Both Sturmartilleriste pose with a rifle antitank PTRS-41 of Russian origin placed on the roof of their StuG III Ausf. F.
The machine belongs to Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung “Großdeutschland” Infantry Division-Großdeutschland (word.). The front structure has been reinforced with concrete which slightly improves the ballistic profile.
summer of 1942 on the Eastern Front in the upper bend of the Don and the Donets.
We know that groups of supremely experienced German engineers worked for both Cold War empires in the wake of WWII. But I was taken aback some years ago when a writer well versed in things Russian said, “Don’t you know Hugo Schmeisser helped design the AK-47? He was forced to go to the Soviet Union and worked for Kalashnikov.” “What!?” I nearly passed a kidney stone. This was heresy. Seven decades of Communism produced only one lasting triumph, the AK-47, and now a trusted source was telling me it was the work of some icy Teutonic genius? The truth, it turns out, is just much weirder. In 1945, Germany was a smoking ruin more in need of bricklayers than engineers, and the Soviet Union was shy about 20 million workers across the board. They had a powerful industrial base but their products were crudely made copies of Western designs.
America’s Operation Paperclip had quickly snatched up the cream of Germany’s rocket and aviation programs, as von Braun et. al. surrendered directly to the Americans. The Russians had similar but more complex motivations, and drafted German designers, softening the twisted arm with comfortable working conditions and decent pay. Besides, firearms manufacturing in Germany was forbidden by the occupying forces so opportunity within the trade was limited to the Soviet Union.
The East Germans who accepted the offer had household effects shipped to various cities. A series of trains wandered through Germany, picking up high-octane industrial minds - and their families - destined for the vast complexes east of Moscow. These trains had the windows painted over and once a German family boarded for the long ride east, there was no turning back.
When the Wehrmacht had invaded the Soviet Union in June of ‘41, the Soviets quickly evacuated entire factories, and their workers, and moved beyond tank and bomber range, into the Urals and Siberia. One of these cities was Izhvesk, little over 600 miles east, and 100 north, of Moscow. A state arsenal since 1800, it was home to the multiple factories which produced more than 12 million firearms during the Great Patriot War. About 3 million German soldiers were eventually captured, most in the last year of the war, and Stalin held onto them as forced labor, working throughout the Soviet Union. Many thousands labored in Izhvesk. Treatment varied for these men, but many were essentially slaves. Some Soviets “felt sorry for them and fed them. Others had lost relatives and hated them, and there were cases of beatings.“
The incoming German engineers’ families needed accommodations, so German POWs with skills were used to build blocks of apartments, using quality materials. These craftsmen were informed that they were building for German families and the quality control was extremely good. The apartments were four-plexes, but in a cost-saving measure, these were built around large common kitchens. Ironically, these German apartments are still inhabited, and considered a prestige address in Izhvesk - although none of the residents have spoken Hochdeutsch since the mid-1950s.
Among the engineers who came to the Izhvesk Mechanical Plant complex (rebranded as IZHMASH in 1976) in early 1946 was a sickly primadonna with impressive accomplishments. Hugo Schmeisser, 62, was the son of a firearms designer and in his youth had designed the Bergman 9X19mm Parabellum MP-18, one of the first successful submachine guns. Later, he pioneered the Sturmgewehrs, the first successful intermediate-power assault rifles. Schmeisser’s magnum opus, the 7.92X33mm Kurz StG-44, was a triumph of metal stamping, which is far lighter, faster and cheaper than milling solid bar-stock.
Kalashnikov and his assistants, Alexandr Zeitsev and Vladimir Deikin, had already completed a sound basic design in 1945, but were having extreme difficulty in production. The stamped receiver required the milled barrel trunnion at the front and the milled stock insert at the rear to be precision welded. Precision as in perfect - every time. The rejection rate ended up far too high. It was so bad that the Soviet Army ordered extended production of 7.62X39mm SKS-45 carbines while Kalashnikov’s team struggled.
