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Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle


By Sakhal

Historical background

Already during the First World War, Germany, through the Gewehre Prufungs Kommission (Rifle Evaluation Committee), a tactical-technical organization of the Army whose purpose was to evaluate the behavior and prestations of the portable and light weapons used by the infantry, concluded that the new combat modalities had surpassed the qualities of manual repeating rifles. It was required an automatic weapon, light and portable in the style of carbines, of great firepower and ballistically effective at distances of up to 400 meters. It should be easy to handle and perfectly controllable during automatic fire, even with only one hand or with the shooter in state of physical limitation.

The special munition

The absence of that new weapon was registered in an important essay from 1916, titled "Advantages of the Adoption of an Intermediate Cartridge", in which the mentioned organization summarized the combat experiences gathered in every battlefront. In that document it was stablished such distance of 400 meters as the actual maximum range required by infantry combat. Hence, to materialize this new purpose, the high-power cartridges in use then should be replaced by a new munition, starting from the reduction in size, in propellent and thus in weight of the on the other hand excellent cartridge Mauser 7.92 x 57 millimeters, used then by all the portable long weapons in the German Armed Forces. From 1933, with the restructuring of the German military power and the requeriments of new equipment undertook by the Third Reich, all the investigation works, either of tactical or strategical character, took a great impulse. These measures allowed to impulse the development of the new intermediate cartridge advocated in the former Great War. Precisely, regarding the aforementioned antecedents, the Heeres Waffenamt Prufwessen (Army Weapon Test Office) number 2 (Special Subcommittee for Submachine Pistols and Automatic Carbines) defined in 1934 the operative parameters to be fulfilled by an automatic carbine which, without adhesion to a particular caliber or operating system, should be a multi-purpose weapon. Such requirements were:

1) mechanical simplicity; 2) tightness against mud and sand; 3) reliability in adverse weather (rain, intense coldness or dust); 4) weight no superior to the one of the reglamentary rifle (then the Mauser M 1898); 5) length lesser than the one of the reglamentary rifle; 6) ballistic trajectory similar to the one of the reglamentary rifle to a distance of up to 600 meters; 7) precision of semiautomatic fire similar to the one of the reglamentary rifle to a distance of up to 400 meters; 8) firing in burst mode, the bursts should be ballistically effective to a distance of up to 800 meters; 9) it should have a rate of fire between 400 and 500 rounds per minute; and 10) firing in burst mode, it was required that the bursts were perfectly controllable during the realization of assault fire. The mentioned requirements involved the projective developments of both elements: cartridge and weapon. To make effective the first one, through the Waffen Amt (Weapons Office), in 1938 were awarded to several factories - among them DWM, RSW, GECO and Polte - the respective contracts for investigation and development. Polte was who achieved the definitive configuration of the intermediate cartridge: caliber of 7.92 millimeters, weight of 7.97 grams, steel bottleneck case with a length of 33 millimeters (32.8 to be exact) and fulminant type Berdan, with a powder charge of 1.49 grams denominated "progressive", which impulsed the projectile with a muzzle speed of about 700 meters/second. This munition fulfilled its last ballistic tests in the beginning of 1941, well advanced already the Second World War. Possessing this excellent cartridge, the Waffen Amt, via a technical mailshot, normalized the breeches for all the future weapons developed for that cartridge, denominated Kurz (Short), to differentiate it from the reglamentary in use. Its official designation was originally 7.9 Kurz Infanterie Patrone, but in 1943 it was reclassified as Pistole Patrone 43 (PP 43).

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle


Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

These were the three main personal weapons in dotation for the German Army during the Second World War: the carbine Kar 98 in caliber 7.92 x 57, the submachine gun MP 40 in caliber 9 x 19 and the automatic carbine (assault rifle) StG 44 in caliber 7.92 x 33. Of the Kar 98 more than 14 millions of exemplars were produced and of the MP 40 around one million, but of the StG 44 only 425977 exemplars were finished.

