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German cross  The evolution of the Lafette 42 German cross

General Information


The Lafette 42 was a deed of necessity when the production of the MG42 started up. Almost all changes from the Lafette 34 to the Lafette 42 were made to the recoiling frame. The construction of the MG42 was quite different, and at the same time much simpler. To change the barrel the gunner simply retracted the bolt and opened the barrel latch at the right side of the weapon. This simplified the Lafette construction considerably, as the forward weapon mount now only had to hold the machinegun to the recoiling frame. On the Lafette 34 it also had to cater for the barrel exchange swing-out mechanism. The forward gun mount is the most important change from the Lafette 34 to the Lafette 42. The rear weapon mount now lost the machined out flats. The trigger mechanism used on the Lafette 42 from the start of production was the same simple automatic-fire-only that was used on the late war Schluckebier Lafette 34s.
The rear buffer mount was simplified as well. On the Lafette 34 it served as a rest for the machinegun when it was opened up for the barrel change. This function was no longer required for the MG42, so the Lafette 42 only has a sheet steel bracket welded in to hold the rear end of the buffer. The last change was the bolt box, which was substituted for a version that would take both the
MG34 and the MG42 bolt. 

This rough study is focused on the evolution of the Lafette 42 only, and is based entirely on the previous article about the evolution of the Lafette 34. To make any sense out of this article you have to start with the evolution of the Lafette 34.
The paintwork and markings will not be discussed here as these subjects are covered on their respective web pages.
The earliest Lafette 42 found to date. It is dated 1942, made by Excelsior and is serial numbered 336. This Lafette was postwar refurbished in Austria and has an Austrian bolt box. Many thanks to Folke Myrvang for mentoring, Ed M, Ed S and 42rocker for the constant supply of information needed to write this article, and Vidar Andresen for technical advice..

The manufacturers
The list of registered manufacturers of the Lafette 42 below is based on studies of rear covers, and may not be complete in terms of years of production. Always grateful for corrections!
Full name of manufacturer Codes In production
Excelsior, Brandenburger Fahrrad und Motorradwerk fsu / sxk 1942 - 1945
Metallindustrie Schönebeck A.G. dar 1943 - 1944
Hülsbeck & Fürst, Schloßfabrik btm / sxo. 1943 - 1945

Late in 1943 a new system was introduced to code the year of manufacture. A two-letter code in capital letters would represent the year, specific for the manufacturer it was alloted to. Once the system was used, the respective factory would never revert to years written with digits again.

Full name of manufacturer Code Year code Year
Excelsior, Brandenburger Fahrrad und Motorradwerk fsu PF Late 1943
Excelsior, Brandenburger Fahrrad und Motorradwerk fsu NC 1944
Excelsior, Brandenburger Fahrrad und MotorradwerksxkDL1945
Metallindustrie Schönebeck A.G. dar QS Late 1943
Metallindustrie Schönebeck A.G. dar PJ 1944
Hülsbeck & Fürst, Schloßfabrik btm QL 1944
Hülsbeck & Fürst, Schloßfabrik sxo. GA 1945

The
Laying- and Search fire mechanisms were all manufactured by subcontractors, with one exception.
Full name of manufacturer Codes
Heinrich H Klüssendorf Werkzeuge, Berlin-Spandau cql / RE
Linden & Funke KG, Iserlohn axx / YV
Präzisionswerke Brüninghaus & Co bga / TM
Metallindustrie Schönebeck A.G. dar
Schönebeck is the only documented manufacturer that made and marked both the Lafette and the Laying- and Search fire mechanism. The two-letter code in capital letters is the year-code, specific for the manufacturer it represents. Some mechanisms have both codes, while later specimens are only marked with the specific year-code. This would then represent both the manufacturer and the year of manufacture.

1942
Excelsior (Brandenburger Fahrrad und Motorradwerk), was the initial manufacturer of the Lafette 34. In 1942 they gradually ended their production of the Lafette 34 and started up with production of the Lafette 42. At the same time Excelsior was also manufacturing Lafettes for the experimental MG34/41.


The above picture shows fsu/1942/756. Basically a Lafette 34 with two new parts and one slight alteration.


The rear buffer mount was exchanged for a much simpler construction made of stamped steel.


The forward weapon mount was exchanged with a much simpler construction whose only function was to hold the weapon locked to the recoiling frame. A simple lever on the right side was used to attach the weapon.


The rear weapon mount was simplified as the cut-out for the MG34 grip bolt was no longer needed.

