Hitler’s Zipper: The MG-42 Universal Machine Gun

The MG42 was developed to be a more reliable and easier to manufacture replacement for the MG34, although both would serve side by side until the end of World War Two. Designed by Grossfuss company engineer Werner Gruner with no previous military or small arms design experience, the MG42 used heavy stampings for its main assemblies, thus reducing German need for expensive and difficult to obtain alloyed steels.

As a practical matter, the MG42 had a much higher rate of fire than the 34, at 1500-1600 rounds per minute (more than 50% faster than the MG34). This was deemed desirable to improve the effectiveness of suppressing fire and the density of the cone of fire, but naturally resulted in much higher ammunition consumption than other machine gun models.

This example is a very early production Gustloff example, with he early horizontal charging handle, unreinforced wooden stock, and adjustable front sight. It was most likely captured in North Africa from Rommel’s forces, as they were a primarily user of the very early MG42s.


  1. As a boy I was introduced to a Wehrmacht infantry NCO who had served on the Eastern Front. I knew a little about the standard small arms, so I asked which machine gun he preferred. The names didn’t mean anything, but when he said new or old, we got talking. He said they troops liked the new machine gun, ie the MG42, because when they were traversing across a wave of charging Russians, the old one would hit only every second Russian but the new one hit every one.

  2. I knew an mg42 gunner back in Canada about 1969.He was on the eastern front and he said when facing russan mass attacks they used to stay down til the russans were about 50 metres out.
    Then they popped up and with the rapid fire of the mg 42 they stopped them
    He got captured in Hungry in late 1944 and only got back to Germany in 1952
    He hated the russians but always said the PPS 43 was the best smg

  3. the MG42 was also the progenitor of the U.S. M60. That could be seen in the loading mechanism. And the M60 is a FINE weapon for many rolls.

    • I think you’re slightly off the mark. The M60 was good for perfectly clean ranges with a pile of perfect spare parts available and only plywood cutouts for enemy soldiers, but just ask an actual veteran if he’d toss it for a PK in the field. I expect at least half the gunners were tempted to do that. I could be wrong.

      • Like all machineguns, the M60 served quite well in poor conditions when it was new. Once the parts wore out & the receivers stretched, the M240 & M249 were welcomed w/ open arms. And now, the M249 is in the same boat, hence the Marine Corps replacing them w/ new HKs.

        • “(…)M60 served quite well in poor conditions when it was new(…)”
          Now this sound for me like something prepared to full-blown all-out war that is WWIII – with attrition rate so high so disability to keep running longer would not matter

          • Speaking as one of those “included-as-disposable” types who had the misfortune to be an M60 gunner on the inner German border during the latter days of the Cold War, I’m here to tell you that we were emphatically not OK with the entire value proposition represented by the M60.

            My personal plans for that conflict included bopping the first MG3 gunner I met over the head, and taking his weapon and tripod with me as we rolled off into the sunset. Or, meeting someone with a MAG-58 variant and doing the same.

            Given the random and limited lifespan of the M60, odds that any of us who were saddled with the beast would get to 10,000 rounds fired in combat were slim to none; I mentioned the brand-new one we shot out on its first exercise? The next one in line that I was issued for a later exercise was the one that fell apart on me, despite it having been cleared as “serviceable” by the gnomes up at Third Shop.

            If you ever get a chance to look closely at the M60, one of the key things you should look at is how the receiver is constructed. There are a bunch of rivets that later get ground flat with the outside of the receiver, and those are the ones that tend to loosen up and fail. They’re also the only thing holding the rear trunnion to the receiver, and when they vibrate/rust loose, you’re gonna have a bad day. In my case, I was left with a buttstock held to the weapon only by the sling; the op rod spring and its guide rod wound up coming out the back of the weapon when I released pressure on the buttstock by standing to the rear of the foxhole per the tower instructions on the range. Had I been in combat, making a move between positions, doing fire-and-movement? LOL… It would have been a “movement-and-no-fire” thing, likely resulting in my death as I scrambled to try to figure out where all the parts went.

            All I can say is, f**k the M60, the people who inflicted it on all of my fellow gunners, and any delusional types who defend that utter and consummate POS. May they all rot in firearms hell, with red-hot barrels being shoved up their rectal cavities forever…

            I never minded the concept of a death in combat, very much. I deeply resent, however, the idea of dying due to an entirely foreseeable and ludicrously comic failure of my weapon. Chauchat gunners at least could be comforted by the fact that they were using a weapon from the dawn of the automatic weapons era, and that the system couldn’t do any better. We victims of the M60 had no such comfort available–It was strictly down to a failure of our leadership and the military/industrial complex that couldn’t care less about our survival as individuals. Y’all want to calculate that the M60 was just “good enough” because the stats show it would have outlasted our expected lifespans in combat? Fine; you go talk to the nice recruiter-man. My momma didn’t raise me to take part in anything thought of as “disposable”.

            It’s been nearly thirty years since I said good-bye to that POS and dropped off the last ones at the Logistics Center on Fort Lewis. I still resent the hell out of all the wasted hours of unnecessary-on-any-other-MG maintenance, and time spent training people on things that never should have been an issue, like putting the firing pin in backwards and getting a non-functional gun. You have no idea how obtuse the average private soldier can be, in any army, and with any score on the intelligence tests. It’s not function of “dumb”; it’s a function of “human potential”. The average person can no more work out instinctively how something is supposed to go together than a horse can do algebra, and trying to teach the majority of them…? Trust me on this: I’d prefer to be teaching the horse how to derive a quadratic equation. At least, that wouldn’t be so frustrating–You could expect failure every time. With assembling the M60 properly, you can explain it, demonstrate it, walk them through it, and then the first, second, and third times you let them do it on their own, they’re gonna screw the pooch so badly and so randomly that you’re going to be left in a state of bewilderment and despair as an instructor.

            Never gonna forget the time the troops found an entirely new and different way to screw it up. It took hours to get the parts unstuck, and I still don’t know how the hell they managed it without tools. Only ever saw that once, thanks be to God above…

        • Nothing really meaningful? Well the M60 is basically a MG42 feed mecanism fitted to the FG42 action, which itself is derived from the Lewis MAG.

        • Yeah… No.

          The M60 is a bastardized FG42 with a feed tray and trigger assembly slapped on it from the MG42.

          And, because the idiots who did the work did not know or understand what they were doing, they horked the whole thing up beyond recognition. If you do a search on my name on this site, you’ll find interminable discussion about the various and sundry deficiencies of the M60, which I have nothing but utter hatred for as a gunner, armorer, and trainer. All persons involved with the procurement and continued use of that abortion of a weapon ought to be treated the way Japanese samurai are reputed to have treated swordsmiths whose swords broke in combat.

          • And what is your point? I forgot the trigger pack but the M60 is still a mashup of those 2. Not a good one, I totally agree.
            I much prefer the MAG58 which combines the same MG42 feed assembly and trigger pack with an upside down FN BAR type D.

          • @ RO Phil,

            If you pay attention to the posting levels, you’ll note that I’m agreeing with you.

            The M60 is basically an FG42, period. The initial prototype was actually an FG42 receiver they bolted an MG42 feed onto the side of, and fed (I think…) from the bottom.

            There are a bunch of vestigial features that they copied over, and which make no damn sense whatsoever. The spring in the bolt, for example? That was there to provide an energy boost to the firing pin when the FG42 was fired in semi-auto. In the M60, which has no semi-auto feature, the spring is entirely extraneous to the entire mechanism. Yet, it’s there, complicating the damn bolt and doing not a damn thing. Then, there are the cuts they left out on the bolt body, which should have been there to prevent the op rod tower from peening the bolt. They didn’t include those, so every armorer had to be issued a nice little kit of honing stones in order to smooth things out, and spend hours doing that every time the guns got fired.

            I think the designers got kickbacks from the people who put the armorer’s tool kits together, to be quite honest.

    • As an end user of the weapon for a significant chunk of my 25-year career in Army combat arms, I would have to humbly beg to differ. The M60 was an utter abomination as an MG, whether you’re talking from the standpoint of a gunner, an armorer, or the poor bastard trying to train others how to use them. Not to mention being “the guy” who has to try to supervise their maintenance and keep them running, which they persistently and manifestly did not do. There was a period there, in the late 1980s and early 1990s where if I managed to have more than three guns in my company (nine total, one per squad…) running and serviceable, I thought I was doing well. There were lengthy periods where I had none reportable as “up”, and the only thing that saved us from the entire unit being reported to Department of the Army as being unfit for combat due to “no working machineguns” was because they changed the reporting criteria such that that particular deficiency no longer counted.

      The M60 is an excresence that could only be termed acceptable as a combat weapon by comparison with its immediate predecessor in the role within the Army and Marine Corps, the M1919A6. And, I’m here to tell you, I’d have preferred to carry that overweight bastard, because it, at least, kept running–Or, so I’m told by the veterans of that era.

