As the world fell apart around them, German industry from aircraft to small arms raced against time to produce something, anything that might permit the Third Reich to last a little longer. Most of these efforts failed miserably, while others were too farfetched to ever become reality.
And yet, in spite of this, there were a few tiny samples of innovation that might have worked if given enough time. Fortunately, for the world and freedom itself, time ran out on one of history’s most evil regimes, and victors exploited the workable technologies to further the goals of their nations.
In the case of small arms one of these of course was the adoption of the German assault rifle concept by the Soviet Union, which arrived in the form of the AK-47. History has shown that this was one area in which the Soviets started out with a lead, as the Western allies still clung to full power cartridge ideas that would see them through the coming decades.
Most of their postwar prototypes bore this out with three battle rifle designs emerging to counter the AK: the FN FAL produced by Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale, proved the most popular; the M14 produced by the Springfield Armory in the United States which had a short career and was overtaken by the M-16; and a Spanish/ German design which became the second most popular design after the FAL and helped represent most of the free world. The CETME/G3.
This rifle that ended up flourishing in post-war conflicts ultimately came about after Mauser technicians during the war designed a prototype assault rifle, called the Gerat 06. Unlike the famous MP44 Sturmgewehr already on the battlefields, the Gerat 06 was designed to be less expensive, just as reliable and easier to produce. As such, one look showed it had none of the smooth curves of the MP44, save for its magazine, which used the same 7.92x33mm intermediate cartridge.
Downright homely to the point of being crude, it used a different operating system, which was taken from the MG42 light machine gun, called short recoil/delayed blowback, but used a fixed barrel with a piston rod similar to the MP44. A further refinement found the rod could be dispensed with and permit using the roller locking bolt alone. After the war, the system, with evolving prototypes, was perfected further by designers Ludwig Vorgrimler and Theodor Loffler until 1950, when Vorgrimler, who by then lived in Spain and worked for the arms manufacturer CETME, finalized a weapon designated the Modelo 2, which used a proprietary 7x92x40mm round.
The design drew the attention of West Germany’s Border Guards, who wanted to equip its forces with the new rifle. One requirement though, was that it be rechambered for the 7.62x51mm round which had been pushed by the U.S. and adopted by NATO. So the CETME was produced with chamber that was identical to the NATO, round but featured another proprietary load, which was later abandoned. Heckler and Koch then got into the act and provided input, further modifying the rifle into the Model B, which featured improved ergonomics, and was at last accepted into service in 1958 by the Spanish Army as the Modelo 1958.
Strangely, at the time it was the only country to adopt the CETME design, for a deal with West Germany’s Border Guards fell through and they ended up adopting the FAL. Thankfully, all was not lost, for the West German Army took interest and held trials pitting the CETME against the American AR-10 and Switzerland’s SiG SG 510. After it won, the CETME was accepted into service and type classified as the Gewehr (rifle), or G3, in January 1959. Upon adoption, H&K and Rheinmettall were tasked with production, but only after they negotiated rights from the Dutch firm NWM, who held production rights outside Spain. Upon concluding this, the G3 began rolling off the assembly lines and filling the stock rooms and soldiers arms of the West German Army.
Proving itself a design of note, many other countries soon took interest in the weapon, testing and adopting it as their standard battle rifle. as well. From 1958 through the 1980s, some 40 countries would outfit their armies with the G3 and, like the FAL, cause it to see combat on every continent.
For western audiences, it could be seen on the evening news in the early 1980s as the weapon of the El Salvadoran military during battles with communist FMLN. and in the Iran-Iraq war as the main rifle of the Iranian army. Currently, the G3 is in use by the Mexican army, battling with drug cartels, where undoubtedly, many a bad guy continues to be ventilated by the G3.
Over its history, the G3’s basic shape has remained unaltered and most improvements have been aesthetic. A true war-winner, only in the 1990s with increased popularity of 5.56mm assault rifles has it seen its numbers dwindle. Even the first nations who claimed it, Spain and Germany, have moved on. Regardless of this, it can be expected that the G3 will still be found patrolling streets, jungles and deserts for many more years to come.