Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Maschinenpistole 43, Maschinenpistole 44, Sturmgewehr 44 (MP43, MP44, Stg44) were names for a light automatic rifle developed for Nazi Germany during World War II as part of the Maschinenkarabiner (machine carbine) program and devloped from the Mkb 42(H). The many names of the Mkb 42(H)'s successor results from the complicated events in the bureaucracy of the Third Reich.
The MP43, MP44, and StG44 were names for a nearly identical weapon with only small production differences and dates. The last, the StG44, was called "Sturmgewehr" literally "Storm rifle", or more commonly translated as assault rifle. It combined the traits of submachine guns and automatic rifles. The translation "assault rifle"' became very popular to describe this class of weapon, but it was far from being the first of this type.
It chambered a shorter version of the standard 7.92 mm rifle round, which, in combination with the weapon's design allowed it to be used like a SMG in close quarters but with greater accuracy and range then SMG at farther away targets. It had much less range and power than regular rifles of the day at longer ranges, but much of the fighting was taking place at closer ranges at that time, such as in towns, cities, and wooded areas.
It was popular as much of the army was equipped with either submachine guns, or bolt-action rifles, with only a limited amount given semi-automatic rifles. Also, there was a distinct lack of a dedicated light machine gun, the MG34 and MG42 had versions that were meant to serve in this role but they were on the heavy side for a LMG, and since they were intended be medium (heavy) machine guns, there were not enough to go around. The weapon filled their need for a light automatic rifle, like the Bren, while at the same time offering the much of the convenience of a SMG or a light automatic rifle like the US M1 Carbine.
The FG42 was also a light automatic rifle, but it was a weapon developed for paratroopers to serve as a semi-automatic rifle and light support weapon. Also, it saw very limited production of just a few thousand, both because it was not economical to make and because of internal politics in the Nazi government.
In the early stages of the war, their medium machine guns proved to be far too large to be operated on the move, meaning that the troops had to use their rifles while moving up. Of course the defenders they were moving up on were in fixed positions, and therefore had no limitations in the use of their own machine guns. For an army depending on the fast-moving blitzkrieg strategy, they found themselves outgunned almost constantly. These problems were magnified in the cities and towns, where the weapons could not be brought to bear on their targets before they disappeared into the next building.
For this reason the troops started making increased use of submachine guns, forming squads known as assault troops which could keep up a high rate of fire while on the move. Unfortunately the submachine gun's use of pistol-sized rounds made for poor range, and the assault troops were really only useful in urban settings. Once out in the country it was back to the rifles again.
The issue arose once again during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had been in the process of replacing its own rifles in the immediate pre-war era. Increasing numbers of semi-automatic Tokarev SVT38 and SVT40's were reaching the units, meaning that they outgunned their German counterparts considerably. The army had been attempting to introduce semi-automatic weapons of their own, notably the Gewehr 41, but these were proving rather problematic in service, and were therefore being delivered at a trickle while the problems were being worked out.
Several attempts had been made to introduce very light weight machine guns for these roles, but invariably the recoil from the fairly heavy standard German 7.92 mm Mauser round made them too difficult to control. The solution was to use a round of "intermediate" power, somewhere between that of the full rifle cartridge, and the pistol rounds. Experiments with several such intermediate rounds had been going on since the 1930s, but had been constantly rejected for use by the army. By 1941 it was becoming clear that there was actually a problem to solve, and one of the experimental rounds, the Polte 7.92 x 33 mm Kurzpatrone (short cartridge) - originally 7x33mm, but to minimize logistic problems and the war the Mauser 7.92mm was selected - was eventually selected as the basis for future development.
Contracts for rifles firing the Kurz round were sent to both Walther and Haenel (whose design group was headed by Hugo Schmeisser ), who were asked to submit prototype weapons under the name Maschinenkarabiner 1942 (MKb 42), literally 'machine carbine'. Both designs were largely similar, using a gas-actuated action, with both semi-automatic and fully-automatic firing modes.
The original versions of Haenel's design, the MKb 42(H), fired from the open bolt and used a striker for firing. The receiver and trigger housing with pistol grip are made from steel stampings, which are attached to the barrel assembly on a hinge, allowing the weapon to be "folded open" for quick disassembly and cleaning. The Haenel MKb 42(H) design proved superior to the Walther MKb 42(W), and the army then asked Haenel for another version incorporating a list of minor changes. One was to include lugs for mounting a standard bayonet, another to change the pitch of the rifling. A production run of these modified versions was sent to the field in November 1942, and the users loved it with a few reservations. Another set of modifications added a hinged cover over the ejection port to keep it clean while on the move, and rails to mount a sighting scope. A run of these modified MKb 42(H)'s in late 1942 and early 1943 produced 11,833 guns for field trials.
