In many recent publications, it’s proclaimed that the EMP36 is the immediate predecessor of the MP38. Although I admit that the external appearance of the EMP36 resembles the MP38, I also have to conclude that the internal system of the MP38 is almost identical to Hugo Schmeisser’s MK36, and therefore the MK36 can also be regarded as its immediate predecessor.
The MK36 III was a prototype designed by Hugo Schmeisser and was part of a series of so called “Maschinenkarabiner” (Machinecarabines) developed between 1933 and 1936. In 1934 Hugo Schmeisser developed the Maschinenkarabiner 34 prototype series. These submachine guns were designed to fire the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, most likely fed from box magazines. However, their dimensions differed to the “Regular” submachine guns of that time. The length of the MK34 prototypes were comparable to that of the K98 rifle/carbines. The MK34 III made use of a spring and bolt as used in the MP18 and MP28. It appears that different versions were made.
In the two years following the development of the MK34 prototypes, Hugo Schmeisser continued to improve the “Maschinenkarabiner” series and invented the MK36. Just like the MK34, III, the prototypes of the MK36 had similar dimensions to the K98. Unfortunately, little photographic material is available today.
The photo to the right supposedly shows two different examples of the MK36, although, it however also could be the MK34. Credit: the photos are from the book by Thomas B. Nelson called The world's Submachine guns (machine pistols), printed in 1964, published by International Small Arms Publishers.In the picture’s below you can see that some experiments were done with the retracting handle. The top picture shows the retracting handle on the right side, and below you can see the retracting handle on the left. Also, some experimenting was done with the sights and the bayonet attachment as you can see in the picture. In Chris Allis and Peter Chamberlain’s book “The Schmeisser Submachine gun” it is claimed that the wood furniture and butt of a Gewehr 98 were used for one prototype and the equivalent parts of the Hungarian Huzagol rifle for another prototype. I checked the stock of the Huzagol 35M rifle, but it doesn’t resemble the stocks in the pictures here. The Huzagol 35M has a 2 part butt stock as well.
The author’s also refer in their book to a “MK36, II”, so it is possible that there were many prototypes of the MK36. The fact that a comma was stamped after “MK36” suggests possibly model “,I” and “,II” came before the “MK36, III”. This can also be said of the MK34.
This is a very grey area, as I have often found author’s are confused with the model numbers, leading to incorrect information being given to the reader. As an example, in a short booklet by Norbert Moczarski, the author claimed that Hugo Schmeisser developed the MP36. I believe that is not true as I have seen with my own eyes the “Erma Erfurt” stamp in the woodwork of the MP36. In my opinion, he has mixed up the MK36 with the MP36.
I was able to contact the former owner of the only known remaining specimen of a MK36, III, which is pictured to the left. The ex-owner informed me that he sold the MK36, III years ago to a friend of his. This collector passed away and his wife had the MK36, III auctioned at James D. Julia Inc. It was sold for “only” 37,950 USD. I say “only” because for a decent FG42 you usually pay 60.000 USD and these are not as rare compared to a MK36, III.
Below is the text of the James D. Julia advertisement:
**GERMAN MK-36 III. SN 4. Cal. 9mm. 20" bbl. This is an EXTREMELY rare piece. It is believed that this firearm is an original Hugo Schmeisser prototype, designed in the mid 1930s. According to our records, the MK36 III never made it into production due to a patent infringement on the Vollmer designed operating spring. It is completely possible that this specimen may very well be the only example of its type in the United States, and possibly the world. No other existing samples are currently known. Drift adjustable front sight post, tangent rear sight(adjustable from 100-1000 meters). All metal has deep rich bluing. 1-pc wooden stock. Top wooden hand guard. Comes w/ leather sling that appears original. Metal butt plate. Includes one magazine. This very rare German machine gun is exemplified by it's fantastic condition and it's extremely low SN. This early open bolt design actually utilizes a bolt lock so bolt will not open unless the magazine is inserted. PROVENANCE: Stern Collection. CONDITION: Very fine. Metal retains almost all of it's original bluing. Wood stock is of exceptional quality although it possesses several light blemishes, small gouges, nicks and dings from typical handling and storage. The finish has remained very good. Select fire open bolt mechanism functions smooth, and bore is very clean. 4-34670 JZ14 (15,000-25,000)
I contacted James D. Julia and they allowed me to use these pictures which is great! A big “Thank you” to Judy L. (Sales Coordinator Firearms division at James D. Julia) for that.
