The Swiss Army went into World War II with the Schmidt-Rubin K31 carbine – a straight-pull bolt action design that had been evolving since 1896. It was a good and very accurate weapon, but as the war showed, bolt action rifles were obsolete technology compared to the new crop of reliable semiautomatic rifles being adopted by counties like the US and Germany. So Switzerland began experimenting with selfloaders more seriously. As with most nations, the Swiss had tinkered with semiautos for several decades, at least back to the 1907 Mondragon rifle, which was manufactured by SIG. Waffenfabrik Bern produced a bunch of different prototypes during the 1940s, which ultimately lost out, as the Swiss military ultimately adopted the SIG PE-57.
We have very little information on the Bern prototypes (out only print book being Automatawffen II, in German), but we have a reader in Switzerland who recently saw one up for sale at an auction and sent of some photos.
This rifle was identified as an AK44, although from what we can find the designations on these rifles are a bit questionable, as they were a whole series of varying experimental designs – in Automatwaffen, the closest match we can find is identified as an AK47 (nothing to do with Kalashnikov; it just stands for automatic rifle, model of 1944 or 1947). Naming aside, our correspondent reports that the nosecap is very similar to a K31, with the ability to mount the same bayonet. The brass piece is a protective cap, as the rifle had no muzzle brake or flash hider. The angle at the front of the top handguard marks the location of the gas block (a metal handguard would have made more practical sense, although wood looks great until it catches fire).
There is a scope mount on the right side of the receiver, which seems to have been a common feature on these prototypes. Mechanically, the gun uses a short-stroke gas piston like a G43 or Tokarev, and a tilting bolt like a Tokarev or Ljungman. You can see the intenals in this copy of the auction’s official photo of the rifle:
This particular rifle used a 6-round detachable magazine (Swiss clips held 6 rounds for use in the K31 and older designs), but we believe some of the prototypes were fitted with larger magazines as well. Some had modern rear catches, which this one shows a side match mounted on the magazine, like on the K31. This was a semiauto rifle (as evidenced by the 2-position safety lever), but some were built with full-auto capability – presumably those would have used larger magazines.
Here is the full set of photos of the AK44 sold at auction (click to download the gallery in high-res):