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A brief history of the Sturmgewehr.

From a strict historical perspective, the German World-War-II-era MKb42/MP43/MP44/StG44 rifles were not the world's first assault rifles. That distinction rightfully belongs to the Russian Fedorov Avtomat, designed by Vladimir Fedorov, who began work on his rifle in 1908. Tsar Nicholas II was opposed to automatic weapons, believing they wasted ammunition.

However, about 3,000 of the Fedorov Avtomat were produced. It had a 25-round box magazine, was chambered for the 6.5x5OSR Japanese Arisaka cartridge and had a cyclic rate of approximately 400 rpm. It saw service in the War of the Revolution, but was not successful.

Thus it can be relegated to footnote status, along with the Model 1936 Simonov rifle (AVS-36), which was capable of full-auto fire and of which 65,800 were produced. However, the AVS-36 was chambered for the standard Russian 7.62x54R service rifle cartridge, not an intermediate-size round.

Germany's search for the Sturrngewehr, the world's first mass-produced assault rifle, was lengthy and convoluted. During World War I, the Germans had determined that the historical role of the infantry rifle had been mostly taken over by the ascendancy of the machine gun. Very rarely did soldiers engage targets at more than 400 meters with their rifles.

It appeared then, that the 7.92x57mm cartridge was unnecessarily powerful. In addition, the Gewehr 98 rifle had many deficiencies. The rifle was cumbersome, considerable strength was required to chamber a round, and the magazine capacity was only five.

What was needed was a rifle capable of a high rate of fire and a smaller cartridge with an effective range no greater than 800 meters. By 1923, the lnspektion der Infanterie produced a memorandum actually describing the attributes of the eventual Sturmgewehr.

During the 1920s and 1930s, a substantial number of designers and firms developed a wide range of prototypes. Some companies produced rifles chambered for the 7.92x57mm cartridge, while others focused on developing smaller, intermediate-size cartridges.

By 1940, Haenel had designed a rifle with a new locking system and the company of Merz-Werke in Frankfurt had developed a sheet metal receiver using this system. By 1941, Haenel had received an order for 50 of this prototype for testing.

Meanwhile, Walther in Zella-Mehlis, which started experimenting with self-loading rifles in the late 1930s, heard about the new project and subsequently received an order from the Waffenamt for 200 samples. Although Hitler disapproved, 25 samples of the Haenel design were sent to the Infantry School in Doberitz for testing.

Overall, the Infantry School was enthusiastic over the so-called Maschinenkarabiner concept, albeit with grave reservations about its execution. Most importantly, the accuracy potential was unacceptable, as the rifles fired from the open-bolt position.

After modifications, the Haenel and Walther entries were proposed for large-scale troop trials. Hitler remained opposed and ordered trials of self-loading, selective-fire rifles chambered for the standard 7.92x57mm service round. The Wehrmacht continued to chart its own course.

The Haenel design was favored, while the Walther entry was considered to be too complicated and unreliable. In order to deceive Hitler, the improved MKb42 was renamed Maschinenpistole 43 ("Machine Pistol"--submachine gun 1943). Hitler remained adamantly opposed, and pressed for adoption of the semiautomatic G43 in caliber 7.92x57mm. The Wehrmacht continued to ignore Hitler and 2,000 MKb42 assault rifles, firing from the oppn-bolt position, were sent to the front at Army Group North. .

By the first of October 1943, Hitler, fueled by optimistic reports of its deployment at the front, finally gave his approval to the production of the MP43 as a replacement of the MP40 submachine gun. However, there were already serious shortages of 7.92x33mm ammunition. Further, the Wehrmacht wanted to replace the K98k bolt-action rifle with the MP43 as well.

By the beginning of 1944, the name was again changed for unknown reasons to MP44. As the MP44 at that time lacked both a rifle grenade launcher and suitable optical sight, the K98k could not be completely withdrawn from service. In general, the troops, with only minor criticisms, were very enthusiastic about the MP44.

But, there was still one problem that was to dog the MP44 right to the end of the war: insufficient ammunition. In his book, In Deadly Combat--A German Soldier's Memoir of the Eastern Front, Gottlob Herbert Bidermann states, "Our latest assault rifles, newly developed and distributed in the final months of the war, were sometimes rendered useless when the initial allocation of intermediate-sized ammunition was expended."

Wherever possible, stamped sheet metal was used to fabricate the Sturmgewehr. There were four firms that assembled the weapons and at least four dozen subcontractors supplied components during World War II. It has been estimated that no. more than 424,000 were produced. In comparison, it has been estimated that more than 14 million K98k bolt-action rifles were manufactured in Germany during the war.

The four Sturmgewehr manufacturers were C.G Haenel Waffen-u. Fahrrad-Fabrik in Suhl (manufacturer's code "fxo") which assembled 185,000; Erma (code "qlv") responsible for 104,000; Steyr-Daimler-Puch A.-G., Werk Steyr, Austria (code "bnz") which made 80,000; and J.P. Sauer & Sohn, Gewehrfabrik, Suhl (code "ce") which assembled 55,000.

Except for those assembled by Steyr, most Sturmgewehr receivers apparently were fabricated by Merz-Werke (code "cos") in Frankfurt. Because there were four principal manufacturers (or probably more accurately, "assemblers"), dozens of subcontractors, the German industrial machine was imploding and the Allied Forces were approaching ever closer to the German borders, ifs not at all surprising that the Sturmgewehr, especially the last variants, exhibited a mixture of finishes.

Originally entirely salt blued, some were partially or completely phosphated and at the very end some rifles were provided with only a clear lacquer-like coating. I once owned an StG44 that was completely phosphated (the Germans usually referred to zinc phosphating as "bonderizing").
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Author:Kokalis, Peter G.
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 20, 2012
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