WWII Training Video – German vs. American Machine Guns

Right feared for its prodigious rate of fire, the MG-42 was nicknamed “Hitler’s Buzzsaw”. The US Army quickly learned that troops often hesitated when encountering the weapon, with its fearsome reputation and rate of fire overriding the common sense that it was indeed, just a machine gun and shooting that fast goes through a ton of ammo.

After learning quickly, the US Army decided to do a bit about dispelling the myths around the MG-42 and various other weapons.  Titled rather boringly “War Department Film Bulletin Number 181,” the Army did a bit of truth-telling (and a bit of propaganda by itself) in comparing the two countries’ weapons including an SMG, LMG, and a HMG/tripod mounted machine gun.

Weapons included:

  • SMG
    • Thompson .45
    • MP40
  • LMG
    • “Light .30” (on a bipod)
    • MG-34
  • HMG
    • “Heavy .30” (on a tripod)
    • MG-42

Comparing “Accuracy” using US GI’s seems a bit biased, but the American machine guns put more lead on target across all three types of weapons – with the most pronounced victory going to the heavy .30 over the MG-42. Further, the video focuses on the efficiencies of American weapons in their consumption of ammunition.

What do you think? Were the American weapons really that much more accurate or do you think a bit of propaganda is at work?





Frank.K

TFB’s FNG. Completely irreverent of all things marketing but a passionate lover of new ideas and old ones well executed. Enjoys musing on all things firearms, shooting 3-gun, and attempting to be both tacticool AND tactical.


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  • Terence

    Actually this video is pure propaganda. The german weapons at this time were technically far more advanced. But they were expensive and time consuming to manufacture. Basically like today.

    • Tassiebush

      Actually the mg42 was designed for quick manufacturing. When examples were captured by allies they thought they were a sign of economic/industrial strain but actually the Germans had worked out they could produce way more that way.

      • No one

        Don’t forget that the MP40 was just yet another run of the mill stamped sheet metal SMG of the time that was a cheaper, simpler version of the MP38, which in turn was a cheaper, simpler version of the MP36

        But I forgot Any weapon that happens to be German is the most advanced thing ever just by merit of the fact It’s German according to Wehraboos.

        • Tassiebush

          Haha Wehraboos! Yes certainly true about the stampings

        • Jason Culligan

          The stamping employed in the production of the MP40 was a good few years ahead of what other countries were doing.

          It may have been a bog standard blowback SMG for the period internally, but the way it was built was pretty advanced for the period.

          • PK

            I would like to point out that while most other countries weren’t stamping out MGs of any kind, some were. The big difference is that Germany was cranking them out, while the countries which were producing stamped MGs and SMGs were largely doing it as a test/pilot and didn’t see the real value until fairly late in WWII.

          • No one

            Not really, the PPSh-41 came out only a year after the MP40 and the USSR made literally 6 times the amount of them than the MP40. for that matter, they even made triple the amount of PPSh-41s over PPS-43s which were designed once again to be even cheaper and simpler. (I’ve fired a genuine PPS-43, they look and handle like something straight out of a Pakistani gunsmiths basement they’re so crude.)

          • PK

            I’ll agree that the PPS is equivalent to the MP40 in stamped/easy mass production. The PPSh, not so much, although still far better than the Thompson, for example!

            You must have had a pretty beat up PPS to think it’s overly crude. I enjoy them, and the Finnish 9x19mm version as well. Then again, I also enjoy brutalist architecture, and guns like that seem to be the firearms version…

          • No one

            It was a pretty beat up one to be fair, what point that happened in it’s history (stampings indicate it was a 1945 production) exactly I don’t know. but it certainly had it’s “wartime SMG” charm to it.

            The PPSh-41 was probably the best SMG of the war though not just because of the design itself, but because of how many were made and the red armys doctrine and tactics on how exactly they used SMGs.

            I imagine quite a lot of Axis members on the fields during WW2 —- in their pants when a platoon or even company of pissed off Russians with PPSh-41s blazing were charging in their way.

