Tons of Details on German WWII MG Tripods: “Lafettes”

We can’t discuss machine guns on this site without someone — usually Kirk — reminding us that the GI M122 tripod is rudimentary junk, and the class of the tripod world was the German Lafette 42. We’d like to steer those interested in these ‘pods to the incredible Lafette 34/42 web page of “Bergflak (“Mountain AA”) who is posting his work in progress on these amazing feats of German engineering.

How complicated was it? These are the parts of the lower half of the MG.34 Lafette. (The lower half of the MG.42 version was fundamentally identical).

Not complicated enough for you? Here’s 100-odd more parts from the Oberlafette, or upper half.

But wait, there’s more! 70-something parts that comprise the T&E mechanism.

Here’s a brief blurb from Bergflak:

The MG Lafette was a pretty complicated piece of machinery for its time. Some would say “typical German over-engineering”. It contains several systems that all work together. The difference between the Lafette 34 and the Lafette 42 is mainly the cradle. The weapon mounts and the trigger mechanism are simpler on the MG42 cradle. In addition it has a different bolt box. Everything else seems to be identical.  This page will only describe the Lafette 34. The change from the Lafette 34 to the Lafette 42 will be fully dealt with on the Wartime development page. On this page I will briefly explain the function of each of the components that make up the Lafette. For an even better and deeper understanding of the components you must visit my page Extreme details or the pages about Evolution of the Lafette (when they are finished).

via MG34 Lafette construction and details.

These pages explain which each part does, and pages on the evolution of the MG-34 and MG-42 Lafettes actually are complete now. Unfortunately, the page explaining the usage and employment of these tripods is not yet complete.

The whole site is worth reading already, and it stands to reason that as more information is acquired and analyzed, the site will just keep getting better and more useful.

39 thoughts on “Tons of Details on German WWII MG Tripods: “Lafettes”

  1. LSWCHP

    I was looking at those parts drawings and thinking “typical German over-engineering” and then scrolled down to the extract where Herr Bergflak says exactly that.

    OTOH, just before reading this post I was watching a video on Funker530 where some goat molesters smoked a tight packed cluster of some other goat molesters with an ATGM. I swear I thought an MG on a good tripod would have had the same effect for about one thousandth of the cost, with mortars as the next option.

    So maybe not over-engineered, just engineered enough. The youtube videos of WWII German tripod mounted MGs in the sustained fire role clearly demonstrate what fearsomely effective weapons they were. If I was a grunt today I’d be all in favour of bringing them back.

    1. Kirk

      That is precisely where the Lafette came from–The Danes don’t get enough credit for their contributions to the modern military. And, Madsen is a drastically under-rated company, when it comes to weapons.

      Of course, anyone who can figure out how to turn what is basically an automated Martini-Henry action into one of the most long-lived light machine guns in world history should be granted the utmost in respect, but few really even know about those guns.

        1. archy

          I was not much of a fan of the m/49 9mm Madsen, though the curved magazine of the followon m/52 was said to improve reliability considerably. But the m/48 Hovea was both derived from the same design and about as stout as was the Swedish M/45b *Swedish K*. In addition to using the very reliable 36-round magazine of the Swedish guns, it also accepted the 71-round drum of the Finnish kp/31 Suomi smg, which not even the Finnish m/44 *Tin Henry* 9mm copy of the Soviet PPS43 would do. The Hovea was a neat little piece, and I’d happily give $50-$75 for one.

  2. Keith

    The MG42 and it’s mounting were designed, in part, after the experience of Soviet mass infantry attacks in 1941. It was basically meant to be a 2K yard shotgun firing 7.92 bullets rather than pellets. The intent was to bring massed infantry under fire at that distance to disrupt the formation and cause some to go to ground and others to fall back while some went forwards.

    1. RostislavDDD

      It’s not like that. Here is the “training” version of the German stronghold (company ). (Rus, two schemes, 2 – the combat order of the division of the 30th Army, Rzhev, August 1942)
      rostislavddd.livejournal.com/196575.html
      The Germans highly appreciated the heavy machine guns according to the experience of the GW.
      The former British paratrooper trolls people (including Americans):
      forum.maxvelocitytactical.com/forums/topic/lee-sends-old-school-vs-gwot-comparison-my-comment/#post-18631

    2. Kirk

      Actually, Keith, the gun systems were designed long before Russia. The Germans were working on improved MG doctrine and equipment all through the 1930s, and the testament is there in the MG34. Not to mention, the adoption of the Lafette from the Danish Madsen mounts, both things that happened long before the war.

