This the first blogpost in a new series about the forgotten real-steel weapons throughout history, and first on the list is the first mass-produced assault rifle: the Sturmgewehr 44. I first laid eyes on the StG44 at the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City when I was about ten or eleven in 1986 or 1987. When I asked my Father about why this rifle looked like the AK47, he informed me that this Nazi gun had led to the AK. At this time, there was no Call of Duty nor Brothers in Arms and the storm-rifle was nearly never seen in WWII movies. Before we get into the meat of this historical weaponry blogpost, I just want to say that I think Hitler was a mass-murdering fuckhead who I hope is rotting in the coldest pit in hell. While I respect the 3rd Reich's invention when it comes to modern warfare and some technologically achievements, namely rocketry, the ideals of the Nazi Party show the worst elements of the human heart and how a society of good people can become twisted. The wholesale slaughter of people due to some religious or biological difference is not what a proper or descent society does, and Germany paid the price for that bloody ideology. Now that is done, let us move on with the gun. In this blogpost, while this assault rifle goes by many names, FWS will primarily refer to this weapon has generally the STG44, save for when referring to the range of similar weapons.
The Historical Context of the STG44's Emergence
The world that StG44 was born into was an age of great change in warfare. Not only were tanks, planes, machine guns common on the new battlefield, but the standard bolt-action rifles were just starting to give way to semi-automatic battle-rifles, like the Soviet SVT-38/40, German Gewehr 41, and the American M1 Garand. The closest thing to a portable fully-automatic rifle in service were the light machine guns, like the Bren, BAR, and Canadian Huot Automatic Rifle, which chambered larger full-sized rifle cartridges, and had heavy-duty frames to match the cartridge. 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
In 2009, in my last year at university, I was taking an 20th century history class that required a major research paper on something that changed the 20th century. While some took up the Vietnam War, or the nuclear bomb, or even Dr. King, I decided to research the the AK-47, and via that massive project, I learned at great about the Sturmgewehr 44 and it's role in firearm's history. When it comes to the importance of the StG44 assault rifle, it stands as the progenitor of the primary tool of infantry warfare in the post-war years,proving the concept, intermediate cartridge, and the effectiveness of this new type of weapon. Adding to the legacy of the StG44, a portion of it's DNA can be seen in the most prolific assault rifle in history: the AK47. Without the development of the Sturmgewehr 44 and large-scale adoption by a major military, it is likely that assault rifles (and even the term) would have been delayed for years. Is the StG44 Related to the AK47?
My Father told me during my initial exposure to the StG44 that the AK and this German gun were direct related, and it was cosmetically easy to see. However, if you ask the inventor of the AK47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, he will hotly denial any connection to the Sturmgewehr. He states that he never had seen an StG 44 until well after the AK was in production, and that Fedorov Avtomat rifle and the American M1 Garand were the real fathers of the AK, because Kalashnikov read the designer of the Fedorov Avtomat book while he was recovering from his war wounds in Soviet hospital. This makes sense, even if the StG44 was used for the development of the AK, because of what Kalashnikov had seen on the battlefield. Naturally, given his hatred for the Nazi Germany, he wouldn't credit them for anything to do with the pride of his labor and his Motherland. We know that Soviet troops carried the MKb-43 when they killed the owners on the Russian front, and some of the American M1 Carbine were shipped over for evaluation by the Soviets, which all could have led to the AK gumbo. We also know that German small arms technicians and their labs were captured by the Soviet during the closing days of the war. 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 question begs itself, 'if the StG44 was so revolutionary, than why is rarely seen or mentioned?' I think one of the main reasons is that it was developed by the Nazis...and they aren't the most popular people in human history. Due to the horrific actions of the Nazis and how they are universal hated, all that they developed, good or bad, normally has a stain on it. Really, only the VW Beetle escaped that fate..maybe because it's cute? We also have to remember that the StG44 was developed and deployed originally in secret from the Fuhrer and by the time the power of this new type of infantry weapon was understood by Hitler, the war was pretty much over, and only some of the units did receive the new rifle.
Given the year that the StG44 was finally being put into full production, Germany was being hit hard by Allied bombers and the Normandy Invasion. The under attack factories and supply lines were struggling to turn out supplies for the guns that were already in use, let alone the new StG44 with its new cut-down 7.92x33mm cartridge. While weapon was used by Allied forces (we have pictorial evidence), and StG44s were shipped back to armory labs in Allied nations, only a few groups used them post-war, and the cartridge fell out of use. Within a decade, weapons similar to the StG44, like the H&K G3 and AKM began to replace the older Nazi weapons, and the Sturmgehwer moved to obscurity.
