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Rifles in World War 2

Rifles were the most common infantry weapons in World War 2. There were many more rifleman than both submachine gunners and light machine gunners. In World War 2 there were two main different types of rifles, bolt-action and semi-automatic.

One type of rifle was the standard bolt-action rifle. These rifles were older and had been used in huge numbers during World War 1. These types of rifles had a handle that needed to be pulled back manually each time before the rifle was fired. This causes for a much slower rate of fire than automatic weapons or even semi-automatic rifles. These were the most common types of rifles on the battlefields of World War 2 because of how cheap and mass produced they were. Many were left over from previous wars. They often had telescopic sights would be attached to these rifles to make them into sniper rifles. Most bolt action rifles had clips of 5 rounds.

Semi-automatic were newer so none had been produced before the war. These rifles were rare for most countries until later on in the war. For example the German Gewher-43 was produced from 1943 so up until then all German rifles were the Kar98k bolt-action rifles. The Soviet SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle was produced in far less numbers than the older Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle. The main advantage of semi-automatic rifles was that they could fire as fast as the trigger was pulled. Also they usually held more ammunition than their bolt-action counterparts.

Rifles were used best at medium range. At close range they were not very useful especially the bolt action rifles because of the slow firing rate. Any rifleman would be at a severe disadvantage against a submachine gunner in close range. They could be used at very long ranges especially if the target was not moving or the rifle was equipped with a scope.

Light Machine Guns in WW2

Light machine guns have been a big part of war ever since World War 1. By World War 2 and even after their purpose has not changed. The main use of light machine guns is to suppress the enemy with a large volume of fire at a very fast rate. They make it difficult and scary for an enemy show their face or shoot back. Shooting accurately and calmly is near impossible with so many bullets coming your direction and often whizzing right by. These weapons are often mounted on a bipod to decreases recoil and better control.

American Browning M1919 30. caliber light machine gun with boxes of ammunition

Light machine guns have a rifle sized caliber bullet and an even longer range than a rifle. They were generally operated by a two-man team, one to shoot and the other to load and reload the light machine gun. Sometimes it would be a squad with three or four men and the other men would bring more ammunition to the front.

MG42 German light machine gun the fastest firing light machine gun of the war

In WW2 most rifles were bolt action so the average light machine gun could shoot many more bullets than ten men with a bolt-action rifle. For example a German soldier with a Kar98k could shoot 15 rounds per minute at most while a soldier with an mg34 light machine gun could shoot at least 800 rounds per minute with the slowest MG 34 model. That means it would take 53 men with a bolt-action rifle to match one MG 34 crew of 2-4 men but most often it would just be two men.

Some of the main light machine guns of World War 2 were the American M1919 browning, British Bren, Soviet DP, German MG 34 and Japanese type 99. The best light machine gun of the war was the German MG 42, which was introduced in 1942. It had the nickname Hitler’s buzzsaw. It had an average rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute so that when it fired it was at too fast a rate to tell each shot apart.

Now an obvious question is if these weapons have an equally powerful bullet to a rifle and at the same time a higher rate of fire and range than why did the army even have riflemen. Light machine guns were much more expensive to make than a rifle. They were also heavier and less portable. The recoil was so much that it had to be mounted on a bipod to have decent accuracy. These weapons were perfect for defensive purposes to mount on a wall or a window but not in offense to assault a position. Those were better left to rifleman and submachine gunners.

Sidearms in WW2

In World War 2 all troops were issued a sidearm which is a handgun that is carried as backup in case a soldier either runs out of ammunition for their main weapon or that weapon jams or breaks. Because a sidearm is always a handgun these weapons are used for short range defense. Once a soldier was no longer able to use his main weapon often the best he could do is stay and defend himself and his brothers in arms with his short range sidearm.

American Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol with a 7 round clip

American soldiers carried the Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol. This pistol carried 7 rounds in the clip. This weapon was also used by American troops in World War 1. Its .45 caliber round was very powerful and could penetrate thick materials great stopping power. Stopping power means how well each shot it able to stop a man coming at you. It was also very reliable and would rarely malfunction.