      I will concede, however, that the MG42 and its much higher rate of fire were things that came out of the Eastern Front. The rate of fire, particularly–The Germans had noted how the Soviet troops were often able to evade really long-range fires because the slower rate of fire from the MG34 and other MG systems allowed them more time to evade. The 1200rpm rate on the MG42 was intended to absolutely saturate that beaten zone as quickly as possible, precluding any chance to get down or get to cover. Or, so the rationale went…

      The casualty rates on the Eastern Front speak for themselves–The vast majority of the Soviet casualties generated by the German infantry came from the MG and the mortar, and I really get sick thinking about the number of young men who died facing that combination ineffectively. The utter lack of professionalism and preparation for the war, mostly due to Stalin’s purges…? As a professional soldier, I find the pointless waste of life extremely disturbing. Hitler never should have been able to get past the border defenses, and in a rational world run by sane people, he wouldn’t have. Of course, in that world, he wouldn’t have ever attained power, either…

  3. robroysimmons

    Seen a photo of a Brit MG tripod with what looked like a mortar sight for long range work.

    1. Josey Wales

      Worth remembering that the belt fed MG as employed by the Brits was seen as an indirect fire weapon as much as direct, the tripod and sight were designed to facilitate exactly that, and the Brits employed the system so good effect saturating the reverse slope where Germans had assembly areas and such. From Wiki:
      “The Vickers was used for indirect fire against enemy positions at ranges up to 4,500 yards (4,100 m). This plunging fire was used to great effect against road junctions, trench systems, forming up points, and other locations that might be observed by a forward observer, or zeroed in at one time for future attacks, or guessed at by men using maps and experience. Sometimes a location might be zeroed in during the day, and then attacked at night, much to the surprise and confusion of the enemy. New Zealand units were especially fond of this use. A white disc would be set up on a pole near the MG, and the gunner would aim at a mark on it, knowing that this corresponded to aiming at the distant target.”

      McBride’s books, “The Emma-Gee’s” and “A Rifleman Went to War” detail such employment. Which reminds me, time to re-read those…….

      1. Hognose Post author

        Indirect fire was fairly standard in the WWII era, as a result of it having been used effectively (by the Japanese, with Maxims) in the Russo-Japanese War. It seems to have been trained in the interwar period, and lost with wartime expansion of armies.

        1. Brad

          Forgotten Weapons suggested the 3 inch Mortar ended up replacing the Vickers in service with the UK infantry.

    2. Greg

      Google “C2 dial sight”.

      That’s how sustained fire machine gun (SFMG) work is enabled in the Direct Fire Support Weapon Platoon of a Royal Australian Regiment Battalion.

      In a DFSW section, there’s a pair of guns (MAG58/M240), each with four barrels, soft-recoil mount (seen one of those modified to mount a Barret M82 – impressive rate of accurate long range fire, but I digress), C2 sight, and aiming stakes,

      Both gun number twos (A-gunner, I guess in the US) raise their arms to the vertical on the “guns ready!” order. The first gun fires – with its number two slowly bringing his arm down to the firing gun’s feed cover over a five count. That’s simultaneously gun 1’s stop signal, and gun 2’s fire order. The arm signals and counting are a quick visual guide between guns to keep the target under fire, swap barrels every 200 rounds, sort ammunition, clear piles of brass from under the tripod etc. all the while maintaining fire. A good DFSW section in the SFMG role can be devastating in all weather (predictive fire, or fire onto pre-registered targets) out to a doctrinal 1,800 metres. Not bad considering tracer burn out is 1,100 metres.

      The section 2IC can be sent forward with a radio to act as a Gun Fire Controller (GFC). Attached to the lead section (= squad), if assaulting perpendicular to the axis of fire support, he can shift the fire to be 50 metres in front of the lead section’s FLOT, covering the gap after indirect fires lift.

      1. LSWCHP

        I saw this in action in a live fire Bn defence ex around 1987 or so with the guns being M60s. I seem to recall they were firing out to 3000m, but that’s probably just the dementia kicking in.

  4. Steven Y.

    The M192 lightweight tripod was viewed as a great improvement over the M122 in the ordnance repair shop. If it ever broke, the minimalist lattice-framed construction meant that components got swapped out rather than tweaked until they functioned. I was hoping for something similar to replace the beast that is the M3 tripod, but retirement came first.