While the new version was under development in late 1942, the infighting within the Third Reich was in full swing. Hitler was increasingly upset by this, and after Hermann Göring had created the FG-42 simply to one-up the army's G41 efforts, Hitler gave up and cancelled all new rifle projects completely. This included the production of the MKb 42(H), which was still underway, which he was particularly upset about because it used a new ammunition type which would further confuse the already daunting logistics problems the army was having.
In order to protect the weapons development, a new project at Gustloff was started to produce a similar weapon using the original Mauser round, the Mkb 43(G). Whenever Hitler asked about the progress of the rifle, he was always shown one of these prototypes, although there was no intention of producing them.
Meanwhile the changed version of the original Mkb 42(H) was called the Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43) to disguise it as an upgrade to existing submachine guns. Another change was introduced to allow the fitting of the grenade launcher attachments from the earlier MKb 42(H) led to the MP43/1, as opposed to fittings for the launcher from the Kar 98k on the original MP43.
Eventually the truth surfaced and Hitler ordered the project stopped once again. However in March 1943 he allowed the run to continue for evaluation purposes, which then continued until September and due to the positive combat reports it was allowed to continue.
On April 6, 1944, Hitler issued the following decree:
- a) The former MG42 is to retain the same designation
- b) The former self-loading rifle, known as the Gewehr 43, shall receive the designation Karabiner 43 (K43).
- c) The former new MP, known as the MP43, shall receive the designation MP44.
In July 1944 at a meeting of the various army heads about the Eastern Front, the universal answer to "what do you need" was "more of the new rifles". This caused some confusion, but once Hitler realized what was going on he agreed to allow its full production. Seeing the possibility of a propaganda win, the rifle was again renamed as the StG44, to highlight the new class of weapon it represented, literally "assault rifle, model 1944", thereby introducing the term.
By the end of the war, some 425,977 StG44 variants of all types were produced. The assault rifle proved an invaluable weapon, especially on the Eastern front, where it was first deployed. A properly trained soldier with an StG44 had a greatly improved tactical repertoire, in that he could effectively engage targets at longer then previously with a MP40, but be much useful then K98k in close range urban fighting, as well as provide light cover fire like a light LMG.
An intriguing addition was the Krummer Lauf, a bent barrel with a periscope sighting device for shooting around corners. It was produced in several variants, an "I"-version for infantry use, and a "P" version for use in tanks (to cover the dead areas in the close range around the tank to defend against assaulting infantry), versions with 30°, 45°, 60° and 90°, and a version for the StGw 44 and one for the MG 42. Only the 30° "I" - version for the StG44 was produced in any numbers.
Towards the end of the war, there were also last-ditch efforts to develop cheap so-called Volksgewehr rifles, some of which used a gas-delayed blowback action.
The StG's effect on post-war arms design was more limited then the widespread adoption of the term assault-rifle suggests. While the StG44 had filled a missing niche in Nazi Germany's arms, between medium support weapon like MG42, and between the rifle and SMG, it was did not offer much of a advantage to countries who already fielded lots of light automatic rifles, or to those that already fielded an intermediate weapons such as the M1 Carbine.
The Soviet Union, who also had lacked large number of deployed LMG's like the BAR, was quicker to adapt the concept. The AK-47 used a similar sized round and followed the design concept, but was internally (mechanically) different. It was with this weapon that the English term 'Assault Rifle' for intermediate automatic carbines rose to greater prominence, and has since has been retro-actively applied to earlier weapons in this category. While the name originated from certain English translations of Sturmgewehr, the weapon itself did not mark the invention of the weapon concept of an assault rifle.
Much of the other Western countries continued using their existing weapons. The 7.62 NATO that was adopted was smaller, though the adoption of smaller rounds had been a pre-existing trend. For example, the Garand was initially developed for .276 (about 7mm) but due to WW2 was changed at the direction of General MacArthur to use the previously existing .30-06 to be common with existing ammunition stocks and weapons. Some modification was made, using a lighter 150 grain bullet for the Garand, rather than a heavier 172 grain bullet intended to be optimized for the M1917 Browning machinegun.
Eventually NATO moved from the 7.62mmX51 NATO to another intermediate cartridge, 5.56mmX45 NATO, but the weapons that were adopted varied significantly, and marked a different interpretation of what was needed in a intermediate weapon the than the AK-47 and StG. They used a even smaller higher velocity round, and the weapons themselves were lighter. Conceptually, in terms of size and weight they were closer to the M2 Carbine (a fully automatic capable M1) and the cartridge design itself had a history dating back before the 1900's. The USSR noted the advance and incorporated these differences in the improved AK-74, which was lighter and used a 5+ mm round like the NATO one.
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