The Sturmgewehr, Larry Vickers, And “The First Assault Rifle”

2015-03-28 04_53_25-Sturmgewehr in Ultra Slow Motion - YouTube

The Sturmgewehr is a rifle that will never lose it’s place in history; it is one of the single most influential weapons of the 20th Century. It is not the first of its kind, however, and we at TFB have previously taken a look at some of the rifle’s predecessors that it has since overshadowed. Larry Vickers has come at it from the other end; he and his signature StG-44 have been the subject of three shooting videos so far, each one well worth watching:

A friend of mine of some expertise on the subject had this to say about the MP-43, and Larry’s videos of it:

First slow-motion video:

You can see that the STG-44 unlocks very quickly and blows a lot of flame out the ejection port, something you and I have both seen first-hand.  The video is also high enough quality that you can see how muzzle and breech flash form; at 1:42 you can see that the case ejects, and then fresh air from around the ejection port flows in, which causes the hot, fuel-rich propellant gas to ignite.  You can also see the magazine jiggle that LAV mentions in the next video.
Second video:
At 55 seconds, the video editor appears to have made a mistake with the outline of the 7.92x33mm cartridge.  At about 1:10, he manipulates the safety and selector very quickly, and if you look closely you can see that they’re separate pieces.  This is unusual by modern standards; he mentions this later, but the FAMAS has a separate safety and burst/auto selector.  LAV says that original magazines work better, but they’re rare.  Despite attempts to increase production, wartime production of magazines only ever amounted to about four per rifle.  Ammunition was similarly scarce; wartime production was less than 2,000 rounds per rifle.  Albert Speer, during a tour of the front, found several units that had been issued STG-44s, but no ammunition for them.  A few memoirs from German soldiers mention this as well.
There was an early request in 1942 after the first trials of the MKb-42H that the magazine be 15 rounds (along with the bizarre request that a “hinged stilletto which could also be used as a bipod be added!), and some early test magazines were 32 rounders, and there were also some suggestions that the magazines be 25 rounds, but the bulk wartime production magazines were 30 rounders and the late-war STG-45 ones were to be 10 rounds.  LAV probably mis-spoke.  Later on in the war, troops were advised to only load their magazines to 25 rounds, just as LAV discovered.  A new magazine follower design, with a limiter to ensure the magazine could only be loaded to 25 rounds, was proposed, but does not appear to have been produced.
The rifle was produced in fairly respectable numbers, but attempts to improve production rates were always held back by the fact that work was contracted out to 46 subcontractors, and coordinating between these during the war was very difficult.  Nevertheless, various improvements to the rifle were proposed even very late in the war.  Hugo Schmeisser proposed several changes, such as a simplified receiver block insert and relocated return spring inside the receiver instead of inside the stock (another weakness of the design LAV notes).  There is one weapon, captured from Germany, in an American collection marked “MP45” that has the simplified receiver block insert, but little further information about this is available.

Therein lies the rub. The MP-43 was certainly mass-produce-able; the Germans made nearly half a million of them over three years. In this, it represents the first successful assault rifle design; another nation could have fully realized the weapon, bringing the “assault rifle” full term. However, the Germans – who suffered from gross mismanagement and logistics problems throughout the war – were scarcely able to provide enough ammunition and magazines for weapons familiarization of these new weapons. In this, their implementation of the design was not the resounding success it could have been.

Regardless, it cannot be said that the rifle did not have an effect on post-war thinking. Though the Americans rejected the assault rifle and the intermediate rifle cartridge, the Soviets wasted no time in adopting the idea, fielding in very limited quantities their own assault rifle before the end of the war, and eventually adopting the Kalashnikov assault rifle and finally bringing the assault rifle fully onto the world stage.

The StG-44 hasn’t lost its relevance, though. 7.92×33 ammunition is still being made in quantity, and a cache of the rifles was captured by rebels in Syria in 2012:

Interestingly, one of these rifles even saw use in a somewhat… Unusual capacity a short time later, as a remote-controlled weapons station.

It’s my contention that an essential ingredient to the assault rifle – as important if not more so than the intermediate cartridge and select-fire capability – is the ability to cheaply mass-produce the design via the most inexpensive manufacturing methods available. The MP-43 rifle itself certainly meets this criteria, and it was made in worrying quantities utilizing highly modern stamping and forging techniques, with a design that placed a premium on using as little high quality steel as possible. However, German industry stumbled in providing the rifles with enough ammunition and magazines to satisfactorily implement the system as a whole. In the sense that the MP-43’s design meets the criteria I have set, it earns the title of the “first successful assault rifle”, but in another sense, what good is a rifle without ammunition? While in this latter way it was not a total failure, I would argue that the first wholly successful implementation of the assault rifle concept came later with the fielding of the Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Isaac Newton

    Your contention of the importance of $ and ease of mass production isn’t really going out on a limb, but it is worth repeating in virtually every discussion of any firearm ever made.

