Two VG1-5 Gustloff Last Ditch Rifles at RIA

The Volksstrumgewehr Gustloff, more commonly (albeit incorrectly) known as the VG1-5, was one of the few semiautomatic Volkssturm weapons produced at the end of WWII. I have discussed these rifles before, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take a close look at two more examples of the type.

Mechanically the Gustloff uses a system quite unusual in rifles – gas delayed blowback. Chambered for the 8×33 Kurz cartridge, there are 4 small gas vent holes in the front half of the barrel which vent gas into a chamber in the front muzzle plug. Pressure in this chamber acts to keep the slide closed, thus delayed the opening of the action. A nearly identical system is used in the much later Steyr GB pistol.

One of these in particular still has its original sling, which is a neat feature (the other clearly was issued with a sling but has lost it). In total 10,000 of these were manufactured, but they were not able to make a significant impact to prolong Germany’s war effort.

137 Comments

  1. Gas escape holes seems cut fairly far. This means the gun works in simple blowback to that distance. If ıt were all the lenght of the barrel, the additional gas brake mechanism would not be necessary. Gas assist action seems, as if made to cushion the violent impact of recoiling slide, rather than to delay the opening of breech backside.

    • Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that… That would explain the large slide. I did think, to better facilitate delaying the slide the ports would be better nearer the chamber. Just seemed logical, given you are trying to delay blowback.

    • ” Strongarm
      November 20, 2015 at 7:25 am · Reply

      Gas escape holes seems cut fairly far. This means the gun works in simple blowback to that distance. If ıt were all the lenght of the barrel, the additional gas brake mechanism would not be necessary. Gas assist action seems, as if made to cushion the violent impact of recoiling slide, rather than to delay the opening of breech backside.”

      EXACT !!!

      it’s not a gas blowback: it’s a gas buffer…

  2. Fantastic stuff, Ian! I’ve long been fascinated with the Barnitzke/Gustloffwerk Volksgewehr since I first saw it in the Smith _Small Arms of the World_ and the example at the IWM in London. W. Darrin Weaver’s book on the Volksturm armament programs and your site have by far the most thorough and informed discussion of this “also ran” self-loading carbine design. It is really to the credit of forgotten weapons that we can observe how these were made, fit together, and functioned. I like the even handed evaluation of the rifle too, with very good observations about actually firing and handling one, and also a consideration of the operational aspect of actually putting such weapons into production. For those of us with “champagne tastes on a beer budget” for collecting WWII service rifles, this vicarious presentation is as close as we’ll get to a real one, and the hand-built replicas have a price-tag commensurate with being newly built in a very small production run and are also out of most of our budgets.

    As far as Thüringen goes, it is frequently anglicized to “Thuringia” so don’t worry about the actual German pronunciation, which is “TooreenGen.” Pronouncing umlauted vowel sounds is tricky insofar as one must purse the lips and make the vowel sound while simultaneously trying to pronounce the most common vowel in English: “e.”

    My understanding of the ten shot 7.92x33mm magazines is that the Austrian paper hanger in chief, ol’ Adolf himself actually imposed this idea in one of his very many micro-managing interventions there at the end as the edifice of his racist European empire came crashing down and the Downfall was nigh…

    Obviously the destruction of the Third Reich took too many lives and caused incredible misery and destruction, so I don’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” such an odious regime, but the better idea for arming the Volkssturm/Gauleiter-led Home Guard and the so-called “Volksgrenadier” formations of the late Wehrmacht was to go full tilt into making simplified Sten clones, e.g. the Volksmachinepistole MP.3008/ Gerät Neumünster with three MP40 mags per weapon and very many more Panzerfäuste 60s.

    Thanks very much for all the exploration of this carbine design!

  3. Erfurt is in Thuring’etc, they made guns there Erma. They were perhaps thinking, of after the war so to speak if the Mp44 factories had gone… They did plan some sort of insurgency war in the event of defeat, I think it was supposed to have things for it hidden towards Austria. But it never materialised, after the war.

    • Jawohl: ERMA: Erfurter Maschinenfabrik in Thüringen

      The Nazi “stay behinds” were the so-called “Werwolf” or “Wehrwolf” named after bands in the Lüneberger heide during the Thirty Years War. The Soviets extirpated such bands, as did the western allies, although there was comparatively less activity in the western sector. Still, such pro-Nazi elements did cause mischief including assassinating the mayor of Aachen and so on. The “Alpine redoubt” caused Allied planners much anxiety, and U.S. forces increasingly were directed southwards to meet this threat, while the British sought to prevent Uncle Joe from handing them a fait accompli of a Soviet-dominated Baltic and/or North Sea coast.