      Vietnam-era guys only love the M60 because a.) they really knew no better, not having anything to compare it to, and b.) because of truly prodigal efforts by the maintenance system to keep them running. A lot of gunners who carried the things in combat had no idea at all about what went on behind the scenes to keep them running–It wasn’t uncommon to have guns inspected and coded out every time a unit that made a lot of contacts in the field came back into base camp. One Vietnam-era small arms repair warrant officer estimated that the average lifespan of an M60 receiver was only around 10-15,000 rounds, sometimes less. They are just not very robust weapons, at all. I personally witnessed and experienced unpacking a brand-new one right out of the foil wrappers it came from the factory in, taking to the field for one exercise where it wound up firing around 10,000 rounds (due to it being one of the only nine weapons up and running for qualification for most of a brigade’s worth of Combat Engineers…), and then promptly getting coded out because the receiver rivets had loosened to the point where they could no longer be made tight enough to safely fire the weapon.

      Not a fan of the M60, in any of its guises. MG3? LOL… Gimme that or a PKM, if I’m gonna be doing the light infantry thing. On a vehicle, MAG-58.

      • Bailing wire in the armorer’s kit says a lot about the M60s design. At least it looks cool. Thanks for the insight on it for the ones who have never been inside of one or had the pleasure of keeping it running.

        • It wasn’t baling wire, but very high-quality stainless steel aviation wire that had to be applied by an armorer with a special aviation-derived spinny-thing that looked like the misbegotten child of a set of locking pliers and a Yankee push-drill. A gunner could not take his own gas system apart entirely, that being the exclusive purview of an armorer. However, comma, he could still take off the back of the gas system, pull out the free-floating piston for cleaning, and then put it in backwards, thus creating the world’s heaviest belt-fed straight pull rifle.

          Baling wire is only a slight exaggeration, though.

          I still want to know what the f**k they were thinking, when the final product was presented, and it could be incorrectly assembled about six different ways, each producing a different and unique path to a non-functional weapon. Between that and the safety wire, I think there should have been a bunch of people fired just on that evidence alone.

      • To piss everybody off, the Danes just bought a bunch more NEW M-60s if I have my Nordic Countries right, and to say the Grunts in Viet Nam had or knew no better is edging on degrading. It served well in Viet Nam by the Vets I talked with, and I shot it a lot in the U.S.A.F post-Viet Nam. It was heavy enough that you could shoot it from a standing position accurately in short bursts. Recoil was manageable. Kolkaris, a Combat Photographer, hated it because the piston could be put in backward, and he dealt with well-used ones in South America. It was an efficient vehicle-mounted weapon and weighed less than the M-240, its replacement. There are those Military Types who do not hate it, liked its basic operation.

  4. News to me that the MG42 fired as fast as 1500-1600 rpm. I’ve read in so many places that the rate was ca. 1200-1350 that I started believing it was true. But a man differs with Ian at his peril, so 1500 it is. Of course, individual guns could vary considerably, given wartime manufacturing, and also rpm is affected by ammo batch, temperature, and wear. I do note that modern MG42s and their children can be configured with heavier barrels and bolts specifically to lower rpm to as little as 850; this reduces breakage and extends the barrel-change interval. Or so I’ve often read. For what that’s worth.

    • I have seen British test results at the National Armoury Leeds Library that confirm the 1500 rpm figure. The same rate applies to the Yugoslav copy M53, also firing the German 7.9 mm round.
      Keep in mind that 7.62 mm NATO has considerably less recoil. Bundeswehr technical manuals list the rate of fire as 1150 +- 150 rpm.
      The Italaians and the Austrians (MG74) switched to a lower rate of fire by using a much heavier bolt (850 versus 550 g) and a modified buffer.
      The combat value of a machine gun is determined by its capability to counter the extremely short periods an enemy is visible at all by firing as many bullets as possible in this extremely short time. That is the idea behind MG34 and MG42 designs for high rate of fire. The originally selectable MG34 low rate of fire was dropped early in the program.
      From the German infantry point of view, slow firing machine guns are barking up the wrong tree. If you have trouble with breaking parts, the design is faulty. If you have better results on the shooting range, that is nice, but does not count facing an enemy in battle. If you used up your ammunition by the “spray and pray” method, there is a lack of fire discipline.
      Ask someone who fought at Hürtgenwald, for example, what he thinks of German fast firing machine guns never hitting anything and being run out of ammunition all the time.
      (I write this being well aware that Bundeswehr selected the slow firing MG5. But this is a result of a total loss of know-how about firing under combat stress on the infantry as well as the industry side. This 180 degree wrong decision will cost the German infantry dearly in future engagements.)

    • “(…)the MG42 fired as fast as 1500-1600 rpm. I’ve read in so many places that the rate was ca. 1200-1350 that I started believing it was true. But a man differs with Ian at his peril, so 1500 it is. Of course, individual guns could vary considerably(…)”
      Do as you wish. I would says that it is 25 per second due to H.Dv.181/7 Untersuchung und Instandsetzung des Infanteriegerates teil 7 Waffentechnisches Handbuch für MG42 from 1943 which says:
      (…)Die Schußfolge beträgt 25 Schuß in der Sekunde.(…)

    • The version of the story I read was, the Luftwaffe was the first in line to get MG42s, for its own ground AA needs, but used a hotter loading of 7.92mm than the Army, which pushed the rate of fire to 1500. Apparently some later users had hot 7.92mm loadings too.

  5. Apart from MG42 assembled from spare parts for the West German Border Police, all new manufacture all new MG3; MG42/59, or Pakistan MG3A1, Austrian MG74, are normally fitted with different designs of bolts and return springs. These act as a buffer reducing the rate of fire to between 700-900 rounds per minute. When the Australian Army purchased the Leopard MBT in the 1970’s, they came with baseline MG3 (coaxial and cupola mounts). Due to their imported ammunition, the extreme rate of fire resulted in the MGs being rarely used due to the sheer expense. Pakistan Ordnance Factories ammunition was purchased in the late 1980’s when the original German stocks were used up, but, being of such poor quality was only extant for a short time and no further ammunition purchased. In the last few years of the Leopards used, the MG3 rarely used, and all new ammunition that was purchased was kept as War Stock only!

    • I am afraid your information is misleading.
      The Bundeswehr MG1, MG2 (this was the name for rebuilt MG42 firing 7.62 NATO, bought back from France, for example) and MG3 all used the high rate of fire of nominally 1150 +- 150 rpm.

  6. I love the 42, although it still has flaws, ranging from blowing up (as mentioned) to a poor barrel change system (compare ZB/Bren/MAG58) or its tendency on the bipod to fall over when the top cover is open.

    The missing bit (despite the research behind Folke Myrvang’s excellent book) is the science/analysis that led the Germans to move from 500ish RPM in the Maxim 08 to 950 (?) in the 34 and the truly extraordinary rates of the 42 (and why in the MG3 they dialled it back to 950-1000). Records either don’t exist, or have not been uncovered, AFAIK.

    Unless you are hosing down communist human wave attacks, the 42 is definitely a better MMG/SFMG than an LMG/SAW. If you have the ammo, it’s great at doing the WW1 long range (including indirect) suppressive fire thing. As a section/squad weapon, it’s too big and heavy and clumsy (compare with a Bren, which even an old git like me can still fire effectively from offhand or the hip) and it is humanly impossible to carry enough ammo in the section to take advantage of the rate of fire for all bar the briefest skirmishes.

    I’d theorise that the 1930s/40s Germans, first for the 34 and then the 42, prioritised the company and above level tripod-mount MMG/SFMG role, combined with the needs of vehicle-mounted MGs, the anti-aircraft role, and even possible use as an aircraft gun. At the expense of the section-level bipod gun.

    Did they do that in part because they knew/thought that the G41/43 was coming and would overmatch British, French and other bolt-actions, rebalancing firepower across the section to achieve “overmatch”? Was it a legacy of WW1 defensive experience?

    I don’t think anyone knows…

    • The Gemans recognized early the importance of having only extremely short periods of time to engage an enemy under combat conditions. It is useless to “spray and pray” against an enemy that has already taken cover.
      The rate of fire was not dialled back. Being recoil operated, the 7.62 NATO with its considerable less recoil compared to the German 7.9 mm could simply not drive the basically unchanged mechanism at the same speed of 1500 rpm.

      • I understand that the Wehrmacht’s desire thruout the World Wars was, (a) advance quickly into enemy territory, (b) seize a strong point and dig in, (c) use it to cause maximum attrition of the enemy. The MG42 sounds like a good gun for that purpose. The riflemen are just there to get the MG where it needs to be.

    • Oh, people know. The problem is that the right questions don’t get asked of the right people, and an awful lot has been forgotten.

      The German MG doctrine that shaped the MG34/42 family of MG “solutions” came out of the WWI Sturmtruppen experience, distilled in von Seeckt’s inter-war Heer, and which was largely based on the fact that the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s did not have the vast classes of trained reservists available that the old Imperial Army had had prior to WWI, and which the Germans considered absolutely necessary to win. Instead of vast numbers of trained reservists, they had a tiny fraction of what they thought they needed, so the answer was to economize. Which they did by putting the MG at the center of their infantry tactical system, and setting things such that what trained manpower they had was focused on that distilled “essence of infantry”, their MG team. The rest of the untrained masses of riflemen were there to provide security, scout for the MG team’s movements, and to haul ammo.

      Where the UK and US maneuvered riflemen, with the MG in support, the Germans maneuvered MG teams with the riflemen in support. The whole point of the MG was to get out there and dominate the battlefield, and that’s exactly what they did. The US in particular never did wrap its head around this factor, which is why that training film is so cack-handed, and why the US military has never understood the whole point of that “excessively high rate of fire”.