German Walther P38 9x19mm pistol with an 8 round clip

Lower ranking German soldiers carried the Walther P38 pistol. Higher ranking officers would carry the classic Luger pistol used in World War 1. It should be noted Lugers were highly valuable to any allied soldier who managed to kill a German officer or find one. The P38 used the 9x19mm Parabellum. This was a weaker round than what the American soldiers used and would not be able to penetrate as thick of materials. The P38 carried 8 rounds in the clip.

Soviet Tokarev TT-33 7.62x25mm pistol with an 8 round clip

The Most modern soviet pistol was the Tokarev TT-33. It used the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round. This bullet is excellent at penetrating most objects but does not have the stopping power that the .45 has. The TT-33 has an 8 round clip. It was designed to replace the older M1985 nagant revolver but because not enough were produced it ended up serving alongside it instead of fully replacing it during World War 2.

British Enfield number two .38-caliber revolver with a 6-round cylinder.

The most common British commonwealth sidearm was a the Enfield number 2 revolver. This was also the most modern sidearm used by the British Commonwealth forces. It used a 9.65mm round. This revolver had a 6 round revolving cylinder. However this gun had an extremely low range of only about 15 yards.

The Italians carried the Beretta M1934 pistol. It used the 9x17mm round and had each clip carried 7 rounds. It’s main weakness was that each round was weak compared to most other sidearms rounds. However with good maintenance these guns could last a very long time.

Tankers would carry sidearms in case their vehicle was knocked out or broke down. If they survived the vehicle being hit and had to leave they would use these weapons as their last defense. Pilots would also carry a sidearm in case their plane crashed and they survived. Because all sidearms were handguns it meant that they were small, mobile and added little weight to a soldier.

Light, Medium and Heavy Tanks, What’s the Difference?

Tanks were and still are generally rated on 3 main characteristics. They are speed and mobility, armor and armament. Light, medium and heavy tanks were all used in World War 2. No tank is capable of reaching the maximum performance in any area. For example if a tank is too heavy it cannot be as fast as it could have been if some armor was removed and it weighed less.

Type 95 Ha-Go Japanese Light Tank

Type 95 Ha-Go Japanese Light Tank

Light tanks are focused on speed and mobility. Therefore they have lighter armor making them low in weight and fast. They can also travel with less fuel than a large gas guzzler. Some examples of light tanks are the American M3 and M5 Stewart German Panzer 2, Soviet t-26 and Japanese type 95 ha-go. All of these tanks were mobile and able to move over tough terrain but had thin armor and a weaker main cannon. Weak anti tank weapons such as anti tank rifles were able to penetrate the armor of most light tanks. They were produced in less numbers than medium tanks but more than heavy tanks.

American Sherman Medium Tank

American Sherman Medium Tank

Medium tanks are in between light and heavy tanks in all the three main areas. They consume more fuel than light tanks but less than heavy tanks. The armor is also heavier than light tanks and weaker than heavy tanks. Some examples are the American M4 Sherman, German Panzer IV and Soviet t-34. They also have larger and more powerful guns than the light tanks but less strength than heavy tanks. Also the armor is thicker than light tanks but thinner than heavy tanks. Some weaker anti tank weapons like anti-tank rifles were useless against these tanks. American M3 37mm anti tank guns and pak 36 37mm anti tank guns, and the 52-k 45mm anti tank gun also didn’t have much luck against these vehicles unless they were used at very close ranges on the side armor. (almost all tanks, light medium or heavy have the thickest armor in the front). Medium tanks were produced in the largest number of any type of tanks.

Tiger l German Heavy Tank

Tiger l German Heavy Tank

Heavy tanks are all about armor and armament. The main cannon was usually so powerful it could penetrate almost any armor on the battlefield. The tanks armor was so thick that they would be immune to almost any anti-tank weapon especially from the front. These vehicles would consume large amounts of gas which was a main weakness of the vehicles. Sometimes these they would break down from mechanical failure because they were almost too advanced for the time. Some examples include the German Tiger and King Tiger. There were also the Soviet KV-1 and KV-2. The Soviets also had the Stalin tank named of course after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Heavy tanks were produced in small numbers because of the cost and sophistication of these vehicles.

