Q&A 27: Machine Guns with John Keene


For today’s Q&A, I am joined by John Keene, retired US Army Master Sergeant and NFA specialist for the Morphy auction company (and for the James D Julia company before their acquisition by Morphy’s). John has a tremendous knowledge of machine guns, the machine gun collecting community, and the legal issues surrounding it. We have some great questions from Patrons, and I think you will really enjoy the show today! Timestamps for questions:

0:00:52 – Favorite WW2 machine gun to handle or shoot?

0:02:28 – What transferrable MG is the best investment?

0:03:47 – What delayed development of large-caliber heavy MGs like the M2?

0:05:20 – If the NFA registry for machine guns was reopened, would you be happy?

0:10:14 – US copy of the MG42 in .30-06
US training film about German MGs: https://youtu.be/Oyj-ZHXFKQI?t=96

0:15:40 – Is the Browning M2 still made or are the guns all WW2 vintage?

0:16:51 – What MG deserved more attention than it got?

0:20:42 – Opinion on Soviet MGs?

0:23:39 – Why did the Germans have high rates of fire on the MG34 and MG42 and why did the US not do the same?

0:25:58 – What was the most important development in early MGs?

0:28:08 – Converting PPSh or PPS to 9x19mm

0:30:58 – Why did the US not adopt the MG3?

0:33:14 – How common are rewelded/reactivated machine guns?

0:35:50 – What are good options for the introductory machine gun collector on a budget?

0:42:15 – Why did Germany continue to produce the MG34 after the introduction of the MG42?

0:44:15 – What factors determine machine gun value, and do some obscure guns fall through the cracks?
“The Schmeisser Myth” on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2NZvZ1X

0:50:27 – What are some examples of transferrable guns the you wouldn’t expect to exist in the registry?

0:52:56 – What are the strangest machine guns that came through Julia and Morphy’s?

0:55:29 – What is the process for moving to a different state with NFA items?

0:56:20 – If you had to pick just one type of MG belt to use.

0:58:01 – NFA fakes?

1:01:15 – How do you know how many guns of a particular type are in the registry?

1:06:20 – Why did the US stick with the M1918A2 BAR as a light machine gun in WW2?

1:15:06 – How many machine guns came back with US GIs after WW2?

1:21:05 – Did the bump stock ban impact machine gun prices?


  1. “What delayed development of large-caliber heavy MGs like the M2?”
    Wait, did U.S.A. realized need to have such type of weapon earlier than Great Britain?
    Aerial bombing of Great Britain during Great War might be less well known than Blitz 1940, but as it was done using (among other) using Riesenflugzeug (Huge Aeroplanes) which were hard to shot down using .303 ammunition, so:
    According to https://sites.google.com/site/britmilammo/-5-inch-vickers
    Eley Brothers were tasked with the design of the new round. They decided to begin by necking the .600 Nitro Express to .5 inch calibre, and initial trials were held with a rimmed case and round nosed bullets. The case was then redesigned with a belt and became the .600/.500 inch, first using the round nosed bullet and then a range of spitzer bullets. Ball, SPG tracer, armour-piercing, Buckingham and RTS/RTT explosive bullets were tested before the war ended. The new round was to be fired in scaled up Vickers and Lewis guns and also in an anti-tank rifle designed by Mr.Godsal(…)
    Though not used in combat, need for such cartridge was detected. After end of war (remember: “to end all wars”) development slow down.

    • Now time to dig deeper! Fast back to 1901, when .50 North was developed as described there: http://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=1487 and shown here http://www.cartridgecollector.net/500-colt-kynoch which remained “orphan” – no machine gun for firing it was ever crafted so far I know. See also 3rd image from top there: https://strangernn.livejournal.com/1505624.html showing patent drawing, speculated to show how said machine gun would be looking like. It never go further in development as there was not need (or at least awareness of need) among then current military, which was satisfied enough with shrapnel* shell for tasks, which could be done with such machine gun. Keep in mind that at the time, full potential of machine gun was not realized, which will change during Great War.
      *artillery shell which explodes mid-air creating “rain” of shards, desirably over heads of enemy.

