By Michael Heidler
After the beginning of December 1944, the decision in favor of the Carl Walther model in 7.92×57 caliber as the future “People’s Rifle” was made.
In autumn 1944, the development of Volkssturm (People’s Army) weapons was in full swing. The company Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG from Austria featured among the companies involved. However, for the first two shooting competitions in October and November, Steyr did not manage to submit a rifle design of its own on time. After the beginning of December, the decision in favor of the Carl Walther model in 7.92×57 caliber as the future “People’s Rifle” was made. However, a final shooting competition for rifles chambered for the 7.92×33 “Kurzpatrone” (short cartridge), as used with the new assault rifle Sturmgewehr 44, was still pending. It finally took place from December 15 to 22 at the Kummersdorf experimental shooting range, and this time Steyr submitted a bolt-action rifle fitted with an MP44 stick magazine–albeit rather unsuccessfully. Rounds failed to fire, the bolt jammed and couldn’t be opened without tools, and the stock splintered after launching only four rifle grenades. Thus, Steyr seemed to be out of the race.
Nonetheless, the company had not been idle in the previous months. The simplified carbine in 7.92×57, which could not participate in the shooting competition, had in the meantime been fully developed. Under the auspices of the Gauleiter of Oberdonau (Upper Danube), August Eigruber, who was conveniently a member of the supervisory board of the Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG, the weapon went into series production as “Volkskarabiner 98” (People’s Carbine 98). In a letter from August Eigruber to Albert Speer dated January 25, 1945, he confirmed that the production was already running and that 4,400 carbines were completed. Production in February was expected to reach 15,000 pieces. With the technical delivery conditions from January 31, the Steyr weapon was officially named “Volksgewehr 5” (People’s Rifle 5). The first batch from Steyr-production was destined for Upper Silesia.
While these Steyr People’s Rifles with their typical marking “bnz 45” (maker’s code and date) and the fixed rear sight are relatively well known, there is also a rare variant in 7.92x33mm caliber (short car-tridge). At first glance, it is indistinguishable from the standard caliber rifles. But, on closer inspection, one recognizes the marking “7,9 kurz” (7.9 short) in a plane-milled spot on top of the barrel. The weapon is missing an internal magazine and only works as a single shot rifle. The conversion of the integrated maga-zine of the VG5 to accept the short cartridges and to ensure a trouble-free feed would have been far too costly for a last-ditch weapon.
Unfortunately, few real pieces are known and the surviving documents do not reveal anything about the production output of these short cartridge carbines.
Thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess, Switzerland.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N8 (October 2017)|