The roller-delayed and roller-locked firearms produced from the Cold War to the present, and used by NATO and countless combatants around the world, have their origins in World War II. Under the Nazis, engineers had a field day producing everything from the first operational fleet of jet-powered bombers and fighters, to the rockets that would form the bases for the U.S. and Soviet space programs, to submarines so advanced one was raised from the ocean to reenter service in the 1950s. Germany also produced firearms such as the MG 42 and the MP 44 series, which evolved into the post-war G3.
The story of the G3 arguably begins during World War I. Unlike the Eastern Front, and the Middle East where the battlefields often retained some mobility, the Western Front was mostly static — defined, before the return of mobility in 1917 and 1918, by battles such as Verdun and the Somme where massed firepower became the perceived arbiter of success. The desire for more individual firepower under these circumstances led to enhancements such as extended magazines, modifications such as the Pedersen Device and MG 08/15, and new weapons such as the submachine gun (e.g., the MP 18, which entered service, and the Thompson, which came too late) and the automatic rifle (e.g., the Chauchat, and the BAR).
Immediately before World War II, many countries were developing designs that incorporated intermediate- or pistol-caliber cartridges into an individual, shoulder-fired weapon. However, none would become as influential as the MKb 42 and MP 43/44. These set the standard, and indeed gave the name Sturmgewehr — assault rifle, to the weapons that would evolve from it either in concept or design.
The MP 44 series of rifles was extremely well-received when it made its appearance on the battlefield. German after action reports noted that the lesser recoil led to more long-range hits — a somewhat surprising fact considering the firearm’s chambering in an intermediate cartridge, the 7.92x33mm Kurz. However, the lower power of the cartridge itself combined with the smooth gas operation of the MP 44 (MP 43 at the time, although there is virtually no difference) resulted in far less recoil during firing, in turn enabling maximization of the 7.92×33’s ballistic capability. If you should find yourself among the few who have an opportunity, go put one hundred rounds through a K98 in 7.92×57, and then do the same with an MP 44 in 7.92×33. You’ll understand.
At close range, the MP 44 could unleash a tremendous and controllable volume of fire against an enemy. Additionally, it was not as prone to failure, due to cold or fouling, as other weapons. Its stamped metal design was revolutionary — so much so that virtually no German gun manufacturers wanted anything to do with it, and Adolf Hitler himself almost killed the project. Eventually, however, overwhelming demand for the weapon overrode the Bohemian Corporal’s amateurish interference. Still, it never entered production on a scale at which it could have significantly influenced the battlefield. Indeed, there were production problems throughout the war, to include fewer magazines, pouches, and accessories than were needed to accompany even the small number of weapons that were issued. Today, finding an original MP 44 magazine is almost as hard as finding a transferable MP 44.
Even though the MP 44 got a somewhat abortive start during the war, it pointed the way to the future. By 1945, the MP 44 had been outfitted with a quick-detach 4X scope with throw-lever mount, a suppressor, and even the first small-arms-mounted night vision device. Considering that it would take most militaries until the modern day to make such accessories standard, the scope and scale of forward thinking manifested in the MP 44 project was astounding.