My wife’s grandfather started his war in North Africa as an infantryman and ended it in Northern Italy. He enlisted in 1940 as a private and left the military in 1945 as a sergeant major. His meteoric rise through the ranks was driven—sordid though the observation is—by the deaths of most everybody he worked for during nearly three years of combat.
When he boarded a troopship returning home, he had in his possession a captured German MP40, a Walther P38 and a Beretta Model 418 .25ACP. He had mailed a brace of unfired Karabiner 98k rifles back to himself only to find the box arrive empty when he got home. The empty box contained a ridiculous note claiming that he could travel from Mississippi to New Jersey to reclaim the guns from the Postal Service if desired. The MP40 was stolen from underneath his bunk on the ship never to be seen again.
A remarkably clever man, he used a jeep battery and a silver dollar to silver-plate the P38 during the voyage. He sold the plated pistol to an unsuspecting Army doctor on board for $400, a king’s ransom in the day. The hapless physician had not been within miles of the fighting and believed that a silver-plated P38 must have been owned by Himmler himself. In the end, the diminutive Beretta was the only souvenir firearm that made it home with my wife’s grandfather intact.
There was a time in America when classic German machine guns were both commonplace and cheap. Nobody much cared about such stuff in the decade or so after World War II, and vast stockpiles of war materiel were sitting in Europe awaiting essentially unfettered importation.
Countless thousands of war trophy guns made their way back into the country in sea chests and duffle bags, including the one stolen from my wife’s grandfather. Demilled weapons with their receivers intact and bolts welded shut were available through the mail for a song. The world was a very different place back then.
Now fast-forward more than seventy years and the market for World War II weapons and memorabilia has exploded. The 1986 machine gun ban is a textbook example of what happens when demand increases in the face of a fixed supply.
Nowadays, a vintage transferable German machine gun of any sort in any condition costs as much as a decent car. The days of normal folk being able to amass collections of such stuff are long gone and never to return. Fortunately, there are some enterprising European gun manufacturers who have seen that need and crafted wares to fulfill it.
German Sport Guns
German Sport Guns (GSG) has for years offered rimfire versions of weapons that were otherwise unavailable or unimportable in the United States. Their guns are the same size and approximate weight as the expensive originals and could pass for the real deal in dim light. A .22-caliber rendition of the HK MP5 was one of their earliest efforts.
A lawsuit on the part of HK necessitated a radical redesign of that original MP5 such that it lost much of its allure. However, subsequent efforts have included an MP44, AK-47, Uzi and MP40, all chambered in .22LR. Most recently, American Tactical Imports (ATI) has been importing a similar MP40 built on essentially the same chassis but firing 9mm Parabellum. The gun we shall investigate most deeply here is the MP40-22.
The MP38 changed the way the world made submachine guns. For the first time in history, a combat weapon was designed from the outset for mass production and the preservation of critical production materials.
At the heart of the MP38’s design is a machined steel receiver tube, covered with longitudinal flutes to conserve weight and enhance strength. These flutes, along with a roughly dime-sized hole in the magazine well, are the two easiest ways to differentiate an MP38 from the subsequent MP40 at a glance.
The MP38 eschewed wooden furniture and incorporated copious steel pressings as well as a cast aluminum fire control housing. The design was tweaked to make it easier to manufacture and received the new designation of “Maschinenpistole MP40.”
The MP40 retained the folding skeleton stock and telescoping recoil system of the MP38 but now incorporated a sheet steel receiver as well as a pressed steel fire control housing. Before the war ended, around a million MP40s had entered service. The unique profile of the MP40 became an archetype that defined the German soldier.
The GSG MP40-22
The original German MP40 sports an exceedingly novel telescoping recoil system that resembles those Boy Scout camping cups that collapse into themselves for easy storage. These simple pressed steel cups telescope as the bolt cycles and give the gun an unnaturally smooth firing cycle. Add this to the gun’s sedate rate of fire, and the result is an eminently controllable weapon.
While the GSG MP40-22 looks externally similar to the WW II-era MP40, the similarities end once you delve into its entrails. The GSG MP40-22 favors a computer printer on the inside; it comprises injection-molded polymer and cast metal components that grossly mimic the originals at a reasonable cost.
The original MP40 feeds from a 32-round double column/single feed box magazine. This same magazine design found its way into the British Sten and the American M3 Grease Gun. This type of magazine is marginally less reliable than the double-column sort used by the Thompson and Beretta 38-series guns.
