German Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44): The World’s First Modern Assault Rifle

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The Sturmgewehr 44 was the first assault rifle to see deployment on a large scale. Developed by Germany, it was introduced in 1943 and first saw service on the Eastern Front. Though far from perfect, the StG44 proved a versatile weapon for German forces.

DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT

At the beginning of World War II, German forces were equipped bolt-action rifles such as the Karabiner 98k, and a variety of light and medium machine guns. Problems soon arose as the standard rifles proved too large and unwieldy for use by mechanized troops. As a result, the Wehrmacht issued several smaller submachine guns, such as the MP40, to augment those weapons in the field. While these were easier to handle and increased the individual firepower of each soldier, they had a limited range and were inaccurate beyond 110 yards.
German MP40 MaschinenpistoleGerman MP40 “Maschinenpistole .40” Submachine Gun

While these issues existed, they were not pressing until the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Encountering increasing numbers of Soviet troops equipped with semi-automatic rifles like the Tokarev SVT-38 and SVT-40, as well as the PPSh-41 submachine gun, German infantry officers began to reassess their weapons needs.

While development progressed on the Gewehr 41 series of semi-automatic rifles, they proved problematic in the field and German industry was not capable of producing them in the numbers needed.

Efforts were made to fill the void with light machine guns, however, the recoil of the 7.92 mm Mauser round limited accuracy during automatic fire. The solution to this issue was the creation of an intermediate round that was more powerful than pistol ammunition, but less than a rifle round. While work on such a round had been ongoing since the mid-1930s, the Wehrmacht has previously rejected it adoption. Re-examining the project, the army selected the Polte 7.92 x 33mm Kurzpatrone and began soliciting weapon designs for the ammunition.

Issued under the designation Maschinenkarabiner 1942 (MKb 42), development contracts were issued to Haenel and Walther. Both companies responded with gas-operated prototypes that were capable of either semi-automatic or fully-automatic fire. In testing, the Hugo Schmeisser-designed Haenel MKb 42(H) out-performed the Walther and was selected by the Wehrmacht with some minor changes. A short production run of the MKb 42(H) was field tested in November 1942 and received strong recommendations from German troops. Moving forward, 11,833 MKb 42(H)s were produced for field trials in late 1942 and early 1943.

Assessing the data from these trials, it was determined that the weapon would perform better with a hammer firing system operating from a closed bolt, rather than the open bolt, striker system initially designed by Haenel.

As work moved forward to incorporate this new firing system, development temporarily came to halt when Hitler suspended all new rifle programs. To keep the MKb 42(H) alive, it was re-designated Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43) and billed as an upgrade to existing submachine guns.

German soldier fires a StG 44 Sturmgewehr 44German soldier fires a StG 44 (Sturmgewehr 44)

This deception was eventually discovered by Hitler, who again had the program halted. In March 1943, he permitted it to recommence for evaluation purposes only. Running for six months, the evaluation produced positive results and Hitler allowed the MP43 program to continue. In April 1944, he ordered it redesignated MP44. Three months later, when Hitler consulted his commanders regarding the Eastern Front he was told that the men needed more of the new rifle. Shortly thereafter, Hitler was given the opportunity to test fire the MP44.

Highly impressed, he dubbed it the “Sturmgewehr”, meaning “storm rifle.” Seeking to enhance the propaganda value of the new weapon, Hitler ordered it re-designated StG44 (Assault Rifle, Model 1944), giving the rifle its own class. Production soon began with the first batches of the new rifle being shipped to troops on the Eastern Front. A total of 425,977 StG44s were produced by the end of the war and work had commenced on a follow-on rifle, the StG45. Manufacturers of the MP44/StG44 system included C.G. Haenel Waffen- und Fahrradfabrik AG, Erfurter Maschinenfabrik B Geipel GmbH, Mauser-Werke AG and Oberndorf-am-Neckar.

Maschinenpistole 44 mit KrummlaufU.S. Army officer inspecting a German MP44 with a curved barrel designed for fighting in urban areas. The weapon allowed its user to remain behind a wall while laying down suppressing fire around a corner.

One of the more interesting attempts at “practical” MP44 designs was the Maschinenpistole 44 mit Krummlauf which is sometimes generically termed as “the gun that could shoot around corners”. The idea behind this design was to arm soldiers within vehicles with a weapon capable of targeting enemy combatants that had managed to come underneath the fire angles of the operator’s position. At any length, the weapon system might also prove to have been some value in the close house-to-house fighting occurring throughout the war, but in particular at war’s end. The “practicality” of such a system is still under some debate though, even to this day. Testing into the market of weaponry that can target enemy combatants around corners remains as intriguing as it did over half a century ago.

Vampir 1229German soldier with a “Zielgerät 1229” night-vision scope, on an StG 44 assault rifle. Code Name: “Vampir” (Eastern Front – 1945)

The ZG 1229 (Zielgerät 1229), also known in its code name Vampir, was an active infrared device developed for the Wehrmacht for the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle during World War II, intended primarily for night use. The ZG 1229 Vampir weighed in at 2.25 kilograms (about 5 lbs.) and was fitted with lugs on the StG 44 at C.G. Haenel at Suhl, the weapons production facility. The grenadier carrying this was known as a Nachtjäger (night-hunter). As well as the sight and infrared spotlight, there was a 13.5 kilogram (about 30 lbs.) wooden cased battery for the light, and a second battery fitted inside a gas mask container to power the image converter.

OPERATIONAL HISTORY

Arriving on the Eastern Front, the StG44 was used to counter Soviet troops equipped with the PPS and PPSh-41 submachine guns. While the StG44 had a shorter range than the Karabiner 98k rifle, it was more effective at close quarters and could out-range both Soviet weapons. Though the default setting on the StG44 was semi-automatic, it was surprisingly accurate in full-automatic as it possessed a relatively slow rate of fire. In use on both fronts by war’s end, the StG44 also proved effective at providing covering fire in place of light machine guns.

The world’s first true assault rifle, the StG44 arrived too late to significantly affect the outcome of the war, but it gave birth to an entire class of infantry weapons that include famous names such as the AK-47 and the M16. After World War II, the StG44 was retained for use by the East German Nationale Volksarmee (People’s Army) until it was replaced by the AK-47.

The East German Volkspolizei utilized the weapon through 1962. In addition, the Soviet Union exported captured StG44s to its client states including Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as supplied the rifle to friendly guerrilla and insurgent groups. In the latter case, the StG44 has equipped elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hezbollah. American forces have also confiscated StG44s from militia units in Iraq.

STURMGEWEHR 44 SPECIFICATION

Country of Origin Germany
Denomination Stg 44 – MP 43 – MP 44
Produced 500,000 (of which 200,000 never distributed)
Type Rifle
Firing mode semi-automatic and automatic
Caliber 7.92 mm (7,92 x 33 mm)
Feed system 30 round-magazine
Effective firing range (automatic) 300 m
Effective firing range (semi-automatic) 600 m
Maximum range 800 m
Muzzle Velocity 685 m/s
Rate of fire 500 rounds/min
Weight 5.22 kg
Length 940.000 mm
Barrel Length 419.000 mm

Links & Reference Sources

Sturmgewehr 44 Rifle
World War II: Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44)
Zielgerät 1229

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