STG44, the original “assault rifle” (Sturmgewehr) was the first widely issued intermediate caliber infantry weapon. Chambered in 7.92×33, it filled much the same niche as the AK-47. Because it was fielded on the losing side, STG44 ended up getting phased out of army service in both Germanies and much of the 400,000+ weapons ended up in the Third World. About 5,000 were found in Syria earlier this month. Quite a few ended up with the French Foreign Legion, a few with the East German border guards. Despite the relatively high production numbers, these rifles are not common in the US. Being select-fire, they are heavily regulated. Being chambered for 7.92×33, they are difficult to feed. And being made largely of low-grade steel stampings, they are heavy and tend to heat up uncomfortably at the forend. The few (under 200) semi-auto STG44s recently imported did not make much of a difference, being expensive and apparently not very durable.
As computer games and better researched historic movies popularized the Sturmgewehr, the interest in it has increased. So recently another source of these rifles appeared. The weapon appears at first glance to be an unusually nicely finished STG44, much nicer than the wartime originals. It would make a great photo prop for reenactors. The one part of the rifle that doesn’t look 100 percent authentic is the magazine—it holds 24 rounds of .22 LR. The rest of it—the 9.5lb weight and balance, the sights, the controls—are all as in the original. The rear sight and the dummy muzzle thread protector are plastic instead of metal and that’s pretty much the only difference from the original. The carbine I have is one of the ten prototypes ATI got for testing. It has had close to 60,000 rounds fired though it. They told me that the rifle required cleaning only every five to six thousand shots. That matched my experience—the mechanism was still clean after 500.
The rimfire STG proved very reliable. The prototype sights had to be set to 600 mark to be on at 25, but I’ve been told that got fixed in the production version. The trigger was very heavy at first but improved greatly once the gun was cleaned. While I have not fired it for groups yet, STG shoulders so well that hitting pop cans rapidly at 25 yards was easy. The sole difference from the original STG has been the lesser recoil and report and no overheating from high-volume shooting. Everyone who tried this weapon had the same reaction: “I’ve got to get me one!”
STG44 is too heavy for hunting and has no provision for mounting optics. It’s as much a reenacting prop as a Winchester 1873 replica and about as much fun. But it’s a reenacting prop that shoots straight and functions well. It’s also a terrific way to illustrate that a weapon has no morals. The ethics of armed force rest with the human actors. The same STG44 may have been carried by a Waffen SS officer, a guerrilla and a French Foreign Legion soldier fighting against the Viet Cong. What today’s owner of the rifle does with it depends only on his character. The weapon itself is no more good or evil than the soldier’s shoe laces. While the Old West lawmen and cowboys are more popular heroes than German troops, it’s likely that only Red Orchestra players would imagine Soviet infantry in front of their STG44 sights. The rest of us would be more likely to associate it with guerrillas who borrowed the weapons from recently deceased foes. Recent video games have changed the perception of STG44 with the younger shooters much as the same way that the image of AK-47 with the American public was influenced by the film Red Dawn.
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