RIA: Prototype Gustloff 206 Rifle

German arms development during World War II was quite the chaotic mess, in many ways. While it is not uncommon for different service branches to have independent procurement systems, in fascist-era Germany this was coupled with the close collaboration between industry and the Party structure. This led to competing and conflicting policies between military and political offices. Semiautomatic rifle development was no exception. While the Walther and Mauser companies won the competitions to develop the Gewehr 41, the Gustloff concern had also produced a number of designs and these were continued after the trials by political decree. The best of these designs (apparently, from the sparse information available) was the model 206.

The Gustloff 206 is a largely sheet metal rifle with a gas piston operating system and an unusual vertically traveling locking block, akin to the Type 94 Nambu and Bergmann 1910 (as well as the much more recent Arsenal Strike One). The rifle is semiautomatic only (although it sounds like some select-fire models were also made) and feeds from MG-13 box magazines – cut down from 25 rounds to 10 rounds capacity on this example. The rifle may be related to the Gustloff submission for the Luftwaffe’s FG-42 project, but may not be. All I have been able to find on that rifle is that Gustloff did submit one and it did not progress into any trials, most likely because it failed to meet the design criteria set out by the Luftwaffe. The model 206 would fit that description.

49 Comments

  1. Hmm… Talk about logistical nightmares. And it still has the charger guide in the receiver like the Mauser and Walther rifles. Perhaps the Luftwaffe didn’t want this because of experiences in Crete… Or am I wrong?

    • The FG-42 was developed because of Crete. Rather like the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Fallschirmjaeger came under rifle fire from distances beyond the effective range of their MP-38/40 9mm SMGs.

      So when the HwA went into development of the “machine carbine” firing intermediate rounds, they weren’t all that interested. They wanted a selective-fire arm that used the full-powered 7.9 x 57 round so they could “reach out and touch someone” out to 500 meters at the very least. The FG-42 was the result, which was really a sort of very light machine rifle, more like the BAR than anything else;

      http://world.guns.ru/userfiles/images/rifle/6/1288256728.jpg

      Interestingly enough, its layout seems to have been copied from the American Johnson light machine gun of 1939-40;

      http://world.guns.ru/userfiles/images/machine/mg67/johnson_m1941.jpg

      The good news is that it has a double-column 20-round magazine that is less cumbersome than the Johnson’s single-column one. The bad news is that unlike the recoil-operated Johnson, the gas-operated FG-42 does not have a quick-change barrel, which would better suit it to the SAW role. (A fault the BAR shares that the FN Model 30 version corrected.)

      In the end, the paratroops got about one FG-42 per squad as a backup to the MG-34 or MG-42 GPMG, with everyone else having either MP-43 machine carbines or the old reliable MP-38/40 SMG.

      The guy with the FG usually had a 2.5X telescopic sight on top of it, both to act as squad sniper and because its layout made “getting down” behind the folding iron sights a literal pain in the neck (and a procedural PITA).

      The FG-42 has to be classed as a failed experiment, however it did prove that a selective-fire rifle firing a full-power round really doesn’t work that well tactically. Like the later M-14 and other 7.62 x 51 rifles, it was next to uncontrollable in full-auto due to its massive recoil, even with its straight-line layout.

      Chambered in a more manageable cartridge, like 7.9 x 33 (or 7.62 x 39?),it might have had something to offer. Most obviously, unlike the MP-43 & Co., you didn’t need to dig a mini-foxhole for the magazine to fire it from the prone position.

      cheers

      eon

      • Eon, in reply to what you said regarding the possible benefits of an FG-42 chambered for 7.92×33 cartridge, I recall something about the Swiss playing with the concept (can’t remember the exact round, but it must have been an intermediate derivative of their 7.5×55 cartridge) shortly after the war.
        Cheers,

        R.

        • “I recall something about the Swiss playing with the concept (can’t remember the exact round, but it must have been an intermediate derivative of their 7.5×55 cartridge) shortly after the war.”

          Waffenfabrik Bern 7.5mm short rifle and 7.5 Assault rifle.

          SIG AK53 was a blow-forward rifle design. Purported to have a cyclic rate of 300 rounds thanks to the weird operating system whereby the barrel was pushed back by a spring over a new cartridge to the fixed bolt face.

          Waffenfabrik Bern developed two intermediate cartridges: 7.65m and 7.5mm in the early 1950s. Another used the full-power 7.5x55mm GP11.