The biggest and most interesting difference between the MK36’s is that the MK36 in the picture to the right has a different spring and bolt than the MK36’s in the first black and white picture on this page. The bolt and the telescope spring are almost identical to that of the MP38/40. The retracting handle is on the right side instead on the left as it is with the MP38 and MP40. The fact that the bolt and telescope spring are identical is very intriguing as Hugo Schmeisser did not continue the development of the MK36, III because of a patent infringement, supposedly Heinrich Vollmer had the patent for the Telescope spring, but why did Berthold Geipel use exactly the same telescope spring and bolt in the MP38 as Hugo Schmeisser used in the MK36, III?
One theory is that both the EMP36 of Erma and the MK36, III were at some point tested together at the facilities of Kummersdorf and the military decided to let Erma continue the development with their design of the EMP36, but they had to use the internal patented technology of Hugo Schmeisser including the “double stack, single feed” system developed by Hugo Schmeisser. I’m a big fan of Hugo Schmeisser designs, but I think in this case it would have been a lot smarter to have chosen Heinrich Vollmer’s “double stack, double feed” system. It would have saved many German lives on the Eastern front, but of course this is easy to say afterwards, as at that time it must have been a well thought through idea. As a result of this choice for Schmeisser’s patented system, Haenel could initially produce all the magazines and magazine loaders for the MP38. All 1938 and 1939 produced magazines are made by Haenel (coded “122”), as well as the magazine loaders. Interesting to see are the various parts like the bolt, telescope spring, the MP41 end-cap and the MP44 fireselector (see right) that we see back in his later designs.
Together with the MK36, III the EMP36 can be considered the MP38’s direct ancestor. Especially if we take the design into consideration. It resembles the MP38, but it has a more “sinister” look to it. The Luger or “Pistole 08” shaped grip gives it the authentic Germanic look. The idea of a pistol grip on a submachine gun was not new. After all, the Thompson M1921 and M1928 already made use of this idea. Of course the idea was also not new in Germany, since the Luger or Pistole 08 and the C96 made use of a stock that could be slid onto the pistol grip. What was new in the design of the EMP36 was the absence of a fixed stock. So far, all submachine guns looked like small carbines. Good examples are the MP18 and MP28. The whole concept of a folding stock was relatively new. I write “relatively” because Hugo Schmeisser already patented a folding stock for a submachine gun in September 1935. (German patent number 679684 “Ausziehbare Schulterstütze einer Maschinenwaffe”; Extractable shoulder stock for a machine gun) The idea for developing a submachine gun with a folding stock was probably an idea of the military.
Nazi Germany was preparing for war, and was building a modern army equipped with armoured vehicles to transport their infantry. In order to reduce the amount of space used in these vehicles it was necessary to develop a submachine gun with a folding stock. Another feature that the military instructed Erma to include in their prototype was a little hook under the front end of the barrel that prevented the gun from being accidentally pulled into the vehicle while shooting full automatic. Another big change in the design was the fact that the magazine (holder) was now pointing downwards instead of sideways like all previous submachine guns. I believe the military were no longer convinced that the advantage of a sideways pointing magazine (for a lower prone position) outweighed the advantage of a more balanced recoil action gained from the downward magazine. In fact, the weight of the downward magazine was also reducing the climbing of the gun when shooting full automatic. I’m not sure if this advantage was really incorporated into the design of the EMP36 since the direction of the magazine (holder) is not entirely in a vertical position. It is actually pointing slightly to the right and forward. The forward position of the magazine holder was necessary because of the double feed recoil system of Vollmer. From a “recoil system” point of view the Erma EMP36 was an Erma EMP.
There are only 2 remaining EMP36’s in the world. One in the Prague Military museum (serial number 1) and one in the hands of a private collector in the United States (serial number 14). During a visit to the Prague Military historical museum in the summer of 2010, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to investigate the extremely rare EMP36. The EMP36 is a beautifully made gun. Clearly the one which I examined was made for presentation purposes as it had very nicely crafted woodwork, polished steel with a deep blue finish. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to publish the photo’s that I took of the EMP36 and MP38(L). The pictures published on this page are the official photo’s of the EMP36 serial nr. 1 of the Prague Military Museum.