    • You make a good point; my wording is a little too broad to be meaningful. I’ve clarified it.

  • MPWS

    MP43 appears to be at short of viable cartridge case volume (compare it with 300 AAC). At the same time, this shot has just enough impulse to effect line of sight; being perhaps just about optimum from both ends of equation.

    On construction side, it is further out to rationalization than AK. On AK you clearly see its receiver twist and bend; not on this one – due to its close construction. The flipside of course is that butt on AK is mounted more solidly as opposed to removable on MP43. Maybe one more step on Sturmgewehr’s development could have yielded an ideal modern assault rifle.

    • The MP-43 is very heavy, and that’s not something you can get around without major architectural changes.

      • Jose

        How about changes in raw materials? Using aluminum for the lower and upper receivers will help reduce weight; same thing for the magazines, redesign them for simplicity and easy manufacture; the handguard may be made of tough plastic, whit heat shields inside, for heat protection; and the stock may be made of synthetic materials. Alternate types of steel can be used, but only for the key components, like the barrel; the trigger group and bolt carrier.
        As an historical fact, Dr. Hugo Schmeisser, the true creator of the Sturmgewehr, work in redesign the STG-44 lower receiver/pistol grip unit for easier manufacture, resulting in what was called the STG-45.(Basically, it was a STG-44 re-named, with the redesigned lower receiver.)

        • Those would be major architectural changes.

          • pbla4024

            Well, milled receiver AK-47 was almost as heavy and took until 1959 to fix. That would count as “major architectural changes”, right?

          • Right, if you look at the way an MP. 43 is made, it uses a large steel trunnion, and the stampings act essentially as a “shell”. So you’d need to work around that somehow, and it would be a major problem for anyone looking to improve the design in the future.

            Remember, the Kalashnikov was designed for stampings, so going back to them was a natural move that allowed it to reduce weight.

            The MP. 43 was an earlier gun, and wasn’t really held to “modern” standards for weight of an automatic rifle, so it would have been easier to design something new than to try to bring it more in line weight-wise. Contrast that with the Kalashnikov, where the milled receiver variant was just an intermediate step while the Soviets perfected the stamped rifle.

        • The Brigadier

          The Schmeisser 9mm sub-machine gun was Schmeisser’s masterpiece. Probably the best sub-machine gun ever made. Does anyone know if that arm is being manufactured now?

          • mikee

            Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with the development of the MP38/40 SMGs. This SMG was developed by ERMA.

          • He did design the MP18 and erma ripped off several of his patents, which enraged him (telescoping firing pin and what not).

          • iksnilol

            You mean the MP18? A far cry from best SMG ever made though it did prove the viability of the SMG concept.

          • S O

            It wasn’t Schmeisser’s design at all, but Vollmer’s.

        • MPWS

          Exactly, my thinking.
          The receiver ought to be aluminum extrusion – straight and simple; fore-guard needs to create more apace between hand and barrel and, as you say, plastic furniture with liner. The only major redesign is in terms of locking and this would require barrel extension and rotary lock. This would take the Sturmgewehr form 10lbs empty to 7, easy. With something kind like 300 BLK it would be one super assault rifle.

        • MPWS

          I say rotary bolt and extension, but this may not be necessary, given light duty shot. Perhaps even locking can be maintained as is, providing lower is out of steel and connection (pin) between trunion and it is solid.

      • Out of curiosity I just weighed the old MP43 and my Yugo AK. The AK weighs an ounce more. Of course the Yugos have RPK trunnions, but still I have never thought of the MP43/44/STG44 as particularly heavy:

        • Thanks for the data, Alex!

          Heavy for a modern rifle, is what I mean. Close to 10lbs unloaded is definitely up there (some later examples weigh more). That is certainly not unusual for the period, however.

          As the former owner of a Yugo, I can confirm that it needs to go on a diet.

    • guest

      “On AK you clearly see its receiver twist and bend; not on this one – due to its close construction.”

      It does not matter. What matters for accuracy is barrel oscillation, and with absolutely every design that uses a gas piston coaxially to the barrel will always act on the gas block with a severe torque, worsened still by a sight mounted on the tip of the barrel which has its own mass that will resist – and thus further affect – the wobbling barrel.
      As for developing it into an “ideal modern assault rifle” is like taking a stock 1911 and trying the same thing. Could work, but “ideal” – hardly.

