Sunday, November 29, 2015

Another Walther I Love - the Gew.43 Appreciation Blog

(updated Sept. 14th)

This is a thread that has been in the works for several months. It is also not going to be the most exciting thing ever, as the G.43 had a very short service life. Nevertheless, it is an important part of WWII history and several variations exist. I've tried to create something that is comprehensive, without being overly detailed and thus boring.

Early Development & the G41:
In the 1930s, after the Nazi party seized power, the German military considered replacing its venerable old Mauser Model 98 bolt action, with a modern self-loading rifle. However, it was decided at that time to stick with the Mauser due to the cost and legistics of re-equipping the entire army. Others objected on the grounds that issuing a self-loader would result in more wasted ammunition and lower accuracy from individual soldiers. Even in 1936, it was clear that war was on the horizon and many felt it was not the time to make such a radical switch. Thus the idea was put on hold, and Germany went into World War II with a bolt action rifle as its standard infantry firearm.
In 1939, early in the war, German military doctrine was to have an MG34 (later MG42) at the heart of a squad and for it to be supported by the K98k Mauser. This idea continued until 1941 and Operation Barbarossa. When German soldiers invaded Soviet-Russia, they went up against many smallarms, including the SVT40 Tokarev self-loading rifle. They quickly learned the value of such a firearm, and some SVTs were even fitted with the 3.5x PU scope, turning them into effective DMRs. When German soldiers were able to do so, they used captured Russian SVTs themselves. It might even be said that the Germans appreciated the rifle more than the Russians.

In 1941 responding to reports from the field, the German military requested that Mauser and Walther submit prototypes for a new self-loading/semi-automatic rifle for general issue. The rifle was to be chambered for the standard 7.92x57mm cartridge, have no hole (gas port) in the barrel, have no external moving parts, and be able to be operated as a bolt action in the event the auto system failed.

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(a production model G41 manufactured by BLM in early 1943)

The G43 started off as the G41(w), with the 'w' standing for Walther. It competed against Mauser's G41(m) design throughout the early part of 1942. Both rifles used the Bang or gas-trap system, along with a fixed 10 round magazine, and used a bolt with 2 locking flaps inspired by the Russian DP28 light machinegun. Ultimately the G41(w) won the contest for one simple reason; Walther cheated. Where as Mauser designed a rifle to meet every single requirement, Walther simply ignored some. Mainly the part about having no external moving parts, and the other about it being able to operate like the K98 bolt action. After the selection, Walther was tasked with improving its design for mass production. The G41(m) was not successful as it was simply too costly and time consuming to manufacture. It was extremely complex, especially the bolt group. Also, field tests revealed it was not as reliable or durable as the G41(w) and that was saying something since the Walther was not highly reliable itself. Only 7,000-15,000 (sources vary wildly here) G41(m)s were built, and of those several hundred were sent back as unusable. The rest were either sent to the Eastern Front or were issued to second line units. It seems the final ones were delivered to the military in the Spring of 1943, which is interesting as this was clearly several months after the design had officially been rejected. That's a government contract for you though.

The new Walther rifle was promising but far from perfect. It dramatically increased the individual soldier's fire power and had less felt recoil than the K98k. It also had twice the ammunition capacity. On the otherhand, soldiers felt it was front heavy (due to the gas system), and just too heavy in general. They also did not like that they had to load it using two stripper clips. It was found to be less than 100% reliable due to overly tight tolerances and the needlessly complicated gas system. Throughout the latter half of 1942, Walther worked hard to improve its design.

The early trials rifles were rollmarked as G41(w), but when the Walther design was officially selected over Mauser's in late 1942, the 'w' was dropped. It was produced by Waffenfabrik Walther and Berliner-Luebecker Maschinenfabrik. Today, no one knows for sure how many rifles the two factories managed to turn out. Estimates range from 40,000 all the way up to 145,000. The problem is that many G41s were lost or captured on the Eastern Front, and most of the records the factories kept have not survived. 115,000-125,000 is a recent estimate and seems to be supported by observed serials. What we do know is that BLM seemed to have built far more G41s than Walther. This is understandable. Where as Walther began focusing on developing the G43 in early 1943 and thus its G41 production slowed dramatically; BLM continued at full speed through at least the Summer. I do not know in which block Walther production ended, but BLM stopped a short time after entering the 'i' block. It is worth noting that it was a standard issue rifle, and not just a prototype that made its way into the field. In fact, many G41s were encountered by Allied soldiers during and after the D-Day invasion. Also like the G41(m), thousands must have been sent to fight on the Eastern Front.

