Assault Rifle, Alpine Style, Clear as Ice Edition

Thanks to Chuck at GunLab for turning us on to this incredible post on the Swiss Rifles message board. As Chuck tells it, Dale got hold of, not a rare StG 57, but a rare2 cutaway version of the StG 57.

And then he posted a series of photos and a thoughtful analysis of this highly unusual rifle that replaced the Swiss Army’s rifles, light machine guns, and submachine guns at once. (Does that make it the Swiss Army Knife of rifles? Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

As Dale explains, there’s a lot that’s unique about the StG 57:

The Stgw 57 is an interesting battle rifle. The rationale behind this gun was to arm the infantry with an “universal weapon” that would replace the bolt-action rifle, machine gun and machine pistol. It was selected in late December 1956 over the Waffenfabrik Bern competitor for cost reasons (the SIG prototype costed only 495 CHF to produce over the 1100 CHF that the W+F Bern model required).

It was always expensive, and while a semi model sold in trickles in the USA, the high price and the rare (here) 7.5 mm caliber kept it from taking off. One of our team sergeants had one and it was a thing of rare beauty (we think he later traded it for an NFA registered 4.2″ mortar). A later export model was chambered for 7.62 mm NATO, but it didn’t sell any better.

It incorporates a modified roller-delayed blowback mechanism inspired by the StG45/Gerät 06 H prototypes, folding sights from the FG42, and a buttstock socket just like the famous MG42. In order to reduce production costs, SIG used innovative production techniques and rubber/polymer materials for the rifle’s construction, in an effort to minimise the number of machined parts.

The cutaway provides a rare chance to truly observe and understand this unusual weapon. The original post includes comprehensive photographs and explanations.

Of course, being a Swiss rifle, no compromises were made on the quality of the construction and overall robustness. Because of its heavy, welded, machined, stamped and brazed construction, the Stgw 57 weighs a whopping 6,5 kg fully loaded! Not only is the rifle one of the heaviest service weapon of the world, it is also one of the most expensive! Each Stgw 57 costs the Swiss government a grand total of 1000 CHF (of which 495 CHF are production costs and 75 CHF accessories).

In this post, we’ve placed a couple of selected images. But really, you must go there and Read The Whole Thing™; you’ll see many more images and each one has a deep technical description of what you’re seeing. Very highly recommended!

24 thoughts on “Assault Rifle, Alpine Style, Clear as Ice Edition

  1. SAM

    Didn’t Colonel Cooper like the semi-automatic only variant the 510-4 – AMT (American Match Target)?

    1. Hognose Post author

      I suspect, Colonel or no, he never had to carry something this weight for any distance in combat movement. The problem with replacing rifle, SMG and LMG all in one go (as the US tried to do with the M14 and M16) is that you compromise one or more of those combat tools. The Swiss were biased towards an LMG, hence the weight of the beast (something like 6-7 kG!), but they didn’t have a rapid reload like the Bren’s top-mounted mag. (ISTR that the British Army at first intended a heavy barrel FN to replace the Bren, but they thought better of it). The US was biased towards retaining the M1, and did that, essentially, with the M14; it was a no-go as SMG or Carbine replacement, and attempts to make an LMG or BAR replacement out of it were pathetic. The M16 covered the rifle and SMG okay, but we still needed an LMG, which the Belgians kindly developed for us after our program wallowed for years.

      1. Kirk

        I think classifying the StG 57 as an “assault rifle” is more than a bit inaccurate. The Swiss did not intend to play “tank troopers”, and have their infantry running around the battlefield doing close-quarters fights. That full-auto feature on the StG 57 was not meant to be used like the AK-47, where it substituted for things like the Ppsh-41–It was meant to fill the role envisioned for the FG42, an LMG that could also serve as an individual weapon. As such, the term “assault rifle” isn’t accurate, because they never meant for the things to be used in the assault on full-auto, except in really extraordinary circumstances. If you go looking at the Swiss small tactics manuals, there’s really not a lot of focus on things like clearing buildings with them, or things of that nature–These weapons were meant to be used up in the mountains, conducting automatic fire from lengthy stand-offs, vice the assault rifle role of close-in combat during the attack.