  • Zebra Dun

    I’ve often wondered where the terminal ballistics of this round fell, closer to the .30 US Carbine or more towards the Soviet 7.62 x 39.
    I recall a blooper reel of R. Lee Ermy shooting one and it jammed repeatedly most likely due to the magazine. Yet when the rifle fired for the show it’s effect on watermelons was devastating.
    So, was the 7.92 x 33 similar in power to the .30 carbine or closer to the 7.62 x 39, a range test is called for.

    • S O

      It’s closer to 7.62×39 because it behaves like the Spitzer bullet it is once it’s deep enough in soft tissue.
      There’s little difference between .30 carbine and 7.62×39 mm in the first few centimetres in soft tissue.

      • Zebra Dun

        Good to go! Thanks.
        The Spitzer seems to tumble better than the round nose bullets in my understanding.

        • S O

          Typical pistol and revolver bullets and the typical .30 carbine bullet don’t tumble at all.

          It’s uncertain whether tumbling makes much difference, though. Certainly not in a hit on an arm, and often times it merely enlarges the exit wound and thus blood loss. All those ballistic gelatine tests don’t represent bones, clothes, equipment worn and the ballistic gelatine usually offer much more depth than a human being does in most poses.

    • Energy retention of the 7.92×33 is similar to that of M193. Trajectory is worse than 7.62×39 M43. Bullet design is very similar to M43.

      I imagine that like M43 it will make very unimpressive wounds if it does not strike a bone or vital organ.

      • Alex Nicolin

        It would tumble even less, since the aspect ratio of the bullet is lower (~2.85) than in the 7.62×39 M43 (3.41), with a similar mass distribution. Longer bullets with a heavy tail tend to tumble earlier due to centrifugal force.

  • Zebra Dun

    Vicker’s second video on this page is very informative!

  • Valhalla

    if I found 5000 original StG44s I’d be “Allah Akbarr”ing my a## off too. $40000 x 5000(-4 for me)= profit

    • You can get them for 15 grand…

      • Valhalla

        my dad brokered a deal on one last month to a collector for $34000

        • IAFEnema

          so your dad is a j e w pim p.

          • Dan

            And you’re obviously an a s s hat

        • Maybe it came with a krumlauf (sp?) or something, otherwise that collector is a fool.

    • IAFEnema

      You sound like a j e w..

  • Grindstone50k

    That magazine wobble…

  • d_grey

    A fine rifle, it’s available in Pakistan as well, but mostly as Dara copies…sadly.

  • We will have a sturm video on TFBTV soon. Should be a good one 🙂

    • Southpaw89

      This made me subscribe.

      • Our teaser:

        • Cattoo

          You’re right. That is a tease.

          Who made it the music?

    • dan citizen

      Eagerly awaiting it, you make the best weapon videos, the only fault being the limited number,

      • I sincerely appreciate the compliment. Our only limitation is time. Patrick, James, and myself all have full-time jobs so we really work hard to coordinate our days off to make them.
        Another whooping that is a little discouraging is that we seem to get more views with our silly commentary videos than we do with actual shooting videos (often 10 times more!). I am not sure why, but commentary videos get much more traffic and are cheaper to produce than shooting videos.
        However we will continue making shooting videos because, well, we like shootin’!

  • The Brigadier

    It is an interesting piece as the first assault rifle, but it was prone to failure due to its roller pin action. The CETME also used this action and has been used for the last seventy years, but it too has systemic problems. The big problem with the Storm Rifle was the lack of ammunition for it during the war. In several actions against the 45th and 47th Infantry Divisions, German storm troopers inflicted a lot of casualties before the infantrymen killed them all with their Garands.

    Interestingly enough, American paratroopers armed with M2 carbines faced storm troopers with the STG-44 in the early days of the battles in Belgium and the Americans killed all the enemy with few casualties themselves. Action reports of the day said the German troopers were plagued by jamming and misfires due to the primitive roller pin bearing action. The reports also stated that if the enemy fixed those problems that America would need a lot more M2, M60, and BMG-50s. Fortunately for us those fixes were never realized. Again the STG-44 has major systemic problems and unless you are an avid collector, putting your life on the line with this faulty weapon is foolhardy at best.

    • With all due respect, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

      • iksnilol

        Was about to second what Alex C. said but I don’t have much authority on the subject.

        + all these reports are doing very little to convince us if we y’know, can’t see them.

