MG 34 (Maschinengewehr 34) : First universal machine gun
History of the MG-34 machine gun
The defeat of the German Reich in the First World War led to the fact that, in accordance with the Versailles Peace Treaty, the Reichswehr was able to have a total of 1926 machine guns of all types for the entire hundred thousandth army (of which 792 easel and 1134 light). Each infantry battalion included a machine-gun company of four platoons, each armed with 3 MG.08 heavy machine guns, and each infantry company with 9 MG.08 / 15 light machine guns. The companies of the Jaeger battalions and cavalry received the MG. 08/18.
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The Reichswehr Armaments Directorate (HWaA), after analyzing the experience of using machine guns in the First World War, revealed that MG.08 and MG.08 / 15 do not fully meet the requirements of modern maneuverable combat. The first stage of HWaA activity was the modernization of these weapons and the use of its potential opportunities. Many changes were made to the MG.08 design, which simplified the handling of weapons, increased reliability in operation and increased safety in service. The design of the MG.08 / 15 light machine gun was also changed. In it, a simplified bipod was moved to the front of the casing, while improving the accuracy of the battle allowed to increase the aiming range from 900 to 1200 m.
However, German machine guns were significantly inferior to the new models of automatic weapons that appeared in foreign armies in the 1920s, which were structurally simpler and cheaper to manufacture. Dissatisfied with the standard machine guns (MG.08 and MG.08 / 15), the German military demanded lighter weapons with an air-cooled system and a simpler operating principle. Discussions about a single machine gun had resumed.
HWaA, after a series of studies, came to the conclusion that a single machine gun could become the most promising automatic weapon in the new battle conditions. Thus, the previous German concept of such a weapon was restored, which the Germans during the First World War did not manage to fully implement in a single machine gun of the M.16 model.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of June 28, 1919, which established military restrictions for the defeated aggressor, the development of weapons in Germany could no longer proceed as smoothly as the industrialists and the military wanted. However, they managed to bypass these bans. At first, military officials decided to continue the project of developing a single machine gun, which had already begun in 1916, but then changed their decision. The easel machine gun, which had been brought to the maximum possible technical level by that time, was supposed to be preserved, and the light machine gun was to be replaced. Its successor was supposed to be a weapon, the action of which would be based on the use of recoil energy with an air-cooled system, a movable barrel and the supply of ammunition from a magazine or drum.
At the same time, specialists from the armament department intended to simultaneously create both a light machine gun with a barrel without special cooling and with magazine power, and a heavy machine gun with water cooling and belt power. Both machine guns, if possible, should have the same design. However, this condition, which is very important for the production and training of personnel, the use and supply of troops, after a short time ceased to be observed. The standard light machine gun of that time in Germany was opposed by foreign developments: the Belgian “Browning” FN 28; the Danish Madsen 1903/24; Japanese type 11; the Swiss Furrer 1925; Soviet machine gun Degtyarev DP; Czechoslovak ZВ 1926 and American “Browning” BAR M 1922.
The result of the generalization of practical experience was the decision of the Reichswehr leadership to include a light machine gun in the armament system of the infantry squad. The assignment for the development of such a machine gun, which would require only one person to service, was issued in 1926.
The further development and improvement of small arms in Germany in those years is closely related to the achievements of science and technology in general. If earlier a narrow circle of inventors and specialists worked on these problems, then from the beginning of the twenties, not only gunsmiths, but also production workers began to be widely involved in the development of weapons technology.
Universal machine gun MG 34
By the early 1930s, the German Reichswehr was armed with 22024 machine guns of four different models: MG.08, MG.08 / 15, MG.08 / 18 and MG.13 “Dreise” – one easel and three light machine guns (two of them had a water cooling system, and two – an air cooling system; three models were designed according to the principle of the “Maxim” system, and one according to the “Draise” system), in addition, the arms fund included illegal deliveries of MG.30 light machine guns from Soloturn.
The cost of these weapons was prohibitively high, since the machine park required for their production was loaded by almost 10 percent of the total. The maintenance of these machine guns varied significantly. These facts, supported by the sad experience of the First World War, as well as the numerous problems associated with the production of various machine gun systems and parts for them, along with the difficulties of training machine gun calculations, contributed to the return of the HWaA leadership to the idea of developing a universal machine gun that would replace all types of these weapons in the army and the Air Force and comparable to a light machine gun in mobility and with an easel in firepower, with the ability to fire from a bipod or from a machine gun.
Germany has entered a qualitatively new stage in the development of hand-held firearms. Although the haste with which light machine gun “Dreise” MG.13 was adopted by the Reichswehr, disrupted many plans. The HWaA leadership was somewhat rushed with the decision to officially put it into service and immediately prepare for mass production. With a more careful choice, one could give preference to a more advanced design from a technical point of view.
