The Historical Context of the STG44's Emergence
This made it difficult, but not impossible, to use these types of weapons like an assault rifle. Parallel to the development of the LMG, were the 'automatic rifle' that the bridge between the LMG/Battle-Rifle/Bolt-Action, and was first seen in 1887 with the Mexican Mondragon Rifle. Some of these interesting Mexican rifles saw action in World War One. However, the 'assault rifle' pattern that the StG44 followed was original pioneered by the Tsar-era Russian Fedorov Avtomat rifle developed by Captain Vladmir Grigoryevich Fyodorov. Not only was the Fedorov Avtomat rifle fed from a magazine, select fire, and used a intermediate cartridge, all hallmarks of the assault rifle. Only about 3,000 were produced, and saw limited use in the World War One, the Russian Civil War, and in the Winter War with Finland. All of the automatic rifles that came about where rare guns, and not adopted on any wide scale, while submachine guns and light machine guns were becoming standard for any military. This gap in firearms technology was where the StG44 found itself during the closing years of WWII.
The Importance of the StG44
Is the StG44 Related to the AK47?
While there is some cosmetic similarities, and both use an intermediate round, banana-magazine, the AK47 uses an gas-operated rotating bolt while the StG44 uses an gas-operated tilted bolt. However, there seems that the much forgotten Soviet Shpagin AS-44 could have been the other donor in this Maury Povich-style 'who's the daddy' drama of the AK47. More on this gun in a later Forgotten Weapons blogpost...sorry to be a tease.
Why was the StG44 Forgotten?
The History of the StG44-PART ONE: The Predecessors
The first combat use of the just passed MKb42(H) automatic rifle is believed to have occurred around March of 1942 at the Demyansk Pocket and/or Kholm Pocket in the Russian village of Demyansk, that lays south of Leningrad. For two months, a pocket of German soldiers were besieged by Soviet soldiers, and their means of support were airdropped supplies. The story goes that the German breakout was helped by an air-drop of about two dozen MKb42(H) that allowed the Germans to suppress and move out of the hotzone. Confusion remains about if this actually happened the way it has been recounted, if it was at Demyansk or it was Kholm, or even both. Some believe that what was actually dropped by an Ju52 was the uber-rare twin-magazine MP40s called the MP40/II, or that the story is just that, a story. While on limited field trials several changes were made, to incorporate design elements of the rejected Walther design, namely the hammer firing from a closed bolt. About 11,000 of these modified automatic rifles were put back out into the field. Two element removed prior to the run of the MP43 and MP44, the longer gas expansion chamber and the bayonet lug.
During my research for the AK47, I read this story of the StG44 predecessors' winter heroics in several professional researched firearm books, and believe the story is correct.
The History of the StG44-PART TWO: The Gun that Hitler Didn't Want
The History of the StG44 PART THREE: Late to the Party
After years of hiding this weapon, Hitler finally sees the light, and official welcomes the MP44 into the family around October 22, of 1944, and changes its name to 'the storm rifle of 1944' or Sturmgewehr 44. The StG44 would make its official appearance on the European battlefield during dim times for the Reich around December 1944. The Allies had successful invaded Nazi-held France, the Soviets were breaking into Eastern Europe, and allied bombing was hitting the centers of production for the Reich, resulting in 17% loss of production. This was important factor for the StG44 and its distribution on the frontlines. The new gun coupled with the new cartridge, and new pouches, cleaning kits, and magazines all required a switch over from the previous weapon at a time when supply lines were under stress, and raw material were more rare than when the weapon first appeared in 1942.
Most of the nearly 500,000 StG44s were manufactured during its production run under various names, and began an extemely popular rifle with friend and foe alike. Reports say that the StG44 was feared by the enemies of the Reich, and was a prized item among Russian troops. After the war, the StG44 was shipped off to various Allied armory labs to be evaluated and tested. The British discovered that this assault rifle had issues with the 11.5lbs of weight, the bolt was easily blocked with a wrong hand placement that pinched the upper receiver and the stock was show to break, which all could be linked to German war-time shortages.
The History of the STG44-PART FOUR: From the Ashes...
After the end of the 3rd Reich, and the division of East & West Germany, what fate befall the first widely adopted assault rifle? Some examples were shipped off to Allied armory labs for testing, while the East German's National People's Army (Nationale Volsarmee and People's Police (Volkspolizei) used the StG44 for their primary weapon until the AK47 replaced it in the 1960's. The longest government user of the Sturmgewehr 44 was 63rd Parachute Battalion of the Yugoslavian Army until the 1980's.
The Krummlauf Barrel
What Could Have Been: The StG45(M) and Beyond
Could have the StG44 Helped the 3rd Reich Win the War?
The StG44 in Popular Culture
Larry Vickers shoots and discusses about the StG44:
The Military Channel on the Top Ten Combat Rifle:
A Real-Steel StG44 being fired:
MAIL-CALL! on the StG44: