The StG44 (Sturmgewehr 44) Assault RifleBy Tim Watson
- 15th Jul, 2020 Jul 15, 2020, 2:39 PM
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During WW1 the evolution of warfare from open long distance engagements to hand to hand fighting in trenches was quickly changing weapons and tactics.
Shorter, portable rifles and high-capacity sub-machineguns were proving their effectiveness in the tight confines and short ranges typically encountered when the fighting got up close and personal.
With the war coming to a close, so did a lot of weapon development and funding. Consequently when the storm-clouds of WWII began gathering, many nations had done little in the way of updating their arsenals, with many lessons learnt in the trenches now forgotten.
“...when the storm-clouds of WWII began gathering, many nations had done little in the way of updating their arsenals, with many lessons learnt in the trenches now forgotten.”
There were some rifle designers who hadn’t forgotten however, and some were so passionate about their designs that they were prepared to disobey direct orders from Hitler himself to get their rifles to see the light of day.
This was the case with Haenel’s Sturmgewehr 44, the first true “Assault Rifle” and the granddaddy of modern battle rifles.
With a lot of the StG’s history being well known or easily available, I won’t go into the finer details, but here are a couple of points that must be mentioned.
The StG44 was re-designated the MP44 (MP was short for Maschinenpistole) which allowed the designers to keep the rifle off Hitler’s radar who, leery of adding another cartridge to the supply chain, had forbidden mid-size rifle/cartridge development, but had allowed 9mm sub-machinegun projects to continue.
The rifle was first fielded on the Russian front where entire companies had all their small arms replaced with StG44s except for their heavier MG42 squad machineguns, so the true battle effectiveness of the assault rifle could be accurately measured.
Results were encouraging with soldiers reporting they could often move through an entire attack without having to reload. Likewise when retreating it was far easier for a platoon of soldiers to protect the entire company without having to extract their heavy machineguns from their emplacement and turn them around.
Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, the StG44 was too little, too late. By the time Hitler relented to his general’s requests for this new wonder rifle, the German war machine was struggling to keep its armies fully equipped, and as Hitler had feared the StG44’s supply of 7.92x33mm Kurz ammunition, a shortened version of the 7.92x57 (or 8mm Mauser) was intermittent at best.
After the war the remaining StG44s were sold off around the world by the victors looking to re-coup costs incurred by the war.
The StGs emerged at hotspots in Africa, the Middle-East and Vietnam. A highly publicized container load was recently captured by rebels in the current Syrian conflict.
Sometime during the 1980/90s, a shipment of StG44’s made it to New Zealand. The origin I have not determined (some have suggested ex-East German border guard rifles) but they must have come through England at some stage because the barrel of my family’s rifle has the mandatory proof marks applied to all rifles leaving the UK.
Most were converted from selective fire to semi-auto and can still be found at Antique Arms auctions where they usually fetch between $3-4500.
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Our example was assembled by Erma in Erfurt with the serial number indicating a 1944 build date, but the various parts of the rifle were made by subcontractors throughout Germany, and are profusely stamped with maker codes.
Shouldering the rifle it’s immediately apparent that unlike the AK47, the rifle is appropriately sized for normal adults and the controls rival a basic AR15 for ease of use. Your cheek naturally sits into the curve of the walnut buttstock, perfectly aligning your eye with the coarse blade and leaf sights.
“Shouldering the rifle it’s immediately apparent that unlike the AK47, the rifle is appropriately sized for normal adults and the controls rival a basic AR15 for ease of use.”
The safety is swiftly controlled with a single movement of your thumb and allows your hand to stay on the grip. The same can be said of the select fire switch, which is also ambidextrous.
She’s quite a hefty beast at just over 10 pounds, with all that pressed sheet metal, rough cast gas block and long over-barrel gas piston. The bolt is a tilting one with a basic claw on the top with a corresponding claw on the piston that lifts the bolt out of battery as it travels rearwards.
The tolerances are all pretty generous and not unlike the AK. A simple round cocking handle sits on the upper-left, but has no hold back feature. The ejection port is covered with a spring-loaded sheet metal cover, à la M16.
A single pin holds the buttstock to the receiver. Its removal allows the grip/trigger group to rotate down for easy cleaning and removal of the bolt group. For a field strip it’s on par with an AK for speed and simplicity.
With 7.92 Kurz ammo a bit rare nowadays, accuracy testing was limited to some circa 1959 steel case FMJ of Czech manufacture, which functions just fine but is highly corrosive, so out comes the boiling water to run through the bore afterwards. The plus side of using these rounds is that they correspond perfectly with the rear sight adjustment.
Off-hand, five shots easily go into 3-4 inches at 50 metres. With a bench-rest this level of accuracy can also be achieved out at 100 metres. Not AR15 accuracy, but this WWII weapon isn’t manufactured with the same precision.
The coarse sights don’t really give a great sight picture for smaller targets, but are fine for military applications. Recoil is light, and straight back with next to no muzzle rise so rapid fire is easily controlled. The trigger is lighter than a K98 Mauser’s (for example) and is a two-stage unit.
For a final test I paired up a few classic and modern E-Cat rifles to compare with the StG for an afternoon of ringing gongs. These included a ‘43 M1 Garand, a ‘61 SLR, a suppressed AR15 with a 1-4x Vortex, and a neat little VZ58/red-dot reflex combo.
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Testing was held at the Wellington “All Rifle” course. Ranges are set from 50 metres to 300 metres with a variety of terrain to move over.
My brothers Sam and Ben helped out, and both are keen shooters as I am. A great day of flying brass and hot barrels really shakes down how good a particular rifle can be.
Out of interest, we compared the rifles back to back on a shortened course and recorded some times over a six target run with a mag change. The focus was on as much speed as possible and the accuracy suffered a bit, but the results were as expected.
Here are those times:
StG44: 19.8 sec, 4 out of 6 hits
M1 Garand: 22 sec, 4 out of 6 hits
SLR: 21.7 sec 4 out of 6 hits
VZ58: 18.5 sec 3 out of 6 hits
AR15: 18.7 sec 5 out of 6 hits
What is remarkable about the StG44 is that it’s so good for a system that was a relatively brand new concept. Yeah it could be more accurate and feature a bolt hold-back, be a bit lighter and have a more positive magazine catch, but what the Germans developed way back then was a reliable and surprisingly refined package.
You can see the influence it had in the gun design world:
- Eugene Stoner’s M16 recoil spring and dust cover.
- Siminov’s SKS bolt.
- The FN/FAL safety.
- H&K’s G3 & MP5 buttstock attachment/receiver design.
- Kalashnikov’s overall design of the AK47 with its eventual sheet metal construction & bolt carrier.
So if the StG/MP44 had been adopted earlier would we all be wearing lederhosen and eating apple strudel? I would say no, there were many factors that led the Germans to lose the war.
But, if production of the StG44 hadn’t been delayed by Hitler, I believe you may have seen the Allies forced to compete before the war’s end, and I think you would have seen other cartridges/rifles produced that would have had similar design features.
I also believe the .308 would not have been developed in that power/length. Imagine that! A world without the .308!
Old kiwi bush stalkers would be turning in their graves!
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