It wasn’t long before German engineers were formed into a team at Factory 74, called Bureau 58, and assigned to assist Kalashnikov and other designers. Schmeisser came in to solve the stamped receiver problem. But did he? Problems started immediately. Written correspondence survives that document an ongoing contract dispute. He complained that his wife and son were sick and he wasn’t being paid enough to care for them. He also complained that he wasn’t being paid what he was promised when he signed the contract. Factory 74’s director, as well as the Communist party political secretary, were both in direct correspondence.
Why was his pay lacking? Remember that Hugo Schmeisser’s father was firearms engineer Louis Schmeisser? Where did young Hugo learn his trade? That’s right, Dad, who may have got him his early start working for Bergmann; what we’d now call on the job training. Among other patents, he received one for the MP-18 9X19mm Parabellum submachine gun. But when he designed the 7.92X33mm Kurz MP43/44/ StG-44 for Haenel, the firm got the patent. So Factory 74’s manager told him he had insufficient education to justify higher pay. As an added sod-off, the political secretary accused him of having a "capitalistic political view,” and they involuntarily extended his contract by six months. Schmeisser was not well-regarded by his colleagues, neither Russian nor German. Most considered him obstructionist and believed that if the stamped receiver obstacles could be solved, they would be allowed to return to Germany. Basically they wanted to solve the problem and go home. Schmeisser’s German boss, Karl Barnitzke was also criticized in a report, saying, “he has good technical skills but his political views are unsettled.”
Considering the situation, life wasn’t to bad. They couldn’t leave, but neither could their Soviet colleagues. Vital to national security, Izhvesk was a sealed city. But the Germans and Russians became friends and so did their children. Many of the Germans had worked in the Soviet Union during the ‘20s and '30s, when both nations were struggling to recover from World War I. And many Russian engineers had been educated in German universities. As with most educated Europeans, they spoke many languages. The children went to the same parties, but for the German families there was a nighttime curfew.
In the meantime, precision welding eluded Kalashnikov’s production specialists, and under the Cold War pressure of 1949, the Soviets went to a heavier milled receiver. It was a quick fix, but machinery originally used for Mosin-Nagant rifles was easily converted. Many of the Germans were allowed home following Stalin’s death on March 5th, 1953.
One of these was a manufacturing genius named Werner Gruner who, before the war, had worked at Großfuß AG. This firm built stamped steel lanterns and kitchen appliances. In the late 1930s Großfuß decided to compete for an army contract to build a replacement for the expensive 7.92X57mm MG-34 machine gun. Gruner attended an army machine gunner’s course and in the evenings, picked the brains of experienced gunners. He then cheerfully returned to Großfuß, promptly designing the MG-42. The MG-42, “Hitler’s Buzz Saw”, was arguably the best general purpose machine gun of the 20th century. Overnight, Großfuß went from about 500 to 5,000 employees. Werner Gruner’s personality was the opposite of Hugo Schmeisser. Bright and gregarious, Gruner was a Charming win-win manager and skilled engineer. He had received advanced degrees from night studies in the '20s and early '30s, and was still in his early '40s when the Soviet Military Administration in Germany “imposed a work requirement.” One must remember while these German engineers were comfortable and well compensated compared to their Soviet counterparts, they were still in some ways indentured servants. Considering conditions in East Germany at the time though, they were living in a gilded cage.
So, did the Germans actually design, or help design the Kalashnikov rifle? On this subject, Russians become quite defensive. Their cultural legacy was at stake. When the subject is broached, the claws come out and hissing is narrowly avoided. Two of my source articles, translated from on-line Russian-language sites, speak of “evil” and “insidious” rumor - mongering.
Let’s do the math. The original Kalashnikov design, immature, was presented in 1945, but Sergei Simonov’s SKS-45, a down sized copy of the successful 14.5mm PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle, walked away with the production order. Kalashnikov either asked for or was forced to accept German help in 1946 but failed to offer a production-capable stamped rifle. The crew at Factory 74 of the Izhvesk Mechanical Plant fell back on the milled receiver and launched full-scale production in 1949. By 1952, almost every German engineer was back in Thuringia, East Germany, (gun country, analogous to Connecticut River Valley or Brescia, Italy) confronting the somber reality that was the Communist police state. The stamped receiver problem hadn’t been fixed. Kalashnikov and his design crew kept at it, tenacious as guard dogs gnawing on a gulag escapee, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the riddle of the stamped receiver was solved and production began on the stamped 7.63X39mm AKM.
