MP-44 – The German Sturmgewehr

The MP-43 (which is mechanically identical to the MP-44 and StG-44; the differences are the subject for another video later) is a tilting bolt rifle with a long stroke gas piston. It was manufactured primarily from complex sheet steel stampings, as a way to minimize the amount of high-quality and thus difficult to acquire steels needed for its construction. The rifle is heavy by today’s standards, but remarkably ergonomic (except for the metal handguard, when heats up quickly). Its sights come right up to the eye when shouldering the rifle, and it disassembles quickly and easily.

It really is one of the best small arms developed during World War II.

The Sturmgewehr was the result of a German intermediate cartridge development program that began in the mid-1930s. It was sidelined for a period as the focus of German Ordnance shifted to full-power rifles in 8x57mm with telescopic sights, but as the German fighting in Russia became more desperate, many Ordnance officers realized that the greater firepower offered by the Sturmgewehr concept was one of the few options that might be able to allow depleted German units to effectively hold ground against Russian attacks.

To this end, the guns were issued primarily in the East, with whole companies being equipped in order to focus a maximum amount of firepower, rather than spreading the new rifles piecemeal across all units. Ultimately, of course, this was insufficient to prevent the growing Soviet advance – but for the individual German soldier, an MP-43/44/StG-44 would have been a much more comforting weapon than a Kar98k Mauser!

42 Comments

    • Perhaps the reason was that soldiers kept getting overwhelmed by Soviet spam attacks. Losing a weapon isn’t as bad as losing weapons and people all at once.

      • I’d guess relatively few, as most of them were going to the front lines, rather than to rear area troops fighting partisans. Some might have been stolen by resistance groups from stocks on their way to the front, but they would likely have been less useful to the resistance than weapons using more common ammunition, like 9mm SMGs, or even machine guns firing full-sized 7.92mm.

  1. For those of us who can’t afford a genuine Sturmgewehr, Hill & Mac Gunworks had planned to start shipping the first batch of their (semi-auto) StG 44 reproduction rifles in “Late Summer/Early Fall 2016” — which is just about now.

    As there have been no new posts made on the company’s blog for several months, I can only wonder what might be going on over at HMG, and whether they are already (quietly) shipping or if the schedule has been pushed back again?

  2. What a wonderfull gun. Forerunner of today’s two topmost service rifle. Recoil spring in the stock and pop up ejection port cover carbon copied by M16, and short stroke one piece gas piston with its lay out vacuumed by AK47. Features of a one gun shared by the forces at opposite sides. However, the ejection port cover seems a must for this gun since the vital connections (camming elements)at underside, via large easy to enter spaces, being open to dirt and suitable articles coming from outside.

    • You got perfectly right !
      Wrong articles coming from outside can completely ruin the day ans relability reputation.

      (I admit, it was tempting to joke about this typo. mistake)

    • I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the recoil spring in the stock comb setup was borrowed from the French MAS 1938 SMG in 7.65 x 20. In fact,if you look at the original AR-15/M16 fixed stock, it is a near-duplicate of the MAS 38 shoulder stock.

      cheers

      eon

    • Long stroke gas piston was IIRC first used on Hotchkiss MG in 1897.
      Two-piece receiver on the front and rear pins – Winchester 1907
      Spring in the stock – MAS 38 SMG (IIRC for that).

  3. After this masterfully laid out lesson by Ian, I tend to think that this really is a major achievement in small arms development. Where I see, besides of new round, its contribution is indeed its sheet metal construction and match to low power round (there is little flex visible on video). This is a direction I’d expect and perhaps in combination with polymers to become major drive to future.

    As we know, it was AR18 and few others which followed in this direction, while AR15 has gotten stuck with finicky and expensive (2 pieces on top of it, like if 1 was not enough) receiver, which resembles leg of landing gear. Some designs, such as HK36 went completely beyond this expectation and question arises, if all plastic receiver construction is the right thing. I’d like to see more of sheet metal (steel in particular because of its easy welding) to be used on modern military guns. This is probably why I like AK.

    • Even with well designed polymer structures, there are still places (away from the barrel, trunion, bolt and gas system) where steel structures are a distinct advantage, or even necessity.

