’t hit that Subscribe button, please do so, it really does help us out, let’s us know that you enjoy what you see.

And thanks again, guys, we really appreciate it.

Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Is there a certain age of a machine gun that you should start worrying about its functionality?
    Or are they basically designed to last forever with proper care?
    And if for example a lower receiver is cracked or certain parts pertaining to the full auto function of the lower receiver fail can these be repaired or replaced without further NFA paperwork?

    • It depends on the gun, but remember that all guns can be repaired. And yes, if your MG breaks, you can repair it:

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        Thank you, it is a 25-30 year old Frankford Arsenal 5.56.
        Your video got me thinking about longevity.

    • Vitsaus

      This is just an observation and not too scientific, but you still see these MP40s popping up in guerilla armies in Latin America, and in Africa. Sometimes they appear in Asia as well usually with Guerillas. I’ve seen some in southern Mexico in the hands of separatists there some years back in really horrendous external condition but mechanically they were still trucking. Jungle would not doubt be pretty rough on them, but they worked.

      • Tassiebush

        I guess they’re pretty perfect as far as longevity goes. low pressure rounds with moderate velocity and to speculate a bit I’d guess that constant recoil possibly doesn’t shake and hammer things as much either.

  • SCW

    You should really invest in some sunglasses.

    • Can’t, invest too much money in guns and ammo.

      • SCW

        I have blue eyes and if I don’t wear sunglasses and a hat I get an awful migraine headache.

        You were squinting so much I thought you were shooting with your eyes closed..which may or may not be a useful skill.

    • wetcorps

      It’s Alex. If need be he’ll just buy new eyes 🙂

  • Riot

    It really does sound nice.
    I need to look into the mp40 more, have no idea why I haven’t before.

    • shekky goldstein

      Even though I’m a j#w I really like German guns from WWII

  • thedonn007

    Damn you and your machine gun videos. It makes it really hard to forget how badly I want one. I am going to have to buy some kind of bumpfire stock to hold me over for now.

    Also, i have always wondered why there was so much soace between thr tirgger and magwell on these types of firearms. I would imagine that it is to allow room for the telescoping fireing pin.

  • The MP 40 is a treat. Purrs like a kitten when you shoot it, and by the standards of the time, it was even pretty lightweight. There was even an early variant – the MP 38(L) – that cut the weight by three-quarters of a kilogram, making it thoroughly competitive with post-war submachine guns like the excellent Kpist m/45 (Carl Gustav). The Germans (rightly) decided against producing that variant, due to concerns about over-using strategic materials, but it shows how competitive the basic design can be.

    Hey look, I said something nice about a German firearm. 😉

    • shekky goldstein

      Are you a j#w- is that why you don’t like German guns?

  • Marty Ewer

    I have always wanted an MP40. This video and article just make me want one even more.

  • Larry Brown

    Back in the mid 1970’s a police department in SW Ohio was moving to a new building. They an open house before the move and had a bunch of weapons out on tables that had been confiscated over the years that were “going to the smelter”! Two of them were MP-40’s. I always did wonder who got to take them home!

  • hydepark

    Awesome video, but for the love of god why are you not wearing any eye pro? It’s cheap insurance for an irreplaceable body part.

    • Patrick R.

      Alex was, I on the other hand forgot to put mine back in my range bag.

      • hydepark

        Must have been watching a different video than me because Alex most certainly wasn’t wearing eye protection during the mag dump and a few other mags in the video in this article. I mean it’s a free country but it also reinforces unsafe behavior in new shooters. When I first started shooting I didn’t wear glasses of any kind. I was being stupid and I’m lucky nothing ever happened. I no longer rely on luck. Neither should you guys.

        • What if I want to end up like this guy?

          • Houston

            Love it! Saw Mad Max just a couple days ago. Dual wielding MP5ks , right? I guess it doesnt matter if the caps are stillon the optics bc the dude is blind anyway, right?

  • gunsandrockets

    Thanx for that. Very informative.

    • Patrick R.

      The MP40 is much more controllable.

  • iksnilol

    I haven’t used subguns. With that in mind is the MP40 or the MP5 more controllable?

    Finding either of those two wouldn’t be too hard for me. I am leaning towards the MP40 since I know a guy with one + I am not good with roller locks (do they have to be replaced? If so, how often? Can you vary ammo weight?).

