The Most Influential WW2 Weapons

The development of weaponry during World War 2 was fascinating. World War 2 and the weapons that came from it affect us to this very day. World War 2 set the stage for the modern weapons and tactics the military uses in 2021. World War 2 largely saw the widespread use of maneuver warfare and modern squads combined rifles and machine guns. The weapons were a large part of how things changed, and as such, we’ve gathered what we think are the most influential WW2 weapons on both sides of the war.

Let’s be clear on how I picked these weapons. First, they were more or less weapons designed around the same time frame of World War 2. The Winchester 1897 is a very influential shotgun and was used in WW2 but doesn’t make the list because it’s more of a WW1 weapon. Second, it’s all about small arms today. No tanks, arty, or atomic bombs.

Today for Throwback Thursday!

M1 Garand

Well duh. It’s the first semi-automatic rifle widely fielded for combat use by an entire military. The M1 Garand gave the average G.I. eight rounds of .30-06 on tap and allowed for rapid-fire action. They brought semi-auto rifles to a bolt action war, and the semi-auto action proved invaluable. Better yet, compared to the weapons at the time, the M1 Garand was quite quick to reload.

M1 Garand rifle, left and right profile.
The M1 Garand offered a lot of firepower for Joe.

The use of En Bloc clips was pretty wise. Although, John Garand initially designed the M1 Garand with a magazine in the first place. While that would’ve been a better design, the M1 Garand as is was easily one of the more influential WW2 weapons. Midway through the war, the Russians and Germans were both fielding semi-auto rifles, albeit in much smaller numbers than the M1 Garand.

M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine was a truly unique weapon that was indirectly influential for a number of modern weapons. First, it recognized that light and handy is actually a good idea for a weapon. While it lacks the selective fire of an assault rifle, the M1 Carbine was effective to 300 yards or so and fired a quasi intermediate cartridge. It also fits the bill of the NATO spec for a PDW in some regards.

World War II soldier with M1 carbine
The M1 Carbine influenced rifle and SMG designs.

It was designed initially for non-front line troops like artillerymen, truck drivers, and the like. However, lots of combat troops liked the smaller rifles, especially machine gunners and mortarmen. It kicked the hell out of just a handgun and provided a magazine-fed, rapid-firing option for close-quarters fighting. Hell, don’t forget the newly discovered paratroopers tended to prefer their weapons light and compact as well. The M1 carbine was an influential WW2 weapon in more ways than one.

STG 44

The STG 44, or Sturmgewehr 44, was the world’s first assault rifle. The Germans had a few tricks up their sleeves at the end of the war, but never enough to make a difference. However, the STG 44 might be considered the most influential WW2 weapon. To this day, the assault rifle is the weapon of choice for military forces. The STG 44 brought forth a selective-fire rifle in what’s considered an intermediate cartridge for the time.

WW2 weapons - Sturmgewehr 44
The world’s first assault rifle was too late to be useful for the scumbag Nazis but set the stage for the assault rifle genre.

At a time when rifles were long, slow, and hard to control, the STG 44 delivered something fairly compact with more ammo and lighter recoil than most. Inside of standard infantry ranges, the STG 44 was hard to outclass. While the war ended before the gun could have any real effect, it inspired weapons like the AK 47 and made the assault rifle a thing. Hell, to this day, it sees action in Libya.

MG 34/42

The MG 34 and MG 42 are different weapons, but their overall design is largely the same. One is easier to produce than the other, but the Germans used these two guns in the same way. The MG 34 and Mg 42 are largely considered the first General Purpose Machine guns and the first modern medium machine guns. At 25 pounds, they were fairly light for belt-fed machine guns at the time.

MG34 ww2 weapons
The MG34 was the first general-purpose machine gun.

Their size and design made them perfect for infantry operations as well as being capable for defensive positions, mounted on armor and road vehicles, and pretty much any role a machine gun could function in. These influential WW2 weapons would inspire firearms like the M60, the PKM, and the FN MAG.

MG42 WW2 weapons
The MG42 operated at 1,200 RPM.

Browning Hi-Power

You can love the 1911 all you want, but the Browning Hi-Power is the superior pistol. Heck, to this day, the Browning Hi-Power can still be a viable modern defensive and duty handgun. The Hi-Power brought forth a modern semi-auto pistol with a fairly high capacity. At the time, 13 rounds was a ton, and heck, even these days, the Hi-Power can utilize a flush-fitting 15 rounder.

WW2 weapons - Browning Hi-Power
The Hi-Power was used on both sides of WW2.

The Browning Hi-Power created the modern 9mm pistol as we know it and showed the difference a 9mm round could make with a double-stack magazine. The Hi-Power was such an influential WW2 weapon that guns like the CZ 75, the Glock series, and Berettas can all thank it for their existence. Hell, at one point in WW2, both the Germans and Brits shot at each other with Hi-Powers.

M50/55 Reising

Without a doubt, the M50 and M55 Resing submachines were not great guns. They were finicky, and when broken was hard to repair. They didn’t serve for long, and the Marine Corps gladly swapped the M50 and M55 for the Thomspon and M3 as soon as they could. But the M50 and M55 were still influential World War 2 weapons.

M50 or M55 Reising, an innovative ww2 weapon
The Reising sucked…but was innovative.

Hear me out. The SMGs at the time were all pretty simple weapons. They were open bolt, direct blowback guns that all operated very simply. The M50 Reising utilized a closed bolt delayed blowback system. This style now dominates the market with guns like the MP5. The Resiing was short and light, much more so than the Thompson. It might have had reliability issues, but the Reising proved a closed blowback system could be produced affordably.

Why Influential WW2 Weapons Matter

Knowing where we come from often shows us where we are going. This mix of firearms influenced the world of small arms to this day. They show us how firearms and tactics evolve over time. Since then, firearms have become more reliable. They fire faster and are often smaller and lighter. You can track that progress through the years World War 2 raged on and can see a direct line to the firearms of today. With that said did I miss a beat? Is there an influential WW2 weapon that I left out?

Let me know below! Also, check out the National WW2 Museum, it’s fantastic.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner, a lifelong firearms enthusiast, and now a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor. is the world's Okayest firearm instructor, and a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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