Originally Posted by JSQ
Today when we speak of the infantry rifle we do not distinguish between assault and otherwise. The M16 is a rife. The AK47 is a rifle. The Sig550 is a rifle. They are the primary tool of the infantry soldier which is now and has always been the "rifle". All of these weapons utilize an intermediate round but they are not relegated to a class which is seperate and apart from what defined a full size round in the second world war period. Rather they now serve as the very definition of what we perceive as a "battle rifle". The few remaining who distinguish between "assault" or otherwise are neither students of history nor the firearm itself. Only those who's interest is to label specific weapons for the purpose of their control by the goverment seek to make such distinctions.
Neither students of history nor the firearm itself? "Sturmgewehr" obviously means "assault rifle", but just because the word "rifle" is in the name does not means that a sturmgewehr is a true rifle. It's not. The sturmgewehr is a reduced rifle, i.e., a carbine. It does not fire a full-power rifle cartridge like a .303, .308, .30-06, 6.5 Swede, 7x57, 7.5 Swiss, and so on. Rather, it fires a cartridge of intermediate power, somewhere between the power of a pistol cartridge and a rifle cartridge.
Let's take a look at the history of the sturmgewehr, and perhaps this will enlighten why the sturmgewehr is not a true rifle. When the Germans invaded Poland, their personal weapons were the k98 rifle and various machine pistols. While many working prototypes existed at this time, the self-loading rifle had yet to be perfected and was not yet suitable for wide production and issue. The k98 was a marvelous weapon but it had a five-shot magazine, was fed via strippers, and was a bolt-action. Thus, its rate of fire was necessarily limited.
To supplement the k98, the Germans issued several different machine pistols. Unlike a self-loading rifle, which would require a more complicated and yet-to-be-perfected method of operation, these machine pistols operated on the simple blowback principle and did not require locking to contain the power of the small 9mm cartridge. The blowback operation of these weapons made them very heavy and they were very controllable in the full-auto mode. These had been perfected before the start of WW2. These machine pistols were capable of great rates of fire, but the Germans found their power lacking. The Germans quickly discovered that the pistol rounds these machine pistols were chambered for lacked stopping power, range, penetration against hard targets, etc.
So the Germans were faced with a dilemma. They had the k98, which unquestionably delivered a terminal blow to its target, even at very long ranges. But the k98 had a very low rate of fire. They also had several different machine pistols that delivered a very high rate of fire but were lacking power.
So around 1942, somebody in the Wehrmacht came up the idea of designing a hybrid weapon. By this time, several different self-loading methods of operation were beginning to be understood, so the idea of making a self-loading but locking mechanism that could contain rifle-cartridge pressures was possible. Take the FG42, example. The primary problem, however, was that the full-power rifle cartridge was too powerful to control in a select-fire weapon. The Germans wanted a select-fire weapon that could deliver a high rate of fire like the machine pistol but would deliver a more terminal blow to the target and at longer ranges than the pistol calibers were capable of. The rifle cartridge was out of the question, because it was too powerful to be controllable in a select-fire weapon. A new cartridge would be required for this role. The cartridge would, of necessity, be less powerful than the rifle cartridge to be manageable in full-auto mode.
The cartridge would be unlike anything theretofore used by the world's armies. The cartridge would be more powerful than a pistol round. It would have greater reach than a pistol round. It would have greater armor penetration than pistol round. It reach out farther than a pistol round. It would do these things the pistol round could not because it was not a pistol round.
Yet this cartridge was not rifle round either. Though this cartridge was intended for use in a shoulder-fired weapon, it it was not a rifle round. (The machine pistols were shoulder-fired, and they fired pistol rounds; that's why they're called "machine pistols".) It did not have the reach of a rifle round. It did not have the armor penetration of a rifle round. It did not have the terminal ballistics of a rifle round. It would not do these things a rifle round could do because, surprise surprise, it was not a rifle round.
Both Walther and Haenel came up with designs for a weapon that would fire this new cartridge. The Walther design, the MKb42(W), featured an odd gas system with the piston encircling the barrel. This design required very fine tolerances and was expensive and slow to produce. So the Germans abandoned this design and concentrated on the Haenel design, the MKb42(H), which used a conventional piston located above the barrel.
