This book is very, very well researched and organized. It starts out by discussing German pre-world war two rifle doctrine. This was basically, like most of the world's armies, that the typical infantry man was equipped with a bolt action rifle (in the German case the Kar 98k to be specific). At the time (i.e., immediately preceding the start of the Second World War) only the US army made extensive use of semi-automatic weapons (specifically the M1). The Russian army also had large quantities of semi-automatic rifles but they were not universally distributed. The typical Soviet infantry man, at the time, was still only equipped with a bolt-action rifle.
The author, Mr. McNAb, then provides historical context as to why the Germans decided to develop semi-automatic rifles and what would later become known as "assault rifles" (i.e., rifles that could shoot both in single and rapid fire settings). The main reason was that, as the war progressed, more and more firepower was deemed necessary - firepower that a bolt action weapon could not provide. Unfortunately for the Germans, they came to this decision mid-way through the war (1942-3) and as a result could not develop and mass produce these weapons in large scale quantities. The production of all German semi-automatics and assault rifles, by the end of the war was only in the lower hundred thousands, thus insuring that only a small percentage of German riflemen were equipped with such weapons. It should also be noted, as Mr. McNab so well documents in his book, that many of these weapons left much to be desired in terms of both build quality and reliability. There were two reasons for this. One was that the Germans did not have the necessary time to weed out the many problems inherent in developing such weapons, especially of the more revolutionary STG 44 assault rifle, to produce them en masse before the war ended. In addition, German industry was in very pathetic shape by the time serious consideration and effort was made on the mass production of these weapons. The lack of strategic materials and the disruption caused by strategic bombing lead to many short cuts that greatly reduced the quality of these weapons. For example, stamped steel had to be used in the production process which lead to a less durable and resilient weapon than would have been the case if the appropriate materials and build process was available.
The book is very well researched in that many varieties of each weapon, along with strengths and weaknesses of each, are discussed. This research is based not only on German records but American and British. As well as being a book purely on the physical characteristics of the weapon, the book also examines the doctrine behind the use of these weapons as well as how the weapons were actually used and how they performed in combat. Again, this is based on meticulous research. For example the book includes lengthy quotes from documents from German front line troops on how these weapons were used and performed.
The book concludes with the influence these weapons had on small-arms manufacture after the Second World War. Mr. McNab discussed the influence of these weapons on the development of specific weapons such as the AK-47 and the Belgian FN as well as their implications on the selection of small arms ammunition in NATO. This discussion involves the innards of the weapons (i.e., firing mechanisms) as well as ammunition characteristics and is quite technical but interesting nevertheless.
The only weakness of the book is its lack of discussion on how allied weapons (in particular the US M1 and the Soviet SVT-38) influenced the development of this selection of German weapons. Did the Germans try to copy these? If not, why not? Did the development of these weapons (or at least those that were not assault rifles) proceed independently of the influence of these allied weapons? Despite this minor weakness the book does an excellent job at covering its topic, especially so given the relative brevity of the book (80 pages).
For those interested, Mr. McNab has also written another very good book in the Osprey series on German MG 34 and MG 42 Machine Guns. Please see my review (Yoda) under this book if you are interested. This is another book by Mr. McNab that this reviewer highly recommends.