Shooting the MG-34 and MG-42

The MG-34 and MG-42 machine guns were the mainstay of German  infantry (and vehicle) firepower during World War II, and it will take several videos to properly cover them. For now, we are shooting them both, and explaining how to load, unload, and operate them (including changing barrels on the MG42). Enjoy!


  1. It’s very cool, you guys have these things legally in the states. My understanding is you can’t import, or have new ones though, the only automatic weapons allowed are those which were around prior to 1986 which is awhile ago now. Ian says that particularly Mg42 has a modified bolt, presumably said modification was legal so I wonder about parts rollers etc. Can new ones be used for repairs or is it just old stocks of spares, which will dwindle although because of 20th c wars doubtless there’s lots which survive. In essence I am saying in 2114 will these pre 86 ban weapons still be functional, out of interest from a U.K prospective?

  2. These things never had a real competition; one really has to wonder if there is point in sweating out anything new. HK has sold some new designs lately; I wonder what is actual technical progress in it. FN MAG is absurdly expensive (and cumbersome) to make. PKM is simple but suffers with outdated cartridge.

    From my wider observation though (and this applies for majority of MGs) is the ‘non-sensical’ feed arrangement. I will try to explain it: the source of belt advance being action is one level below feed tray. To get the motion up and over the top of the belt requires complex linkage. This also make top cover ‘fiddly’ and does not provide stable base for optical sight.

    If I was to produce a fresh solution, I’d attempt to drive belt from underneath, directly from action, with top pressure to belt only. That would be and might be the next step to do. Actually, I believe that is the way the new 7.62 Negev is arranged. Other than that I consider any MG kind of dummy device. It shots a lot and hits seldom.

    • That Israeli Negev 7.62mm sounded quite good, from what I read, somewhere, once.

      Oh you mentioned that…

      Hmmm, got anymore info on the Negev Denny?

      Aye but it keeps folks heads down, the Mg. Allowing you to move, and try to get them with a grenade etc.

        • I almost hate to disappoint you, but that “feed pawl” is just a retention lever to keep the belt from sliding out the left side of the feed mechanism as the pawls of the actual feed mechanism slide over the cartridges in the feed tray.

          • “The square section is due to the use of the side feed lever mechanism, instead of using a mechanism located on the top of the bolt carrier, a thing that would force the designer to increase the overall height of the action.”

            On the picture in the link William it says said pawl, is a feed pawl I think.

      • The Fn Mag has a decent reputation but I always thought why is it so bulky, and it wasn’t particularly light for a light machine gun I didn’t think.

    • Maybe the technical “advances” are kinda limited by the ammo I think, given we still use brass… And monopolies etc, like usual.

    • I once drew a Mg, never finished it… It looked like a Lewis gun, but in a bullpup format. And the drum mag had .303 rounds sitting with the bullets pointing down in five or so round columns, er… It’s chamber was like the Hk G11 i.e. rotary, trying to remember “I have a picture, but I haven’t got a computer currently” anyway, the rotary chamber was in a barrel extension Mg42 fashion. The chamber had a bar through it horizontally, a toggle if you will. And the bolt, was a sort of slide “like off a pistol” the bolt had a hook which sat over the toggle. Upon firing the barrel and slide would recoil together via the hook/toggle, however the barrel would then return at a certain point via a lug in the frame unhooking the hook when it passed… The empty case would be stuck to the slide, and the motion of the barrel returning rotated the chamber a new round dropped in, the the slide returned in so doing turning the chamber hook “hooked” fixed firing pin, bang! Ejection was via a fixed rod passing through the slide, which was attached to the frames back plate.

      Point was keep the Lewis guns cooling lark, going.

      • Experimenting with ideas thru your own creativity is good thing, although it may not bring the result. Mr. Saint-George, originally Britton have gone that way and have not (as far as I know works on .50cal rifle) stopped yet. That’s the way we individually are. There in no need to worry that might draw chuckle; at least you have the courage.

        As far as Pecheneg derivative of PKM, it is probably as far as you can get. The notion of changing barrel is troublesome, especially if you need to keep on moving; it is easy to loose the second barrel in addition to extra carried weight. They claim that they found a way how to do without it.