      The Germans wanted to kill as many of its enemies as it could, at the longest ranges they could manage. The rate of fire was designed to do that–If someone is firing at you as your squad maneuvers out 1200m away on a hillside, the MG firing 750rpm gives a considerable number of those guys fair warning enough to get down out of the line of fire; when that beaten zone is getting saturated by 1200-1500rpm, you don’t get a chance to get down before you’re hit. It’s all about the timing–You want the maximum number of rounds impacting that squad-sized impact area as quickly as possible, or some of them are going to go prone and not get hit. That’s the entire point of the MG42; kill as many as you can, as far away as you can, as quickly as you can. All else is merely discussion.

    • “(…)even possible use as an aircraft gun(…)”
      By time MG 42 was developed Luftwaffe already fielded (aired?) which do 1600…1800 rpm and weighted 6,5 kg whilst fired slower and was heavier. Why according to you Germans would be interested in aircraftizing MG 42?

    • “(…)Did they do that in part because they knew/thought that the G41/43 was coming and would overmatch British, French and other bolt-actions, rebalancing firepower across the section to achieve “overmatch”? Was it a legacy of WW1 defensive experience?(…)”
      Actually MG 42 replacement developed in late war period in Nazi Germany namely MG 45 also has high Rate-of-Fire https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/MG_45

      • The high-rate-of-fire MG was a deliberately chosen thing, and was intended to serve as a big piece of their solution to “no reserve classes of conscripts” to call up after Versailles. What reading I’ve managed to do sort of indicates that the von Seeckt Heer did not consider the “solution” of handing out semi-auto self-loading rifles as an effective solution to their problems–Which was why all the money and effort went into the MG.

        I suppose the question might best be phrased as “What would the Germans have done without Versailles…?”, and how that might have affected their thinking about combat. Certainly, by the end of the war, they’d kinda-sorta moved away from the pure MG-centric mentality for the squad level, but you have to remember that the platoon still maintained MG and mortar teams as a practical matter, no matter what the MTOE may have said.

        I don’t think that the StG44 and its antecedants really represent a repudiation of the MG so much as an acknowledgment that the bolt-action wasn’t working very well as an individual weapon. My suspicion is that had the Germans avoided the Eastern Front debacles that they actually experienced, then they would have done a mass-issue of a Garand-analogue vice the StG44, which would probably have come into play after someone did the analysis and determined that the full-power Garand-esque path was the path of folly. We only got the StG44 because of the pressures of combat reality on the Eastern Front, and without that pressure-cooker environment, the Germans may well have listened to their gravel-belly equivalents.

        • The Wehrmacht had already done the research in the ’30s, like several other countries, pointing towards smaller-caliber rounds for shorter-range infantry combat. Not much point in doing that unless one was thinking of introducing semi & select-fire rifles sized to fit. The StG got a short 7.92 only because it was easier to keep making bullets that size (same as the Soviet 7.62 and US .30/7.62 transitions).

  7. PS. Somewhere on the internet there is a great WW2 training video from the US Army which seeks to prove that the M1919A4 was actually superior as an MMG to the 42.

    It’s not very convincing, and the fact that they had to make it demonstrates how bloody terrifying GIs must have felt when a 42 opened up at them.

    Which is a great illustration of how hard it is to pin down the concept of suppression in scientific terms. We kind of know that inaccurate but close automatic fire, at scale, suppresses. We know that highly accurate sniper fire does too. But between those extremes, it’s very hard if not impossible (?) to create an equation which says that X number of rounds in or near area Y over time Z is the optimal way of stopping an enemy advance or reducing to the minimum their ability to defend.

    • That new fangled German machine gun. Boy it sure fires fast!!! But remember soldier, “It’s bark is worse than it’s bite.” Yeah you need waders to watch that film.

    • I just read the rationalizations the USMC is using for replacing their M249s with M27s, thus everyone in the squad carries the same rifle. They are arguing that the accuracy of the M27 w/ bipod makes up for the loss of volume of belt-fed fire. So they’re jumping from one side of the equation to the other. But you can tell the real deciding factor was the M249’s weight while marching in Afghanistan, because you can quantify the weight.

      This argument will never end.

      • After the Cold War ended, many developments appear to ape or copy the Warsaw Pact, no? Instead of an SVD there is a “DMR” with an appropriate rifle–briefly the resuscitated M14, now a diferent rifle–the M38, with snipers using M110 self-loaders. Instead of the RPK, there is the M27. M203s and M32A1 grenade launchers. Instead of the RPG7, there’s the SMAW and Carl Gustaff recoiless 84mm rifle.

        From the article on USMC weapons about the M27 automatic rifle
        “f the 2,600 soldiers surveyed for the report, the SAW came in second only to the M9 pistol for the lack of confidence in its reliability and durability.

        The SAW is also considerably less accurate than the M27. The older machine gun fires a 12 Minute of Angle as compared to the 2 MOA of the M27. That means that at 100 yards the SAW’s rounds can strike within about a foot of the target while the M27 is no more than 2 inches from where it is aimed. Initial findings also showed the M27 didn’t jam and wasn’t as dirty as the M16 or SAW systems. Those performances led to the adoption to replace the SAW in the squad, then to replace both the M16 and M4 in the squad and later, a more accurized with better optic version, the M38, to become the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle.

        An M4 barrel and bolt can last up to about 10,000 rounds before needed replacement. But the M27 has routinely lasted more than 35,000 rounds before requiring the same.

        Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, were equipped with M27s and suppressors for large-scale tests in 2017. The results of better signature control, accuracy and reliance cemented Neller’s decision.

        The M27 essentially became a one-stop replacement for rifle, carbine, light machine gun and marksman rifle.”

  8. What is the purpose of the bumps along the charging handle? Does that force the operator to pull the handle all the way back when charging weapon?

    • The bumps do not force the operator to pull the handle all the way back. If he does not, the bolt will not be caught by the trigger mechanism and simply go forward again with the handle, which the operator immediately notices.
      The bumps are to increase stiffness of the receiver in this area, required by the long slot below it, in which the cocking handle slides. A sheet of metal with bumps (Sicken in German, creasings or crimps) is always stiffer than a smooth sheet of the same thickness.

  9. So, for example, the fearsome and very deadly German 7.92mm MG42 belt-fed machine gun garnered a terrifying reputation among Allied soldiers who faced it. It had a very high rate of fire, making a roaring noise in which staccato-individual shots could not be discerned. German designers reasoned that with fleeting, obscured, and moving targets, that pouring a stream of bullets at a very high rate would maximize hit probabilities. More bullets downrange = more chances for a hit on fleeting enemy personnel. Allied propaganda films tried to dispel the great fear of the weapon among Allied infantrymen. Postwar, the MG42 formed the basis of many so-called “general purpose machine guns” where a single machine gun type could be used for multiple roles by changing its mounts, tripod, sights, etc. So a single weapon might serve as a squad support light machine gun, to a long-range sustained-fire heavy machine gun, even a light anti-aircraft weapon. As a result, the MG42 and the MG34 that preceded it, fostered a whole family of similar weapons—GPMGs—and therefore it is often asserted to be the outstanding machine gun design of WWII, or even the “best machine gun” ever, or more properly “highly-lethal-best-at-killing- people-with-efficiency-of-manufacture-and-versatility-of-use machine gun ever.” Yet, John Starling of the Small Arms Unit at the British Staff College at Shrivenham critiqued it: the incredible high-rate of fire overheated barrels, so that no fewer than six spares had to be carried, huge quantities of ammunition had to be brought along for it, and while it used stamped parts and was therefore cheaper to build than the hugely expensive MG34 it was first to augment and later supplant, nonetheless it remained a somewhat over-engineered and relatively expensive weapon to manufacture.

    • As our friend, Kirk, put it, doctrine should dictate design, not the other way around. Trying to use the MG-42 for long periods of suppression or panic-induced spray (like how the M1917 heavy machine gun would have been misused in movies) was an exercise in stupidity. The whole point in the spare barrels and mass ammunition carrying was to support the machine gun, as it was used for saturation attack. The riflemen acted as support, bunching around the gun and helping it do its work (spotting targets, preventing flank ambush, and assisting reloads or barrel swaps). I could be wrong.

    • With the change of function resulting in the name change to Bundespolizei on 1st July 2005, from Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard) a history of the force was published (in German) that year. In it description of the preparation for the raising of the BGS in 1949-50, it describes the equipping of the organisation, making it quite clear that these weapons return springs and bolts would retard the cyclic fire rate to 700-800 rounds per minute. In 1962 as a very young soldier in the British Army I was involved in a very very minor way with the development of the Buffered Tripod for the L7A1 GPMG, with a team from the then FN assisting in the development of the weapon system. Bringing the company’s own tripod for the MAG GPMG, and the tripod for the MG-3 that they manufactured for the Bundeswere (which they had manufactured during 1943-44). It was made perfectly clear that for the infantry role the MG3 was fitted with the return springs and bolts to reduce the rate of fire, but they stressed that the AFV mounted weapons had the higher rate of fire. Whilst on two occasions in the 1980’s, I was one of a number of umpires on NATO exercises in Europe having occassion to visit West German infantry organisations (airborne, mountain, motorised, reserve LoC – which unlike panzer grenadiers were foot mobile), they all had buffered MG3. Various none official handbooks on the German military and NATO forces over the 1960s-90s period give the same information, as do the various editions of Jane’s Infantry Weapons. Of course such as the MG42/59, or Norwegian conversions from wartime MG42 to 7.62mm, Yugoslavian and other copies of the MG42 (both licenced and un-licenced) had the higher rate of fire.

