Continued from: The Genesis of the Volkssturm Carbines. Why? published March 27, 2014.
When we last looked at the Volkssturm carbines, it was late summer or early fall of 1944, and a handful of the guns were about to be presented to Hitler as a sort of staff decision memo by Reichsminister for Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer. The weapons included several single-shot and repeating bolt guns, and a version of the famous, if very rare, VG 1-5.
Purportedly after doing this, Speer wrote and transmitted the following (emphasis added):
The Reichs Minister for Armaments and War Production
TAE-no. 99 10786/44 secret
Berlin, the 5th of November 1944
Pariser Platz 3
(to: [action copies])
Main Directorate for Weapons, Director Engineer Weissenborn
Chief of the Armaments Staff, Senior Department Head Saur
Chief of Army Equipment and Commander of the Home Army, Reichsführer-SS Himmler
Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal Keitel
Chief of the General Staff of the Army, Colonel-General Guderian
Chief of Army Equipment and Commander of Replacements, SS-Senior Colonel and Waffen-SS General Jüttner
Chief of the Army Staff at the High Command of the Wehrmacht, General of Infantry Buhle
Leader of the Party Chancellery, Reichsleiter Bormann
High Command of the Wehrmacht, Wehrmacht Leadership Staff / Organizational Office, Lt. Col of the General Staff Fett
Main Directorate of Ammunition, Consul-General Stahl
The following proposed People’s-Rifles (Volksgewehre) have been presented to the Führer
a) Single-shot guns for normal rifle cartridge. From the firms:
- Appell, from Berlin-Spandau;
- Bergmann K.G., from Velten;
- Gustloff-Werke, from Suhl; and,
- Walther, from Zella-Mehlis.
b) Repeaters for normal rifle cartridge. There were two of these, from the firms:
- Deutsche Industrie-Werke, from Berlin (with the 10-shot magazine of the K.43);
- Röchling (Coenders), from Wetzlar (with 5-shot loading strips).
c) Repeaters with short cartridge 44. From the firm Deutsche Industrie-Werke, Berlin (two different versions with 30-shot magazines);
d) Self-loader with short cartridge 44. From the firm Gustloff-Werke, Suhl (with 30-shot magazine).
Reference: b) and c) as a Repeater, the model of the Deutsche Industrie-Werke was recommended by Colonel-General Guderian and General Buhle, in that its manufacture is very simple and it is made up of very easily made assemblies (no forged parts, no tubular material, no deep-drawn sheet metal and large tolerances). The Führer is in agreement with this recommendation, but he recommends shortening the barrel, if it can be done without significantly increasing recoil, and additionally improvement of the outward appearance of the weapon, such as rounding the receiver. Psychologically the Führer considers such a primitive weapon unfit for troop issue. The immediate start of manufacturing in a quantity of 400,000 to 450,000 pieces by using Air Force and Army barrels on hand, as well as available K43 magazines is directed, as long as the Army Ordnance Office (Heereswaffenamt) agrees and raises no objections. I would consider an output of 100,000 weapons in December, 1944, possible.
As an end goal, the Führer considers the People’s Rifle with the Short Cartridge 44 and a magazine of about 10 shots, which should not hinder the shooter in firing from the prone position; the long 30-shot magazine of the MP 44 is not to be used.
Reference d) the Gustloff-Werke’s self-loader is rejected by the shore by the Führer on the grounds of too-high cost, and too-high consumption of ammunition; further that the MP44 has about the same manufacturing and material requirements, and already is in mass production in very high quantities.
Heil Hitler, Speer.
Well, that’s a bit to think about. You’re welcome to check our translation; sorry about the so-so cell phone images of the documents.
The key takeaways
To us the big surprise in this document, which can scarcely be surprising to experts in the field because we found it in an old issue of the German magazine Waffen Revue, is the outright rejection of the VG 1–5, the Gustloff semi-automatic carbine for the short cartridge. Hitler’s reported strong opinions seem to be in line with those that might be held by a junior NCO of First World War vintage. His concern that the crudity of some of the proposed weapons would impinge on rifleman morale seems to be on target, as does his concern about a large box magazine and the prone position; his worry that they would blaze away and waste ammunition, less so. (For all that leaders and generals have fretted over ammunition wastage over the centuries, as each new development — breechloading cartridges, repeaters, semi-autos, select-fire — increased the grunt’s theoretical rate of fire, cases of grunts shooting their ammo stocks dry seem to be rather rare and restricted to situations in which said grunts were doomed and were being overrun, anyway. Joe Snuffy turns out to be a rational actor when his life is on the line). It was interesting to learn that the short MP44 magazine found here and there (like the one famously photographed in an MP45 prototype) resulted not from the desire of engineers to have a short mag for testing, but from the dictator’s concern about his frontline grunts.
It was also a surprise for us to see the production of the VG 1-5, which we’ve been watching go together over at GunLab (in-progress, above), compared with that of the MP 44, which has many more stamping steps. We can only presume that the MP44 had well-thought-out production schedules and tooling, and the simpler VG, which seems designed more with a view to cottage manufacture, didn’t.
Did Hitler Really Make These Decisions?
It’s hard to say. There’s no known document with Hitler’s signature (although after the July 20, 1944 attempt on his life, he seems to have signed fewer documents). Instead, there’s one from Albert Speer, saying, “the weapons were presented to the Führer”; “the Führer dismissed on fundamental grounds”, and so forth, but do we have anything but Speer’s word what we’re hearing is Hitler’s, and not Speer’s decision? And how much faith do we have in the integrity of Speer, the man who initiated the genre of self-serving Nazi bigwig memoirs? There are no answers to these questions; it does seem that in the higher levels of the Nazi hierarchy there was a fairly common practice of playing Führer’s-mouthpiece, with Himmler, Bormann and Göring among those who issued orders purporting to come from the mouth under the funny mustache itself.
A strong indication that this really was Hitler’s opinion is the reference to the aesthetics of the Deutsche Industrie-Werke repeater, and to the need for them to be improved if the soldier were to have confidence in his firearm. This sounds like a front-line combat veteran talking; and Hitler, whatever his faults, was such a veteran; Speer was not.
One indication that Speer may be on the level is that General Heinz Guderian, the great tank tactician, was quoted in the memo as well as an information addressee. Guderian had his own power base with Hitler, based not strictly on loyalty but on proven past performance. Would Speer have fibbed in a document Guderian might have brought up with Hitler himself? It seems unlikely. But the unlikely was an everyday occurrence in the 12 years of the Thousand-Year Empire.