|Full text name||Stg.44 Sturmgewehr / MP-43 / MP-44 Schmeisser|
|Caliber cartridge||7.92x33mm Kurz (7.9 PP Kurz, 8mm PP Kurz)|
|Overall length, mm||940|
|Barrel length, mm||419|
|Weight empty, kg||5,22|
|Magazine capacity, rounds||30|
|Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min||500|
The Stg.44 – ‘Sturmgewehr 44′ – is considered the world’s first fully fledged ‘assault rifle’. Hitler’s Germany was the leading country in the development of the assault rifle. Even the term “Assault Rifle”, is no more than a translation of the German term Sturmgewehr, devised for propaganda reasons by no less than Hitler himself (or at least – so the legend goes).
Germany began to develop intermediate cartridges during the mid-1930’s. There were some developments in 7 mm and 7.75 mm calibre, but Heereswaffenamt (HWaA, or department of armaments), decided to retain the existing rifle calibre of 7.92 mm, to save money on new machinery that would otherwise be required to produce bullets and barrels of a non-standard type. The new 7.92 mm “short cartridge model 1943” (Kurzpatrone 43), developed by the Polte Werke Company in 1938, was officially designated the 7.92mm PP Kurz. It had metric dimensions of 7.92 x 33, considerably shorter and less powerful than the standard 7.92 x 57mm rifle / MG cartridge (8mm Mauser), and propelled an 8.1 g (125 grain) bullet to roughly 680 meters per second.
While the cartridge length of Kurz rounds was less than full rifle size, the discrepancy between the width of the two types of cartridges was negligible. That means that for added confusion, the 8mm Mauser rifle round was actually 7.92 also (7.92x57mm), but the size difference was small enough so that it was commonly referred to as 8mm. The Stg.44 was chambering a round basically similar to the rifle round in all except length, allowing for better logistical cohesion in terms of manufacturing than an entirely different cartridge.
In 1939 HWaA issued a contract for the development of a “Maschinenkarabiner”, or machine carbine (MKb for short), chambered for the new Kurz cartridge. It went to the company C. G. Haenel Waffen und Fahrradfabrik. Initial development took place under the designation of MKb.42 – Maschinenkarabiner, 1942. The new weapon was intended as a replacement for sub-machine guns, bolt action rifles and partly to assume the role of light machineguns for front troops with an intended effective range of 600 meters or so.
The famous designer Hugo Schmeisser led the Haenel development team, which produced the first working prototypes of the new weapon by 1942, known as MKb.42(H). After extensive combat tests of the MKb.42(H), HWaA asked Haenel for several significant improvements over their initial design. Most notable was the request to replace the sub-machine gun like open-bolt firing system with a more convenient closed-bolt system, to improve single shot accuracy. Schmeisser redesigned the weapon accordingly, and by 1943 submitted the improved version to the HWaA. However, by this time Hitler had ordered that only existing types of weapons should be developed and manufactured, and the Maschinenkarabiner was not on this list. To avoid this nuisance, the Germans decided simply to rename the MKb to the MP, or Machinen-pistole (sub-machine gun), which was on the “approved” list. So the new and improved weapon received the designation MP-43, and went into limited production and field trials at the front. During the following year, the MP-43 experienced several minor modifications, leading to MP-43/1 and MP-43/2 designations, however these only differed in small details, such as front sight bases and grenade launcher interfaces.
In April 1944 the designation of all MP-43’s was changed to MP-44, with no actual changes made to the design. At this time there were plenty of glowing reports from the German troops fighting with MP-43 and MP-44’s at the Eastern front. Seeing these reports, Hitler finally approved the mass production and issue of the new “Wunderwaffe”, and in December 1944 officially christened it the Sturmgewehr, (or Assault Rifle), 1944 (StG-44) This was a pure act of propaganda, but the name stuck not only to that gun, but also to the whole new class of automatic weapons designed to fire intermediate cartridges.