  10. Herr Peelen, welch Glanz in unserer Hütte! 🙂

    This has been a hot topic in my circle of friends for several years.

    I agree that the Bundeswehr has lost a lot of institutional knowledge when it comes to machine guns.
    But an important piece of that puzzle is the perspective that the MG mount, i.e. the Erdziellafette, is the rare and special case and use of the machine gun from the bipod as part of the infantry squad is the standard.
    In doing so, you lose a lot of effective range – so much so that you have to question the wisdom of carrying the MG as part of the group. When the machine gunner acts as part of the infantry squad, he is put directly under combat stress/pressure (“Gefechtsdruck”), needs to maneuver with the squad and therefore cannot use his weapon system to full effect.

    Like the designated marksman, a machine gunner needs to be positioned a bit farther back and not in the thick of it where he has to act as a rifleman but with a heavy and cumbersome “rifle”.

    And the Bundeswehr *kind of* noticed that – but instead of putting the MG back on the Lafette and in a weapons platoon or something similar as the standard use, they switched to the MG4 as it is a less bad “rifle” for the machine gunner under direct combat pressure.
    Similarly, they put an optic on the MG4 and MG5 to make them better “rifles”, but magnified optics don’t work well with full-auto in my experience, prompting people to shoot very short bursts and using the MG’s advantages even less.

    I think they made a mistake by putting the MG in the squad and ever since try to fix it in the wrong places.

    Compared to a modern assault rifle, neither LMGs in 5,56×45 nor “real” MGs in 7,62×51 offer a real advantage when the machine gunners are forced to fight like rifleman and cannot play to the strengths of their weapon.

    I therefore agree with the US Marines who do not even have LMGs in their squads any longer, “just” automatic riflemen and designated marksmen. Interestingly, these men use the same weapon as the rest of the squad, only with different optics and accessories. The difference lies not so much in the weapon, but in the way they fight compared to the regular rifleman. And with a light and maneuverable weapon compared to the LMG, they can fulfill their role more effectively.

    MGs belong in weapons platoons and on mounts – and on vehicles.
    There, I agree: give me all the rate of fire you can, as the circumstances and personnel allow me to carry enough ammo, spare barrels etc.
    Or – as SOCOM does at the moment – scale the MG up to .338 NM, make it highly accurate and go for weight of fire rather than volume (which has its advantages especially in special forces usage). That depends on the kinds of target I am facing. Fewer enemy soldiers spread farther apart and a lot of vehicles might make the heavier caliber, slower firing and more accurate MG the better choice compared to WW2 when the main targets were lots of infantrymen.

    And when we talk about inflicting the maximum of casualties in the first few seconds of an ambush, I think the modern option of airburst munitions shot almost simultaneously from a handful of Carl Gustaf M3 or M4 will give the machine guns a run for their money in most circumstances. But this, too, is something for a weapons platoon to do.

    • Y’know… It is entirely possible that in all the years of research, reading, and interviews with former members of the Wehrmacht, I may have either read into, or mis-interpreted what I found and heard.

      However, if that is not the case? Then, I would have to say that if you are following American practice and using your MG as a slightly heavier belt-fed assault rifle, and having the poor bastard gunner try to keep up with the rest of the mob, you’re doing it wrong. At least, by what I’ve been told and read about.

      The key conceptual difference is not where the gun is at, or how it’s handled. The key issue is that bit about “Flaechen und Luekentaktik, the “tactics of surfaces and gaps”, wherein instead of trying to do constant frontal assaults on the enemy, you instead use your riflemen to scout out their defenses, find the surfaces of their positions, then the gaps, and then work your guns into the structure of it all, where you can then force them to react by withdrawing under fire from positions you are now able to bring under fire.

      The principle is, maneuver your guns, not your riflemen. That idea of having your individual soldiers as the main component of your tactics is highly flawed, in that instead of the reinforcement of a gun crew working together, you’ve now got your firepower scattered out in little clots of individual soldiers who have this tendency to duck down under cover, and do as little as possible when real bullets are flying. When the same young man is in a gun crew, with his buddies by his side watching? They don’t tend to do that “Let’s not raise our heads…” thing.

      Half of it is practical psychology, the other half is a different paradigm. I would say that if you’re trying to maneuver your guns with your squad, you’ve suffered a conceptual failure in regards to the old school German tactics. Under those, you use your squad to maneuver and support your guns…

      I think the Bundeswehr has picked up a lot of bad habits from the US Army, not the least of which is the overabundance of staff sclerosis. I’m actually surprised to hear that US minor tactics are now being copied, because the units we worked with in the 1980s still did the “gun first and foremost” thing, which was always a shock. You think you’re in a good defense, and then the MG opens up from behind you, and you’re going “How the f*ck did they get back there…!??!?!”.

  11. Gruner was not a weapon designer. He was the owner(?) Of a factory that produced all kinds of sheet metal utensils. Buckets, shovels, cans, etc. And concurrently a competent and experienced process engineer specializing in sheet stamping.
    Calling him the “creator” of MG42 is, to say the least, incorrect. Although his contribution is certainly great.
    Horn was the author of MG42. A talented and for some reason almost forgotten constructor, that turned out to be too good and innovative even for a Mauser.
    History is silent about how it really was, but it seems that Horn regularly did not find understanding with Mauser’s leadership.
    Roofing felts due to some personal differences, roofing felts of its design were a difficult test for the Mauser stereotypes, tuned at that time to traditional production methods…

    In any case, Horn parted ways with Mauser and ended up at Gruner’s factory. Already there, not being constrained by the mossy “patriarchs” Mauser, he was able to express himself to the fullest.

  12. Leisure, unconfirmed fairy tales “what kind of trash M60”, nothing more than a part of Soviet propaganda, relayed by people familiar with the subject of discussion. Those who are either familiar with it from Internet publications, from the same couch X-perds. Either according to their sad experience with samples worn out over the period of life, during military training or visiting a paid shooting range.

    Perhaps they should at least try to look for REAL reports from REAL army tests before relaying “US lost Vietnam” propaganda to the enemy? LOL

    • The army will refuse to bad-mouth its own baby, you fool. The very moment you tell them that the M60 was bad, they’ll outvote you on “professional opinion” from paid stooges. In other words, you lose an opinion battle to a mob of bribed fools. Oh, and try to assemble a stripped M60 properly when someone is trying to kill you. 19 times out of 20, you’ll do it wrong and perhaps one time out of the wrong ways, you will in some horrible fashion cause the thing to horribly explode in your face upon discharging a live round and, in fact, rip half your face off! See “end-user expert opinions” above for details. Yes, I know I’ve messed up.

      • Nuuu…
        If you are such a ram, that you take apart your machine gun in battle…
        And so crooked-hand, that you put it together so wrong, that it explodes in your face…
        There you go, and 13 folds on the lid.

        Natural selection. LOL

    • To put it bluntly, you are an idiot.

      The M60 was my primary weapon for most of my early career. It was a piece of shit then, it was during Vietnam, and it still is today. The only reason that it has even a slightly positive reputation among Vietnam veterans is that, charitably, they knew no better. The amount of money and maintenance effort lavished on that pile of crap during the war was insane; the behind-the-scenes details should have been the subject of Congressional inquiry as much as the M16 was, but it was only because the ass-clowns who procured that abortion successfully concealed it all. Once the money-taps were turned off, and we transitioned to a peacetime budget, the flaws became manifest.

      I know this from personal experience as a career professional soldier that had to keep that abortion running and train other soldiers how to do the same. It was never, ever easy–So many things were wrong with that design that it’s not even funny. The M60 was essentially a disposable machine gun, like Kleenex. Once those rivets holding together the various thin-gauge stampings that made up the receiver, you were done. No amount of staking or welding would prevent the eventual failure you’d inevitably experience, as I did when the rear receiver trunnion blew out the back of the gun on me in the middle of a burst. If I’d been in combat, and not on a qualification range, that failure would have gotten me and a bunch of other guys killed.

      The fact that the M60 was utter shiite isn’t propaganda; it was and is fact. The propaganda was put out by the functionaries of the defense establishment who claimed that it was acceptable and “adequate”. Reality? A bunch of people made money off the deal, and saddled the line soldiers who depended on those guns with an uttery unreliable and barely fit-for-purpose abomination.

      Frankly, I’ve always been with the Australian warrant officer I met who commented that in a just world, Australia would have treated the sale of the M60 to them as an act of hostility that justified a punitive war against the US defense establishment.

      • Kirk:

        Your informed views on the M60 are always interesting.

        I take your point about the shoddiness of its construction. Do you feel if the M60 had been given a chassis like the MAG58 it could have been a decent enough gun? It would still have had bad features of course (poor bipod, fixed front sight, bad gas system etc etc), but so long as the actual body of the gun was strong enough, it should at least have been able to last more than 10,000 rounds.