When, in 1930, the Danish military press published a substantiated analysis of the advantages of the Madsen 1903/24 light machine gun installed on a new tripod machine, discussions about a single machine gun flared up in special military publications in Germany. Early the next year, this discussion ended surprisingly quickly. On January 8, 1931, at the Kummersdorf training ground, during intensive tests, it was found that the Madsen light machine gun mounted on a tripod with a recoil damper proved to be excellent in performing combat missions for which only heavy machine guns were previously used.
At the beginning of 1930, the Oberndorf firm Mauser-Werke AG joined the development of a new machine gun. In the spring and summer of 1931, Vollmer, together with Mauser specialists, tested modified versions of the MV.1931 machine gun rejected by the military. He partly repeated MG.13: the automatics worked on the principle of recoil of the barrel with its short stroke, with lever locking; the selective fire switch in the trigger and the magazine were also borrowed from the Dreise machine gun. The new machine gun weighing about 10 kg had an air barrel cooling system. These tests were supposed to help the Oberndorf designers take the lead among other participants in the development of a single machine gun.
A year later, Mauser was able to offer a new modified MG.32 light machine gun, but this time designed by Ernst Altenburger. With the same scheme of automation, Altenburger used the movement of the bolt directly in the receiver without a special bolt carrier and guides. A locking sleeve was installed on the barrel, into which the lugs entered when the bolt was turned. The perforated casing with the barrel and the receiver were movably connected to each other by means of a trunnion, which greatly simplified the change of the barrel, and the device of a new butt plate made it easier to replace the bolt. The machine gun used a new trigger mechanism.
At the end of 1932, Mauser presented HWaA prototypes of its new MG.32 machine gun, secretly manufactured by a subsidiary of Metallwarenfabrik Kreuzlingen A. G. in Switzerland.
In early December 1933, in the presence of high military officials, the first sample of a new single machine gun created by Louis Stange was tested. The result of this work was the 7.92-mm single machine gun developed in 1933-1934. Despite the fact that the new machine gun was patented by the Rheinmetall concern, a possible patent conflict was eliminated from the very beginning, since in the interests of smooth production, all designers and firms involved in the development were financially rewarded. Similar “compensation” was practiced by HWaA, allowing the best practices of different companies to be combined in one model.
As a result, by the time Germany announced the abandonment of the Versailles restrictions and the formation of the Wehrmacht, among other types of weapons, the new armed forces of the Third Reich received a new single machine gun, although it was not ready for mass production. On November 1, 1935, a decision was made on its adoption by the Wehrmacht. Soon it received the designation “7.92-mm single machine gun MG.34”. In the ground forces, they again returned to the designation of weapons according to the year of their development or acceptance into service. However, the need to restructure production delayed the development of the machine gun for two years, so MG.34 officially entered service only on January 24, 1939.
MG.34 became the first true single machine gun, since in addition to the option of a light machine gun on a bipod (with a double drum magazine or machine gun belt for 50 rounds) or an easel (on a folding tripod machine and with a metal belt for 250 rounds) it could also be used as anti-aircraft and tank. The weight in hand (14.3 kg) and easel (32 kg) versions allowed this machine gun to obtain high maneuverability, which, combined with a high rate of fire and a combat rate of fire, brought it to one of the first places among infantry machine guns by the beginning of World War II.
MG.34 refers to automatic weapons systems operating on the principle of recoil with a short barrel stroke, and the recoil energy is increased through the use of a muzzle. The locking of the barrel bore in the MG.34 machine gun was very reliable, excluding the possibility of firing a shot when the bolt was unlocked, and was carried out by turning the combat cylinder of the direct-action sliding bolt, whose lugs, as well as trunnions with rollers, entered the cutouts of the locking clutch fixed on the breech of the barrel .
The small mass of the shutter ensured a high speed of its movement after unlocking and an increase in the rate of fire. At the same time, the combined mass of the barrel and the bolt was sufficient so that the strikes of the mobile system during firing did not knock down the aiming of the weapon on the target. A striker-type percussion mechanism is mounted in the combat cylinder. The shot was fired from the rear sear. The trigger mechanism was assembled in a trigger box, attached to the bottom of the receiver with two cotter pins. The trigger mechanism allowed for single and continuous fire. The selective fire switch was similar to the translator on the MG.13 machine gun – it was in the trigger: automatic fire was fired by pressing the lower cutout of the trigger, marked with the letter “D”, and single – at the upper cutout with the letter “E”. The fuse box, mounted in the receiver on the left side above the fire control pistol grip, also served as a stopper for the reloading handle.
The barrel was cooled by air. When firing bursts, the barrel of the machine gun quickly heated up, which was due to a very high rate of fire (up to 1000 rds / min). For this reason, the design of the machine gun provided for the ability to quickly change the barrel. To prevent burns of the service crew during firing, the barrel was covered with a perforated casing.