Some details

To conclude this description of the munition it would be appropriate to state briefly its main characteristics and remarkable particularities, both in design and production. These are: 1) Regarding its morphology - since the design of this cartridge was based in a proportional shortening of both the case and the projectile - it was possibilited its manufacture without costly adequations of tools and in massive quantities, using non-critical raw materials, and with use of the normal production lines of the factories that supplied the standard long cartridge. 2) Its projectile of conventional armor, had the option of being replaced by an "integral" one of synthesized iron, process that allows for a very fast manufacture with a finish of great precision. 3) Utilization of an excellent sealing lacquer, anticorrosive and perfectly gasifiable in the moment of firing, behaving like a gaseous or lubricant sheath. This particularity prevents the case from adhering to the surface of the breech, facilitating a soft action to the extractor and hence improving reliability. 4) Geometrically it is notable a good profiling and general proportionality of the case in its constitutive parts; overall harmony that allows for a good positioning and behavior, both in the magazine or the breech, ensuring so an excellent feeding and adequate bolt clearance. 5) Well done design of the head of the case, resulting in an appropriate reinforcement of it (robustness) and at the same time an easy and firm accommodation in the bolt tray, which also defines a good percussion clearance, another detail that adds up to reliability. 6) Of lesser unitary weight than the standard long cartridge, in a proportion of 150 cartridges Kurz versus 100 cartridges Mauser; ratio that grants great advantage in the portability regarding the individual dotation of the infantryman.

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

Visual comparison of the curved magazine for 30 cartridges of caliber 7.92 x 33 millimeters of the StG 44 and the rectilinear magazine for 20 cartridges of caliber 7.92 x 57 millimeters of the semiautomatic rifle FG 41/42.

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

Visual comparison of different rifle cartridges; from left to right: 7.62 x 51 "M 59", standard of the NATO; 7.62 x 39 "M 43", standard of the Warsaw Pact; 7.92 x 33 "PP 43", the Kurz cartridge used by the StG 44; 5.54 x 39, used by the Soviet rifle AKS 74; 5.56 x 45 "SS 109", low-caliber standard of the NATO.

The weapon and its development

Almost simultaneously with the development orders for the new munition, also in 1938, the Waffen Amt contracted with the company CG Haenel the project of a weapon within the aforementioned parameters. It should be an automatic carbine (Maschinen Karabiner), project in which it was specified as well the utilization of pressed steel sheet and, in turn, to reduce as much as possible the machining processes, diminishing production times as well as avoiding the usage of strategically critical materials. The requirements were based in the experience had with the production of the submachine gun MP 40 which, initially conceived by the company ERMA, was later simplified and optimized for its industrialization by projectist Hugo Schmeisser, engineer chief in the company Haenel, one of the suppliers of the MP 40 which was being manufactured in large series. Then, around those requirements and experiences the first designs of the new automatic carbine came to light. With the entry into service of the new cartridge the development was impulsed and centered in the projective frame defined by Schmeisser, who, among other details, managed to develop a solid and very reliable magazine with capacity for 30 cartridges Kurz - excellent component that would be used subsequently for every project that used said short munition -. This first project ended successfully in the late 1941, so in the beginning of 1942 the Waffen Amt ordered to Haenel a lot of 50 prototypes. These weapons entered experimentation in the mid July of the same year; it had been officialy born the Maschinen Karabiner 42 (MK 42).

Approved this first lot, Haenel received an order in November 1942 to prepare a production of 10000 monthly units from March 1943. Meanwhile, the Waffen Amt also invited to join the development of the automatic carbine the company Carl Walther, which had just prepared the production of the semiautomatic rifle Gw 41, which used the standard long cartridge, and which in that time was already in service with some units of the Army. Accepted in January 1941 the order to develop 200 prototypes, Brauning, chief enginner in the company Walther, took active part in the matter and he quickly managed, from July 1942 and by adapting the design of the Gw 41, to obtain two prototypes of the Maschinen Karabiner, which immediately were put into test. The configuration of the weapon Walther, in general terms, was very similar to the one from Haenel; including by using the same magazine. The behavior of both models satisfied the Waffen Amt, which meant for Walther a contract which, from October 1942, should produce 500 monthly units, reaching 15000 monthly units in 1943. Having such morphologic resemblance both weapons, and for a precise identification of their respective evaluative tracing, these models, already in production phase, were reclassified as MKb (H) for the ones made by Haenel and MKb (W) for the ones made by Walther. Ended the evaluation period with the unanimous approval of the corresponding military ranks, the new weapon was reported to Hitler. This one, however, knowing that the new weapon was intended to replace the veteran Mauser that he had used during the First World War, and that the new weapon did not use the standard cartridge - which could difficult the logistic of war -, was firmly opposed to its production. Due to this, in February 1943, the Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, signed an official order to abandon the project definitely. But despite of what implied to disobey a decision from the Fuhrer, the technical teams of the different companies and Doctor Schnitger of the Wa Pruf 2 (abbreviation of Heeres Waffenamt Prufwessen 2) continued their tasks of perfectioning the weapon, specially studying reductions of manufacturing times.