The G41 featured a gas trap system located around the muzzle. There was a cone, short gas piston around the barrel, and a long piston running along the top of the barrel all the way back to the bolt carrier. Though this system was complex and became quickly fouled, it was at least easy to disassemble for cleaning. It used the same cleaning rod and sight protector as the G43. There was a Mauser style bayonet lug, two barrel bands, and a full length handguard (often made of a synthetic material). The forestock was also full length and ran most of the length of the barrel. The bolt was very similar to what would later appear on the G43, however it was taller and many dimentions were slightly different. The carrier had its handle on the right side, and a switch was located on the left to lock it back on the top cover for disassembly. The cover itself was machined and had an internal automatic dustcover. The rifle's magazine was fixed and was only removable for cleaning or replacement. The buttstock was basically the same as on the G43, but it lacked a storage compartment. The G41 had mostly forged or milled parts, with very good final machining and a blued finish. So in otherwords, typical early war German quality. Some very early examples had a bolt release button, but this feature was quickly dropped. Some others were fitted with a unique scope mounting system, which strattled the rear sight.

the G43's Brief Life:
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(a typical G43 rifle)

In January of 1943, the first prototypes of what would become the G43 were sent to the military for field testing. The biggest change was a switch from the problematic gas-trap system, to a simpler and more reliable one. The new system used a short-stroke gas piston, which Walther virtually cloned from the more successful SVT40 Tokarev. This change violated the original condition that there not be a hole in the barrel, but by this point no one really cared. It was more important to have a reliable semi-auto rifle. It made the rifle both shorter, lighter, and much better balanced. Also, the fixed 10 round magazine was replaced with one that was detachable and it was decided to issue 3 mags with each weapon. The bayonet lug was dropped and the manufacturing process streamlined. The receiver began to be created using a forging process, which saved both time and metal. The barrel went from being screwed in, to pressed and pinned in; which again was faster and easier. Many of the small parts which had been milled were switched to stampings. Literally in every way, the G43 was superior to the G41.

The new rifle was given a large storage compartment in its buttstock, which was accessed via a spring loaded trap door. Several useful items were kept inside it. These included an oiler (made of steel or bakelite), a rolled up operator's manual with illistrations, a spare firing pin, spare firing pin extension, a spare extractor, and cloth patches for cleaning.

A typical K98 sling was most often used, along with a K98 type short cleaning rod under the barrel. The G43 had a front sight hood similar to that of the K98, but it was taller. Unlike with the G41, the G43 did not feature a bayonet lug. Spare magazines were carried in 2 pocket belt pouches made of canvis with leather trim.
The new design was successful, and G41 manufacturing was ordered haulted and to be switched over to G43. The change over took some time, and it wasn't until October of 1943, that Walther began to turn out rifles. In this year, only about 3,000 G43s were produced, with virtually none making it to the frontlines by December.
Once soldiers did have the oppertunity to test the new rifle out in combat, initial reactions were quite favourable. It was more reliable and durable, and allowed for much greater firepower than the old K98. Those in charge liked that the G43 was cheaper to build than the G41; some even claimed that in time after the manufacturing process was streamlined that it might be cheaper than even the Mauser. The idea of switching all rifle production over to the semi-auto rifle and abandoning the bolt action was discussed at some length.

In 1944, Walther and BLM were joined in G43 production by Gustloff Werke. In April of that year, the German military command decided to change the rifle's name from Gewehr.43 (G43) to Karabiner.43 (K43). This was only a name change for propaganda reasons, and it did not reflect any changes to the design itself. The two names would be used interchangibly throughout the rest of the war anyway. It wasn't until later in the year that the G was altered to K on production lines.

By the middle of 1944, The G/K43 began to make it to soldiers serving on the frontlines in large numbers. They continued to appreciate it for being a semi-automatic and used it effectively enough in Europe after D-Day and on the Eastern Front. However, it was still far from a truely perfected design. Problems were encountered with accuracy, reliability, sensitivity to dirt, small parts breakages, and issues related to over-gassing. This issue lead to a relatively short service life for the forged receiver, which would eventually crack in the rear from heavy strikes from the bolt group. Also, the safety was not very secure, being held into the receiver via a single stamped steel snap ring. The bolt would sometimes throw its extractor too. Undoubtedly, these problems would have been resolved if more time had been available.
Another issue was training. By 1945, sometimes the only information a soldier had regarding his new K43 was what he read out of the manual stored in the buttstock. In the end, the rifle was simply not produced in large enough numbers for it to make any appreciable difference in the war. Germany adopted its self-loading infantry rifle far too late. In all, 402,713 G/K43 rifles were manufactured from 1943 through 1945. 53,435 rifles were fitted with the ZF4 scope, turning them into DMRs. However again, this was just too few to really matter. Plus, most skilled German snipers still preferred the more accurate K98 Mauser.