        • Lets keep one thing straight: I am looking for truth. Nothing more or less.
          Current null hypothesis considered: US forces were first to perceive need for big-caliber machine gun
          Current alternative hypothesis considered: US forces were not first to perceive need for big-caliber machine gun
          I already show presumptions supporting alternative hypothesis, if you have presumptions supporting null hypothesis please show them.

    • Of the mentioned MG18 TuF machinegun about a dozen had been manufactured by the end of the war, but Germany was not allowed to keep them. Then there was the Vickers .50″. Maybe one might even count guns like the Pom-Pom as a (very) heavy machinegun. Some Hotchkiss desings shoot bigger than rifle caliber. The ZB-50, -53, BESA. MG151, DShK etc etc. Of which all had precursors in the twenties. Nothing of the sort of no development. The M2 is IMHO remarkable as being introduced as the water-cooled M1921. At a time, when all other nations pretty much stopped all military spending. Pretty remarkable really, as the USA also slashed the budget. As soon as there was trouble on the horizon work on bigger machine guns resumed. Though e.g. Germany opted to go to 20 mm machine cannons mostly instead.

      • “Maybe one might even count guns like the Pom-Pom as a (very) heavy machinegun.(…)Germany opted to go to 20 mm machine cannons mostly instead.”
        Here we touch very convoluted topic: what is machine gun yet, and what is auto-cannon already?
        Answer, depend heavily at country or even user or even point in history. During WWII Flygvapnet used version of Browning recoil-operated in 13,2 mm and that weapon they called it Akan m/39 where Akan mean auto-cannon. Nazi Luftwaffe considered anything below 30 mm caliber to be machine gun, for example one of Oerlikon 20 mm auto-cannons was known as MG FF to them, at same time Panzerwaffe used 20 mm caliber /but beware: it use different cartridge/ tank [auto-cannon] namely 2 cm KwK (where last K is for Kanone), in Poland they created word nkm literally meaning heaviest machine gun as name for auto-cannon (c.f. nkm wz.38).
        For purposes of your discussion: where is border between machine gun and auto-cannon?

    • The thing about the M2 that has to be remembered is that it wasn’t developed as an MG, per se. It was an anti-tank weapon.

      Do remember that the US did not develop an anti-tank rifle during the interwar years; they had no need, because that role was fulfilled by the M2. Which the US Army pretty much treated as the equivalent of the TOW missile, during its day. It was not until heavier armor came into use, obviating the .50 as an anti-armor tool that we really started seeing the M2 used as a basic heavy MG system.

      • “It was an anti-tank weapon.”
        Wait, I always though it was treated to be anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon. Was it designed as such from start or that anti-aircraft role was added later?

        • The Army intended it as an anti-tank weapon, but the Navy wanted it for anti-aircraft.

          Due to their own developments like torpedo bombers, as well as watching the U.S. Army developing fast twin-engined medium bombers ostensibly for coast defense, the Navy early on recognized that one of their big problems in any future war at sea would be air attack at all levels from heavy bombers at 20,000 feet plus to fighters, single-engined dive and torpedo bombers, and twin-engined fast mediums attacking anywhere from 5,000 feet to right on the wavetops.

          While 5″ dual-purpose guns could deal with heavies at high altitude (a 5″, or 127mm, was larger and fired a heavier shell to higher altitude than all but the largest land-based heavy AA guns), and automatic cannon of 37mm or so could deal with the mediums up to 10,000 feet or so, they needed a very rapid-fire gun bigger than rifle caliber for stopping the ones coming in on the deck at masthead height or lower. Hence the water-cooled “fifty”, that stayed in naval service right through the war because it could keep pouring out bullets as long as it could be fed without having to stop for barrel changes as often. Not to mention having a much higher rate of fire than the heavier weapons.

