East German AK History
Germany is a country well known for its pedigree in firearms development, and highly regarded for their engineering ingenuity, and consistently high production quality. From World War I & II, to the present, Germany has made some of the most iconic small arms in the world, including the STG 44 which is thought by many to have influenced the Kalashnikov design.
After World War II, Germany was split into East and West. East Germany maintained close ties to Russia and the Warsaw Pact Nations, while West Germany was aligned with NATO. This made Germany a focal point of the Cold War. The contentious situation forced the East Germans to build and maintain a strong and well armed military which eventually led to agreements with the Russians to produce their own Kalashnikov rifles under license in 1957.
The German Democratic Republic (GDR) began initial development of the Kalashnikov in 1958 in the Weisa (Weida) Factory, a small town in Thuringia Germany, in the Erz (Erzgebirge) mountain region, about 2 hours East of Suhl, the more common small arms producer of the GDR (VEB Ernst-Thalmann-Werk Suhl). The Weisa Factory (VEB Gerate-Und Werkzeugbau Weisa) was a sub factory of the Suhl plant that operated under the same "VEB" banner, which means "People Owned". This was likely to help mask the true nature of its operations. More on that in a minute. Manufacturing of several small parts were outsourced to other factories throughout East Germany but the primary assembly of Kalashnikov rifles was done at the Weisa Plant.
The initial rifles were produced with a milled type receiver similar to the Russian Type-3 AK's and were designated as the MPi-K for "Machinenpistole Kalashnikov". The designation can be slightly confusing because the AK is not obviously a pistol, but at the time the GDR considered automatic weapons to be Machine Pistols making "MP" the prefix of the designation. The letter "i" in the designation was for the original model type being a fixed wooden stock and the follow on letter "K" referring to the designer, "Kalashnikov". So "MPi-K" became the baseline designation for GDR produced AK's. Further modifications and variants would simply add on to the base designation, for example, when the GDR switched to the stamped sheet metal receivers, the letter "M" for "Modernized" was added to the end of the designation and reads, "MPi-KM".
The MPi-Ks were very similar to soviet AKs, however, they did not have a cleaning rod under the barrel, or a cleaning compartment in the stock. This is one of the most prominent ways to identify an East German MPi-K of that time.
In the initial years of production, the Germans did not make many rifles due to various issues with labor and machining. The early intention was to produce 30,000 rifles in 1958, but they wouldn't reach that total for nearly three years. To incentivize workers to improve quality and decrease the rate of defective parts production and mishaps, the factory implemented a quality inspection program and a policy of deducting the pay equivalent of defective or rejected parts from workers wages. This ironed out many problems by 1961 and saw a 53% increase in production over the next three years. Rifles that passed the quality inspection and were deemed "fit for service" were marked with a final acceptance stamp, an oval with the designation "K3" inside it. The Oval K3 stamp simply indicated that the rifle was ready for use. This stamp was used at both the Suhl and Weisa plants for all new production rifles as well as service or reconditioned rifles. (Pictured Below: K3 Oval inspection mark visible on an AK-74 trunnion.)
A large number of MPi-K rifles were produced in the early to mid-1960s, both for internal use and exports. Around 1966 however, the GDR moved to the stamped receiver design, and began producing the previously mentioned MPi-KM.
The MPi-KM was the most manufactured Kalashnikov variant in East Germany. These rifles had plastic furniture, including the "Pebble Grain" plastic stock that has become the hallmark of East German Kalashnikovs. Initially, these rifles also had a plastic lower handguard, which allegedly started to melt when the barrel got hot, so most service MPi-KM rifles at that time had wooden lower handguards and the brown plastic for everything else. The MPi-KMS was also introduced around this time, which was the GDR variant of the AKMS. This was essentially the MPi-KM with the underfolding stock in place of the fixed stock.
In 1972, improvements were made to the MPi series, and the MPi-KMS-72 was introduced. which was also simply called the MPi-72. These rifles had an upgraded muzzle brake over the slanted AKM style muzzle break. The rifles were a paint over phosphate finish instead of the blued finish of the earlier variants and had improved lower handguards with side serrations for better grip that were made from Bakelite instead of wood.
The most prominent change was the right side folding stock. The Germans were never really satisfied with the Russian under-folding stock design and are believed to have had many issues in manufacturing. As such, they set out to create a solution of their own that would use the same rear trunnion as the fixed stock models. This would resolve manufacturing issues and make it very easy to interchange the stocks from fixed to folding. The 72 Series stock was made from a single strut of steel rod that curved downward before bending back upright and onto itself shaping into a triangle. The end was flattened to create the butt plate. A rubber plug was shaped into the upper portion to act as a bumper and protect the receiver when the stock is folded. This stock, often referred to today as the "wire side folder", was a hit and quickly licensed to Romania as well as Egypt. It is believed that the design was inspired by the Hungarian side folder released several years earlier.
