December 14, 2011
I guess I can say without a hint of doubt that apex of our Russian trip down World War II memory lane was a chance to fire the legendary MP-44. The granddaddy of all assault rifles. Hitler's wonder rifle. An object of admiration and urban legends. It was a true revolutionary weapon that defined the course of modern warfare, or rather the way conventional forces are utilized.
"Sturmgewehr" translates from German literally as "assault rifle." The name was given to the brand-new rifle initially called the MP-43. It was chambered in the new 7.9mm "Kurz" or as it is now known, "intermediate" cartridge. The name was updated to StG-44 in December of 1944.
The brainchild of Hugo Schmeisser, the new gun did not get the hoped-for reaction from Hitler, who was brought up on the infantry traditions of World War I. To make e it easier for Hitler to understand the new concept, the designers named the new rifle an "MP" (MaschinenPistole or Machine Pistol) that was slotted to replace the underpowered MP-38 and MP-40.
Only after positive feedback from the front lines did official Berlin bless the new weapon.
More than 300,000 were produced during the war. They were effective, but plagued by ammunition shortages. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, no more were produced, though ammo continued to be made for the East German army and Yugoslav paratroopers up until 1950s, and the guns turned up in Africa and other trouble spots for many years.
The rifle we shot during our visit to the Molot factory was most definitely a battlefield pick-up. Though in great over all operational shape with a good barrel, it appeared to have seen some action and showed signs of heavy use.
The first surprise came as I pulled the trigger for the first time shooting it semi-automatic. There was no recoil to speak of. The reasonable person inside me attributed it to the weight of the gun and its small cartridge, which ultimately contributed to my better-than-average results.
Knocking down bricks and their chunks at 75 meters was hardly a challenge. The second surprise was the Stg-44's similarity to a full-length AR-15. They're similar in length and weight distribution, as well as in ergonomics, reduced recoil, muzzle climb and even the recoil spring noise.
In spite of popular belief, I found no similarities with the AK rifle. Even the front sight was different. Any possible doubts evaporated as soon as the gun was field-stripped. The only connection to the AK was a long stroke piston that was directly attached to the bolt carrier.
The rest, including the operating system itself, was completely different. In fact there were a lot more similarities with an AR design. The hinged lower and upper receivers, trigger/hammer arrangement, mag well and mag release, thumb safety even the ejection window cover most likely serve as an inspiration for future designs.
It can be argued whether or not the Sturmgewehr-44's systems and components served as inspiration for some or all future designs, but one thing is certain; all "borrowed" its assault rifle concept.