          This was also the reason for the 1.1″ quadruple Hudson heavy machine gun. It was largely replaced by 1943 by the 40mm Bofors and the 20mm Oerlikon, not because it wasn’t powerful enough but because it was chronically unreliable.

          Also, the Navy found that the “fifty”, in air-cooled versions, was a good weapon for light craft like PT boats for both AA and for destroying light enemy surface craft. Plus, a relatively small (by Navy standards) craft like a PT could carry more .50 ammunition ready for use in its gun tub feeds than it could physically larger ammunition like 20mm.

          The “Fifty” is still in Naval and Coast Guard service today, simply because as with the Army and Marines on land, nobody has come up with anything that does its job as well, as cheaply, and as reliably as the century-old Browning design.

          And for a lot of purposes, the fifty’s half-inch, armor-piercing bullet at 2,800 F/S or so and around 750 R/M rate of fire is more than sufficient without fooling around with explosive projectiles, fuzing, and etc.

          The KISS Rule still applies.



  2. nitpick: it is not P-P-S-H it is P-P-Sh. The Sh is one letter in cyrillic and sounds just what its transliteration looks like.

  3. I think in on of the many chieftain video’s about “inside the tank” the use of the MG34 was explained in part by how the quick change barrel works. with the MG34 it can be done from inside since the receiver rotates at the back, and the barrel moves straight back.

    With the MG42, it pivots out of the side, hard to do with armor around that part. this makes more sense to me than the “it costs time to change the armor mounts”seeing how much model variants of tanks they put out there.

    *not sure about the source of this info, could be somewhere else. (do not think is was here, but i could be mistaken :))

  4. Its bite is as bad as its bark according to my father. He was an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader in Italy during WWII from Fall 1944, until V-Day with Japan in Fall 1945. He said the MG-42 was a great gun and highly regarded, and feared, by the US troops – mat least in his platoon. He said before they were sent up to the line north of Rome in Fall 1944, they went through training. Part of that training was to lie in a ditch and listen as the various weapons were fired over their heads so they could recognized the friendly fire from enemy fire. He said the MG-42 was called the “burp gun” (not the MP-40) and fired so fast it sounded like someone ripping cloth – rrrrrriiiiipppp. He also commented that its tripod was excellent and had a ratchet (I can’t remember the exact word he used) that could be set to have the gun traverse, even at an angle, using the recoil of the entire gun in its tripod carriage. The MG-42’s bite was a bad as its bite, to my father.

    (He was also very, very impressed with the 88 high-velocity gun and the German’s ability with the mortar (he said by the second round they had you ranged and you had to MOVE because the third round would be on top of you!).

  5. With regards to the German MG rate of fire, both Ian and John miss the point of it all–Which was to saturate the beaten zone as quickly as possible and as far away from the gun as practical.

    You don’t “get” the whole benefit of having a gun that fires 1200 rounds per minute until you’re shooting at a squad-size target out past 1000m. With a classic “American MG model” gun that fires 500-600rpm, the initial round of a burst hits, and before the last round of that burst hits, there’s enough time for a good chunk of that squad to find cover. Against an MG42, however…? The targeted troops have just enough time to observe the puffs of dust hitting around them, and then that’s it–No time to get to cover.

    The whole thing is predicated on the timing–If your burst is delivered to the beaten zone quickly enough, your targets don’t get a chance to do more in reaction than bleed. If you’re slow, they’re going to be able to get down out of the path of the burst, and you’ll have to expend more ammo to suppress them since you didn’t kill them with the opening surprise burst.

    The Germans were not foolish, and they fully understood the logistics implications of issuing an MG system that could deliver (reputedly…) up to 1400rpm. This point is one that all too many American military people fail to understand, and because of that, much of the debate is distorted by the oblivious parroting of the WWII technical intelligence types who failed to understand or comprehend the implications of what they were seeing.

