The world played host to two great wars already: World War I and World War II. Of the two, it is the Second World War that has been widely discussed in history classes, most probably because of the gravity of its impact.
Compared to the first, the second one lasted two years longer but the factors that made it more talked about are the number of casualties that it left in its wake and the nature of how the killings were done. The world witnessed mass killings of Jews and Romanians by the Nazis. There were bombings that claimed the lives of many military personnel and civilians. Who would forget the siege of Pearl Harbor? It was even made more famous and memorable when it inspired a romantic/tragic Hollywood film. Moreover, bombings of an advanced sort were used to end the war once and for all. The effects, though, lasted more than a lifetime. Even decades after atomic bombs were dropped in the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, radioactive effects still made their way to unborn babies, rendering them with all sorts of defects.
Apart from the wide scope of devastation, the Second World War also paved the way for more advanced artillery while still making use of various classic weapons.
M1903 Springfield Rifle
Designed in 1903 by the Springfield Armory, the M1903 Springfield Rifle first saw action in World War I in 1914. Formally named the United States Rifle, it continued to see action in World War II as the standard service issue rifle to compensate for the lack of M1’s and remained to serve as a sniper rifle throughout the war. It has loading clips, necessary for the speedy loading and reloading of a five-round magazine fed firearm, whose barrel has to be manually opened and closed. To date, it is a prevalent firearm choice for private citizens and military drills, and a historical keepsake for collectors as well.
Another sniper rifle that saw action in World War II is the Mosin-Nagant Model 1891/30, the standard issue rifle of Soviet troops, the largest militarized army in history. Since its inception in 1891, from designers Captain Sergei Mosin and Leon Nagant, it is one of the most widely produced military rifles consequently visible in numerous encounters around the world. Like the M1903 Springfield Rifle, it also has a clip that enables simultaneous loading of up to five cartridges into the magazine. It has an “interrupter” though, which prevents double feeding, and its magazine spring is attached to the magazine base, to prevent the spring from getting lost during cleaning. Its widespread production inspired many rifle variations all over the world and after the war, pieces of the kar98k rifle made their way to collectors and hunters.
The Karabiner 98 Kurz, which when directly translated to English means Carbine 98 Short, is another bolt-action rifle designed in the 20th century, 1935 to be exact, and employed as the standard service rifle of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). Made by Mauser, a German arms manufacturer specializing in bolt-action rifles, it was named so for being shorter than Karabiner 98b, one of the rifles from which it was derived. The kar98k enables its user to either load its internal magazine one-by-one or with five cartridges from a stripper clip; and the change from a straight bolt handle of the Gewehr 98 to a turned-down bolt handle made the speedy operation of the bolt easier. Apart from these features, the kar98k was noted for being reliable, accurate and having an effective range, which is why it remained the main German service rifle until WWII ended in 1945 despite the supply of semi-automatic and automatic rifles.
Another Mauser-made firearm is the Maschinengewehr 42, or MG 42 for short, a light machine gun. Designed by Werner Gruner in 1942, it was broadly used by the German Armed Forces and Waffen-SS during the last three years of the Second World War, in tandem with the MG 34. The MG 42 was proven for being a reliable, durable, simple and easy to operate firearm, but mostly noted for being able to produce a high volume of ammunition enough to render its enemies incapable of fulfilling their task. Its efficiency made its use past the defeat of the Nazis, becoming the basis and inspiration of different firearm models produced in various countries.
A submachine gun, the PPSh-41, Pistolet-Pulemyot Shpagina in Russian, Shpagin Machine Pistol in English, was also widely used in combat during World War II as one of the primary infantry weapons of the Soviet Armed Forces. It was designed by Georgi Shpagin as a cheap and simple substitute to the PPD-40. The PPSh-41 is magazine-fed and has at least two firearm modes to give its user options to maximize the amount of bullets being fired. Economical and efficient as it was, it also saw action in the Korean War, licensed copies of it were produced and used by the VietCong in the Vietnam War until 1970. The 2002 edition of the Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II even mentioned the PPSh being still in use with non-standard military units.
A family of United States automatic rifles that also widely served in the Second World War is the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR. The M1918, initial variant of the series, was designed in 1917 by John Browning to replace French-made machine guns. The BAR saw action in the First World War but only became a standard issue in the United States Army in 1938 as a light machine gun. Like the PPSh-41, it has at least two firearm modes. Furthermore, it uses the bolt carrier as the striker and a trigger mechanism with a fire selector lever that enables semi-automatic or fully automatic firing operation. Sadly though, the United States Army started to phase out the BAR in the late 1950s.
One more submachine gun, this time used by the Axis powers, was the MP 40, Maschinepistole 40. It was designed by Heinrich Vollmer in 1938, inspired by the MP 38, and was widely used in Eastern and Western Europe. Although reliable in general, its 32-round magazine was its weakness where a single feed insert on a double column was used that sometimes caused feed failures with increased friction. Such magazines being used as a handhold also caused feed malfunctions as pressure on the magazine tended to move the magazine lips out of the feed line. Despite these, however, the contemporary and forward features of the MP 40 made it a soldier favorite after the war in various countries worldwide and strongly influenced numerous weapons.
Carbines, long firearms with barrels shorter than those of rifles, particularly the M1 Carbine, became a standard firearm too for the United States Military forces. Officially the United States Carbine, the lightweight semi-automatic, gas-operated rotating bolt carbine was designed in 1938-1941 by Frederick L. Humeston, William C. Roemer and David Marshall Williams and considered one of the most economical weapons used during World War II. Manufactured in several models by numerous military contractors made it the American military’s most produced small firearm. Up to the present, it is still being used by various military troops and the police and a favorite choice of civilian firearm.
The M1928A1 is one of the two military variants of the Thompson Submachine Gun, which was designed in 1918 by John T. Thompson intended to strike enemies from the trenches. Compared to its contemporaries, the M1 and M1A1, it had a barrel with cooling fins, used a delayed blowback action and a charging handle positioned on the receiver’s top. However, complaints about its drum magazine’s unnecessary heft and noise, design that made magazine changing and cartridge malfunction clearing sluggish and difficult had the British Army ship thousands of units back to the United States for box magazines instead. Modifications were done to replace the complaint-driven drum magazine and the Allied troops who used the M1928A1 became fond of its efficiency for close combat due to its high firing rate and stopping power.
The first standard issue semi-automatic rifle used during World War II is the M1 Garand, officially named US Rifle, Caliber 0.30, M1. Titled “the greatest battle implement ever devised”, the M1 Garand was designed in 1928 by John C. Garand and officially replaced the M1903 Springfield Rifle in standard service. It has an air-cooled barrel, gas-operated and clip-fed mechanism that facilitated reloading, giving the US forces an upper hand against their enemies who still used the slower bolt-action rifles. It continued to see action as the US forces’ standard issue rifle in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and up to this day, it is still being used in drills.