      I’ll offer a couple of examples from sporting guns where plastics have been in use for forty or fifty years, and they have killed and maimed people who really could have expected to have still been alive and whole for a long time more, if the guns they were near had been better engineered.

      one is the remington nylon .22, which with an improvised sling and stuck over your shoulder can be persuaded to fire with just flexing of the structure. If it’s over your shoulder, there’s a good chance it will put a hole in the back of your head. I offer Browning and CZ .22 semi autos as guns which are better by design.

      two, is the plastic fire control housing and trigger guard on Mossberg pumps, which if the retaining fingers get damaged (which they easily can) the gun can go off just with ordinary handling. I’ll offer Ithaca’s pump actions and the same design made by Remington before WWii as the Model 17 (it is a Browning design) as an altogether better engineered gun design.

  4. I should have posted a response to the “AK vs Sturmgewehr” question earlier this year but I was out of town to a somewhat ‘Internet-challenged” venue. (Cuba, if you must know.)
    My first presentation of the MP-44 was around 1957 or so and I was handed a “bring-back” of a likely fully functional piece from the then much more recent European unpleasantness. My first and lasting impression was just how big, bulky and bloody heavy the damn thing was. Further fiddling and diddiling revealed just how “Cover & Concealment” challenged it was with its towering banana magazine.
    (I seem to recall T. E, Lawerence commenting on the dangers of raising one’s head just a little bit too much while ambushing trains in combat.)
    Fade to black and come back somewhere in the very late ’60’s and it’s me being handed a now (very) vintage MP-44 for comparison to a then current AK. (Please don’t ask when & where.)
    My initial reaction was, “Whoa, I been here before…” and then a long pause….)
    Early memories came back and rearing up to my 5’10” adult height, I recalled my 1957 introductory exposure to high-powered submachine guns. Which it was and remains.)
    It was still big, bulky, clumsy, wiggly, and heavy. And the towering mag still pretty much guaranteed a returned parcel special delivery addressed to YOU.
    By the way, did I happen to mention that at the initial familiarization, ca 1957, I was a height of 4’ 6″‘ and I was 10 years old?
    At least by the ’60s, I got to fire it.
    Interestingly enough, my then more experienced impression was the observation that (my, our, etc) engagement is not so much ‘Distance of Engagement’ but rather the uncooperative nature of opponents that insist on hiding behind projectile resistant material (Like, you know, rocks big trees, ravines, holes in the ground, and you know stuff like that.
    Think about it, mill around, discuss and get back to me.

    • Yeah, one of the problems with the “steel challenge” form of firearm competition these days is that the targets just sit there while they’re being shot at. And, more importantly, they don’t shoot back. ^__^

      • It’s kind of funny how those amusement-park shooting galleries from a century ago not only had moving targets, but used real guns as well. (Ok, so maybe a .22 Short rifle barely qualifies as a ‘real’ gun)

    • I believe the whole point of the Fallschirmjager Gewehr 1942 (FG-42) weapon (exactly what it is, see below) was to correct what the German paratroops (who “belonged” to the Luftwaffe, not the Wehrmacht) saw as the drawbacks of the then-new Maschinenkarabiner 1942 aka Mkb-42, the MP-44’s ancestor.

      First of all, it was as nearly straight-line as possible, with its short gas tube under the barrel rather than over it. This brought the sight line down closer to the bore, which improves practical accuracy, even allowing for the height of the iron sights. It certainly made a telescopic sight more practical.

      Second, the pistol grip didn’t stick down as far, and the magazine didn’t stick down at all, being on the left side and feeding horizontally. This made prone shooting a matter of simply “hitting the dirt” rather than digging a mini-foxhole for a long magazine every time.

      Finally, it fired the full-power 7.9 x 57 round. So it reached out far and hit hard exactly like the old 98K bolt-action, just four times as often on one fillup.

      The Mkb and its offspring had a range advantage over the typical Russian soldier armed with a 7.62 x 25mm SMG. But in close country engagements, that advantage wasn’t of much relevance. In Crete, the paratroops had came under rifle fire from ranges beyond that of their 9mm SMGS, so that may have colored their opinions just a bit. (A similar experience awaited US troops in Iraq, and both Soviet and US troops in Afghanistan, half-a-century later.)

      The Fg-42 has been criticized for being expensive to make- and it was. But then so was the Mkb and progeny. An MP-40 or PPSh-41 was cheaper to make than either one of them. They probably finished up about even with the M1 Garand in the cost department.

      As for exactly what the FG-42 was, I’d tend to think of it as a “machine rifle”; the weapon you give to one man in each section to provide fire support in the assault, as with the BAR. Giving one to each man in a paratroop unit makes sense; they tended to land separately, with each man fighting his own separate battle until they succeeded in linking up. A full-power, selective-fire weapon is the optimum choice for that sort of scrum.

