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Maschinenpistole 40
MP 40 with stock extended
Type Submachine gun
Place of origin  Nazi Germany
Service history
In service 1939–present
Used by See Users
Wars World War II, Cold War (Limited)[1]
Production history
Designer Heinrich Vollmer [2]
Designed 1938
Manufacturer Erma Werke
Produced 1940–1945
Number built Approx. 1 million
Variants MP 36, MP 38, MP 40, MP 40/1, MP 41
Weight 4 kg (8.82 lb)
Length 833 mm (32.8 in) stock extended / 630 mm (24.8 in) stock folded
Barrel length 251 mm (9.9 in)

Cartridge 9x19mm Parabellum
Action Straight blowback, open bolt
Rate of fire 500 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity ~400 m/s (1,312 ft/s)
Effective range 70 m[3]-100 m [1]
Feed system 32-round detachable box magazine 64-round with dual magazines
Sights Hooded front blade, fixed and flip-up U-notch rear

The MP 38 and MP 40 (MP designates Maschinenpistole.) were submachine guns developed in Nazi Germany and used extensively by Fallschirmjäger, tank crews, platoon and squad leaders, and other troops during World War II. Both weapons were often erroneously called the Schmeisser, despite Hugo Schmeisser's non-involvement in their design and production.[4]


Soldiers of the Waffen SS with MP 40 submachine guns.

The MP 40 descended from its predecessor, the MP 38, which was in turn based on the MP 36, a prototype made of machined steel. The MP 36 was developed independently by Erma Werke's Berthold Geipel with funding from the German Army. It took design elements from Heinrich Vollmer's VPM 1930 and EMP. Vollmer then worked on Berthold Geipel's MP 36 and in 1938 submitted a prototype to answer a request from the German Armament services for a new submachine gun, which was adopted as MP 38. The MP 38 was a simplification of the MP 36, and the MP 40 was a further simplification of the MP 38, with certain cost-saving alterations, notably in the more extensive use of stamped steel rather than machined parts.

The MP 40 was often called the "Schmeisser" by the Allies, after weapons designer Hugo Schmeisser. Schmeisser had designed the MP 18, which was the first mass-produced submachine gun, and saw extensive service at the end of the First World War. He did not, however, design the MP 40,[5] although he held a patent on the magazine. He later designed the MP 41, which was an MP 40 with a wooden rifle stock and a selector, identical to those found on the earlier MP 28 submachine gun. The MP 41 was not introduced as a service weapon with the German Army, but saw limited use with some SS and police units. They were also exported to Germany's ally, Romania. The MP 41's production run was brief, as Erma filed a successful patent infringement lawsuit against Schmeisser's employer, Haenel.

Despite the impression given by popular culture, particularly in war films and video games, MP 40s were generally issued only to paratroopers and platoon and squad leaders;[citation needed] the majority of German soldiers carried Karabiner 98k rifles. However, later experience with Soviet tactics - such as the Battle of Stalingrad where entire units armed with submachine guns outgunned their German counterparts in short range urban combat - caused a shift in tactics, and by the end of the war the MP 40 and its derivatives were being issued to entire assault platoons on a limited basis.

There were never enough MP 40s to go around, because raw material and labor costs made it expensive to produce alongside the Kar98 rifles, which, for troops finding themselves more and more in assault roles, meant that the Russian PPSh-41 was sometimes scavenged from the battlefield to fill the need. Examples of this are visible in more than a few wartime photos. Starting in 1943, the German army moved to replace both the Kar-98k rifle and MP 40 with the new MP 43/44 assault rifle, also known later as the StG 44.


A soldier of the Russian Liberation Army with an MP 38.

MP 40, folded stock.

Both MP 38 and MP 40 submachine guns are open-bolt, blowback-operated automatic arms. Fully automatic fire was the only setting, but the relatively low rate of fire allowed for single shots with controlled trigger pulls. The bolt features a telescoping return spring guide which serves as a pneumatic recoil buffer. The cocking handle was permanently attached to the bolt on early MP 38s, but on late production MP 38s and MP 40s, the bolt handle was made as a separate part. It also served as a safety by pushing the head of handle into one of two separate notches above the main opening; this action locked the bolt either in the cocked (rear) or uncocked (forward) position. The absence of this feature on early MP 38s resulted in field expedients such as leather harnesses with a small loop, used to hold the bolt in forward position.[6]

A Wehrmacht Heer soldier with an MP 40/I in 1944.