Also lets not forget that the MP/STG.44 appeared at virtually the same time as the G43 and soon eclipsed it in the minds of soldiers and generals alike. The STG44 was select fire, had a larger magazine capacity, was easier to control, lighter, more compact, and was more durable/reliable. It was also cheaper and faster to mass-produce. Really the only areas where the G43 out performed it were range and the power of its cartridge.

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(a scoped K43 DMR)

G/K43 Variations & Changes:
Even though the rifle was only in production at just 3 factories for less than a year and a half, still several minor variations exist today. The majority can be found with Walther rifles as they were always trying to improve the design, even right up until the very end. BLM was more consistant, and made fewer alterations but even it did adopt some changes. Since Gustloff was only operational for a short period of time, virtually all of its rifles came out looking identical. This is a list of the notable G/K43 production changes.
All rifles had the following specifications;
Weight - 4.4 kg (9.7 lbs)
Length - 1130 mm (44.5 in )
Barrel length - 550 mm (21.5 inches)
Caliber - 8mm Mauser (7.92x57mm IS)
Capacity - 10 rounds (detachable double stack box magazine)

One of the earliest improvements was that a reinforcing 'web' was added to the bolt carrier behind the front bar. This was done to prevent cracking as the carrier was a rough forged part that indured considerable stress during firing. Next, the receiver cover was changed from being made of machined steel, to one made of stamped and folded steel. This was always a planned transition. The milled cover was a hold over from the G41(w), and the stamped one was lighter and saved on raw steel. This change required that the automatic sliding dustcover go from being located internally, on the underside of the cover; to being external, on the top side.
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(early milled receiver cover with automatic dustcover & standard stamped cover with manual dustcover)

Sometime in the middle of 1944, the cocking knob was changed from having a solid shaft to a hollow one. I do not know why this was done? Perhaps it saved a bit of steel and weight. Around the same time, the butt plate trap door went from having a horizontally ribbed pattern on it to being smooth. This was done to cut a step out of the manufacturing process. The automatic sliding dustcover was mechanically interesting and a good idea, but in practice it often bound up in the field and thus jammed the entire rifle. An early solution was to cut the lip off the front, which hooked it to the bolt carrier. This effectively turned it into a manually sliding cover. This alteration was first done by unit armorers, and later by the factories themselves. This was the style used in mid-1944, until late in the year when a tail was added to the cover to make it easier to grip. In all, a total of 4 different patterns of dustcover were used on the G/K43.
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(early ribbed & smooth late buttplate trap door cover)

In mid to late 1944, the barrel's muzzle threading was deleted. This saved a good bit of time, and removed several parts from the design such as the thread protector, retaining catch, spring, and pin. Sometime after that change, they also stopped machining the small groove pattern into the rear/back of the front sight base. Again, it saved just a bit more time during the manufacturing process and sped things up. Finally in late 1944 or early 1945, they stopped machining the step-down behind the front sight base. This made turning the barrel easier, and required that the base have a slightly larger opening (14mm to 15mm).
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(early threaded muzzle with step & late non-threaded without step)

Magazines manufactured late in the war had a 3rd reinforcing rib added to their base plates. This strengthened the stamped steel part a bit. All K43s were shipped with a cleaning rod, however some late examples lacked a front sight hood.
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(early & late magazine floorplates)

Walther and BLM did experiment with the pattern a bit as well. A series of select-fire G43 prototypes were tested and faired about as well as one might expect. The weapon was virtually uncontrollable in fully automatic, and the receiver did not last long as it simply could not take the additional stress.
Another prototype was chambered for the STG44's 7.92x33mm Kurz and fed from its curved 30 round magazines. This version worked ok, but ultimately was kind of pointless as it did not do anything that the STG44 itself did not do. Plus it was not select fire. An interesting adaptation for sure but still a deadend.

