Americans who faced its fury in World War II called it the "Schmeisser," nicknamed after a man who had nothing to do with its design. But the machine pistols, designated MP38 an MP40, perfectly matched Germany's philosophy of all-out war, and soon proved themselves on battlefields across Europe. A terrifying weapon in the hands of an apparently unstoppable military machine.
With war drums clearly sounding, a newly re-militarized Germany sent out a call to Erfurter Maschinenfabrik, known as ERMA, for a reliable machine pistol for their paratroops and motorized infantry, the cutting edges of the new German war machine. ERMA quickly retooled their MP36 prototypes, and the new machine pistol was adopted as the MP38 in August of that year.
The MP38’s rate of fire was approximately 500 rounds per minute, much slower than some other machine pistol designs, and more easily controllable. An unfortunate oversight was the lack of a safety; if dropped or mishandled, the MP38 could, and did, fire. ERMA provided a field replacement fix, but not before many injuries.
The 9mm MP38 solved a long list of problems that had bedeviled machine pistols. The 32-round magazine, for example, inserted from the bottom and the magazine housing was flared out to make insertion easier. Flared magazine well also doubles as a second-hand grip, which kept the operator from pulling on the magazine and possibly inducing a jam.
Introduced two years later, the MP40 had many common parts, but it was built primarily of cheap carbon steel stampings and plastic rather than finely tooled steel. In many ways the cheap, easily-produced MP40 was the harbinger of modern firearms manufacturing. A machine pistol revolutionized the battlefield, especially in the close confines of urban warfare. Its simplicity and ease of production made the MP40 the model for future weapons of war, and its pure lethality guaranteed its legacy.