I’m very pleased to present the first of the videos filmed during my recent research trip to the US. My thanks to my friend Chuck Kramer, of the excellent GunLab blog, for his generous help and assistance making this video on a special little rifle. – Matt
By early 1945 Nazi Germany’s situation was desperate, with no real hope of victory left desperate holding actions became the order of the day. It was hoped by many on Hitler’s staff that if they could hold back the Russian’s long enough the Western Allies would reach Berlin first. This was not to be as the Red Army was making rapid progress into German territory, covering up to 35 km a day by March 1945. Once the Soviets encircled Berlin on the 20th April there was no possibility of a surrender to the Western Allies who in reality had long since lost interest in the ‘Race to Berlin’.
While the war had seemed hopeless for many months the German High Command continued its efforts to construct a formidable defence against the oncoming Russian forces. This saw the activation of the German militias and the forming of a new corps, the Volkssturm or in English: ‘people’s storm’. This optimistically named force made up of all men aged between 13 and 70 were called up and expected to defend their local areas, much like the British Home Guard formed in 1940.
In order to arm these men stores of older weapons were re-issued and the Volkssturm were issued Mauser G98s and old MG08s along with a large variety of captured foreign weapons which were in store including French, Polish and Russian small arms.
There were not enough modern weapons to equip the struggling regular forces let alone the newly improvised ‘volunteer’ force. As such Germany’s weapons factories were directed to create prototypes of simpler, cheaper weapons that might be mass produced quickly with minimal tooling. This project was dubbed the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm. These primitive weapons had to be made quickly with the materials at hand. This spawned a number of prototypes with varying degrees of sophistication, the so-called VolksGewehr or ‘people’s guns’. The best known of these is perhaps the Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr or MP 507 -often referred to as the VG 1-5.
The Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr was undeniably the most complicated of the Primitiv-Waffen. A semi-automatic, delayed blowback operated, carbine chambered in Germany’s new intermediate 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge. This weapon will hopefully be the topic of a future blog/video.
Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbines
The focus of today’s blog/video, however, is another Primitiv-Waffen chambered in 7.92x33mm developed by Rheinmetall. Rheinmetall developed a series of several prototypes, the VG45 or VG3 was the only prototype to be tested, however, a stamped receiver prototype was also developed.
Formed in 1935 as Rheinmetall-Borsig AG, Rheinmetall while perhaps best known for their larger calibre guns, they also developed a number of small arms designs – including several weapons for the Volkssturm. The VG45, chambered in 7.92mm Kurz, was developed in late 1944 and according to Wolfgang Peter-Michel, in his book Volksgewehre which quotes a contemporary British report, the VG45 was somewhat similar to the Walther designed VG1 in design, but chambered in 7.92 Kurz rather than 7.92x57mm Mauser. There is only a single, grainy photograph purporting to be the VG3 (with a missing bolt), which can be seen here.
Using a tube receiver simple forgings, spot welds and rivets the VG45’s design was utilitarian with one-piece beech wood furniture. It weighed around 6.8lbs or 3.1kg unloaded and had an overall length of 34 inches / 86cm. With a simple two lug bolt and no safety the carbine was extremely utilitarian. In October 1944, rifles from five companies were submitted in response to a call for a weapon of “simplified construction for mass production.” Rheinmetall’s design was not one of these first five designs.
However, by mid December Rheinmetall had submitted their carbine, the VG45, for testing. It reportedly performed well during testing in Kummersdorf, firing some 2,000 rounds and 20 rifle grenades successfully without major malfunctions. A report to Heinrich Himmler, dated 28th December, who had been tasked with overseeing the Volkssturm’s formation, noted that “most of the rifles’ stocks cracked when shooting the rifle grenades… the rifles are not yet [fully] examined and the current status of development do not yet permit a final test-firing.” Of the rifles submitted to testing only the designs from Mauser and Rheinmetall continued to be considered. While the VG1 and VG2 were ‘officially’ accepted Rheinmetall also received an order for 25,000 of their VG45 carbines – later referred to as the VG3.
Full scale production never began as the factory was heavily bombed in the closing stages of the war. Prototypes of the VG45 were found by the Allies when they captured the Rheinmetall plant in Sömmerda in Thuringia, central Germany. The British tested one of these rifles, marked ‘Rh Nr.4 VG45K’ on the receiver.
The British also captured another prototype 7.92mm Kurz bolt action carbine. It had a two-piece stamped receiver – welded together at the top of the receiver, with spot-welded inserts that formed the magazine housing simple two-lug bolt and a two-piece stock. It is unclear if this prototype carbine was submitted for testing. It is likely that it was still in development at the time of the December 1944 testing.