    “Long range shotgun” was exactly the description used to motivate MG crews during pre-deployment training. It seemed that everyone wanted to send single rounds, doubles, occasionally a tiny 3 or 4 round burst when targets came up. It often took a demonstration of how much more effective it was to saturate the target with LOTS of bullets to break them out of the reluctance to stay on the trigger.

    Beaten zone, cone of fire, and killing burst aren’t just words. It is an automatic belt-fed tripod mounted weapon for a reason, and if someone didn’t care enough to want to shoot not just that guy, but him and all of his buddies at the same time, we would usually talk to him about being something other than a machinegunner.

    1. SPEMack

      I postulate that the U.S. Military can’t properly employ automatic weapons due to some,latent hold overs from the mythological well aimed high power rifle doctrine. I swear that crap is somehow encoded in our DNA.

      1. Kirk

        Couple of points…

        One, I agree with you that the emphasis on the individual rifle is “set” into the American military psyche. Why? I would speculate that it has a lot to do with two things: One, the emphasis on the Camp Perry school of thought, and the fact that the MG is not an accessible weapon for the civilian sport shooter.

        I suspect, and cannot prove, that had the National Firearms Act not gone into effect…? Well, we’d have a lot more MGs out in civilian hands, and there would have been a lot more interest and attention paid to matters pertaining to the MG.

        Frankly, I have a thesis going that the lack of fidelity to realty, “war as she is fought”, in the games we set up to support “civilian marksmanship” and foster marksmanship skills have drastically affected the reality of what we’re doing out there on the ground. To my mind, they should have set out from the beginning to make sure that the various “National Matches” actually reflected combat realities, rather than paper-punching in isolation. And, right along with the individual rifle competitions, there should have been “MG team” matches, using issued weapons and equipment. With the interest and emphasis placed on the MG from doing those things, I think we would be looking at a drastically different situation with regards to the state of the art when it comes to the guns.

        The matches unfortunately followed the same nasty progression all these things do, whether you’re looking at Japanese ken-jutsu devolving into kendo, the Camp Perry and National Match devolution into pure gamesmanship, or what happened to IPSC shooting over the years. The problem is, you need periodic injections of reality into these “games”, or the whole thing turns into a “race gun” match, where the guys are not focusing on their damn skills, but on the latest and greatest equipment.

        Take a look at the devolution of the biathlon, for examples–What was once a pure soldier’s sporting event, like the modern pentathlon, the biathlon has turned into a caricature of what it once was–Soldier’s skills at skiing and shooting. Go back to the beginnings, and you’ll see guys in the current military uniform, shooting the current military rifle, on military skis, doing realistic things. Now? Holy carpolian schnikes… There is about as much military reality in the modern biathlon competitions as there is in the freakin’ javelin or shot put throws, both of which were originally military events.

        Now that I think about it, maybe it is a good thing we kept the MG out of competitions. I shudder to think what the tripod and gun would look like, after undergoing a similar evolutionary process to that of the biathlon rifles…

        May need to re-think this whole idea.

        1. archy

          ***Take a look at the devolution of the biathlon, for examples–What was once a pure soldier’s sporting event, like the modern pentathlon, the biathlon has turned into a caricature of what it once was–Soldier’s skills at skiing and shooting. Go back to the beginnings, and you’ll see guys in the current military uniform, shooting the current military rifle, on military skis, doing realistic things. Now? Holy carpolian schnikes… There is about as much military reality in the modern biathlon competitions as there is in the freakin’ javelin or shot put throws, both of which were originally military events.

          Now that I think about it, maybe it is a good thing we kept the MG out of competitions. I shudder to think what the tripod and gun would look like, after undergoing a similar evolutionary process to that of the biathlon rifles…***

          The pre-1978 Biathlon equipment rules for the biathlon event were changed in order to allow girls and those from nations in which centerfire rifles were forbidden to let civilian shooters to pretend that they could compete at an Olympic level in the former *ski patrol rifle* event that grew into the biathlon. In Wyoming, we still shoot the *old course* in both semiauto or bolt-action classes, and both the old Finn and Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifles still prove popular, as do the NM AR versions of the M16A2 and M14//M1A 7,62 NATO semiauto match rifles. So is the M1 Garand, which also gets run during John C. Garand Memorial matches, shot elsewhere throughout the year, but in Wyoming often gets run in the snowfall on the late great Mr. Garand’s actual birtrhday anniversary.

        2. John M.

          So, the NFA and Camp Perry matches are like a training scar writ at the national and entire US Military levels, respectively? That’s a really interesting thesis.

          -John M.