          Doctrinaly, the Swiss Stg57 owes much to the FG42 concept: “Ours is a ruggedly mountainous country, so each individual rifleman is expected to engage targets at range, use an automatic rifle with a bipod to seal off the mountain passes, etc.” “It’s an SMG! It’s a rifle! It’s an LMG! It has a bayonet so it can be a spear!” “Together with the clever little pocket knives, a soldier/militia man can do anything!”

          As for the Bern prototypes, the layout was the same as the FG42. One had a wood butt stock, and a metal fore stock that was deployable as a bipod just ahead of the handguard, and with the same muzzle brake–also used on the Swiss sniper rifle that Ian reviewed for us some time back. The other, the Assault rifle seemed to be rather more pared down, and with a skeleton metal rear stock with a gripping surface like an LMG, but with a wood stock comb.

        • The TRW Low Maintenance Rifle of the early 1970s was intended to arm “indigenous troops” in a SEA type scenario. Essentially, it was an FG-42 in 5.56 x 45mm with an intentionally low RoF to economize on ammunition;

          https://www.forgottenweapons.com/trw-low-maintenance-rifle/

          When I was a kid, I had a bright metallic blue plastic toy “tommy gun” that had a barrel that looked a lot like this one’s.

          😉

          cheers

          eon

  2. Interesting. In fact, building a sheet metal prototype should be more difficult than making the same in machined form, since needing special dies for shaping.

      • Building actual manufacturing dies for a prototype should not be a reasonable application. In fact these kind of samplings should be made standart shaping, cutting and welding tools and, even in that case, the time and material wasted for the job, would be higher in cost than making the same in full machining process. IMHO.

  3. I must confess I’m not seeing the logic of the butt stock construction. I can certainly understand the desire to cover a bare metal stock, especially for soldiers who might have to use a rifle in a cold environment like the eastern front in winter. But stamping a metal stock, and then covering it with those two wooden sides (and it looks like that inner, stamped metal stock was originally of one piece with the wrist that was still attached to the receiver, and was sawn off later, though I may be wrong about that) seems like going around your ass to get to your elbow, so to speak. It would seem far easier just to weld on a conventional tang attachment, and then have a solid or laminated wood butt stock attached with a couple of simple screws. Stamping the sheet metal inner stock, and then shaping a pair of wooden covers to go around them would seem more complicated and labor intensive.

    The only way this makes sense to me is if the original plan, with the prototype, was to have a stamped metal stock only, but someone realized how impractical that potentially was, especially in really cold weather, and rather than build a whole new prototype, or perform surgery on the existing one to retrofit an all wood stock, they simply fabricated the wooden covers. Perhaps if the rifle had gone into production, it would have had a conventional wood butt stock, like the StG-44 did.

    • The wooden stock “shells” are too expensive & brittle for mass production, I agree – but maybe the plan was to have a two-piece molded bakelite/some-type-of-plastic stock cover over the stamped & welded metal core. Making molds is very expensive so they made wooden dummies to demonstrate the concept?

      • 1930s Germany had develop “Durofol” a analog to Bakelite, made from Wood presst and formed under Steam & Pressure and chemical Phenol formaldehyde resin
        during war they used that stuff for Pistol grips and weapons part
        I think that those Wood stock shell and Handel are made from “Durofol”

        my question to Ian, who had disassembly the rifle and had Wooden parts in his hands, were those more like plastic, Plywood or cut wood ?

    • I think you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective – IMO it’s more likely that they started design assuming a normal wooden stock, then tried to minimize the required wood.

      Make it hollow – by bending planks, of course, not by drilling it out; that would not save any material.
      Then save even more wood by using thinner planks.

      Ooops, now it’s too weak to be useful – better come up with a quick and cheap way to support it from the inside…

      • You may be correct. But, by the fact that steam prank bending dies being much cheaper to make and apply than bakallite or other thermoplastic dies, it would be quickly made and used for the prototype. Besides, it would need some cut and correction works at the joined sections.

  4. Thank God for the Nazi administrative chaos…even Guderian and Speer never really standardized the german war machine the way that the allies and the soviets did. And they had to deal with the SS and the Nazi party, two ”deep states” inside the III Reich and lunatics like Goering and his beloved Lufwaffe, an air force with an Panzer Division (named Herman Goering of course) and field divisions besides the paras.
    Just imagine Albert Speer with total powers in terms of war industry and Guderian with the same for the Panzerwaffe/Heer organization…frightening…

    • “Thank God for the Nazi administrative chaos…”
      Additionally, even more chaos was caused by fact of using a lot of captured weapon, which might but don’t have to be chambered for 7.9×57 cartridge, similarly case was with automobiles, which might have different tyre size or electric equipment or bolt size and in case of British vehicle abandoned after evacuation from Dunkerque steering wheel was on wrong side.
      Now imagine how hard was to assure that each piece of equipment will have access to proper repair parts.

