STG vs AK: What's the Relation, if any, and is the STG-44 Truly the First Assault Rifle?
J N Morgan
The STG-44 started out as the Mkb.42(H) back in 1942, and was the prototype of what would later become the MP43, MP44, and ultimately the STG44. The Mkb.42(H) was an open-bolt firearm, like a typical STG of the time. Chambering a round is the same action as firing one, so you couldn't go 30+1 in spite of what can be done in the videogame Red Orchestra II, but is probably the most realistic WWII FPS I've ever personally played, but that's another story. As the design was improved they ended up removing the bayonet lug, made it a closed-bolt design to improve accuracy, though seemed to have maintained the scope mount for optics however I think they used the 1.5-2.5x scope more than anything, I can't remember exactly which magnification it was, but it wasn't very much.
The 7.92x33 cartridge that the STG fires is actually not quite as potent as the 7.62x39 which came about around 1943 just one year later. If memory serves, 125gr at 2250 ft/s for the STG vs 123gr at 2350 ft/s for the AK-47 or AKM, even though the designs have very similar barrel lengths, and the barrel length is one of the few similarities these designs share. The STG's select-fire switch is separate from the safety, so whether set to fire or safe, you can still change the fire mode. With the AK, it's all in one lever, and also on the opposite side of the receiver; right side instead of left. This difference is also present on the charging handles; left side for STG and right side for the AK. The STG's mag release is also push-button on the left side, while for the AK it's an ambidextrous paddle behind the magazine.
The STG does have less felt recoil, and for good reason. Firstly, it is a VERY heavy assault rifle tipping the scales at somewhere between 10-11lb unloaded while the AK-47 was more around the 9lb ballpark, so a cool 1lb lighter. The later stamped-receiver AKM from 1959 or so was a paltry 6.7lb or so, however that might be without its magazine. With a bakelite (a type of plastic) 30-rnd mag, I wager it to be around 7.25lb. Add 30 rounds of M43 7.62x39 and you're looking at about 8.35lb. Back to the recoil aspect though; heavier firearms do absorb recoil better than lighter firearms typically, and also slower-firing firearms help as well. The STG is around 550 RPM as I recall while the AK is given a cozy 10 shots per second at 600 RPM.
Couple the heavier design and the slightly slower RPM with a slightly weaker cartridge and you're looking at a firearm that is easier to control in full auto, however with training the AK-47 or even the much lighter AKM can be controlled in full auto pretty efficiently, as demonstrated on the Military Arms Channel in a video or two of his with a full-auto AKM. So in terms of functionality, there's some pros and cons either way. Let's look at the internals however, that's where the differences truly become apparent.
The STG has a tilting bolt like the SVT-40 or SKS-45, while the AK has a rotating bolt like an M1 Rifle. The methods of disassembly are FAR different from one another, with the AK having a dust cover removed from the top of the receiver, followed by the captive recoil spring, the bolt-caried with long-stroke gas piston attached, and of course the rotating bolt. With the STG-44, there are pins (non-captive as I recall, so don't lose them) which must be removed in order to take off the buttstock. With the buttstock taken off the spring and bolt/bolt-carrier are free to come out, and the STG's recoil spring is non-captive. As a side note, if one were to break the buttstock of an STG somehow or if an enemy of its owner managed to take it and bash it against something hard enough to break it, the recoil spring would lose its tention and so the STG would be rendered as a manually-operated straight-pull rifle, essentially.
So the AK and STG do have some similarities; long-stroke gas piston, detachable 30-rnd mag, short-radius tangent sights, semi/full auto capabilities, and roughly .30 cal cartridge which is bottle-necked... but those are some VERY bland similarities to choose from. Detachable 30-rnd mag? That's pretty much standard for all modern assault rifles, and SMGs have had those for decades. Short-radius tangent sights were the epitome of standard for bolt-action rifles of the day being used around the world. Semi/full auto capabilities are seen on a fair few SMGs during WWII and even some LMGs, while .30 cal bottle-necked cartridges were also all over the place. The controls on the designs, the bolt styles, the disassembly method, the position of the cleaning kit in the buttstocks... if the Russians tried to copy the STG, they did a VERY poor job.
Word is that people who designed the STG were either captured or otherwise went to Soviet Russia to help them work on the AK, and that might be true, however even if it is it's clear that they looked elsewhere than German engineering for the design. The gas tube of the AK is pretty much a blatant rip-off of the SKS-45, the safety lever looks quite similar to one that Browning made for one of his designs in America decades before WWII, the method of locking the hammer back and releasing it is very reminiscent of the M1 Rifle which was designed by Canadian-born John Cantius Garand, and so on. Even the method of locking a mag in is different; direct-insert for STG vs rocked-in for AK. If the AK copied any aspect of the STG, it didn't get much past the long-stroke gas piston.
As for the STG-44 being the first assault rifle? That's still debated. A design was made in WWI, either 1915 or 1916; the Federov Avtomat. Select fire for semi/full auto, detachable 25-rnd box magazine, and it fired a cartridge very similar ballistically to the modern 6.5 Grendel intermediate cartridge. 6.5 Arisaka. From the insane 31.5" barrel of the Type 38 Arisaka, which the 6.5 Arisaka cartridge was originally chambered in, it just might be a bit too hot to be considered an intermediate cartridge, but that also goes along with the 6.5 Grendel, potentially even 5.56x45. There are various limits that an intermediate cartridge has that, if crossed, it becomes a rifle round. Velocity, energy, bullet weight, etc. Well the Federov Avtomat's roughly 20" or so barrel REALLY cuts down on velocity and bullet weight, to the point that it might even be weaker than the 7.62x39.
The very definition of an assault rifle is a firearm that uses an intermediate cartridge, is select-fire, and uses a detachable magazine. The definition of a modern battle rifle is the same, but instead of an intermediate cartridge it uses a full sized rifle cartridge, like an M14, G3, FN SCAR-H, FN FAL, and so on. So what the Federov Avtomat is designated depends largely on whether you think 6.5 Arisaka qualifies as an intermediate cartridge or a rifle cartridge. From a 20" barrel, it most certainly has the ballistic qualities to be an intermediate cartridge, however from a 31.5" barrel it might be too hot, I can't quite recall the specific details. 140gr at 2200 ft/s from a 20" barrel? Might be around there, and if you recall the AK's and STG's bullet weights and velocities, you'll see it's quite similar, even though it's with shorter 16" or so barrels.
I think it's definitely worth checking out; do your own research if interested, and come to your own conclusions. For me, personally, I believe the Federov Avtomat was the first assault rifle in history, even though the term/definition for assault rifle wouldn't come about until decades later. Hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope I managed to keep it bias-free! Feel free to post questions or your own views down below; I'll keep track of this blog post for a while I imagine. Also, if you are something of a gun nut as well, perhaps you'll enjoy my zombie survival novel 'Living amongst the Dead'. I'll post a link to amazon so you can check it out, and down in the review section I'm very proud to say that Jim has already given me one, in fact my very first review. Quite blushingly favourable, but fair. I do include some, how do I say, 'smutty' sections, but I tried to make the 'gunplay' as it were as realistic and descriptive as possible. If you are at all a fan of the Lee Enfield rifles, then chances are both Jim and myself would both recommend the book to you. There's a 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon that lets you check out the first few pages for free if you want to take a peek before deciding to pick it up or not. Anyways, like I said, I hope you enjoyed this (not so) little rant of mine. Cheers!