        • Check out Rayle’s biography (Ian reviewed it a few months back), one of the appendices covers MG barrel design.

          By careful design, much of the heat can be kept clear of the chamber, and a stellite liner in the first few inches can resist high temperature wear much better than steels can. There was a thread over at “practical machinist” forum a few months back where the grade of stellite (stellite the copyrighted trade name for a whole rat bag full of proprietry chromium alloy compositions at least as diverse as “stainless steel” is for steels, and with as many or more combinations of physical properties) and of vanadium steels used for barrels were worked out.

          Also, the thermal expansion of a hot barrel induces stresses which act in a good way, compensating for the softening of the steel with heat – so a light weight barrel can be achieved which has good life –

          next problem to solve is the heat mirage from that sizzlingly hot barrel buggering up your sight picture, and giving an infra red signature that stands out like a sore thumb.

          • I have gone thru this issue at one time with people in industry and more instinct than anything suggests that the desirable solution is that barrel serves as a “heat battery” but in inverse sense, meaning absorbing and leading heat away with more modest peaks than say the typical rifle barrel mould do. This thinking had been reflected in particular on Russian light machine guns; they do not have interchangeable barrels.

            As for stellite liners they seem to have use in larger calibres, such as .50cal and upwards. I do not recollect seeing them on .30cal/ 8mm barrels, although application of liquid nitride seems to contribute to longevity and is perhaps a viable alternative to hard chrome.

            Roles of machine guns are changing as they are not expected, unless mounted to vehicles, to be continuously fired. In on-foot (on so called ‘patrols’ as the term is now) application the amount of fire is lesser and it must be for practical reason of ammo conservation.

          • Denny;

            Yes, non-grunts forget that somebody has to hump all that ammunition in to feed the SAW. There’s a reason wartime photos show Wehrmacht infantry with belts of 7.9 slung over their shoulders. The MG-34 or -42 gunner toted the gun; everybody else hauled the ammo for it, in addition to their own kit.

            And don’t forget controllability. Any full-auto weapon, especially one using a full-power round, can “walk away” from you unless bursts are kept very short.

            At 1,200 RPM, the original MG-42 was famous for acting like a bucking bronc or a rocket engine in even two-second bursts (40 rounds). This tended to “spread” the burst at the receiving end; according to one of my uncles who served in the ETO (U.S. Third Army), one of the more polite GI nicknames for the MG-42 was “Adolf’s Scattergun”, i.e., a sawed-off shotgun. Not too accurate, but you didn’t want to be standing in front of it.

            On the “sending” end, the German infantry liked the way the -42 tore up anything in front of it, but were less than fond of the beast’s tendency to fight the gunner.

            When the 7.62×51 NATO version, the MG1-MG3 (aka MG-42/59)series was introduced, the Bundeswehr sensibly issued each gun with two sets of bolts and recoil buffers. The lightweight bolt and buffer, called the V550 set, was basically the original MG-42 unit, and generated 1,100 to 1,300 rounds per minute(R/M) ROF. It was generally reserved for anti-aircraft mounts such as the turret-mounted flexible gun on the loader’s hatch of the Leopard MBTs. (The Bundeswehr put it there instead of on the tank commander’s hatch because they believe the vehicle CO has more important things to keep him busy than operate rifle-caliber MGs.)

            The new, heavyweight bolt and buffer, called the V950 set, reduces the ROF to about 950 R/M. This was used for the infantry SAW, both to increase controllability when fired on the bipod and to reduce the amount of ammo needed in the squad loadout.

            BTW, I consider the entire MG-42 family probably the best SAWs ever made anywhere. A bit less bulky than the M240, more range and punch than the RPD, and definitely a lot more reliable than the M-60. And if you like the 5.56x45mm round for a SAW (not everybody does), the Spanish CETME Ameli is a really nice “scaled-down” MG-42/59 chambered for that round.



          • I had the dubious honour of being the radio operator in a Milan platoon of a Scottish infantry regiment, and it’s a good job I was young. Because one’s bergan, consists of not alot for you, instead a big stupid rocket hanging off it, a big stupid radio, said batteries for stupid big radio, sticky out stupid big antenna for said stupid big radio, ammo for stupid big gpmg, stupid air bottles for stupid big sight for Milan and batteries.