Note that both of these weapons were type-classified as "MKb" and not "G". The Wehrmacht knew that this new weapon was not a rifle. That's why the "machine carbine" name was used. The new weapon was not a true rifle, so it was not called a "gewehr" and not designated with a G. It was not a machine pistol, so it was not designated with an "MP" like the MP40.
After this, the story gets foggy. Some historians hold that Hitler vetoed the MKb project and ordered its abaondment on the ground that the concept of an intermediate cartridge conflicted with his personal battle experience from WW1. I do not know if this is apocryphal or not. But it might be true, since the MKb42(H) did not die with Hitler's purported veto but rather became the "MP43". Note the change in classification from "machine carbine" to "machine pistol". The same historians who say that Hitler vetoed the machine carbine project also say that the Wehrmacht changed the name of the MKb42(H) to "MP43" believed in the project and kept it alive. As the story continues, these historians say that more and more front-line units were asking for the MP43 and when Hitler asked what this MP43 was that everyone was clamoring for, it was revealed to him that it was in fact the MKb42(H) that he had previously vetoed. Hitler then realized that his veto was mistake and he personally christened the MP43 the "sturmgewehr", or StG44 because of its impressive performance on the Eastern Front.
Again, so the story goes. I don't know if all of this is aprocryphal. However, I must say that the constantly changing model designations of the sturmgewehr's development at least fit the story. This is the story that I find credible. Other historians claim that the impressive "sturmgewehr" name was coined by others to get Hitler to approve the project, a project he had once vetoed on this ground that this weapon was lacking in power. I don't know who's correct, but I tend to believe the former story more than the latter. No authority to my knowledge has shown anything would prove either side's story in a clear and convincing manner.
Note that the FG42, developed at the same time as the MKb42(W) and MKb42(H), did not use the "machine carbine" designation. The designers knew that the FG was a true rifle, as did the Luftwaffe, and the Luftwaffe type-classified it a "Fallschirmjaer Gewehr" or "paratrooper rifle". ("Fallschirmjager" means, literally, "hunter from the sky" but it translates to "paratrooper".) Its name was not changed to hide its development or make it more appealing to a governing body. Its classification as a "rifle" is correct in every way.
Let's say hypothetically that Hitler had embraced the "machine carbine" development. This the MKb42(H) and its progeny would be known today as "machine carbines" and not "assault rifles". Or what if the MP43 designation stuck, and these would be known today as "machine pistols". This sounds funny, but when you think about it it's no more ridiculous than calling this weapon and its progeny a "rifle". It's neither a pistol nor a rifle. Or what if the story is true about the Wehrmacht calling the MKb42 the "assault rifle" just to get Hitler to approve it by hiding the fact that the MKb42 featured attenuated power? If true, then this shows that the very use of the word "rifle" was merely a political ploy.
But I think all of this shows that, at the very minimum, the classification "assault rifle" has very little technical accuracy. The weapon at issue here is not a rifle at all. The weapon is hybrid design, seeking to gain the rate of fire of the pistol machine but with more terminal effect and reach. The hybrid weapon is not a machine pistol, as its ammunition is substantially more powerful than pistol ammunition. Nor is the weapon a rifle, as rifle ammunition is far too powerful to be chambered in a select-fire weapon and would negate the weapon's role as an effective select-fire weapon.
No system of classification is going to be perfect, e.g. the platypus, and guns are no different. There are many designs that almost defy categorization. Just look at the MG42. How does one describe its method of operation? It's gas-assisted, for it will not operate reliably without its muzzle cone. It's short recoil, for its barrel reciprocates back and forth. But it's also roller-locked, but its bolt-carrier reciprocates together with the barrel for a short distance. The weapon almost defies categorization.
The same might be said for the battle carbine. It's not a rifle, that much is certain. Calling it a "rifle" to make it more appealling to Hitler or to today's soldier is does not make it a rifle. "Battle carbine" may not be perfect but I think it's technically more accurate than "battle rifle".