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MP43, MP44, and StG44 were different designations for what was essentially the same rifle, with minor updates in production. The variety in nomenclatures resulted from complicated circumstances in Nazi Germany. Developed from the Mkb 42(H) “machine carbine”, the ‘StG44’ combined traits of carbines, submachine guns and automatic rifles. StG is an abbreviation of Sturmgewehr. The name was chosen for propaganda reasons and literally means storm rifle as in “to storm a bunker.” After the adoption of the StG44, the English translation “assault rifle” became the accepted designation for this type of infantry small arm.

The rifle was chambered for the 7.92 x 33 mm cartridge, also known as 7.92 mm Kurz (German for “short”). This shorter version of the German standard (7.92 x 57 mm) rifle round, in combination with the weapon’s selective-fire design, provided a compromise between the controllable firepower of a submachine gun at close quarters with the accuracy and power of a Karabiner 98k bolt action rifle at intermediate ranges. While the StG44 had less range and power than the more powerful infantry rifles of the day, Wehrmacht studies had shown that most combat engagements occurred at less than 300 meters with the majority within 200 meters. Full-power rifle cartridges were overpowered for the vast majority of uses for the average soldier.

The StG44’s receiver was made of heavy stamped and welded steel as were other contermporary arms such as the MP40 and MG42. This made for a fairly heavy rifle, especially one firing an intermediate-power cartridge. Difficulties with fabrication, the need to use available non-priority steels, and the exigencies of war resulted in a heavy receiver. U.S. military intelligence criticized the weight of the weapon along with the inclusion of the full automatic feature which it considered “ineffectual for all practical purposes.” [1] The British were also critical saying that the receiver could be bent and the bolt locked up by the mere act of knocking a leaning rifle onto a hard floor. [2] Criticisms of the StG44 can largely be dismissed out of hand as propaganda by a simple comparison. The American Thompson submachine gun weighed only one pound less and the M3 submachine gun was equally if not more fragile than the Sturmgewehr.

To its credit, it was the first weapon of its class, and the concept had a major impact on modern infantry small arms development. By all accounts, the StG44 fulfilled its role admirably, particularly on the Eastern Front offering a greatly increased volume of fire compared to standard infantry rifles. In the end, it came too late to have a significant effect on the tide of the war.

[edit] Background

At the start of the Second World War German infantry was equipped with similar weapons to most other military forces. A typical infantry unit was equipped with a mix of bolt action rifles and some form of light or medium machine guns. One difference from other armies was the emphasis on the machine gun as the primary infantry weapon, as opposed to it being thought of mostly in the support role. German units tended to be machine gun “heavy”, carrying more ammunition for the machine gun than for the rifles, using belt ammunition for their more modern section-level weapons to maintain a higher rate of fire, and generally thinking of the rifle as a support weapon. Although newer rifle designs had been studied on several occasions, these designs were never considered very important.

One problem with this mix was that the standard rifles were too large to be effectively used by mechanized and armored forces, where they were difficult to maneuver in the cramped spaces of an armored vehicle. Submachine guns such as the MP28, MP38, and MP40 were issued to augment infantry rifle use and increase individual firepower, but suffered from a distinct lack of range and accuracy for ranges beyond 100 meters. A small fast-firing weapon would be useful in this role as well, but again the need did not seem pressing.

The issue arose once again during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had been in the process of replacing its own bolt action rifles in the immediate pre–war era. Increasing numbers of semi-automatic Tokarev SVT38 and SVT40s were reaching Red Army units, though issue was generally restricted to elite units and non-commissioned officers. Submachine guns were extremely widespread, and issued on a far larger scale; some Soviet rifle companies were completely equipped with fast-firing PPSh-41 submachine guns. [3]

This experience with high volumes of hand-held automatic ‘assault’ fire forced German commanders to rethink their small arms requirements. The German army had been attempting to introduce semi-automatic weapons of their own, notably the Gewehr 41, but these early rifles proved troublesome in service, and production was insufficient to meet forecast requirements. Several attempts had been made to introduce lightweight machine guns or automatic rifles for these roles, but invariably recoil from the powerful 7.92 mm Mauser round made them too difficult to control in automatic fire.

