Rheinmetall MG42/59: The Slow-Fire Commercial MG42

After World War Two, when West Germany was allowed to reconstitute its army and join NATO, it needed small arms. The new Bundeswehr chose the MG42 as it’s standard GPMG, and the Rheinmetall firm undertook the project of recreating the technical data package to build them. The work was completed in 1958, and the company began making new MG42s in 7.62 NATO for the commercial export market as well as for the Bundeswehr (which designated the gun the MG1). Rheinmetall made a number of iterative improvements to the design, including nearly doubling the bolt weight (from 550g/1.2lb to 950g/2.1lb) for their MG42/59 model to bring the rate of fire down to a reasonable 700-900 rpm. The bolt (and its associated heavy buffer) was not adopted by the Bundeswehr, but was bought by one other clients.

The MG42/59 also includes many of the other upgrades that would be implemented on the final MG3 version adopted by the military. These include:

– Top cover hinge that holds the cover in a raised position
– Feed tray to mount modern belt boxes and prevent belts from falling out when opened
– Integrated AA rear sight
– New muzzle booster design

This particular one is a beautiful example made in 1964 and brought to the US early enough to be a registered, transferrable, C&R piece.


  1. The US should have type-standardized on this weapon for the M15/M60 roles, and the T48 FAL for the individual weapon M14 role. We’d likely still be using both…

    Ah, well… Perhaps in some other universe, where common sense isn’t some highly unlikely superpower.

    • Kirk:

      I feel the combination of the FAL and MAG would have been the best. I thought the understanding was this would have been the NATO standard, after the USA foisted 7.62x51mm on everyone, but obviously Ordnance had other ideas.

      I feel that if the USA had adopted the FAL/MAG combination, they would have served well in Vietnam, and the AR15 might be a footnote in history, maybe even a “Forgotten Weapon”.

    • I agree with your first statement, but (given that nearly all countries have gone intermediate / SCHV, even though most didn’t start with the M-14 and many once used FALs) why would that have changed if we had adapted a FAL?

      • Hi Mike,

        My feeling is that the FAL is just a better rifle than the M14. If it had been adopted in 1957, there would have been no rush to change it when the Vietnam War started. The USAF may even have issued it to their gate guards, who knows?

        I am sure that in due course NATO would have moved to an intermediate cartridge, but not until the 1980s perhaps, and it would not have been the 5.56mm. Counterfactual of course, but that’s how I see things playing out. After all, none of the other NATO countries which had adopted 7.62mm rifles in the 50s changed to 5.56mm until the 80s, it was the US which dropped the M14 like a hot potato.

        • JohnK,
          Coincidentally, in the past few days I have been in numerous discussions on a variety of pages discussing a major trend in modern firearms development: past a certain point, rifles haven’t made major capability improvements, but rather evolved around the edges in various ways – one of which is efficiency, localizing stresses and therefore reducing the number of parts that require complex machining, high-quality steels, and heat treatment to the bare minimum. The rear-locking, stressed-receiver FAL is not only inherently less accurate, but on the wrong side of that evolution.

          Also, while NATO may have moved slowly toward 5.56, the Russians jumped on the idea, adopting the even lower-powered 5.45mm by the mid 70s.

          • Hi Mike,

            In practical terms I would say there is nothing wrong with the FAL, given the time it was made. Obviously it is old fashioned now. As to intermediate cartridges, would the USSR have gone for the 5.45mm if the US had not adopted the 5.56mm?

            I think only the US had the money to adopt the M14 and then drop it almost immediately. All the other NATO members (apart from France of course) adopted the 7.62mm in the 1950s, and stuck with it until they needed new rifles in the 80s and 90s. I can’t think that if the US had adopted the FAL they would have dropped it in favour of the AR15 as soon as things got hot in Vietnam.

          • JohnK,
            Case diameter vs. mag length, ammo weight / ability to carry, average engagement ranges, controllability in burst or FA, and qual scores improvements with lighter-recoiling cartridges are all either objective facts, or at least beliefs almost universally held among modern armed forces, quite apart from any M-14 shortfalls and/or speculation about who would have accepted what when.