            Waddling along with 120lbs is a joke in the rain, crap job on the plus side Germany was full of prostitutes and beer.

          • Cool sight though, it’s thermal or something everything is red sees well far through trees the lot but in a strange way, stick men creases apparently on chaps uniforms, webbing edges any apex if you which concentrates heat unless ours was broke but that’s what they said, it worked anyway.

          • That is worthy remark, eon. Yes I am aware of optional “slow fire bolt” for MG3. And in accord what you say, it truly easily outdoes anything in the field. I recall hearing in past how much “emotional” part played a role in selecting armaments. If Americans managed to shed that view (which they did in case of pistol) and adopted MG3, they might have been well ahead and for long time. MAG/M240 as much as celebrated, is outdated, old-fashioned rig with last breath on its tongue.

            Oh, and not to forget – the Polish iteration of PKM in 7.62 Nato is very worthy contender too. This is what U.S. should go for.

        • There’s a swinging chamber design, for telescopic rounds apparently by that Ares company who do that belt fed Ar conversion lark I think. I thought of something similar I named it the horseshoe bolt, the bolt moved along a track shaped like a horseshoe with two swivelling recoil rod/spring assemblies mounted above the barrel. The advantage of a separate chamber is to do with heat exchanging or something, in regards a hot barrel apparently. It had a fixed firing block, and the bolt was shaped to fit into it “so it could rise out of it again” curved in some manner. The barrel moved, must have been a rod over the chamber through the frame, so it couldn’t rise in this position. Then the barrel pushed the chamber clear of the rod, the firing block must have moved so presumably it was attached to the barrel I forget. Clearly it loaded from above, think it ejected at the highest point of the chambers travel going back, and loaded underneath this point going forward never finished it no picture obviously needs further work.

          Anyway I digress, if you blocked the mg42’s sides up apart from leaving the rearmost cut outs then put an extension over the muzzle which connected to the new blocked barrel surround forming a sleeve now like a Lewis gun. That would work as a Lewis gun barrel jacket in principle, the muzzle blast being contained in the front of the sleeve would draw in air from the back as it exited from the front in essence is that right?

    • Danny, sorry but I have to disagree – for LMG role PKM beats MG42, (and MAG) period. Anyone that used both MG42 and PKM (and here in Serbia a lot of people did) can attest to it.
      Some Fins on Tank-net that used MG-3 and PKM have very few good things to say about MG-3 compared with PKM.
      And if you don’t want obsolete cartridge, Poles make PKM in 7.62x51mm.

      • That’s what I have heard as well, from other Finns. I also don’t know why people insist that 7.62x54mmR is “obsolete”. Sure, it’s an old fashioned rimmed cartridge, but its ballistic performance is more or less equal to the 7.62x51mm, and weapons chambered for it do not seem to suffer from using a rimmed cartridge, even if that requires certain workarounds in design. The Russians have been making good firearms around that cartridge for so long that any inherent inferiorities of the rimmed design are by now practically trivial.

  3. Ian, exept my …grande gelosia…
    i have a question to do. I have fired the old MG42 in a polygon in Florence
    and sounds litle diferent.Did you have done something with the operational spring?

  4. the fact that the mg3 is stil in service in modern armies (basically a mg42 for 7,62 nato), says a lot about the effectiveness of the design.

  5. Ian,

    Silly question arising from the little mountain howitzer you showed a week or two back:

    The 1934 date coincides pretty closely with the Hitler regime begining to arm up in open contravention of the Versailles Treaty.

    I know that the MG 34 was the culmination of a long line of guns, however one year does seem to be a very short time to get such a well developed gun, developed and adopted.

    Where and for how long do you think the clandestine development of what became the MG34, was taking place?

    • According to John Walter in The Guns of the Third Reich (the regular-format book, not the big illustrated “Guns of the Reich” he wrote under the pseudonym George Marklin), the MG-34 had its beginnings with the Solothurn Model 29, a box-magazine fed LMG developed in Switzerland (by a company secretly owned by Rheinmetall) and designed by Louis Stange, a German designer who originally worked for the Theodor Bergmann company at Suhl under Hugo Schmeisser.

