EPU Gun of the Week

German Sport Guns StG-44 reproduction

Originally posted October 17, 2015.

So... it should be obvious from the premise of this blog that I'm a gun collector. I'm sure that, if I ever find myself in the kind of trouble with the law where the cops come and rummage through my stuff, I'll be the subject of the standard screaming headline about how POLICE FIND ARSENAL IN AREA MAN'S HOME. Heck, if they really want to spin it, they can truthfully say that most of them are military weapons.

Of course, that's not the whole story; to tell that they would have to mention that they're almost all military weapons from the late 19th century through World War II. My SMLE No. 1 Mk III*, for instance, is a straight-up infantry rifle... from 1915. (Actually mine was made in 1918, but, I digress.)

(As an aside, that asterisk there isn't for a footnote, it's part of the rifle's designation. "Number One, Mark Three Star," the slightly improved version of the No. 1 Mk III. Version 1.3.1, if you will.)

So yeah. What I'm getting at here is that what I'm not, in any sense, is a Tactical Guy. I collect stuff I think is interesting, not stuff I think would come in handy if I needed to overthrow the government of Penobscot County or something silly like that. (One thing I've got next to no interest in is the perennial AR-15 and its various derivatives. I mean, OK, sure, M16A4 is one of my favorite Upotte!! characters, but that doesn't mean I actually want one of the dang things. In the civilian market today, they're the rifle equivalent of those street racer cars from the first Fast & Furious movie. Meh.)

Anyway, you get the idea. There's very little in my modest collection that's modern, and much of it is anything but. Until today, the newest thing in there was a Zastava M57A - which is itself quite new, but the M57A is a slightly improved clone of the Tula Tokareva 33 (as in 1933) that Zastava - in the same way that they do automobiles - just never bothered to stop making, so I don't think that should count. :) Which is why it might seem a bit out of character that today i went out and bought a brand new rifle.

Until you find out that the rifle in question is a reproduction of the Sturmgewehr 44, anyway. :)

A little background for those of you who are not gun nerds: The StG 44, as its name implies, was a German weapon from the latter stages of World War II. In some ways it was an outgrowth of the earlier Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 project (Return to Castle Wolfenstein veterans may recognize the FG 42), though it was mechanically completely different. The StG 44 was an experiment in creating a compromise between the compactness and rate of fire of a submachine gun like the MP 40 and the range and power of a full-size rifle like the FG 42, without the FG 42's notorious weight, punishing recoil, and general unwieldiness.

The way they managed this was by using what we would now recognize as an intermediate cartridge - not pistol-caliber (one of the defining characteristics of submachine guns), but not a full-length, full-power infantry rifle cartridge, like the old 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge the FG 42 used. As it turns out, the only people on the modern mechanized battlefield who really need a full-power rifle like that are snipers; the average infantry soldier operates in a smaller envelope and receives no benefit from all that range and bullet energy. The result was a compact and handy package that provided everything the general infantryman could possibly require - the prototype for what we now call an assault rifle. (That's where the term comes from: it's a direct translation of the German Sturmgewehr, literally "storm rifle", with "storm" used, as it is in English, in the sense of taking by storm, i.e., assaulting.)

After the war, the Allies harrumphed about how the Germans' love of gadgetry and geegaws had led them down the garden path and caused them to develop this silly, underpowered, overengineered toy gun that would never have any usefulness in real man's combat - and then, after dragging their heels for varying lengths of time, frantically developed their own equivalents, sometimes with (at least at first - looking at you, early-model M16s) fairly limited success.

Anyway. History lesson over, for the most part, but you can probably see why I might be interested in such a thing even though it verges on modernity. However, original StG 44s are very rare, preposterously valuable, and - being fully automatic - require a lot of fafftastic and expensive paperwork to own. Plus, 7.92x33mm Kurz ammunition is not what a person would call cheap or plentiful on the ground these days.

Imagine, then, my surprise and delight to discover that there's a company making semiautomatic reproduction Sturmgewehr in .22 Long Rifle rimfire, which, while no longer quite as cheap or abundant as hydrogen molecules, is still a damn sight easier to get ahold of than 7.92mm Kurz. And that they're not very expensive at all. And that, with a little poking around, I was able to find one, brand new, for about half of the already very reasonable original list price.

So... well, retail therapy? Yes please! I picked mine up today.

(a lovely wooden crate)

It came in this lovely wooden crate (which says on its endplate that it was handmade by Amish craftsmen; one can only speculate as to what they think about what their product is meant to contain).

(a lovely wooden crate with a partially dismantled rifle in it)

Some assembly required, but only a little. (Not shown here: the ziplock bag full of the instruction manual and whatnot. It only came with one magazine, I bought the second one you see there separately. A bit annoyingly, the little sectioned-off area for the magazine is barely not big enough to fit a second one. But then I'm not going to keep it in the crate most of the time anyway, so that's not really a major problem.)

left side profile of GSG StG 44

At this point you may be thinking, "Hang on, I know I've seen that profile before. Isn't that...?" The answer depends on who you ask. If you ask the Russians, it is a total coincidence, gosh, go figure huh? that the AK-47 looks so much like that. Basically nobody else believes them, but that's been their story since 1947 and they are sticking to it. :) And to be fair, they had already developed their own intermediate cartridge, and the rifles are fairly different mechanically.

