9 Jan 21
“‘Custom’ quickly adapts itself to expediency”
As War progresses:
The desperation of World War finds expression in may ways, particularly in design and production of military small arms. We can see this phenomenon in Japan, Italy, Russia, and particularly in Germany.
In the final year and a half of WWII, with the Eastern Front stalled, the North African Front completely collapsed, distressing shortages of critical commodities, and the Allies on the verge of a massive amphibious landing on the Western Front, the Nazi government was hard-pressed to adequately maintain various fronts, producing and distributing passable amounts of essential equipment and supplies.
Commanders on the ground, particularly on the Eastern Front, lobbied hard for a new infantry rifle that could maintain critical fire superiority, despite crippling personnel losses, which were becoming all too common!
Back in Berlin, Hitler displayed scant interest in autoloading rifles, so his military establishment had to work around him to get their troopers, particularly in the East, what they so desperately needed.
The German Ordnance Department showed no interest in Mauser’s wood-stocked G41 (Gewehr 41M, “gewehr” translates to “rifle”) autoloading rifle, so Mauser went to work on a cheaper version of the just-emerging and immensely popular STG44, manufactured by Walther.
Walther’s other rifle, also the “G41″ (G41W) worked much better, but its Bang (after its inventor, Swedish designer, Soren Bang) “gas-trap” device at the muzzle caused it to go down after only a few rounds, due to fouling.
A few G41Ws made their way to the Eastern Front, but proved unpopular with troops. Too complicated. Too hard to maintain in the field. After a few rounds, fouling of the gas-trap caused high levels of malfunctioning, as noted above. Most were abandoned by German Troopers and quickly exchanged for captured Soviet SVTs!
The Tokarev-designed, gas-piston, tilt-bolt SVT had just entered production and issuance within the USSR when Germans invaded in 1941(Operation Barbarossa), so only a few actually made it into the field. They were highly prized, by both Soviet and (as noted above) German troopers!
Unlike Hitler, Joe Stalin was an enthusiastic fan of autoloading rifles, but the German invasion disrupted production and distribution of the SVT to the point where the decision was made to revert back to manufacturing familiar Mosin-Nagant bolt-guns for the duration of the War. Eventually, over 1.5 million SVTs would be manufactured (mostly post-war), until precipitously superceded by the Kalashnikov.
The G41W was quickly superceded by the short-stroke, gas-port (the “Bang Gas-Trap” was abandoned), gas-piston G43 (largely a copy of the Soviet SVT, which, as noted above, Germans had encountered and captured during Operation Barbarossa), which ran well, but (like the later STG44) was produced only in small numbers (400k), was confined mostly to the disintegrating Eastern Front, and came-along too late to affect the progress of WWII in any significant way.
425k STG44s (and variants) were produced during the same period.
The G43 (sometimes called “Hitler’s Garand”) was popular with troops, surely preferred over the Mauser bolt-gun (K98), but nowhere near as popular as the STG44, which was an instant sensation among all troopers who got their hands on it and had the opportunity to use it during actual fighting.
The Soviet SVT and the German STG44 were both gas-operated, tilt-bolt guns. The G43 was a gas-operated, wedge (flapper)-lock gun.
The Soviet SVT was chambered for the full-power 7.62x54R round. The G43 was likewise chambered for a full-powered rifle round (7.92×57, or “8mm Mauser”). By contrast, the STG44 was chambered for the abbreviated 8×33 (8mm “Kurz”).
The case-head on the 8mm Kurz was, of course, the same as the 8mm Mauser. At this point in WWII,
Germans didn’t have time for an entirely new cartridge, so they simply shortened the 8mm Mauser and thus retained much commonality in loading machines. However, the large case-head meant that 30-round magazines built to accept it were long and clumsy. The German 8×33 “intermediate cartridge” likely inspired the later Soviet 7.62×39, and ultimately the American 5.56×45!
An even more desperate “last-ditch” rifle, again made only in small quantities (10k) at the very end of WWII, was the 8mm Kurz, gas-delayed blow-back, fluted-chamber Gustloff VG1-5. The Gustloff was manufactured by Nazi political forces, outside the normal army channels, and was intended for the “Volksstrum,” the rag-tag, rabble, end-of-game defense. It used the Stg44 magazine. Rude and crude, the Gustloff was definitely not designed for a long service life!
The Gustloff was involved in at least some actual (sporadic) fighting as the very end of the War, in and around Berlin, but had no effect on the outcome. Only a few still exist today.
In Germany, Japan, Italy, and Russia, as the War approached its inevitable crescendo, equipment losses were staggering, so every imaginable effort was made to speed-up production of rifles. As you might expect, quality-control simultaneously suffered, as did general fit and finish. For this reason, early-production iterations of German and Japanese WWII weapons are generally more highly valued among present-day collectors than are those from late-war production.
Germans had the additional issue that much of their war production was in the hands of slave labor, particularly in concentration camps populated mostly by subjugated Jews. Sabotage was common and often debilitating!
As noted above, the Mauser company (from which “H&K,” or “HK,” would spring after the War) was not involved in design nor manufacture of the immensely popular STG44. The STG44 was designed and manufactured by Walther.
Mauser’s end-of-War rifle, the “Gerat 06,” also chambered for the 8mm Kurz (8×33, like the STG44), was a short-stroke gas system, but with a roller-lock bolt system, instead of the tilting-bolt used on the STG44. It was designed to be lighter and cheaper to manufacture than the STG44, and it accepted 30-round STG44 magazines.
“Gerat” translates to “experimental device” in WWII-era German military jargon.
The Gerat looked a little like the STG44, but it represented the beginning of the roller-delayed blow-back system, later found on the Spanish CETME, German G3, HK91/93, the present-day American PTR Series, and Marcolmar’s CETME/L
Mauser’s Dr Carl Maier subsequently decided the entire gas system was unnecessary! The 06 then evolved into the 06H, and the “roller-delayed blow-back” system was born!
The “H” stood-for “half-lock.” We know it today as “roller-delayed blow-back!”
Maier had to flute (score) the chamber to achieve reliable extraction, because of the inherent high acceleration of the bolt. Still necessitated today.
The Gerat 06 and 06H rifles came along too late in the War. Neither actually went into production, nor issuance. Parts kits were subsequently discovered by liberating US Troops.
Yet, their direct descendants are, as noted, the Spanish CETME, the German G3, and Ultimately the German-made HK91/93 and MP5, and the current American-made PTR91/200, and Marcolmar’s CETME/L.
This roller-delayed blow-back system for rifles and SMGs enjoy an excellent reputation, but weight is a problem, even in 5.56×45 caliber (HK93, Marcolmar CETME/L). They are heavier than comparable gas-guns, and for that reason have fallen-out of favor with Western militaries.
The roller-delayed blow-back system also does not work well with suppressors.
Yet, PTR’s line of American-made roller-delayed blowback rifles, as well as Marcolmar’s American-made CETME/L, currently enjoy an enthusiastic and growing following among American gun-owners, both in and out of law-enforcement!
“Intermediate cartridges” are here to stay!