      The Model 29 used a rotating-cylinder locking system, short-recoil type, but in overall layout was very similar to the MG-34.

      When Hitler began German rearmament in 1933-34, Msusrwerke hired Stange to design a new general purpose machine gun (GPMG) for the Wehrmacht. He took the basic Model 29 design, replaced the rotating cylinder lock with a more orthodox rotating bolt locking system (based on the various experimental Mauser selfloading rifles dating back to the 1890s, actually), and since the locking cylinder was no longer there “in the way”, he could also redesign it with a quick-change barrel as you saw in Ian’s video.

      Production of the MG-34 didn’t actually begin until early 1936. Till then, the main LMG of the Wehrmacht was the MG-13, a redesign of the water-cooled Dreyse Model 1918 to a lighter air-cooled layout. It was the gun the Wehrmacht trained with while waiting for the MG-34.

      Some sources state that the MG-34 was first “combat tested” with the Condor Legion in Spain. This is possible since the time frame (1936-39) is about right, and the Legion did include ground forces (one [short] armored division under Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma). But since the MG-34 was technically still a “secret” weapon at the time, they more likely had mostly MG-13s in the LMG and tank-mounted flexible/coax roles.

      The idea that the MG-34 appeared “all of a sudden” in 1934 would seem to indicate either very rapid R&D or a top-secret project predating the Nazis’ rise to power. In fact, you could say that, starting with the Solothurn Model 29 in Switzerland a decade earlier, and then the Mauser project operating in “we want it next week” mode, in reality it was a bit of both.



  6. I really like that barrel change on the MG42, really ingenious. The M240 requires you to raise yourself slightly above the gun to change the barrel easily, that or have the loader/assistant do it.

    • Also, the barrel trunnion is mirrored on each side so you don’t have to worry about putting it in a specific way. Very clever.

    • The M240 (FN MAG) inherited its barrel-change from the FN Browning Model D version of the BAR, itself a variant of the prewar FN Model 30 BAR version. Interestingly, the M30 was made in 7×57, 7.65×53,and 7.9×57, while the Model D was made only in 7.9×57 and 7.62×63, aka .30-06.

      The MAG was originally designed around the 7.9×57. It would be interesting to see one in .30-06.



  7. I’ve always thought a bullpup, layout belt fed machine gun is a missing bit of kit.

    looking at the Negev’s bolt carrier/piston rod assembly, you could put guide rod/springs running above them via a lug, perhaps one at the bottom on the right and one at the top on left for example.

    • The Maremont Corporation developed an experimental Prototype Universal Machine Gun in 7.62×51 NATO that was a “bullpup” design. There’s a photo of it on p. 61 of the 11th edition of Small Arms of the World. Its mechanism seems to closely resemble that of the BAR.

      Also, the U.S. Army’s Rodman Ordnance Laboratory (Rock Island Arsenal)developed the XM235 during the SAW competition in the 1970s. It was also a “bullpup” design, firing a special 6 x 45 mm round that wasn’t well thought of by Ordnance;

      Neither one “sold” to the Army, I think largely because while everybody else thinks we Yanks are strange on the subject, we just aren’t comfortable cuddling 40,000 PSI+ up to our cheekbones, especially on a full-auto weapon that ejects the empties right under your ear.



      • I believe seeing them too before, but just like you, feel rather reserved about the idea. Actually after SA80 (if we leave out the Singapore Dynamics SAR, Norinco’s QBZ-97 and IMI’s Tavor efforts) there was not out one new bull-pup rifle or MG. From which mentioned only SA80 is in LMG variant. Probably for good reason.

        As for Chinese, they seem to favour more their ‘newer’ QBZ-03. One has to ask what will England and France replace their bull-pups with. Nobody in Central or Eastern Europe is interested in bull-pups for general issue.