1943
Excelsior continues with production, and is joined by Hülsbeck & Fürst and Schönebeck.



The same simplifications to the production that were introduced for the Lafette 34 are used on the Lafette 42 during 1943. There are no new inventions or improvements that are special for the Lafette 42.


The buffer spring housing in aluminum was exchanged for a thinner tube in painted steel


The wing nuts that fasten the rear legs change from aluminum to steel (two different shapes)
It is easy to tell them apart even if they are covered in paint, as the steel ones have large welding seams to each side.


The locking lever for the Laying mechanism changes from aluminum to a thin steel profile


The leverage arm for the trigger mechanism changes from aluminum to steel


The aluminum optic mount is exchanged for one made of stamped steel with a larger wing nut


The take-down lever is moved from the top position to the lower position.
At the same time the aluminum block that contains parts of the locking mechanism is exchanged for a smaller one made of steel.

On the Excelsior and Hülsbeck & Fürst Lafettes this feature is incorporated from the start of production in 1943, while the Schönebeck Lafettes keep the old take-down lever until the end of 1943.


The mounting brackets on the rear of the back pads were riveted until 1943. To simplify the manufacturing process they are spot-welded from 1943 and onwards.


Hülsbeck & Fürst (btm) introduces a new and simplified version of the leg and the stabilizing-strut locking mechanisms. This feature is kept in production throughout the war, but can only be found on btm marked legs. 


The color changes from Dunkelgrau to Dunkelgelb sometime during 1943. At the Excelsior factory this change takes place between serial number 4033a and 4884a.
The only aluminum part still in use by the end of the year is the selector lever for the search fire mechanism. The search fire mechanism is still made of a light alloy. (The above Lafette is a repaint.)

The "Mountain Lafette"
The production year 1943 also brought a new invention; the extendable & adjustable rear legs. The correct German name was "Hinterstützen neuerer Fertigung" (New model of rear legs), but they are also referred to as "Ausziehbaren Hinterstützen" (Extendable rear legs). For some unknown reason Lafettes with these legs are today mostly referred to as Mountain Lafettes, but I am unable to find any connection to mountain use or delivery to "Mountain units".  
 A rather suburban use of the "Mountain" Lafette 42.
The earliest documentation concerning the "new model" I have access to is the Dienstvorschrift 166/1, dated 2.9.43.


This technical manual only shows the Lafette 42 with the new legs, but describes it as a standard Lafette 42. The correct designation for the complete Lafette 42 with the new model of legs was
MG Lafette 42 neuer Fertigung.

Another interesting information is printed in the H.DV. 181/7 Untersuchung und Instandsetzung des Infanteriegerätes, teil 7.
Waffentechnisches Handbuch für MG 42, dated 3. 5. 44
MG Laf 42 neuer Fertigung erhalten ausziehbare Hinterstützen. Diese sind auch als paarweiser Ersatz für Hinterstützen a/A vorgesehen und können ebenfalls bei der MG Laf 34 verwendet werden. (The new model of the MG Lafette 42 comes with extendable rear legs. These legs are also available in pairs as replacement parts for the old pattern (a/A = alter Art) rear legs, and can also be used on the Lafette 34).
The appearance of these legs seems sporadic, and I am unable to pin them to any specific maker/time periode, but the use seems to increase towards the end of 1944. Of special note; there is an alternative set of the extendable rear legs with a different mechanism. I am not able to find any information about these, apart from their existence. See Myrvangs book for details.

A late Lafette 42 neuer Fertigung from fsu/NC (1944) with the alternative extendable rear legs.
Picture courtesy of Sven Hein


1944
Production continued with the same three makers; Excelsior, Hülsbeck & Fürst and Schönebeck. The need to cut down on production time and at the same time save raw materials introduced a few design changes. But even in late 1944 product improvements were introduced.
A new model of the Laying and search fire mechanism came into production, using alternative materials. Some design improvements to it were also incorporated in order to speed up production.



The new version was all steel. Easily recognized by the half size steel selector switch. The round housing that contained the Search fire mechanism was now made entirely of steel, as the light alloy previously used became unobtainable for the manufacturers. The new model was welded together from two separate pieces of steel.



The front side of the housing holds a small cup containing a rubber bumper. This acts as a shock absorber when the Lafette is folded in the transport mode. On the new version of the Search fire mechanism the rubber cube was substituted with a wooden one due to raw-material shortages.



Late in 1944 the second model of the trigger handle was introduced. It is actually a "product improvement", and wasn't fueled by the need to save raw materials or working hours! The new model had a wooden trigger handle which was enclosed in a steel frame. The old one was open on the top so the trigger fingers could slide off in the excitement.