Light tanks would go on to make great use as reconnaissance later on in the war when they became to weak to go on to the battlefield and face medium or heavy tanks. They were still useful in the Pacific Theater until the end of the war because Japanese tanks even were not as heavily armored as their American and European rival tanks. Medium tanks would sometimes be upgraded with a better gun to deal with heavy tanks. Heavy tanks were generally the king of the battlefield and modifications in their role or characteristics did not change much.

Submachine Guns in World War 2

Thompson Submachine GunWorld War 2 was the first war to have widespread use of submachine guns. Submachine guns are automatic carbine. These weapons though longer than a pistol fire pistol sized rounds such as the 9mm or .45 caliber. Some guns like the American Thompson Submachine gun used the more powerful .45 caliber. The Soviet PPSh-41 used a 7.63x25mm round, both the German MP40 and British Sten used the 9x19mm round. The MP40 was a very accurate gun and was more effective at farther ranges. The PPSh-41 had an advantage with it’s higher rate of fire at cost of accuracy. The Thompson had an extremely powerful round. It was able to penetrate more material so thinner items were not useful as cover. It should be noted that the Thompson was a great gun but it was more complex than other submachine guns so it was more expensive and slower to produce than other guns such as the much simpler and cheaper M3 “Grease Gun”.


Submachine guns were always best used in close quarters combat, urban warfare, and street by street fighting instead of war away on the other side of a field. They were much easier to maneuver than a rifle in close spaces because rifles were to long and would have a harder time avoid hitting walls and doorways. Also since a submachine gunner could simply hold down the trigger and fire many rounds that at so close ranges were very likely to land a shot.

At longer ranges especially 300 meters against a rifleman was extremely dangerous because the submachine gunner could not fire accurately at the rifleman but the rifleman could fire back with a well place shot. However they still could provide some cover and make the rifleman have to stick his head down. If a soldier hears that automatic weapon firing so many rounds in such a short time it may seem dangerous to poke your head up. This would be especially true if you saw that some rounds were hitting only a few feet away from you. It would cause that thought of be careful one of those many rounds might just hit.

Though submachine guns were used in World War 1 in small numbers World War 2 was the first to have such a wide scale use. As with every type of weapon such as rifles, light machine guns and carbines they had their advantages and disadvantages.

The Garand Advantage

Garand Rifle

One of the most unique advantages the United States had throughout the war was the Use of the M1 Garand rifle. Unlike the German Kar98k rifle or the Japanese Arisaka rifle the Garand was semi automatic. All the other countries standard service rifles were bolt-action. Although later weapons such as the German Gewher 43 were introduced they never fully replaced the old bolt-action rifles. The average American rifleman could shoot more and suppress the enemy. A German or Japanese enemy would only be able to shoot then would have to pull back the bolt before being able to fire a second shot, while the American solider would be able to just keep pulling the trigger to fire at the enemy. The Garand had a larger clip than most other rifles as well. The Kar98k and Arisaka rifles only had 5 round clips. However the British Lee-Enfield could hold 10 rounds but since it too was a bolt-action rifle it could not provide the same rate of fire as the Garand.

The Carabin-Mauser-98-k was the main rifle of Germany in WWII.

The Carabin-Mauser-98-k was the main rifle of Germany in WWII.

There was a disadvantage to the Garand, which was that once all ammunition was fired the cartridge, would be ejected automatically and a loud ping would occur. This let the enemy know that the American now was vulnerable because he needed a few seconds to reload his rifle. Even though it caused many allied soldiers to lose their lives it also helped American soldiers kill the enemy because he Americans were able to use this to their advantage. The Americans could imitate the ping so sound the Axis soldier would come out of cover confident the American soldier could not fire back for those valuable 2 seconds. However the American soldier was loaded ready and waiting so they could shoot and kill the Axis soldier.

Overall the M1 was a great rifle and was the beginning of the end of the years of bolt-action rifles as the standard service weapon. However I should note that many bolt-action rifles are still used by snipers by not as the main infantry rifle. General George S Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised”.