The STG 44 | The First True Assault Rifle

Germany worked hard to develop new weapons as an innovator of cutting-edge weapons in WWII. In 1942, they began working on their first Assault Rifle (The Sturmgewehr, or Assault Rifle). The STG 44 was intended to replace both the MP-40 9mm submachine gun as well as the Gewehr 98 bolt action rifle, which was the mainstay of the German military since WWI.

STG 44 Display
Easily recognizable by its long, curved magazine, the Stg-44 was state of the art, and we still see traits of this weapon in modern-day weapons produced today. Troops loved it for its firepower and ease of field stripping. Photo: Armemuseum.

STG 44 | Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

The 7.92 (8mm Mauser) round was good for reaching out long distances, but the Germans were figuring out that most infantry engagements were taking place within 300 meters. Hence, they began concentrating on a bullet that would address these distances and yet have a similar level of firepower that their submachine guns had for close work.

Reenactor with K98K
The K98K was Germany’s workhorse rifle for WWII. Here it is seen being carried by a reenactor. Photo: Author’s collection.

A New Bullet

In 1938, a contract was issued to develop a cartridge specifically to fill these requirements. Specifically, it was the 7.92×33 Infanterie Kurz Patrone, or “Short Cartridge.” This was an intermediate round, falling between the 7.92 Mauser round used in the Mauser 98K and the 9x19mm round used in submachine guns. The intermediate round was not as deadly as the 7.92 Mauser round, but it was capable of fully automatic fire, which made it valuable to the Germans.

Up close of 7.92x33, round of the STG 44
The 7.92×33 Kurz cartridge used in the STG 44. It is an intermediate round. Photo: Wikipedia.

Innovation

Delays

Hugo Schmeisser, Haenel’s Chief Designer, came up with a design utilizing a barrel and stock in a straight line, which reduced muzzle rise by causing recoil to travel back in a straight line. In addition, the design utilized a pistol grip and V-sights. The new Assault Rifle was gas operated and made from metal except for the wooden buttstock. It was made mainly from stampings, which simplified production and made it less expensive to produce. That was a huge factor in late wartime Germany, given their waning resources. Natural resources were hard to access, and the allied bombing of German factories decimated their ability to produce weapons and other essentials.

Historical picture of STG 44
A German aims the cover of a foxhole with his STG 44. Photo: RelicsWW2.

Tooling up for production was time-consuming, and production was not ready to begin until 1942. In the meantime, other German weapons producers were entering the fray with designs on their own, adding to the competition.

Fuhrer’s Disapproval of the STG 44

When Hitler learned of the project, he favored scrapping the entire premise because Germany had already produced millions of 8mm Mauser rounds. He saw the Sturmgewehr as a waste of resources. To counter this, the Stg was renamed a “Machine Pistol,” and production moved forward as the MP-43 to hide the assault rifle from Hitler.

Eventually, Hitler learned the truth, but by then, the reports he received of the MP-43 from the front lines were so positive that he decided to allow the production to proceed.

Historical Picture of STG 44
A German infantryman waits in ambush with a G-43 rifle, Panzerfaust, and Stg-44 Assault Rifle. He’s unusually well equipped with all the latest weapons of the era. Photo: RelicsWW2.

The Stg-44 could make use of even more stamped parts than the MP-43, simplifying its production. It is rumored that Hitler coined the phrase Sturmgewehr (Assault Rifle).

The technology of the Stg-44 used mostly stamped parts to keep expensive machining to a minimum. The only wood portion was the buttstock, which was usually crudely finished—photo author: Unknown.

The Stg-44, which it was eventually named, could take fairly accurate shots out to about 200 yards and provide real close-in full auto fire. Because it could easily be field stripped into six parts, it was popular with the troops.

German infantryman aims his scope-equipped Stg-44. However, the value of scope on such a short-range weapon is questionable. Photo: Bundesarchiv.

Weighing just over 11 pounds with a full 30-round magazine in place, it was not a lightweight weapon. But, coming in at 37 inches with a 16.5-inch barrel, it was somewhat compact compared to the long bolt action infantry rifles that the Germans regularly issued.

The entire auto fire was controllable, given the weapon’s heavyweight and slow cyclic rate of 500 rounds per minute. In addition, the muzzle velocity of the rounds was 2,250 feet per second.

A Compromise

It was a sort of “compromise” weapon, not as effective or deadly at long range as a rifle, only able to engage at shorter ranges. But the full auto capability was something that the Germans required. Moreover, they realized it was necessary after facing the Soviet hordes, especially in urban combat in cities like Stalingrad.

A treasure trove of weaponry. Two Stg-44s, stick grenades, and Panzerfausts. This is a set from the World War II Weekend in Reading, PA, the country’s largest reenactment, which takes place every June. Photo: Author’s collection.

Too Little, Too Late

In total, 425,977 Assault Rifles were produced by Germany during WWII, but it was not enough to stem the allied advance. As was the case with many German weapons, they were excellent, but it was too little, too late. The introduction of this innovative weapon was shortly before the end of the war.

An SS trooper aims with his Stg-44. But unfortunately, few units were well supplied with many of these new assault rifles. Photo: Bundesarchiv.

The STG 44 Legacy

Despite that, as with many other German weapons from that era, we still see their influence on firearms even today. For example, the straight line stock concept is here to stay, among others.

These days, authentic specimens are rare, and ammunition to fire through them is also scarce and quite expensive.

We are seeing the influence of the Stg-44 even today in modern weapons. Especially in the AK-47 series. Photo: Author’s collection.

If they don’t already know, most people correctly guess that the STG 44 is the grandfather of the Soviet AK-47, sharing many similarities. The Russians respected the capabilities of the Stg-44 enough to realize that they’d be foolish to pass up copying some of its traits. So in that way, the Stg-44 lives on in the AK-47 design. Even the American M-16/M-4 family of weapons uses a straight-line stock, a concept pioneered by the Germans in WWII.

The bottom line is that the Stg-44 (among other German weapons) was a serious game-changer, the effects of which we’re still seeing today.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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