July 23, 2021
The Heckler and Koch G3A3, a German variant of the lesser known Spanish 7.62mm CETME, is one of the more famous Cold War battle rifles in existence. The foundation of the HK G3A3 actually stretches back to the dark days of World War II. The basic G3/CETME delayed-blowback design is, interestingly enough, an evolution of a World War II-era Mauser project, the Sturmgewehr 45 (M). It was developed by Mauser's Light Weapons Development Group (Abteilung 37) with much of the work being done by Dr. Karl Meier. While the 7.92x33mm Kurz MP 43/44/StG 44-series had proven to be a success on the battlefield, it required too much manufacturing time. The Sturmgewehr 45 (M) was developed to be much simpler, less expensive and easier to mass produce.
Rather than being gas operated, like the MP 43/44/StG 44-series, the designers at Mauser utilized the simplest system known, blowback. However, even with the intermediate 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge, a delay was required to allow pressure to drop to safe levels. To accomplish this Mauser’s engineers used roller locks. When the weapon is fired the rollers delay the bolt's opening long enough to allow pressure to drop to a safe level. Germany collapsed before the design could be completed and fielded, but it did not disappear.
Ludwig Vorgrimmler, an engineer who had worked on the project, escaped Germany, first plying his trade in France and then moving on to Spain. He went to work for the Spanish government establishment of Centro de Estudios Tecnicos de Materiales Especiales (CETME). There, using the StG 45 (M) as his basis, he headed a design team tasked with developing a modern combat rifle. In doing so he refined the basic StG 45 (M) method of operation. While the two opposed roller locks were retained he placed them horizontally rather than vertically. In addition the StG 45 (M)'s bolt carrier was changed from a small rectangular piece to a cylindrical piece with a long cylinder mounted on top. This long cylinder rides in a tube over the barrel. His work led to Spain’s 7.62x51mm CETME rifle.
When the West German Bundeswehr was founded in 1955 it found itself in need of a modern combat rifle. The Bundeswehr took note of the CETME rifle, tested it and liked how it performed. Heckler & Koch worked in collaboration with CETME to further refine the design and it was adopted in 1959 as the Gewehr G3. Used by over 60 countries since its introduction in 1959, the G3 still remains a heavily used battle rifle worldwide.
In 1964, the Swedish military would adopt the G3/CETME pattern rifle as their infantry rifle, with Swedish production beginning in 1965 by Carl Gustav. A couple of minor changes would be made to the overall design of the G3 rifle. These changes would include: a .79-inch (20mm) longer stock, a thumb cutout in the carrier, which would allow for silent closure of the bolt carrier (much in the same manner the forward assist/auxiliary bolt closure mechanism would on the 603/XM16E1), a heavier buffer system, increasing the reliability of the rifle and 200-500m rotary diopter rear sight.
The Swedish G3A3 would take on the adopted name of the AK4 (AK4A, AK4B. AK4OR), an acronym for Automatkarbin 4 (Automatic Carbine 4). The AK4 rifle would remain in production from 1965 to 1985, with companies such as; Carl Gustav, Husqvarna and lastly, Eskilstuna in 1985 (1970-1985). The AK4 battle rifle would remain the main Swedish infantry rifle from 1965 to 1985, upon its replacement with the AK5 (the Automatkarbin 5), a Swedish variant of the FN FNC Assault Rifle. The rifle remains in use with the Swedish Home Guard and in specialist/marksman roles with the Swedish military.
Many of the ergonomic and modularity issues of the G3A3/CETME/AK4 were solved by the company SPUHR, a Swedish based company owned by designer, master gunsmith and businessman Hakan Spuhr. With his improvements and design work on the G3/AK4 rifle, the rifle has reached a new realm of usability and modularity, bringing new life into an old warhorse.
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About the Author:
Michelle Hamilton has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice/Homeland Security, is a serious student of military history, small arms design and manufacturing and is a competitive shooter.