Even later in 1944 another simplification was introduced. The oil bottle and brush was no longer considered necessary and was replaced with a single steel tube to act as the counterbalance for the trigger.


Another change. By late 1944 
Schönebeck (dar) made their own Laying and search fire mechanism, but it was not painted like the rest of the Lafette, it was blued or phosphated. Not to be confused with postwar black paint or M53 parts which are also blued or phosphated. This picture shows dar/PJ/6735.


Another simplification. The very rare stamped bolt box. Up until late 1944 the bolt box consisted of several parts welded together. The new model was stamped out and welded together from a lesser number of parts to save raw materials, weight and laboring time. Only found on fsu made Lafettes.
Pictures courtesy of Sven Hein


Dunkelgelb (tan) faux leather back-pads are also seen for the first time in 1944.
 

Picture courtesy of Sven Hein.
Yet another simplification to the manufacturing process that appeared in late 1944. Instead of welding in the "ears" that hold the return springs for the transport locks, they are now stamped in, directly into the rear cover. A simple modification that saved laboring time, weight and raw materials. This special feature has been observed on both late fsu and btm Lafettes.



Picture courtesy of Ed M.
The last simplification to the manufacturing process I have managed to find. Hülsbeck & Fürst (btm) simplified the recoiling frame. Instead of welding in the 8 cams needed to support the 4 rollers that held the recoiling frame in position when it travelled back and forth, they simply crimped the frame into a U-shape that would support the rollers. This feature was introduced in late 1944 and can only be found on btm made Lafettes.


This is fsu/NC/17342.
It incorporates all of the late war features listed above, except for the simplified recoiling frame, as explained above.

Picture courtesy of Sven Hein


Defence of the Reich. A late Lafette 42 neuer fertigung with a MGz40 scope

1945
Production continued with two makers; Excelsior and Hülsbeck & Fürst. Both companies were issued new codes. Excelsior's code fsu was now changed to SXK, and Hülsbeck & Fürst's code btm was changed to SXO. The new year codes were respectively DL and GA.


Picture courtesy of Ed M.
The only known surviving example of a 1945 dated Hülsbeck & Fürst Lafette I have managed to find. The new code would hardly fool anyone though, as several parts on this Lafette still bear the old code btm. According to the new dating-standards it received the year-code "GA" for 1945 ("QL" being the btm code for 1944).


Picture courtesy of Ed M.
It incorporates all the simplifications introduced in late 1944, but has no new inventions or simplifications that haven't been found on the 1944 production Lafettes.


Picture courtesy of Aaron A.
The only surviving example of a 1945 dated Excelsior Lafette I know of. Serial number is 316.


Picture courtesy of Aaron A.
This one also incorporates all the simplifications introduced in late 1944, but in addition it also sports the late war bolt box, only found on Excelsior made Lafettes so far.

The 1945 production Lafettes were manufactured at a time when the Reich was crumbling and its enemies already had managed to conquer large parts of it. The production must have been limited to those makers that were not situated in areas of combat operations, had not been severely bombed and could still obtain the raw materials needed. The serial number on these ones are lower than the NC and QL (1944) dated ones, so I assume that the numbering sequence was restarted when the new year began. If this is correct then Hülsbeck & Fürst managed to manufacture at least 2391 Lafettes in 1945. The only Excelsior example found clocks in at 316, but production could of course have been higher.

The coolest Lafette 42 picture ever!

This picture was taken on 15 February 1945 in the Zehden bridgehead in the area of Alt-Rüdnitz, on the east side of the river Oder now dividing Germany and Poland. The unit holding this part of the front was the 1. Marine-Schützen-Division, made up of badly trained Kriegsmarine ground troops assembled in Wilhelmshafen and sent to the front.This picture was taken by Marine-Kriegsberichter Garms.


The Lafette 42 is a late 1944 example made by
Schönebeck (dar). It has the adjustable rear legs and the improved remote trigger without the oil brush. The Lafette is painted Dunkelgelb, but the Laying and search fire mechanism is only blued/phospathed.



Some other interesting features in the picture. The helmet has been fitted with a cross-wire to hold camouflage, made up from springs from a car seat or a sofa. Above the helmet lies a spare barrel carrier of the last version, the Laufschützer 43/1 which had fewer parts, with the internal supports simply stamped in. It was also made out of thinner sheets of steel making it lighter. Above this the Lafettenaufsatzstück 42 can be clearly seen. The ammo box has white painted letters with "SMG.  25" (heavy machine gun 25?). The shiny disc on top of the ammo box is the soldiers pocket watch, always the favorite of any sentry waiting to be relieved.


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