The History of the StG44-PART ONE: The Predecessors
With war raging over much of Europe, the science of combat was again evolving, and in 1939, both the Russian and the German military leadership realized that their old bolt-action rifles and sub-machine guns were as not effective on the modern battlefield of the Second World War as they were in the Great War. Research had shown that most engagements were at an average of 300 meters, and even less in urban situations. Within the military high command of the 3rd Reich, the HWaA, there was attempt to forward infantry combat to the next level via a new weapon systems which was fueled from the Soviets attempting to field their own semi-automatic battle-rifle, the SVT-40. Not to be out done by the Russians, the HWaA issued contracts to several arms companies to develop a 'maschinekarabiner' or machine-carbine (or MKb in German military terms). The Haenel prototype MKb by designed by Hugo Schmeisser, and found be superior to the Walther fielded design
One of the key elements that separated the MKb concept from the battle/bolt action rifles of the era was the military-created intermediate cartridge, the 7.92x33mm round. The bulk of the 3rd Reich used the 7.92x57 Mauser cartridge, which would destroyed the MKb platform under full automatic fire. This was not a unique invention of the German arms markers, the use of an cutdown bullet came, most likely, from the Russian Fedorov Avtomat that used the Japanese 6.5mm Ariska cartridge. 1942, two arms companies, Haenel and Walther had developed very similar prototype fully automatic rifle systems. These became known has the 'MKb42(H)' and the 'MKb42(W)' and were put into testing. 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.
Another mystery is if the MKb42(H) served in the bloody Battle of Stalingrad? We know that the main testing area for the MKb42(H) was on the Eastern Front, and there were little zones hotter than the battle for that Soviet city in 1942. There are conflicting reports, rumors, and purported pictorial evidence of its service in urban hellish warzone. It was also during its deployment to East Front that the Soviet soldiers were about to capture some of these new weapons, and use them against their former owners.
The History of the StG44-PART TWO: The Gun that Hitler Didn't Want
Given the known combat ability of the MKb42(H) and its proven effectiveness, the weapon was being examined for full-scale production to replace the old K98k bolt-action rifle as the standard German infantry weapon sometime around 1943. Before the newly minted automatic rifle could be put into full-scale military service, it would need Hitler's stamp of approval. Due to his service in the First World War, Hitler believed (in his fucked up brain) that he knew the best weapons for soldiers in the Second World War, and that didn't include the new type of weapon. He only wanted the battle-rifle, which included the Gewehr 43and K98k, machine guns, and submachine guns, and not to devote resources to the production of another weapon that used a new type of cartridge that would be exclusive to the new automatic rifle.
This should have been the end of the story with the MKb42(H), however, there set about a conspiracy to hid the existence of field-deployed MKb42(H) from Hitler. Due to Hitler's endorsement of sub machine guns, called machine-pistols (MP) in the 3rd Reich military, the conspiracy hid the Mkb42(H) improved design automatic rifle under the names of 'Machine Pistol 1943'. One of these 3rd Reich military officers hiding the assault rifle was none other the Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. These new machine pistols were issued to the Eastern Front, where the need was the greatest, and mostly to the Waffen SS troops. Reportedly, only a few Wehrmacht units received the MP43, namely, the paratroopers, the Fallschrimjagers and the 93rd Infantry Division. The MP43 was in production from December of 1942 through April of 1943, with around 50,000 rifle turned out. There two different MP43s, one being the MP43/I that was fitted with a grenade launcher muzzle nut attachment, a bulkier wooden stock, some even had an attachment for a scope, and the MP43/I only accounts for about 5% of the Sturmgewehrs produced by the 3rd Reich. Changes were made during the run of the MP43s, namely a thinner wooden stock, and delectation of the grenade launcher muzzle nut, creating the MP43, sometimes referenced to as the 'MP43/II'.
These changes were rolled into the next model of the hidden automatic rifle, the MP44. One of the big issues for this hidden weapon was that the demand greatly outstripped the limited supply that could be manufactured without Hitler or anyone else raising too many questions. These weapons were greatly prized by both the Germans and Russians, due to their reliability on the harsh unforgiving conditions of the Eastern Front, but, ammunition was limited. I've read rumors that Soviet troopers attempted to retrofit their captured MP43/MP44s to fire Soviet cartridges. Much like the automatic rifles before it, the MP44 enjoyed a good reputation and service performance, but it still was laying the shadows has the 3rd Reich collapsed.