          • Sure Mike. But notwithstanding all that, I feel that if the USA had adopted the FAL/MAG combo circa 1960, they would not have changed it during the Vietnam War. They were both good weapons which served in many armies and many wars. There would have been no need for the USA to have considered a new rifle before the 1980s. The unusual thing about the M14 was how quickly it was dropped after the war started. FALs were used in many wars, and were never dropped until the time had come to replace them.

            The USAF’s gate guards might have had AR15s, but I don’t see that the US Army, having just equipped itself with FALs would have been in any rush to change.

          • JohnK,
            I’m not a fan or staunch defender of the M-14, but I’m not sure what you’re saying. In your opinion, what led us to drop the M-14 that was uniquely wrong with the M-14, as opposed to the conditions of jungle warfare and/or inherent stupidity of the “battle rifle” concept in general (blanket replacement for SMG / carbine / rifle / LMG, coupled with willful ignorance of WWII lessons about realistic engagement distances)?

          • Hi Mike,

            A good question as to why the M14 was dropped so quickly. Closing down Springfield Armory can’t have helped. If the US need more M14s during the Vietnam War, they weren’t available, whereas the M16 was.

            I accept that the M16 was smaller and lighter than the M14 and the FAL, but no other nation which adopted the FAL got rid of them until they had used them for 20 to 30 years, and I honestly don’t think the US would have been any different.

          • JohnK,
            Winchester? H&R? TRW?

            no other nation which adopted the FAL got rid of them until they had used them for 20 to 30 years

            Or not-used them for 20 to 30 years Conversely, the Eastern Bloc, who (with their proxies) were much more actively engaged, started adopting SCHV in the 70s despite the fact that they had real intermediate-cartridge assault rifles to begin with.

          • Hi Mike,

            Yes, there could have been other sources for M14s, but closing down Springfield would have surely made it harder to produce new rifles in large numbers.

            Countries like Britain and Australia used FALs in various small wars, including Vietnam in the case of the Australians, and did not drop them for M16s. Israel used FALs in vital wars of survival. FALs were used in wars across the world from the 60s to the 90s. This was an American phenomenon. Few countries can afford to adopt a new rifle and then drop it within 10 years. I cannot prove a negative, but I do feel that if the US had adopted the FAL and the MAG they would not have dropped them by 1967. It took until the 80s for the USA even to adopt the MAG, and they will be using it for a long time yet.

            As to the communists, yes they had the 7.62mm M1943 intermediate round. Would they have gone for the 5.45mm in the 70s if the USA had not gone for the 5.56mm in the 60s? I rather doubt it.

          • JohnK,
            Again, absent any issues you can cite specific to the M-14 that led to its replacement, the logical conclusion is that the US (at least) rejected the whole “battle rifle” concept for the intermediate-cartridge “assault rifle” due to the latter’s greater suitability (at the very least, for the conditions of the Vietnam War).

            Of the nations you cited, the only example engaged in anything even close to “vital wars of survival” (as you so aptly put it) developed the Galil specifically out of dissatisfaction with the FAL; it’s all over the gun press / net, including right here.

            Might the Eastern Bloc otherwise have taken longer to go SCHV? Quite possibly, because they correctly interpreted the lessons of war, had long since gone intermediate, and never fell for the failed “battle rifle” concept in the first place – or, to be more precise, used them in their proper role as DMRs from the start.

          • Mike:

            Yes, the Israelis eventually came up with the Galil. They still used the FAL as their main rifle for over 20 years.

            No-one adopts a new rifle and then ditches it within ten years as soon as a war starts. Except the USA. The precise reasons the M14 was relegated in favour of the M16 are no doubt interesting; do you know them? It may have had something to do with Springfield being closed and production ending, in anticipation of the SPIW being the rifle of the 70s, but Vietnam got in the way. Maybe. I’d like to know more. But I still feel that the US would not have dropped the FAL if they had been sensible enough to adopt it.

          • The M-16 report describes the Army’s knowledge (since before WWII) that SCHV bullets are more lethal; that intermediate cartridges gave the Soviets advantages in logistics and controllability; that the M-14 was too heavy and too long to replace the Carbine and Grease gun; and that insistence on 7.62 NATO “all but preclud[ed] development of a truly lightweight weapon” (i.e. the cartridge, not any quirks of the M-14, was the problem).