    • According to http://www.gr916.co.uk/assets/pdfs/GermanTacticalManual.pdf
      The machinegun was fundamental to German infantry tactics and the entire Gruppe was centred on the lMG team. This is at odds with Allied tactics, whereby the riflemen were given more importance. The development of a mobile, light machinegun with a high rate of fire provided the German Gruppe with a highly effective offensive and defensive capability. Unlike the Allied equivalents (at the section level – the BAR or Bren Gun), the primary purpose of the German lMG team was to suppress the enemy in order to facilitate the advance of the riflemen, or to pour as much fire as possible upon an advancing enemy.
      So it should be no surprise that Germans give more importance to machine gun development than adversaries.

      • The American and British doctrine was more a recognition of basic facts than having a different point of view. Both the BAR and Bren are fed by box magazines, and simply cannot deliver the sheer volume of fire of a belt-fed gun.

        Fortunately, both the American M1 Garand (8-round en-bloc clip) and British SMLE/ Rifle No. 4 family (10-round magazine fed by two 5-round stripper clips) had greater magazine capacity than anybody else’s standard infantry rifles. So they could deliver a heavy base of fire simply with the section’s (or squad’s) rifles, reserving the SAW for covering fire during the bounds in an advance, or for points of resistance in a direct assault.

        I suspect this doctrine would not have worked nearly as well with the bolt-action M1903 or M1917 rifles, both of which only had five-shot magazines and stripper-clip loading.

        The Japanese almost had the worst setup, with the five-shot Type 99 bolt-action and box-magazine fed Type 99 LMG.

        The unfortunate Italians drew the Wonka ticket in that lottery, with the en-bloc clip loaded, five-shot bolt-action Carcano and a succession of LMGs that all had one thing in common; they didn’t work very well at all.

        The fact that the Italians adopted both the Garand (which they modified into the BM-59 with a 20-shot box magazine ala’ the BAR) and the MG42/59 very quickly after they were back in the game with NATO is something everybody else should think about, even today.

        They’re no fools.



        • Excuse my being pedantic and nit-picky… The Carcano rifle has a six-round en-bloc clip. And the Breda LMG doesn’t have a removable magazine, but rather a charger-loading set up. Admittedly, the magazine feed lips are one of the biggest sources of stoppages in such arms, so doing away with them, so-to-speak, by having them internal to the gun like the Tokarev TT33 pistol, the Madsen LMG/Machine Rifle, etc. has merit.

          I also might point out that already back in WWI zee Germans were trying to use technology in such a fashion that a decentralized “defense in depth” of the vaunted Sigfriedstellung/Hindenburg Line might be accomplished with fewer troops, hence the lavish use of MG08/15s, which in spite of their failings, were the quasi-man portable MG that the army had available… The thinking of having a high rate of fire to saturate an area with a fleeting, moving target was similarly borne out by that tactical experience.

          While the MG42 fires so fast that it saturates the “beaten zone” in a highly lethal fashion, it does so at the expenditure of enormous quantities of ammo, requiring “head bearers” to transport, and at the tactical disadvantage of requiring no less that six spare barrels! So like everything, there are trade-offs.

          Good observations!

        • “The unfortunate Italians drew the Wonka ticket in that lottery, with the en-bloc clip loaded, five-shot bolt-action Carcano and a succession of LMGs that all had one thing in common; they didn’t work very well at all.”
          I do not know what “Wonka” mean there, but I want to point that their additionally worsened situation with introduction of 7,35 mm cartridge, which added logistic burden as then they have two cartridge (new 7,35 mm and old 6,5 mm) in place off 1.
          Also meanwhile they invested resources in development of 7,35 mm self-loading rifle at Armaguerra: https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/Armaguerra_Mod._39
          After they considered this design to be mature enough they ordered 10000 examples, but soon after that they decided that they do not want it, as they reverse their earlier decision “we shoot 7,35 mm now”. Rifle was redesigned to 6,5 mm but due the whole turmoil, this weapon was delivered in very limited quantity.
          Lesson is that, there might be “good” and “bad” choice, but if you choose “bad” and then try to revert it, it might be even worse than “bad” choice alone.

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