      Weight-wise, FG-42 was actually a bit lighter than most iterations of the Sturmgewehr, but of course it only had 2/3rds the ammunition load aboard, too.

      Most obviously, the FG-42’s resemblance to the Johnson M1941 LMG, complete to folding bipod, is unlikely to be mere coincidence.

      cheers

      eon

      • On that barrel vs gas piston location, I believe it is the other way. Just think about it for second: piston higher – barrel lower = advantage. The reason they had it that way is because they used operating rod as part of (open bolt) fire control.

        As for me, I am hugely impressed with the fact that all gun can be stripper to bits. Not the same can be said about so called “bren” from CZUB.

        • Good point about the gas tube. Having the barrel closer to the magazine feed location (for an underside vertical-feeding magazine) would necessitate having the gas tube and piston above the barrel or to the side of the barrel (as in the case of several bolt-action conversions to gas-operation, the “Low Maintenance Rifle,” and the White LMG prototype rifle). If you’re referring to using the charging handle as the safety catch on the MKB-42 (H), I’m not surprised.

          Any infantry small arm should be field-stripped without complicated tools. There is no convenient hardware store out there in the field!

          Voluntary activity:

          Given a choice, prior to the Haenel and Walther developments towards the STG-44 and Kalashnikov’s efforts into making the AK family afterwards, which development would you “max out” and issue as a standard infantry long arm with potentially select fire capabilities?

          1. Fedorov Avtomat
          2. Vollmer M35
          3. Beretta Mod 37
          4. Farquhar-Hill rifle (and Beardmore-Farquhar machine gun to go with it, silly clip feeder attachment included)
          5. Scotti Model X
          6. CZ Model S
          7. Breda M1935 PG
          8. Johnson Rifle
          9. Browning M1918
          10. M1 Garand (duh)
          11. Do whatever!!

          • “select fire”
            If you want select-fire version you should limit recoil either by using possibly low-power cartridge or limiting Rate-Of-Fire, thus weapons chambered 6.5mm Italian cartridge look attractive and .30-06 chambered weapons unattractive, with exception of Browning M1918 in late version which have “lazy”-full-auto mode.

          • I’d tend toward a Breda in 7 x 57 as was used by the Chilean Army. The combination of a 25 round magazine, selective fire, and the round that everybody else was duplicating ballistically at the time (.276 Pedersen, etc.) would be a reasonable package, IMHO.

            cheers

            eon

      • I like the FG-42 as well and have day dreamed how it would have been, had the Luftwaffe used an intermediate cartridge along the lines of a 7.92×43 similar to one of the designs studied in the German intermediate cartridge development program. Such a minor change would have still give the paratrooper great long range firepower, as out M16 shows, but also would have allowed them to carry a heavier combat load of ammunition. The other plus would be that all the manufacturer of ammunition would have needed to do is shorten the standard 7.92×57 case and use the same bullets—something reloaders do all the time in making wild cat rounds and obsolete cartridges no longer manufactured

      • “Giving one to each man in a paratroop unit makes sense; they tended to land separately, with each man fighting his own separate battle until they succeeded in linking up.”

        Yes, probably it makes sense. But in fact, how many FG42s were in one Fallschirmjäger squad and platoon?

        • They made about 5000 FG-42s from 1942 to 1944, and the total number of actual Fallschirmjager combat troops was about 100,000 IIRC. (Over 54,000 were KIA during the war.) However, after 1944 most of those troops were equipped and trained as conventional line infantry, rather than actual paratroops.

          The original intent on the paras’ part was that each man got an FG-42 and as many spare magazines as he could hang on his drop harness.

          What they ended up with was the FG-42 as the equivalent of the BAR in the U.S. infantry section. One out of every ten men got one, basically as backup to the MG team.

          Also, by mid-’43 production was switched to the FG-42/II version, with a wooden buttstock and more “vertical” wooden pistol grip. This made it a bit heavier, but also more comfortable to shoot in sustained fire. This strongly indicates that it was seen more as a support weapon than an individual weapon at that point.

          Note that the magazines for the “original” FG-42 will work in the FG-42/II, but not vice-versa. The later magazine is more heavily built, apparently due to complaints about durability. This also indicates that it was being used more in the support role, by ground troops to whom weight wasn’t as much of a factor as it would be for actual airborne troops.

          cheers

          eon

          • Thanks for your answer. 🙂

            By the way: it is known, why has the FG42/I so silly horizontal pistol grip? I can hardly imagine that, it is comfortable.