            Yes, the Israelis eventually came up with the Galil. They still used the FAL as their main rifle for over 20 years.

            No-one adopts a new rifle and then ditches it within ten years as soon as a war starts.

            They didn’t even wait for the next war. The first war in which the FAL was “their main rifle” was in 1967, and the program that produced the Galil started with experimentation on captured AKs in its immediate aftermath.

          • Hi Mike,

            I am sure than everyone outside US Ordnance realised that the M14 could not reasonably replace the M1 rifle, the carbine and the SMG, not to mention the BAR. Britain and Australia adopted FALs, but kept SMGs, as well as Brens. Israel kept the Uzi. Maybe if the US did not have idiots at Ordnance, they would have had the MAG, the FAL and an SMG. The Smith & Wesson M76 would have been a fair choice.

            As to Israel, they may have been impressed by the Kalashnikov, it did not mean they dropped the FAL a few years after adopting it. Only the US could afford that kind of profligacy. The Israelis used the FAL for a good 20 years. The adoption of the M16 within 10 years of the M14 was the real anomaly.

          • JohnK,
            “kept SMGs”? No. The Brits for instance abandoned the STEN, de-prioritizing a new SMG because they expected to replace them with assault rifles, then re-prioritized Sterling development when forced to accept 7.62 NATO. The Israelis’ resort to Uzis out of dissatisfaction with the FAL was part of the Galil development history. The Galil was adopted a little later than the M-16 because the Six-Day War began later than Vietnam, and because the Israelis began reverse-engineering at that point rather than choosing a semi-COTS solution. Again, all this is not only well known and readily available across the net, but available right here on FW.

            A proper assault rifle cannot effectively replace the LMG, but is perfectly capable of replacing the SMG; it has, almost entirely, today. Our esteemed Eon wrote brilliant and thought-provoking comment(s) here about how the M1 Carbine obsoleted the SMG; the one potential criticism is that pistol cartridges can facilitate greater compactness, but Gen 2 SMGs having the grip at the back of a really long receiver (like the S&W 76!) are actually longer than SBRs with comparable barrels. The Soviets ordered the AK specifically to replace SMGs. They succeeded because they weren’t forced to use 7.62×51.

          • Hi Mike,

            I have said before that if you want a semi-auto 30 calibre rifle, the M14 was all right. If you wanted something to replace the SMG, carbine and automatic rifle, it was not.

            If Springfield had not been closed down in 1963, the M14 may well have been kept on through Vietnam. As it was, the US found that they had stumbled into a major war having closed down their main national armoury. The obvious course of action was to use a rifle which was in production, which, thanks to the USAF, was the M16.

            If the USA had adopted the FAL, even if they had closed down Springfield, they could have sourced FALs easily. But every other country which adopted the FAL also used an SMG for non-infantry troops. The USA was out of line by imagining the M14 could replace everything between the pistol and the GPMG.

          • The only difference in the US approach was including the BAR (itself an anomaly developed for the discredited “walking fire” idea). Leaving that aside, replacing all infantry small arms with assault rifles is not only an idea most armies shared in the 50s, but one that is successfully implemented in 2022. The only obstacle was self-inflicted – 7.62×51.

          • Hi Mike,

            I agree with you about that, but would just say the 7.62mm NATO was “inflicted” on us by the US Army Ordnance Board.

        • I doubt the US Air Force would have adopted the FAL. The Air Force was looking for an M2 carbine replacement – something light to be carried for hours by close-in sentries guarding nuclear weapons and small enough not to be a nuisance for security teams getting in and out of pickup trucks. Both the FAL and the M14 are too big and too heavy for the job.

        • Daweo,
          Lots of gun guys like to bemoan the politics, etc. that doomed 7×43, but to me it’s just not an intermediate cartridge. In exactly the same way as advances in powders, etc. allowed 7.62 NATO to replicate .30-06 performance in a shorter case, 7×43 duplicated the performance of a variety of 1890s bolt-action cartridges a bit lower in KE, but which no one really regards as intermediate. The cartridge weight is much closer to .308’s than .223’s. More importantly, IMHO, it uses the Mauser / NATO rim diameter, creating the same dilemma as 7.62 (either low capacity, or mags too long for prone shooting).

