MP43, MP44, and StG44 were different designations for what was essentially the same rifle, with minor updates in production. The variety in nomenclatures
resulted from complicated circumstances in Nazi Germany. Developed from the Mkb 42(H) "machine carbine", the StG44 combined traits of carbines,
submachine guns and automatic rifles. StG is an abbreviation of Sturmgewehr. The name was chosen for propaganda reasons and literally means storm rifle
as in "to storm an enemy position". After the adoption of the StG44, the English translation "assault rifle" became the accepted designation for this type of
infantry small arm.
The rifle was chambered for the 7.92 x 33mm Kurz cartridge, also known as 7.92 mm Kurz (German for "short"). This shorter version of the German standard
(7.92 x 57mm Mauser) rifle round, in combination with the weapon's selective-fire design, provided a compromise between the controllable firepower of a
submachine gun at close quarters with the accuracy and power of a Karabiner 98k bolt action rifle at intermediate ranges. While the StG44 had less range
and power than the more powerful infantry rifles of the day, Wehrmacht studies had shown that most combat engagements occurred at less than 300 meters
with the majority within 200 meters. Full-power rifle cartridges were overpowered for the vast majority of uses for the average soldier.
The StG44's receiver was made of heavy stamped and welded steel as were other contemporary arms such as the MP40 and MG42. This made for a fairly
heavy rifle, especially one firing an intermediate-power cartridge. Difficulties with fabrication, the need to use available non-priority steels, and the exigencies
of war resulted in a heavy receiver. US military intelligence criticized the weight of the weapon along with the inclusion of the fully automatic feature which it
considered "ineffectual for all practical purposes. The British were also critical saying that the receiver could be bent and the bolt locked up by the mere act of
knocking a leaning rifle onto a hard floor Many of these criticisms are more a testimonial of the Allied aversion rather than an accurate view of the weapon's
characteristics which were proven during combat in the war.
To its credit, it was the first weapon of its class, and the concept had a major impact on modern infantry small arms development. By all accounts, the StG44
fulfilled its role admirably, particularly on the Eastern Front, offering a greatly increased volume of fire compared to standard infantry rifles. In the end, it came
too late to have a significant effect on the tide of the war.
At the start of the Second World War, German infantry was equipped with similar weapons to most other military forces. A typical infantry unit was equipped
with a mix of bolt action rifles and some form of light or medium machine guns. One difference from other armies was the emphasis on the machine gun as
the primary infantry weapon, as opposed to it being thought of mostly in the support role. German units tended to be machine gun "heavy", carrying more
ammunition for the machine gun than for the rifles, using belt ammunition for their more modern section-level weapons to maintain a higher rate of fire, and
generally thinking of the rifle as a support weapon. Although newer rifle designs had been studied on several occasions, they were never considered very
One problem with this mix was that the standard rifles were too large to be effectively used by mechanized and armored forces, where they were difficult to
maneuver in the cramped spaces of an armored vehicle. Submachine guns such as the MP28, MP38, and MP40 were issued to augment infantry rifle use
and increase individual firepower, but suffered from a distinct lack of range and accuracy beyond 100 meters. A small fast-firing weapon would have been
useful in this role, but again the need did not seem pressing.
The issue arose once again during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had been in the process of replacing its own bolt action rifles in the
immediate pre–war era. Increasing numbers of semi-automatic Tokarev SVT-38 and SVT-40s were reaching Red Army units, though issue was generally
restricted to elite units and non-commissioned officers. Submachine guns were extremely widespread, and issued on a far larger scale; some Soviet rifle
companies were completely equipped with PPSh-41 submachine guns.
This experience with high volumes of hand-held automatic 'assault' fire forced German commanders to rethink their small arms requirements. The German
army had been attempting to introduce semi-automatic weapons of their own, notably the Gewehr 41, but these early rifles proved troublesome in service,
and production was insufficient to meet forecast requirements. Several attempts had been made to introduce lightweight machine guns or automatic rifles for
these roles, but invariably recoil from the powerful 7.92 mm Mauser round made them too difficult to control in automatic fire.
The German solution was to use a round of intermediate power, between that of a full-power rifle cartridge and pistol ammunition. Experiments with several
such intermediate rounds had been going on since the 1930s, but had been constantly rejected for use by the army. By 1941, it was becoming clear that
action needed to be taken, and one of the experimental rounds, the Polte 7.92 x 33mm Kurzpatrone (short cartridge) was selected. To minimize logistical
problems, the Mauser 7.92 mm rifle cartridge was used as the basis for the final 7.92 mm Kurz intermediate round, which also utilized an aerodynamic spitzer
rifle bullet design.
Contracts for rifles firing the Kurz round were sent to both Walther and Haenel (whose design group was headed by Hugo Schmeisser), who were asked to
submit prototype weapons under the name Maschinenkarabiner 1942 (MKb 42, literally "machine carbine"). Both designs were similar, using a gas-operated
action, with both semi-automatic and fully-automatic firing modes.