        I don’t like the term “battle rifle”, because it’s a contrived creation of idiots that really have not a fucking clue about tactics or how these weapons are used, as well as being a non-sequitur, but for lack of a real descriptive term that fits this thing, I think I’d prefer to use that term to describe it. Whatever the StG 57 is, it sure as hell isn’t an “assault rifle”, even though that’s what the Swiss called the damn thing.

        Or, we’re using a different sense of the word “assault”, which to me means the close-in battle on the objective. The Swiss may have meant it more in terms of a “long-range mugging”, which is how they meant to use these things on full-auto.

          1. Kirk

            Oh, I wasn’t saying you were the one making the miscategorization–I should have made that a bit more clear. The Swiss are the ones who I think mis-named this rifle.

            I mean, seriously? You’re going to build a rifle firing your standard full-sized service rifle cartridge, make its characteristics more akin to an LMG, and then call it an “assault rifle”? It is almost like they just heard the term, liked how it sounded, and then ignored everything behind the German implementation of the concept, or something. About the only thing the StG 57 does that an actual assault rifle will is go full-auto, but with the size of the rifle and cartridge involved…? They should have come up with a better term for it.

  2. Kirk

    The StG 57 is a perfect exemplar of what I’ve always advocated in small arms design: First, determine your tactics and operational intent, and then design your weapon around those.

    The Swiss did not intend to fight like the mechanized hordes they expected to face. So, they determined to maximize their stand-off potential, and avoid close contact with the enemy. As such, the StG 57 has all the features it does to support that tactical and operational intent.

    Would that our own small arms establishment integrated things as well, and did as much thinking about designing to support the tactics we use. Frankly, the StG 57 or equivalent is probably what we should have been issuing a lot of our guys in Afghanistan…

    1. RLTW

      Of course that’s what the guys needed in Afghanastan. Because nothing says “light infantry” like a 12 pound rifle with optic / PEQ / taclight on top of body armor, helmet, 3 days of food and water, NODs, radios, batteries, extra M240B / M249 ammo or 60mm mortars, extra socks / boots / t-shirts / uniform, e-tool, IFAK, SKEDCO, LAW / Carl Gustav / AT-4, reflective PT belt (shut up and do as you’re told), and whatever else CSM comes up with. Hooah.

      1. Kirk

        And, here we have the perfect illustration for what is wrong with our small arms community, as well as a lot of our infantry units.

        The point that you don’t need to be hauling around as much of that stuff, ammunition included, if your weapons are actually effective and, more importantly, lethal out to long range, escapes most of us. We’d rather lug along two-three M240s and a shit load of ammo for them, than take one M240, a decent tripod, and a lot less ammo. The fact that the tripod is going to enable precision fires to be delivered right where they’re actually needed, as opposed to spraying the side of the hill with a shit-ton of ammo off a bipod…? Black magic, that is.

        Which goes a long, long way towards explaining why the US still has the primitive-ass M122 derivatives on issue, and don’t even want to consider something like the “too heavy” Lafette mounts, ‘cos, donchaknow, all that “extra weight” could be ammo, or something…

        Pro tip? If you can actually deliver accurate fire that kills the enemy out to 1600 or so meters, you probably won’t need all that ammo. But, again, that’s like rocket science, and scary. Training your gunners to be able to do that within 30 seconds would actually require spending some time on the ranges with them, and having to build realistic ranges, where you could learn how to do that sort of thing effectively…

        As well, I note that you miss the point where I suggested that we needed something like the StG 57 in “a lot of” the troops hands. That ain’t quite “everybody”, but that fine point is one a lot of people miss.

        Examining how the Swiss intended to fight in the Alpine areas of Switzerland might have been something we should have looked at, going into Afghanistan. They might know a little something-something about such affairs, having trained for it for years.