          • The British experiments grew to 7×43, out of an attempt to meet American arguments requiring energy out to, what was it? 800 yards?

            The British “ideal calibres” research was pointing to the approximate range between 6.35mm and 6.8mm (.25″_ .27″)⁰

            The head size had also begun at around the size of the Mannlicher rimless rounds and the 7.63x39mm.

            I’m not suggesting that the original ideas would have been a long term “keeper”, only that they were closer to what we now have.

            I Can’t remember the name of the guy who’s PHD looked into the archives for the sociology of the whole debacle

            Edward C Ezell’s “the Great rifle controversy” also looks at the sociology of the feck-up.

          • Keith in England,
            Thank you for broadening my knowledge, and for the additional references! I knew there was more to the story, but never looked into it too deeply. Also, although I don’t regard 7×43 itself as a “keeper” for the aforementioned reasons, I would like to make clear that I am not a supporter of the Ordnance “feck-ups” at all.

          • “Download with Google” didn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. Thanks again!

          • “(…)7×43, but to me it’s just not an intermediate cartridge(…)”
            Do as you wish, but be informed that you are going against generally accepted thing, e.g.:
            the British .280/30 cartridge (a true intermediate round)
            uses Intermediate in title
            Britain and Belgium had been developing an intermediate round which, while still long-ranging, was smaller and less powerful than the old full-power cartridges. This was the .280 (7×43) which fired a 140-grain bullet at 2,415 fps.
            and so on.

            “(…)1890s bolt-action cartridges(…)”
            I must note that introduction of smokeless powder mean order of magnitude more energy available. Metallurgy need to be enhanced to cope with that. Until that cartridge designer could not stuff as much powder as they wish, unless they were happy with catastrophic failure. Therefore I would say that ballistic performance of mentioned cartridges is foremost effect of I am limited by technology of my time

          • Daweo,
            Keith in England has thoughtfully explained how 7×43 evolved from intermediate cartridges. I never denied (began by stating) that it is popular to call it intermediate; just stated my disagreement.

            The other cartridges that I mentioned as paralleling its performance were developed in the smokeless era, for smokeless; produced at the same time, for rifles of the same metallurgy (often at the same factory!) as powerhouses like 8×57; used in similar loadings, often right through WWII; and again, never regarded as belonging to a separate cartridge category.

        • Daweo, the original version of what later became the FN FAL was designed to fire the German 7.9×33 assault rifle cartridge. It is (or was) on display at the FN museum in Herstal, where I saw it.
          An image can be found on page 23 of the book “The Metric FAL” by Stevens and Van Rutten (Toronto: Collector Grade Publications, 1981)

  2. you know what. the 3 is the only beltfed I’ve ever shot and I’d want half the rate. still fast for the caliber as it is.

    a 1kg bolt. it is an outstanding gun but it ain’t exactly “handy”.

    According to https://www.americanrifleman.org/content/vortex-selected-to-produce-army-ngsw-fire-control-optic/ U.S.Army contracted delivery of up to a quarter million XM157 which to my understanding is apparatus for laying gunfire which combines scope with rangefinder with some form of ballistic computer (also consuming inputs from weather sensors).
    Now I wonder if they will be equally distributed between rifle (NGSW-R) and support weapon (NGSW-AR) xor some will get priority? If second which one and why? Could it be also applied for other pattern of weapons?

    • The linked article says the maximum value of the contract is $2.7 billion. Thus over $10,000 per unit?

      At that point, you might as well go whole-hog on the gun itself because it costs a fraction as much as its optics.

    • How about: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/CETME_Ameli But in .458 Soccom, but with explosive rounds… Death by “Spall” 1200rpm, hits armour alot; frag. As oppose penetrating it. Could hit walls, stones and stuff; small “bomb” but lots of them, so increased frag/spall. So like bbbb’ang… Pop! pppop! ppop! Miss, miss, miss, hit, hit, miss, miss… Via a rock. Probably work at 500m. Accumlated spall, head height…

      • Just saying if we “have decided to kill everyone again in world war” (Spall) in an age of body armour, might be a weapon per se. Use it as a detonator, in essence.