The original prototypes of Haenel's design, the MKb 42(H), fired from an open bolt and used a striker for firing (the mechanism is based on the Czechoslovak
ZB vz.26). The receiver and trigger housing with pistol grip were made from steel stampings, which were attached to the barrel assembly on a hinge, allowing
the weapon to be "folded open" for quick disassembly and cleaning. The Haenel design proved superior to Walther's MKb 42(W), and the army then asked
Haenel for another version incorporating a list of minor changes designated MKb 42(H). One was to include lugs for mounting a standard bayonet, another to
change the pitch of the rifling. A production run of these modified versions was sent to the field in November 1942, and the users appreciated it with a few
reservations. Another set of modifications added a hinged cover over the ejection port to keep it clean in combat, and rails to mount a telescopic sight. A run
of these modified MKb 42(H)s in late 1942 and early 1943 produced 11,833 guns for field trials.
Ultimately it was recommended that a hammer firing system operating from a closed bolt similar to Walther's be incorporated. The gas expansion chamber
over the barrel was deemed unnecessary, and was deleted from successive designs.
While the new version was under development in late 1942, administrative infighting within the Third Reich was in full swing. Hitler was increasingly concerned
with this, and after Hermann Göring had created the FG 42 in a separate program from the army's similar Gewehr 41 efforts, Hitler canceled all new rifle
projects completely. This included the production of the MKb 42(H). One concern was that the new weapon used a new ammunition type which would further
hamper an already daunting logistics problem.
In order to preserve the weapons development, a new project at Gustloff was starting to produce a similar weapon using the original Mauser round, the
Mkb 43(G). Whenever Hitler asked about the progress of the rifle, he was always shown one of these prototypes, although there was no intention of producing
them. Meanwhile the newest version of the original Mkb 42(H) was called the Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43) to disguise it as an upgrade to existing submachine
guns. Another change fitted a rifle grenade launcher attachment from the earlier MKb 42(H) to the MP43/1.
Eventually the truth surfaced and Hitler ordered the project stopped once again. However in March 1943 he allowed the run to continue for evaluation
purposes, which then continued until September. Due to the positive combat reports, it was then allowed to continue.
In April 1944, Adolf Hitler decreed that the MP43 be renamed the MP44. In July 1944, at a meeting of the various army heads about the Eastern Front, when
Hitler asked what they needed, a general exclaimed "more of these new rifles!" This caused some confusion (Hitler's reply is reputed to be "What new rifle?"),
but once Hitler was given a chance to test-fire the MP44, he was impressed and gave it the title Sturmgewehr. Seeing the possibility of a propaganda gain, the
rifle was again renamed as the StG44, to highlight the new class of weapon it represented, translated "Assault Rifle, Model 1944", thereby introducing the term.
By the end of the war, some 425,977 StG44 variants of all types were produced. The assault rifle proved a valuable weapon, especially on the Eastern front,
where it was first deployed. A properly trained soldier with an StG44 had an improved tactical repertoire, in that he could effectively engage targets at longer
ranges than with an MP40, but be much more useful than the Kar98k in close combat, as well as provide light cover fire like a light machine gun.
The StG44 was an intermediate weapon for the period; the muzzle velocity from its 42 cm barrel was 647 m/s, compared to 880 m/s (K98k), 744 m/s (Bren),
600 m/s (M2 Carbine), and 365 m/s (MP40).
One unusual addition to the design was the Krummlauf, a bent-barrel attachment for rifles with a periscope sighting device for shooting around corners from a
safe position. It was produced in several variants, an "I"-version for infantry use, a "P" version for use in tanks (to cover the dead areas in the close range
around the tank, to defend against assaulting infantry), versions with 30°, 45°, 60° and 90° bends, a version for the StG44 and one for the MG 42. Only the
30° "I" version for the StG44 was produced in any numbers. The bent barrel attachments had very short lifespans - 300 rounds for the 30° version, and 160
for the 45° variant. The 30° model was able to achieve a 35 X 35 cm grouping at 100 m.
A primary use of the MP44/StG44 was to counter the Soviet PPS and PPSh submachine guns, which used a 7.62x25mm Tokarev round. These cheap mass-
produced weapons used a 71-round drum magazine or 35-round "box" magazine and though shorter-ranged than the Kar98k rifle were more effective
weapons in close quarter combat. The StG44, while also lacking the range of the Kar98k, had a longer range than the PPS/PPSh submachine guns and a
comparable rate of fire. Also, while they could fire fully automatic, they were designed to default to semi-auto fire. They were surprisingly accurate, and their
slow rate of fire gave them controllability even on full-auto. While the design details are quite different, the concept of the StG44 was obviously carried on in
the most famous and most numerously manufactured assault rifle, the AK-47.