          1. Kirk

            Basically, yes. Although, I think they’re more symptomatic of the same syndrome that turned IPSC from a practical shooting competition into a freakin’ massive display of gamesmanship.

            There’s a certain mindset that is present in a lot of folks, that says “Let’s turn this up to about… Oh, say, fifteen…?”, and you see that demonstrated every damn time you take a look at the difference between a sports competition at day one vs. what it looks like twenty-thirty years later.

            I don’t think Camp Perry is per se a bad thing; it’s more that the people running the damn thing needed to periodically inject reality back into the “game”, and they didn’t do that–The whole thing took off into left field, and became a total game, when it should have (to keep faith with the founding intent) stayed inside the bounds of realistic warfare needs.

            The typical National Match course kinda-sorta matches what warfare looked like from the point of view of a marksman back in the 1890s, or so. If they’d looked at what the battlefield shifted into, during WWI and WWII, then the matches would have started having much stronger components of target identification in broken terrain, and focused more on what the actual needs of the combat rifleman were, in terms of competition. Instead of the fixed-range known distance shooting, the National Matches would be more like a shoot house or a jungle lane, with the shooter moving down a lane and being presented with targets of opportunity at variable ranges and which the shooter will have to engage from various positions.

            Root problem isn’t the National Matches; that’s a good idea. The actual problem is that the matches have lost fidelity with the real world, and that loss of fidelity has warped a bunch of stuff. I’m convinced, personally, that the real reason the M14 and 7.62 NATO round even happened has a lot to do with the desire that the powers-which-were had for gaming the National Matches.

            Back in the era around WWI, the National Matches weren’t a really horrible mismatch between what skills a soldier needed with a rifle; by WWII, they’d gotten out of alignment, to a noticeable degree. By Korea and Vietnam…? Completely at odds with the real needs of the combat soldier.

  5. S

    A collection of British MG and other military manuals from WW1:

    http://www.vickersmachinegun.org.uk/manual.htm

    Consider that the British played catch-up in a lot of specialties, especially MG’s, and became masters. The Germans took the lessons and went a few steps further, while others stagnated or went backwards. Must look into Iran/Iraq war tactics, to see how the vaunted Warriors of The Kiddie-diddler performed during their try at trench warfare.

  6. SPEMack

    My first thought upon reading the poet’s title was
    “Oh, Kirk has a guest post.”

        1. SPEMack

          We might to call his local Provost for a welfare check. He may have fainted in happiness or perhaps passed out due to typing exhaustion.

  7. archy

    Though heavy, the German idea seems to have been that if the useful tripod was emplaced in a fixed position, the 13-man MG Squad gruppe members would be less inclined to abandon that position. Add in spare barrels, gunner’s kit with cleaning gear and spare parts, and ammo, ammo, and more ammo, and a light truck really became a necessity. And, since the MG was on board, it might as well have a mounting point for the MG….So add in an AA tripod as well….

    https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTsu7qCFs4UwPkJHkNJi477TIWMRiwskdnh9Pb0Vv1dOiOYZFFMdQ

    1. Sommerbiwak

      When Wehrmacht soldiers could get ahold of them (e.g. captured at Dunkerk), they loved Universal Carriers. And employed them for transporting all this machine gun equipment. Just like their British enemies did.

  8. Slow Joe Crow

    I think it says a lot about German MG doctrine that they use the same term (lafette) for a machine gun tripod and an artillery carriage.

    1. Sommerbiwak

      Just wanted to point out exactly this, but you beat me to it. Machine gun or Big Bertha, both sit on a Lafette.

      And really, automatic grenade launchers, small mortars and MGs on tripods are the infantry’s pocket artillery and should be employed accordingly.

  9. archy

    Canadian theory, practice & history of heavy MG employment; from the Great War and beyond:

    The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth Of The ‘Emma Gees’ (Part 1):
    http://regimentalrogue.com/emmagees/emmagees1.htm

    The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of The ‘Emma Gees’ (Part 2)
    http://regimentalrogue.com/emmagees/emmagees2.htm

    The Canadian Emma Gees [Canadian MachineGun Regiment]
    https://archive.org/stream/canadianemmagees00grafuoft/canadianemmagees00grafuoft_djvu.txt

    https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQDpxN1veZ5oFBV48iDZbrmHTyHcNpo93Et_2_TSJ_qoqSje-nJ