The GSG MP40-22 feeds from a polymer 22-round stick magazine that incorporates an external thumb button to aid in depressing the follower for loading. The GSG magazine can be discerned at a glance by the open slot running along its middle. Designing a stick magazine that will reliably manage rimmed .22 cartridges is an engineering feat unto itself.
The most obvious departure from the original MP40 is the 17.2-inch barrel. The GSG gun sports an utterly incongruous fake suppressor to hide the longer tube.
Such a lengthy barrel is necessitated by the arcane and ridiculous NFA dicta that define pistols and long guns in America. In the days of the Pistol Stabilizing Brace, these arbitrary dimensions seem outright silly, but it has been codified law since 1934. That won’t be changing any time soon. The way to rectify this aesthetic travesty is to file a BATF Form 1 and prune the tube at home.
The Form 1—BATF’s Fun Form
Prior to 1986, you could file a BATF Form 1 and build your own machine gun at home. Those opportunities are gone forever, but you can still use a Form 1 to build your own sound suppressor or shorten a rifle or shotgun barrel to below the legal minimum. Processing takes half a lifetime, but the administrative burden is not unduly onerous.
The form is available on the BATF website, and it needs to be completed in duplicate. Add a set of fingerprint cards, a ludicrous self-attestation to your own citizenship and a check for $200 and then let the whole thing simmer six to twelve months.
Once it comes back approved, you can do anything you want to the barrel of the gun so registered. In the case of the GSG MP40-22, I cut the barrel down using an EDM wire machine. A hacksaw or a cutoff wheel on a table saw will do the same thing, so long as you dress the muzzle carefully when you’re done. I found a facsimile of the original muzzle nut on Gunbroker at a reasonable price.
The GSG MP40-22 fires from the closed bolt. To run the gun, insert a loaded magazine, cycle the action manually, point the gun in the general direction of something you dislike and plink away.
There is a safety notch that can lock the bolt to the rear for cleaning, maintenance or inspection. The safety on the GSG MP40-22 is built into what would be the lower receiver assembly retention nut on the original.
This was a clever and effective way to include a proper safety catch on the gun without unduly compromising the gun’s aesthetics. Turn the arrow such that it is in line with the bore and it will fire. Ninety degrees out and the gun is on safe.
The front sight on the GSG MP40-22 sports a colored insert. The folding stock collapses and deploys like the originals with a little bit of slop. The rear sling attachment point is bilateral, while the reversible front sling point is arranged on the left. Interestingly, while this arrangement does allow the gun to ride most naturally for right-handed shooters, the original wartime guns most commonly wore their slings on the right. This kept the charging handle from digging in when the gun was being carried. German soldiers were trained to always carry the MP40 muzzle up and most commonly suspended from the neck by the sling. Considering these guns weigh about nine pounds, that likely got tedious fast. They were also taught to deploy the stock before using the gun in action.
Recoil on the MP40-22 is quite literally non-existent, and the gun sounds pretty much like any other .22 rifle. The trigger is a bit long and mushy, though entirely serviceable. The bolt locks to the rear on the last round fired. Give the charging handle a little snap backwards, and it will close on a fresh magazine.
The GSG MP40-22 is plenty accurate for its intended mission. While dis-carded beverage containers are clearly its primary quarry, the gun could be used for small game like squirrels in a pinch. Once you take the measure of the gun’s trigger, it is accurate enough out to 75 meters or so. The originals were calibrated out to about 200 meters.
Toys for Big Boys
While a genuine full-auto AK-47, MP40, MP44, Uzi and MP5 would obviously define a remarkably rarefied American gun collection, unless your name is Trump, Soros or Gates, you are unlikely to be able to afford such iron. However, thanks to German Sport Guns, you can get into a .22-caliber facsimile of each of these iconic guns at a reasonable price. Whether re-enacting is your gig or you just want to add some spice to an otherwise mundane gun collection, the wares from GSG are pleasantly affordable. They also represent a simply splendid way to burn a lazy Saturday afternoon at the range.
The particular GSG models that ATI imports seem to wander from year to year based upon the vagaries of the market. A perusal of their website shows that the semiautomatic 9mm MP40 pistol is still in stock, while their .22-caliber wares are not. However, several of these models are still available from distributors, and you can find quite literally anything on Gunbroker.com.
The GSG MP40-22, even taking into account the $200 tribute to Uncle Sam required to prune the barrel back legally, still gets you into a shootable MP40 at a fraction of the cost of an original. Running the gun is cheap and fun, and kids of all ages are drawn to the thing like moths to a flame. The MP40-22 offers a uniquely affordable connection to an extraordinary period in world history.
Special thanks to worldwarsupply.com for the gear used to outfit our German soldiers.