          • int19h

            PPSh drum mags sucked bad. Stick mags, less so, but they came later, and they were still single feed.

            But more importantly in the context of this discussion, PPSh is harder to manufacture at scale because of pervasive use of milling.

          • No one

            They eventually fixed the drums with thicker steel construction, and it wouldn’t have mattered that much as the 35 round sticks were ready by 1942.

            Also, the PPSh-41 wasn’t milled, it was stamped like the PPS-43, just not quite as rough of a design. the PPD-40 that was tested directly prior to the PPSh-41 on the other hand was milled, you may be thinking of that.

        • PK

          “Wehraboos”

          Am I on /k/?

          • No one

            The term Wehraboos was literally coined by Nathaniel F.

            4Chan just happens to ruin everything funny.

          • PK

            No kidding? It was a guess, it just had that flavor to it!

        • Juice

          The Wehraboo view on design: overengineering is superior engineering!

        • Tassiebush

          The stg44 was another example of that approach too

      • Ken

        Yep, the MG42 was designed by a sheet metal engineer with no experience with firearms working for a firm that made lanterns. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering though, with the whole receiver from the stock to the recoil booster being one piece stamped.

    • No one

      Please get a clue of what you’re actually talking about before posting such garbage.

      Thanks.

    • mcjagermech

      In what way? Educate us please

    • PK

      Just like today! Where, off the top of my head, we have things like the HK lineup of roller delay guns… which are amazingly cheap and quick to make, if not versatile or perfectly ideal, or even ergonomic.

    • Don Ward

      Wrong.
      Stop watching the History Channel and actually educate yourself on the subject.

  • Eric H

    I’d say much of this was propaganda with only a hint of solid factual basis. A better test would have been to have the same person firing the different types of guns instead of having different shooters with varying skill levels firing the weapons. They should have also shown an average of multiple firings instead of just one round of firing.

    • Requiescat in pace

      Is there any practical difference of getting hit 13 or 15 times out of a 20 round burst?

  • Tassiebush

    I think I recall Alex C did a Thompson vs mp40 video where the conclusion was basically that they were pretty equal but the American option was heavier (if I remember right). As for the rest no idea although I suspect the insane rate of fire for an mg42 might have detracted from accuracy but this may have been more of an issue for soldiers not trained in it’s use.

    • PK

      You don’t want perfect accuracy with an area-fire weapon like that, built in that mindset. Tripods are/were made to wander slightly for a beaten zone.

      • Tassiebush

        It seems similar in a way to patterning with a shotgun.

        • Peter Magnus

          Its interessting to note that the MG34 in Norwegian Army Service in .30-06 did really well in shooting competitions post war, frequently beating out competition from accurized Mausers and Krags. Proving that German MGs are strange beasts. Sadly as all MG42s was repatriated to Germany in the mid/early 50s there wasnt any massive comparison of the two on the competition scene.

          • Tassiebush

            That’s really interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jason Culligan

    It’s definitely propaganda.The American and German machine guns were built with two completely different situations in mind.

    The German ideology was that soldiers are often only exposed for a very short period, thus a machine gun that could spit as much lead as possible in that brief period of exposure was necessary to maximise the chances of inflicting casualties.

    The Americans wanted machine guns that could accurately lay down suppressive fire. In that respect ammunition sustainability was an important part.

    Basically for this video the American and German weapons were placed in a situation which mimicked the ideal for the American weapons and predictably the American guns came out on top. In the real world, however, we know that the Americans drifted to a hybrid between the two.

    • PK

      Succinct analysis.

    • Sianmink

      It’s a product of totally different fire doctrines.
      The core of the German unit was the light machinegun. Rifle infantry were there to protect and support the machinegun, so that it could maneuver to create casualties.
      The core of the American unit was the rifleman. The light machinegun team would lay down fire that enabled the riflemen to maneuver and eliminate the enemy.

