Warfare History Network
Although denied by Anton Kalashnikov, its influence on the design of the AK-47 assault rifle is readily apparent, and the MP-44 can still be found serving in many African and Middle Eastern armies and militias to this day.
Key point: The world’s first select-fire assault rifle.
With the conflict in Iraq, combat photography is once again prevalent in the media, and it would be impossible to miss images of U.S. soldiers toting the omnipresent M4 weapons system. Based on the venerated M-16 assault rifle (now redubbed the M2), this “system” provides the infantryman with a versatile set of interchangeable assets, which augment his weapon’s mission—eliminating the enemy from the battlefield. This system is state-of-the-art, but its origin dates back nearly 60 years to the early days of World War II Germany.
The MP-43/44: The First Assault Rifle
The granddaddy of the M-16, in fact the progenitor of all the world’s assault rifles, is the German MP-44 Sturmgewehr (assault rifle). Its development stemmed from an unusual episode in the history of German armaments production. After the trench warfare of World War I, it was apparent that a new era of infantry combat was dawning. The German solider had been armed with some variant of the bolt-action Mauser rifle since the 1870s, and by the early 1930s, as Germany secretly rearmed in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, all weapons were subjected to scrutiny, especially infantry small arms.
While it was determined that the bolt-action Mauser, with its extended two-mile range and limited five-round magazine, was no longer valid on the modern battlefield, what to replace it with was a vexing question. Close combat, rapid fire, and overwhelming force were evolving as the paradigm, but submachine guns of the period, which fulfilled these requirements for the most part, were still expensive and relatively slow to produce. It appeared that a hybrid of some sort, which combined the rifle’s accuracy with the submachine gun’s high ammunition capacity and rapid rate of fire, would be an effective companion for the modern infantryman.
This would seemingly have necessitated the development of a new cartridge, but retooling of the highly standardized German munitions industry was not a desirable option, so development of this new weapon faced several hurdles. However, as has been proven over the centuries, if any group was up to a daunting task in weapons design, it was German ordnance experts.
Designing a New Cartridge
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