By then, due to a series of small improvements and productive simplification introduced by Schmeisser, Walther had withdrawn from the project, remaining active only the weapon projected by Haenel, who had just finished a last delivery when the official opposition came. However, the warlike events in the Eastern Front would favor this weapon, specially because of a particular incident, intelligently exploited by the "disobedients". The Combat Group Scharrer, isolated and surrounded by several Soviet divisions, was supplied with a lot of these new carbines by means of aircraft. Their subsequent success, which surprised bitterly the Red Army, was clamorous, allowing the liberation of that small German force. The incident, commented in the High Staffs, both German and Soviet, made Hitler to order an immediate investigation of what had happened. During that event, and to ease the storm, the weapon was reclassified as Maschinen Pistole 43 (MP 43) and its munition as Pistole Patrone (PP 43), to "disguise" in the eyes of Hitler the new weapon as of being of lower category, like a simple submachine gun. However, despite such disobedience, the undoubtful tactical advantages that the weapon had in its combat debut forced the Fuhrer to surrender to the evidence, demanding then its immediate and massive production. Also, from that moment and with his consent, the new weapon was officially designated Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44). This one was its last baptism, and under this name - Assault Rifle - are framed since then all the weapons that fullfill identical roles and that are determinant of this new family of weapons. To conclude this chapter it would be pertinent to note that the companies cooperating in this industrial effort with effective and patriotic harmony - given the urgency that involved a program with the overly optimistic pretension of launching 80000 new weapons per month - were: ERMA, Mauser, Rheinmetall Borsig, Walther, Steyr, Grossfuss, GECO, Krupp and the decisive intervention from Merz, specialized in pressing and forge. In this race against the time and with a notable coordination of the complementary providers - Anschutz, Sauer, Progress, L. Zeug and others - were simplified components and applied new production methods, while restudying standard raw materials. Lamentably, when this program was in progress, Germany, affected by the massive air bombings, had started to face the disarticulation of its warlike industry, and the productive responses suffered from serious delays, creating severe alterations in logistic compromises. Of the two weapons developed by Haenel and Walther, it is estimated that both companies together reached a total production of 12000 units.

The assault rifle StG 44

The general line of its structure reminds, in its basic design, to the carbine MKb 42 (H) of which it derives, with some slight variations, among them the shortening of the gases cylinder and, simultaneously, it was suppressed the clearance existing between this component and the barrel, putting them in a common structural housing and in diametral contact. With this reform that characterized the Maschine Pistole 43, was defined its last profile, which would continue identifying the Sturmgewehr Modell 44 until the end of the war. In this occassion, were also introduced minor details in some pieces, imposed by the experiences in the battlefield and the requirement of an easier production. It was removed as well the coupling for the bayonet. The aspect of the rifle is compact, characterizing a rectilinear configuration, including a short and very rect buttstock made of plywood. This modern morphology forced to raise the aiming device with a double purpose: to allow the shooter to rest his face in the buttstock, without any anatomical effort when aiming with his "master" eye, and to avoid, by means of height, the reverberation or "mirage" area produced by the heat generated in the barrel during a prolonged use. The front sight, of Mauser type, open, tangential, calibrated in hectometers from 0 to 800 meters, with the triangular spot protected by a tunnel, is settled above raised plinths.

The ubication of the gases cylinder above the barrel, allows to descend towards the normal recoil line the plane determined by the bore axis, contributing so to general stability. This disposition favours as well the correct rest of the buttstock in the shoulder. This compactness meant a final weight being a 25 percent superior that in the conventional Mauser rifle. That weight, with such design, and the lesser power of the Kurz cartridge, favored a notable dynamic stability, making the weapon very controllable during automatic fire, with a low recoil value (0.382 kilogrameters versus 1.230 kilogrameters of a FAL rifle, for example). The operation of the breechblock slide is effectuated by the indirect action of the gases - taking these in the mid section of the barrel -. Regarding the breech closure system, this one is effectuated by oscillation of the breechblock, by action of an annexed piece, granting so a good block inertia. This breech closure mechanism is based in the same principle used in the rifle FAL manufactured by Belgian company FN. The mechanisms for breech closure and firing show an elaborated project, being very reliable and notable their negligible chances of functional failures, due to the quality of the kinematic parts and polished finish. Technically, the utilization of cold-pressed steel plate for the construction of the structure, with its ribbings to improve resistance and the different foldings demanded by this industrial process, were skillfully combined, being obtained a great overall robustness and a harmonious and functional design. This also allowed for easiness in the process of disassembling the weapon for its maintenance in the field, with a total of seven main components in its disassembly.