      • I’ve been through on a train, lots of forests… And a red and white striped chimney somewhere round there, like they had in the Soviet union which I assumed was because Erfurt was in former east Germany. Actually I changed trains, think I was going to Dresden or possibly Nuremberg.

        • There’s a statue of some 19th c or earlier German prince on a crossroads, in southern Germany, somewhere… Forgot, probably loads of these rifles under it.

        • Yes. Me too. Switched trains in Erfurt en-route to Naumburg during the “fire sale” just before the Anschluss, erm, I mean re-unification… Wife’s relatives or in Mittel-Franken near Nuremburg und so weiter…

          Suhl in Thuringia is a very ancient gun-making center and has loads of small gun makers and high-end sporting arms. During WWI the region churned out small pistols for the armed forces. In WWII, well, those Germans really know how to make a machine gun, no?

          • My mate is a postman there, I had a conversation in German with a drunk 80 odd yr outside the Brandenburg gate. Long after all that, I was drunk also.

          • The bottom and top of it was, never trust Poles.

            I just nodded, he was well off and ex military you could tell.

            No offence to any Poles, loads here now tak.

      • According to this book;

        http://www.amazon.com/Kommando-German-Special-Forces-World/dp/1848327374

        A lot of the “Werwolf” operatives made a very good business after V-E Day by selling off the contents of their “operational caches” on the black market.

        On the minus side, a lot of firepower ended up in criminals’ hands.

        On the plus side, in the winter of 1945-46, a lot of people didn’t freeze or starve because of fuel and food gleaned from those caches.

        cheers

        eon

    • Kurz is an abbreviation of Kurzpatrone, like milf is… Or is that an acronym, you are Russian right. Er, bad example… Can’t think of one, sure you have them in Cyrillic. Abbreviations, that is. It means short cartridge in my understanding, not milf, Kurz, hope that helped.

      • Automat Kalashnikov? Ak. Kurzpatrone 7.92x33mm 7.92 kurz, 7.92 short as oppose long 7.92x57mm, short cartridge, long cartridge. Mauser- big, kurz small, bore 8mm

        • I know
          Kurzpatrone in German mean short cartridge
          kurz in German mean short
          Maybe I ask in bad way: which was formal Wehrmacht name for this cartridge?
          I know that military intelligence often use their own names to describe enemy equipment if original are not know which might lead to multiple names for one thing and I assume that it how 8×33 was invented, but I want know original name.

          • Ok, I found answer: true name for 7.92 Kurzpatrone is:
            Pistolen-Patr. 43 m. E
            (or at least this name was found on ammo-boxes of this ammunition)

          • Pistolen… Pistol? Pistol cartridge. Little cartridge, sort of an abbreviation. You know, it isn’t a k98 round neither is it fitting in your c96

          • Recall that the initial name was Machinenpistole, aka. “submachine gun” or, literally, “machine pistol.” MP44. Then Adolf Hitler liked the name “Sturmgewehr” evoking, as it did, the glory days of Spring and Summer 1940…

            German cartridges were 7.92x57mm, but routinely shortened in English publications to simply “8mm Mauser.” The same occurred with the “7.92x33mm kurzpatrone”, hence “8mm kurz” or “8x33mm” It is frequently the case that there are variations or idiosyncrasies in caliber descriptions. The British predilection for using caliber into the thousandths is a good example. Thus, U.S. caliber .30 or .30-06 [.30 caliber adopted in 1906, e.g. spitzer ammunition] becomes “•300-in.” in British English vs. “.303″ or 7.7mm. Soviet 7.62x54r is 7.62×53 in Finland, and the actual ammo uses a .312” bullet, so it is closer to an 8mm, yet uses the “three-line” or .30 caliber nomenclature. The most notorious is .38 Special, which uses a .36 caliber projectile, perhaps.

            9x17mm/.380 acp is 9mm corto in Spanish, 9mm kurz in German, and .380 acp in the U.S. because very many small handguns in the caliber have been produced, and North American consumers would confuse 9×17 with 9×19.

            In Europe, the 9×19 is “Parabellum” but in the U.S., it was named “Luger” due to popular association with the Luger P-08 pistol, north americans being ever alert to clever marketing gimmicks…

            The Germans call submachine guns “MPs” but Thompson decided on “submachine gun” for marketing reasons, while in Britain such weapons were “machine carbines” and later, “sub-machine guns!” The DDR NVA Kalashnikov was the ‘MPiKM” or Kalashnikow machine pistol!