The MP 38 receiver was made of machined steel, but this was a time-consuming and expensive process. To save time and materials, and thus increase production, construction of the MP 40 receiver was simplified by using stamped steel and electro-spot welding as much as possible. The MP 38 also features longitudinal grooving on the receiver and bolt, as well as a circular opening on the magazine housing. These features were eliminated on the M38/40 and MP 40.

One unique feature found on on most MP 38 and MP 40 submachine guns was an aluminum, steel, or bakelite resting bar or support under the barrel. This was used to steady the weapon when firing over the side of open-top armored personnel carriers such as the Sdkfz 251 half-track. A handguard, made of a synthetic material derived from bakelite, was located between the magazine housing and the pistol grip. The barrel lacked any form of insulation, which often resulted in burns on the supporting hand if it was incorrectly positioned. The MP 38 and MP 40 also had a forward-folding metal stock, the first for a submachine gun,[7] resulting in a shorter overall weapon when folded; however, this stock design was at times insufficiently durable for hard combat use.

Although the MP 40 was generally reliable, a major weakness was its 32-round magazine. Unlike the double-column, dual-feed magazine insert found on the Thompson M1921-28 variants, the MP 38 and MP 40 used a double-column, single-feed insert. The single-feed insert resulted in increased friction against the remaining cartridges moving upwards towards the feed lips, occasionally resulting in feed failures; this problem was exacerbated by the presence of dirt or other debris.[8] Another problem was that the magazine was also sometimes misused as a handhold. This could cause the weapon to malfunction when hand pressure on the magazine body caused the magazine lips to move out of the line of feed, since the magazine well did not keep the magazine firmly locked. German soldiers were trained to grasp either the handhold on the underside of the weapon or the magazine housing with the supporting hand to avoid feed malfunctions.[9][10]

Copies and post-war usage

After the end of World War II, many MP 40s captured by the Allies were redistributed to the paramilitary and irregular forces of some developing countries; these guns were eventually used in conflicts in Greece, Israel, Korea, and Vietnam.[1]

The MP 38 or MP 40 was also a pattern for diverse submachine guns such as:

  • While designing the American .45-caliber M3 submachine gun, engineers combined some features of the British Sten guns and captured MP 40s. The M3 used a copy of the Sten magazine, which itself was similar to the MP 40 magazine.
  • The Spanish company Star Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A. produced the Star Modelo Z-45, a variant of the MP 40.[11] Produced in 9x23mm Largo, the Z-45 is a selective-fire submachine gun, equipped with either a wooden or a folding metal buttstock, and wooden handguards.[12] Its magazine was a copy of the MP 40, and held 30 rounds.[12] It served in Spain, Cuba, Chile, Portugal and Saudi Arabia and was used for the first time in combat in the battle of Sidi Ifni.

    Star Model Z-45.

  • The Yugoslav Peoples Army used a similar submachine gun in 7.62x25mm Tokarev produced by Zastava called the M56 which was used in some quantity in the various conflicts after the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was recognized by its long thin barrel, curved magazines, and a permanently mounted folding bayonet.
  • The Norwegian Army used the MP 40 from 1945 until about 1970[13] and other parts of the Norwegian armed forces, such as the Norwegian Home Guard, still issued the MP 40 up into the early 1990s.
  • Some MP 40s were in use by the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Kosovo War in 1999.[14]
  • Two MP 40s were used by the LAPD SWAT team during the famous May 1974 shootout with members of the urban guerrilla Symbionese Liberation Army.[15][16]
  • The BD 38 is a semi-automatic copy of the MP 38 submachine gun manufactured by HZA Kulmbach GmbH.

Variants and developments

The MP41 with wooden stock.

  • MP 40 — main production version
  • MP 40/I — experiment with two side by side 32-round magazines, sometimes (incorrectly) called MP 40/II.[17] The MP 40/I was tested in 1942. This version of the MP 40 has a two-magazine receiver that slides horizontally to use the additional magazine when the first becomes depleted. This design was intended to counter the superior firepower of the Soviet PPSh-41, but made the weapon heavy and unbalanced in the field, and did not work well.[10] However, by 1943 the Soviets shifted the production of PPSh-41 drums to 35 round magazines due to combat malfunctions.[18] In 2001, only five genuine exemplars of the MP40/I were known to exist. The dual feed system is a feature shared with another rare weapon, the EMP 44.[19]
  • MP 41 — A variant designed by Hugo Schmeisser for the Haenel Company, which featured the receiver, operating mechanism, and magazine housing of the MP 40 and the stock, trigger and fire selector similar to the MP 28.
  • Many countries involved in World War II developed submachine guns which had a similar features to the MP 40 (with a folding stock, magazine as a front handgrip, and production techniques). The most famous examples are the Soviet PPS-43 and the American M3 submachine gun. Most derivative designs also copied the troublesome magazine design as well.


