We don’t deal in the psychosexual here at FAN, but when the subject is Nazi-era German weaponry, the sexy factor is not to be denied. The Third Reich took a longstanding Teutonic fixation on uniforms, daggers, chains, badges and other decoration and raised it to the highest power. The black SS ensemble, with its death’s head cap badge and runic collar tabs, evokes both fear and, perversely, desire, making it a staple of sadomasochistic costuming.
Those sharply tailored “blond beasts,” of course, slaughtered their fellow human beings by the millions: a fact that can never be forgotten, unless your name is Ahmadinejad. But the pure, unambiguous evil of the Thousand-Year Reich gives its artifacts a special jolt you don’t get from an Arisaka or a Carcano. A trophy from such a heinous, criminal regime, whose hordes combined unbridled savagery with matchless professionalism, holds vastly more potency than one from, say, the Mexican War.
And so it is that Nazi arms and memorabilia, even seven decades after World War II, retain a unique allure. And the sexiest Nazi gun of all, even above the Luger or MP40, is the Sturmgewehr, the gun that gave the world the term “assault rifle.”
The history of the Sturmgewehr is well-known. There are transferable guns in private hands, as the Mkb42/MP43/MP44/StG44 were used against U.S. troops, most notably in the Battle of the Bulge, but they are a lot less common than German submachine guns and so are horrendously expensive.
That rarity led to a semi-auto StG44 being offered in a limited edition a couple of years ago (Kokalis wrote about it in the Sept. 20, 2010, issue), and now a .22 rimfire model made in Germany by GSG and imported here by American Tactical Imports of Rochester, N.Y.
The GSG StG44 duplicates the original in size and, at 9.9 pounds, almost matches it in heft, with the original coming in at about 11 pounds. What it doesn’t duplicate is the often piebald finish of the original, which was made by a collection of subcontractors and assembled by Erma, Haenel, Sauer or Steyr.
The receiver, which appears to be made of the zinc alloy Zamak, has an overall smooth matte finish, while other parts like the buttstock socket and rear sight are blued. With the exception of the 25-round magazine and the grip panels, there’s very little plastic; this in contrast to the GSG copy of the HK MP5 (4/20/08 issue).
The only wooden part is the buttstock, which appears to be birch stained to look like a far nicer grade of walnut than any original I’ve ever seen. It follows the original design in not having a buttplate, but rather steel strips at the toe and heel, the latter incorporating the spring-loaded cover for an accessory hole in the top of the butt. It’s also slotted for a sling that hooks up with a swivel at the front of the fore-end.
The fore-end, like the original’s, is a formed sheet metal piece whose slimness is a big part of the 44’s distinctive feel, though I suspect it didn’t do too much to protect the hand from the hot barrel.
The Sturmgewehrs anticipated guns like the FN-FAL by having a lower receiver hinged to the upper, and the GSG rifle faithfully follows that pattern. The two halves are held together by the socket at the front of the buttstock, retained by a single pin with spring catch. Later rifles like the CETME and G3 added a second pin, but the concept is the same.
The lower receiver is a large and hefty piece that weighs almost 2 pounds all by itself. The Germans had lots of experience with winter warfare by the time the Sturmgewehrs were manufactured, so the trigger guard is plenty big for a gloved finger.
The whole assembly is large, so the lock pieces are quite robust, looking for all the world like the trigger parts of a repeating shotgun. Pulling the trigger rotates the sear assembly out of engagement with the beefy hammer. As that part is rotated backward by the recoiling bolt, it contacts the disconnector, which reengages the sear, preventing automatic firing. Releasing the trigger allows the disconnector to return to its original position. Trigger travel is quite long at about 3/8 of an inch.
The trigger-blocking safety is located on the left side and, inconveniently, rotates up to fire and down for safe. There’s an anachronistic red dot marking the fire position. I suppose if that bothered you, it would be easy enough to blot it out with a dab of black paint.
The selector button that passes though the lower in an authentic 44 is here rendered as checkered projections on either side, with the one on the left sticking out farther, simulating the setting for semi-auto fire.
The various rivets of the original gun are cast into the receiver body in their proper positions. The halves of the lower are held together with hex socket screws that are thoughtfully hidden under the upper and the buttstock when the rifle is assembled.
The original StG44 was gas-operated, with a propped breechblock that was lifted out of engagement with its locking shoulder by a cam on the operating rod. None of that is necessary with the .22 Long Rifle, of course, so the GSG operates on the blowback system. For appearance’s sake, the exterior gas system parts like the gas plug and tube are replicated, but their function is limited to supporting parts at the muzzle.
The firing parts are pretty complicated for a blowback .22, and start at the rear with a two-lobed end cap that seals the upper receiver, which looks from the rear like an over-under shotgun. At its top is a 3¾-inch steel tube that receives the return spring for the operating handle.
At the bottom is a stud that supports a short, heavy spring that bears against the next piece forward toward the muzzle. This is a plastic spacer that locates the breechblock assembly in the receiver.
The breechblock assembly itself will look familiar to anyone who’s had a .22 Long Rifle conversion kit for an AR-15. The breechblock itself moves inside a forked steel piece closed at the rear and open to the front. The breechblock’s travel is controlled by the spring guide rod on the right side. In recoil, the rod passes into a recess in the plastic spacer.
The forked piece rides in rails inside the receiver, and rests at about a 20-degree angle, with the left side higher. Its tips engage cuts in the breech face to keep it positioned securely. The tilted configuration is necessary to give room for the extractor cut.
