Both the World War II-era Steyr-produced MP40 submachine gun

and the Steyr AUG modern combat rifle introduced comparably
revolutionary refinements into the art and science of gun making.

STEYR

A LEGACY OF

INNOVATION

IN SMALL ARMS
FROM THE MP40 TO THE AUG A3 M1
By Will Dabbs

I

Photos by Sarah Dabbs

n arms rooms, range clubhouses, and man caves across
the country, certain names have become synonymous
with previously unimagined technological breakthroughs. Steyr Männlicher GmbH & Co KG was formerly Steyr-Daimler-Puch and is built upon a foundation
of military innovation that literally spans centuries. Over
the past century in particular, the esteemed Austrian
company changed the way many manufacturers around
the globe make guns.
Based in the city of Steyr, Austria, today’s Steyr Mannlicher became independent in 1990 when the previous
conglomerate was dismantled. The city of Steyr from
which the company draws its name lays along the “Iron
Road” to the nearby Erzberg mine and gained a reputation for forging weapons that dates back to the Styrian
Otaker dukes in the 10th century. Even today the Erzberg mine still produces more than 2 million tons of iron
ore per year. Throughout the centuries, technology has

evolved but the place and the people have always made
weapons.
During World War I, Steyr employed more than 15,000
workers and produced 4,000 weapons per day. After World
War I, Steyr began briefly producing automobiles and bicycles and none other than Ferdinand Porsche served as
chief designer. After the Austrian Anschluss to Germany in
1938, however, Steyr factories were folded into the Reichswerke Hermann Goring and began churning out engines
of war yet again. During the course of World War II, Steyr
facilities produced a variety of weapons to include Karabiner 98K rifles and both MG34 and MG42 machineguns,
as well as MP34, MP38, and MP40 submachine guns.
In modern times, political exigencies have taken Steyr
in some unconventional but positive directions. Weapons
bearing the Austrian quality now roll out of their stateof-the-art factory in Bessemer, Ala. As a born and bred
Southerner myself I could not be prouder.

A Revolution in Small Arms Design
The MP40 submachine gun evolved from the earlier
EMP36 and MP38 guns and represented a quantum advance in small arms design. For the first time in history,
a military weapon was mass-produced using manufacturing techniques with an eye towards industrial efficiency
rather than art. Gone were the oiled walnut and meticulously machined components of old to be replaced by
industrial stampings and Bakelite furniture. Bakelite was
an early polymer material that incorporated cellulose fibers in a synthetic matrix and was remarkably resistant to
environmental effects. The resulting gun exhibited superb
quality, particularly early in the war, and excellent ergonomics for its day.
Unlike the MP38 that was built around a machined steel
tube, the MP40 utilized a stamped steel receiver to which
a trunnion was either welded or pressed. Industrial expediency does not equate to shoddy quality or performance

Steyr’s
wartime
production
code was
660. This
particular
gun was a
very early
example
produced
in 1940.

This Steyr MP40 was produced in 1940 in the first month or so of production. Around a million MP40’s rolled
off the production lines before the gun was supplanted by the MP44 assault rifle.

shortcuts, however. The more modern Heckler & Koch
MP5, a submachine gun renowned for its quality, reliability, and workmanship, is built using the same techniques
Steyr initially pioneered with the MP40.
In addition to its stamped steel construction, the MP40
was also the first military weapon in widespread use to
incorporate a folding steel buttstock. This stock system
was copied almost exactly for the original folding stocked
Kalashnikov rifles. While most surviving copies of the
gun have stocks that exhibit considerable wear some 75
years after their introduction, this design was serviceable
enough for its time.
The left-sided reciprocating charging handle of the
MP40 was easily accessed by the weak hand and allowed

operators to retain their firing grip on the gun. Early
weapons had no method of locking the bolt in the forward position and subsequently suffered a great many accidental discharges as a result. When early weapons were
inadvertently dropped on their buttstocks, the bolt could
rebound back far enough to fire a round. A makeshift
leather retaining strap served as a temporary workaround
and later bolts incorporated a sliding charging handle
that snapped into a corresponding slot in the receiver to
lock the bolt in place. Early guns remaining in service
were retrofitted for this later bolt.
The gun also incorporated a novel barrel rest designed
to prevent the muzzle of the gun from slipping inside a
vehicle or parapet under recoil. This is itself no small