          • Plate hit, vertical spall… In the neck, doubt it would take that much; in regards the short range etc. Simpler than air burst munitions.

          • Point being; fatter round, more “spall” room for… Titchy, tiny (bomb) to assist. Well there are a lot more of potential enemies, than there are of “us” if we are just saying go traditional shoot each other. With both sides in armour. Surely the side with less (Bodies) could do with some advantage.

            Actually I retract that; have you heard of Wordle, probably wiser to have international Wordle competitions to solve arguments. And leave cannons, in the past. Confucious say; do not be silly, he he. Meh.

          • Those new “Tactical” helmets, with no sides… Whizzz! Bit of curled up brass, straight through the ear; at 2 foot, and out the otherside.

        • “(…)body armour(…)”
          Generally such thing consist of plates (external layer) and elastic material (internal layer) for spreading out energy over surface. Would not latter act as anti-spall liner when said body armour will be subjected to fire of explosive small-arms fire?

      • “458 Soccom, but with explosive rounds…”
        I do not know what Soccom (with 2 c is), but please explain how would your proposal interact with Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight

        • WW3 meh… Shit happens; clown P.M with 5 muppets after his job, who he placed there, Senile President… A Russian, great for Russia at the time; 20 yrs ago, shit happens.


          Spall… Worth looking into; ppsh in the balls theory. More relevant if folk are going to fire; is my point.

          • Ppsh in the balls would work. But reduced range. It is just tiresome; Asking folk to die, with… Well they will just die.

            No advantage, lame.

          • Too many. Commie Chinese, Barmpot Russians… No offence. But it is not Afghan, we are stuck thinking it is.

            They’ll be shit loads of these c… Folk.

            Loads. (Pop them proper prior to them exploding round us) or don’t fight.

          • I would have no fly zoned it, few pilots dead; weapon tests everyone goes home. Bar said pilots. A shame

            Fucked that place now; the “mouth for war” all round. Pointless.


          • “(…)Spall… Worth looking into;(…)”
            HESH round were developed for artillery systems to induce such effect whilst firing at armoured vehicles or bunkers. For example of HESH thrower see
            I am not sure if this could be well scaled down from 183 mm size to say 11 mm or so.

  4. Does a higher rate of fire actually lead to greater pressure on the guys who are carrying the Ammunition –

    – when you have Germans pulling the trigger?

    I’m probably straying too far onto Kirk’s territory here

    Surely a suitably trained machine gunner will be able to do the same work with the the same number of rounds

    Except he’ll be doing it with shorter periods of firing when he’s got the faster firing gun.

    • I thought the whole point of German doctrine was to set up ambushes where the initial burst does most of the killing, after which few seconds targets will scramble away to cover. That’s what the “Spandau Ballet” was about.

      • Yeah, plus, as Kirk kindly mentioned in previous discussions of machine guns, the Germans gave the MG 42 a PROPER FIELD KIT which included an adaptable tripod, optical sights (periscopes can prevent machine gunners from getting sniped, you know), tools for obvious maintenance, and a range finder for a soldier whose task it was to spot intended victims. German machine gun doctrine was saturation, not suppression. The whole point was making sure the other team was entirely dead, or if there were survivors, that the individuals in question were either fleeing in nothing more than their undergarments or surrendering. American machine gun doctrine seems to have devolved into “spray in that direction without looking while riflemen charge the enemy with bayonets fixed.” I could be wrong.

        • You have pretty much summed up Kirk’s ideas. I would add, that US Infantry relies on pinning down the enemy with suppression and then call in artillery or air support. Avery lazy way of doing things. Undrestandable as it reduces the risks for your own soldiers. But as Kirk likes to point out, not every unit (like his engineers) normally do not have access to all the supporting fires they would like. Additionally there are situations with limiting rules of engagement for example or simply supporting fire not being avaiable, that throws infantry back to what they have on hand, that is, their small mortars and grenade launchers and machine guns. and they are not really effective with these. Hence you have calls for “overmatch”. Solving a training problem with new expensive hardware. Just imagine this new XM175, that Daweo has linked to put on a proper tripod mounted machine gun. Making any machine gun much more effective easily. Instead these optics will be put on a new heavy expensive super rifle. Making a supreme rifleman, but no battle has been won by riflemen for more than a century. A machine gun puts down just so much more firepower than a single rifleman.