Walther Production;
Carl Walther in Zella-Mehlis was the factory which originally created the G43 and was the first to begin producing it in October of 1943. It would continue the line until the factory was captured by the Allies in April of 1945. It would use the 'ac' factory code, and had a Waffenampt stamp of WAA359. It had a secondary factory called Walther II, located in the Neuengamme concentration camp. It is virtually impossible to tell which line a particular rifle came off of, since both used the same codes and stampings.
Walther would institute many changes to the G43 throughout its 18 month production run. It used 3 different styles of receivers: so-called "cosmetic" ones made atSt. Etienne in France (MAS), the standard rough forged style, and the panel forged type. Early rifles made in 1943 sometimes did not have the notch machined into their scope rail. No one knows exactly why this was. While most ac43 guns were built on cosmetic receivers, many rough forged ones were also used. A small number of panel types can even be found scattered in the 'a', 'b', and 'c' blocks. By Christmas of the first year, Walther had completed 3,200 G43s.
In 1944 at around the 'h' block, a new gas cylinder was introduced to improve reliability. Also, some small parts along with some receivers began to be phosphate finished rather than blued. Stocks made from laminated beech were used, and sometime during the middle of the year, Walther stopped serial matching them to the rest of the rifle. During the production of the 'm' and 'n' blocks, the K43 designation replaced the original G43 one. The majority of panel type receivers can be found in and around the 'p' block for whatever reason. At the very end of 1944, Walther began to delete the bolt take-down catch from the design. This alteration was done to save time and speed up the production process. It required that two halfmoon cuts be made to the back of the bolt to allow for easier disassembly. Late in the war, another improved gas cylinder was introduced. This one was ported, which was intended to bleed offexcess pressure. This was an attempt to address the over gassing issue, but it was only partially successful. Also, a new style of spring loaded firing pin retaining pin was developed to prevent loss in the field during cleaning.
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(standard carrier with latch & early solid cocking knob & late without latch and hollow knob)

In January of 1945, some ac45 rifles came out with receivers marked both "G43" and "K43" together. Others were only marked "G43" and were probably earlier receivers that were previously rejected. Also at this time, the recoil lug was moved further forward in the stock. No one knows why Walther did this, but it can be assumed it felt the change would give greater strength somehow. During the 'a' and 'b' blocks, stocks made from solid walnut would be used occasionally. It has been speculated that there was a shortage of the standard laminated beech version (which came from a subcontractor). A short time later, some rifles would appear with dual guide lugs for the bolt. It seems this was done to improve accuracy by giving the bolt more support and keeping it more in line with the barrel. This change required that the extractor be moved up higher on the bolt. Not all ac45s would have this feature but a large percentage would. In the 'c' block the panel type receiver would re-appear a final time in small numbers. All such rifles were of the single guide lug variety. Again, these were most likely previously rejected components. On April 9th 1945, Allied soldiers captured the Walther factory, and K43 production ended in the middle of the 'd' block. Some GIs would assemble firearms for themselves using loose parts they found in the factory. This is most commonly encountered with late P.38 pistols, however some K43s also appear to have been GI built.
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(standard single lugged receiver & late dual lugged with relocated extractor)

BLM Production;
The Berliner-Luebecker Maschinenfabrik factory began with a code of duv and a Waffenampt of WAA214. The rifles it produced are considered to be of the best quality thanks to tighter QC and a workforce made up of more skilled professionals. BLM used only the rough forged style of receiver, and had a unique barrel turning machine which saved time. Basically it was an early precurser to what we know today as cold hammer forging.
While BLM used the same laminated wood stock as the other factories, it took more time to finish it out, with better carving and a smoother surface finish. Many rifles came with a unique Durofol handguard. Some today mistake this material for bakelite, but in reality it was a type of phenolic resin.
In 1944 around the 'e' block, BLM switched to using the improved gas cylinder. Then around the 'i' block, it began marking its rifles K43. The change over from G43 to K43 occurred quickly at BLM, and by 1945 the factory was only turning out K43 marked firearms. There was a period in production where BLM went back to using the early milled receiver cover, as it could not obtain the stamped version from the subcontractor. So some late duv44 rifles will appear with this part and it is correct.
In 1945, BLM's factory code was changed to qve, and manufacturing continued up til the 'f' block. Production was finally haulted on May 2nd. In the final year of the war, the factory managed to turn out roughly 74,000 K43s. Many of the last rifles were built on leftover Walther receivers and were still all blued. Typically, the only phosphated parts found on a BLM would be those which were obtained from subcontractors such as barrel bands and trigger guards. From beginning to end, BLM rifles were overall the most consistant and well constructed.

