Material for this article on enemy weapons was prepared by the War Department’s Military Intelligence Service with the assistance of the Ordnance Intelligence Unit.

mp 40

MP 40 Submachine gun. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Although this weapon was originally designed for use by parachute troops, it can now be found in general use in all combat units of the German Army. The construction is simple, and both the MP38 and the more recent MP 40, which has been issued in large quantities, are reliable weapons. They fire from an open bolt, and the pressure in the barrel forces the bolt back in order to extract and eject the empty cartridge case.  The spring then forces the bolt forward again, chambering and firing a new round. [MP is an abbreviation for Maschinenpistole, literally “machine pistol.”]

mp 40

A German soldier in Russia armed with the MP 40

How to Identify.

The MP 38 and MP 40 may be identified by—

1)      Folding skeleton shoulder stock.

2)      Absence of wood (these guns are all metal and plast).

3)      Fixed and folding, open rear rights.

4)      Hooded front sight.

5)      Marking (“MP 38” and “MP 40”) on top of the receiver.

6)      Corrugations on the receiver casing of the MP 38; smooth surface on the receiver casing of the MP 40.

mp 40

Skeleton shoulder stock folded and open.


The MP 38 and MP 40 are simple blowback-operated submachine guns; they are magazine-fed, air-cooled shoulder weapons which may also be fired from the hip. They are used for close work and are not effective at the longer ranges. They fire from an open bolt and deliver full-automatic fire only. Although the MP 40 is slightly lighter and has a slower rate of fire, both types are the same for all practical 40

How to Operate.

Safety.—The only safety on these guns is the notch marked “S” (sicher—“safe”) at the butt end of the cut made for the operating handle in the receiver. To make the gun “safe,” pull the operating handle back as far as it will go and then push it upward into the safety notch. This is not a positive safety, as a jump or fall may disengage the operating handle from the safety notch and leave the gun ready to fire.

To load and fire.—Press the thumb catch above the pistol grip in order to release the skeleton shoulder stock from its folded position. Snap the shoulder stock into extended position and unfold the butt plate. Pull the operating handle back and switch it into the feedway on the underside of the receiver until the magazine catch engages. Disengage the operating handle from the safety notch; then aim and squeeze the trigger. The magazine can serve as a grip while firing.

To unload.—Press the magazine catch and remove the magazine. Check the chamber to be sure that it is empty. After pressing the trigger, let the operating handle go forward.


The ammunition used in these guns is the standard 9-mm Parabellum cartridge used in all German pistols and submachine guns. This is a rimless, straight-case cartridge with a round-nose, jacketed bullet. The German nomenclature for this ammunition is Pistolenpatronen 08 (“pistol cartridges 08”). It comes in cases containing 4,160 rounds, packed in multiples of 16 rounds in cartons and packages.  Ammunition (9-mm) manufactured for the British Sten submachine gun (called a machine carbine by the British) can be used in the MP 38 and MP 40. Italian 9-mm pistol ammunition other than model 34 will also function. But the German-issue ammunition should be used whenever possible.


Oiling and cleaning.—These submachine guns are cleaned and oiled in the same manner as the U.S. Thompson submachine gun. In sandy or dusty country, oil should be used sparingly or not at all.

Stripping.—First, be sure that the gun is unloaded and unlocked. Pull out the locking pin located on the bottom front portion of the receiver behind the magazine well and turn the pin a little to keep it unlocked. Grasp the barrel with the left hand and the pistol grip with the right; press the trigger and at the same time turn the receiver in a counterclockwise direction, holding the magazine housing in its normal position. It will then be possible to separate the receiver from the barrel and from the magazine housing. Remove the bolt and recoil spring from the receiver by means of the operating handle. The recoil spring may be removed from the telescoping recoil-spring housing.

Assembly.—Assemble the recoil spring to the recoil-spring housing. Replace the recoil-spring assembly and bolt into the receiver.  Hold the trigger back, and assemble the receiver to the barrel and the magazine housing by holding the magazine housing and then inserting the receiver and turning it in a clockwise direction. Turn the locking pin so that it snaps in.

mp 40

Receiver is removed (1) by pulling out locking pin and (2) turning counterclockwise.


Six magazines and a magazine filler are carried in a web haversack. Four magazines are sometimes carried on a magazine holder attached to the belt. A small cleaning outfit is carried on the person, and a sling is attached to these guns for carrying purposes.

mp 40

Here’s how it is held, using skeleton shoulder stock.

For Related Articles See:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past and Present WWII History Posts