The MG-15: A Flexible Aircraft Machine Gun Pushed into Infantry Service

The MG-15 was the first standard flexible-mounted aircraft machine gun adopted by the Luftwaffe in the 1930s. Both it and the MG-17 are evolved form a Rheinmetall/Solothurn design which would also become the Austrian and Hungarian M30 infantry light machine guns. As used by the Luftwaffe, the MG15 fired at 900-1000 rounds per minute from a 75-round double drum magazine (the MG-17 was the belt-fed version). It is a very sleek and plain looking tubular gun, using a short recoil action and a rotary locking collar to secure the bolt and barrel during firing.

As World War Two progressed, aircraft armor became heavier than the 8x57mm Mauser cartridge became insufficient for aerial combat. It would be replaced by 13mm, 15mm, 20mm, and even 30mm machine guns and machine cannons. This left a substantial numbers of MG15 guns obsolete but still in inventory, and at the end of the war some numbers were converted to infantry guns. This was done by adding a simple buttstock, a bipod and bipod mounting shroud, and infantry type sights. It was not an ideal ground gun, but with German arms production in serious trouble anything was welcome.


  1. First off, thanks to Ian for another fascinating episode.
    Ian is an above-average historian because he takes the extra time to explain historical context …. milieu of a particular weapon.

    As for the infantry MG-15: Holy over-complexity Bat Man!
    Amazing how Luftwafe firearms were still un-necessarily complex even during the desperate (later years of) World War 2.
    Compare that multi-piece butt stock with the single chunk of wood on Stg 44. That butt-plate may already have been in production because it resembles a German flare pistol modified (pare war) to fire grenades.

    • “MG-15”
      I starting wondering about proper orthography of that, MG-15 xor MG15 xor MG 15?
      After searching I found cut-away drawing here: (near end) described as MG.15, however these drawing itself contain designation as M. G. 15. so it looks that proper name is M. G. 15.
      2 values of mass are given for M. G. 15.:
      7,1 kg (empty)
      12,4 kg (loaded)
      assuming that first is for weapon less magazine, it would mean that loaded magazine (with 75 rounds) weighted 5,3 kg. Not big issue for aircraft gunners which could have several magazines in reach of hand, but clunky for usage in light machine gun role.

  2. Does anybody know if this, or perhaps more likely the MG-34 double drum, was the inspiration for the Beta C-Mag?

  3. The way of writing equipment short-names changed over time. It started with a lot of punctuation and spaces (M. G. 08). First the spaces were left out (M.G. 34), later also the punctuation. In 1944 field manuals, for example, you find the names written MG 81 and MP 44, which was continued by Bundeswehr (G 3). Today even the space between letter and figure is gone: G36

  4. bloody hell, using aluminum for a last ditch mg. it must be german! the butt stock reminds me of their at rifles. was it re-used when the at rifle, like the aircraft mg, fell out of use? has ian’s mg17 video a disassembly part to explain the locking collar?

    • Actually, the bipod and rifle butt-stock were part of the MG15 package from the beginning.

      The MG15 was originally the standard “flexible” (i.e., hand-swung) defensive MG carried on all Luftwaffe medium bombers, notably the Ju-88, Do-17 and He-111. Most carried at least two, sometimes three or four. (One each in nose bomb-aimer’s, forward cockpit, aft cockpit, and “gondola” positions, plus one in each side on a Heinkel.)

      Luftwaffe bomber crews were issued pistols as survival SERE weapons, generally 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP) blowback autos like the Walther PP. Each bomber usually had at least one survival longarm, most often a “drilling” (three-barrel, break-open rifle/shotgun combination, usually 12 gauge, 7.9 x 57, and either .22 LR or .22 Hornet, the latter more common in Europe before the war than you might think).

      Considering this OK for foraging but maybe less than optimum for actual shoot-outs, the Luftwaffe also issued two sets of MG15 butt-stock and bipod combos to each bomber. The drill was you unshipped two of your flexible guns, bolted the bits on, grabbed the ammo saddle drums, and you had two LMGs in event of an actual gunfight.

      This kit was in every Luftwaffe bomber in North Africa and the Med/Balkan theaters, and most on the Russian Front. The Germans did not trust the Arabs or other Africans, knew that being captured by the Greek or Yugoslav partisans was a certain death sentence, and no Luftwaffe officer in his right mind surrendered to the Red Army.

      They were rarely seen over England, as parachuting from the stricken bomber was more common than trying to crashland there, and no German was much worried about his treatment in a “Kriegie” camp in Canada or the U.S.

      MG15s with this setup were also used on tripods as light AA by Luftwaffe ground troops to protect their airfields from low-level attacks, as well as being used in support-fire mode against ground attacks by enemy troops (quite common in the non-British theaters, especially in the Balkans and the Ostfront).

      By 1945, when the Luftwaffe was little more than a shadow of its former self, and the Allies were kicking in the doors on all sides of the Fatherland, those MG15s with their rifle-butts and bipods were taken from Luftwaffe stores and issued to the Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, and other such pickup formations, often by local Gauleiters. As John Walter observed in Guns of the Third Reich</em, even without quick-change barrels, they provided a measure of LMG fire support to units that otherwise would have had none at all.



