One of the most interesting and influential weapons of the 20th Century was the original “assault rifle,” a name coined by no less a personage than Adolf Hitler (which might explain the term’s popularity with some of today’s wannabe totalitarians). The gun was also known as a Machine Carbine (MKb) and Machine Pistol (MP) at various times, but the definitive, or at least, final, version was the StG, Sturmgewehr, 44. The Assault Rifle of 44 was one of many late-war German weapons that proved conclusively that even technically revolutionary equipment can’t turn the tide of a losing war. (Fortunately, in this case).
Digital rendering of the forthcoming HMG clone showing the 7.92 profile mag.
What it could do was make an indelible mark on firearms history. Every subsequent service rifle design has more or less StG44 DNA in it. The AR-10 and its successors copied the concept of a select-fire rifle and copied many small details — dust cover, extractor, magazine catch — very closely. The Russian Avtomat prototypes that led to the durable AK-47 borrowed the concept more than the details from the StG44 (which itself borrowed from previous Simonov and Tokarev rifles). The first FN-FAL prototype was even chambered for the StG’s 7.92 x 33 mm cartridge.
Previous Clone Attempts
It was the first mass-produced and widely issued service shoulder weapon that fired an intermediate cartridge using a locked breech and a select-fire fire control system. Couple that to its Nazi heritage — everything Nazi seems to be collectible — and the mere handful that were ever registered under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and it’s a natural for copying. You’d think someone would have built a semi-automatic Title I firearm version at some time over the years.
The only give-away that this is a .22 at this distance are the ATI and “Schmeisser” markings in white. Also, the rear sight and mag are plastic. Per this thread at Calguns.net.
Several attempts to clone the complicated firearm over the years have all come a cropper, although a .22 LR imitation first shipped in 2012 is still available from American Tactical Imports. (ATI also makes a .22LR MP40). Prior to that there was at least one reverse-engineered 7.92 x 33 version produced in Germany, by Sport-Systeme Dittrich (SSD) and HZA-Kulmbach (SSD’s marketing arm), and some of the SSD guns — very few, 200, of which at least 2 have been parted out to try to make others work — were imported to the USA by PTR as the PTR-44. Attempts to import them subsequently have come to naught, and the HZA firm appears to have been liquidated some years ago.
These reverse-engineered German guns have had a bad reputation, due to inconsistent functioning (some work, some don’t) and high prices. (SSD’s last price list in 2011 quoted about €2800 for the bare gun; Doug Johnson of Alaska reported on AR-15.com that he paid some $4300 for his PTR import, seen below, in 2009). But they retain considerable collector interest given their close visual replication of the original (the PTR/SSD gun even includes reproduced Waffenamts, per Johnson), and the rarity, cost and regulatory burden of the few transferable original firearms.
Doug Johnson’s PTR-44.
Even the people who had a chance during that brief PTR window to acquire a StG/MP44 clone didn’t always jump at it, because of the rarity and cost of ammunition and magazines (original magazines are expensive items, cost driven high by Nazi collectors; repro magazines have quality issues, as few if any of the reproducers have the means to function test them). That, then, is the current state of the market: there is pent-up demand among collectors for a Title 1 firearm centerfire reproduction, and that demand is bifurcated between collector snobs (uh, like us) that want a 7.92 x 33 mm clone and economy-minded shooters
As everyone who has tried (and failed) to bring a centerfire repro to market sustainably knows, this demand curve shows considerable price effect. Currently, the tiny supply of satisfactory firearms, combined with high demand, has driven prices to a level where only the least-price-sensitive buyers are still playing. An increase in supply will probably soften prices, but that remains to be seen.
The New Clone from Hill & Mac Gunworks (HMG)
Enters a new vendor with a new clone, to be formally introduced at the SHOT Show. For now, it’s available for pre-order at a reasonable $1800 at HMG’s website. The pre-order period ends on 19 January 2016 when the show begins. HMG’s intent is to ship beginning in April, 2016; it may be longer than that, as not everything is under their direct control.
But the HMG clone is not, really, a clone. You can call it an update, an interpretation, “stand-off scale,” or a cosmetic imitation, but it’s not a clone. Its engineering departs from the original in several place.
This lets HMG lower prices, and lets them do something that fence-sitting buyers have long asked for: offer the StG in calibers other than the historical footnote 7.92. It probably also reduces the arm’s appeal to one market where the older German clones have been in great demand, WWII reenactors, who like all reenactors have quirky and firm ideas about authenticity that would bemuse the original troops they’re obsessively portraying. Fortunately for HMG, reenactors are a tiny market.
The offered calibers include 5.56, .300 BLK, 7.62 x 39, and 7.92 x 33, mostly using STANAG (i.e. M16) magazines.
