PNG images: Assault Rifle

An assault rifle is a selective-fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles were first used during World War II. Though Western nations were slow to accept the assault rifle concept, by the end of the 20th century they had become the standard weapon in most of the world's armies, replacing full-powered rifles and sub-machine guns in most roles. Examples include the StG 44, AK-47 and the M16 rifle.

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The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, during World War II, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 400 meters and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat. They would soon develop a select-fire intermediate powered rifle combining the firepower of a sub machine gun with the range and accuracy of a rifle.

The result was the Sturmgewehr 44, which the Germans produced in large numbers; approximately half a million were made. It fired a new and revolutionary intermediate powered cartridge, the 7.92×33mm Kurz. This new cartridge was developed by shortening the standard 7.92×57mm Mauser round and giving it a lighter 125-grain bullet, that limited range but allowed for more controllable automatic fire. A smaller lighter cartridge also allowed soldiers to carry more ammunition "to support the higher consumption rate of automatic fire."

The Sturmgewehr 44 features an inexpensive, easy-to-make, stamped steel design and a 30-round detachable box magazine. "This weapon was the prototype of all successful automatic rifles. Characteristically (and unlike previous rifles and the M-14) it had a straight stock with the barrel under the gas cylinder to reduce the turning moment of recoil of the rifle in the shoulder and thus help reduce the tendency of shots to climb in automatic fire. The barrel and overall length were shorter than a traditional rifle and it had a pistol grip to hold the weapon more securely in automatic fire. The principle of this weapon—the reduction of muzzle impulse to get usable automatic fire within the actual ranges of combat—was probably the most important advance in small arms since the invention of smokeless powder."

The term assault rifle is generally attributed to Adolf Hitler, who for propaganda purposes used the German word "Sturmgewehr" (which translates to "storm rifle" or "assault rifle"), as the new name for the MP43, subsequently known as the Sturmgewehr 44 or StG 44. However, other sources dispute that Hitler had much to do with coining the new name besides signing the production order. The StG 44 is generally considered the first selective fire military rifle to popularise the assault rifle concept. Today, the term assault rifle is used to define firearms sharing the same basic characteristics as the StG 44.

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