MG-17 German Aircraft Machine Gun

The MG-17 is a belt-fed 8mm machine gun that was used on a large number of Luftwaffe aircraft early in World War II. The gun was developed by Rheinmetall through its subsidiary in Solothurn, Switzerland (as a way to evade the Versailles Treaty restrictions on arms development). The basic action is a short recoil system with a rotating locking nut holding the bolt and barrel together. The basic system was adopted by the Austrian and Hungarian armies as an infantry machine gun, but its main use was in an aerial role.

For aircraft use, the MG-17 was equipped with a belt feed mechanism which was easily interchangeable for either left side or right side feeding. It used a pneumatic system of controls to allow remote charging and firing, and was mounted in the wings or cowling of the Bf 109, Bf 110, Fw 190, Junkers Ju 87, Junkers Ju 88, He 111, Do 17/215, Fw 189, and others. Later in the war the 8x57mm round would become insufficient and the Germans would move to 13mm, 15mm, 20mm, and ultimately even 30mm aircraft guns, but the MG-17 had a huge roles in the early years of the war.

Note that the gun in this particular video has been outfitted with a homemade adapter to mount it on a tripod, so that it can be fired without needing a 75 year old airplane as an accessory.

25 Comments

  1. “Do(…)215”
    So far I know Do 215 has armament made from MG 15 NOT MG 17.
    MG 15 and MG 17 are kin, but not same gun, MG 17 fires from closed bolt, when second is not. Such solution in MG 17 was implemented because it was intended to be synchronous (firing through propeller arc) weapon – in that usage timing is critical, thus closed bolt is prefer.

    • I think you are correct; the original MG15 was used as flexible (such as in nose of bomber He-111 of as back-shooter of Ju-87) as opposed to showcase MG17 for reason as Ian alluded to and you confirmed.

  2. “He 111”
    Also not, 7,9 mm which were used to arm it were MG 15 and MG 81.
    Werkschrift 2111 H-20, Teil 12 A, Schusswaffenanlage available here:
    http://www.germanluftwaffe.com/archiv/Dokumente/ABC/h/Heinkel/Heinkel%20AG.htm
    give following armament for He 111 H-20:
    “A” mount (nose): MG 131 with 400 rounds, vertical angles: -32,5°…+28°, horizontal: 38° on each side
    “B” mount (spine): MG 131 with 2 Gurten 131 holding 500 rounds each, can be rotated full 360° with usage of engine, additionally can be trained 18° on each side without need to use engine, vertical angles: -10°…+85°
    “C” mount (“bathtub” stern): MG 131 with 750 rounds, minimal vertical angle: -70°, horizontal angles: 32° each side
    “D” mount (“bathtub” bow): MG 81 Z with 2 Gurten 17/81 holding 500 rounds each, vertical angles: -0,5°…-70°, horizontal: 50° each side
    Board mount: 2 x MG 81 Z with total 4 Gurten 17/81 holding 500 rounds each
    Board mount: MG 131 A 2 left-feed + MG 131 A 2 right-feed with total 2 Gurten 131 holding 400 rounds each, vertical angles: -35°…+45°, horizontal: 13° in direction of nose, 65° in direction of tail

  3. After further research I much say that I was wrong and MG 17 could be found in He 111 and Do 17 and 215, I was confused by great varying in German aeroplanes’ armament in course of war.
    According to http://www.germanluftwaffe.com/archiv/Dokumente/ABC/m/Maschinen%20Gewehre/MG%2017/mg%2017%20%20maschinen%20gewehr.html following aeroplanes were using MG 17 (not complete list, state-of-knowledge for: 1943):
    Arado: Ar 65, 66, 68, 76, 96, 196, 197
    Dornier: Do 17, 215
    Fieseier: Fi 167
    Focke-Wulf: Fw 56, 187, 189, 190
    Heinkel: He 45, 46, 51, 60,111,114, 115
    Henschel: Hs 123, 126, 129
    Junkers: Ju 87, 88
    Messerschmitt: Bf 109, 110, 210, 410

    • The MG 17 armed variants of Dornier bombers were the Do 17 Z-7 & Z-10 and Do 215 B-5 night fighters. The latter two had an infrared search light system, which really didn’t work as intended. All were manufactured in small numbers only as the much faster and more nimble Ju 88 proved to be more suitable for night fighter conversion.