So, how did the MP44 become the officially recognized and approved 'Storm Rifle 1944'? There are several stories that exist about how Hitler found out about the MP44. The most popular and repeated story is that during a 1944 meeting of the commanders of the Eastern Front, Hitler asked them what they needed. One general spoke up that they need more of those new rifles. Hitler was surprised and asked which new rifles he was speaking of. Somehow, Hitler was shown the MP44, and the conspiracy was discovered. There must have been worry that those involved in hiding the weapon from the Fuhrer were going to be shot at dawn, however that chanced when he actually got his hands on the automatic rifle. Some reports say that he fired the MP44, others that he was merely impressed with the design and utility, and approved of the rifle.
This meeting was believed to have taken place in July of 1944, but even that is under despite. Another story is that members of the MP43/44 conspiracy deployed their shadow weapon, in a sly move, to the personal guard of Hitler's headquarters and just by him interacting with the guards, he discovered the automatic rifle and its usefulness and finally approved it. Another story is that this new type of gun was never in the shadows and there never was a conspiracy to hid the existence of the MP43/44s from the Fuhrer. It is true that Hitler didn't approve of the widespread adoption of the new weapon, and cancelled it after the MKb42(H). It would take the head of the weapons and ammunition for the German Army to make a personal plea to the Fuhrer. After this, Hitler approved of 30,000 MP43s being turned out per month. All the story converge on one fact, that Hitler himself renamed the MP44 the 'Storm Rifle' for propaganda purposes, and allowed full scale production and distribution around early winter of 1944....but it was too late by then.
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.
These were then sold off to friendly foreign powers or given away. Some where sold on the black market for hard currency, which allowed the StG44 to find its way into region low-intensity conflicts of Africa, the Middle East, the PLO/Israel struggle, and even the Viet-Cong! During the 2004 violence in Iraq associated with the Mahdi Army, photo graphics clearly showed some of Muqtada al-Sadr followers carrying StG44s. In August 2012, the Free Syrian Army had located 5,000 StG44 rifles along with ammunition in the town of Aleppo. The FSA began to field these over sixty year old assault rifles into battle. There is no information on why these WWII-era weapons were just sitting in storage.
In December of 2012, an actually World War II StG44 turned up in a Hartford, Connecticut gun buy-back program, and thankfully, this rare (worth around $30K!) military rifle was saved from being turned into a hunk of molten metal. Some rusted hulks of Mkb42(H)s, MP43/44s, and the StG44s have turned in archaeology digs recently in the regions where the Battle of the Bulge occurred.
The Krummlauf Barrel
The most unique attachments for the StG44 was the 'krummlauf' barrel that curved the 7.92x33mm bullet at an 30,45, 60, and 90 degree angles to fire around corners or cover. It was available in two models: the 'I' and 'P'. The 'I' krummlauf barrel was developed for infantry use in urban situations, were covering fire could be established without exposing yourself to the enemies. While this sounds good, there were issues. Weight was one, another was that the barrel only lasted a few hundred rounds, and if used under fully automatic fire, the thermal buildup could shatter the barrel, creating an 'shotgun' effect and lessening the power of the round. Even holes drilled into the barrel to allow some relief, but the lifespan was the same. I do not believe that the krummlauf was widely used given the weakness and added weight.
The 'P' model of the bent barrel was used in tanks, namely the Elefant heavy tank destroy that was fielded without an machine gun(!), and the krummlauf barrel would allow the tank crews to engage incoming Soviet infantry that had a nasty habit of using gasoline to lit the tank on fire because of the lack of anti-infantry armaments. Fitted along side the Model P krummlauf was a mirror-aiming device to allow the shooter some idea what or who they were firing at. Much like the 'I' model, there is little information on the operational life of the barrel, and it suffered from the same breaking issues.
What Could Have Been: The StG45(M) and Beyond
Despite the successful battlefield record of the StG44 during the closing year of the war, the German military was going to replace the more expensive assault rifle with the cheaper, light, and more compact, Sturmgewehr 1945 Mauser or StG45(M), which chamber the same cartridge, but was built by Mauser instead of Haenel. This was common during the final days of the Nazi regime, there were a number of weapons specially construct for the situations occurring in the Fatherland. Lack of raw materials, having to mobilize the national militia, the 'Volkssturm', and even using parts from Allied weapons.
This means that future of the StG44 was doomed. But what if things had been different? What if the 3rd Reich could have held off the Allied advanced in the Fatherland? What would have the future been for the Sturmgewehr 44? Some sources believe that the 3rd Reich would have developed the StG44 into a family style of weapons, much like the AK47/74. The StG44 would have become the standard assault rifle, and there would have been commando carbine, a carbine, a LMG, DMR, and so on. We know that the 3rd Reich was also experimenting with an IR aiming system, called 'Vampir' or Vampire, with the StG44 has the test-bed rifle.