thing. I once saw an inattentive young stud touch off an
M203 grenade launcher from a firing position with the
muzzle of the launcher below the lip of the structure.
Thankfully, the weapon was loaded with a fairly benign
training round so there was no harm done beyond a
liberal dusting of orange marking powder and the corresponding ignition of passionate ire on the part of the
range officer. This same mistake undertaken in combat
with a fully automatic submachine gun within the confines of an armored halftrack would be catastrophic.
Superb weapon that it was, the MP40 was not without
its faults. Principal among them was the double stack,
single feed magazine that required a dedicated magazine loader and frequently failed when fouled. German
soldiers in action typically short-loaded their magazines
with 27 or 28 rounds to enhance reliability as a result.
Soon after Operation Torch in North Africa, captured
examples of the MP40 were sent to Aberdeen Proving
Ground for detailed analysis. Aberdeen experts subsequently conducted a thorough evaluation of these captured weapons, firing more than 5,000 rounds of purpose-loaded Winchester 9mm ammunition contracted
specifically for these tests. The resulting assessment was
generally positive and gave the gun high marks for workmanship, reliability, controllability, and overall efficiency.

The pressed steel construction, folding
metal stock, and synthetic Bakelite furniture
of the German MP40 inspired a generation
of small arms designers.

The Steyr MP40 in action against a wet target with a safe
backstop.

STEYR: A LEGACY OF INNOVATION IN SMALL ARMS

While the MP40 was deemed inferior to the M3 Grease
Gun that was being fielded at the same time, its salient
strengths were adequately lauded.
Interestingly, when the subsequent ordnance report
was released the MP40 was erroneously referred to by
the eponym “Schmeisser.” Hugo Schmeisser was a gifted
and influential German designer of a variety small arms
other than the MP40. Schmeisser’s involvement with the
development of the MP40 extended no further than the
magazine design yet this association stuck. To this day
the MP40 is frequently improperly referred to as a “Schmeisser” because of this mistake in the original ordnance
report.
Fast Forward 37 Years…
What comes to mind when you think 1977? Ironically,
Star Wars was in theaters introducing the planet to the
world of Jedi Knights, light sabers, and the Dark Side
of the Force. Bell-bottom blue jeans flapped stylishly
around ankles from coast to coast and folks used the
term disco conversationally without snickering. The Internet was but a gleam in Al Gore’s eye and an apple was
something you ate rather than talked into. It was, in sum,
a very different time.
In 1977 Steyr released what was arguably the most
radically advanced military rifle in human history. The
Armee-Universal-Gewehr, designated the StG 77 in
Austrian Army service, incorporated a bullpup design
wherein the action of the weapon resides behind the fire
controls. This system produces a rifle markedly shorter
and more maneuverable than more conventional guns.
Like the MP40 that came before it, the AUG also made
use of revolutionary materials and design features never
before seen on military small arms. The AUG’s polymer
chassis, readily interchangeable barrel, unconventional

layout, and integral optical sight broke new ground. While
these features are fairly commonplace today, it was the
Steyr AUG that first synergistically formed them into an
efficient and effective infantry weapon.
The militaries of Argentina, Oman, Pakistan, Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ireland, New Zealand, Saudi

Arabia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, and Tunisia eventually
adopted the AUG, as did the U.S. Customs and Immigration Agency. The military version of the rifle is built
under license in Australia and Malaysia while the newest civilian variant hails from the American Deep South.
Even today some 37 years after its introduction, the Steyr
[Cont. to page 36]

The Steyr AUG introduced the world to synthetic stocks, integral optical sighting systems, and bullpup actions all manifest in a single incredibly advanced Infantry rifle. Thirty-nine years after its introduction in
1977, the AUG remains competitive with the latest designs even today.

STEYR: A LEGACY OF INNOVATION IN SMALL ARMS

Today’s Steyr AUG rifles are produced in Steyr’s modern production facility in Bessemer, Ala.

The tulip-shaped flash suppressor is NATO standard for launching rifle grenades.

