“Hognose,” you are thinking, “has lost his ever-lovin’ mind.” Unless you were long in the service, in which case you will substitute a stronger term for “ever-lovin’.” Because, after all, the low-production FG42, which had a great influence on US postwar weapons development, is miles from today’s modular M4, which developed from a completely different concept, the SCHV (Small Caliber High Velocity round) and the selective-fire assault rifle.
Let’s go back to one of the earliest versions of the US reaction to captured FG42s, written by T/5 (a wartime grade for technical specialists, called “technical corporal” and paid a hair better than a “mere” corporal) John E. Holmes of the Foreign Material Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 8 June 44. According to Dugelby & Stevens, this was “the first American appreciation of the FG42 to appear in print… therefore a most noteworthy document.” After describing the general arrangement, production characteristics, handling and originality vs. derivation of various FG42 features (the example(s) Holmes had was/were the “E” type or first model FG with the stamped metal butt and pistol grip), he suggests that its advantages might be well considered in future US martial-arms design:
Advantages of Design
The combination of advantageous features included in the design of this weapon has made it a very interesting piece which should be studied with future weapons in view.
The following features are suggested:
a. The method of reducing required by using buffer spring sliding shoulder stock system.
b. Reduction of muzzle climb due to the action and stock design.
c. The method of loading empty or partially empty magazines with standard rifle clips, cutting down the number of necessary magazines which must be carried.
d. High line of sight prevents distortion of target due to heat waves.
e. Folding sights prevent damage as the weapon is carried by paratroopers, or when not in use.
f. Reversible bayonet.
g. Telescopic bayonet.1
Do you see what we mean? The only ones of these that are not present in the modern infantryman’s M4 are the spring-loaded shoulder stock (not necessary on the light-recoiling 5.56mm cartridge, perhaps), and the “reversible” spike bayonet. In point of fact, the US already tried that with rod bayonets on the Springfield rifles of 1880-1888 and 1903, which were extremely unpopular with troops (and ultimately, overthrown by President Theodore Roosevelt as “as poor an invention as I ever saw,” leading to the familiar M1905 knife bayonet of the World Wars).
So no, we never adopted the FG42. But over the years, we did adopt most of its impressive features. So did almost every major military in the world. And that is why the FG42, despite having been produced in a quantity of only 8,494, maximum2, is, legitimately, considered one of the most influential weapons in history.
- Dugelby, Thomas B, and Stevens, R. Blake. Death From Above: The German FG42 Paratroop Rifle. New Expanded Edition. Coburg, Ontario: Collector Grade Publications, 2007. pp. 119-120.
- Ibid., p. 121.