      “Guderian and Speer”
      If you are interested in German Ministry of Armaments in WWII see book Inside the Third Reich
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_the_Third_Reich
      this observation is worth noting:
      pathological secrecy and corruption within a dictatorial system more than canceled out the theoretical benefits of greater centralization

      • Yes, I read the Speer’s memoirs, besides the ”I changed and I really hated the nazis and Hitler” at the end the byzantine aspects and the crude madness of the nazi rule and the people behind it are well represented…it’s also a good introduction to the economics aspects of the war, without Speer, the paradigm of the cold technocrat, Nazi Germany would have been defeated maybe one year earlier.

        Captured matériel weas really more a curse at the end than a good thing for the germans, they have so many models…much of the motorized vehicles for the Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was of western european origin, and much of it were civilian trucks put in the military. Even before the harsh winter nearly all was kaput…in fact the III Reich was a ”railroad evil empire” as nearly all the big logistics used rail, and only some elite units were armored or motorized.

      • There was a standard
        Napoleon and a few tin pot workshops in new England, messed it up

        It’s interesting that a few years back the British government attempted to outlaw the manufacture and sale of anything in inches, pounds ounces pints etc

        completely forgetting that NATO is standardised on inch threads – The only reason that the WWii German state is believed to have been a hot bed of rival interests all pulling in different directions – is because we’ve got to hear about it.
        I’d be very surprised if there was less infighting below the surface of any other state

        IIRC the bolts going into VW Beetle crank case are inch dimensioned Whitworth.
        Mauser 98 rifle Barrel threads too

        • The imperial units were standardized relatively late and for example in the US at least some off the standardizations rely on the metric system. When the metric system was invented, every country in Europe had their own measurement systems which were at best standardized at national level, if that.

          • The inch system is standrdised as 25.4mm in order to avoid maintaining two standards

            the earlier differences between US, British and Canadian standards arose becuas of the old standard that was in London. It was made of wood, which is hardly the most dimensionally stable of materials, and it had been broken and dovetailed back together and that joint was loose.

            There’s a very good discussion of accuracy and standards in length measurement up to the 1970s in Moore special tool company’s book “Foundations of Mechanical Accuracy”
            http://mooretool.com/publications.html

    • The Nazi administrative chaos was an integral and inevitable part of how Hitler ran the Nazi state. He deliberately set it up for the various bureaus and departments (and thus, the chiefs who ran them) to have overlapping areas of responsibility, and let them vie with each other for power. This way, they stayed pitted against each other, and no one could get so strong that he became a threat to Hitler at the top. Politically, it was a clever arrangement that secured Hitler’s power. But it was a disaster for the German war effort, as it inevitably meant a lot of bureaucratic infighting, interagency and interservice rivalry that prevented necessary cooperation in achieving war goals, wasteful duplication of effort, wastage of resources on this or that department head’s dead-end pet projects, etc. etc. All in all, whatever his moral failings, Albert Speer was a remarkably gifted administrator to make such a nightmare system work as well as he managed to in supplying the German armed forces.

      • “…and let them vie with each other for power.”

        This is as I read many times over, what A.H. practised with his closest associates. After finding this out one is a step closer to lean onto a major conspiracy theory (as A.H. being agent of the opposite side).

        • Hitler’s actions are easily explainable by his need to keep all power in his own hands and avoid giving anyone enough power to become a threat to him. The business with Ernst Röhm and the SA was an important precedent in Hitler’s mind. Röhm lead the multi-million strong SA organization, which consisted mostly of young men and was largely independent of the Nazi party apparatus. While there is no evidence that Röhm actually planned to overthrow Hitler, the crux of the matter is that he could have, which is why Hitler had him killed, and consequently Hitler decided that no one would have such a power again.

  5. It’s quite similar to polish prototype rifle wz. 38M designed by Józef Maroszek. 38M had tilting bolt which required solid, milled receiver. This one use front locking what allows to use stamped receiver.
    But general layout of the Gustloff rifle closely resembles 38M. So does double operating rod, mainspring placement, disassembly pins and lower receiver. I’m not familiar with trigger mechanism of 38M, but section drawing shows something similar to the Gustloff trigger.