The German solution was to use a round of intermediate power, between that of a full-power rifle cartridge and pistol ammunition. Experiments with several such intermediate rounds had been going on since the 1930s, but had been constantly rejected for use by the army. By 1941, it was becoming clear that action needed to be taken, and one of the experimental rounds, the Polte 7.92 x 33 mm Kurzpatrone (short cartridge) was selected. To minimize logistical problems, the Mauser 7.92 mm rifle cartridge was used as the basis for the final 7.92 mm Kurz intermediate round, which also utilized an aerodynamic spitzer rifle bullet design.

[edit] MKb 42

Contracts for rifles firing the Kurz round were sent to both Walther and Haenel (whose design group was headed by Hugo Schmeisser), who were asked to submit prototype weapons under the name Maschinenkarabiner 1942 (MKb 42, literally “machine carbine”). Both designs were similar, using a gas-operated action, with both semi-automatic and fully-automatic firing modes.

The original prototypes of Haenel’s design, the MKb 42(H), fired from an open bolt and used a striker for firing (the mechanism is based on the Czechoslovak ZB vz.26). The receiver and trigger housing with pistol grip were made from steel stampings, which were attached to the barrel assembly on a hinge, allowing the weapon to be “folded open” for quick disassembly and cleaning. The Haenel design proved superior to Walther’s MKb 42(W), and the army then asked Haenel for another version incorporating a list of minor changes designated MKb 42(H). One was to include lugs for mounting a standard bayonet, another to change the pitch of the rifling. A production run of these modified versions was sent to the field in November 1942, and the users appreciated it with a few reservations. Another set of modifications added a hinged cover over the ejection port to keep it clean in combat, and rails to mount a telescopic sight. A run of these modified MKb 42(H)s in late 1942 and early 1943 produced 11,833 guns for field trials.

Ultimately it was recommended that a hammer firing system operating from a closed bolt similar to Walther’s be incorporated. The gas expansion chamber over the barrel was deemed unnecessary, and was deleted from successive designs.

[edit] MP43

While the new version was under development in late 1942, administrative infighting within the Third Reich was in full swing. Hitler was increasingly concerned with this, and after Hermann Göring had created the FG 42 in a separate program from the army’s similar Gewehr 41 efforts, Hitler cancelled all new rifle projects completely. This included the production of the MKb 42(H). One concern was that the new weapon used a new ammunition type which would further hamper an already daunting logistics problem.

In order to preserve the weapons development, a new project at Gustloff was started to produce a similar weapon using the original Mauser round, the Mkb 43(G). Whenever Hitler asked about the progress of the rifle, he was always shown one of these prototypes, although there was no intention of producing them. Meanwhile the newest version of the original Mkb 42(H) was called the Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43) to disguise it as an upgrade to existing submachine guns. Another change fitted a rifle grenade launcher attachment from the earlier MKb 42(H) to the MP43/1.

Eventually the truth surfaced and Hitler ordered the project stopped once again. However in March 1943 he allowed the run to continue for evaluation purposes, which then continued until September. Due to the positive combat reports, it was then allowed to continue.

[edit] MP44, StG44

On 6 April 1944, Adolf Hitler issued the following decree:

a) The former MG42 is to retain the same designation
b) The former self-loading rifle, known as the Gewehr 43, shall receive the designation Karabiner 43 (K43).
c) The former new MP, known as the MP43, shall receive the designation MP44.

In July 1944 at a meeting of the various army heads about the Eastern Front, when Hitler asked what they needed, a general blurted out “More of these new rifles!” This caused some confusion, but once Hitler was given a chance to test fire the MP44, he was impressed and gave it the title Sturmgewehr. Seeing the possibility of a propaganda gain, the rifle was again renamed as the StG44, to highlight the new class of weapon it represented, translated “assault rifle, model 1944”, thereby introducing the term.[1]

By the end of the war, some 425,977 StG44 variants of all types were produced. The assault rifle proved a valuable weapon, especially on the Eastern front, where it was first deployed. A properly trained soldier with an StG44 had an improved tactical repertoire, in that he could effectively engage targets at longer ranges than with an MP40, but be much more useful than the Kar98k in close combat, as well as provide light cover fire like a light machine gun.

The StG44 was an intermediate weapon for the period; the muzzle velocity from its 42 cm barrel was 647 m/s, compared to 880 m/s (K98k), 744 m/s (Bren), 600 m/s (M2 Carbine), and 365 m/s (MP40).