          • The “call for arty” argument is a logical one when you’re fighting an “unlimited” war in which it’s considered acceptable to basically kill everybody beyond your FLOT.

            We haven’t really fought a war like that since V-J Day.

            In a situation in which you are fighting in “relatively friendly” population areas (i.e., you’re fighting an insurgency in which the populace’s support goes to the insurgents as long as the insurgents are free to terrorize them), you need to be able to kill small groups of enemies without killing everybody else the township.

            That situation pretty much sums up every war we’ve fought since 1945. And in that kind of war, the WW2 Wehrmacht machine gun doctrine is more practical than just about any other idea.

            Guerrillas cannot “hit and fade” if their bands of “liberators” are wiped out in one and a half seconds of MG fire.



          • @ eon
            To me, in much of the engagements, or the soldiers simply couldn’t directly see the guerrillas, or those were mixed with the population. Groups of guerrillas staying in the open to be wiped out in one and a half seconds of MG fire seems like a pretty rare occurrence.

          • @Dogwalker,

            The point with this issue is that what few times you do manage to positively identify an enemy target, there really isn’t a point to tiptoeing around and just shooting at the one guy; he’s probably not alone, and there are others around him that you haven’t spotted. This being the case, the high ROF MG is a more effective weapon in terms of killing the enemy, because they’re all going to be still be standing around when the burst comes in on that position surrounding the guy you spotted. Kill him, kill his buddies; the war ends more quickly.

            The real problem with US and most other NATO countries MG doctrine is this: They see the guns as “support” rather than a primary weapons system designed to kill, kill, kill the enemy with. A slow rate of fire stretches out the amount of time you can “suppress” the enemy with your guns, which is doctrinally the reason we go for those slow rates. The guns are not seen as a primary weapon; they’re there to “help” the infantry to maneuver.

            On the other hand, WWII German doctrine sees the MG as a primary weapon, a killing tool. As such, it is optimized to do that as effectively as possible; the high rate of fire is intentional, and necessary to the doctrine. Think of the MG as a very long-range shotgun, deployed to kill anyone in the immediate area of a spotted target, and to do so before anyone in that area can react and get below the line of fire. If you want to actually use the MG to kill the enemy, a high rate of fire gun like the MG42 is far more effective than the sort of gun you use as a poseur trying to merely frighten them.

            I am not a fan of US MG doctrine, or of most of our infantry tactics/techniques. They’re wasteful of manpower and get more men killed than you would with a firepower-centric solution like the Germans used during WWII. Ideally, I would have every squad carrying at least two MG42-class weapons and a light 60mm mortar–And, I’d do exactly like Fredericks did with the First Special Service Force during WWII, building a support load-carriage element into every unit. Never send a man to do a bullet’s job, is how I see it. Typical US and other NATO force tactics and doctrinal approaches are all based on the idea of maneuvering men rather than firepower-producing elements, which is just plain stupid. In my opinion, of course. I have had success playing OPFOR against our own guys using German TTP firepower tactics, and I always managed to inflict more damage than I took. Get the guns into the gaps, ignore the surfaces, and take them by fire from the flanks or rear. That will dislocate their defenses, confuse the shit out of them, and enable you to psychologically dominate the action. When you’re sitting in a defensive position that you’ve built, thinking you’ll be approached on your front, only to suddenly have someone raining down MG fire from behind you…? You tend to panic, withdraw in confusion, and die in job lots. Meanwhile, the guy who did that to you is casually picking up his guns, occupying the terrain you fortified, and snickering to himself at your ineptitude. The essence of a firepower-dominant doctrine is that you use that firepower to win your fights; you don’t piss away the lives of your men in frontal assaults “supported” ineffectively by your ineptly handled MG systems.