        • You forget the FN F2000, which has been adopted by the Slovenia Army, Saudi Arabian National Guard and various special forces around the world. I don’t think that bullpups are going away any time soon, but many armies continue to prefer more conventional rifles. Still, Steyr AUG has been quite successful commercially and is being further developed continually. In fact the Thales F90, which is a development of the AUG, is one of the strongest contenders for the replacement of the FAMAS in French service.

          • Oh, here we go…. that’s real news: super-national companies cater to all, be it enemy or friend.

            Yes, I forgot AUG. That particular design, although it has its own merits never impressed me a lot. Maybe, because its long pull distance and bulk across waist. I have seen report on what Thales did with it and still, somehow does not come home. Those ‘design teams’….OMG.

            As for my taste, the ideal ‘assault’ rifle (do not like the term actually – I am missing word ‘defence’ in it) was not designed yet, although last version of SIG550 looks lot better.

      • Hmmm, the LSW… If you fitted a Johnson Lmg type gas assist barrel, for example and associated belt feed might not be a bad platform.

        • The Mg45 has a larger cocking handle grip than the 42 suggesting it’s harder to cock, I’ve read since the Stgw 57 bolt was the basis for the sig 710. The 710’s cocking handle wasn’t overly large, neither was the 57’s which my imply it is the bolts mass i.e. it was greater than that of the 45 or there had been advances in spring technology since the war perhaps.

          Not sure, personally I think 1,200rpm + is fine.

          I was thinking of a Steyr GB ported type barrel which would fit inside the inner of the sig 710’s mini Mg42 style frame at the front inside a port with it acting as a plug.

  8. Two points;
    1. The M-60 comes with a chrome and stellite BBL that can easily shoot all the ammo a squad can carry WO changing the BBL.
    2. After shooting most of the various LMG contenders, I dispute the idea that the Mg-42/MG-3 was a great LMG! I believe that effectieness is the only real measure of a weapon’s worth and the MG-3, even with it’s low rate bolt and buffer, has a rate of fire that is twice too high to hit anything with effectively! The various Ruski light weight guns are much better weapons on so many points, but no other gun holds a candle to a new, or well maintained M-60.

    • You had me nodding along until you got to that bit about the “no other gun holds a candle to a new, or well maintained M-60.”

      I’ve handled brand-new guns, taking them out of the wrapping they were put into by SACO-Maremont. I’ve maintained those guns for years, during my military career. The M-60 is a poorly-designed, unreliable piece of shit, and I’d have gladly put the people who foisted that thing off on American soldiers and Marines to death in the most painful and imaginative ways possible.

      For a short, shining moment, an M-60 is a barely acceptable weapon. Once it gets past that point, which is usually once it’s heated up enough to start the differential heating on the parts making up the receiver, it’s only a question of how long until it fails. I’ve heard first-hand reports from guys who fought with that gun in Vietnam who’ve described to me how it literally fell apart in their hands once the receiver loosened up enough for the rivets to literally fall out of the gun. I’ve had that happen to me, personally, while training with the damn thing. Stellite-lined barrel aside, that gun is an utter piece of junk. Everything about it sucks, from the way you can put it together backwards in multiple different ways and still think you have a functional weapon to the charming way the barrels don’t have a handle for changing, and why the gas system and bipod has to be carried twice due to some damn fool deciding to attach them to the barrel.

      No, the only candles to be held regarding the M-60 are by the thousands of long-suffering armorers and gunners who were saddled with that damn thing over the years. I could go on for pages about the deficiencies of this weapon, and I have in the past on this very website. I cannot agree even one little bit with what you’re saying.

    • The MG42, like its predecessor, were designed as what we now call a “General Purpose Machine Guns” (GPMG). The quick barrel change feature was necessary to get even close to the volume of fire required for defensive use on a tripod. Nothing can really replace water cooling in such role, but a QC barrel was the next best thing.

      As for the rate of fire: it is true that even with the heavy bolt it was somewhat excessive. Most modern GPMGs have a cyclic ROF between 650 and 900 rounds per minute, which has been widely concluded as optimum based on WW2 and later battle experience, so the MG3 (heavy bolt) was not much above that. The M60, on the other hand, had a rather low rate of fire, although certainly sufficient for most purposes.

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