Could have the StG44 Helped the 3rd Reich Win the War?
'What if' is one of the favor games of historians everywhere along with sci-fi writers.The possible victory of Nazi Germany over the Allies is a favorite topic among these circles. Some believe that if the StG44 and other advanced 3rd Reich "Wunderwaffe" programs were deployed early enough, than we'd be speaking German by now. While an effective assault rifle is a critical element in modern warfare, is not the sole determining factor of an armed conflict, especially in the 21st century. It is likely that 3rd Reich was doomed anyway when they invade Russia, lost the struggle in the deserts of Africa, and when the United States decided to enter the war. The Allies just out supplied the 3rd Reich with men, equipment, and raw material. Some believe that the StG44 could have delayed the final outcome, but that is all, just delay. Some believe that the M1 Garand being the first semi-automatic rifle adopted by a military allowed for advantage for US troops on the battlefield, especially Patton, and the StG44 could have allowed the Germans to a serious advantage in urban warfare, and force multiplier to the infantry units.
The StG44 in Popular Culture
One of the reason for the StG44 being a forgotten weapon rests largely in how few appearances it makes in popular culture. If it wasn't for video games like Call of Duty, Day of Defeat, and Brothers in Arms, then it is likely that Sturmgewehr 44 would have been confined to a few movies, WWII reenactors, gun-nuts, and mentions in books. One of the more interesting appearances of the StG44 was in the 1998 Anime OVA Jin-Rohn: The Wolf Brigade. While most people associate that OVA's armored Kerberos soldiers with a portable MG42, they do use the StG44 for missions, and the MKb42(H) in force-on-force training with rubber bullets. This is the only appearance of the MKb42(H) in any film/TV show/game. The earliest appearance of the StG44 in video games was in the 1999 game Hidden & Dangerous, however, it was featured in the sequel to the very popular EA original Medal of Honor, Underground in 2000. But, it is more likely that the Sturmgewehr 44 gain the most wide-ranging attention when started appearing it the Call of Duty series starting in 2003 with the original PC game.
The earliest film appearance of the StG44 was in the 1948 Czech black & white war drama White Darkness, and oddly, this assault rifle is only featured in ONE of the major American WWII films, 1965's Battle of the Bulge, and it featured in one small scene. I fully expected that Tarantino would have put the StG44 in Inglorious Bastards The most widely seen movie that contains an StG44 is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi where the gun is modified for the Rebel Alliance A280 and A295 blaster rifles.
Larry Vickers shoots and discusses about the StG44:
Excellent article, thanks.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you enjoyed it! This is one of those article I really enjoyed researching and writing...watch for another Forgotten Weapons blogpost in a few months on the British Martini-Henry Rifle!ReplyDelete
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THANKS FOR THE LOVELY COMMENTS! I AM GLAD YOU LIKE THE POST ASWELL! MORE TO COME!ReplyDelete
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The closest thing to a portable fully-automatic rifle in service were the light machine guns, like the Bren, BAR, and Canadian Huot Automatic Rifle, which chambered larger full-sized rifle cartridges, and had heavy-duty frames to match the cartridge.ReplyDelete
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Red Orchestra is another game that has the 44 in it, and its sequel the mkb. Nice article.ReplyDelete
Never heard of the Red Orchestra...have to check it out! Thanks for the intel!ReplyDelete
The new movie Fury, as much as I hated it, had the StG-44 as Brad Pitt's personal weapon.ReplyDelete
Yes, I just watched Fury...and I hated it as well, but it does an StG-44 in the hands of Brad Pitt, who has an badass haircut.ReplyDelete
One of my favorite round-about histories is how Germany ended up with the G3. There were still some bugs in the STG44, so a new team was working on a new weapon, that borrowed the roller locking system from the MG-42. Only a handful of these prototypes were made before the war ended, and the lead designer fled to Spain, (I presume he was in the half of Germany being overrun by Russia). There he ended up working for an arms company, and used the design to create the CTME rifle. Come the 1950's and Germany's desire to replace its old armaments, it tries to license the FN-FAL. Belgium, a little touchy after being invaded twice, says hell no. So the German's base their new rifle of the Spanish rifle.ReplyDelete
A German rifle, based on a Spanish rifle, based on a German prototype, based on a German machine.
For years I wondered what that little protrusion from the gas tube above the barrel was. The best I've heard is that its meant to help you stack the rigles together, or keep them locked into a rack.
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