        The point that the Swiss transitioned to the StG 90 only after they changed their defense plans and tactics is something a lot of us miss, in that they went from the idea of defending the “Alpine redoubt” to “Defend the lowland border areas”, which necessitated a somewhat different weapon and cartridge. If the Germans or Soviets had come into Swiss territory back during the WWII-Cold War era, the intent was to fall back into the mountains, and bleed the bastards dry when they tried coming after them. The Swiss knew they couldn’t defend the lowlands, so they intended to abandon those to the enemy, and pull a Russian “Let’s lure them into the mountains, where we have all the advantages, and they’ll freeze to death…” strategy. Probably wouldn’t have worked out, over the long haul, but I wager that the Germans and Soviets both would have known they’d been in a hell of a fight, after it was all over.

        Part of the reason our guys are so damn overloaded in Afghanistan is that we’re taking a set of small arms into an infantry fight up in the mountains which were optimized for taking part in mechanized warfare in Northern Europe, which would have meant that most, if not all, engagements we needed to win and dominate were within 300m, virtual knife-fighting distance. So, when you take those into the hills, which are bare and exposed, and suddenly need to engage those assholes with PKMs up on the ridgelines, you wind up having to carry a shitload of extra ammo, because, well… You’re having to substitute mass fire for precision. Put a couple of StG 57 equivalents into the squad, and suddenly, you’ve got a couple of LMG-analogs that can deliver precision fires onto those guys, and, gee, that means that we’re having to carry a lot less ammo… From a systems standpoint, the StG 57 might actually wind up being a lighter solution, although the individuals carrying the sumbitch might not think so.

        As well, the Swiss were not into what we’re doing in Afghanistan. They intended to be playing the Taliban role, to whomever was foolish enough to invade. Countering that? The Germans intended to use a lot of artillery, while the Soviets would probably just have backed off and made generous use of tactical nukes.

          1. Kirk

            When the enemy has “ROE superiority” over you, the radio and all the support it can call for is useless.

            The fundamental mis-match between “how we’re gonna fight” and the weapons we’ve put on issue is the problem here–We’re taking a small arms suite into mountain combat while eschewing the majority of the supporting arms it was designed around being available to the guys doing the fighting, and we’re wondering why it is we’re losing the number of engagements we are.

            A squad whose weapons are designed around deliberately engaging in small arms-restrictive fights will look a lot different than the ones we’re fielding, which are (somewhat…) intentionally designed from the cartridge up to integrate with a bunch of supporting arms like artillery, aviation, mortars, and the like. When you get down to it, the suite of weapons we have in our infantrymen’s hands these days is pretty much just a set of tools optimized for close-in fighting and providing local security to the heavier weapons and FCO/FAC teams. We have not designed our weapons or tactics to be effective in small-arms only fights; that’s why the range and precision mis-match has crept up on us. Not to mention, little supporting things like the tripods and so forth…

        1. robroysimmons

          Watching the fine documentary “Hornets Nest” I would say binoculars was what they were missing the most

    2. Jorge

      The Swiss knew where they were going to fight, and the only way in which they wouldn’t get slaughtered doing so. They weren’t interested in taking territory, but in making an invasion too painful and costly to bother with.
      Our forces must be far more flexible, as they could be (and have been) deployed anywhere – deserts, arctic environments, mountains, cities, jungles. That said, I’m thinking 6.5 Grendel would be a better intermediate cartridge than 5.56 when you need more range, better brush/cover penetration – it would be heavier, but it would be a real increase in capability, if you happened to train your troops to shoot well enough to take advantage of that.

    1. Kirk

      No. No, you are not…

      The StG 57 is one of those rifles you look at, initially go “Meh… What the hell were they thinking…?”, and dismiss as some foreign ass-hattery. Then, you get a detailed introduction to one, from someone who knows the real deal about it, and suddenly… The beauty of it all snaps into clear focus, and you’re in love.