One unusual addition to the design was the Krummlauf, a bent-barrel attachment for rifles with a periscope sighting device for shooting around corners from a safe position. It was produced in several variants, an “I”-version for infantry use, a “P” version for use in tanks (to cover the dead areas in the close range around the tank, to defend against assaulting infantry), versions with 30°, 45°, 60° and 90° bends, a version for the StG44 and one for the MG 42. Only the 30° “I” version for the StG44 was produced in any numbers. The bent barrel attachments had very short lifespans – 300 rounds for the 30° version, and 160 for the 45° variant. The 30° model was able to achieve a 35X35 cm grouping at 100m.[4]

A primary use of the MP44/StG44 was to counter the Soviet PPS and PPSh submachine guns, which used a 7.62 x 25 mm round. These cheap mass-produced weapons used a 71-round drum magazine or 35-round “box” magazine and though shorter-ranged than the Kar98k rifle were more effective weapons in close quarter combat. The StG44, while also lacking the range of the Kar98k, had a longer range than the PPS/PPSh submachine guns and a comparable rate of fire. Also, while they could fire fully automatic, they were designed to default to semi-auto fire. They were surprisingly accurate, and their slow rate of fire gave them controllability even on full-auto. While the design details are quite different, the concept of the StG44 was obviously carried on in the most famous and most numerously manufactured assault rifle, the AK-47.

[edit] Late prototypes

Mauser developed several prototype Sturmgewehr 45 assault rifles, first with the Gerät 06 (Device 6) using a roller-delayed blowback mechanism originally adapted from the roller-locked recoil operation of the MG42 machine gun but with a fixed barrel and gas system. It was realized that with careful attention to the mechanical ratios, the gas system could be omitted. The resultant weapon, the Gerät 06(H) was supposedly slated for adoption by the Wehrmacht as the StG45. This mechanism would later be developed by former Mauser engineers in Spain and used on the post-war CETME and Heckler & Koch‘s G3 assault rifle and MP5 submachine gun.

Towards the end of the war, there were last-ditch efforts to develop cheap so-called Volksgewehr rifles in the 7.92 x 33 mm caliber. One of these Volkssturmgewehr 1-5 (the VG 1-5) used a gas-delayed blowback action based on the Barnitzke system, whereby gas bled from the barrel near the chamber creates resistance to the rearward impulse of the operating parts, which ceases when the projectile leaves the muzzle, allowing the operating parts to be forced rearward by the residual pressure of the cartridge case. This principle has been used most successfully in the Heckler & Koch PSP or P7 pistol.

[edit] Post-war

Generally accepted as the world’s first assault rifle, the StG44’s effect on post-war arms design was wide-ranging, as evidenced by Mikhail Kalashnikov‘s famous AK-47, and later in the U.S. M16 and its variants.

The Soviet Union was quick to adapt the assault rifle concept. The AK-47 used a similar-sized round and followed the design concept, but was mechanically very different.

Many of the other Western countries continued using their existing weapons. The 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round that was adopted post-war was still a full power cartridge with slightly smaller dimensions, however even in the West the adoption of less powerful rounds had been a pre-existing trend. For example, the M1 Garand, had initially been developed for the .276 (7 mm), a cartridge less powerful that the 30-06 in use at the time. The U.S Army’s adoption of the M1 Carbine in 1941 proved the utility of a small, handy, low powered rifle that required little training to use effectively. The selective fire M2 Carbine is generally not considered an assault rifle due to its second-line role, though it technically fits all of the requirements.

America and, later, NATO developed assault rifles along a roughly similar path as the Soviet Union by at first adding selective-fire capability in a reduced power, full-caliber cartridge. The Soviet Union quickly lightened the AK-47 and introduced the AKM. America developed the concept of small-caliber, high-velocity (SCHV) bullets and further reduced the weight of their firearms with the introduction of the M16. The Soviets followed suits by introducing the SCHV AK-74 rifle.

As for the Sturmgewehr itself, it remained in use with the East German Nationale Volksarmee until it was eventually replaced with variants of the AK-47 assault rifle. Argentina manufactured their own trial versions of the StG44 in the late 1940s and early 1950s [5], but made the decision to adopt the FN FAL instead in 1955 [6]. Examples of the StG44 are used by Lebanese Forces[7], along with limited numbers by irregular forces in some countries in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Examples have been confiscated in Iraq.

New, semi-automatic reproductions of the MKB42, MP43, and MP44 assault rifles are being manufactured in Germany today by Sport-Systeme Dittrich.


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