        I am unsure about the decision of the USMC and the British army to phase out the M249 Minimi. Not having an LMG in the squad is a big step to take. I understand that the USMC is ditching the M4A1 for infantry in favour of the M27. This at least has a piston, so should stand up to full auto, but it’s not an LMG. Britain seems to be pinning its hopes on the L85A2, which Ian describes as “adequate”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. As a machine gun guy, I would be interested to hear your views.

        • JohnK,

          I’m honestly of the opinion that the M60 is fundamentally and irretrievably flawed. You can’t fix the design without essentially “pull(ing) the radiator cap and driving a new car underneath”. So many things were done “wrong” that you can’t take the approach of just addressing a few minor details and making it somehow workable.

          Let’s start with the receiver. First off, the damn thing is made up of numerous stampings that are riveted together, which is in and of itself not a bad thing. After all, the old M1917, M1919, M2, and M240 have their receivers held together by rivets. Where the problem with the M60 lies is that the stampings are not thick plates, and the rivets are not fully-headed; they’re ground flat with the stampings in a lot of locations, in order to allow assembly of other parts like the buttstock to slide over them. What you have at those locations is a tiny little bit of material around the edge of the rivet head that’s sunk into a shallow countersink, and as soon as there’s any corrosion or flex at that joint, it starts loosening up. Which then necessitates staking, and then when there’s more corrosion and more flexing… You can only stake so much of those rivets, and then they’re gonna fail. It’s only a matter of time, and let’s not ignore the factor of differential expansion when they’re heated up: Each plate is a slightly different alloy and temper, so they each respond differently to heat in terms of expansion, and oh-by-the-way, there’s also the factor of location in the gun–Some rivet locations only really experience a lot of heat when you go to fire job lots of ammo, like in heavy contacts you might have the misfortune to make.

          The entire design is flawed, as are a lot of the details. You could, maybe, get rid of some of the fundamental flaws in the receiver design by going to a single stamping like the PKM, but then you’d have to change a lot of other parts like the buttstock and everything else that would have to adapt to a thicker receiver with actual headed rivetting. In the end, the smartest thing to do would be throw the design out entirely, and do something else.

          It’s not like the basics are wrong, either–The operating system is pure Lewis gun, derived through the FG42. Both of which worked, and provided salutary service. The trigger assembly? MG42. Feed system? Again, MG42. In theory, the M60 should have been a stalwart, another in a long lineage of champions.

          Instead, because the people who did the copying didn’t bother to understand what they were doing, we have an abortion. The firing pin spring? That was in the FG42 because they needed that extra little “oomph” to make the semi-auto feature work. In an MG that fires on full-auto? Totally unnecessary and utterly pointless. The extra cuts at the front of the bolt, which prevent the op rod tower from hitting the end of the track and peening the track interior and the tower itself? They left those off, in the name of economy, and also subjected future armorers and gunners to an entirely pointless necessity to file and stone those surfaces after nearly every use, something that ate up a ton of time. Then, there was the failure to include the spring-loaded sear feature of the MG42, which caused the gunner’s tendency to ride the trigger to create premature wear on the sear notches that results in runaway guns and, again, a requirement for a ton of stone action. All that information was in the German literature, but nobody in the US ever bothered to read it. If they’d only have looked at the record of design mods made to both the MG42 and the FG42, all that crap would have been laid out quite clearly–The Germans had been over that terrain, before.

          What’s most egregious, in my mind? Having copied the Germans, and then ignored the minutiae of what they were actually copying, there were never any fixes applied for these issues, through the life of the guns. The firing pin spring? Pointless, and easily deleted. The peening issues with the bolt and op rod? Could have been fixed and prevented by machining out the bolt track the way the FG42 was, and never letting the op rod tower slam against the front of the track in the first f**king place. Same with the sear–That could have been converted over to the spring-loaded type with very little redesign required, and that would have extended the life of both sears and operating rods by quite a bit.

          They never bothered.

          Which is why the M60 is universally regarded as an utter and consummate POS by nearly everyone who’s been faced with doing more than just firing the damn things on a range. The amount of money and work that keeping them running requires? Sweet babbling baby Jeebus… I can’t even begin to express what a pain in the ass it was, or how much effort and angst went into trying to ensure we’d have combat-ready MG teams. The Army as a whole just threw up its hands, and the M60 being “mission incapable” ceased counting sometime in the late 1980s, unless you were in an aviation unit. This change had the effect of de-emphasizing that whole issue for line units, whose commanders quit caring about the MG systems, and it also caused a vast vacuum that sucked all parts and money for the guns over to the aviation units that had M60 machineguns. It was not unusual for line units or support units to have zero mission-capable guns in their arms rooms, and I have no idea what the hell they thought we’d do if we ever had to deploy for war–There was no way that any unit could get all of its guns up and fixed, were everyone else trying to do the same thing at the same time.

          By the time we went to Iraq in 2003, the first time? The MG was a non-issue; the M240s were always “up”, in direct contrast to the M60. That wasn’t just a feature of system age, either–It was down to the guns being built as real machine guns for real use in combat. You could, for example, disable an M60 by beating it against a tree without much real force. You do that with an M240, and you’re going to hurt yourself and eventually, beat your way through the tree. There is that much difference in how the receivers are built. M60=Kleenex, and not the good stuff, either–We’re talking the off-brand crap you buy at the 5-and-dime store. The M240, by contrast? That bastard is a lot like the old C-ration toilet paper, in that it’s rough, it’s tough, and it don’t take shit off of anybody. More accurately, the M240 ought to be likened to a handkerchief woven out of Kevlar and asbestos, something you buy once and have buried with you.

          Of course, you pay for that in the weight you have to lug around, but given the choice between a flyweight MG that is a waste of time to carry ‘cos “reasons”, and one that makes me sweat? I’ll take the heavy-ass bitch every time, because I like to know that when I pull the trigger, it will go “bang”. And, “bang” sequentially and properly as a machinegun should

          The M60 is best defined as a bunch of random parts in close proximity that really don’t want to be a part of a machine gun, and which will respond to that fact by trying to beat each other to death whenever you ask it to be one.

          Conceptually, and considered apart? The M60 was a good idea, and it has components/design features that should have created a world-beating design. Piss-poor execution and a failure to understand a lot of those features created a misbegotten mess that should never have been procured, let alone been type-standardized as our basic MG. You have to look back with a certain amount of awe at that period in US armaments history–The M14, the M60, the M73/219, and the M85? LOL… What. The. F**k? That lineup is practically Elbonian, in terms of “quality, craftsmanship, and likelihood to work/keep working in combat”.

          As an end user/victim of all that, my personal desire is to build a time machine, and then go back in time to visit Springfield Arsenal with a baseball bat, and then beat some sense into the designers. You have no idea at all what a huge pain in the ass the M60 was for me, as an armorer and supervisor of armorers–That thing was a maintenance sink, and you were never, ever rewarded with a commensurate period of time where it would keep working. You knew the minute it went out the door as “Mission Capable”, it was coming back in “Non-Mission Capable” unless a miracle occurred downrange. Quite often, whatever the satanic equivalent of a miracle would take place, instead, and things you never thought could possibly go wrong…? Went wrong. Usually due to the gunners and their supervisors, who I could never get interested in bothering to learn about the guns and their foibles.

          • Kirk,

            Thanks for your views.

            It is pretty much as I thought, a gun based on the Lewis, MG42 and FG42 ought to have worked and been good. What let it down more than anything were mistakes in the manufacturing process. I think if the M60’s bolt, barrel, gas system and feed system had been put into a body as strong as the MAG, it would have worked. It still would not have been as good as a MAG, however, which is why the USA should have bought the MAG. Which of course they did, thirty years and one huge war later.

            As you say, the MAG is a beast of a gun. I am not entirely convinced of the whole GPMG concept. The M60 seems to have been made like an LMG which can serve as an MMG, and with the MAG it is the other way round. I think that is why the British army kept the 7.62mm Bren into the 1980s. In theory the MAG should have replaced it in the 1960s, but it never really happened.

            As I said, I am no expert, but I find the reasoning behind the plan to drop the LMG worrying. I know the USMC never liked the M4A1, and it will now be relegated to non-infantry use, like a modern M1 carbine. However, at least the Marines are adopting a hefty rifle in the M27 to take the place of the M4A1 and the M249. In Britain, we seem to be planning to lose the Minimi and replace it with nothing much. Apparently a squad issued with L85A2 rifles will be better than a squad with L85A2s and a Minimi. British doctrine seems to be that the Minimi, which was adopted as an urgent operational requirement during the Afghan and Iraq wars, is now no longer needed. I realise that when the Minimi was adopted, most soldiers had the L85A1, so they really needed the extra firepower from a gun that worked. But is the L85A2 such a leap that the LMG is no longer needed? I am not so sure.

          • @JohnK,

            I have my doubts about the pure assault rifle concept down in the squad, but the way I look at it is that if you’re gonna decide you want to fight that way, who am I to question that? It isn’t what I’d be doing, but I believe that there is no one “right answer” to “how to fight”. There’s just varying degrees of what works in a given threat environment, and the whole thing comes down to proving it in combat.

            Maybe the Marines and the British Army have a “correct” answer, maybe they don’t. Time will tell.

