Going into WWII, the Germans armed their infantry with bolt-action rifles and machine-guns firing the same full-power rifle ammunition.
The Germans also emphasized armor and mechanized infantry and found submachine-guns, which are smaller and fire pistol rounds, more convenient for troops in cramped vehicles. But submachine-guns — or machine pistols — aren’t effective beyond 100 yards or so.
What the Germans eventually decided on was a machine carbine, a fully automatic weapon, firing an intermediate cartridge that was effective at typical combat ranges but not too powerful to fire rapidly on the move, without a bipod or tripod.
This weapon would be perfect for storming enemy positions. So, Hitler, always aware of a weapon’s propaganda potential, dubbed it the Sturmgewehr, or assault rifle.
The American experts analyzing it at the time weren’t impressed with the concept, as this Tactical and Technical Trends piece from April 1945 illustrates — Machine Carbine Promoted: MP43 Is Now Assault Rifle StG44:
In their attempts to produce a light, accurate weapon having considerable fire power by mass production methods, however, the Germans encountered difficulties which have seriously limited the effectiveness of the Sturmgewehr. Because it is largely constructed of cheap stampings, it dents easily and therefore is subject to jamming. Although provision is made for both full automatic and semiautomatic fire, the piece is incapable of sustained firing and official German directives have ordered troops to use it only as a semiautomatic weapon. In emergencies, however, soldiers are permitted full automatic fire in two- to three-round bursts. The possibilities of cannibalization appear to have been overlooked and its general construction is such that it may have been intended to be an expendable weapon and to be thrown aside in combat if the individual finds himself unable to maintain it properly.
The incorporation of the full automatic feature is responsible for a substantial portion of the weight of the weapon, which is 12 pounds with a full magazine. Since this feature is ineffectual for all practical purposes, the additional weight only serves to place the Sturmgewehr at a disadvantage in comparison to the U.S. carbine which is almost 50 percent lighter.
The receiver, frame, gas cylinder, jacket, and front sight hood are all made from steel stampings. Since all pins in the trigger mechanism are riveted in place, it cannot be disassembled; if repair is required, a whole new trigger assembly must be inserted. Only the gas pistol assembly, bolt, hammer, barrel, gas cylinder, nut on the front of the barrel, and the magazine are machined parts. The stock and band grip are constructed of cheap, roughly finished wood and, being fixed, make the piece unhandy compared to the submachine guns with their folding stocks.
The curved magazine, mounted below the receiver, carries 30 rounds of 7.92-mm necked-down ammunition. The rounds are manufactured with steel cases rather than brass; inside the case is a lead sleeve surrounding a steel core. With an indicated muzzle velocity of approximately 2,250 feet per second and a boat-tail bullet, accuracy of the Sturmgewehr is excellent for a weapon of its type. Its effective range is about 400 yards, although the Germans claim in their operating manual that the normal effective range is about 650 yards. The leaf sight is graduated up to 800 meters (872 yards).
All things considered, the Sturmgewehr remains a bulky, unhandy weapon, comparatively heavy and without the balance and reliability of the U.S. M1 carbine. Its design appears to be dictated by production rather than by military considerations. Though far from a satisfactory weapon, it is apparent that Germany’s unfavorable military situation makes necessary the mass production of this weapon, rather than of a machine carbine of a more satisfactory pattern.
A few years later, when the Soviets introduced the AK-47, the American experts dismissed it as a submachine-gun, lacking the accuracy and power of American rifles.