          • Yes, I known that cartridge designations are sometimes not real dimensions;
            “the actual ammo uses a .312” bullet, so it is closer to an 8mm, yet uses the “three-line” or .30 caliber nomenclature”
            It is 3-line in Russian because Russian understanding is that caliber is bore diameter in lands unlike American style in which caliber is bullet diameter.
            As you can choice between bore diameter (lands) and bullet diameter you can also choice imperial (inches) or metric (mm) hence we have 4 variation available:
            METRIC BORE – used in Russia, for example 5,45×39 or 9×18
            METRIC BULLET – used for NATO cartridges, for example 7,62×51 NATO or 9×19 NATO
            IMPERIAL BORE – for example .218 Bee
            IMPERIAL BULLET – used by US Army, for example .45 ACP
            Some cartridge have numbers as a legacy of their parents – .32 S&W Long because is child of .32 S&W.
            To complicate situation even more some cartridge have just random number assigned – both old and recent – for example .38-40 W.C.F. is nowhere .38 when .327 Federal is nowhere .327

      • “Cyrillic. Abbreviations, that is”
        In fact abbreviations were very popular in Red Army. Oh, if I just say Red Army it was often called RKKA (РККА) which mean Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army when Soviet Air Force was known as VVS (ВВС) or in full title VVS SSSR (ВВС СССР), VVS literally mean War Air Forces.
        Also ranks of commanders in pre-1940 system were abbreviations for example Komkor is Commander of Corps (US equivalent: 3-star general)
        Abbreviations were also often used in weapon system names:
        general rule for firearms: letter[s] for category letter[s] for designer[s] name[s] in PPSh, PP stands for sub-machine gun and Sh for Shpagin
        general rule for artillery pieces: factory index, for example 203mm howitzer B-4
        general rule for aeroplanes (post-1940 system): letter[s] for designer[s] and number (odd for fighters)
        general rule for self-propelled artillery: SU-[caliber], for example SU-152
        and so on, you probably could write thick book “abbreviations used in Soviet Union”

    • I check in Альбом конструкций патронов стрелкового оружия (Moscow 1946) which describe this cartridge as:
      7.92-mm “intermediate” cartridge for avtomat “Mkb 42(H)” and MP-43

      • Intermediate is giving it a nomenclature in regards it’s function, as oppose it’s size perhaps, in terms of power.

        What do you call 7.62x25mm as oppose 39mm or 54mm.
        39mm is intermediate power?

        I’m not doing a hypothetical conversation again.

  4. Patrone means cartridge, kurz means short in gerry talk according to the internet translation, intermediate might be a transliteration… To you have intermediate folk in Russia instead of short, as oppose tall.

    Da you are intermediate heightski. “I am not short?” Nyet, you are intermediateov. “Oh thanks” Dobro pozhalovat.

    Hypothetical conversation there.

    • Well, if people want to use the correct name of the cartridge, the first step would be throwing away that “7.92” caliber number. The number itself is wrong (it was “7.9” mm from 1888 to 1945) and calibre was not part of the designation: “Patrone 88” for example.
      Because the later Sturmgewehr started as “Maschinenkarabiner” (Mkb) it first was “Machinenkarabinerpatrone S”.
      When Hitler forbade development of the weapon, and it was renamed “Maschinenpistole” (submachine gun, literally machine pistol), the cartridge became “Pistolenpatrone 43”.
      When the gun in Octiber 1944 finally became “Sturmgewehr 44”, the model year was kept and the cartridge became “Kurzpatrone 43”.

      Calling the German 7.9 mm rifle and assault rifle calibres “7.92” is a bit like renaming the U.S. .30-06 to .308-06. Czechs, Poles and others renamed the 7.9 mm cartridge to 7.92 mm when they adopted it after WWI. But, as mentioned, it was 7.9 mm in the German army from its adoption in 1888 to the end.

      • “Poles and others renamed the 7.9 mm cartridge to 7.92 mm”
        No, so far I know Polish ammo boxes were labeled 7.9 m/m

        • It seems, Poland originally called it 7.9, but later changed to 7.92.
          I have a photo of a box label of the Polish State Factory lot 79/32 that has the line:
          15 NABOJOW kal.7.92mm Wz “S”

          The book by Gwozdz/Zarzycki (Warsaw 1993) uses “7.92” throughout.

