As riflemen, we generally have a keen interest in military and law enforcement weapons, either because they eventually become sporting weapons, such as the famous Mauser 98 action, or the AR15, which eventually had a significant influence on the world of recreational shooting.
Perhaps the interest is in how firearm designs develop. It could be argued that conservative thinking reigns in the world of arms design, but a closer look reveals that a lot of new ground has been broken in recent decades.
The two World Wars of the 20th century forever changed conventional warfare. The role of infantry was reduced to mopping up, holding ground and special warfare, while armament such as tanks, artillery and aircraft secured the victory. Therefore, a serious re-think of the role of the infantry and the associated weapons occurred during this period. All major combatants entered WW2 with their relics from WW1 as primary small arms − bolt action rifles such as the Berthier, Lebel, Lee Enfield, Mauser K98 and Moisin Nagant. The Americans introduced the all-new semi-automatic M1 Garand Rifle in 1937, retaining the very powerful .30-06 Springfield cartridge. Hunters happily took over this round from the military to serve as one of the best all-round general purpose hunting cartridges.
WW2 produced many new inventions and technological advances, but in the world of small arms there was probably none more important than the German Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44) in shaping the direction of infantry weapons. Designed for ease of production and maintenance, firing a short or intermediate cartridge, the 7.92x33 Kurz (a short version of the 7.92x57mm standard military round) the StG44 was instantly recognised as the ideal infantry combat weapon of the time. Capable of selective semi-automatic, as well as automatic fire, it proved more than capable at most infantry combat ranges as well as in close quarter fighting. The weapon was extensively used in both the eastern and western theatres of the war, with some 452 000 eventually issued to front line German troops.
Everyone took note and realised that this was probably the way to go. The Russians were quickest off the mark with Mikhail Kalashnikov introducing his famous/notorious AK47 in 1947. It had a lot in common with the StG44: apart from appearing similar, it was based on the same thinking about infantry warfare. Essentially, it boiled down to shorter combat ranges, but a higher rate of fire. Therefore, a smaller cartridge would suffice, allowing soldiers to carry more ammunition and to use large capacity magazines. The new cartridge was the now well-known 7.62x39mm derivative of the rimmed 7.62x54R Moisin Nagant, originally designed for the SKS rifle, introduced by the Soviet Union at the end of WW2, only to be shortly replaced by the far superior AK47.
Read the full article in the July 2017 issue of Magnum.