In total, 450,000 MP-43, MP-44 and StG-44’s were produced and these guns proved very effective, although not without some flaws. Relatively few reached the front line during World War 2. Although they were outstanding weapons, they only made up about 15% of total small arms production at the time. With their appetite for ammunition far outstripping that of infantry armed with rifles, the Third Reich simply could not produce it fast enough anymore to cater for a greater distribution of the weapons.
There were other issues, for instance some criticism from US sources commenting on the tests of captured weapons claimed that the Stg-44 was unwieldy and could be too easily damaged. After the end of the war the direct development of the Stg-44 was stopped, but the East German Police took some of the remaining guns. Another major post-war user of the gun was Yugoslavia; their paratroopers used it under the designation “Automat, Padobranski, 7.9 mm M44, Nemacki” until the early 1980’s. The Kalashnikov-type M64 and M70 rifles finally replaced it. Yugoslavia also produced 7.92 x 33 Kurz ammunition until the late 1970’s.
The Sturmgewehr StG-44 (like its earlier versions MP.43 and MP.44) is a gas operated, select-fire weapon. The receiver and trigger housing with pistol grip are made from steel stampings, with machined steel inserts. The trigger housing with pistol grip is hinged to the receiver and folds down for disassembly. The gas drive utilizes a long-stroke piston, and the bolt is tipped down to lock into the receiver. The gun is fired from a closed bolt. The MP-43 and subsequent versions were all hammer-fired, while the MKb.42(H) was striker-fired. The safety lever is located at the left side of the pistol grip unit and a separate cross-bolt type of fire mode selector allows for single-shot and full auto fire. The charging handle is attached to the gas piston rod, and the ejection port has a dust cover. The recoil spring is located inside the wooden butt. At the top of the butt there is a container for a cleaning kit, closed by a spring-loaded steel cover. The Stg-44 was provided with open, leaf-type sights, and could be fitted with telescopic sights or a specially developed active infrared sighting unit, code-named “Vampyr” (Vampire).
The muzzle of the Stg-44 was threaded to accept a cup-like grenade launcher; a special muzzle nut usually covered the threads. The Stg-44 could also be fitted with a special curved barrel attachment known as a (“Krummlauf”), which allowed the gun to be fired “around the corner” or from inside a tank,without exposing the shooter to enemy fire. Several types of these attachments were developed, but only one type, the 30-degree “Krummlauf Vorsatz J”, was manufactured in any significant numbers. This device had a special mirror (or periscope) sighting adapter and reduced the bullet velocity down to a mere 300 meters per second due to the high friction in the curved barrel extension. This also accounted for the short life-span of the device – only 300 shots. This apparently did not bother the German Army, since these curved barrel adapters were intended for short-range encounters only.
Stg.44 Vs. AK 47:
A special note must be made about relations between the Sturmgewehr Stg.44 and Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, and their respective designers, Hugo Schmeisser and Mikhail Kalashnikov. many Western sources claim that Schmeisser, while held captive in Russia after WW2, had participated in development of the A.K. Less informed sources claim that the AK-47 is an off-shoot of the Stg-44.
Both claims are not true. The latter is easiest to debunk, because of the innumerous technical differences between the two weapons. Almost every major part and sub-assembly is entirely different between the two designs. The former claim appears credible at first glance, because Schmeisser, along with several other German small arms designers, indeed were held in Izhevsk between 1947 and 1951. There they worked on a number of ‘paper only’ projects, mostly continuing their war-time developments.
However, most design work on AK-46 and AK-47 was carried out by Kalashnikov some thousands of kilometers from Izhevsk, in the small city of Kovrov. Kalashnikov brought his more or less finalized AK-47 design to Izhevsk for mass production in early 1948. Furthermore, at the time everything related to development of the AK-47 was classified as ‘Secret’, and German engineers were expressly prohibited from work with any classified materials.
To sum up, while Sturmgewehr indeed did serve as an inspiration for development of the AK-47 (and many of its early competitiors), the latter was a separate, independent and indigenous design. The Sturmgewehr 44 will go down in History as the first ‘true’ assault rifle. Both as the start of a revolutionary change in firearms design going forward and as an outstanding weapon of the period in its own right.