      • This blog is a bit old but where did you get your information eon?
        You are right that bomber crews carried a butt and bipod on board for fighting if the plane crash landed for defence. However the butt and bipod was nothing like the ones that can be seen in ground role use at the end of the war.
        I have a bipod that was taken out of a bomber that was at the bottom of a lake in Holland and a bipod that was found in France.
        Both items look quite crude in construction and I have only seen one of these butts in a reference book of a BW picture taken during the war presumably from a captured MG15.
        I have an aircraft archaeologist friend who did a dig on a HE111 in England who found several box’s containing French SMGs. I think the German Luftwaffe obviously thought that there was a threat even during the Battle of Britain for crews to have a fighting chance if grounded. Back to the butt and bipod, I do believe there is a photo I’ve seen of one of these butts in use in a HE111 nose. Kind regards, Mark

  5. I seem to remember that there was a variant of the MG-15 with a water-cooled barrel. Sometimes MG-13 magazines were stuck into the receiver. I could be wrong, but there’s a video on YouTube depicting such a gun being fired.

    • Yes, there was a water-cooled version – apparently it was designated “ST 61/56”
      AFAIK they were made for export to Romania.

  6. I’d think that hiding behind one of these, popping away at an attacking Mustang or Thunderbolt, would be the definition of “suck.”

    As a ground weapon, at least it’s more handy than the US M1919A6…….

    • The M1919A6 was strangely lauded by the Army Ordnance department as the “best machine gun ever made for infantry.” They also dismissed the MG-42 as a greedy “ammo wasting piece of trash you could easily demolish with only a shovel.” I disagree with both statements, as the former machine gun was an attempt to turn a medium machine gun into a light machine gun by mere improvisation and the latter opinion was put on a gun that was never meant to be used in close quarters scuffles anyway!

      • The reason was that M1919A6 was Army Ordnance’s own product, and MG42 was NIH- “Not Invented Here”.

        After screwing up the .30-06 MG42 clone in 1945 (they overlooked the 6mm difference in cartridge OAL between the 7.9 x 57 and 7.62 x 63) Ordnance created their own “in house” answer, the T52 in 1947. It was a hodgepodge of features such as the action of the German FG42, the searage of the MG42 (minus the springloaded sear trip) and the belt feed system of the MG42 (with a single feed pawl instead of the MG42’s double pawl).

        After several revisions (T52E1, T161, etc.) this became the M60 GPMG in 7.62 x 52mm, adopted as standard in February 1957. Today it is somewhat legendary as one of the worst MG designs ever adopted by a major power.

        Ironically, its replacement, the M240, is essentially the FN MAG 58, which FN developed about the same time as the M60, based on the action of the Browning Automatic Rifle. An idea U.S. Army Ordnance rejected in 1946 on the grounds that there was no practical way to develop a belt-fed MG based on that type of operating system.

        I’d go into how Ordnance took Eugene Stoner’s Armalite rifle design and altered it from the fundamentally well-thought-out and reliable original AR-15 “light rifle” into the nightmare known as the M-16, but that’s a story that would require an entire book. And I know at least two that have already been written about it.

        Ordnance controls weapon development and procurement for the United States Army. It would be nice if somebody there actually knew something about the subject.



      • “former machine gun was an attempt to turn a medium machine gun into a light machine gun”
        Wait, wasn’t M1919A6 spawned by M1919A4? This would mean it was light machine gun made from tank machine gun.

      • “disagree with both statements”
        I would say that “easily demolish with only a shovel” probably also apply to other machine guns, then “ammo wasting” was reasonable issue. According to
        (…)high rate of fire of the MG-42 results in a large consumption of ammunition. Use it with great discipline(…)
        (From MG-42 manual)
        Also notice that Rheinmetall MG 3 developed from MG 42 could fire with lower Rate-Of-Fire that it’s ancestor.

        • That’s because one of the first things they did in developing the MG3 in 7.62 NATO was design a new buffer assembly to reduce the RoF to about 800 R/M for ground use.

          They did, however, keep the original buffer in the gun’s kit as a spare, because 1,200 R/M was considered about right for light AA applications. Like the gun on the loader’s hatch of the Leopard MBT, for instance.



        • I kind of feel too that MG42 was not the best solution (although very well suited for mass manufacture) and dze Germans knew it but did not have a better choice. Later in MG3 form they figured that by adding weight to breech mechanism it war possible to reduce rate of fire, but still – that thing was/is a cookie monster.

          This should be a learning lesson to those who pursue certain type of mechanism for any cost.

  7. Thanks Ian for this video.
    I have one question about the areal version of this weapon used by the Luftwaffe
    On various websites (maybe copied from wikipedia page) they say :
    “Operation was easy and the bolt remained in the cocked position after expending the 75 round double drum (also called a “saddle drum”) magazine, negating the need to re-cock once a fresh magazine was installed.”

    However, when we see this video , after the last round the shooter re-cock the gun for reloading (as the bolt goes into the forward position). Is it for “safety” purpose or is it mandatory for reloading? Or is it because it is a Japanese one, maybe different from the german MG15?
    Thank you for your answer!

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