  5. I’m curious as to the purpose of the round hole right behind the “charging handle” what if any propose does it serve? Also, I’m wondering if there are any surviving blueprints for these….. Seems like it might be neat to repro with a bit more durability and maybe to accept a modded AK mag in 7.62 x 39….

    • I’d buy a VG Barnitzke/Gustloff with Kalashnikov mags in 7.62x39mm in a heartbeat. My heart was racing with the reproductions being put together over at “Gun Lab” but the price is too rich for me, I’m afraid!

      BTW: Did the Barnitzke/Gustloff rifle use left-over aircraft machine gun barrels like the VG-1 turn-bolt rifle?

      • They were more likely barrels originally intended for the MP44/StG44 assault rifles. If you look just about where the front “cup” sits when the slide is in battery, the barrel reduces in OD just ahead of that point, the same way it is just behind the front sight mount on the StG44.

        Also, the VGI-5 barrel is 14.75″ long, that of the StG44 is 16.5″. Cut 1.75″ off the muzzle end of the StG44 barrel, and it “moves” that reduction “shoulder” forward to just about where it is on the VGI-5.

        ( Small Arms of the World, 9th ed., pp. 421-427)

        cheers

        eon

    • My best guess is that it served two functions;

      1. A gas-escape vent in case of a case-head failure. It would vent gas and hot brass fragments almost straight up and away from the shooter’s face.

      2. A loaded chamber indicator “witness hole”. You should be able to look down into it and see just a bit of the rim of a chambered round.

      cheers

      eon

  6. Obviously the resources used in the design and production of these would better have been used to make more MP44s, but the motivation here was internal political — Most arms production catered to the demands of the Wehrmacht. The Waffen SS, in its early years, had to beg weapons off the Wehrmacht, or set up its own production/procurement chain (as its influence grew, it was able to command a bigger piece of the overall pie). By the end of the war, the Nazi Party in the various states, concerned that the armed forces’ defensive objectives might not agree with their own, wanted militias under their own control to defend their fiefdoms. Naturally the Wehrmacht and SS had no interest in contributing weapons to forces not under their control, so the Party had to shop for its own, having only those resources not up to Army standards to work with.

    • W. Darrin Weaver’s important study of Volkssturm weapons offers a qualification, although I think your appraisal is spot on. Namely, the “true Volksgewehr” turned out to be the Mannlicher Carcano rifles and carbines because the swift German occupation after the side-switch allowed the Germans to more thoroughly loot and redirect resources from Italy. The other point or qualification is that some last ditch weapons were also considered to be for the regular armed forces as well, such as the MP.3008.

    • These are easier to make though than Mp44’s without proper factories I think… Particularly if you imagine the slide is enough to make them work, and as such they are better than 9mm Sten type guns.

        • There actually was a better way to make the system with a lighter bolt. Just have gas from the chamber-end of the barrel flow into the “slide.” Or am I wrong?

          Weapon of choice scenario:

          Darn it boys, terrorism is here. Hostages are being rounded up, and you’re probably stuck with me hiding in the broom closet (strangely, no terrorists seem to check the broom closets around here, presumably because “nobody hides in them anyway”). Assuming the coast is clear, please take one of my “last ditch weapons” I hid in the closet or find your own toys wherever you hid them. Just remember not to attract attention too soon, lest hostages be killed…

          1. Volkssturmgewehr
          2. Francotte-Automatique
          3. Mauser 1934 pistol with suppressor
          4. RSC M1918 with lots of clips
          5. Soviet “ballistic knife” (seems to have been stolen from the Spetsnaz)
          6. Sten MK IIS (suppressed)
          7. Why do I have a scoped STG-44 in this closet?
          8. Breda 30 or MG 08/15
          9. Hanyang 88 with bayonet and a satchel of stick grenades
          10. Get to your own “closet full of guns”

          Oh crap, here come the bad guys! Hide!

          This activity is completely voluntary. You are not required to respond if you do not wish to do so. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

          Thank you,

          Cherndog

          • You are right: http://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=6&f=9&t=421676
            “Gasdruckverschluss,The blow-back modification to the M.P.43/1 mentioned under the paragraph on the Haenel Works, was an attempt to simplify the mechanism of the gun. It was realized that the more powerful cartridge of this weapon would present problems if the recoiling parts were not specially slowed down and this first attempt included a gas buffer.”
            Suppressed Sten, don a bin bag from the broom cupboard and step out, say Salami Alibaba to first fecker you run into and pop them. Your hairy legs sticking out from beneath the bin liner will act as a stun grenade, and give you the advantage as they stand open mouthed for a second.