Walther Gewehr 41 (G41 / Gew 41)
Self-Loading Semi-Automatic Rifle
The German Gewehr 41 self-loading rifle was limited in its production during World War 2 and thus limited in combat service.
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The Gewehr 41 (or "Gew 41" or "G41") series semi-automatic rifle appeared in relatively few numbers for the German Army during World War 2 (1939-1945). Up to this point in the war, the Wehrmacht relied largely on infantry issued with the standard Mauser-based bolt-action service rifles of previous decades. While utterly reliable and highly proven in combat, these weapons gave a slow rate-of-fire when compared to self-loading types and further limited by their small magazines. The German Empire attempted to introduce automatic weapons into its army ranks during World War 1 but these were generally limited projects with few seeing considerable action. With the new World War in Europe, a new arms program was enacted to deliver a capable, self-loading, semi-automatic service rifle to German infantry elements.
In 1941, the work ultimately yielded the "Gewehr 41" with two prototype versions being delivered by the long-standing firearms firms of Mauser and Walther. As such, each form varied slightly in their assigned designations - the Mauser product was known as "Gew 41(M)" and the Walther product was known as "Gew 41(W)". One of the interesting requirements pressed upon the companies was to include a bolt-action mechanism as a fail-safe should the automatic loading action fail in service. The other requirements specified that no moving parts be set along the surfaces of the gun and no holes were to be bored into the barrel for the purpose of "tapping" the required gasses for the loading operation. Therefore a completely new operating system was developed known - rather amusingly - as the "Bang" mechanism, though this name coming from the operation's Danish designer, Soren H. Bang. After some evaluation, the Mauser design was removed from contention with the more stable Walther rifle - its designers effectively ignoring the "moving parts" and "bolt-action" requirements - being accepted into German Army service. Production of the rifle stemmed from Berlin-Luebecker Maschinenfabrik of Lubeck and the Carl Walther Waffenfabrik AG facility at Zella-Mehlis in Germany.
The Gew 41(W) appeared not unlike the bolt-action rifles of the time with the stock, receiver and fore-end all represented through a wooden body. The barrel was nested within the wood frame and all of the critical internal components were set in the aft portion of the receiver. The stock contoured finely into an ergonomic integrated pistol grip with the curved trigger set within an oblong ring. The internal (non-detachable) 10-round box magazine was set ahead of the trigger group and fed from the topside of the receiver by ammunition "clips". A flip-up type sight found along the middle of the receiver allowed for some level of accurized fire and was complemented by a forward post sight above the muzzle. Internally, the weapon was gas-operated - trapping its gas around the muzzle to drive a piston - with its unique locking bolt system required to complete the semi-automatic action. Weight was listed at 10.87lb (4.9kg) and overall length was 44.8 inches (1,140mm) with the barrel measuring 21.5 inches (546mm) long.
Since the weapon featured a 10-round integral, non-removable magazine for reloading purposes, the magazine relied on two 5-round "stripper clips" of 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridges - the same ammunition, and clips, as found in the standard service Mauser Karabiner 98K bolt-action rifle of the German Army. While the self-loading prospect of the rifle was the key to its ultimate success or failure, the actual reloading of the two individual stripper clips in the heat of battle left something to be desired. Rate-of-fire from a trained soldier could reach between 20- and 30-rounds-per-minute. Muzzle velocity was rated at 2,328 feet-per-second with an effective range of about 400 meters.
However, once in practice, the Gew 41 proved limiting in several key respects. Chief of all, the Gew 41(W) proved expensive to mass-produce, a common failing of many early-war weapons. The gas system was overly complicated and prone to fouling and the weapon suffered from an inherent imbalance in her design making it noticeably heavy at the muzzle. As was the case with complicated guns, the internal components required much attention in the field in terms of general maintenance when combating the effects of battlefield dust, dirt, and debris along with general wear and tear. Reloading was tedious and potentially life-threatening to the operator.
With these deficiencies in mind, only between 6,600 and 8,000 Gew 41 rifles were ultimately delivered for service. Despite this, the Gew 41 series remained, for a time, the only self-loading rifle available to German troops. The line was eventually superseded by the similar - though much improved - Gewehr 43 (Gew 43) which followed the Gew 41 into service during 1943. The Gew 43 became a more "production friendly" model, featured a detachable box magazine, and could mount a scope to make for a deadly sniper system. However, the Gew 43 was only made possible after the Germans came across captured examples of Soviet Tokarev automatic rifles and their gas-operated system - which tapped its gasses from the barrel; the Tokarev gas system was more-or-less outright copied for the German Gew 43.
Regardless, the Gew 41 did make it to at least the Eastern Front following the German invasion of the Soviet Union though these weapons were often found in the hands of "special forces" elements within the Wermacht and were not standard issue among general infantry.