Another 7.92mm Kurz Carbine
Ermawerke, or Erfurter Maschinen- und Werkzeugfabrik GmbH, was established in Erfurt, Thuringia in the early 1920s, throughout the war they manufactured the Erma EMP, the MP38/40 and developed the prototype MP44 submachine gun. In late 1944, Erma set about developing their own entry for the Primitiv-Waffen program.
Erma’s prototype is very similar to Rheinmetall’s stamped prototype – a small, light, bolt action carbine chambered in the 7.92x33mm cartridge and able to feed from standard 30-round Sturmgewehr magazines. Unlike the Rheinmetall’s carbines, Ermawerke’s had a rudimentary trigger block safety at the rear of the trigger guard. Erma’s rifle also went through the December 1944 tests with no function issues. It appears that very few were manufactured and that only one or two examples survived the war. One surviving carbine, said to be in Russia, is missing its bolt and has had reportedly had replacement furniture fitted.
The Ermawerke carbine also made extensive use of stampings and simple forgings with rivets used to attached crudely finished wooden furniture. The receiver is similar to a VG-2 with an ejection port on the right. It weighed 6lbs or 2.7kg and had a 16.5 inch or 42cm barrel. The original carbine reportedly had no Wehrmacht/Waffenamt (WaA) acceptance marks. In his book, Deutsche Sturmgewehre, Peter Senich suggests that an example of the rifle was tested at the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1945.
Shooting the Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbine
Check out our short live fire & slow motion video with the carbine here
Rheinmetall’s stamped Volkssturm carbine used a simple two-lug rotating bolt action which was cocked on opening. It had a simple fixed rear notch sight and weighed just over 6.5lbs or 2.95kg unloaded, had a 15.45 inch or 39cm barrel and an overall length of 34 inches / 86cm. Unlike the VG45, the stamped prototype had a lever on the left side of the receiver which acted on the trigger sear to prevent it being depressed.
This video features a replica of Rheinmetall’s stamped Volkssturm carbine produced by Range Facilities (Burnham), one of a small batch made, which attempts to reproduce the original prototype. I had the opportunity to handle and fire one of the carbines. As such my appraisal of the rifle’s handling characteristics and shooting experience are based on the replica not the original. But I feel my experience with the reproduction is representative of how the original Rheinmetall carbine, and the other Primitive Waffen 7.92mm Kurz carbines might have handled.
Both the carbine and the 10-round magazine featured in the video were handmade to a high standard. There are, however, a number of key differences between the replica and the original, as described in the original British intelligence report. No markings were reported on the stamped prototype, however, the reproduction borrows markings from the VG45 and is marked ‘Rh Nr.5 VG45K‘ on the left side of the rifle. Another key difference is the addition of a utilitarian safety bar which blocked the trigger rather than a lever reported to be used by the original prototype. The replica also had a rounded bolt handle while the original is described as having a “straight and hollowed out bolt with no bolt knob, similar to the VG1. The reproduction has had a cleaning rod added beneath the barrel and its wooden furniture may also differ slightly.
The replica was very well made and care has been taken to give it a suitably aged appearance. Light and handy the carbine handled well and the 7.92x33mm Kurz chambering made it a light shooting carbine. While the replica’s bolt was a little stiff, this is probably quite representative of how the original would have handled.
The softer shooting 7.92 Kurz round certainly would have made sense for a rifle designed to be issued to poorly trained volunteer units made up of old men and young boys. The very basic rear sight necessitated the use of some Kentucky windage as the rifle shot a little low and to the left at ~70 metres. But within firing a single 10-round magazine I was able to quickly bring my shots to within a man-sized target with relative ease.
Here’s some photos of the carbine’s safety and magazine release:
While both the VG1, VG2 and VG1-5 all entered limited production the war ended before serial production of the the VG45/VG3 could begin. Rheinmetall’s stamped prototype probably did not see official evaluations and probably only one or two were produced before the bombing and subsequent capture of the factory.
However, the various 7.92mm Kurz Volkssturm carbines and the other Primitive Waffen remain important examples of the desperate measures Nazi Germany was forced to resort to at the end of the war in an effort to equip its troops.
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Specifications for Original Prototype Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbine:
Overall Length: 88cm / 34 inches
Barrel Length: 39cm / 15.45 inches
Weight: 2.95kg / 6.5lbs
Action: bolt action
Calibre: 7.92x33mm Kurz
Feed: 10 or 30-round box magazines
Desperate Measures : The last-Ditch Weapons of the Nazi Volkssturm, W.D. Weaver (2005)
Deutsche Sturmgewehre bis 1945, P. Senich (1998)
Volksgewehre: Die Langwaffen des Deutschen Volkssturms, W. Peter-Michel (2017)