The 7.92mm Kurz Rheinmetall Volkssturmgewehr

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


The Volkssturmgewehr

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.

Volkssturm with vg1-5
A well equipped, uniformed Volkssturm unit defend the banks of the Oder in this propaganda photograph, the man in the foreground holds a VG.1-5 (source)

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.

VG1-5
A Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr (RIA)

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.

Replica ermawerke carbine
Rheinmetall stamped Volkssturmgewehr replica (Matthew Moss)

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.

Original Ermawerke Carbine
Profile photographs of the original incomplete Ermawerke Carbine prototype, missing its bolt and reportedly with replacement more elaborate wooden furniture (Photographs originally taken by US Army)

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:

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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.


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


Bibliography:

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)

M45 Quadmount

 

Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit with some very rare and extremely interesting weapons on display. 

M16
An M45 mounted on a M16 half-track during World War Two (source)

The M45 Quadmount was developed by the W.L. Maxson Corporation for the US Army. It mounted four .50 calibre M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns on a lightweight, rotating powered mount.  I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at an M45 while visiting the Menorcan Military Museum.

Introduced in 1943, the M45 was capable of 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of elevation. It was manned by a three man crew: two loaders, who loaded the M2 Browning’s 200-round belt drums, and a gunner.

The M45 was extremely versatile and could be mounted on a number of trailers and vehicles including the M20 and M17 trailers and the M16, M17 and M51 half-tracks.

M45 TM
Diagram from the M45’s manual showing the layout and some of the Quadmount’s parts (source)

The gunner sat on a canvas seat inside the M45, between the two pairs of guns. He controlled the aiming of the guns with two control handles and aimed the M45 through a reflex sight which was mounted to a sight bar.

The M45 was powered by two 6-volt batteries and weighed approximately 2,400lb (1,090kg). The gunner was protected by an armoured plate at the front with two hinged armour plates either side of the M1X reflex sight. The M45 mounted four M2 TT (Turret Type) varriant machine guns – these were fired by solenoids. All four of the guns could be fired at once but gunners normally alternated between the upper and lower pairs in order to allow the guns to cool and loaders to replenish the drums.

US_Army_M16_MGMC_AA_Half-track
An M45 mounted on an M17 half-track during the Korean War (source)

When all the guns were fired together the M45 had an impressive rate of fire of approximately 2,300 rounds per minute. The Quadmount saw action throughout World War Two, the Korean War and in Vietnam. However, with the beginning of the jet age the M45 became increasingly obsolete in the anti-aircraft role. It continued to be used against ground targets with many mounted on vehicles to create ‘gun trucks’.

 

BESAL Light Machine Gun

By the Autumn of 1940, Nazi Germany controlled most of mainland Europe, France had surrendered, and the British Army had been forced to evacuate the continent and in the process had lost much of its arms and equipment.

Arms production in Britain was ramped up in order to arm the returning troops and the new units being formed to defend against the imminently expected German invasion. Existing designs like the Bren light machine gun and the Lee-Enfield Rifle were simplified to increase production however new options were also examined. The cheap, quickly manufactured STEN submachine gun was introduced and calls were made for a simplified light machine gun which could be made in any machine or workshop with simple tooling. Even before the fall of France the British Ordnance Board sent out a memo in June 1940, requesting a light machine gun which could be produced in garages and smaller workshops throughout Britain in the event that the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield was bombed.

In December 1940, the Chief Superintendent of Design outlined a light machine gun based on the Lewis Gun’s rotating bolt, which fed from Bren gun magazines.

The Birmingham Small Arms company (BSA) were approached to develop a design. BSA tasked their chief designer, Henry Faulkner, with the project. Members of the British Army’s Ordnance Board, however, began to question the decision to have an established manufacturer build a prototype for a gun that was supposed to be assembled in small ad-hoc workshops. As a result the contract was cancelled, however, BSA and Faulkner persisted anyway.

Faulkner, with the help of Roger Wackrow, came up with a weapon which later became known as the BESAL. The design was developed to be simple, cheap and quick to manufacture. The standards of finish were significantly lower than those of the standard Bren then in production. The plan was to issue the BESAL in the event Britain’s armed forces found themselves engaged in a last ditch defence with German invasion either imminent or already underway.