Kalashnikov had started the design while the Germans were still the enemy, and delivered a successful firearm to the Soviet military, but he had not yet conquered the stamped receiver he started to build. The two most talented Germans working with him were specialists in stamped metal manufacture. Perhaps the delay in introduction of the stamped AKM was a case of “Don’t mess with production until we have enough Kalashnikov rifles to fight the NATO.” But are we supposed to believe that the Germans fixed the problem, and that the Soviets then sat on the project for seven years?
Ultimately, my gut is snagged by a quote by Hugo Schmeisser, who was asked shortly before his death, how much did he have to do with the design. He is supposed to have replied,“I gave the Russians a few tips.” How much of the success was German - if any - we’ll never really know. One thing is certain. If the project had failed, it would have been a former Soviet tank mechanic who would have been shipped off to Siberia.
When the Nazi war machine rolled into Stalingrad, they had no idea what was in store for them: Crazy ass Russians. We know better now. We know that Russia is mad in the weirdest ways - like an ultra-violent Japan - and you shouldn’t even look them in the eye, much less try to invade the bastards. But it took 5 months of brutal, unrelenting warfare in a bombed out frozen Hell to teach the Nazis that lesson. Nonchalantly strolling around this bombed out wasteland was legendary sniper Vasily Zaitsev.
The Red Army’s elite sniper teams, when not busy killing Nazis, used their spare time to think up new and interesting methods of killing Nazis. In one of these epic brainstorming sessions, Zaitsev, probably after frantically sketching something in his notebook while making explosion noises with his mouth, came up with the idea to take a scope from a Sniper Rifle and attach it to a giant 14.5 mm PTRS-41 Anti-Tank Rifle. He wanted to use it to kill bunkers.
Just straight up murder a fortified concrete fortress.
Soviet soldiers defending their position with the PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle on the southern outskirts of Voronezh in 1942. Soldiers armed with PPSh-41 submachine guns cover the two anti-tank riflemen from both flanks.
This, boys and girls and whatever, is the most iconic sniper rifle/giant bullet launching device ever made. This is a Barrett M82. This is probably the most successful sniper rifle ever made, cause most of the world uses it in one way shape or form. The US Armed Forces, England, most of NATO, hell Mexico’s soldiers march with the damn thing.
But how does this gun come into existence? Was it a long series of prototypes made in the 1970′s to give America a firepower edge? Or maybe a modern weapon made for long range sniping?
None of those are correct, Ronald Barrett, the founder of Barrett firearms did it because no one else had made a semi-automatic rifle in .50 BMG. So he effectively made it on a bet.
So Ronald Barrett, native to Tennessee and looking more like someone’s dad rather than the dealer of anti-material rifles started as a professional photographer and while taking photos near the Stones River saw a river patrol boat with dual .50 Brownings on the bow. Besides winning him an award, he began thinking of the idea of a .50 BMG caliber rifle.
Now the idea of the heavy machinegun caliber rifle is an idea dating to WWI and the Imperial German T-Gewehr, chambered in 13.2 TUF and made to pierce WWI era tanks. This launched the idea of the anti-tank rifle, a giant rifle firing a large round going absurdly fast to sail through tank and vehicle armor.
Every country made or bought their own model, the Finns had the 20mm Lahti L-39, the Russians had the single shot PTRD-41 and semi-auto PTRS-41, the Germans had the PzB 38 and 39, the British had the Boys AT rifle. The problem came when tanks started increasing armor. Most AT rifles could only pierce 20-30mm of armor and with the increase of armor, a new idea was needed. The US made the M1 Bazooka and thus the trend went from big rifles to rocket propelled weapons.
Explanation over, back to the tale of the M82. Ronnie Barrett began drawing cross-section pictures of his design, allowing him to edit what needed to be edited as well as going to nearby machine shops to see if they would make it themselves. He ran into Bob Mitchell, a tool and die shop owner in Smyrna, Tennessee who agreed to help him make the first prototype rifles. Spending time there as well as a nearby sheet metal manufacturer, Ronnie Barrett had his first firing prototype in less than 4 months.