        (Australia) Used by an Australian 2/1 Infantry Captain A G Sanderson in Papua New Guinea In 1942 Kakoda Trail~Acquired in Battle for Crete. KIA Eora Creek (Official History of Australia in SE Asia in WW2)
  •  Belgium
  •  Bulgaria: Used by 1st Bulgarian SS Anti-Tank Brigade.[20]
  •  Canada: Captured from the German Army in World War II[citation needed]
  •  Czechoslovakia: Limited use - post 1945 Czechoslovak army had 19,681 MP38/MP40s in the inventory, primarily stored in reserve, phased out by the mid-1950s.[21]
  •  Egypt: Egypt Forces Had MP40 Post World War II
  •  Denmark
  •  Finland
  •  France: Limited use in the early stages of the First Indochina War
  •  Greece: Limited post-war use.[22]
  •  Guinea Bissau: Used by PAIGC in the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
  •  Iran: Used by the Imperial Army.
  •  Indonesia
  •  Italian Social Republic: Used in small numbers by soldiers and militiamen of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic 1943-45.
  •  Hungary[23]
  •  Malaysia
  •  Mozambique: Used by FRELIMO in the Mozambican War of Independence
  •  Netherlands
  •  Nazi Germany[2]
  •  Norway: Post-war use.[13]
  •  Romania: 10,600 MP-40s ordered in 1941 and delivered during 1942.[24] A further 5,800 MP-41 SMGs were delivered in 1943.[25]
  •  Poland
  •  Saudi Arabia
  •  Spain[22]
  •  Turkey
  •  West Germany[citation needed]
  •  Yugoslavia: Used by the Partisans, captured in large numbers.[citation needed]
  •  North Vietnam: Used by DRV militias in the First and Second Indochina War[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ingram, Mike (2001). The MP40 submachine gun. Zenith Imprint. p. 75. ISBN 0-7603-1014-9. Retrieved September 15, 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bishop, Chris (1998). Guns in Combat. Chartwell Books, Inc. ISBN 0-7858-0844-2.
  3. Ingram, Mike (2001). The MP40 submachine gun. Zenith Imprint. p. 92. ISBN 0-7603-1014-9. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  4. Bishop, Chris (1998). "The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II". Orbis Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7607-1022-8. .
  5. Bishop, Chris. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II. New York: Metrobooks, 2002, p. 260. ISBN 1-58663-762-2.
  6. Popenker, Max. "Modern Firearms — MP-38 and MP-40 submachine guns". Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  7. Hogg, Ian; John Weeks (1977). Military Small Arms of the 20th Century. Arms & Armour Press. pp. 90. ISBN 0-85368-301-8. 
  8. Weeks, John, World War II Small Arms, London: Orbis Publishing Ltd. (1979), p. 33.
  9. Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), pp. 80-81.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Nelson, Thomas B., The World's Submachine Guns, TBN Enterprises, 1977.
  11. Smith, Joseph E., Small Arms of the World, 9th ed., Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company (1969), pp. 544-546
  12. 12.0 12.1 Small Arms of the World, pp. 544-546
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Hæren Etter Andre Verdenskrig 1945 - 1990" ISBN 82-90545-18-5.
  16. (page 53 notes two weapons, 127 notes 440 9mm rounds expended)
  19. G. de Vries, B.J. Martens: The MP 38, 40, 40/1 and 41 Submachine gun, Propaganda Photos Series, Volume 2, Special Interest Publicaties BV, Arnhem, The Netherlands. First Edition, 2001, pages 34-36
  20. Българските SS - Българска бронеизтребителна легия,, 26 April 2004
  21. Helebrant, Martin (2008). "Poválečné využití samopalů M.P. 38 a MP 40" (in Czech). Samopal M.P. 38 a MP 40. Prague: Elka Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-80-87057-02-5. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Unwin, Charles C.; Vanessa U., Mike R., eds (2002). 20th Century Military Uniforms (2nd ed.). Kent: Grange Books. ISBN 1-84013-476-3. 
  23. Rada, Tibor (2001) (in Hungarian). A Magyar Királyi Honvéd Ludovika Akadémia és a Testvérintézetek Összefoglalt Története (1830-1945). II. Budapest: Gálos Nyomdász Kft. p. 1114. ISBN 963-85764-3-X. 
  24. Mark Axworthy, Third axis, fourth ally, p. 76
  25. Mark Axworthy, Third axis, fourth ally, p. 148

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