    • The MP40 is much more controllable. That said, the MP5 has a much higher rate of fire that dings it quite a lot.

      Typically you do not need to replace the rollers very frequently in an MP5 because 9mm is a low-pressure cartridge. Now replacing the rollers in a G3 is very different story. And yes, you can vary ammo weight in an MP5 from super weak 115 cheap steel cased stuff all the way up to +p+ nuclear loads.

      • iksnilol

        Thanks for the info, will keep that in mind. From what I read most people recommend changing rollers about the same time you change the barrel. So in other words it should last a long time. Also ammo availability plays a role, obviously something in 9×19 mm is going to be easier to feed if you are in the Western world (though I really like 7.62×25).

        Thinking something with a short barrel and a suppressor to bring it up to “standard” length. Something like the MP5K with a short suppressor.

        Still a long time til that so I am not really in any hurry (though I will have to check out the MP40, maybe this summer?).

    • Houston

      I own both but end up shooting the MP5 10x more. Mostly bc loading the MP40 mags is a huge pain. You really need a loader device to save your thumbs and even with the loader its slow loading those mags. The HK MP5 mags on the other hand load easily and quickly. I bet I can load 2-3 MP5 mags per 1 MP40 mag. Shoot a lot and it makes a difference in fun factor.

      The sites on the MP40 leave a lot to be desired IMO. The MP5 sites are fine.
      The ROF of the MP5 is much faster ( 750’ish?) compared to the slower-than-Uzi ROF of the MP40 which is more clunky clunk as opposed to true sewing machine smoothness. Not that the MP40 recoil is bad. Not as all. Of course it doesnt recall bc it weighs 3 tons, much heavier than the MP5 of course.

      As far as replacing parts in the MP5 you’ll prob only replace the extractor spring on occasion. I dont know what “not being good at roller locks ” means. Shooting, understanding, or maintaining? I cant comment on the long term reliability of my wilson tube parts build FA MP40 bc I havent owned it enough to say. The MP5 is very reliable though. The MP40 is more ammo and mag sensitive than the MP5 in my opinion. Likewise the form factor of the MP5 is better than the MP40. Of course the MP5 is a 1960’s gun vs a 1940’s gun…and open bolt vs closed bolt. I hear the only thing needing replacing on MP40s is the occ. broken firing pin. I havent broken mine yet though.

      Ammo…MP5 eats 115gr to 147gr easily and maybe 158gr even. The MP40…I dunno yet. I shoot 115gr thru mine.

    • Houston

      oh…and that folding stock on the MP40. Those things get wobbly. The little pieces in them loosen and I hear its a bugger to replace them and best to just leave them as-is. Mine’s partially boogered up now in fact.

      • iksnilol

        Interesting. I will probably have to get both eventually. It’s just that the MP40 is way easier to aquire due to not carrying as much status as the MP5.

        Wouldn’t mind making my own MP5, product improved version and all. Like I said, for now it’s all a pipe dream. Will have to wait a couple of years.

  • Vitor Roma

    I wans’t a fan of the MP40 because I never understood why the magazine was so ahead of the trigger, making it very long for the barrel lenght, kinda an anti-bullpup. But now I understand it was because the long telescoping bolt group.

    Now, a bullpup in this design could work, right? Use the inside of the stock to house the telescoping action.

    • Kevin Hebden

      That’s actually a lot like how an AR is set up already. Also, TFB covered captured recoil springs and buffers for the AR some time ago iirc.

      Much better over all than a bullpup in my opinion.

  • BrandonAKsALot

    Have I told you that I hate you? I’m not even really into German firearms, but I’ve always had a bad thing for the MP40. It was one of the first guns I could recognize well before I was really into firearms. Probably in part due to playing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory so much.

  • IXLR8

    When you shoot the MP 40 or an MP5 in a darkened range, you can see sparks of burning embers coming out of the ejection port easily. Shooting a MG without eye protection is just plain dangerous.

    With that aside, I have rented both repeatadly. I prefer them to any othe SMG I have tried, and there have been a few. Both are such sweet shooters, it would be hard to pick one over the other. Your idea of comparing it to a Thompson is ludicrous. Firing a Thompson SMG is like holding a bag with a pissed off Badger in it…