He used this to make a second gun, better than the last and sent a video of him firing it to a gun show in Houston, Texas. There three people placed deposits for him to make them guns. With limited money, Barrett managed to crank out around 30 guns from his garage. When he placed an ad in Shotgun News, he sold out his first batch of guns. After that, the CIA called to place an order of some M82′s for sale to the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan.
With these sales, this allowed Barrett to continue revising his rifle to the M82A1, which got rid of the very futuristic looking exterior to the design we all know and love. And in 1989, he made his first sale to the Swedish Military. Even better was in 1990, when the US Military began buying the rifles for work in Iraq during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Shield, where it went by the name of the SASR, the Special Applications Scoped Rifle. The first order of 125 to the USMC soon was met with orders from the other branches and the M82A1 was being bought by most world militaries.
Ever since that, the M82 series has seen wide sales and use across the world. It’s primary use is for dealing with unexploded munitions, bombs, mines, IED’s etc. It could also be used against radar cabins, trucks, parked aircraft, helicopters and human targets alike. And with a maximum range of 1,830 meters to 4,000, it means the M82 will be still firing when other’s have stopped due to range. It’s also semi-automatic, giving a higher rate of fire in comparison with slower single shot or bolt action anti-material rifle designs.
The M82 has a number of other design versions. There’s the US adopted M107, the bullpup M82A2, the tan painted M107A1, the modern M82A1M and M82A3 and the bolt action M95 and single shot M95. There’s also a number of prototypes, including the XM500 and the XM109 in 25mm that is locked in DoD limbo. If HMG rounds aren’t your forte, there’s also the M98 Bravo in .338 Lapua.
The M82 also has some other users besides most world militaries not using the KSVK, there’s a number of police departments, who use them for car disabling and the US Coast Guard, who use them for disabling drug running boats. Other more impetuous uses were by the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Bosnian Army and rather infamously, the Irish Republican Army had shipments of both original and M90 models shipped over for use on British Army soldiers, specifically in South Armagh from 1990-97. In fact the final British soldier killed by the IRA in Northern Ireland during the troubles was killed by an M82.
Another place the M82 is spotted is media. But not just it’s slew of uses in Video Games, but in movies.
Oh yes, from the megaslums of Detroit to the sands of Iraq, the M82 has made a very noticeable impression on the silver screen. With it’s first use in 1987′s classic Robocop as the “Cobra Assault Cannon”, it’s filmography is a long one. The Mechanic, The Hurt Locker, The Keeper, Elephant White, when a film needs a gun that’s big and can punch through concrete, people and cars, the Barrett’s likely to show up.
And yes, video games have their fair share of M82 rifles. With the rise of the modern combat video game, the M82 is destined to show up. From Ghost Recon to Call of Duty, there’s probably been just as many digital representations of M82 rifles than those stamped in steel. From the Bozar of Fallout 2 to the Heavy Sniper of GTA V, whatever it’s name, if it’s a big caliber sniper rifle, it’s most likely a M82. If not, it’s another Barrett model like the Thanatos of PAYDAY 2 or the absurdly powerful M99 AMR of Killing Floor. No matter what the name, they all share a similar feel of heavy, powerful and accurate. From the streets of a city to the zombie-filled forest, nothing banishes fear like a Barrett.
And that is the story and legacy of the M82 rifle, from the concept art and early prototypes to the #1 selling Anti-Material rifle in the world. The M82 is a weapon with an imposing profile, so good Tennessee made it their state rifle and whether it be on the streets of Baghdad, Sao Paulo, or Pittsburgh, the name “Barrett” will signify power and whatever model it is, whether original M82 or a M107, a particular phrase will always ring true.
“Big whoop I’m spooning a Barrett .50 cal, I could kill a building!”
Pro-Russian rebels stand next to newly dug trenches at a fortified front line rebel position near the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk May 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
*The guy in the trench has an old Russian PTRS-41; a semi-automatic 14.5x114mm anti-tank rifle dating back to World War II. Interestingly it has a PTRD muzzle brake installed. The gun lineage irony in the photo however is that the PTRS-41 is the big brother to the SKS, seen in the hands of another Pro-Russian rebel fighter. (GRH)