The StG 44: The First Modern Assault Rifle

StG 44 Photo Album

A real StG 44 assault rifle.

A real Sturmgewehr 44.

Widely considered the first modern assault rifle, the StG 44 was developed by Germany during World War II to fill the need for a weapon to serve in an intermediate role between rifles and submachine guns

According to David Westwood’s book “Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact,” the Germans had found that most infantry engagements took place within 400 meters, close enough that a high-powered rifle cartridge was excessive (though still desirable for snipers and machine guns), but too far for the small-caliber rounds fired by submachine guns to be effective.

During the 1930’s, multiple similar intermediate rounds were designed, but the German government ultimately chose the 7.92 x 33 mm kurzpatrone (short cartridge). The round was shorter than the 7.92 x 57 mm cartridge used in Kar98k rifles, but longer than the 9 x 19 mm Parabellum rounds used in pistols and submachine guns like the MP40.

Westwood says that the German government desired a light, shoulder-fired gun that used this new cartridge and wanted it to have selective firing options, all-weather compatibility, good accuracy up to 400 meters when fired in semi-automatic mode, and controllable automatic fire.

The Haenel firm, with design director Hugo Schmeisser, designed the weapon by 1940, a prototype wasn’t built until 1942 because the company had little experience with building guns out of sheet metal.

At about the same time, Carl Walther and his company designed a similar rifle. The prototype “machine carbines” were dubbed the Mkb 42 (H) and ( W ), to denote their designers. The German government chose Haenel and Schmeisser’s design over Walther’s, and it went into production as the MP 43.

An Mkb 42 "machine carbine" from the collection of the Springfield Armory.

An Mkb 42 “machine carbine” from the collection of the Springfield Armory.

Gordon L. Rottman, author of “The AK-47: Kalashnikov-Series Assault Rifles,” says Hitler wanted manufacturers to focus on existing machine pistols and machine guns. The Führer was apparently wary of spending too much time on new designs that might bring only marginal improvements while slowing the production of proven weapons and over-stressing the military supply system.

Rottman says that because the Mkb 42 had been so well-received, the German Army Weapons Office designated it the MP 43 so production could continue.

After a few minor changes in 1944 it became the MP 44, and finally, the StG 44, or Sturmgewehr, which literally means “assault rifle.” Legend has it that Hitler chose the name as a propaganda tool, but Rottman and other sources say it was probably chosen by the weapons office.

The rifle was accepted into service in March 1943, but according to Rottman, 35 of the first 50 prototypes had been parachuted into the Kholm Pocket to aid 5,500 surrounded German troops in their fight against the Soviet Army in April 1942.

A camouflaged German soldier with an StG 44. Photo from the German Federal Archives.

A camouflaged German soldier with an StG 44. Photo from the German Federal Archives.

Between September 1943 when regular production started and May 1945 when Germany surrendered, nearly 426,000 of these weapons were made.

While the final version was shorter than the Kar98k, as desired, it was 2 pounds heavier (1 kilogram) when unloaded, and three pounds heavier when loaded with its 30-round detachable box magazine.

The StG 44 fired at between 550 to 600 rounds per minute and was effective at about 300 meters when fully automatic, and 600 meters when fired semi-automatically.

A U.S. report on the rifle published in Tactical and Technical Trends in April 1945 that downplays the quality and effectiveness of the weapon nonetheless calls its accuracy “excellent for a weapon of its type.”

The report also says the gun was heavy and unwieldy when compared to the M1 carbine, but it’s important to note that the StG 44 was intended to replace light machine guns, while the M1 carbine aimed to increase the capability of the standard infantry rifle.

A closer comparison can be made with the Browning Automatic Rifle, the United States’ first light machine gun. The StG 44 and the BAR were developed to fill similar roles, and the German weapon was lighter, shorter, fired faster, and held more bullets than its U.S. counterpart, though the BAR fired a more powerful round.

In Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the StG 44 is first encountered the “Die Sturmgewehr” (translated as “The Sturmgewehr” or “The Assault Rifle”) mission, a phase of the game’s final mission.

According to a letter from Col. Stanley Hargrove to Lt. Mike Powell following the latter’s destruction of three 20 mm FlaK anti-aircraft guns in the forest along the Siegfried Line, Powell must infiltrate a secret German facility that’s producing the StG 44, steal its blueprints, destroy the weapons cache, and get out.

Hargrove calls the StG 44 a “fine weapon,” “truly revolutionary in its design,” and admits that there are no other firearms in the Allied or Axis arsenal that match its “superior qualities.”

The StG 44 as portrayed in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

The StG 44 as portrayed in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

He notes that it’s 5 pounds lighter than the BAR, and it certainly feels that way in the game. While the BAR seems to slow Powell down when he’s running, the StG 44 doesn’t appear to do so, at least noticeably.

The Allied Assault version fires from 30-round magazine at about 600 rounds per minute, and it’s devastating in close quarters. While it’s more accurate than the Thompson at longer ranges, burst fire is still preferable in these types of engagements, but it’s out-performed at long range by German and U.S. rifles.

Hargrove also says the StG 44 is “new” and that Powell should steal the “latest version” of the gun. While the gun wasn’t exactly new by January 1945, it had been known as the MP 44 until mid-to-late 1944, so the StG 44 was technically the “latest version.”

It could also be argued that the gun was new to the U.S. and British militaries because the assault rifle had been predominantly distributed to the Eastern Front to combat the Soviets and their submachine gun-heavy infantry.

~ by John on December 8, 2014.

One Response to “The StG 44: The First Modern Assault Rifle”

  1. Reblogged this on John Does Stuff and commented:

    Between World War I and World War II the Germans found that typical infantry combat occurred within 400 meters, and started looking for a weapon that was most effective in such a scenario.

    The bolt-action rifles of the day were excessively powerful for such short ranges, but pistols and submachine guns weren’t powerful enough outside of close quarter combat.

    Development on what would eventually become the StG 44 began in the late 1930’s, but a prototype wasn’t built until 1942. It wasn’t delivered en masse to troops until late 1943 and 1944, probably too late to change the course of the war, but it’s now considered the first modern assault rifle.

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