      If I were to ever win the Lotto, one of the first things I’d be doing with the recreational portion I’d allot myself would be to buy as many of those things as I could afford, and set up a nice, long range somewhere in the mountains, and do some serious shooting with them. I don’t know if they ever brought in the select-fire versions, but I’d damn sure be looking for one…

      1. Peter

        The choice of the full size ammunition and weapon was very heavily influenced by the human wave attacks of the Eastern Front and Korea. It was thought that a Soviet attack in the cold war would entail similar attacks. Included in the requirement was the ability to shoot anti personnel rifle grenades either ballistically out to about 300 m or flat trajectory anti tank grenades out to about 100 m. And most importantly, it had to be as accurate as the Kar 31 on the 300 m range in civilian use (semiauto only). The Stgw 57 replaced the Kar 31, the light machine gun (lMG 25) and the submachine gun (Suomi MP 35).

        Doctrine was to use the rifle from 600 down to 300 in short bursts, bipod in forward position. From 300 m down to close range in well aimed semi auto (bipod in the back position), then again in full auto at close quarters like house to house fighting or in an assault. And of course the different rifle grenades. So to me, it was a true battle rifle, not just ‘fortress gun’.
        The weight of 6,6 kg with a full magazine to us was not much of a problem – we hugged it up and down hills and mountains, did 80km in 13 hours with it and just accepted it. I served from 1975 to the end of the 80ies, first in Armoured Infantry (Panzergrenadier) on M113’s (with the M2 and later with a 1 man turret with a 20 mm Hispano-Suiza gun taken from old fighter airplanes; never worked properly in the turret though).
        Ammunition supply was never thought a problem, as the army was meant to fight from very well prepared positions close to depots. The Stgw57 was part of a profound change in military doctrine in Switzerland, introduced in 1961 (‘Armee 61’) when it was decided to defend the whole country again, not just the alpine reduit in case of war. This entailed a huge investment in arms. In case of mobilisation the army had 625’000 members, mostly infantry, 840 tanks, 540 M109 and 1300 M113. We didn’t have an army, the country was literally an armed camp.
        The Swiss soldier gets his personal gun at the first day of his basic training and then keeps it for the rest of his military service, being able to buy it when he leaves the service if he so wishes. The soldier (still) takes the rifle home including ammunition (this has changed somewhat recently, you CAN store the rifle in a depot now). Back in the cold war there where close to 700’000 Stgw 57 distributed in the country, as almost every household hat a member in the military, service being compulsory.
        What was very marked was the robustness of the rifle. We abused it quite a lot, always throwing it into the bed of a truck or onto the bench of the M113 when boarding. In house to house fighting exercises the rifle was used as a ‘step’ – 1 man at either end, the 3rd stepping on it and being thrown into the house. Try to do this with an M16!
        The cut away versions were not that rare. I remember having at least one in the company depot, together with a huge wooden replica of the bolt action. They were used for instructional purposes. I think they were manufactured out of non shootable rifles, of which the company depot had about 10 too, for the really tough exercises I believe. They were marked with a broad white band.

        Very important was the civilian use: For that the rifle had to be converted to semiauto only. This is this little white square on the right hand side of the grip assembly which could be pulled out and reversed either to black (full auto possibility, only allowed when in actual military service) or on white, which prevented the safety lever to be put on full auto.
        Back in my days shooting was much more popular; there was (and still is) the so called ‘Feldschiessen’, literally ‘Field Shooting’, which attracted regularly about 200’000 shooters at one particular weekend in the summer, shooting a 20 round program each (and test shots). The army provided the ammunition, you only had to pay your test shots for I think about 10 cents each. Quite impressive, more than 4 Mio rounds fired in one weekend, it sounded like the western front.
        In addition to that, each serving member of the military had and still has to shoot 20 rounds in a compulsory program (Obligatorisch) annually, ammunition again provided by the army. Failing this, you are fined or go to jail in the end.

        When the army defined the successor to the Stgw 57 in the 1980ies, there was a public outcry that the 300 m accuracy was seemingly not required anymore. There were even rumours of having to convert the 300 ranges to 200 m, for many of them quite impossible. The shooting clubs threatened a referendum (with 100’00 signatures you can ask for a public vote in Switzerland). That’s inter al why the Swiss Army tinkered with a 6.45 mm round for a while as the Gew.Patr. 80, before a special Swiss 5.56 mm round (of course……) was accepted with the Stgw 90 or PE 90. This rifle now has much the same accuracy as the Stg 57, and the shooting clubs where fully satisfied

  3. Klaus

    I too have always loved these guns. I think though,I would go with the AMT. Being 9lbs and in 7.62nato it might be a little easier to hump around in the mountains. The only downside is that the sights are not the same awesome sights that the STG 57 has,more like a FAL.

