When we think of the iconic Cold War G3, we automatically think Heckler & Koch – but that wasn’t always the case. When the fledgling West German Army adopted the, now famous, roller-delayed rifle it was produced by not just H&K but another famous German arms manufacturer – Rheinmetall.

A West German Army machine gun team with a 7.62x51mm MG3 and a G3 rifle on exercise c.1960 (US Army)

Today, thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, we can take a look at an early production Rheinmetall G3, dating from March 1960. At the height of the Cold War, West Germany had just reformed its fledgling Army and it needed a new service rifle. The G3 was adopted by the Bundeswehr in 1959 and remained in service into the late 1990s.

An early production Rheinmetall G3 disassembled (Matthew Moss)

This early G3 has a number of features that set it apart from later G3s and of course from G3’s produced by Heckler & Koch. In terms of identifying marks this rifle simply has ‘G3 [Rheinmetall’s ‘star-in-a-circle’ logo] followed by a serial number and date mark’ stamped on the left side of the magazine well. Another distinction on the mag well is the single strengthening rib, rather than the later ‘full-frame’ continuous rib.

The most noticeable difference is the rifle’s flash hider/rifle grenade launching device, this was altered in the mid-1960 to the pattern we’re now familiar with. Another prominent difference is that unlike later G3s the early rifles had a 2-position folding L-shape rear aperture sight with apertures for 200 & 300 metres rather than the later dioptre sight adopted officially in mid-1960. The drum sight would become a standard feature on Heckler & Koch weapons, not just the G3.

A close up of the Rheinmetall G3’s Front sight and handguard (Matthew Moss)

The rifle also has a stamped steel handguard which was later replaced with one with wooden inserts before a plastic moulded grip was developed by Heckler & Koch. This rifle also has a folding bipod with the legs folding flush against the handguard. The rifle does have an ergonomic black plastic pistol grip but retains a wooden buttstock.

Close up of the G3’s early pattern folding sight (Matthew Moss)

The West German government had made Heckler & Koch the technical lead on the G3 project and as such Rheinmetall’s engineers made no attempts to develop substantial modifications or improvements for the rifle. Even after H&K had switched from wooden to plastic furniture, the Rheinmetall continued to use wood. Rheinmetall produced 500,000 G3s during the 1960s, delivering 8,000 rifles per month. If you’d like to know more about the G3’s history check out my in-depth article here.