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Sturmgewehr 44

The Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was the world's first truly effective assault rifle. It was introduced by the German army late in WWII, and if the war had continued another year, the SG44 would have replaced every other rifle, light machine gun, and submachine gun in the Wehrmacht, including the antique Karabiner 98k and MP38. After the war the StG44 resulted in the outright replacement of almost every infantry gun in the western world, serving as the direct inspiration for the Russian AK47, the most prolific gun in the world, and the indirect inspiration for practically everything else.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 MKb 42
3 MP43
4 MP44/StG44

Background

In the early stages of the war, the German army had considered the rifle to be a "support" weapon only. The primary weapon of the infantry was the machine gun, and in a typical squad the soldiers carried considerably more ammunition for their MG34 than they did for their own rifles. The MG34 could pour out considerably more fire than all of the rifles put together, so they were almost an afterthought.

In combat things were never so simple. The machine gun proved to be far too large to be operated on the move, meaning that the troops often had to use their rifles while moving up. Of course the defenders they were moving up on were in fixed positions, and therefore had no limitations in the use of their own machine guns. For an army depending on the fast-moving blitzkrieg, they found themselves outgunned almost constantly. These problems were magnified in the cities and towns, where the weapon could not be brought to bear on their targets before they disappeared into the next building.

For this reason the troops started making increased use of submachine guns, forming squads known as assault troops which could keep up a high rate of fire while on the move. Unfortunately the submachine gun's use of pistol-sized rounds made for poor range, and the assault troops were really only useful in urban settings. Once out in the country it was back to the rifles again.

Adding to the confusion was the fact that the Red Army had been in the process of replacing their own rifles in the immediate pre-war era. Increasing numbers of semi-automatic Tokarev SVT38 and SVT40's were reaching the units, meaning that they outgunned their German counterparts considerably. The army had been attempting to introduce semi-automatic weapons of their own, notably the Gewehr 41, but these were proving rather problematic in service, and were therefore being delivered at a trickle while the problems were being worked out.

Several attempts had been made to introduce very light weight machine guns for these roles, but invariably the recoil from the fairly heavy standard German 7.92mm Mauser round made them too difficult to control. The solution was to use a round of "intermediate" power, somewhere between that of the full rifle cartridge, and the pistol rounds. 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 there actually was a problem to solve, and one of the experimental rounds, the Polte 7.92x33mm Kurz Patrone (short cartridge), was eventually selected as the basis for future development.

MKb 42

Contracts for rifles firing the Kurz round were sent to both Walther and Haenel (who's design group was headed by Hugo Schmeisser), who were asked to submit prototype weapons under the name Maschinenkarabiner 1942 (MKb 42), a new designation indicating a "short machine gun". Both designs were largely similar, using a gas-actuated action, with both semi-automatic and fully-automatic firing modes.

The original versions of the Haenel version, the MKb 42(H), fired from the open bolt and used a striker for firing. The receiver and trigger housing with pistol grip are made from steel stampings, which are attached to the barrel assembly on a hinge, allowing the weapon to be "folded open" for quick disassembly and cleaning. The Haenel MKb 42(H) design proved superior to the Walther MKb 42(W), and the army then asked Haenel for another version incorporating a list of minor changes. One was to include lugs for mounting a standard bayonette, 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 loved it with a few reservations. Another set of modifications added a hinged cover over the ejection port to keep it clean while on the move, and rails to mount a sighting scope. A run of these modified MKb 42(H)'s in late 1942 and early 1943 produced 11,833 guns for field trials.

MP43

While the new version was under development in late 1942, the infighting within the Third Reich was in full swing. Hitler was increasingly upset by this, and after Hermann Göring had created the FG-42 simply to one-up the army's G41 efforts, Hitler gave up and cancelled all new rifle projects completely. This included the production of the MKb 42(H), which was still underway, which he was particularly upset about because it used a new ammunition type which would further confuse the already daunting logistics problems the army was having.

In order to protect what was clearly a war-winning weapon, 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 ever producing them.

Meanwhile the changes to the original Mkb 42(H) was being made, called the Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43), to disguise it as upgrades to existing submachine guns. Another change was introduced to allow the fitting of the grenade launcher attachments from the earlier MKb 42(H) led to the MP43/1, as opposed to fittings for the launcher from the Kar 98k on the original MP43.

Eventually the truth surfaced and Hitler ordered the project stopped once again. However in March 1943 he allowed a the run to continue for evaluation purposes, which they then continued until September. That month the first service reports of the gun started to filter in, and Hitler allowed for continued production.

MP44/StG44

On April 6, 1944, 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, the universal answer to "what do you need" was "more of the new rifles". This caused some confusion, but once Hitler realized what was going on he agreed to allow its full production. Seeing the possibility of a propaganda win, the rifle was again renamed as the StG44, to highlight the new class of weapon it represented, literally "assault rifle, model 1944", thereby introducing the term.

By the end of the war, some 425,977 StG44 variants of all types were produced. The assault rifle proved an invaluable weapon, especially on the Eastern front, where it was first deployed. A properly trained soldier with an StG44 had a greatly improved tactical repertoire, in that he could effectively engage targets at long range across open terrain, or in close range urban fighting, as well as provide cover fire in all situations as a machine gun role.

An intriguing addition was the Krummerlauf, a bent barrel with a persicope sighting device for shooting around corners. It was produced in several variants, an "I"-version for infantry use, and 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, and a version for the StGw 44 and one for the MG 42. Only the 30 "I" - version for the StG44 was produced in any numbers.

The wisdom of the assault rifle concept has been born out in that, with the exception of a few specialized positions such as the sniper, virtually every soldier in every army today carries a descendant of the StG44.

Specifications

Caliber: 7.92x33mm Kurz
Muzzle velocity: 685m/s (2,055 fps)
Action: Gas operated, tilting bolt
Overall length: 940mm, 37"
Barrel length: 419mm, 14.35"
Weight: 5.22kg, 10.85 pounds unloaded
Rate of fire: 500-600 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 30 rounds
Sights: Tangent U-notch rear, Blade front