      The some later variants of the He 111 had a single MG 17 installed in the tail. As far as I know it was not in any kind of flexible mount but was used simply to discourage enemy fighters from using a straight on tail chase attack.

  4. Query in Deutsch wikipedia:
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/MG_17
    claim that it firstly used normal 7,9×57 mm cartridge which later was replaced by 7,9×57 mm V-Patrone with 12,8 g bullet and +15% bigger muzzle velocity.
    It is unclear for me, if switching from one to another type cartridge required any alterations in gun itself.
    This query estimates production of this guns to be around 24000 examples.

  5. V-versions (verbessert) existed of nearly all 7.9 mm natures (sS, SmK, SmK L’spur, B, PmK) for Luftwaffe use. The propellant contained PETN and had tubular grains instead of the ordinary flake NC propellant. Gas pressure was about 20 percent higher.

  6. This is an excellent piece or armament to show – very efficient design – look at the amount of space which it takes, not to mention its low weight!

    I consider it a pinnacle of aircraft weapon development in rifle size calibre. During my last European trip I able to see this and other German aircraft service weapons including canons up-close in military-aircraft museum outside of Prague; real treat!

    • “pinnacle”
      Wait, why not MG 81? It fired even faster and was lighter.
      MG 17 seems to be also not better than ShKAS, with that second being bit heavier but firing noticeable faster (around 1800 rpm vs 1200 rpm).
      Also introducing there were machine guns firing 7,62x54R surpassing ShKAS in rate-of-fire.

          • Basically there exist two explanations:
            1st:
            Shpitalny (that from ShKAS) was designing own rapid firing machine gun (UltraShKAS), but he was not able to make it superior, hence he do everything against work of Savin and Norov, as their success would “dethrone” him. This is consistent with Shpitalny’s character.
            2nd:
            (Excerpt from last paragraph of Euroweasel link)
            Сверхскорострельные авиационные пулеметы в 30-е годы в СССР разрабатывались под популярную тогда концепцию высотных полетов, где, достаточно низкие забортные температуры позволяли осуществлять интенсивное охлаждение пулеметов.
            That is: Superfastfiring aviation machine guns in 1930s in USSR were developed for concept of high-altitude flights, where, enough low temperature of free air gives intensive cooling of machine guns
            Reality of Great Patriotic War air combat will be different, most combat will be on low or medium altitude. To give some data, free air temperature lower with altitude increase to -60°C at 11 km, above that increase, but only to 15°C at 50 km.

      • Well Daweo, what can I say… you have complete review under your thumb. 🙂

        Sure, Shkas was a good gun – although not as compact. I am not sure if was fitted into wings. Maybe some early Migs?

        • ShKAS had synchronous version – designed by К. Н. Руднев, В. Н. Салищев and В. П. Котов in 1936. It was somewhat heavier and has lower but still high Rate-of-Fire (1600 instead 1800), but also higher muzzle velocity (due to longer barrel).

        • ShKAS were installed in the wings of most I-16 types. In ground attack versions the wing MGs were replaced by 20mm ShVAK cannons. The final Type 29 had a 12.7mm BS under the fuselage and deleted then wing MGs in order to save weight, but all in all most I-16s had the ShKAS MGs in the wings.

          Early MiGs to my knowledge did not have ShKAS MGs in the wings. The low altitude variant of MiG-3 had a 12.7mm UB in each wing to augment the rather light armament of the base high altitude version (1×UB + 2×ShKAS).