Anyway, you can't really see it from here, but that marking above the magazine is the old Schmeisser logo (the StG 44 was designed by Hugo Schmeisser), which is a nice touch. Below it is the logo of the importer, American Tactical Imports. Oddly, the actual manufacturer's name (German Sport Guns) appears nowhere on the rifle, although there is a "GSG" marking on the other side. They presumably constructed their name (which is in English even on their German website) so that it reminds people of the German Federal Police special operations unit, GSG9. Amusingly, that rear sight is a tangent sight, adjustable out to something like 600 meters, which is frankly a bit ambitious for a .22. :)

All right, at this point I'll admit that it's not really a faithful reproduction of the StG 44. The original rifle's gas operating system was far too complicated and robust to be necessary for a simple .22 rimfire gun. It's basically a normal straight-blowback .22 semiauto rifle dressed up in an StG suit. The thing is that it's a really good StG suit. The makers went to considerable lengths to make it handle as much like original as they could. It's very nearly as heavy as an original, for instance, even though it totally doesn't need to be. The metal parts are die-cast, but in shapes that faithfully reproduce the original stampings. The wooden parts are real wood. The magazine is plastic, but it's very thick plastic (it can afford to be, the ammunition is tiny) and pebbled to very convincingly mimic the powder coat finish on the metal. It even has the little spring-loaded dust cover over the ejection port that pops open when you work the charging handle. A lot of effort and attention went into this thing - it may be just a .22, but it's not a toy.

Full disclosure: I haven't actually shot it yet, having just picked it up today, and the weather's not supposed to be good enough to take it out to the gravel pit for a little while. I have read that it's optimized for the high-velocity types of .22LR ammunition and can thus by a picky eater, but given its overall air of quality, I'll be very surprised (and disappointed) if it turns out to be anything but an excellent shooter.

I hope it's good, because the same company also makes a similar .22-caliber cosmetic repro of the MP 40...

Editor's Note, 2017/04/24: My attitude toward modern rifles has softened somewhat since I originally wrote this, in part because both the AR and the AK, as systems, are so old now that there is retro action to be had in both families if you look hard enough. I still haven't bought one of GSG's .22-caliber MP 40s, though now that they're reportedly going to be making a proper 9mm version, maybe I don't need to.

Addendum posted March 17, 2020

Since this was the original entry in what retroactively became the Gun of the Week series, it lacked certain refinements that came along later—most notably, it's very light on photos, and says very little about how the rifle actually works. Today, I took advantage of my table being cleaned off for another project, got out the Sturmgewehr and the camera, and took a few new pictures with an eye toward rectifying that.

Disassembly begins, as it does on the real thing, with this spring-retained pin holding on the buttstock. Anyone who has ever dismantled an H&K rifle, or many another modern military-style rifle, will recognize this—virtually identical things are still with us today.

closeup on GSG StG44 spring-retained disassembly pin

(NOTE: On a real Sturmgewehr, the round knurled button just above the safety lever is the fire selector—push in on one side for full auto, the other side for semi. On this version, it's just a cosmetic feature stamped into the sheet metal.)

With the pin removed (it's not captive, like H&K pins still aren't), the stock slides right off the back of the receiver. In a real StG 44, the recoil spring is in there, but on the rimfire version it's just a piece of wood with a metal collar at the front, a couple of metal reinforcements at the rear corners, and a little spring-loaded trapdoor on top for an oil bottle (not pictured because it would've taken three hands to get the shot).

GSG StG 44 with stock removed

(You should probably take the sling off for this, but I couldn't be arsed.)

Here the disassembly procedure in the manual diverges slightly from reality. The description and accompanying pictures in the manual make it seem as if what you do next is swing the pistol grip/lower assembly down (another of the many features of this rifle copied in generations of subsequent Western military-pattern rifles), and then take the working bits out of the back of the upper.

GSG StG 44, lower opened, with rear block ejected

What actually happens is, you swing the lower assembly down, as in an AR, and as soon as the part at the back with the assembly pin hole is clear, that metal block at the back of the receiver pops out and flies across the table, because it's under spring pressure. You can see the spring just poking out of the upper, at the left.

(As an aside, I'm pretty sure that rear receiver block is made of Zamak, the same zinc-aluminum alloy as die-cast toy cars.)

So that was a bit unexpected. Once the rear block has been recovered, though, the rest of the working bits can be fished out of the upper in a manner very reminiscent of removing an AR-15's bolt.

