Good Morning (or Afternoon) Everyone,
Thanks for giving the Calibre Obscura Newsletter a go. It’ll be worth it.
The topic for today’s newsletter is one that always gains tonnes of attention whenever it appears on Twitter- the StG 44 rifles appearing in Syria, in particular their low cost when for sale. This topic has been covered online before, but here’s a breakdown in how the StG 44s, the infamous “first ever assault rifle” designed for use by the Nazi regime, appear for sale in good condition in Idlib for a tiny fraction of their worth in the West.
How they got to Syria
The Deutsche Demokratische Republik, otherwise known as communist East Germany, always maintained close links with the Ba’athist regime of Syria. This included shipments of Tanks, bolt action rifles, and other arms, such as the StG 44. Syria eagerly purchased (sometimes for next to zero cost, or entirely on credit) large quantities of essentially obsolete arms from East Germany and other states, such as Czechoslovakia, which was in posession of large quantities of Nazi-made weapons, and the USSR, which itself had massive stocks.
It’s believed that StG 44 were sold to Syria by both East Germany and the Czechs in the 1950s to 70s- in particular around 2,200 StG 44 from the DDR in 1964, and an unknown quantity from Czechoslovakia in a larger shipment, as well as possible transfers from the USSR. Sales included large quantities of ammunition- Czechoslovakia and East Germany both produced 7.92x33mm Kurz ammunition.
Of course, even through the StG 44 was a perfectly usable design, Syria received many more shipments of millions of Eastern Bloc arms, including the AK series, which became the service rifle of the SyAA (including the AKM, AKMS, Type 56 series, and many other AKs from different countries). The StG 44s were hence put into the SyAA’s massive long term storage reserves, never seeing the light until the Civil War.
Capture and Use
The most cited source of StG 44 in opposition hands is this video of the capture of a claimed 5000 StG 44 and ammunition in August 2012 by the then FSA-aligned al-Tawhid Brigade. (This may not be, however, the only capture of StG 44 by rebel groups in the early years of the war, but it is the only one documented)
These were mixed in with other small arms, but were apparently all in very good condition. Whilst it may seem unusual for the Syrian regime to store such old arms, SyAA warehouses were often massively overstocked with huge quantities of small arms of every type, as well as other light weapons- RPG, ATGM, and more.
As is natural with opposition captured arms, they quickly spread to multiple factions and across the country, including use as an improvised remote weapons station! Given the pioneering nature of the gun and it’s essential similarity to modern assault rifles there was no reason that the captured examples couldn’t be employed in combat.
The StG 44’s active use has declined rapidly over the years since their capture however, as the supply of ammunition originally imported by Syria in the Cold War was used up. This took several years, as there was likely hundreds of thousands of both WW2 German and later-produced 7.92x33mm rounds imported.
The rifle pictured above had previously been in use by a rebel fighter in the last opposition enclave of greater Idlib, but then was sold as there was no ammunition to be found- this explains the multiple instances of StG being on sale for $50 or less, much to the chargin of Western firearms collectors.
May 2019, Idlib.
Curiously, the StG 44 was in ISIS hands right up to December 2018 in the “Hajin Pocket”, when a stockless example (which would render it useless) was captured amongst 9 Type 67 machine guns, which lacked barrels. It’s unclear why it was retained and up to what point the group still used the Nazi-era gun.
The 7.92x33mm round can still be found in Idlib, but literally in single rounds. This means the use of the StG 44 in Syria is essentially totally over, except perhaps to hang on the wall of a local enthusiast.
Want to learn more about the StG and many other WW2 arms in Syria?
Great resources include:
https://wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/syrian-civil-war-wwii-weapons-used/ (I discovered this page as I was finishing this email, and it contains far more detail about many other weapons systems, as well as images of StG 44 in FSA use)
https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/sturmgewehr-44-meet-nazi-assault-rifle-being-used-syrian-civil-war-50087 (Whilst the numbers quoted in this article as slightly inaccurate, it does give a good history of the development of the assault rifle.)
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