- "Ambush! Right!"
- ―Bible to Wardaddy, indicating where to being firing his rifle
The StG 44 (abbreviation of Sturmgewehr 44, "assault rifle 44") is a German assault rifle developed during World War II that was the first of its kind to see major deployment and is considered by many historians to be the first modern assault rifle. It is also known under the designations MP 43 and MP 44 (Maschinenpistole 43, Maschinenpistole 44 respectively). The StG 44 was the first successful weapon of its class, and the concept had a major impact on modern infantry small arms development. By all accounts, the StG 44 fulfilled its role admirably, particularly on the Eastern Front, offering a greatly increased volume of fire compared to standard infantry rifles and greater range than submachine guns. In the end, it came too late to have a significant effect on the outcome of the war.
Wardaddy carried an StG 44 that he took from a German soldier he presumably killed.
Description and Legacy
The StG 44 was the first assault rifle-type weapon to be accepted into widespread service and put into mass production. The rifle was chambered for the 7.92×33mm Kurz cartridge. This shorter version of the German standard (7.92x57mm) rifle round, in combination with the weapon's selective-fire design, provided a compromise between the controllable firepower of a submachine gun at close quarters with the accuracy and power of a Karabiner 98k bolt action rifle at intermediate ranges. "The principle of this weapon -- the reduction of muzzle impulse to get useful automatic fire within actual ranges of combat -- was probably the most important advance in small arms since the invention of smokeless powder." The StG44's effect on post-war arms design was wide-ranging, as evidenced by Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47, and later in the U.S. M16 and its variants. The Soviet Union was quick to adopt the assault rifle concept. The AK-47 used a similar-sized intermediate round and followed the design concept, but was mechanically very different. In 1944 the US added an automatic fire capability to the M-1 Carbine, and issued it as the M-2 Carbine with 30 round magazines, fulfilling much the same function. Kits were distributed to convert M-1 Carbines to M-2s.
The extent to which the Sturmgewehr influenced the development of the AK-47 is not clearly known. The AK-47 was not a direct copy of the German gun as it used a very different mechanism. However, tens of thousands of Sturmgewehrs were captured by the Soviets and were likely provided to Kalashnikov and his team, so it is unlikely that he did not know of it while the AK-47 was still being designed, or was influenced by it at least to observe how to improve the assault rifle concept. The 7.62×39mm cartridge, however, was more directly influenced by the 7.92×33mm cartridge used in the StG 44. In July 1943, the Soviet Technical Council of the People's Commissariat for Armament (NKV) met to consider new foreign weapons firing lower-powered rounds. Two rounds that were studied were the American .30 Carbine and German 7.92 Kurz, captured from MKb 42(H) rifles undergoing troop trials. The meeting concluded that the 7.92 mm cartridge was an important development and that the Soviets needed to design a reduced-power round. The first prototype 7.62 mm M1943 round was created a month later, using the 7.92 Kurz design method of using the same caliber bullet as their standard rifle round (7.62×54mmR) in a shorter case.
After World War II, many Western countries continued using their existing full-caliber rifles. Although the 7.62x51mm NATO round adopted post-war was still a full-power cartridge, the trend towards the adoption of less powerful rounds was already underway in the West. For example, the M1 Garand had initially been developed for the .276 Pedersen (7 mm) round, a cartridge less powerful than the standard .30-06 Springfield. The U.S. Army's adoption of the M1 carbine in 1941 proved the utility of a small, handy, low-powered rifle that required little training to use effectively. Franchi of Italy based the actions of both the LF-58 carbine and the LF-59 battle rifle on the StG-44.
America and, later, NATO developed assault rifles along a roughly similar path by at first adding selective-fire capability in a reduced power, full-caliber cartridge. The Soviet Union lightened the AK-47 and introduced the AKM. America developed the concept of small-caliber, high-velocity (SCHV) bullets and further reduced the weight of their firearms with the introduction of the M16. The Soviets followed suit with the introduction of the SCHV AK-74 rifle.