The main infantry weapon, which was originally planned to be a single MG.34 machine gun, required a high rate of fire. Therefore, the machine guns of the first production batches had a regulator of two rates of fire (600 and 1000 rds / min), which, along with a retarding mechanism, could manually set the required rate of fire. The firing rate switch was mounted in the pistol grip, but soon, due to the complexity, the adjustment mechanism and the switch were excluded from the design. The rate of fire of the MG.34 machine gun became fixed, from about 800 to 900 rds / min. This greatly simplified the design of the weapon and the power supply system.
The machine guns from the first batch were fed from a double drum magazine Ratronentrommel 34 with a capacity of 75 rounds (from MG.13). The cartridges were fed into the receiver by supply springs, alternating sequentially one at a time – from the left and right drums. Such a feeding scheme was quite original and quite appropriate for such a design. In addition, the design of the double drum had a beneficial effect on maintaining the balance of the machine gun as the cartridges were used up. This magazine was easy to use, but difficult to manufacture, and its dead weight per cartridge was 32 g, which was a lot. For power from a double drum magazine, the MG.34 machine gun received a special receiver cover with a special receiver.
In 1936, the 75-round “saddle-shaped” magazine and the lid designed for it were replaced by a new design of the cartridge tape receiver with a two-sided direct feed of the cartridge into the chamber, which made it possible to use a non-scattering metal hinge-link tape with an open link Gurt 34 (tape on 250 rounds were combined from separate pieces, initially 25 rounds each, and from 1938 – 50 rounds). In this version there was no need for additional parts. Pieces of tape of 50 rounds adhered to each other and were held by a cartridge, thus, it was possible to get a cartridge tape for any number of cartridges. In addition, a tip was attached to one of the ends of the tape with a cartridge, which facilitated loading the machine gun. Initially, the links of the tape were connected to each other using a spiral wire, and from the end of 1944, steel pins were used for this.
Another positive quality of the MG.34 was its exceptionally well thought-out design; for the first time in an automatic weapon, fastening of all main units was achieved by the method of rusks and latches.
In battle, MG.34 light machine guns were supported by MG.34 heavy machine guns, which were in service with the battalion’s machine gun companies. As a heavy machine gun, it was installed on a tripod machine mod. 34, while the bipod did not separate from the weapon. In the absence of a machine gun, the MG.34 machine gun could be used for firing at ground or air targets, placing the machine gun on the shoulder of the second crew number, which turned its back to the machine gunner and held the machine gun by the bipod for greater stability. In the easel version of the MG.34 machine gun, only belt feed was used from a belt for 250-300 rounds (5-6 pieces), packed in a cartridge box.
To combat low-flying enemy aircraft at altitudes up to 1000 m, the MG.34 light machine gun could be mounted on a special lightweight aluminum anti-aircraft tripod model 34 (Dreibein 34) with telescopic legs as an anti-aircraft weapon for military air defense. In addition to shooting at air targets, this tripod could also be used to fire at ground targets when the closing height did not allow firing from a machine gun on a bipod.
In addition, to counter enemy aircraft, the MG.34 machine gun was mounted on a telescopic anti-aircraft rack with a retractable swivel (for cars and other vehicles). To mount the MG.34 machine gun, there was a motorcycle installation (in a sidecar). In addition, there was a caponier installation with a telescopic optical sight and an enlarged cartridge box for tapes with a capacity of 300 rounds. For firing the MG.34 machine gun from the trenches, a detachable device was designed with a separate butt lowered down, a trigger pulled down and a periscope device.
Both infantry and armored vehicles were equipped with single MG.34 machine guns. If at first a MG.34 machine gun was mounted on the tanks in the standard version, which was used in the infantry, then from the beginning of 1941 a new tank version of the MG.34 machine gun with a massive metal barrel shroud two-thirds of the length without perforation appeared. Moreover, when it was installed in ball mounts of tanks, the bipod and quick-release butt were removed from it, and a sleeve-collecting bag was attached to the weapon.
HWaA tried to attach the MG.34 machine gun for the Luftwaffe. However, due to the specific requirements of the Air Force command, which considered it advisable to further refine the S.2-200 machine gun for use as an aircraft weapon (it had a higher rate of fire than the MG.34), the infantry machine gun could not be installed on aircraft.
By the beginning of World War II, the MG.34 took the main place in the Wehrmacht’s weapons system.
However, the machine gun faced unforeseen difficulties. High service qualities could not fully compensate for its imperfection in operation. During the Second World War, the flaws inherent in the design itself were clearly manifested. First of all, this related to the problem of making weapons, since the operation of the automation required a very high precision of production, then all loaded parts were produced with minimal tolerances, which led to the accumulation of dirt and, in this regard, to constant delays during firing in adverse conditions … Since the machine gun turned out to be very susceptible to pollution and its reliability was not guaranteed in severe frosts, this weapon did not fully meet all the requirements for it.
MG 34 was a revolutionary machine gun for its time!