            Personally, I am not a fan of emphasizing the “movement” bit of “fire and movement”, which is what I think the Marines are trying to do. It’s all well and good to plan on fighting light and relying on your ability to dance with the enemy under fire in order to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”, but the thing I’ve noted about that is that the bee usually dies after stinging its target, and the butterfly just floats around looking pretty. As a fighting concept, it lacks a certain power, in my mind.

            The Army tried this same sort of crap on a somewhat higher level, back when they had the “High-Technology Light Testbed”, the former 9th Infantry Division. No armor, just light, highly mobile firepower that was easily transported–Kinda the battalion/brigade level of an M27-armed squad/platoon. What I noticed was that while we did an awful lot of damage to the enemy, we also went down in flames a lot of the time because “no armor”.

            An infantry squad is in the same sort of position without the belt-fed MG. You can’t inflict the casualties you need to without it, and you can’t drive off the enemy when they decide to do an all-in assault on you, either. Plus that, there’s the whole “Individual vs. Crew” dichotomy; soldiers are people, and people tend to do cowardly things like not fire at the enemy when they think nobody is watching what they’re doing. Firing at the enemy is dangerous, because it draws attention and fire. If you’re a part of a gun crew, not only are you under the direct supervision of an NCO, you’ve got your buddies all around you to reinforce your courage, and who you don’t want to look bad in front of. Slacking off under fire is a hell of a lot less likely…

            Maybe the Marines and British Army are planning on training their people and indoctrinating them better, in order to make this work. It’s still a violation of basic human nature, to my mind. Instead of building my squads around little clots of riflemen, and counting on all of them to be doing the right thing at the right time in isolation, I’d far rather do what the Germans did and use those same men in gun crews with the odd individual rifleman providing security and scouting. I think that you might find that a lot of your perceived disadvantage in terms of mobility might well evaporate, once you quit trying to move MGs around like they’re riflemen, which they are not. The Marines are very “Hey diddle-diddle, straight down the middle…” with their minor tactics, and the problem they’ve been having with the beltfeds down in the squad stems from the rather nutty idea that the guns need to “keep up with the riflemen”. Dude, if you’re using an MG team as riflemen, you’re f**king it up by the numbers–And, that’s what I see a lot of them doing. The guns are tools you need to use differently than you do your riflemen, especially once you start getting really stupid and doing mostly frontal assaults on the enemy’s positions all the time.

            Comment I heard from a WWII German officer (who’d come up the ranks from private) was that if he’d done a lot of what he saw British and American officers doing with their troops, he’d have been cashiered and courtmartialed for incompetence. The idea is to use your men and weapons as pry bars to take apart the enemy defenses, not as bludgeons you beat them to death with.

            Too many in the US and UK alike see the MG as a bludgeon, and complain when it isn’t fit for purpose of bludgeoning. Properly used, the MG is an elegant tool that you can use to economize on the lives of your men–But, you have to have the right mentality. Don’t use the guns to support your frontal assaults; use your riflemen to help you get the guns into tactically superior positions, and then use your MG fires to make the enemy leave their now-untenable positions. And, once they’ve started to withdraw, then you take them under fire again, with your other MG teams that you’ve thoughtfully gotten into position and kept silent until the critical moment when they’ll do the most damage.

            Surfaces and gaps, baby… Surfaces and gaps. Beating your head on the wall only kills brain cells and bruises your forehead.

          • @JohnK (again…),

            Re-reading that, I think I come across as a bit incoherent, in terms of criticizing the idea of pure rifle squads vs. the MG team-centric approach.

            On the one hand, we have the school of thought that thinks a bunch of lightly-equipped and fast guys running around with rifles equals “maneuver”, and that they’re held back by those slow people with the heavy belt-fed MG firepower. This is, I suspect, the vision that a lot of the Marines and perhaps the British Army operates under.

            This, however, is not “maneuver” as I would define the term. Yeah, you’ve got scads of guys moving around with rifles looking cool, but in service of what, precisely? What’s the point, the eventual culmination of all this movement, which I will have to remind you, likely includes a bunch of people getting shot the hell up as they move around the battlefield.

            If your maneuver eventually culminates in a desperate final assault on the objective, then I would propose that you’re not really doing “maneuver warfare”, you’re just doing the traditional US/UK frontal assault with extra added steps. You think you’re doing maneuver, but when you still have to expend the lives of your troops to get the task done, namely “get the enemy out of their positions”, you’re really, truly… Not.

            You want to do maneuver, then the end goal is “get the enemy out without having to do more than occupy his now-abandoned position”, and ideally, you occupy it after you’ve killed most of his forces whilst they tried to withdraw from that position.

            The MG is a tool you can use to do this, and indeed, you almost have to have them in order to make it work. Riflemen alone are not going to sweep the objective with enough sustained fire to be able to convince the enemy that yeah, this is a Bad Place ™ to be.

            Maneuver warfare isn’t moving a bunch of men around the battlefield to engage the enemy; it is, instead, the path of wisdom wherein you fluidly engage the enemy by making their positions and activities untenable. On the offense, you work your way into their defenses surreptitiously, and then bring them under fire from the weapons you’ve maneuvered into superior terrain positions; on the defense, you let them think that you’ve occupied and intend to defend a location, only for them to take it and discover that they’ve exchanged a bunch of lives and munitions for a mess of pottage, because the real defenses are sited well away from the ones you set up for them to attack, and ohbytheway, they’re also conveniently pre-registered for your fires, which you then rain down with glee and in full impunity.

            The way the Marines seem to do it (and, I’ll grant that I haven’t seen them doing infantry things for about fifteen-twenty years…) is to maneuver up to the objective, “shoot their way onto it with the guns”, and then think they’ve just cunningly executed sophisticated maneuver warfare. I would beg to differ–As Sun Tzu put it, the acme of warfare is to win without fighting, and I would define “fighting” in these situations as having to John Wayne your way up into the objective, shedding men and equipment as you go. The medics get a lot of good experience out of it, but I’m rather against that as a feature… I would far rather have a bored medic attached to me than some guy who’s gotten his fill, and then some.

            It’s a mentality thing. Every time I hear how “the MG is too heavy to move and keep up with the squad…”, I want to ask “Why the f**k are you putting yourself in a position where the guns have to keep up…? Shouldn’t you be doing something else, if the primary source of your major firepower can’t keep up…? Wouldn’t that tend to indicate that you’re trying to move too damn fast to stay out of trouble, in the first place…?”.

            I think the rifle-centric approach is going to last right up until the Marines and British Army run into a conventional force that knows what it is doing, and has the staying power in combat not to melt away like the average guerrilla fighter is wont to do. At that point, it’s gonna be “Well, they let us in, but they won’t let us out, and we don’t have the organic firepower to shoot our way out, so we’re flatly f**ked…”. It’s gonna be like trying to dance ballet with a hippo–Sure, it will look good on paper, but the raw fact is, that hippopotamus is a lethal bitch at close quarters, and no amount of “maneuver” is going to save your ass. In terms of big game hunting, I’d liken the current mania for deleting the MG at the squad level as being akin to going after a wounded Cape Buffalo in a thicket with only a cap gun and positive thoughts.

            No, gimme the MG, every time. At least that way, I’ll know that the boys and I are gonna go down hard, and take more than a corporal’s guard into the afterlife with us.

          • @JohnK, yet again…

            Another thought just struck me, vis-a-vis this maneuver warfare BS: Let’s remember that Custer thought he was doing maneuver warfare at Little Big Horn, and turned down having the Seventh Cavalry’s Gatling guns taken along. If he had taken them, we’d be talking about the Battle of Little Big Horn as being another in a long line of atrocities visited upon Native Americans, and odds are pretty good that Custer and most of his troops would have lived to fight on other days.

            Mobility and maneuver both have to have a point to them; it avails you not to winkle your riflemen into advantageous position if they don’t have the tools to stay there and/or inflict casualties on the enemy with. You may well move your highly mobile riflemen into place, but then what? Especially in today’s environment of electronic warfare, what the hell are you going to do with them, if you’re relying on “network-centric warfare” to give them the external firepower to fight with? It’s all well and good to turn all of your infantry squads into local security for the Forward Observation teams, or de facto FOs themselves, but what the hell do you plan on them doing, if they lose comms with those external firepower assets? Throw rocks, really hard?

            I’ve got grave doubts about this whole concept, and I strongly suspect that a couple of decades worth of dealing with guerrilla forces may have left a lot of Western forces with a very poor grasp of how to cope with people who are willing to stand and fight, and who also have the tools and doctrine to do so.

          • Kirk:

            I think we are in agreement about the decision to lose the LMG from the squad.

            As you say, the wars in Iraq and Afghan have not been against good quality troops. Even so, the British Army found it needed the Minimi, and fast. Yet we can do without it now? Let’s hope Sleepy Joe doesn’t get us into any more wars.

            As an aside, I was looking at a newspaper photo the other day from Yemen. It was captioned that a Saudi backed tribesman was “taking aim” at Houthi rebels. The tribesman had a PKM, and was firing with both eyes shut. Some aim that was! Maybe you can do without an LMG in the squad if that is the standard of enemy you face, but that can hardly be guaranteed.