          • @Poresz

            The nearly horizontal pistol grip was at the same wrist angle found on the Kar98K. This was supposed to lessen any unfamiliarity in handling the FG-42 after transitioning from the standard army equipment to the Luftwaffe packages. The problem with this idea was that paratroopers and regular soldiers alike expected pistol grips to be held like handguns, not like the usual bolt-action rifle semi-pistol grips.

            Did I mess up?

          • @Cherndog

            “The nearly horizontal pistol grip was at the same wrist angle found on the Kar98K.”

            Thanks for your answer. 🙂 Only one question remains: why I couldn’t figure out it?

  5. The long bolt travel distance of the Stg slows the rate of fire and softens the transition from recoil to counter recoil. While not the same, the KelTec RDB reminds me of this. That gun is a downward ejecting bullpup with the ejection port behind the magazine which means a really long bolt travel. Essentially the bolts have a better shot at running out on their springs which spreads the recoil impulse out in time and lessens the peak.

  6. I have spoken to several men who used the MP44 in combat and they said that in the cold of Russia the handguard did not heat up too much and also in a combat situation they had more important things to worry about.
    The grenade launcher that screwed onto the barrel was only for the MP43/1 and the MkB.
    In the compartment in the stock there should be a small instruction book,a gas plug rod,a spare extractor and spring with a spare firing pin and oil bottle.
    The stock retaining pin was designed to be captive but rarely is.

  7. I wonder if the metal forend heating up wasn’t too much a problem because soldiers might grip the MP-44 around the magazine well instead of the forend?

    • In the winter you would have to wear gloves in any case, so the combination of cold air and gloves would certainly protect your hands quite well from burns. The only problem is that Russia has continental climate and pretty warm summers, so the handguard would heat up for much of the year.

  8. I was told in 1992 by a JNA paratroop officer in the USA on a refugee visa (he refused to fight in the Serbia-Croatian conflict, and told me, ‘If it were real enemies, like Bulgaria, or Germany, yes, but civil war? No.’) that the paratroops in the JNA carried ‘German assault rifles’. I thought for years they were, you know, East German AKs, but in fact the JNA paratroops carried MP44s all the way into the 1970s.
    For what it’s worth, I carried an M48 8mm bolt action, often loaded with machine-gun ammo and sometimes tracers, in Bosnia. Over hilltops and up in the mountains, AKs were almost useless at distance: Sarac/MG53s and 8mm is what got things done. I honestly don’t recall ever seeing an M84 7.62. They may have been there, but I have no memory of them. Only the MG53, which, by the way, everyone I knew called the MG42.
    My experiences are limited to where I was and the people I met, and do not apply to anywhere else in the now Ex-Yu. Anyone else’s experiences may be different, and equally factual.
    And no offense, but the standard of marksmanship in the former JNA was horrible, on all sides. I’ve never seen a bigger waste of ammo. Ridiculous. It was very frustrating.
    I was trained to shoot up to 1.5 kilometers with no scope, and I swear, most guys couldn’t hit a flock of barns at 100 meters with anything. Anyway. I have little use for ‘assault rifles’ unless it’s close up, in which case you got stupid and let your enemy (‘not-friend’) get too close, and you deserve what you get.
    In my opinion, the ‘assault rifle’ is for suppressive fire for mass assaults over ground by a mass army, killing a room full of unarmed people, or for macho show. Other than that, multi-purpose heavy/switch-barrel MGs are what gets things done, supported by riflemen to pick off the unusual smart ones.
    There aren’t very many of those. And they are very, very hard to kill.
    The thinkers are really hard to kill.
    Assault weapons certainly won’t do the job. Expenditure of ammo won’t kill them. You have to out-think them, and that is mentally taxing. I know as I took one of those guys out, and it was so difficult. Uh. I feel bad about it, as what if we’d both applied all that mental energy to something, you know, positive? Like renewable energy? But that’s not how it is.
    I got to Hungary and had a physical breakdown from the mental stress.
    I couldn’t believe it. I went DOWN. Woke up on a floor three days later! 72 hours. Out.
    The sweat from stress soaked all the way through my military jacket, and there was a wet imprint of my body on the hardwood floor. Anyway.
    The JNA carried MP44s through the 1970s, on the word of my acquaintance the paratroop officer, who said he really liked his and didn’t like swapping for an AK-model.
    Sorry for the digression.
    Maybe someone will learn something.

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