            Of course, you can win with those sorts of tactics when you’ve got copious amounts of airpower, artillery, and everything else backing you up. You just blast the ever-loving hell out of the objective and occupy the rubble with your infantry. However, should you find yourself without that firepower, you’re gonna die when you try to use just the tools your infantry can carry. Mostly, because that doesn’t actually work all that well.

          • @ Kirk
            I’m the one that came out with the “long range shotgun” analogy, do you remember? 😉
            It has to be said that the Germans developed that tactic due to the limitations posed by the treaty of Versailles. The rest of the infantrymen were armed with bolt action rifles (that any serious study on the matter deemed to be practically useless since WWI). Germany was limited both in number of light and heavy MGs allowed (so to make one capable to cover both the roles was a way to “double” the allowed number), while mortars and howitzers, were practically banned. So the only thing remaining capable to kill the enemy WAS the MG. When that doctrine had been created, the Germans stressed less the importance of indirect fire because they couldn’t deliver it anyway.
            On the field, had that tactic been so much more successful than, say, the British one, that was centred on a slower-firing but more mobile LMG? Hard to say. It depends on the situation.

          • @dogwalker

            It’s a question of using the enemy’s psychology against him. Mao’s classic doctrine of guerrilla warfare was that “the guerrilla lives among the populace like a shark in the ocean”. But the guerrillas we’ve fought in the last eight decades neither like or trust the “populace”. They want to rule them, not “live among” them.

            From Greece (1945-47), to Malaya (1948-60) to Afghanistan (bloody forever), guerrillas have operated in bands from remote, hidden strongholds. Their only contact with the “populace” has normally been to exact tribute, or enforce “discipline”, meaning to kill people they suspected of supporting the government or etc. they seek to destroy. In Vietnam, the “populace” were not living in the tunnel networks of Cu Chi province.

            On the battlefield specifically, the basic guerrilla “tactical doctrine” is that of bandit raiders going back to classical times. They habitually “bunch” for mutual emotional support, much as trained infantry often fails to disperse in spite of training. Generally, each “band” has a leader, and the rest rally to him.

            (If they know what’s good for them- see the Mau Mau, Taliban, etc. for examples of how “leaders” don’t even necessarily trust their own “loyalists”. Dedan Kimathi, call your service.)

            When the enemy is “bunched”, individual weapon (i.e., rifle) fire is the least efficient method of killing them. Mortars or high RoF MGs are the most effective, short of an immediate arty response, which (as previously stated) suffers drawbacks.

            Tac Sit;

            The threat force of a dozen or so “tangos” are in a copse getting ready to attack a “loyal” village 200 meters from their position. Your infantry unit is 500 meters from them. Your choice is use your section’s rifles, use your MG42, or call in a fire mission from the troop of Paladins 20 KM behind you.

            Query; which is least likely to cause serious collateral damage to the village while still succeeding in killing most if not all of the threat force?

            The answer is pretty obvious. The MG42 firing 1,200 R/M into their hide. Let the riflemen finish off the wounded and pursue “leakers”.

            A nearly perfect example? Columbus, NM, 19 Mar 1916. MGs (that only had moderately-high RoF but there were six of them) plus IW fire (mostly from civilians) efficiently destroyed a raid by a high-mobility (mounted) raiding force with numerical superiority. Artillery (if it had been available) would have been impractical. IW fire alone would have probably had only about 20% to 30% attrition effect.

            25,000 rounds of .30-06 from M1909 Benét–Mercié (Hotchkiss Portative) LMGs plus individual target-of-opportunity rifle fire destroyed almost 60% of the threat force.

            The “send bullets, not men” doctrine works.



          • @ eon
            Somalia is an example of guerrilla that was mixed with the population. If you wanted to shoot at guerrillas, high or low ROF, you had to shoot at unarmed women and children as well.
            Afghanistan is an example of guerrilla that was not directly visible. They usually engaged the Coalition forces from behind some ridge, and the coalition soldiers pinned them there, or were pinned by them, until the arrival of helis.
            An higher ROF GPMG would have significantly changed the outcome of those two kind of engagements? Not really to me. The Minimi didn’t change it.