The MKi-KM-72 series rifles were made and exported to many countries around the world throughout the 70s.
While the GDR was working on a suitable folding stock solution they created and tested many different options. One noteworthy variant was the right side-folding "Crutch". The Crutch stock was most likely developed in 1970. It was built in the same manner as the wire side-folder to be interchangeable without a new or special rear trunnion. The Crutch was made with a straight steel rod and triangular sheet metal gusset tack welded to the butt plate for reinforcement giving it the appearance of a medical crutch. The Crutch stocks were made in 1971 preceding the wire side folder but were never put into service. The parts were paired with 1970 to 1973 era MPi-KM rifles, re-designated the MPi-KMS-S1, and sold to the Egyptians. In the fall of 1973, the Germans supplied Egypt with the blueprints and tooling for producing the Crutch side-folding stocks. The Egyptians would enlarge the 1 inch sling loop to 1-1/4 inch and favor paint over phosphate finish to the blued finish of the German Crutch folder. (Pictured Below: Top- German Wire Folder. Bottom- Egyptian Crutch Stock)
In 1981 East Germany started negotiations with Soviet Russia to develop the AK-74 rifle. The Russians only agreed on the terms that East Germany would not commercialize the rifle, and instead, only use it for their internal requirements. This is believed to be because German rifles were becoming very popular at that time for their consistently high quality and vast exports that the Soviets were concerned that it could conflict with their own profits.
East Germany started production of the 5.45 caliber AK-74 style rifles in 1983, and went on until the reunification of Germany in 1990. These rifles, known as the MPi-AK-74N, and MPi-AKS-74N had a lot of similar features to the 72 series rifles. They had the same furniture, however, most had the side-folding stocks instead of the fixed stocks. They used the AK-74 style 90 degree gas block, as well as a rare AK-74 muzzle brake that was used on very early Russian made AK-74s. MPi-AK-74 series rifles also came standard with a side scope or optic rail.
In 1987, the GDR introduced their version of the AKS-74U or more popularly known today as the Krinkov. This was intended for airborne troops and tank crews where a smaller or lighter weight weapon was required. The rifle was designated the MPi-AKS-74NK. It had a shorter barrel (13.54"), and differed from the Russian AKS-74U with a basic muzzle device instead of the booster break, as well as favoring their wire side folding stock over the Russian triangle side folder.
The last AK pattern rifle made in East Germany was the STG-940. Though the terms of their agreement with the Soviets did not allow East Germany to export the AK-74 pattern rifles chambered in 5.45, the East German AK Manufacturers saw the increasing popularity of the 5.56 cartridge and made a modern version of the AK-74 chambered in 5.56. The STG-940 attracted a lot of attention from the international market and a significant number of these rifles were made to meet contracts for the Indian military, and Peru. About 7500 rifles were thought reunification of Germany, the production of MPi series AK pattern rifles was stopped indefinitely.
Exports & Secrecy
Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Reunification of Germany, not much was known about Arms manufacturing in East Germany. The German government kept its secrets closely guarded from not just the world, but also its citizens as it heavily promoted the idea that they were a peace loving nation under threat of NATO. Due to this propaganda campaign, the workforce involved in the weapons manufacturing and exporting process and the Suhl and Weisa plants were carefully selected and well paid. The Factories fronted as manufacturing facilities for Christmas toys and general household goods. It is estimated that the GDR produced nearly 4 Million MPi rifles averaging around 100,000 annually or about 274 rifles per day, one third of which is said to have been exported in secret around the world.
The GDR is believed to have been the largest Combloc weapons exporter of the Cold War. The most notable exports were; Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. Specific and confirmed examples include: Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yemen, Panama, Algeria, India, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, and Uganda. These exports were done through export companies (ITA and IMES) creating another layer of protection and secrecy in the process and allowing the GDR to sell weaponry to both sides of a conflict.
MPiK's in the United States:
German-made AKs tend to excite collectors in the US market. None of them were legally imported before the Assault Weapons Ban, meaning there is no "Pre-Ban German AK" imports in the US. Most MPi rifles that made their way into the US did so in the form of parts kits and were later re-built with American receivers and other parts to meet 922R compliance. These kits are often difficult to find and highly sought after. Most of these "import kits" are believed to have come from the Balkans conflicts. Complete rifles can also be elusive and are sometimes deceiving as they of course did start out as high quality German built parts, but are in many cases put back together by much less skilled and careless American builders. In such situations the rifles are simply a parts kit masquerading as a rifle in hopes of attaining a higher value. They can be depopulated and rebuilt into fine quality MPi's by a competent builder, but it should be of consideration for the consumer.