Gustloff Production;
The Gustloff production line was located in the Buchenwald concentration camp. It used a factory code of bcd and its Waffenampt was WAA749. It did not stamp a 2 digit year code as the other factories did. These rifles are generally considered to be the crudest and poorest made of the 3 G43 manufacturers. The factory was run under S.S. supervision and mostly forced (slave) labor was used. Thus QC was low and instances of sabotage high. Some have said that bcd rifles also suffered from inconsistant/poor heat treating.
Production began in early 1944, and bcd exclusively used cosmetic receivers from MAS. Strangely, many of these receivers had their scope rail machined off. Experts have speculated that this was done as these rifles were giving subpar accuracy, and thus were not ever to be used as DMRs. All rifles had a blued finish and laminated beech stocks held together with red or white glue. They were of the original/early pattern with threaded muzzle, automatic dustcover, and solid cocking handle. All were marked G43 as well. The first bcds were built with many parts supplied by Walther and a few even from BLM. There is little variation with these rifles, as manufacturing ended abruptly in August when the Allies bombed the factory into rubble. In the end, fewer than 50,000 G43s came out of Gustloff.

Subcontractor Production;
Several smaller parts for the G/K43 were farmed out to various subcontractors during the war. For example, Carl Ullrich made trigger guards and barrel bands as well as stocks and handguards. These parts were marked with the code AC10. Merz Werke made stamped steel receiver covers and had the WAA44 Waffenampt.
St. Etienne (MAS) located in occupied France machined receivers, and was assigned WAA134. Durofol was the company responsible for molding handguards for BLM, and marked its logo inside a diamond.
All G/K43 magazines were made by specialized factories.
>WAAB43 - "aye" Olympia Buromaschinenwerke
>WAA98 - "acw" Gold-u Silberscheideanstalt Oberstein
>WAA204 - "avx" Sudmetall AG
>WAAB79 - "awj" The Yale and Town Manufacturing Company
>WAAB92 - "gcb" Grohman u Sohn Ad Metallwarenfabrik
>WAA98 - "rqs" Gold-u Silberscheideanstalt Oberstein (after a code change was ordered)
>"k" on floorplates, code for Luck and Wagner

the Rifle After the War:
While the G/K43 did not have a long and glorious legacy after WWII, it did see some use during the late 1940s and early 1950s before the select fire battle rifles and assault rifles took over. It was used extensively by the Czech Army before and immediately after the Communist take over. The Czechs designated it as the Vz.43 and made several small parts for it to keep it in service. They even manufactured the ZF optic for it. The Vz.43 was replaced by first the Vz.52 and later the Vz.52/57 and Vz.58. The French Border Guards used several captured K43s before switching to the MAS49 and M1 Garand in the 1950s. These rifles were marked with an 'R' on their stocks.
The K43 was kept in service in Communist East Germany up until the early 1960s. Most used by the DDR were of the qve45 variation and were often rebuilt and refurbished as necessary. Rifles used by the Volkspolizei were stamped with a sunburst symbol. They were phased out in favour of the SKS and AK47. The Soviet Union captured thousands of them as well, and stamped them with an 'X' on the receiver to denote ownership. Sometime after the war, all were disassembled, damaged parts tossed out, and then reassembled with all functional parts. These rifles, like other Russian capture firearms had a black paint type finish applied to the metal, a shellak finish put on the wood, and serials were often force-matched with an electro-pen. Most of these rifles are still in storage in Russia today and were never actually issued to anyone.
The Allies also found themselves with thousands of captured K43s, and they mostly sold or gave them away to African and Middle Eastern nations (along with other German smallarms such as the K98k, MP40, and STG44). Finally in the mid-1950s, Brazil manufactured a few hundred copies of the K43 under the M954 designation. The M954 was chambered for the .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm) round and was never picked up for fullscale production.
Walther's design was mechanically interesting and had a few unique features, but honestly the M1 Garand, SVT40 Tokarev, M1941 Johnson, AG42 Ljungman, and MAS44 were all superior firearms. Because of this, the K43 was soon relegated to the dustbin of history. If the Germans had started half a decade earlier, they could have really had something; but they did not, so they never did.

My Rifles:
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(1) Walther G43, ac 44, 'a' block production;
Noteable Features - threaded barrel, ridged sight ramp, early gas system, solid cocking knob, machined receiver cover, automatic dustcover, and ribbed buttplate.
Shown with rare blued avx magazine and original leather sling.
Flaws - the obvious one, the GI put his information on the stock.

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(2) Walther K43, ac45, 'c' block production;
Noteable features - non-stepped barrel, smooth sight ramp, dual guide lug receiver, bolt carrier without latch, late style manual dustcover with handle, and many phosphated parts.
Shown with late-war magazine with third reinforcing rib on floorplate and original leather sling.

Flaws - The stock has a repaired duffle cut. When i received it, the main driving spring was bad/wornout. I have since replaced it with an original in good shape.


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