[Cont. from page 34]

AUG remains competitive with the most advanced infan- designator. An accessory rail on the right side of the re- ute, the sheer mass and bulk of the weapon so completely
try rifles on the market.
ceiver will mount any desired illumination system.
counteracts the meager recoil impulse of the 9mm cartridge as to make it dreamy on the range. The rate of fire
Decidedly Different
Turning Ammunition Into Noise—The MP40
is sufficiently serene as to allow singles and doubles with
The Steyr AUG accepts translucent 30- or 42-round
The MP40 is one sweet-shooting submachine gun. minimal attention to technique. The front-heavy nature
magazines behind the pistol grip. The magazine release is Weighing a portly 8.75 pounds empty and running at a of the weapon when fired with the stock extended negates
[Cont. to page 38]
easy to use and intuitive and the simple cross-bolt safety sedate cyclic rate of around 500 to 550 rounds per min- muzzle rise to keep bursts on target.
is literally stupid-proof. Right is safe; left is fire. The stock
is composed of a nearly indestructible fiber-reinforced
synthetic material called Polyamide 66 and can be had in
a variety of colors.
The 1-in-9 cold hammer forged barrel is available in
several lengths and the basic chassis can be converted to
everything from a stubby entry carbine to a service rifle
to a designated marksman’s arm simply by swapping out
the barrel and optics. To swap the barrel, the operator
need only lock the bolt to the rear, press a thumb release
button, rotate the barrel slightly using the folding front
One of the most
grip, and slide the assembly out to the front. Replacement advanced features of the
is similar but easier.
original Steyr AUG was
the built-in combat
The newest A3 M1 version incorporates four differoptic. Tactical glass is
ent optic options. A basic rail comes in both high and
commonplace atop
low versions and accommodates any commercial optical
tactical rifles today but
sights. Fixed optics built into the carrying handle can be
the AUG did it first. The
had in 1.5x and 3x variants. Integral optical sights incormodern Steyr AUG A1
porate both a simple built-in back up iron sighting sysM3 offers a variety of
sighting options.
tem as well as accessory rails for a micro red dot or laser

STEYR: A LEGACY OF INNOVATION IN SMALL ARMS

[Cont. from page 36]

German soldiers were trained to use the magazine as a
monopod when firing from the prone and to use the weak
hand to grip the weapon by the magazine well rather than
the magazine. While the forward sling retention point is
easily reversible, most German soldiers attached the sling
on the right side of the gun to allow comfortable carry
without having the charging handle burrow into one’s
anatomy. The flip adjustable rear sight snaps back and
forth between 100- and 200-meter settings. There is a
locking slot that allows the bolt to be rotated and locked
to the rear for safety or magazine changes.
My 1940-production Steyr MP40 has some inevitable but lamentable slop in its folding stock when extended, but I could keep most all my rounds in a standard silhouette out to 100 meters without too much
effort. Interestingly, the original Ordnance Department
evaluation of relatively new guns captured during the
fighting in North Africa in 1942 commented on poor
stock rigidity even then.
The AUG A1 M3
The modern Steyr AUG A1 M3 weighs 7.3 pounds in
its carbine configuration, roughly a pound heavier than
a comparable M4, but the distribution of mass around
the firing grip makes the gun seem markedly lighter. For
a given overall length, the AUG offers a substantial barrel increase over an M4 with better ballistic performance.
Stubby short-barreled carbines are sexy cool but downrange thump is a function of velocity, and velocity comes
[Cont. to page 40]
from barrel length.

Magazines for the AUG are available in capacities up
to 42 rounds although the most common size carries
30. Standard 30-round AUG magazines are translucent to show rounds remaining and ride comfortably
in standard M4 magazine pouches.

The simple pushbutton safety is stupid-proof. Left is fire, right is safe.

STEYR: A LEGACY OF INNOVATION IN SMALL ARMS

The non-reciprocating charging handle rides along the left side of the AUG’s
receiver and is easily acessed. The forward sling swivel is of the push-button
quick-detach variety.
[Cont. from page 38]

The fire selector on military AUG rifles is built into the
trigger mechanism itself and eschews a dedicated selector
switch as a result. A short press delivers semi-automatic
fire while a longer pull fires fully automatically. While effective in practice, this novel feature was pioneered on the
pre-war German Bergmann MP35 as well as Gordon Ingram’s underappreciated American-made .45-caliber M6.
Recoil with the AUG is piddly and the integral optic
allows a both-eyes-open sighting solution only dreamt of
in earlier designs. The charging handle is mounted on the
left side of the rifle and needs to be grasped from underneath to avoid rapping your knuckles on the optics.
The latest models have a last-round bolt-hold-open catch
on the left rear aspect of the receiver that operates in the
manner of an M4. Magazine changes might be incrementally slower than those of your M4 carbine, but with a
little practice the difference becomes negligible.
The primary drawbacks to most bullpup weapons
remain the inability to readily deploy the rifle from the
weak shoulder and sluggish triggers. Left-ejecting bolts
are available and a small plastic cover snaps over the port
not in use but tactically the operator must just pick a side
and stick with it. Given the myriad salient attributes of
the design, this is a small price to pay.
Geometry demands that the trigger on a bullpup gun
must transfer its influence nearly half the length of the
rifle to actuate the firing mechanism. While this fact
yields triggers in many bullpups that are creepy, thick,
or just generally bad, the trigger of the AUG is simply
well executed. The trigger on my example is a predictable