  4. 10x25mm

    SIG production of the Stgw.57 lagged far behind its contractual delivery schedule into the late 1970’s. The Swiss government was furious at the development of the AMT variant and the Chilean export order. Failure to perform fines almost broke Firma SIG in the mid 1960’s. Into the mid 1970’s, the Swiss Army was issuing P.210’s and K.31’s to a lot of soldiers who should have been armed with Stgw.57’s. The Swiss Army also made it extremely difficult for soldiers to privatize their Stgw.57’s when they mustered out. Swiss reservists were forced to turn in their Stgw.57’s and received a G.11 or K.31 in lieu.

    Always thought the Stgw.57 should have been called a ‘Fortress Rifle’ – Festungsgewehr.. This nomenclature was always a good way to rile up my Swiss counterparts back in the day. They also got apoplectic when I pointed out that a good MG.42 was far less expensive to produce than the Stgw.57 – and better suited to their strategy.

    1. Kirk

      Interesting. I did not know that about the production issues. Unfortunately, the Swiss military and weapons in general are pretty much a black box to us here in the US–You can only see the outlines of it all, because the majority of the time, it just ain’t getting coverage. Anywhere.

      I kinda like that “Festungsgewehr” designation, but I can see why the Swiss objected to it–The fortresses were where the old reservists were supposed to be ensconced, and the young guys were supposed to be out on the rock and ice, doing their thing. I’m not sure what the correct German or Swiss German construction might be for “long-range ambush rifle”, but that might be a less offensive way to term it.

      I really think calling these things “assault rifles” is a serious misnomer. I can’t see playing tank-rider, and leaping off of a Pz-61 to go winkle out some Soviet motorized riflemen from amongst the rubble of a Swiss village or town with one of these, and I’ll wager money that if the Swiss infantryman ever had to do that for real, he’d have been sporting a captured AK-series weapon to do it with.

      However, in his natural intended habitat, hidden up in the mountains as the schmuck-bait Soviet infantry bobbled along the roads…? Oh, yeah: Gimme that StG 57 goodness.

      1. 10x25mm

        The Swiss actually developed a real assault rifle in a real assault rifle cartridge which is the earliest ancestor of the Stgw.57. The rifle was a baby version of the FG.42 using the Stg.45 roller delayed blowback prototyped by W+F Bern. I have never seen an actual designation for this rifle, which was an outgrowth of several earlier gas operated prototype FG.42 copies in 7.5x55mm GP.11 constructed by W+F Bern (not SIG).

        The Swiss baby FG.42 was chambered in the 7.5x35mm GP.47 cartridge, which can be found in some U.S. cartridge collections. It is a shortened 7.5x55mm GP.11 cartridge loaded with lightweight steel cored bullets. It was actually standardized in 1953 as the 7.5x38mm GP.47, but abandoned around 1955 because it did not meet a Swiss 400m lethality requirement.

        1. RT

          Hognose actually has coverage of one that sold from the wray collection auction a few years ago, it even came with some ammo and the optic!

          They had a whole bunch of rifles in their fg42 clone R&D series, all of which were gorgeous.

          1. Hognose Post author

            Swiss Army didn’t accept them because they were twice as costly as the StG 57 — which itself was prone to delays and cost overruns in production, almost like a US contract!

  5. CJ

    I love my K-31, but until Kirk’s thorough explanation, I didn’t really “get” the Stgw.57. Sure, I wanted one, or at least wanted to see one in person, but this makes me want one all the more. GP11 isn’t exactly what I’d call rare, at least in this age of internet commerce. I’ve got three cases of it in my safe – I’d wager the finest “military surplus” ammo available, and still available for around $.50/rd if you’re patient. I lurk the swissriflesdotcom forums as well – a fantastic source of information if such arms are the object of your heart’s desire.

Comments are closed.