Faulkner’s design was chambered in .303 and fed feeding from standard Bren gun curved box magazines. It used a basic trigger mechanism, a simple pressed gas cylinder and a body held together by pinning and spot welding. The first prototype had a folding but non-adjustable bipod and a skeleton butt stock with a wooden insert. With the manufacture of barrels expected to be a bottleneck to the weapon’s production it was suggested that the spare barrel issued with each Bren gun be recalled for use in the new BESAL. This clearly illustrates just how desperate the situation was expected to be. The first prototype BESAL was ready by late 1941, and testing began in March 1942. The BESAL proved to be reliable and effective during trials.

Faulkner’s design went through a number of iterations but the gneral design had been finalised by May 1942 when BSA, Faulkner and Wackrow filed three patents protecting the design. The principle feature of the later BESAL patterns was the use of a cocking system which saw the operator push the pistol grip forward to catch the bolt, and then pull it to the rear to cock the weapon. This is a system that was later seen in the Czechoslovakian Vz 52/57, 59 series and the Finnish KVKK-62 general purpose machine gun.

Iterations of the BESAL:

1st Pattern: 

Besal 2 001

(Artists impression of 1st BESAL prototype – from Dugelby’s Bren Gun Saga)

  • Right side cocking handle
  • Skeleton butt
  • Simple fixed peep sight
  • Non-adjustable bipod mounted on the receiver

2nd Pattern:

Besal 3 001

(Photograph of a 2nd Pattern BESAL with a pan magazine, note the right-side cocking handlefrom Dugelby’s Bren Gun Saga)

  • Bipod moved to front of the gas tube
  • Universal magazine adaptor fitted for Bren and Motley Pan magazines
  • Full wooden stock – similar in profile to the Lewis Gun’s
  • 2-position sight
  • Disassembly knob introduced

3rd Pattern:

DSC_0828

(Our photograph of a 3rd Pattern BESAL)

  • Pistol grip cocking mechanism replacing the conventional cocking handle

4th Pattern:

Besal 4 001

(Photograph of a 4th Pattern BESAL, note the selector on the pistol grip – from Dugelby’s Bren Gun Saga)

  • Introduction of a selector switch on the left side of the weapon’s pistol grip

In August 1942, BSA submitted the 3rd Pattern Prototype for trials. It was extensively tested between September and November 1942. On 6th January, 1943, BSA renamed the BESAL the ‘Light Machine Gun, Faulkner, 0.303-In Mk1’ in order to prevent confusion with the 7.92x57mm BESA machine gun used in some British tanks. The BESA, also produced by BSA, used a similar pistol grip cocking mechanism. We hypothesise that the the BESAL’s name might come from the BESA, meaning BESA-Light. This, however, is unconfirmed.

It seems that over time as BSA and Faulkner improved and refined the design the BESAL ceased to be a cheap, simple, quickly-made alternative to the Bren. Instead it appears that BSA hoped the weapon might be adopted as a somewhat cheaper substitute standard to the Bren. Final testing of the BESAL were held in March 1943, but by now the weapon’s original purpose had been made defunct by the huge increase in Bren manufacturing capacity. By 1943 the Bren was in production on four continents: at Enfield in the UK, at John Inglis in Canada, at Ishapore in India and Lithgow in Australia. Inglis alone was producing 10,000 Brens a month by 1943.

With the need for a new light machine gun gone the BESAL project was cancelled in June 1943. BSA produced an estimated 20 guns, of various patterns, during the BESAL development project. Today, it is believed that only a handful remain.


Technical Specifications:

Length: 118.5cm (46.6in)
Weight: 9.7kg (21lb 8oz)
Barrel Length: 56cm (22in)
Action: Gas operated, short recoil
Calibre: .303
Feed: 30-round Bren box magazine or 100-round Motley pan magazine
Cyclic Rate: 600rpm


Bibliography:

The Bren Gun Saga, T. B. Dugelby (1999)
Bren Gun, N. Grant, (2013)
Military Small Arms, I. Hogg & J. Weeks (1985)
Modern Small Arms, F. Myatt (1979)

Patents: 

‘Improvements in or relating to gas-operated automatic firearms’, GB572925, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)

‘Improvements in or relating to automatic firearms’, GB572926, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)

‘Improvements in or relating to automatic firearms’, GB572924, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)