          • @dogcatcher

            I see your point (well taken, too), but Somalia was in a lot of ways atypical. It was fundamentally the latest chapter in a multi-generation set of clan blood feuds in which it could be argued that there were no noncombatants, just a lot of “reserves”. Everybody was on the side of their clan leader(s), and nobody was interested in anything except killing everybody their clan identified as “not us”.

            It became a “famine” when the most powerful clan leaders realized that starvation was a highly-cost effective WMD. Cheaper than ammunition, does not damage the infrastructure, and as a bonus, foreign food aid can be “appropriated” to feed your own troops. The real “poor man’s A-bomb”, or more precisely “enhanced-radiation weapon”, just minus the pesky radiation.

            It was probably a huge mistake to commit forces there to begin with. As P.J. O’Rourke (who was there) put it, “How do you fight a war against famine, shoot lunch?”

            He also pointed out that every “famine” worldwide in the 20th century had been political in nature. A government or etc. using starvation to dispose of people it didn’t like. Somalia was just one more example.

            One Marine officer, veteran of Vietnam, said that the most sensible solution to Somalia would have been to arm everybody, seal the borders for twenty years, and wait for the feuds to sort themselves out the old-fashioned way.



  5. The success of the MG 42 in WW2 was based on its high rate of fire. Its predecessor MG 34 originally (the first 2100 weapons) had a rate of fire selector (low for ground, high for AA fire). It was decided to drop that device and stay with the high rate. The MG 42 went further in this direction.
    As documents in the Bundesarchiv show, the army requirement for any possible successor to the MG 42 was to have at least the same rate of fire.

    The German experience from Hürtgenwald to the Eastern front is very much in favour of a fast firing machine gun.

    Without the stress in combat, you do not have gigantic stress-induced aiming errors. Also, targets on the shooting range are much longer visible compared to enemies taking cover as soon as the shooting starts, not waiting for being hit. On the peacetime shooting range, the slow firing machine gun therefore achieves better results. Consequently, most armies have a slow firing machine gun, because it looks better on the training range. In combat conditions, the somewhat tighter dispersion of the slow firing machine gun is drowned in the stress-induced aiming error. You end up with identical dispersion for slow and fast firing machine guns. But the latter can shoot twice the number of rounds in the same time.

    The final proof of total lack of basic knowledge in machine gun employment is the claim that slow firing machine guns help to save ammunition (as Heckler & Koch claimed with regard to the MG 5). If you are going to war to save ammunition, you are doomed. The purpose gun is to kill as many enemies as possible. The enemies is vsible only for xtremely short intervals, on the order of one or wo bursts. The machine gun that fires double the number of rounds within the time limit is more deadly.

    At this point of the discussion, it is often argued that Germany lost WW2 and as a consequence its machine gun doctrine must have been wrong. Is that so? If an Allied commander met infantry resistance, he called in tank, artillery and air support. One on one encounters of Allied and German infantry were rare. When they happened, as in Hürtgenwald, the usual “the German machine guns never hit anything due to the large dispersion” or “they always ran out of ammunition due to the high rate of fire” will not be found in the comments of those who were on the receiving end.

    This is why the Bundeswehr chose to stay with the fast firing machine gun doctrine and adopted MG1 and MG3.


    • While I agree mostly with what you wrote, JPeelen, H&K just has to sell what they have and the MG5 directly comes from the requirements the Bundeswehr and the procurement office have written. Not only the requirements show a lack of understanding of MG tactics, but that it was written for the twenty years of infantry patrol type missions done in Afghanistan and elswewhere. Case in point the low required rate of fire, which makes some sense for shooting from a bipod (see the heavy bolt used by Austria in their MG 74 optionally) and overlooking that the MG5 will also have to replace the MG3 nearing its end of service life in all its other roles, but the receiver is just too high to fit the existant vehicle coaxial mountings in Leopard 2 or Marder vehicles. Beut that had not been written into the requirements and so the MG5 does not fit into vehicles. It fits just fine on roof mounts or the old MG3 tripods. H&K delivered just what the customer asked for.

      A Nitpick towards the end, there was also the MG2 rebuilt from WW2 MG42 for 7,62*51 mm. Later MG1 of all types and MG2 have been rebuilt again to MG3 (or MG3 A1 as vehicle mounted gun) specifications.

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