STG-N rendering with STANAG magazine.
The best way to understand both what an StG is like under the hood, and to see where HMG’s Mac Steil departed from the original in his redesign of the StG, is view the two videos on this page at Forgotten Weapons. (We’d embed the videos, but you really need to watch both, and embedding two videos, a half-hour long each, that make up the bulk of the page is making a bit too free with FW’s content for us). Also, Ian and Karl promise a Part 3 video showing the variations HMG plans to introduce, and you don’t want to miss that when they post it, do you? (It will probably show up at Full30.com first). It’s important to watch the videos in order as the second assumes you have the in-depth StG/MP knowledge of the first — and it’s cool having that knowledge anyway.
The essential changes were intended to make the gun more reliable and durable than the original, and more practical for modern manufacturing and shooting. “A rivet-for-rivet, cut-for-cut, reproduction of the original…” Mac tells Ian and Karl, rolling his eyes, “would end up costing…five thousand, four thousand dollars.” And that’s cost, not what he’d have to sell it for to keep the lights on and buy baby new shoes. The market, as anyone who didn’t sleep through Econ 101 should recall, expands as the price drops, and shrinks as it rises.
There are definite benefits to an updated approach. Manufacturing technology hasn’t been sleeping since 1945. A small shop like HMG can make short runs of parts more effectively by extruding to near-net profile and then finish machining than by the 1940s process, forging. And HMG’s materials are more tightly controlled, with critical machined parts (bolt, carrier, trunnion, extractor, etc.) made of 8620 and 9310 steels.
But there were design as well as material departures. The StG/MP44 bolt carrier was substantially altered from the simpler, shorter one used in the earlier MKB 42 (H), and HMG’s STG-N reverts to the earlier version. This moves the recoil spring from one lobe of the bolt carrier to the other lobe, eliminating potential interference with the hammer that required the original MP43 designers to extend the bolt carrier to the rear. HMG also replaces the originals pinned and riveted gas piston with one that threads into place, a la MKb 42 (H) — that makes it field-replaceable and interchangeable, and also enables the manufacture of a pistol version with a spring relocated forward.
HMG pistol conversion of the Sturmgewehr, available for pre-order at the same price and in the same calibers as the rifle version.
The original MP/StG 44 trigger pack is quite complicated, and HMG substitutes — internally — the simpler, modular and widely-available H&K trigger group, contained in an exterior housing that is dimensionally identical to the original (to the point where original housings will snap into place on the HMG, but will not function). Any H&K compatible semi trigger group will work, but a registered auto-sear group will not.
The biggest single change, though, is the abandonment of the original magazine and magazine well, for custom HMG mags that externally resemble the originals but in the part that fits in the mag well comport to the standard NATO 5.56 magazine shape. This means that if you acquire a 5.56 or .300 Blackout firearm, existing STANAG magazines should work just fine. The HMG 7.62 x 39 and 7.92 x 33 mags will differ internally from STANAG in order to feed these cartridges.
The next biggest change is the availability of conversion kits to allow caliber changes. This is enabled by changing from the rough and ready headspacing approach of the original, optimized for wartime assembly of parts of dubious adherence to the drawings, coming in from small contractors and cottage industry, to a modern castle nut. This is not a three-times-a-day QD or field conversion kit; it requires the castle nut to be torqued to a specific value to properly headspace the barrel. In addition to barrel and magazine, the bolt must be changed if the case head diameter changes, but not between calibers that have the same case head dimensions.
The effect of these changes, of course, is to increase the STG-N’s appeal to shooters, as well as to enable economical manufacturing of the firearm.
GunLab was involved in the development of this reproduction, as we recounted here a while ago. In that post, and in the GunLab post linked in it, Chuck is sorting out the reverse engineering and machining of an MP/StG trunnion, a complex and critical part.
If you pre-order an HMG STG-N, your payment will be collected on order, so you’re assuming some risk, namely, that HMG will not become another set of bleached bones in the firearms manufacturing and importing Death Valley that marks the passage of earlier cloners.
The potential upside, if you’re willing to take that risk and wait patiently for shipment, is that you’re one of the first to get what’s going to be one of the splash guns of SHOT 2016.
Finally, do watch the Forgotten Weapons videos, and in order. One of the best payoffs in the whole thing isn’t even one of the many technical points about StGs old and new; it’s Ian’s insight about Digital Rights Management in other industries compared to the modularity and customization trend in ours.
This post has been corrected. Mac’s last name was incorrect at first. We regret the error. Note that Part 3 of Ian’s and Karl’s video with Mac is now on the net on youtube. (See Ian’s comment below for the link. Do I have to do everything around here? -Ed.)