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

1: Handle of the breechblock slide. 2: Safety lever. 3: Push-button selector for semiautomatic and automatic fire. 4: Push-button for releasing the magazine. 5: Pin for partial disassembling, with detachment of the buttstock, breechblock slide and handling ensemble, containing this last one the firing mechanism. 6: Hinge pin that links the mechanisms box with the handling ensemble.

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

The basic disassembling of the Sturmgewehr 44 is simple and easy.

The accessories

- Curved barrel "Krummlauf" with a system to attach it to the standard barrel. This curious complement was intended for shooting from fully covered positions against targets positioned at 30, 45, 60 or even 90 degrees from the shooter by means of an aiming device Vorsatz. The curved barrel was inserted in a sleeve that allowed to escape the gases that impulsed the projectile, with the consequent reduction in muzzle speed. For example, from the 640 meters/second achieved by the rect cannon, at the exit of the curved cannon the speed was reduced to only 270-300 meters/second. Obviously, with any of these deflections - and specially with the most curved ones -, the distances of usage of the weapon would be reduced due to the strong loss of ballistic qualities.

- Infrared device for nocturnal aiming ZG 1229 "Vampir", with an infrared projector and an infrared-sensitive receiver provided by Leitz.

- A telescopic sight Gw ZF 4 with a diameter of 25 millimeters and 4x magnification.

- A grenade launcher MP GrGt 43 which, screwed to the muzzle, allowed to fire the grenade in use for the standard rifle Mauser.

- A silencer that operated by the principle of absorption, with good attenuation conditions and whose designation was SdStG 44 TI.

- A case with cleaning tools, allocated in the upper rear part of the buttstock, very close to the butt catch.

Because of everything that has been mentioned in this article, this rifle fulfilled effectively, 70 years ago, with all the modern requirements that are known as Combat Quality and which demand: 1) ballistic performance according to the tactical purpose; 2) reliable mechanical behaviour; 3) general and operative functionality; and 4) good logistic aptitude. All of these characteristics grant it a perfect referential validity as a product of revolutionary engineering. The futuristic conception that engendered the StG 44 make it worthy, in justice, to wear the privilege of being the "father of all the assault rifles".

Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle

Demonstrative illustration of a StG 44 fitted with Krummlauf and Vampir.

Technical file

Official designation: Sturmgewehr Modell 44 (StG 44), Maschinen Pistole Modell 43 (MP 43) or Maschinen Pistole Modell 44 (MP 44).

Caliber: 7.92 x 33 millimeters Pistole Patrone 43 (PP 43), Pistole Patrone 44 (PP 44) or 7.9 Kurz Patrone.

Operation principle: Indirect actuation of the gases, took from a point along the barrel.

Breech closure system: Oscillation of the breechblock by action of annexed piece.

Percussion system: Independent, by hammer.

Total weight, without magazine or sling: 5100 grams.

Total weight, with filled magazine and without sling: 6100 grams.

Total weight of filled magazine: 1000 grams.

Total length (depending on series): 820-940 millimeters.

Length of the barrel: 420 millimeters.

Rifled of the bore: Four dextro-rotatory grooves with constant step of 250 millimeters.

Length of the sight line: 440 millimeters.

Feeding: Curved detachable magazines, with capacity for 30 cartridges stored in staggered column.

Rate of fire: 500-600 rounds per minute.

Muzzle speed: 647 meters/second.

Muzzle energy: 167.4 kilogrameters.

Recoil energy: 0.382 kilogrameters.

Recoil handle: Placed in the left side of the mechanisms box.

Ejection port: Placed in the right side of the mechanisms box. Automatic opening when operating the breechblock slide.

Sling: Hooked to fixed hooks in the right side of the weapon, in the buttstock and fore handguard.

Surface finish: Parkerization.

Firing mode: Semiautomatic and automatic, by selector.



Categories: Small Arms - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-30


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