The Sturmgewehr 44, commonly known as the StG 44 and also known as the MP 43 or MP 44, is a German assault rifle produced during the last years of World War II. It was the first weapon to be referred to as an assault rifle, and the first weapon exemplifying the concept to be mass-produced.
Prototypes of the StG 44 were in advanced testing stages as early as 1942, but were never put into production until mid-1943 because of opposition from Adolf Hitler himself, who ordered the cancellation of the project. To circumvent this, manufacturers renamed the StG 44 as the MP 42, MP 43 and MP 44; these were simply cover names to allow the weapon to continue development under the guise of a submachine gun. This ruse led to some confusion among the German High Command, who were led to believe that Haenel was expanding the German SMG program, which was widely felt to be unnecessary.
An early production model of the MP 43 was demonstrated at the Wolf's Lair by Heinrich Gärtner in July 1943, with Hitler in attendance. Hitler was not impressed with the weapon and ordered Reichsminister Albert Speer to cancel its production. Speer complied and the project was officially terminated, however Haenel's investors pressed for production of the MP 43 to continue anyway. Early batches of MP 43s were received by troops fighting in the Eastern Front and they were well-received. Hitler remained under the impression that the few MP 43s being issued to the troops were produced before the project's official termination and was not aware that the gun was still in production.
In early 1944, Hitler met with three divisional commanders, Wicking, Fedor von Bock, and Karl Lowrick, who asked the Fuhrer whether it would be possible to receive increased numbers of MP 43s for their troops in the Eastern Front. Hitler was surprised by this and asked for reports on the weapon's performance in combat, which he received shortly afterward. After evaluating its combat effectiveness, Hitler decided to comply to his General's requests and in 1944 he gave production of the gun, now known as the MP 44, high priority.
Towards the end of 1944, the MP 44 was renamed the Sturmgewehr, or StG.44, usually transliterated as "Assault Rifle". This was a propaganda-driven decision made in order to raise the morale of the troops. The StG.44 was given increased publicity and was slated as a wunderwaffe, or "miracle weapon".
In the last few months of the war, a final version of the StG 44 was developed, known as the MP45. It was operationally identical to the standard model but utilized cheaper production techniques. Only a few MP45s were made before Germany's surrender in May 1945.
The StG 44 fired 7.92×33mm Kurz ammunition, stored in 30-round magazines.
The StG 44 would see combat in all fronts, especially the Eastern Front, against the Red Army. Upwards of 400,000 weapons were produced, though due to late-war logistical chaos over 100,000 of these were never delivered to the front lines.
Evaluations of the StG-44 by the allies during and after the war were highly critical: the Americans compared it negatively to their M2 carbine, deeming it too heavy for the round it fired, while British evaluations felt that the production changes between the MP-43 and StG-44, as well as the use of poor-quality steel, compromised the durability of the weapon. However, the assault rifle concept proved highly influential, with Britain and Belgium setting to work on producing an intermediate round after the war (defeated by standardization of the 7.62x51mm NATO round, the result of their rifle being converted to this round being the FN FAL), the Soviet Union producing the AK-47, and America ultimately adopting the M16 rifle.
In post-war years, it was used by the armies of East Germany; Czechoslovakia; and Yugoslavia, until it was replaced by AK-type weapons, with Czechoslovakia adopting the vz. 58. The huge number of weapons captured by the Soviets meant they were provided extensively to Soviet client states, and the StG-44 would see combat in Somalia; Ethiopia; and even today, in Syria, at the hands of anti-government forces. In Europe, surviving weapons were converted to fire in semi-automatic only and are being sold to civilians; even newly-made versions, built from scratch, have been manufactured in Germany. In Germany, Sport Systeme Dittrich makes a copy of the StG-44, the BD44, which is a faithful copy, except that it can only fire in semi-automatic.