Book Review: Col Chinn’s 5-Volume Opus on Machine Guns

George Chinn’s 5-volume opus machine gun-icus is a massive and extremely valuable reference work on the development of machine guns, as well as aircraft machine guns and aircraft cannon. It also includes and entire volume on the actual technical design of self-loading firearms systems, including both the big things like locking and operating systems, but also small things, like trigger mechanisms, extractors, firing pins, and more. For the historian and the design enthusiast alike it is very useful.

Unfortunately, the set is long out of print and both expensive and difficult simply to find for sale. Complete sets can easily cost $1000. Fortunately, the book was published by the US Government and is in the public domain and freely available online. You can find it here or here.


  1. I have had a set for many years, and find them invaluable. The main weakness is that information about Soviet guns only extends to about 1950, so none of the huge range of Soviet cannon introduced since then is covered. Fortunately, Chris Koll’s “Soviet Cannon”, dealing in great detail with all of the service guns 12.7-57mm, plugs that gap admirably.

    • Correct. But he spent most of his career with the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd), which is a Navy establishment. One more example of the symbiotic relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps.

      A similar relationship was utterly destroyed when the United States Army Air Force became the United States Air Force in 1947. Since then the USAF upper echelon has spent most of its time sneering at the Army, hence the Key West Agreement and the present-day battles over the A-10, F-35, and exactly what say, if any, the Army should have in the Air Force’s policies on close air support.

      The opinions of actual pilots in the air and grunts on the ground somehow don’t seem to matter.

      (Yes, I have friends and some relations on “both sides”. All sides, actually, in all services including the USCG.)



        • All of the 14 were in force on projects up to the F-117. Several, notably the restriction of input and the autonomy of the SW, were set aside during the F-22 project. All were abandoned completely in the F-35 project, as everybody not only wanted to have a say in what the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of Fighters would be like, everybody wanted to be able to claim credit for the end product, in classic Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss style.

          Today of course, everybody is pointing fingers at everybody else in a classic “circular firing squad” of exactly the type the 14 Rules and Practices were designed to prevent, along with the sort of complete project failure that usually results in such a Mutually Assured Destruction in the hierarchy.

          Incidentally, a similar situation, again resulting from a lack of anything like the 14 Rules, was largely responsible for the disaster at Army Ordnance that became the failed M247 Sgt. York FAAD.



  2. I’m a big fan of Chinn. I only have the technical volume in dead tree form and it cost something over £100.

    Chinn is everything that so many other reference books aren’t (I think that the sparse good stuff in Smith & Smith came from Chinn. More’s the pity that Chinn wasn’t referenced).

    I’d better not praise Chinn too much. Some day I’d like to get the whole set in dead tree, I don’t want to shove the demand (price) too high.

    It’s a while since I checked the price of Alsop, Popelinski et al, last time I looked people were offering copies on Amazon for about $7k. It is probably the only other design book available in English that compares to Chinn.

    • If you understand what the Greek letter e; sigma, means in equations, doubtless it’s an absolute masterpiece.

      It completely crushed me, not doing. He he.

      • So if you are inexperienced, come up with ideas first then read this about (practicalities) otherwise you’ll never come up with an idea in the first place, as you’ll be battered into submission by math etc.

      • “I understand why, mind: In wars you can’t waste time, he was trying to not mess around. And he has my upmost respect, accordingly”

        • Thanks, if I download are Russians going to have to watch me watch porn for months though?

          It’s to big of a sacrifice for them.

          • If you have objection about that particular site, search for:
            Engineering design handbook AMCP 706-260 Automatic Weapon
            until you find page, which you will find full-filling your standards.

          • Olga from Oymyakon? “Hello my dear, I hear it is -60…Say, I have a British passport; a land known for it’s lovely sunny weather.” Might work.

  3. Searching for (literally): “Chinn” “Machine Gun”
    will take you to an offering of downloading for about 16 dollars.
    The Wikipedia entry to select different persons called chinn mention him and has a “Machine Gun” hyperlink that will take you to a webpage where you can download the volumes.