The breechblock itself looks a bit like a miniature AR bolt, with the “key” section serving as the part against which the operating handle presses. There’s a contour on the right side that operates the ejection port dust cover, a unit that presaged the same part on the AR-15.
The firing pin is spring-loaded to help prevent slam-fires. The ejector is riveted into the left side of the lower receiver.
The left side of the magazine well area is a separate piece retained by a pair of hex socket screws removable with a 3mm hex key. You’ll need a 2mm key to remove the magazine release button. With all those fasteners removed, you can pull off the magazine well half, exposing the barrel breech, though I can’t see much reason to do it. The chamber area is a Zamak part that bears against the front of the upper receiver.
The .46-inch diameter barrel extends forward out of the upper receiver and into a shroud at the front that replicates the original gun’s gas block, front sight, and threaded muzzle cover. These are Zamak except for the front sight hood. The actual barrel stops 1.4 inches short of the outer muzzle.
The front sight is a rather acute V-shape, and is fixed. The rear sight, while it echoes the original, is not an exact copy. It has elevation adjustments up to 10, while the original was limited to 800 meters. It also has a windage-adjustable aperture, which could be very handy, though inauthentic.
Windage is adjusted by pulling out the knurled stem at the left of the aperture and turning clockwise to move shots to the left. Because the stem must be released back into slots located at 90-degree intervals, adjustments are not continuous. The instruction manual gives no hints about the windage or elevation values: those you’ll have to determine by experimentation.
The magazine is plastic, and passably replicates the original on the left side. On the right side is a follower slot with a thumbpiece for convenient loading. Molded counters behind the slot help you know how many rounds you’ve loaded. At the top right of the magazine is a plunger that activates the holdback mechanism in the right side of the magazine well.
The magazine is 9½ inches long, and also can be had in capacities of 15, 10 and two rounds, all of them the same length. I suspect the latter is for overseas markets where gun fun of any kind is just not tolerated.
Disassembly is quick and easy, though there are some few parts to keep in hand. Remove the magazine and clear the chamber. Press out the buttstock pin and remove it entirely. Slide the buttstock off the receiver.
Use the thumb to press down on the end cap. Rotate the lower receiver down and allow the end cap to come out of the upper under control. Pull out the spacer and the breechblock assembly. No further disassembly should routinely be required.
To reassemble, replace the breechblock assembly, noting that it goes in at an angle, higher on the left. Follow with the spacer and end cap. Press down on the end cap and rotate the lower receiver into place. Slide the buttstock on and install its pin, remembering, as Kokalis always reminds, to keep the big end to the left for right-handers.
I fired the STG44 with a variety of .22 ammo, standard and high velocity, solid and hollow-point. It digested everything with ease with one notable exception. That was Eley “Black Box” Match, which just wouldn’t work in it at all. So if you’re prone to plink with competition ammo that sells around $15 a box of 50, you’re out of luck.
Normally, when testing a .22 rimfire, I’d shoot five groups of 10 shots at 50 yards with three or four brands of ammo. Doing that with this rifle would be ridiculous, for several reasons. Most importantly, there’s no provision for mounting a scope, so you are reduced to the iron sights, which are fine for plinking, not so much for shooting groups.
A problem almost as large is the authentically large magazine. If you think a 30-round AR magazine is a problem when shooting from a bench rest, try this one on for size. I brought a collection of scrap lumber that let me raise the front pedestal about 3 inches, and that gave the magazine clearance. I guess the alternative would be sawing a hole in the top of your bench.
Finally, it is very difficult to get any sort of cheek weld that gives you a good sight picture when shooting from the bench. I wound up peeking out from underneath my eyebrow to get alignment between front and rear sights, and that didn’t make getting a good sight picture easy.
The result was groups of about 1½ inches at 25 yards with standard velocity ammo and about 2 inches with high-velocity cartridges.
My guess is no one in the Wehrmacht was much concerned about Sturmgewehr bench-rest performance, so I gratefully stepped away from the bench and started shooting it offhand, and that was a whole lot more fun. Getting a cheek weld was much easier standing, and I was pleased to see that the trigger, while not making me forget various Anschutz or Feinwerkbau units I’ve squeezed, was not at all bad for offhand shooting.
The gun’s almost 10-pound heft made it hang steady from the standing position, with fast follow-up shots being a breeze. Recoil, as you might imagine, is negligible and report mild, so this rifle is a pleasure to shoot, though its weight means a break in the action now and again is welcome.
The magazine is easy to load, thanks to the follower button on its exterior. But don’t get carried away with it; it’s possible for a round to drop into the magazine box if the follower’s too far down, requiring a lot of shaking to retrieve.
The rifle is shipped in a rope-handled wooden crate that carries it broken down, with the buttstock removed. This is a touch everyone here appreciated.
The buttstock began to wiggle a bit midway through the shooting session, and that was not improved when I cranked down on the Torx screws that hold it to the butt socket. The screws engage brass threaded inserts in the buttstock, and they are not up to the job. My inclination would be to glass-bed those and bed between the buttstock and its socket before ever shooting the rifle.
Other than that minor inconvenience, the StG44 ran like a champ, and I would say it’s a can’t-miss choice for a fun plinker that’s a great conversation starter. If it helps you imagine being at the Battle of the Bulge or the Siege of Budapest, so much the better. Just don’t forget the guys carrying these lost to the guys with M1s and Mosin-Nagants.