    • Renato H M de Oliveira

      Not only this is pure propaganda. Even if the MG-42 wasn’t very accurate, you’d still have a bad day if you were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end.
      So many rounds in so short a time in so large a beaten zone means that one or two projos would still hit you if you’re within said zone!
      And I bet that being hit by “one or two” 8mm Mauser projos could definitely ruin your day.
      Therefore, a larger beaten zone, coupled with the beastly ROF, actually means that you are more screwed than ever.

    • S O

      “The German ideology was that soldiers are often only exposed for a very
      short period, thus a machine gun that could spit as much lead as
      possible in that brief period of exposure was necessary to maximise the
      chances of inflicting casualties.”

      That’s the ex post justification, used after the effect in battle was observed. Originally, the requirement for higher rate of fire was meant for anti-air purposes.

  • Tassiebush

    I could watch old training videos like that all day.

    • Dougscamo

      While I was reading your comment this video (film) started looping….so I guess you could watch it all day…

      • Tassiebush

        Oh man I’m jealous (and easily pleased)

  • FlaBoy

    I don’t think it is so stupid to fear and hesitate when you’re facing a gun that can literally cut you in half. I’ve watched the propaganda movie before and it didn’t work for me. After hearing the MG-42 fire in the film, I was more afraid of it. The verbal comments conflicted with what my ears and brain were telling me based on the firing sounds.
    RE more or less advanced, better or worse, note: after the war, the US modeled it’s .30 cal MGs on the German design.

    • mcjagermech

      Yeah and the one thing they didn’t keep was the ROF…

    • Ken

      The sonic cracks from all those bullets will also get your attention.

    • int19h

      The more interesting note, I think, is that MG42 stayed in service and evolved to this day (MG3). The same cannot be said of the competing American MG designs.

      • No one

        The M2 would like a word with you on longevity of MG designs.

        • int19h

          *Competing* American MG designs.

          M2 is not competing with MG42. It’s a totally different niche.

          • No one

            Yes, it does fill a different role, but the M2, much like the M1919 was still spawned from the M1917 design all the same.

            The blood runs strong.

          • int19h

            This would seem to be proof that the design was a better fit for .50 cal heavy guns than it was for .30 cal light guns.

          • iksnilol

            A 30 cal MG that weighs almost the same as a 50 ca mg is retarded.

  • gunsandrockets

    The morale effects of fast cyclic rate MG fire, on the giving and receiving ends, has been widely reported.

    This very film is evidence of how worried the American authorities were about green troops facing German MG fire for the first time.

    • Dougscamo

      With good reason….bark is bad…bite is worse!

    • PK

      To be fair, if I had only ever heard semi-auto handguns, revolvers, hunting rifles, shotguns, and had only recently been introduced to semi-auto rifles and slower cyclic MGs, I’d be shocked and terrified of the MG-42 as well. I still can hardly believe that anyone managed to charge at well-sited nests with that firing in their direction.

      • Dougscamo

        And yet they had to close with them to minimize casualties before they were chewed up (very counter intuitive)….you’re right, cajones the size of cantaloupes!

        • PK

          No kidding!

        • Marco Antonio Gonzalez

          Cajones is big boxes, i think you meant to change that A for an O 😉

          • Dougscamo

            Noted. Next time….but brave none the less….

          • Marco Antonio Gonzalez

            No discussion on bravery levels, hence why i wrote “you meant” 😉

    • mcjagermech

      I’m pretty sure green German troops were scared when engaged by the DT-28 or Bren gun, much less a belt fed MG. It’s almost like green troops and even hardened veterans don’t like being shot at

  • Major Tom

    “What do you think? Were the American weapons really that much more accurate or do you think a bit of propaganda is at work?”

    Given the outcome of the war, at least a kernel of truth exists. The MG-34/42 lost.

    Of course the M1917 .30 cal didn’t see anywhere near the service its lighter weight cousins did. Just the drawback of being a heavier defensive weapon in a war waged mostly on the offense in Europe/North Africa.