  6. Given a bunch of prototype rifles, which do you think warrant development beyond the shooting gallery?

    1. Gustloff 206
    2. Nippon Special Steel Kawamura rifle
    3. Heinemann-Rheinmetall prototype with 25 round magazine
    4. Winchester Automatic Rifle
    5. Winchester Williams Anti-material rifle
    6. Pavesi Tokarev in 8x59mm Breda
    7. Scotti Model X
    8. Korobov TKB-517
    9. Do whatever!!

    You may ignore this post if you prefer… I’m short on ideas right now.

  7. This thing as much as technically intriguing is unprecedented visually ugly – yuck. Any Japanese rifle of that time was a beauty queen in comparison. Well as Ian said, German way of thinking. It was somehow carried over to recent HK production.

    Regarding parties in power apparatus struggling for their objectives in Nazi Germany it is due to mention also Schutz-Staffel(SS). They had their projects done by weapon factory in Brno. Besides, Brno was also involved in one Kriegsmarine project which ended up with anti-aircraft 30mm Skoda auto-cannon.

    • “Schutz-Staffel(SS)”
      In some places there is mentioned SS-Waffenakademie, however I’m quite confused about it existed or not existed?

      • SS took on at about 1925, after “sorting out issues” with SA one year earlier. Previously mentioned Himmler was appointed chief some time after. They were “the pure and most trusted”; something like republican guard under Napoleon. Waffenakademie would be schooling/ training institute.
        http://www.historyonthenet.com/Nazi_Germany/ss.htm

        When captured it was easy to find their identity even if they attempted disguise – their personal ID tattoo was etched on their arm. They were typically executed on spot.

  8. This is the rifle designed by Barnitzke described in 21st Army technical report no. 10. He states that it fired 20,000 rounds
    without faults. I think the locking system is a copy of the Russian Simonoff rifle. Like so many late war experimental rifles
    it was examined by the British and never put in the Pattern Room for later study under the thinking that the Germans lost the
    war because our weapons were better

    • “never put in the Pattern Room for later study under the thinking that the Germans lost the war because our weapons were better”
      I think even having flawed designs stored might be useful – for teaching how NOT to design new patterns.

  9. Just looking at that sliding locking piece

    compared to a rotating bolt, or even a tilting bolt

    the sliding piece requires two sets of working clearences, one set of 3 to 5 thou of an inch in the trunion, and a second set of 3 to 5 thou in the slots on the bolt,

    where a rotating or tilting bolt only requires the one set of clearances to move within.

    A bolt with an external locking yoke like a VZ58, can even have slight tapers built into the youke so that it can be made to lock up almost absolutely tight – like driving a wedge in.

    Maximum headspace clearance on military rifles is typically 0.006″,

    maintaining headspace on this rifle, and on those like the 20mm solothurn cannon with its rotating locking collar could have proved an interesting and expensive task during manufacture and assembly

    one of the alternatives for achieving headspace would be adjusting the barrel in and out. Adjusting headspace by varying case head protrusion would be particularly sloppy engineering.

    marks for this project: E minus

    • By “headspace clearance” you probably meant space between bolt face and barrel. This must be more than 0.006″ in order to allow for gas escape in case of cartridge rupture. I’d think (based on visual memory) something in order of 0.5mm [0.020″].

      Not trying to “down everything Czech” 🙂 I often thought about the method of Vz.58 lockup (as I carried one). I can see its merit: everything is clearly visible in front of your eyes and that’s good. During disassembly you can loose lock piece rather easy in dark; but they made it chrome plated for reason I guess.

      When comes to comparative stress pattern in tilting bolt vs rotary it appears that until recently it was tilt which had precedence and for good reason: shear strength of steel is about 1/3 of tensile/compressive. But then, this approach requires heavy machined receiver. I have to admire Czech designers how they managed such low weight on their rifle. I imagine the steel was top-notch Poldi-Kladno brand (accidently with long tradition – it was used on Carcano rifles).

      • Oh yeah, and one interesting detail. With tilt bolt you have to consider that cartridge recess face must be square to line of bore when locked; it gets to fancy machining but it’s no big deal.

        From that view point one can see how relatively easy it was done on showcased rifle. I actually like that idea – only if the receiver looked little better!

      • I may have misinterpreted that “head-space” clearance. I was likely meant with inserted cartridge. In that case you’d be about right, although it still sounds on tight side.
        Just being lazy to look into my sources I recall there were two types of head-space gages. One for new rifles and one “field” (likely used but still serviceable). There was ‘quite a bit’ of difference in values in both.

