Machine Carbine Promoted

Monday, April 25th, 2011

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.


  1. Ross says:

    According to one author, one German armorer very close to the Sturmgewehr wound up, post WWII, in the secret, secluded Soviet town where the AK-47 was being defined and refined (Iskhevsk?). Possibly some cross-pollination of ideas occurred there.

  2. Goober says:

    Of course the US Army issued a report stating that the Sturmgewehr was a crappy rifle. You didn’t think that they would be singing its praises, did you? People forget that the USA was just as committed to propaganda efforts during the war as everyone else. This rifle could have scared the pants off of the US Army, and convinced them that they were about to lose, and they still would have published a report stating that it wasn’t a very good rifle.

    I do tend to believe, however, that the US Army did not consider carbines to be effective front line armament, due largely to the fact that we continued to carry high-powered rifles for the next 20 years after this report was completed, and only switched to smaller ammunition carbine type rifles upon the release of the M-16 in the 1960s.

    I am a firm believer in the idea that our infantry units ought to be carrying a mixed bag of guns like they did in WWII. I know it is harder to supply ammo when there are many different types, but the benefits to having long-range high powered rifles fighting next to squad automatics for long range bullet-hose applications, fighting next to sub machine guns and machine carbines for storming close-range bullet hose purposes really lent to the diversity of an infantry unit’s capabilities.

  3. Isegoria says:

    In The Gun, C.J. Chivers makes that point, that a German Sturmgewehr designer was held by the Soviets after the war, and the related point that Kalashnikov probably didn’t design “his” rifle from soup to nuts — but the AK isn’t just a clone of the German weapon. Rather, it has bits and pieces of many designs. In fact, the Soviets apparently did a better job of getting design teams to truly compete than the American capitalists did, and they had no compunctions about borrowing good ideas from the enemy.

  4. Isegoria says:

    I’m pretty sure that some of those reports showed respect for certain enemy weapons. I’d love to see their take on the Me-262 jet fighter, for instance, or various Panzer tanks, or run-of-the-mill German machine-guns.

    Anyway, as you note, the US Army and Marines didn’t take carbines seriously, and they actively fought the introduction of an intermediate cartridge for decades — before leaping onto the M-16 and its glorified .22, when the M-14 failed as a universal answer to the need for a battle rifle, submachine-gun, and light machine-gun, all in one.

    I actually don’t think that idea is a terrible one, but a full-power .308 isn’t the way to implement it. If you neck that same cartridge down to .243 (6 mm) or .260 (6.5 mm) and put it in a slightly larger M-16 (AR-10), that gun probably can serve as a designated marksman’s rifle, a room-clearing submachine-gun, and a light machine-gun, all in one.

  5. Goober says:

    I do not disagree that the .308 does not fit the bill as an all-purpose round. Nor do I take exception with the claim that the .223 round isn’t good for much of anything, much less general purpose.

    My major quibble is that a necked down to .24 caliber .308 would not serve as a general purpose gun any better than a .308 would. It would not. Such a round is actually made. it is called the .243 Winchester. I own one that I use for deer and coyote hunting. Its kick is less than the .308, but not decidedly so — certainly not enough to make it manageable firing in full-auto, without a bipod, at least.

    The fact is that, as much as it is a pain in the arse, there is no such thing as a “general purpose” round, and out military would do good to get past that line of thinking. A squad machine gun (bipod or fixed mount fired) shouldn’t be firing 55 grain .22 caliber rounds. It should be firing 150 grain 30 caliber rounds. A sub-machine gun should not be firing hypersonic 55 grain .22 rounds. It should be firing 220 grain, sub-sonic 45 caliber rounds (or even bigger). An infantry GP rifle for ranges of 200 yards or more should not be firing a 55 grain .22 round. It should be firing the same .308 rounds as the squad machine gun. An infantry-level light machine gun (shoulder fired type) is the only thing that I think you should be allowed to let fire a 55 grain .22 round, but even then, I’d push for more like a 100 grain 24 caliber round, with a lighter powder charge pushing it out to, say, a 200 to 300 yard effective range (similar to a 7.62 by 39, but with a lighter bullet and subsequent higher velocity).

    I know it is a pain to supply a bunch of different ammunition to soldiers in the field, but if we really want to have as effective an infantry force as possible, I think we need to “bite the bullet” and go that route. If we could manage it in WWII, we certainly can today.

  6. Cruft says:

    The answer to a general purpose cartridge based on the .223/5.56 platform is the 6.5 Grendel with a 123 gr bullet. Same bolt face, can be piston driven with the shorter barrels, light machine gun OK, sniper OK, just change the upper, it won’t happen. Corrupt. Once you say “corrupt” you’ve said it all.

  7. Goober says:

    The 6.5 Grendel isn’t even close to the answer for a general purpose cartridge. It would fit my light (shoulder-fired) machine gun category above but does not have the range/velocity needed to be an infantry rifle or a sniper rifle. It certainly doesn’t fit the squad machine gun role, either.

    The much-heralded 6.5 Grendel is not as good a round as everyone likes to pretend it is. It is slow, and the only benefit to slow is that it doesn’t kick a lot, meaning you can fire it full-auto.

    As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as a general purpose cartridge. It doesn’t exist. If you want your infantry’s capability to reasonably extend beyond about 200 yards, then the Grendel won’t do that. The drop on the round is so great that at 600 yards you wouldn’t even be able to see your target in the scope when you fired. THat sure as hell doesn’t sound like a sniper round to me. Hell, I’d even submit that the .308 NATO is not high-enough velocity for a “really good” sniper rifle, but that is just because I’m biased to the .300 win mag for long range shooting, which acheives 3,000 fps with a 190 grain bullet.

  8. Isegoria says:

    A necked-down .308, like the .243 Winchester or .260 Remington, has less recoil and better (exterior) ballistics than the original round. That sounds like a better, if not perfect, general purpose round. Certainly designated marksmen, light machine-gunners, and ordinary riflemen could use such a round, and it would be better than the .30-06 and .308 that came before, in most respects. It doesn’t seem like it would be too powerful for a carbine, either.

    At any rate, squeezing 5 or 10 percent better performance out of a weapon is nowhere near as important as making sure the weapon has ammo when it needs it. So, I wouldn’t dismiss logistical challenges as a pain we should suck up and push through.

  9. Isegoria says:

    From what I’ve read, the Grendel does qualify as a magic bullet in the sense that it kicks less than a .308 (7.62 M80) and performs better at long range, because it’s a longer, slimmer round. It retains comparable energy at 500 m and more beyond that.

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