    • int19h

      The outcome of the war was not decided by the superiority or inferiority of German weapons. It was decided largely by the deficiency of their military industrial capacity in a prolonged conflict, and the ability of the Soviets to soak up enough damage without falling to stretch out said conflict for long enough for this to start to be the main factor.

  • Kirk Newsted

    Accuracy isn’t exactly the best comparison with machine guns. The MG-42 wasn’t designed to put bullets in the same hole, it was designed purposely to disperse them a bit. Kinda dumbass to make the machinegun as accurate as a rifle.

    • Ken

      The Lafette heavy tripod mount helped them put bullets on the same body at decent distances.

      • GermanSausage

        You can shoot decent groups with the bipod too. When you are experienced you get 3-4 bullets with one short trigger pull.
        It’s really fun, although the MG3 I shot has a lower ROF.

        • Ken

          An MG42 is probably my dream gun, and I’d stick readily available MG3 parts on it for shooting. I shot an MG74 two years ago, also with the lower ROF. It was quite easy to fire 3rd bursts out of it. It was off of an AA tripod though without any weights, so it wasn’t very stable though.

  • gunsandrockets

    For a response to ‘another view’

    • PK

      Both of those are worth watching, for anyone who hasn’t seen them before.

  • Rnasser Rnasser

    Propaganda movie, for sure…

  • Arie Heath

    Oh, it’s definitely propaganda. Just like the films telling the soldiers that their K-Rations were delicious.

    • Don Ward

      Compared to what the other nations were eating at the time? Compared to what Americans were eating during the Great Depression?
      Yeah. They were edible.

    • Peter Magnus

      If you read soldiers accounts from German troops you will find that they often lacked food, one quite gruesome tale was a regiment only being issued with pickles for weeks. As the Anglo/American supplysystem post D-day was the only one of the war not breaking completely down, the K-rations was delicious compared to all alternatives in the horsedrawn armies…

  • Juice

    LindyBeige is a medieval historian. Firearms history is a field he knows very little about, and that video definately proves it. Definately avoid it. Let him talk about bows and arrows, and keep firearm history to the people who actually know what the weapons were called.

    • BillC

      Yeah, I recall seeing that video some odd months ago and it was cringe worthy. It also was also a case of comparing the weapons in a certain doctrine or perspective and nationalistic pride.

  • Wolfgar

    The Japanese were poor pilots because they were all near sighted. Love the retro propaganda.

    • Tassiebush

      I often wonder if we are doing the same thing currently with ideas around Iraqi offhand and the notion certain groups don’t aim trusting in the idea a omnipotent being guides the bullets.

      • Wolfgar

        Propaganda is used by all nations during war. I highly doubt the Americans would create a video showing the superiority of an enemies weapons for their troops even if it were true. The Germans propaganda about the inferiority of Slavic nations took them by surprise when the T34 appeared on the battlefield. The Japanese were surprised to learn the soldiers from a soft, wealthy, spoiled nation were every bit as tough and tenacious as their Bushido driven warriors. One should never underestimate ones enemy no matter what is said about them.

        • Tassiebush

          Totally agree! I think it’s a normal part of war and peace. I think there are a lot of parts of the war waiting to be explored too that we haven’t learned about. Like what did the mechanics of the Japanese invasion look like? How did they kick everyone’s ring until things turned?

        • neoritter

          The happy blend is that soldiers believe they are better, but commanders know their enemy accurately. I guess in contemporary warfare that’s a little more difficult since it seems smaller units are more empowered these days to make flexible decisions and such. Decisions that usually require accurate assessment of the enemy threat, but never the less. For the soldiers just storming the fort, they need morale, for the one’s directing the charge they need information.

      • Warren Ellis

        The problem with the Iraqis, and Arab militaries in general, is that their military behaviors and blunders pretty much write propaganda against them.