        • You are correct the second time,
          by “head space” I meant the maximum clearance of the shortest brass or steel case and the longest chamber. the dimension on a rimless case is usually from the case head to a refernce ring on the shoulder (in American practice) CIP seems to use the intersection of the shoulder – so quite how you measure that on anything other than a vector CAD drawing, I haven’t worked out yet.

          0.006″ is usual for military, and 0.003 is becoming more usual for sporting guns and consumer crap.

          According to Popelinsky, the locking surfaces on the Vz58 are hard chromed to allow them to begin moving without undue wear occuring, while there is still significant thrust coming from the case head

          Sorry if I gave the impression that I didn’t like the Vz58 – I do like it, I think that it is a brilliant piece of engineering and a much higher standard of design than the AK series.

          Minimal case head protrusion and building that into a rifle was one of Paul Mauser’s many masterpieces.

          I’m Just reading J Belk’s book on investigating firearm accidents, and he makes an excellent point which is closely connected to control of case head protrusion by design

          Q: Why do people wear safety glasses when they go shooting now?
          A: because the half arsed designer didn’t bother to design protection for the firer from escaping gas into the gun.

          With a Mauser 98, even if the case disintegrates, the firer is usually safe – with a Winchester Model 70 and any nummber of other consumer grade prooducts, the top will blow off the receiver ring and the firer will likely end up with severe injuries to their face, eyes and hands.

          The book is available free from his page here https://independent.academia.edu/JBelk

          • As I can see you have your info well sourced. Still, that 0.006″ [0.15mm] looks to me on tight side; it is just 2x thickness of printing paper. It is nice theoretical figure though. I will have to refresh myself on it.

            Let us not forget, brass is flexible – it swells and bounces back. For that ability is still irreplaceable. I believe clearance at around 0.010″ would still do quite well.

            From longer term reading your notes I know you have appreciation of Czech firearms. When comes to my own relation to them I am kind of indifferent, no need for some sort of pride as far as I am concerned.

          • Regarding your quip about safety – well we live in lawyer’s age, don’t we. Everyone covers their own seat part.

            Sure, every designer worth of the name makes provision for emergency gas pressure escape; no way around it.

          • You would be very surprised!

            There’s currently a class action against Remington over the collection of parts flying in loose formation that is the trigger on almost all Remington centrefire bolt action rifles for the past 50+ years (except the 788 – which had a trigger that wasn’t dangerous).

            Remington has known of the problem for at least 50 years, and done SFA about correcting it

            Very few shooters hear about the problems because of out of court settlements and confidentiality agreements

            that and I think it must be 35 years or more since I’ve read even a mildly critical review in a gunzine. gunzines are (by and large) not our friends, when it comes to those guns that are dangerous by design.

            In terms of safely handling a separated case head, a large ring mauser 98 will almost always “blow down” with the receiver ring remaining complete, and the bolt remaining in place, all gas is safely vented down and is well blocked from reaching the firer’s face or hands.

            that cannot be said for almost all American bolt action sporters
            from the Springfeld and the P14 / M17, through the Win Mod 70 and various Savage 110s – their failure mode is for the top of the receiver ring to blow off. they “blow up”

            A Remington 700 will safely contain the mess in the barrel counterbore (and it is more likely to make a mess because of case head protrusion) but there was little attempt to contain any gas which did get out of the counterbore and head for the firer’s eyes.

            Wetherby’s Mk 5 had excellent gas handling, but was let down by crap camming.

            Paul Mauser showed what could be achieved – and very few have come anywhere close to equaling his engineering judgement and eye user for safety.

        • Hmmm, isn’t that something. I wonder why some makers go to margin if it can damage their reputation. Sad.

          From American makes I have some experience with Ruger 77; that is well build gun, kind like Mauser. Than I had to do one project where was one existing receiver and trigger and all the rest was new. There was all the work involved, as we talked. The .308 version vas very accurate. We used 3-lug bolt.

  10. I’m seeing echoes of MP38/40 here, as many stamped parts as possible, perhaps bakelite grip panels would have been installed in something closer to a production prototype. This would have meshed with the Hitlerian notions of ultra-modernity that were supposed to mark the state, despite the general plan for settlement in the east involving medieval feudal militarised village clusters… weird place, Nazi Germany, weird place indeed. Comments here have already made clear how difficult the wood shaping was, would certainly have been easier just to attach a wooden stock, Darren is quite right.

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