Germany's Last Ditch Weapons --- The Desperation Weapons of the Volkssturm
By the end of 1944 it was clear that Germany was going to lose World War II. The United States had beaten back Germany’s offensive in the Ardennes, while the Soviets were calling on Germany’s back door. In desperation, Hitler and the Nazi’s formed a special militia unit called the Volkssturm, citizen soldiers who would serve as Germany’s last line of defense. Since most men of fighting age had already been drafted into the military, most of the Volkssturm was comprised of old men and children.
Due to a shortage of weapons, the Volkssturm was often equipped with inferior and second hand weapons. Often they were armed with foreign weapons captured during the war, with little ammunition available. However Germany also produced a line of desperation weapons; indigenous weapons specifically made to arm the Volkssturm. Such weapons were crudely built, manufactured to be somewhat functional while requiring a few resources and manpower to manufacture.
Produced by Walther, the VG-1 would have been an excellent rifle if it had been made with quality. The VG-1 was a simple bolt action rifle made a cheaply as possible. The stock was hastily carved and unfinished, often lacking a buttplate. Sights were fixed and unadjustable, being sighted in for only 100 meters. While standard Kar98k rifle used by the regular military used 5 round fixed magazine, the VG-1 utilized a 5 round detachable magazine produced from K43 parts. While this might seem like an advantage, in reality it was not a the rifle was so poorly made it was difficult to remove the magazine. Most were only issued with one magazine, and Volkssturm were trained to load it with stripper clips. Interesting, as part of Germany’s cost cutting measures, the bolt handle lacks a knob. Barrels were typically factory rejects or salvaged barrels from shot out machine guns. As a result of this the VG-1 had substandard accuracy which hampered it practicality. They were chambered in 8X57 Mauser and 8mm Kurz (7.92X33). Overall the VG1 served it purpose. While crude and substandard it was still a functional firearm. They cost $5 a piece to make.
The VG-2 was an improvement upon the VG1, with many features in common including a detachable five round magazine. However the main difference was that the VG-2 used a receiver produced of stamped metal, whereas the VG-1 used a milled receiver. The VG-2 also increased production by using salvaged stocks Kar 98K rifles for the buttstock and forearm. Like the VG-1 the VG-2 was often manufactured using factory reject or shot out barrels, hence accuracy suffered. Incredibly, the VG-2’s bolt handle came complete with a knob.
The simplest of Volkssturm weapons, the VK-98 was a simple rifle which used the venerated 98 Mauser action, most of which were salvaged from other firearms. It was as simple as a rifle could get and was made to be a functional firearm at its most basic level. Again, the stock was typically solid hardwood, hastily carved into shape and commonly lacking finish. It had no buttplate and the barrel was fashioned into place with only two pins. The barrel was typically a shot out barrel salvaged from an older rifle, or a factory reject. Sight were fixed and were nonadjustable. All over the rifle and stock can be found tool marks from the rifle’s production, left glaring and unfinished. Worst yet, the VK-98 lacked a magazine. It was single shot only, with the user manually loading a cartridge after each shot. The VK-98 fired the 8mm Kurz cartridge, the same cartridge used by the famous STG-44 assault rifle. It was hoped that the light cartridge would be easier to fire by old men and children who had little firearms experience.
The Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr 1-5
During World War II, the Germans created the STG-44, an assault rifle which utilized fine engineering, quality materials, and quality manufacturing. Then they came up with the Volkssturmgewehr, which was the antithesis of the STG-44. The Volkssturmgewehr was similar in conception to the STG-44; an assault rifle using an intermediate cartridge (8mm Kurz) which was a compromise between a submachine gun and a high power rifle. The Volkssturmgewehr, however, was the Volkssturm’s assault rifle, made to be cheap and easy to produce. Like other Volkssturm weapons, it was produced from substandard materials using substandard workmanship. It was simple and functional (barely), but little else. Most of the weapon was produced from stamped sheet metal. The stock and furniture was salvaged from other firearms. The magazine was a regular 30 round STG-44 magazine. Some variants included a wooden pistol grip, most didn’t. Unlike the STG-44, it could fire in full auto mode only, it did not have a semi auto selector switch, nor did it have a safety. Sights again were non-adjustable.
While having a fully automatic assault rifle may seem like an advantage during WWII, in reality it was a terrible liability. Unlike the STG-44, accuracy with the Volkssturmgewehr was terrible. Due to its poor workmanship and use of substandard metals, it also suffered from poor reliability, was vulnerable to dust, dirt, and moisture, and broke down easily. Around 10,000 were produced.
The Volkssturm and their weapons could do little to stem the tide of the Allied onslaught. After World War II, most Volkssturm weapons were melted down as scrap metal. Few soldiers took them as war trophies, seeing them as worthless junk. Today surviving Volkssturm weapons are highly collectible and can be valued at thousands of dollars due to their rarity and novelty.