        They have been noted to be crappy at tactics due to various reasons. Seriously, they and other Arab militaries have generally shown themselves to be of poor quality in modern peer warfare.

        • Tassiebush

          There are certainly plenty of examples of that but it wouldn’t be wise to assume you could reconfigure things like tactics and strategy around that.
          I don’t think they’re really that focussed on conventional warfare. Pretty effective at coercive fund raising and intimidation of the civilian population though.

  • Mr. Katt

    Bark worse than the bite, eh ? Tell that to those on all fronts that were on the receiving end of the MG42 – bet they’ll be relieved to know that.

    …. oh, and the MG42 is still alive and well in the MG-1 and in the M60.

    • Don Ward

      I think I will tell that to those on all fronts considering the Nazis lost the war and did so in spectacular fashion. And the American GI killed and captured far more Krauts on a 1-for-1 basis.

      • Peter Magnus

        Thats what happens when you first engange an opponent after someone else have politely beaten him. I would contest that the German Infantryman until the very late stages of the war was the best in the world, by far. But als was lacking in all supporting weapons wich are the real killers in modern war. You have to go back to the atumn of 1914 to find the Machinegun as the top killer, and perhaps not even then.

  • I wunder

    5 m1919 at 600 rpm all out can throw 3000 rounds in a min. 4 mg42s at 1200 rpm can throw 4800 rounds in a min. I think I would rather have volume of fire from a suppressive weapon, especially if defending a stationary position where lugging enough ammo isn’t as big of a concern. I also think the 42 had a more usable cone of fire in the video. You don’t want lmg and hmgs putting every shot in a small group. They are primarily area surpressing fire support weapons no? And lets not even mention the mg42’s easily used quick changed barrel system.

  • I wunder

    Also, the American argument about excessive ammunition expenditure is directly contrary to their issuing m1 rifles.

    • No one

      There’s a pretty vast difference between a weapon designed to be actually aimed at point targets with an 8 round En Bloc Clip and a machine gun with a 100-250+ round belt firing at 1,200 rpm (note how modern MMGs almost never fire this fast, even though they could) in “excessive ammunition expenditure.”

      Mainly when the Garand wasn’t the only weapon fielded.

  • Old German

    A long time ago I was trained on the German MG3 during my mandatory service in Germany as an infantryman. The MG3 basically an MG42 with a slightly slowed down fire rate (but still high), basically the same gun. Some of the guns we were using, were old WWII guns that were just updated a little. A trained shooter could hit a man sized target at 600 meters with a 5 shot burst. That thing was surprisingly accurate. German soldiers using that weapon in WWII were most likely trained better than we were, just serving withing the mandatory service during a peaceful time. The shooters in the video are either doing it intentionally wrong or they don’t know better. In other words: From my perspective that video is hilarious propaganda!

    • Steven

      Remember! Their bark is worse than their bite!! 🙂 snort.

  • RicoSuave

    Did they also make one of the Sherman tank defeating a Tiger ?

    • Tassiebush

      You’ll need to watch Fury for that

      • RicoSuave

        I was obliquely referencing that. Though it was a bunch of Shermans that finally overcame the Tiger.

        • Tassiebush

          True

        • Likvid

          The irony is, Fury was version with 76mm gun, which can defeat Tiger
          frontally at several hundred metres with APCR ammunition. Also was super
          accurate and got vertical stabilizer for fire on the move..
          But “german tanks were technically superior”, right?

    • CommonSense23

      Are you trying to imply the Tiger was actually a good tank?

      • Likvid

        It definitely was a good tank in terms of performance, so no need to just “imply”.

        • CommonSense23

          Yeah in a videogame.

          • Likvid

            If you think Tiger wasn’t well performing tank, then you have simply no clue. It wasn’t really good tank in strategic terms, because of recources needed to built and maintain them, but that is another thing.

          • CommonSense23

            It wasn’t some unstoppable terror. It had a lot of performance issues. Crew comfort, awareness, crew survivability. Range. Maintenance. Angle of armor.