The Gustloff "VG1-5"
In October of 1944 Hitler founded the Volkssturm, or "peoples militia." Comprised of those previously considered too young, too old, or somehow invalid for service, the Volkssturm was intended to shore up Germany's defenses and help stop the Soviet advance. Volkssturm units were armed with a rag tag assortment of modern and obsolete equipment, including captured Russian, French, and Italian rifles, and even some black powder cartridge rifles ('71 Mausers). They had no uniform or insignia save a black identifying armband, and their training was brief and rudimentary.
In an effort to equip the Volkssturm with more effective weapons, several designs entered production that were developed to maximize the potential of Germany's rapidly shrinking manufacturing capacity, i.e. a lot of bang for a little buck. The Gustloff Gerats 507, or, as it is more commonly and erroneously known, the VG 1-5, is one of those designs.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
The Gustloff is a semi-automatic rifle chambered in 7.92x33 kurz, sharing ammunition and magazines with the famous and innovative StG44 assault rifle. It operates using a gas-delayed blowback system; the bolt does not lock into place and is held against the breech face only by the pressure of the recoil spring.
|VG 1-5 disassembled|
|Recoiling sleeve and gas rings visible|
The design of the Gustloff is as simple as it is unique. Blowback systems rely entirely on the mass of the recoiling assembly as well as spring pressure to counteract the forces of the cartridge being fired and to keep it inside the chamber until pressures drop to a safe level. Practically, there are limits to the power and pressure of cartridges available to be used in such a simple system, and the 7.92x33mm kurz - a cartridge with just a bit less juice than a 7.62x39mm common the Kalashnikov & SKS rifles - is beyond them by no small measure.
The large barrel sleeve seen above is actually part of the bolt assembly itself. It reciprocates under recoil and is actually used to charge and clear the weapon, much like a giant pistol slide. The barrel of the rifle is ported towards the muzzle area. Gas rings behind the porting and in the barrel sleeve create, in essence, an enormous piston: When the rifle is fired, gas bled off from the barrel of the rifle creates a spike in pressure inside the barrel sleeve, effectively slowing the rearward progression of the bolt in recoil. Once the bullet exits the muzzle of the gun, pressures drop, and the bolt assembly completes its recoil cycle. This is not the most effective method of retarding a blowback system, but it is probably the simplest and cheapest. By all accounts, recoil on the Gustloff was sharper than on similarly chambered rifles, though still not unmanageable.
Some 10,000 rifles were built before the end of the war. Altogether, it was not an elegant or refined weapon, with crude, non adjustable sights mounted on a recoiling body and spartan furniture. The inability to adjust sighting for elevation in particular was relevant to its effectiveness, because the curvaceous trajectory of the kurz round meant that the rifle hit a foot high at 100 meters and almost a foot and a half low at 300.
Like most last ditch wartime innovations, the Gustloff or VG 1-5 was simply too little, too late for its developers. But it's an interesting footnote in firearms history.