      • The Brigadier

        Look it up. My father fought against SS Battalions after crossing the Rhine with the 45th Infantry Division and some of the SS battalions they faced when they were outside of Munich carried the STG44. My father was 17 years and a natural born shooter, and he killed quite of few of the SS. He picked up a STG44 and examined it closely. He was a Ranger in the 101st after Korea and I heard him and other WWII vets talking about this rifle. With all due respect to you , these were all multi-war combat veterans and professional soldiers. I trust them over your blanket statement that I don’t know what I am talking about. The STG44 or sturmgevehr in WWII was a faulty weapon and while it was deadly in combat before malfunctioning, they were all prone to do this due to the action. I repeat. As a period piece it is interesting as the first assault rifle put into production. Mikhail Kalishnikov perfected the assault rifle and as crude as that rifle is, it will shoot reliably in almost every weather and terrain condition. Not so for the Storm Rifle.

        • Not sure if trolling, or just very stupid.

          • The Brigadier

            Another ad hominem attack and that is the mark of an intellectual lightweight. I guess that is par for east Texans like you bubba. Come out to west Texas and get educated.

          • West Texas and education are not synonymous. And I have never lived out East either 🙂

        • pomofo

          The Stg-44 used a tilting bolt, a la the SKS. It didn’t use rollers. Hence the reason people are pointing out that you have no idea what you are talking about.

        • mikee

          You still don’t know what you are talking about!

    • S O

      The CETME used an action similar to the StG 45, not StG 44/MP 43.

      “storm troopers” is a term from the First World War; there were none in WW2.

      No “-” in German gun designations.

      There were hardly any negative remarks about the StG 44 in German literature during the 1950’s; any criticism of it depended on thorough digging, and you can uncover problems with any gun that way.

      Not sure what you’re writing abotu “M2, M60 and BMG-50s”. Looks like nonsense.

      • The Brigadier

        WWII vets referred to German commandos as storm troopers also.

        Some folks put a hyphen between the letters and numbers in the nomenclature of rifles just like the author of this article did above. You are simply “sharpshooting” and I’ve found most verbal and writing sharpshooters are usually a-holes. I hope you are are not.

        The original Storm Rifle did use the roller pin action according to everything I have read about this rifle over the years. If that is wrong, then please tell us what action it did use.

        Of course there were no negative remarks about the rifle in the 1950s. The idea about German invincibility dates back to when German tribes finally defeated Roman legions in the mid-400s and no German was going to write anything about one faulty rifle that challenges that belief. They built the Panzers and Messerschmidts and damn near conquered Europe with them. Before we got into it they held most of Europe, Northern Africa and had forces in most of the Middle East. Had Hitler turned the complete prosecution of the war over to Kesselring or Rommel they would have succeeded. Learn something before you continue more of your sharpshooting especially when you don’t know what you are talking about.

        • Funny, I have an original “storm rifle” (mp43, so the original of the originals) and it does not use a “roller pin” action.
          They use a gas piston above the bore and a tilting bolt like an SKS.

          • Rnasser Rnasser

            Come’on Alex, eihter he has a very vivid imagination or he has a one of a kind MP43… 🙂
            Anyone that argues like this didn´t take the time to watch the videos in this same page or simply cannot understand them?

  • dan citizen

    Seriously awesome article.

  • john

    Is anyone else still amazed that we can film a bullet leaving the muzzle and see it going down range? Wow.
    Anyway, that being said, if the ONLY thing this gun did in history was to inspire the Kalashnikov than it was SO worth it. Concepts take time to perfect and this design was the Mack Daddy of concepts. (did I say that right? Mack Daddy?)

  • Taking a pot shot at WWII vets is a good way to get feelings stirred up. I would disagree that older veterans say a lot of dumb S— things.
    I wouldn’t give Von Manstein that much credit.

    • S O

      I’m a German. We have no deification of “veterans” because when we go to war, almost everybody turns into a veteran in some way or another, taking the distinction away.

      Old people talk a lot of nonsense, and it requires no further evidence that many old people amongst a quite random group of millions of them talk a lot of nonsense. They’re certainly not authoritative sources.

      I normally don’t care about others’ delusions and deifications, but I do
      once those are brought forward as a fake argument in a discussion.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Great article and videos, great discussion (Ian McCollum also has a very informative video). Still, an off-the-wall question that nags me every time I see an StG-44: What is the purpose of the little spike that sticks out from the gas system?

    • It’s an old school stacking hook. Pretty archaic on an assault rifle, isn’t it?

      • Pete Sheppard

        Thanks! I’m familiar with stacking swivels, that method is totally new to me…