August Coenders is one of those firearms designers that we almost don’t know anything about. During the WW2, Coenders was working in a German company called Rochling’sche Eisen und Stahlwerke GmbH. Most of the information about him and his firearms became known when about 20 years ago a gentleman named Heinz-Kurt Schmidt, who was Coenders’ assistant, revealed some biography details and photos. In this article, we’ll take a look at three firearms designed by August Coenders.
In 1944, Nazi Germany was exhausted in terms of human and natural resources. They formed militia units (Volkssturm) made of the civilian population and faced the problem of arming these units. In an emergency situation like that, when there are no resources and no time to make more of already adopted weapons, they needed cheap, easy and quick to make new firearms.
Among other designers who started designing Volkssturm firearms was also August Coenders. His rifle was called Coenders-Rochling Volkssturmkarabiner. It was chambered in 7.92x57mm Mauser caliber and fed from a 5-round non-detachable magazine. At first glance, it seems to be a bolt action rifle. However, it is not, because of lack of a bolt as such.
The rifle has a fixed breech and a sliding barrel. It is still a manual repeater, however, in order to cycle the action, the shooter must first rotate the “bolt handle” up which in this case is probably more correct to call it a barrel handle. The handle is attached to the barrel and its rotation rotates the barrel too. Apparently, there are no locking lugs either and the bolt handle itself just keeps the barrel in place. The fixed breech should be able to handle all the back thrust of the fired cartridge. Next, the shooter needs to push the barrel forward opening the action and extracting/ejecting the spent case which is held in the breech face.
At this point, the magazine aligns the fresh round to the chamber and by pulling the barrel back the new round gets chambered. The final step is to rotate the barrel handle down to close the action.
From my description, it may seem to be complicated but in fact, it is like working the bolt action rifle’s action except in opposite direction and having a moving barrel instead of a bolt. Note also that the breech face looks to be a separate part inserted into the receiver. It also was possible to load the magazine from standard 5-round stripper clips.
Some sources say that the small spring sandwiched between the barrel and barrel shroud (see the image below) is there to assist the return of the barrel. I tend to believe that it is a buffer to prevent the barrel from slamming into the front portion of the barrel jacket.
The receiver of this firearm is very simplified. It is basically a cylindrical piece of metal with machined cutouts and flats. The stock was made of wood of a rudimentary design equipped with a pistol grip and metal butt plate. The rifle is also said to have a double action only trigger which allowed them to get rid of safety mechanisms. Such solution is normally seen in revolvers. The relatively heavy double action trigger is less likely to accidentally discharge the rifle upon catching on something.
The rear sight was made of a drum with its rotation axis perpendicular to the bore. There are different size aperture plates inserted into the drum providing elevation adjustability to up to 800 meters. The front sight is an interesting design, too. The front sight post is mounted on the edge of a large screw head or disc. Probably rotating that screw/disc changed the front sight post position in horizontal plane thus becoming a simple windage adjustment mechanism.
Reportedly, several prototypes were made, but it was never adopted. One of the surviving samples is held in Springfield Armory Museum and the second known one is in a private collection.
Some sources say that there was also a semi-auto version of Coenders-Rochling rifle which is the one shown in the above image.
The Sub Machinegun
The Coenders submachine gun was belt-fed! This is a feeding mechanism rarely seen in submachine gun designs. There were at least two photographed samples only one of which is known to exist today. The existing sample appeared in the USA about 20 years ago and had no markings indicating who made it. Initially, it was assumed that the gun was made by Erfurter Maschinenfabrik also known as ERMA Werke. Later, thanks to Heinz-Kurt Schmidt’s revealed information, it was identified as Coenders’ design.
August Coenders has started designing this submachinegun in the early ’40s. It has a simple tubular receiver with an MG-34 style buttstock. It was chambered in 9x19mm. Judging by the shape of the feeding mechanism covers, the two samples could have different feeding mechanisms. One of them has a cylindrical feeding system housing with the rear sight mounted on its front portion and a separate barrel-mounted folding front sight (see the above image). The second one has a square feeding mechanism housing with both iron sights mounted on it.
The Coenders SMG used a simple blowback operation with a high rate of fire of up to 1000 rpm. It was fed from a non-disintegrating belt. The reciprocating bolt didn’t hit the rear of the receiver thanks to the recoil spring system. That feature should’ve made the weapon more controllable.
As in case of other Coenders designs, this one wasn’t adopted either. The reasons are perhaps the absence of a niche that a belt-fed SMG could fill, the need to manufacture new links/belts etc.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), at around the same time Russians have experimented with a belt-fed submachine gun design called LAD (ЛАД) which we’ll talk about later in a separate article.
The Coenders machine gun is the most mysterious among these three firearms. If there are at least one samples of the rifle and SMG existing today, there is no known sample of the machinegun to exist.
The machine gun was chambered in 7.92x57mm Mauser and possibly took part in the trials to replace the MG34. These trials were ultimately won by the MG-42. According to Mr. Schmidt, this machinegun had a high rate of fire of up to 2200-2400 rpm and a quick change barrel.
Even the existing information concerning this designer and the guns he made is not completely reliable. It comes from various sources and sometimes it is hard to distinguish whether certain information is a solid documented fact or somebody’s assumption. In order not to further complicate the situation, I had to use a lot of words like “probably”, “reportedly”, “possibly” etc.
If you know more about August Coenders and his firearm designs, please let us know in the comments section.