  10. HORSE GUNNER

    COMMENTS RE: MG in Indirect Fire/Sustained Fire Role
    RE: Comment 270903RMAR
    Comment 271044RMAR
    Comment 271257RMAR
    While I had heard of MGs in an Indirect Fire Role (e.g., UK .303 water-cooled Vickers), and had been told this was possible with the then-current (post-Vietnam-era) Traversing & Elevating (T&E) Mechanism on the Tripod for the M60, it was not until we trained in the UK with the British Airborne that I actually saw this done.
    The British Rifle Section (US: Squad) had a 7.62 x 51 NATO BREN; each Rifle Company had 6(?) 7.62 x51 NATO GPMGs; and the Battalion Support Company (US: Combat Support Company) had 12 (?) GPMGs for “Sustained Fire”. (NOTE: I do not recall how many of the GPMGs were organic “Company” guns centralized and “OPCON” to the Battalion Support Company and how many were organic to the Battalion
    Support Company.)
    Each Sustained Fire MG had an 81mm Mortar Sight, Aiming Stakes, and, I believe, the “Base Piece” might have had an Artillery-style Collimator. Each MG Team Leader had a Survey-style Prismatic Compass.
    The MG Platoon Commander laid the Sustained Fire MGs just like one lays a Mortar Platoon, with an Aiming Circle (similar to a Theodolite); the Platoon Sergeant verified the “Parallel Lay” with his Prismatic Compass.
    Per US Field Manuals, the Maximum Effective Range of the M60 MG is 1,100M, but I believe the British had Plunging Fire out to at least 1,500M if not 2000M. The Elevation, and hence Range, of the M60 is limited by the T&E Mechanism, and cannot elevate like one can with a better tripod and a Mortar Sight.

  11. Brad

    Yes, great website. Learning all kinds of fascinating details about German hand grenades and rocket launchers too.

  12. Kirk

    The thing to really look at with the Lafettes isn’t all the minutiae of models and all the accoutrements that go with them, which is unfortunately the usual focus for collectors and the so-called “Wehraboos”. What should really be examined is the usage of these things, and how all those nifty little design features played into the whole thing.

    Let me try to explain why the Lafette is a thing to be looked at, examined, and appreciated: First, examine the adaptability of the mount, particularly the later versions with adjustable lengths on the tripod legs. This adaptability costs you in terms of weight and complexity, but you get everything back with the way you can put this bugger into effective operation on widely variant terrain. The nature of the Lafette design allows it to adapt to conditions so much more quickly than the primitive M122 or M192 that it’s not even funny–Where the current US gun team has to adapt the terrain to the gun, so to speak, the German Lafette-equipped team simply extends the tripod legs, adjusts the command height, and starts returning fire. A well-drilled team can be dumping accurate bursts onto long-range targets while the US gun team is still trying to figure out how on God’s green earth they’re going to set that damn M122 up to get the angles they need. It’s especially bad up in the mountains–That Lafette can be adapted to damn near anything, and I’ve seen them set up cross-ways on side-slopes that would require a half-hour of digging to get an M122 to work on–And, that set-up was completed in a couple of minutes. The adaptability and ease of adjustment cannot really be grasped until you watch those bastards in action. Hell, on the sole count of having an adjustable command height, the Lafette is a superior solution–With the M122 or M192, you’re like the guy going to Ford for a Model T–So long as you want black, you can have any color you choose.

    You wanna shoot out a window? Well, with the Lafette, you adjust the command height until the tripod is high enough to let you shoot. With the M122? LOL… Baby, you better be a decent carpenter, or have a shit-ton of sandbags, ‘cos you gwin need to be building yoself a damn firing table. Amount of time to get set up with a Lafette, in those situations, vice being the poor schmuck stuck with an M122? Ridiculously fast–And, a part of the reason the German MG team was so damn deadly with their guns.

    I’m going to be watching that website, for the operational details he’s promised. Hopefully, he’s gotten his hands on some of the resources I once had access to, and then lost in a PCS move. I wish to hell I still had some of the stuff I got off the guy who did the most to educate me on this stuff, but other than having met his ass at the Lake County Gun Show back in the late 1980s, I’m utterly at a loss without the notes I took. At the time, I thought that finding the material he had would be relatively easy, if I ever lost it. Turns out, not so much. He was supposed to have been working on a magnum opus of his own, that would have rivaled the books by Folke Myrvang, but I’ve never seen anything in print and he’s been dead since around ’94 or so. I do wonder what the hell his kids or other heirs might have done with all that stuff, because he had tons of it. Probably went to a dump, or something…

  13. Sommerbiwak

    Has someone insights on russian, chinese, french or any other tripods and their design?

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