          • “(…)save weight(…)”
            This was critical for Soviet aeroplanes designers, even more than for other countries. Soviet industry, speaking honestly, fail to deliver enough number of engines with comparable horse-power output comparable to others. Additionally having problems with aluminum supply, mean that this material was used as sparsely as possible. A lot of aluminum was as part of Lend-Lease, see here:
            http://www.jrbooksonline.com/fdr-scandal-page/lend.html
            This forces Soviet designer to save weight as much as possible, in that context ShVAK 20-mm cannon was ill-suited – despite rather mild (for 20-mm caliber) ballistic it was quite heavy, but at least it has quite high Rate-Of-Fire. Vladimirov (that from V in ShVAK) during Great Patriotic War designed 20×99 mm R auto-cannon single-handedly, which has practically same Rate-Of-Fire, but weights only 25,4 kg in turret variant (ShVAK: 40…45 kg depending on version), but finally B-20 by Berezin was chosen – both have similar parameters, but that second was derived from Berezin 12,7-mm machine gun, which was already in production, which gives several benefits. Vladimirov also rescaled his design for more potent 23×115 cartridge (necked up 14,5×114) but also other design was chosen – NS-23 by Nudelman and Suranov. Although not adopted this design is important, as Vladimirov later reworked it for 14,5×114 cartridge which resulted in KPV and KPVT machine guns, which are still in usage today.

            Some might now question: why ShVAK for rather ballistic-wise weak (for 20-mm caliber) and rimmed cartridge? Answer is that ShVAK was designed for 12,7-mm caliber cartridge: 12,7x108R (not DShK, differs not only in having rim but also case shape), ballistic-wise equivalent to 12,7×108. Rim was needed as ShVAK was scaled up ShKAS, design which need rimmed cartridge to work properly. 20×99 R cartridge was created by maximally necking up that case and shortening it so overall would remain same, despite other projectile.
            12,7x108R production ended in 1939, as production two same-but-different cartridge was not reasonable solution. Soviet Air Forces eventually gets Berezin machine gun which use “normal” (rimless) 12,7×108 cartridge.

            As general note for aircraft machine guns and auto-cannons cartridge development in 1940s, it seems that often necked-up version of cartridge often scores bigger success (and longer life) than progenitor cartridge. One example is 20×102 used in famous M61 Vulcan, is in fact necked up 15,2×114 also known as .60″ – for that cartridge T17E2 (reverse-engineered MG151) was made and tested, but did not enter service.

          • Good note on the necking up of cartridges. The reason was that by 1942 everybody else except the USAAC had concluded that 20mm cannon would be the minimum truly effective caliber for fighters and necking up already existing cartridges was the easiest way to utilize existing weapon designs for 20mm cannons.

            The 20×102mm cartridge was originally designed for the M39 Pontiac revolver cannon, which was based on the German MG 213 design. The M39 was rushed to service in Korea when it was found out that the .50 cal M3 machine guns of the F-84 and early F-86 models had some difficulties bringing down MiG-15s. This was probably not a surprise for any other air force except the US. Even the US Navy had started to transition to 20mm cannon as fighter armament already in 1944…

  7. By the way…

    1. …Hungarian 31 M. & 43 M.: http://militiahungarorum.roncskutatas.hu/1920_f_k_gu_31.html.

    2. “the MG-17 was equipped with a belt feed mechanism which was easily interchangeable for either left side or right side feeding”

    According to some source, the MG 34 and MG 81 also can feed ammunition from both sides. Most likely it also needs the action of the operator, like the MG 17 and MG 131. Is there a machine gun, that can automaticaly feed from both sides, without the action of the operator?

    • The only machine gun caliber automatic weapon with dual belt feed system I know of is the CIS 50MG:

      http://modernfirearms.net/machine/sing/cis-50-mg-e.html

      Dual feeds are common in modern ground vehicle automatic cannons for rapidly selecting between HE and AP ammunition, and the dual feed system of the CIS 50MG was developed for similar purpose. During WW2 had and even today aircraft MGs and autocannons usually simply have different ammunition types mixed in the same belt or drum.

  8. The ‘aftermarket’ mount for this gun explains why the cocking handle reminds me of the one on an M-60, since that’s not original either.

  9. “This video is not available in your country.”
    Some YouTube bot must have noticed the swastika, which it is prima facie illegal to display in Germany.

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