Germany's quest for a semi-automatic infantry rifle resulted in two designs - the G41(M) and G41(W), from Mauser and Walther arms respectively. The
Mauser design proved unreliable in combat when introduced in 1941 and only several thousand were made. The Walther design fared better in combat but
still suffered from reliability problems. In 1943 Walther introduced a new modified gas system with aspects of the G41(W) providing greatly improved
performance. It was accepted and entered into service as the Gewehr 43, renamed Karabiner 43 in 1944, with production amounting to just over 400,000. The
Gewehr 43/Karabiner 43 joined the ranks of the Tokarev and Garand as general issue semi-automatic rifles during the war.
By 1940, it became apparent that some form of a semi-automatic rifle, with a higher rate of fire than existing bolt-action rifle models, was necessary to
improve the infantry's combat efficiency. The army issued a specification to various manufacturers, and both Mauser and Walther submitted prototypes that
were very similar. However, some restrictions were placed upon the design:
no holes for tapping gas for the loading mechanism were to be bored into the barrel; the rifles were not to have any moving parts on the surface;
and in case the autoloading mechanism failed, a bolt action was to be included. Both models therefore used a mechanism known as the "Bang" system (after
its Danish designer Soren H. Bang). In this system, gases from the bullet were trapped near the muzzle in a ring-shaped cone, which in turn pulled on a long
piston that opened the breech and re-loaded the gun. This is as opposed to the more common type of gas-actuated system, in which gasses are tapped off
from the barrel, and push back on a piston to open the breach to the rear. Both also included 10-round magazines that were loaded using two of the stripper
clips from the Karabiner 98k, utilizing the same German-standard 7.92x57mm Mauser rounds.
The Mauser design, the G41(M), failed. Only 6,673 were produced before production was halted, and of these, 1,673 were returned as unusable.
The Walther design, the G41(W), is in outward appearance not unlike the Gewehr 43. Most metal parts on this rifle were machined steel, and some rifles,
especially later examples utilized the bakelite type plastic handguards. The Walther design was more successful because the designers had simply neglected
the last two restrictions listed above.
These rifles, along with their G41(M) counterparts, suffered from gas system fouling problems. These problems seemed to stem from the overly complex
muzzle trap system becoming excessively corroded from the use of corrosive salts in the ammunition primers, and carbon fouling. The muzzle assembly
consisted of many fine parts and was difficult to keep clean, disassemble, and maintain in field conditions. The rifle was redesigned in 1943 into the
Gewehr 43 utilizing a gas system somewhat similar to that on the Tokarev series of rifles, and a detachable magazine. Ironically, the M1 Garand rifle followed
a similar course being first designed with a gas trap mechanism which was quickly discarded in production.
G41(W) rifles were produced at two factories: Walther at Zella Mehlis, and Berlin Luebecker. Walther guns bear the AC code, and WaA359 inspection proofs,
while BLM guns bear the DUV code with WaA214 inspection proofs. These rifles are also relatively scarce, and quite valuable in collector grade. Varying
sources put production figures between 40,000 and 145,000 units. Again, these rifles saw a high attrition rate on the Russian front.
In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa. Just prior to the opening of hostilities the Red Army had started re-arming
its infantry, complementing its older bolt-action rifles with the new semi-automatic Tokarev SVT38s and SVT40s. This proved to be somewhat of a shock
to the Germans, who ramped up their semi-automatic rifle development efforts significantly.
The Tokarev used a simple gas-operated mechanism, which was soon emulated by Walther in the G41(W), producing the Gewehr 43 (or G43). The simpler
mechanism of the G43 made it lighter, easier to mass produce, and far more reliable. The addition of a 10-round detachable box magazine also solved the
slow reloading problem. The Gewehr 43 was put into production in October 1943, and followed in 1944 by the Karabiner 43 (K43), which was identical to the
G43 in every way save for the letter stamped on the side. The G/K43 was issued in limited numbers in 1944 and 1945 to units of the Wehrmacht.
K43 with scope railTotal production by the end of the war was 402,713 of both models, including at least 53,435 sniper rifles: the K43 was the preferred sniper
weapon, fitted with the Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4) scope with 4x magnification. The weapon was originally designed for use with the Schiessbecher device for firing
rifle grenades (standard on the Kar 98k as well) and the Schalldämpfer suppressor, however these accessories were deemed unsuccessful in tests and were
dropped even before the rifle made it to serial production. The rifle was also not equipped to use a bayonet. The Gewehr 43 stayed in service with the
Czechoslovak army for several years after the war.
There were many small variations introduced on the G/K43 throughout its production cycle. The important consideration is that no changes were made to the
rifle design specifically to coincide with the nomenclature change from Gewehr to Karabiner, with the exception of the letter stamped on the side. Careful study
of actual pieces will show that many G-marked rifles had features found on K-marked rifles and vice versa. There is therefore no difference in weight or length
between the G43 and the K43. Variations in barrel length did exist, but those were the product of machining tolerances, differences between factories, and/or
experimental long-barreled rifles.
Though most G/K43's are equipped with a scope mounting rail, the vast majority of the rifles were issued in their standard infantry form without a scope. When
equipped with a scope, it was exclusively the ZF 4 4-power scope. No other known scope/mount combinations were installed by the German military during
World War II. Many strange variations have shown up after the war, but all have been proven to be the work of amateur gunsmiths. Rifles with a broken-off
butt are common, as German soldiers were instructed to render semi-automatic rifles useless when in danger of capture.