          • @JohnK,

            I think Moshe Dayan said it best, in that the Israelis looked so good as soldiers mostly because they were fighting Arabs… Who can’t seem to quite get their feces together unless they’re being heavily mentored by the Brits. Either that, or the Jordanian Arabs are recruiting from different stock.

            I have comments lower down about the whole “big MG” in the squad and abandonment of the SAW concept. I’m actually sort of ambivalent–A well-maintained and “not clapped-out” M249 isn’t a bad weapon, and it has its moments of “Man, am I glad we have that along…”, but I can see the point made by those who feel that it doesn’t really add more to the fight than another assault rifle would.

            Personally, as I say below, I would rather have a light 7.62mm MG like the SS77, Negev, or the Knight’s Armament gun down in the squad. You need the punch of an MG, you also need the punch of a real support weapon caliber, is all I’m sayin’…

        • @JohnK:
          If you are looking for M60, but less sucking, search no more, but take look at its Soviet’s Doppelganger. ТКБ-015 https://en.topwar.ru/9972-pulemet-nikitina-tkb-015.html
          Story is as follows: once upon a time Soviet Union has opportunity to test M60 (that was during or around Second Indochina War), conclusion was that whilst PK is not old and meet criteria lighter universal machine gun is desired. So Kalashnikov’s team start working (it will result in PKM), but other team was working too. It was lead by G.I.Nikitin (he also was challenger in earlier competition, finally won by PK, but anyway it give Kalashnikov’s entry run for money, later coauthor of NSV-12,7), Yu. M. Sokolov (later also coauthor of NSV-12,7), V. S. Degtyarev (NOT to be confused with designer of PPD-34).
          So they decide will make major rework of M60. Result was weighting about 6 kg, chambered in 7,62×54 R and accepting SGM belts. It was tested against would-be PKM, but lost due to being sensitive for rainfall and snowflakes and dust. Testers concluded it was too lightweight.

          • The UK RM/Army/RAF Regiment ceased using the Light Support Weapon as a rifle section weapons quite some years ago, whilst the L110A2 Para-Minimi was taken out of service by 2019 (it only used by UKSF now). The 7.62mm L7A2 GPMG is now the standard infantry rifle section fire support weapon – The wheel having turned full circle. The rifle section now uses the L7 and seven L85A3 (two with H&K 40mm GL). With on occasion the Lewis Machine & Tool’s LM308MWS as the Rifle, 7.62mm L129A1​, issued at one per section when needed (Reserve battalions receive the 7.62 L96), but due to the small numbers actually held (four or eight normally issued to sniper sections/platoons) there are less than 200 for issue to general duties infantry.

          • Daweo:

            Thanks for that information. It tends to confirm my belief that the M60 was simply too lightly made. It was built as an LMG more than a GPMG in my opinion.


            The idea that the Minimi is to be replaced at the squad level by the GPMG seems perverse. The GPMG is too big and heavy to be a good squad weapon. That is the reason we went for the Minimi in the first place.

            I seriously doubt the rationale behind this move. Some people have suggested it is motivated by a need to save money, by eliminating a weapon system and its associated costs. This seems more than probable to me. If squaddies thought that the Minimi was a bit too heavy and bulky, what sort of the replacement is the GPMG?

          • If that’s what they are doing, it’s just more grist for my mill, in reference to the dual-caliber solution being the “desire path” created by combat reality.

            I’m sorry, but any attempt to create a “one cartridge to rule them all”, that can do “individual weapon, controllable on full-auto” and “effective fire support weapon” ain’t gonna happen. The two roles are mutually exclusive, and you are an idiot trying to deny that fact. The Germans in WWII found, de facto, that they needed the StG44 and the MG42 working in concert at the squad level. Post-WWII, the Soviets eventually gravitated towards the AK/PKM solution, after saying “buh-bye” to the RPD, which despite the love shown for it by SOCOM, wasn’t really an ideal solution. So, too, did the US finally accept that the squad needed the M16 and the M60; the whole idea of the AR role was a sad joke, and still is. I’m of the opinion that what is really needed instead of the M249 SAW is a workable light 7.62mm MG, like the SS77, Negev, or that lovely little thing from Reed Knight.

            Sad fact is, you need punch, and punch is only going to come from a cartridge that ain’t effective in a weapon you can carry and fire effectively as an individual soldier. We tried this BS before, and wound up with a cartridge that was neither fish nor fowl, mostly being foul–The 7.62 NATO is understandable as a universal cartridge weighted more towards the “heavy” end, and it wound up being too damn heavy for the individual weapon role, and too damn light for the support weapon role. Ideally, the idiots-in-charge need to wake up, smell the coffee, and acknowledge that there’s been a real-world gravitation towards the two-caliber solution. To my mind, I’d say keep the 5.56mm, as it is adequate (barely) and plus-up the MG cartridge to something approaching the old Swedish 8mm MG round. The .338 rounds are just too damn much to be carrying around, and not worth the sweat. If you could shoehorn enough improvement in anti-armor, maybe they would be. As-is? No way.

            All that is said from instinct, with absolutely no empirical or verifiable research to back it up. Mainly because there ain’t anyone at all bothering to actually do the requisite data-gathering on real battlefields.

          • “(…)Post-WWII, the Soviets eventually gravitated towards the AK/PKM solution, after saying “buh-bye” to the RPD, which despite the love shown for it by SOCOM, wasn’t really an ideal solution.(…)”
            RPD was replaced by RPK https://modernfirearms.net/en/machineguns/russia-machineguns/rpk-eng/ which in turn was replaced by RPK-74 https://modernfirearms.net/en/machineguns/russia-machineguns/rpk-74-eng/ which is slated to be replace by RPK-16 https://modernfirearms.net/en/machineguns/russia-machineguns/rpk-16-eng/
            whilst in Soviet Union how weapon heavier than rifle and firing intermediate cartridge should look, there was agreement that such weapon is needed.

          • @Daweo,

            The Soviets wound up using the PKM as a squad support weapon, and the Russians still maintain it. Despite the fact that they have the RPK, the PK is still widely issued and carried at the squad level. The fact that it’s not on the MTOE for the squad, and is generally included as a part of the vehicle should not fool you. The Pecheneg wasn’t built to stay on the vehicle, or they’d have kept the far cheaper and heavier original swappable barrel on it.

            One of the things people have to keep in mind is that there is what the manual and the supposed doctrine says, and then there’s what the actual soldiers doing the fighting do. If they think they need 7.62mm MG support, they’ll dismount that and take it with them. Or, steal it.

            One of the really disorienting things I ran into, talking to WWII veterans and guys from the Vietnam era, was that “the book” was often wrong as wrong could be. The WWII vet I spoke with on this issue described his halftrack as having a belt-fed on every corner, a fifty in the ring mount, and several spares. When they went to turn in their vehicle and weapons at the end of the war, the Ordnance guys were pissed–There were all the guns they thought had been combat-lossed, and they were getting turned in by the guys who’d lied about losing them in the first place. An Ordnance-branch type from that era confirmed that the turn-in yards wound up taking in exponentially more guns than they’d had on the MTOE, and even included types they weren’t supposed to have, like M1919A6 versions that only the Airborne guys had at that time. The mech infantry had scoured the drop zones (supposedly…) for lost drop cases, and appropriated them. The whole thing really screwed up planning.

            Hell, in Iraq, we had NG units show up, get issued the M240 from theater stocks, and they kept their M60s as long as they could get parts for them–Which is really going to screw with anyone ever doing historical research, ‘cos a lot of those guns weren’t supposed to be there. One company of NG heavy equipment guys showed up with at least one belt-fed per truck, and by MTOE, they were supposed to have about a tenth that number. They’d robbed every armory in North Dakota, supposedly, of all the M60s due for turn-in…

            All I’m saying is, don’t trust the print sources on things like this. The reality is, if a soldier thinks he needs a weapon, odds are pretty good he’s gonna acquire it, and the documentation won’t be following.

          • Kirk,

            I am in agreement with you about the attraction of a modern lightweight 7.62mm machine gun at squad level. However, at least for the British Army, I see no prospect of this, until we get into the next war. The army seems to have got rid of the Minimi and “replaced” it with the MAG purely to save money by deleting a weapon system deemed non-essential.

            If I am honest, there may also be sour grapes at work. The ordnance boys gave us the L86A1 Light Support Weapon, which was quickly shown to be an utter piece of crap. The first chance the army got, they ditched it and bought the Minimi off the shelf from FN as an urgent operational requirement. I imagine a few ordnance nose got bent out of shape over that. Looks like they have had their revenge on the Minimi. How dare it work at advertised, and not have been invented here? Shades of the US Army and the Lewis gun in WWI. The L86A1 is very much like a modern Chauchat, now I think about it.

          • @JohnK,

            Internal politics usually wins the idiot ball, when it comes to these issues. Doesn’t seem to matter where or when, it’s actually the rarer occurrence when politicking and egos didn’t influence matters.

            I’m a big believer in being as painfully honest with oneself as possible, when the issues are decided. In order to do that, you have to approach the issue with an open mind, and as much data as you can get your grubby little hands on.

            Regrettably, the open mind is a rare bird, indeed, and what I can only describe as willful blindness is far more prevalent.

