Volkssturm Small Arms

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Volkssturm Small Arms


As a last-ditch measure in the nearly lost war, on 18 October 1944 the Deutscher Volkssturm was mobilized – a German national militia. To arm them under conditions of depleted manpower and limited available production capacities the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (“primitive weapons program”) was initiated. It called for weapons that were as easy as possible to produce. Walther designed the Volkssturmgewehr VG 1 rifle, Spreewerk Berlin the VG 2, Rheinmetall the VG 3, Mauser the VG 4 and Steyr the VG 5 (a.k.a. VK 98). Best known is the Volkssturmgewehr by Gustloff which was a gas-delayed blowback semi-automatic rifle.


In 1944 and 1945 Nazi Germany’s declining fortunes necessitated the formation of the Volkssturm (People’s Army), composed of men too old, young, or infirm to serve in the traditional armed services. The Nazi military intended the Volkssturm as a rearguard or even as disposable buffer troops to protect its better-trained front-line troops in desperate situations. To arm the Volkssturm, the government set up a program to develop and manufacture appropriate and equally disposable weapons-the Volksgewehr (People’s Rifle) and the Volkspistole (People’s Pistol). Although cheaply made, Volkssturm weapons exhibited considerable ingenuity in design. The Volksgewehr program saw limited success in that a small number of rifles were manufactured and saw some degree of combat, whereas the Volkspistole project produced only a few prototypes before the war’s end.

This was another development of the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (Primitive Weapons Programme). It was developed early in 1945 for arming the VoIkssturm, but got no further man the prototype model. Due to the fragmentary record-keeping in Germany in early 1945, the actual makers of this pistol are not known. The Volkspistole uses a similar system of delayed blowback to that of the Volksgewehr (see below). The barrel is freed to the frame and surrounded by a slide which forms an annular chamber around the barrel. Vents lead into this from the gun barrel so that high-pressure gas will serve to hold the slide, and thus the breech, from moving back for a short time after firing. The barrel is extended by a smoothbore tube; the purpose of this has never been officially explained, but it is possible that it would sustain chamber pressure so as to improve the delayed blowback action. The pistol is chambered for the standard 9mm (0.354″) Parabellum cartridge and uses a Walther 8-round P-38 magazine. Its estimated muzzle velocity is 380m/sec(1250ft/see)

Although the Volkspistole never achieved production, its various designers did explore new techniques and concepts that were put into practice following the war and helped set the stage for a new generation of handguns. Most records and prototypes were destroyed with Nazi Germany’s fall, but apparently three firms were involved in the project: Walther, Mauser, and Gustloff Werk of Suhl. The main criteria set by the government were that the pistol could be assembled by minimally skilled workers, was to be chambered for the standard 9mm Parabellum service cartridge, and that its construction consist of as little high-quality materials as possible. As in the case of the American Liberator, the Volkspistole was fabricated primarily with stamped, brazed, and welded sheet metal. Although the designers explored blowback, locked-breech, and gas-operating systems, their lasting contribution lay in the use of more easily and economically fabricated materials and holding expensively machined components to a minimum.

The VK 98’s action was that of a Kar 98k, but the finish was extremely crude and the sights were simply stamped from sheet metal. Some used parts salvaged from damaged weapons or previously rejected for not meeting quality standards.

Volksturm VG-5, aka VK-98

By 1945, with the Nazi Reich tottering under assaults from both East and West, desperate attempts to produce more weapons for the Volkssturm militia saw a number of designs for new weapons, many of them simple to the point of crudity. The VK 98 (Volks-Karabiner, or ‘people’s carbine’) was based on the Kar 98k, but stripped of everything but the absolute essentials. Examples vary, but most have simple half-stocks that provide a minimal handgrip while leaving most of the barrel exposed, and very simple stamped sights. All have very crude machining and stocks roughed out of wood blanks.

Volksgewehr VG 1-5

The creation of the last-ditch Volkssturm forces in October 1944 generated an additional need for weaponry. The Volkssturm were recipients of anything the Heer or Waffen-SS could dispense with, plus large quantities of innovative weaponry such as the Panzerfaust shoulder-launched anti-tank weapon. With a now-characteristic disregard for production realities, the German authorities also sought to develop a new single-shot or semi-automatic rifle specifically for the Volkssturm, and to be known, appropriately enough, as the Volksgewehr (People’s Rifle). This programme was to be known as the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (Primitive Weapons Programme), the title giving a full sense of the exigency of the situation.

Despite the late stage of the war, numerous different German arms manufacturers actually attempted to develop the weapon, although Hitler quickly rejected all the single-shot versions in favour of magazine rifles firing the Kurzpatrone (short cartridge).

One of the frontrunners was the Gustloff VG 1-5, a boxy-looking semi-automatic rifle. On every level, the VG 1-5 was a tribute to emergency manufacturing processes, it being made from various accumulations of steel tubing, welding and pressed-steel parts. It was notable, however, for its use of a delayed-blowback operating system. A reciprocating hollow sleeve was fitted around the barrel, the sleeve also operating the gun’s bolt. When the gun was fired, gas vented through gas ports 65mm from the muzzle and pushed against the sleeve, holding it forward until the pressure had dropped to safe levels, at which point the bolt would open and the gun would reload. The principle was promising, and upwards of 10,000 VG 1-5s were manufactured. Yet the gun also had problems that the wartime situation did not allow time to resolve. It was prone to jamming from fouling, and when the gun became hot barrel expansion could jam the reciprocating sleeve. It stands as one among many acts of futile German inventiveness in the final months of the war.

Gustloff VG 1-5

The Gustloff Werk of Suhl were given the task of developing an automatic rifle. The weapon which they produced was based on a 1943 design by Barnetske, their chief engineer, and it consisted of a rifle barrel surrounded by a tubular sleeve which carried the bolt at its rear end. This was carried in a casing in which the bolt sleeve unit could recoil against a spring and in which was the trigger and firing mechanism. The tubular sleeve maintained an annular space around the barrel; in this space was the recoil spring and, just behind the muzzle,, four gasports which led from the barrel into the annular space. On firing, some of the propelling gas passed through these vents and acted on the forward end of the sleeve, resisting the rearward force being generated at the other end of the sleeve by the cartridge case forcing back the bolt. The balance of these two forces gave a delayed action to what would otherwise have been a simple blowback weapon. Feed was by a 30- round box magazine, that of the Stug44 assault rifle, and it was chambered for the short 7.92mm (0.312″) M1943 cartridge. Its weight is 4.52 kgs (10 lbs, 2 oz); length 885mm (34.8″); barrel length 378mm (14.9″); and muzzle velocity 655m/sec(2150ft/see)

1945. Semi-automatic, delayed blowback. Few made.

Cartridge: 7.92 x 33M Kurz.

Length: 34.9in (885mm).

Weight: 10lb 2oz (4.62kg).

Barrel: 14.9in (378mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

Muzzle Velocity: 2150 fps (655 m/s).

The Spreewerk Berlin Volkssturmgewehr VG 2 is also a manually operated bolt-action rifle with a similar rotating bolt and crude manual safety. Locking is provided by two frontal lugs which lock into the steel insert pinned inside the stamped steel receiver. The VG 2 rifle is fed from detachable box magazines, originally developed for Gewehr 43. The stock is crudely made from wood and consists of two separate parts: shoulder stock with semi-pistol grip and fore-end. Wood parts are permanently pinned to the receiver. Non-adjustable iron sights are provided for close-range shooting only, and zeroed for 100 metres (110 yd).

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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