  4. Regarding roller locking, Chinn had a bad day, if I may say so.

    He writes that roller locked MG 42 is really based on a Polish patent by Edward Stecke, discovered by the Germans when conquering Poland. The problem is that Stecke’s invention clearly describes a delayed blowback system (similar to G 3), not a locked breech short recoil system as used by MG 42. Stecke’s patent uses kidney shaped elements, quite similar to rollers, but in a way very different from later G3. The basic problem with Chinn’s explanation is that delayed blowback is much older than 1939. And MG 42 is a locked breech design in every respect mechanically unrelated to the layout proposed by Edward Stecke as well as the later G 3.
    Stecke’s design was also patented in the US and published by the U.S. Patent Office. So it was known worldwide, including Germany, long before the attack on Poland.

    • Many thanks,

      It looks like Stecke patented in many places

      It is unmistakably the same principle as roller delayed blowback.

      It’s interesting how two contrasting effects take place as well as direct emulation.

      Independent development,
      sometimes almost at the same time, other times decades apart, for example the principal of the wankel engine was first patented for steam use, and the Williams floating chamber was patented three months after David Williams was born.

      Pearls before Swine
      Tesla demonstrated radio and radio remote control to representatives of the united state navy, before Marconi “invented” radio. They could see no use for it.

      • “Pearls before Swine”
        Sorry, but I can’t agree. People responsible for armament of inter-war Polish armed forces might be blamed for many things, but not that one.
        Stecke [or Szteke*] developed his idea into self-loading rifle, it was competitor of better-known Maroszek self-loading rifle (kbsp. wz. 38M), last trace in documents regarding Stecke rifle is from February 1939, so it seem that this project was still in progress, when Germany invaded Poland.
        * – alternative (Polish-phonetic) writing of his name.

      • “Tesla demonstrated radio and radio remote control to representatives of the united state navy, before Marconi “invented” radio. They could see no use for it.”
        It is believed that Maréchal Foch in 1911 said:
        Les avions sont des jouets intéressants mais n’ont aucune utilité militaire
        That is Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.
        Now this sound as incredibly missed evaluation, on the other hand back then aeroplanes were much smaller, have smaller payload and were slower than today.

        • The same thing was said about railways by French government ministers. Who then went on to actively obstruct the building of railways in France,

          depriving the people who were living within that imaginary linem drawn on a map, of the advantages of rail transport for about a dozen years.

          I got the ref from Herbert Spencer’s “The Man Against The State”, a collection of Spencer’s essays from the mid and let 19th century.

  5. These books prove machine gun development was lead by private individuals, not by govts. Liberals will hate these books.

    • Apparently Chinn was an open critic of the fe’ral GCA 1968, as it severely restricted private initiative in the field.

      I’ve not looked closely at his criticisms, so there may be other strands to his argument as well.

  6. Thanks for posting these! When I was in high school, the local technical/trade college had this set in thier reference library. I spent hours looking at them. Thank you for bringing back a fond memory!

  7. I just read the beginning chapters of V5 dealing with General Electrics development of a golden age of gatling gun cannons. I started working at GE in 1986, just when the book drops off. All I can say is that every word seems spot on, I was trained by many of the people mentioned, particularly Lew Wetzel, Jay Trumper, Bob Chiabrandy etc. I also noted that from the time I started, non of the GE (later GD) guns were really fielded. I worked on the amazing cannon and turret for the Comanche. A few 50 cal sold on the Osprey. There was amazing work done, but no production contracts and the business withered. I got out in 1998.

  8. I see a comment above about public vs. private development of machine guns. Developing guns that are reliable and work well is extremely difficult and expensive. In all of Chinn’s books you might find twenty really good larger caliber guns. It is not suited to government arsenals. At one time Eglin AFB had real gun experts. When Picatinny Arsenal took over it was a disaster. For project reviews, the AF would send two competent officers. The Army, nine ninnies.

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