            We really do not know, in a profound and deep meaning of the word, what the hell goes on in direct combat down at the lower levels. We like to think we do, but the reality is that there’s really no damn data in existence to base decisions on.

            I spent a chunk of my career as an Observer/Controller at the NTC down at Fort Irwin. The one thing I took from that experience is that combat is a dreadfully uncertain thing, in that the individual participants only see a very narrow slice of what is going on around them. At the NTC, the battlefield is instrumented to death, and you know down to the shot fired who did what to who… And, when the time comes to do the After-Action Review, it oftentimes turned out that the subjective view of what went on in the eyes of the participants was 180 degrees from reality. You think you stopped the enemy advance with your brave riflemen firing their organic anti-tank missiles, validating your “light infantry uber alles” mentality, but the reality was that a company of tanks you couldn’t see destroyed those enemy vehicles before they even noticed your guys had fired…

            You extrapolate that onto real-world battlefields and infantry actions, and the same things take place. I watched a truly educational event from the 101st ABN division headquarters when I was in Iraq; they had a drone up, observing, and an infantry platoon was engaging the enemy during a security operation at night. The enemy was firing briskly at our guys, we were responding, but we weren’t firing at the right location–The enemy was actually considerably off to the south from where the officer-in-charge was directing his fires. Fortuitously, someone opened up with machineguns on the enemy from another direction, and totally annihilated them. From the color of tracer, it was a blue-on-blue from the enemy’s perspective. Nobody on our side that anyone knew about was firing, although I suppose it might have been Iraqi government forces.

            That Lieutenant still thinks he was the one who suppressed the enemy.

            Combat is confusing as hell, and it is nearly impossible to ascribe combat effect to specific weapons, mostly because what we have to work with are purely subjective reports: “I fired my XM-25 at the enemy, and they quit firing at us…”. OK, great… Now tell me, just why did they quit firing at you? Are they dead? Did they run out of ammo? Were they spooked by the weird new weapon you fired at them?

            Until someone goes down range and tots up the bodies, doing autopsies to figure out what killed them, we really don’t know shit. Trying to ascribe effects when we don’t have that data is foolish to the extreme, and that’s a major reason why I’m so dubious of this idea wherein we change up what we’re doing without objective data to help our decision. How many casualties are produced by a squad carrying an M249 vs. one with rifles alone? How effective is that squad at dissuading attack, and driving the enemy back from their positions during a defense?

            The other thing is the purely psychological effect: That M249 is a scary thing to tackle, when it’s part of a well-organized defense, and it’s equally intimidating to discover firing at you during an attack. The sheer noise and volume of fire plays a role in effects, and while you may not be causing casualties with the damn things, how many people have you intimidated and dissuaded from doing what you were trying to prevent them from doing, on either the attack or the defense…?

            Way too many questions to be answered, here. Nowhere near enough real data. Which is why I’d eschew not having that heavy damn belt-fed down in the squad until I knew, absolutely, that I did not need it. The Marines and the British Army are posing a question for the Gods of the Copybook Headings, military division, one hell of a question, along with a grievous temptation to answer hubris with nemesis. The nature of post-WWII combat has always gravitated towards that desire-path of a belt-fed big gun in the squads, and I think they ought not daydream that they can replace it with something like the M27.

          • Kirk:

            True enough. If the M27 is not an adequate replacement for the M249, the L85A2 certainly isn’t. I imagine ordnance would love an L86A2 in due course. A central plank of the SA80 system was to have a rifle and light support weapon. The L85A1 was a bad rifle, the L86A1 was a terrible LSW. That must rankle with ordnance. The L85A2 is now “adequate”, but even that improvement job was done by H&K, not ordnance. Buying the Minimi straight off the shelf from FN must have really hurt their feelings, so the answer is to get rid of it as soon as we are no longer fighting in Iraq and Afghan. So long as we never have to fight anywhere else, ever, this plan will work out just fine. Here’s hoping.

    • “(…)unconfirmed fairy tales “what kind of trash M60”, nothing more than a part of Soviet propaganda, relayed by people familiar with the subject of discussion. Those who are either familiar with it from Internet publications, from the same couch X-perds.(…)”
      So to which category does ARI Field Unit at Fort Benning, GeorgiaTraining Research Laboratory belong
      which states that:
      “(…)Maintenance of M60 machine guns has been problematic and should be improved.(…)”

      • Daweo… Dude. How do you keep finding this stuff? You must have mad search skills just to turn up some of the things you’ve found… Either that, or you’re living in the DTIC server room. I wouldn’t rule out “Pact with Satan”, either.

        In any event, good find. And, like every confirmatory thing one observes, bears the hallmarks of genius due to the resemblance with my own thoughts on the matter.

        • Kirk:

          If possible, I would like to pick your brain again with regard to the M60.

          I was watching an episode of Ken Burns’ series about the Vietnam War last night, specifically concerning the Tet Offensive.

          There was a lot of fascinating footage. A CIA man at the embassy in Saigon was using a Beretta M12 SMG. In Hue, a Marine was using a Thompson M1928. I had read a while back in the American Rifleman that when Tet happened, Marines with no weapons to hand broke into ARVN arsenals and took what they could find. The Thompson was appreciated because its .45 ammo was readily available from US stocks. It was good to see the proof.

          But as for the M60, there were many in evidence in the footage. The one that caught my eye was being used by an ARVN soldier in Saigon. He had wrapped a bandana around the barrel and gas tube, where they connect to each other. Have you ever seen this done, and have you any ideas why it might have been done? Helping the barrel change might be one explanation, or could it be something to do with the gas system itself? Anyway, hope you might be able to advise.

          • @JohnK,

            Can’t speak to the reasons why an ARVN soldier might have done that. I can’t imagine what kind of cloth could take that sort of heat to make barrel changes any easier. Generally, if you need to change the barrel, it’s hot enough to burn through the cloth your uniform is made of nearly instantaneously. Ask me how I know.

            About the only reason I can think someone might have done that is because they wanted to either do an impromptu ID factor for the confused fighting–During Tet, there were all sorts of VC wandering around in ARVN uniforms with ARVN equipment, soooo… Yeah. Some unit might have found it wise to have everyone flag themselves with an identifiable bit of cloth. Alternatively, that ARVN soldier may have just wanted a quick way of figuring out which weapon was his when the unit went to stack arms.

            Cloth as an impromptu head shield…? Not something I’d try, and I’d bet money that if you left like a handkerchief tied to the barrel near the gas system, it’d be bursting into flames in pretty short order. I cannot think of a mechanical reason you might want to do that.

            That being said, you can’t rule out sheer “WTF?!?!? Why are you doing that????” as a reason for that bit of cloth. While the average Vietnamese soldier of those days at the level they might be carrying an M60 was not always of the highest intellectual or educational quality, they weren’t all that stupid, either. You didn’t get handed the M60 if you were an idiot who wasn’t trainable. I am sure that there was a reason that soldier could probably articulate at the time, but which we might find utterly baffling. Unit ID, superstition, thought it looked pretty, maybe an attempt at camouflage… Who can know, at this remove?

            It’s like with Iraqi or Afghani troop that have decorated their AK rifles to death with brass tacks and other bling. Or, for that matter, those of us in the West who bedazzle ours with whatever latest and greatest tactical accessories we think we might need… Final analysis, it all answers a primordial need to personalize one’s weapon and “make it ours”, a drive I find both understandable and rational. While I wouldn’t bedeck my M60 with a cloth flag, that’s mostly because I see no point to it. The guy you saw in the film might well have had a really good reason for doing that, or a completely irrational one, depending on your viewpoint.

            Hell, it might have been something as simple as the cloth meaning that the weapon had been cleaned already when it was in unit storage or they’d stacked arms.

            Soldiers do really weird things in combat. Guy I know from my second tour in Iraq somehow convinced himself that he’d survived an IED attack ‘cos he was wearing his “lucky underwear”, and the the next time around, he got hit because he wasn’t wearing it, “it” being in the laundry. After that, he never washed that underwear again, and was always wearing it outside the wire. I think you can extrapolate the implications of that for the rest of his vehicle crew. Funny thing was, they never, ever took an IED hit again on that tour, and after they spent an afternoon parked on top of a misfired IED that the insurgents repeatedly tried to make go off, the rest of the crew bought into that “nasty underwear” thing as well.

            The human mind is fundamentally irrational, and very, very silly in how it interprets the universe about itself.

          • Hi Kirk,

            Thanks for that. I think you might have it that the bandana was some sort of recognition symbol. That makes a lot of sense, given the confusion of the Tet Offensive. Strangely it was a red bandana, but that is the colour of good luck in SE Asia isn’t it, not necessarily anything to do with communism. If a bandana is no good as a heat shield for changing the barrel, then I think your theory makes a lot of sense.

            It’s a shame the M60 was such a bad gun, because I always think it looks cool. You may well have seen Ken Burns’ series on the Vietnam War, but if not it is well worth watching, with some very interesting footage, and interviews with veterans from both sides.

    • A one more thing.
      A shot outside the battery was a problem only in the sense of disrupting the rhythm of the fire.
      The gases, together with the brass fragments, were thrown out through the extraction window and did not cause damage to the weapon or shooter.
      It all boiled down to replacing the barrel and giving it to the second number (who had a special device for extracting the remains of the case) and continue the fire.

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