Frank Ianamico the author of the fantastic book “Blitzkrieg” (www.machinegunbooks.com) has also allowed me to use his pictures and story: "The missing link" The EMP36 that is pictured below has serial number 14. The magazine pictured with the EMP36 is an adapted MP40 magazine. There is no known original magazine available.
MP38 proto type
Before the EMP36 and the MK36 developed into the MP38, there must have been numerous prototypes of the MP38. There could well have been a MP37 prototype. The very first manual of the MP38, the “Beschreibung der Maschinenpistole 38”, shows evidence of one of these prototypes. The MP38 pictures in this manual are clearly not the final production MP38. It differs in a few ways, with the biggest difference being the uninterrupted longitudinal grooves on the tube that run almost up to the strap loop (the position on the tube/receiver where the serial number is stamped on the production models). From a production point of view it would have been cheaper to produce the tube without interrupted grooves. The milling machine and its operator had to perform fewer operations. From a constructional point of view however, the metal rings of the magazine holder that connects it to the tube would have a less tight grip. This could have been the reason that the production model had the interrupted longitudinal grooves. Besides the constructional advantages, and from an aesthetical point of view, it definitely gives the MP a more finished look. As stated before, I think the shape and finish of the design did play a more important role than one would initially think.
One other main difference to the production models are the wooden grip plates. Just as the EMP36, these pistol grip plates were made of wood and have the sinister “Pistole 08” or “Luger” appearance. Just as with the EMP36, the first prototypes would have been used for presentation, and as is the case with this MP38, for photo shoots. This could have been the reason to put on wooden grip plates. It just gives the person that holds the weapon a better “feel”.
Another intriguing detail is the folding stock attachment to the frame. The production models have an embankment with a drilled hole for a pin that locks the button and the folding stock braces together. The prototype brace does not have this embankment. Its unclear to me how the several parts were locked together on this prototype.
At first glance there does not seem to be a stamped serial number. But looking closely at the unsharp photograph, one can recognize a “2” on the end cap and also on the magazine holder. I am not 100% sure it is a “2”, but there is definitely a stamp with a single number. It is a mystery to me why these photos of this prototype were used. The photos clearly show the magazine loader. The magazine loader was not introduced until October 1938 according to the Heeres Verordnungblatt dated October 5th 1938. That would suggest that the photos would have been taken in the last 3 months of 1938. At that time, one would think that sufficient regular production of MP38’s must have been at hand to take photos of? Unless, the magazine loader was also a prototype, which seems most likely. Although, it’s an early version of the magazine loader as it does not appear to have other prototype characteristics. By the way all photos of the accessories are not production versions.
The MP38 L was a very interesting experimental version of the MP38 developed in 1939. Not only the grip, but also the frame and the tube were completely made from aluminum. With the normal MP38, this was (partly) machined steel. In most literature written about the MP38 L, it is stated that it was produced by Erma. Reading from the stamps (EE =Erma Erfurt) on the barrel, this is a logical assumption, however, all aluminum MP38 parts were manufactured by Nüral (barrelprotector) and Fichtel and Sachs (MP38 grips). These companies were specialists in aluminum molding and machining. The design was probably by Erma, but I highly doubt that they were produced by Erma. Unfortunately, I did not inspect a possible stamp under the grip plates during my visit to the Military Museum in Prague (maybe because I was too overwhelmed to be so close to a real EMP36 and a MP38 L). The grip is the location where Fichtel and Sachs put their commercial stamp (F & S), so I assume that the production of the MP38 L frame and integral grip was at Fichtel and Sachs.
There has been some speculation about the capital “L” and its meaning. G. de Vries and B.J. Martens come to the conclusion in their excellent “The MP38, 40, 40/1 and 41 Submachine Gun – Propaganda photo series II” that it must mean “Leightmetall” (Light-weigt Metal). To me it would seem more logical that the “L” stands for “Luftwaffe”. The “L” stamp was used on other weapons like the K98 and HP35 as well. In my opinion, the original MP38 was developed for armored troops and not especially for the “Fällschirmjäger” (paratroopers), mainly because of the hook below the barrel that made sure that the MP could not accidentally be pulled into the vehicle while shooting, and of course the folding stock. The Luftwaffe might have initiated the development of this prototype.