8 pounds and remains adequate for tactical usage out to
the reasonable limits of the round.
Firing the AUG from a rest, I could drop my rounds
on a standard silhouette out as far as the cartridge would
reasonably shoot and my high-mileage eyes could see
both quickly and comfortably. The AUG maneuvers inside an automobile or indoors like an MP5 yet hits like an
M4. I found the rifle fairly addictive.
Musings
Steyr produces legendarily great guns and their legacy
of quality and innovation is unmatched. Through both
World Wars, contemporary international military interventions, law enforcement applications, and civilian
defensive uses, Steyr guns have set the trends for materials science and ergonomics. Building upon a foundation
of designs like the wartime MP40 and MG42, modern
weapons like the AUG serve at the vanguard of modern
small arms designs.

STEYR MP40 SPECIFICATIONS
Operation: Simple Blowback, Open Bolt
Magazine type/ Steel double-stack detachable
capacity: box tapering to a single-stack
presentation—32 rounds
Receiver material: Non-critical mild steel sheet
Caliber: 9x19mm

STEYR ARMS RIFLE SPECIFICATIONS
Model: Steyr AUG A3 M1
Purpose: Target shooting, military
& law enforcement,
multi-gun competition
Manufacturer: Steyr Arms, Inc., 2530 Morgan
Rd., Bessemer, AL 35022, (205)
417-8644, www.steyrarms.com

Whether the operator was a German Fallschirmjager
jumping into Crete in 1941 as part of Operation Mercury or an Australian Digger toting his Australian-made
Austeyr AUG in 21st century Iraq, Steyr equipped fighting men of each era with the finest weapons technology
could produce. Thanks to some aggressive marketing
and a newly minted domestic manufacturing facility in
Bessemer, Ala., modern Steyr weapons remain accessible to today’s American shooters. Even this deep into
the Information Age, Steyr guns represent the state of
the art.

STEYR AUG A1 M3 SPECIFICATIONS
Operation: Adjustable, short-stroke,
gas-piston, semi-automatic
Magazine type/ Polymer double-stack
capacity: detachable box/30 rounds
(10- and 42-round avail.)
Receiver material: Hard Eloxal-coated aircraft
aluminum
Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem.)
Barrel: 16-inch chrome-lined heavy
barrel (18.375 inches with
muzzle brake)
Rifling: 6 grooves, 1:9 RH Twist

Barrel: 9.9 inches

Sights: Short 11-slot rail, High 16-slot
rail, 1.5X optic or 3X optic

Sights: Flip-adjustable rear 100/200
meters, hooded front blade

Safety: Two-position trigger-blocking

Safety: Manual bolt lock
Furniture material: Synthetic Bakelite

Trigger type: Single-stage
Pull weight: 9 pounds, 8 ounces

Weight, empty: 8.75 lbs

Stock
Synthetic/bullpup
material/type:

Overall length: 32.8 inches stock extended/
24.8 inches stock folded

Length of pull: 15 inches

Rate of fire: 500–550 rounds per minute

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS
STEYR AUG A1 M3 (74 degrees with No Wind, Sitting Unsupported)
Ammunition

Drop at comb: 0.435 inch (short rail),
0.820 inch (high rail),
1.945 inches (optic)
Drop at heel: None
Recoil pad: Elastomer; 0.3-inch thick
Sling swivels: Two (front QD, rear reversible)

Average Velocity

Group Size

Hornady 55-gr. V-Max

2,904 fps

1.73 in

Weight, empty: 8 pounds

Gorilla Ammo 55-gr. Sierra Blitz King

2,739 fps

2.50 in

Overall length: 28.15 inches

HPR 60-gr. V-Max

2,691 fps

2.78 in

Remington Bulk Pack 55-gr. FMJ

3,039 fps

3.00 in

Winchester SuperClean NT 55-gr. Jacketed Soft Point

3,029 fps

3.90 in

TulAmmo 55-gr FMJ

2,945 fps

4.60 in

STEYR: A LEGACY OF INNOVATION IN SMALL ARMS

Included Owner’s manual, one
accessories: 30-round magazine and
an AUG cleaning kit
MSRP: $2,099 (either rail), $2,499
(1.5x optic), $2,599 (3x optic)