GSG StG 44, field stripped

Here are the working parts of the action, all laid out. You can see that the upper receiver is basically two tubes, one larger than the other. The upper contains the charging handle (which I didn't try to take out) and that non-captive spring, which fits into the guide tube on the top part of the rear block and drives the charging handle forward. The larger lower tube contains the bolt carrier assembly and that black plastic buffer, which is there to fill the space between the bolt carrier and the large buffer spring on the bottom part of the rear block.

Note that this action has two operating springs. The buffer spring appears to be there just to cushion the impact of the bolt and carrier slamming backward (as much as anything propelled by a .22 LR round's detonation can be said to "slam"), but the long one and the captive one built into the bolt carrier both play a role in closing the action after cartridge blowback forces it open. When the rifle fires, the bolt slides backward in the carrier, and once it reaches the rear, the carrier itself slides back in the receiver; then the little spring drives the bolt to the front of the carrier and the big one returns the carrier to the front. Interesting system, and not one I've seen before (not that I've disassembled many .22 rimfire semiauto rifles; for all I know, that's how they all work).

Here's a closer look at the bolt face:

closeup on GSG StG 44 bolt face

As you can see, it's pretty simple. There's an extractor on the right side of the gun (our left, from this angle), and it's a rimfire, so that vertical rectangular bit is the firing pin. I'm not 100% sure, but I think it may double as the ejector.

Looking down into the open lower, we can see that the gun is hammer-fired.

GSG StG 44 lower receiver, looking down into trigger/hammer mechanism

When fired, the hammer swings up into the opening in the middle of the bolt carrier, strikes the firing pin at the back of the bolt and pushes it through to set off the cartridge, and is then reset by the action of the bolt going back.

One interesting quirk of the way this rifle is set up is that the tracks for the bolt carrier in the upper receiver's lower tube are slightly off-axis.

closeup on GSG StG 44 bolt in upper receiver track

It's a little hard to see because the rifle had to be lying on its side on the table for me to get the shot, but the plane of the bolt carrier isn't horizontal when the rifle is straight up-and-down. It's slightly tilted, up at the left and down at the right. I'm not sure why; perhaps they had to do that to make the bolt line up properly with the ejection port. Since the rifle is a replica of a significantly-larger-caliber centerfire design, they had to design the inner workings around the existing form factor rather than the other way around.

Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly. Once the bolt carrier and charging handle are slid back in and all the way forward, and the plastic spacer behind the bolt carrier is in place, one must line up the upper spring with its guide sleeve, then push the rear block into place and hold it while closing the lower.

GSG StG 44 action parts aligned for reassembly

Once the back of the lower, behind the pistol grip, is in place over the assembly lug at the bottom rear of the upper, the whole thing stays together without needing to keep a hand on it, so one is free to put the buttstock back on and pin it in place without having to have a third hand, which is nice.

When I had it back together and tested it to make sure everything was in order, I noticed something about the way the action works. I'm not sure I can convey it with still photos and words, but I'll try. Here's a view of the ejection port with the action fully closed.

close-up of GSG StG 44 ejection port with bolt closed

This was very awkward to photograph solo, but with a finger hooked over the charging handle and the camera in my other hand, I was able to get it to work. Pulling the charging handle back, the mechanism moves in three distinct stages, suggesting the workings of the separate springs inside. First, there's the takeup on the slack in the charging handle spring, and then, when it engages the bolt and starts to push it open against that spring, it requires more pressure. This second, stiffer resistance is pretty constant until you get it to here:

same view, bolt halfway open

With the bolt halfway open, the resistance suddenly and markedly increases, and remains at the new, even heavier level until it's all the way open.

same view, bolt fully open

The StG 44 has no last-round hold-open, but there is a hold-open notch built into the track for the charging handle, and unlike the improvised one on my Serbian AKM-alike, it actually works. When it's in that position, the bolt comes very slightly forward before stopping.

same view, bolt slightly forward in charging handle locked position

This is another feature of the Sturmgewehr that's very reminiscent of later H&Ks. You can even give it the classic "HK slap" to dislodge the handle from the notch and close the bolt.

While we're here, and thinking about StG 44 features that are very like features of later military rifles, the ejection port has a spring-loaded dust cover, just like on an AR-15 of 20 years later.

same view, dust cover closed

And just like an AR, it pops open automatically when the bolt opens. The only real difference is that it swings up instead of down. Ironically, it should probably have been built the other way, since in swinging up, it hits the rear sight, if said sight is set on its nearest setting.

close-up on GSG StG 44 rear sight, from above

That rear sight is a pretty typical tangent sight, as found on a great many military rifles of the late 19th through mid-20th centuries. This one's calibrated out to a thousand meters, which is pretty ambitious for .22 LR. It's also adjustable for windage—this one's got a couple of clicks cranked in, which is probably not doing its zero any good.

So there you go, a closer look at the inner workings of the German Sport Guns StG 44 rimfire reproduction. It remains a .22 LR action dressed up in a Sturmgewehr costume, but there were a couple of little surprises in there.