The receiver tube and the magazine holder of the MP38 L are made from one piece of 4mm cast and machined aluminium. The entire part still holds the same push button and ejector as the ones used in the MP38. Interesting is the locking system that is used. The receiver tube has a locking connector that grips into the connector of the entire grip. This system differs to that of the regular MP38, although its locking principle is more or less the same. The whole construction of the connecting system seems to be very solid. I must acknowledge that the whole weapon had a very solid appearance and feel to it. On top of the tube a newly designed sight assembled. Instead of having two small screws at the corners of the sight the screws are located in the middle; one at the front and one on the back of the sight. The sight is also set up for 100m and 200m.
The integral grip is one piece cast aluminum. The frame was not designed to be wrapped around with a Bakelite foregrip. In fact, no Bakelit at all is used in the design. The pistol grip plates are made of wood, similar to the later MP44, not really comparable with the EMP36 hand plates. The locking breech used to lock the frame to the upper receiver is different. The “button” seems to be a bit bigger and has a slightly different shape.
The barrel nut is made of steel and has a longer shape due to the bigger screw thread of the tube. There is no separate strap loop, as it is molded as part of the upper receiver.
The tube holds a regular bolt and telescope spring, although the internal parts of the gun that I examined were not number matching to the gun, they were taken from another MP38 or mp40. All other parts are identical to the regular MP38.
Interesting to see is that the frame is stamped at the bottom with the serial number V3013. I assume that the “V” stands for “Versuch” or “Versuchsmodell” (Translate to English). I do not assume that there were 3013 MP38 L’s made! The first 3 in the serial number therefore must mean that it was the third series of tests. Maybe different directions were chosen. Sheet metal, aluminum, etc? The 13 is obvious. This was probably the 13th MP38 L produced. According to G. de Vries and B.J. Martens at least 3 specimens still exist today. I know there is one owned by the Prague Military Museum (that is the one I examined) and one in the hands of a Belgian collector (with whom I would really like to get in contact; firstname.lastname@example.org !!!) Of course any additional information is welcome.
In my opinion the MP38 L was one of the many developments that had to lead to a cheaper more easy to produce “MP38”. As I stated on other pages it was already obvious in 1938 that Erma could not fulfill the huge demands put upon them by the different parts of the armed forces. Early in 1940, Haenel was asked to produce the MP38 as well. Production needed to be increased. One way was to simplify production methods.
The MP38 L was one experiment to make a simplified design that would reduce the amount of machine handling. In the same year (1939), other technological developments must have taken place with sheet metal stamping by companies like Merz Werke and National Krupp Registrier Kassen GmbH (future sub-contractors). These developments proved to be revolutionary, and made it possible to produce an all sheet metal “MP38” being the MP40……….The aluminum MP38 L was a interesting weapon from a design perspective, it simplified the design of the MP38 even more and realized a weight reduction of 1Kg. However, due to the prescribed limited use of aluminum by the small arms industry (Only the aircraft industry could really make use of it) the choice was easy, to go for the sheet metal version.
MP40 with integral grip/frame developed by Merz Werke
During my visit to the Prague Military Museum I was unexpectedly surprised by an early prototype of the MP40. I had always been under the impression that Steyr had been responsible for the development of the integral grip used in the latest (1943-1944) version of the MP40. The story is different. In 1941, Merz Werke (COS) experimented with an integral grip that would combine the pistol grip with the frame in order to simplify production. Merz Werke was a specialist on sheet metal stampings. Merz Werke produced a lot of the pistol grips, frames and tubes for two of the three main assemblers of the MP40, Haenel and Erma. (Steyr was responsible for their own sheet metal stamping). At this point in time this new development was, for unknown reasons, not used in the production version of MP40. Steyr had just joined the production of the MP40 and the required demands of the Armed forces were roughly met.
Merz Werke must have offered Haenel the newly developed integral grip to use in their revolutionary MKB42 designed by Hugo Schmeisser. As stated Haenel already made use of Merz Werke as a subcontractor to produce the pistol grips and frames of the MP40. The same sheet metal stamping techniques were used in the MP43/44. In 1943 Steyr used the new integral frame in the last production version of the MP40.
The stamps on the receiver cap of this prototype does not show a regular production code like ayf, bnz or fxo. On the top it shows MP40 and underneath just the building year 41. On the side of the cap the serial number 005 is stamped vertically. Under the serial code is the COS (Merz Werke) stamp and the waffenamt stamp WaA44. The rest of the weapon shows the characteristics of an early MP40 with smooth magazine holder. The MP40 itself is in an excellent condition.