Vintage Saturday: Why They Make Tripods Like That

Waffen-SS soldier manning a Czech ZB-37 machine gun on its tripod
He’s exhausted from carrying that gun. It’s just about the heaviest MMG ever conceived, and the tripod’s no lightweight either.

Waffen-SS soldier manning a Czech ZB-37 machine gun on its tripod. Note that the articulated tripod legs have been put to good use mounting the gun up on a large rock that offers some cover to the crew.

38 Comments

  1. The HMG tripod in its various forms is a large study area all by itself. I know some were set up so that the rear leg could have the gun attached at what was normally the “foot” with the tripod basically tipped up on its front to create a high pedestal mount for AA use.

    The Italian Breda M1937 HMG mount could do a trick similar to this one’s, by using its extensible legs. Leave the front two all the way in, pull the rear one out all the way and swing it downward a bit, and you could just about plant it on a parapet if necessary.

    If the PBI here thought the ZB37 and its tripod were a bear to lug around , he probably wouldn’t have wanted to get involved with the old Model 1875 0.45in Gatling made by Colt. All-up weight of just about 440 pounds, and that was just with the (mostly wood) tripod, not the two-wheeled “horse artillery”- type carriage.

    Even the old Colt M1895 .30-40 Krag caliber “potato digger” was no lightweight, with a 35-pound gun on a 60-pound tripod. It even weighed more than the Browning M1917 water-cooled gun on tripod.

    cheers

    eon

    • Tripods, sledge mounts, and carriages are always going to be heavy. Would you have rather lugged around the Type 92 Heavy Machinegun or the Type 97 Antitank Rifle? The former is considered one of the most accurate HMGs but the latter will punch through (and likely barbeque) anything short of good tank armor.

      Apart from the camera man, is anyone else going to help this gunner man the position? Where is his K98 or Vz. 24 (captured, of course)? And why does he have a loose grenade in his shirt?

      Please add to this post!

  2. ZB-37 is medium MMG? That is new knowledge to me. It was meant heavy from beginning. Well, maybe I do not get the ‘gun-pun’.

    • Medium machine gun is a term that came about to describe tripod-mounted, rifle-caliber, sustained-fire machine guns when the .50 caliber machine guns were developed (Browning M1921, .50 Vickers, 13.2mm Hotchkiss). It was to differentiate them from their new, lager caliber, brethren.

      • Terminology is subject to variables and so is for MGs. In Russian, as Daewoo will attest to, term for .50BMG equivalent DShK is called “krupno-kalibernyi”. This is just one sample, but it captures the intent.

        In my own, by time absorbed understanding, the term “heavy” denotes function more than calibre. If the gun is designed for long term sustained fire (often without barrel change) than it is – Heavy machinegun, caliber irrespective. Just my subjective view.

        Interesting detail about this particular gun is that it was used also by British, as BESA; but that’s kind of trivia and do not need to be mentioned. I recall looking at its detailed documentation and it is not just heavy but also fancy.

        • It’s rather like the debate over what is or is not an “anti-tank rifle”. In their heyday (from the last year of WW1 up to early WW2), there were “AT rifles” in calibers ranging from a hypervelocity 7.9mm (Polish Wz35) to the 12mm-13mm range (0.55in Boys, Mauser T-Gew 13mm), and on up to what were really “lightweight”, specially-designed automatic or semi-automatic cannon firing 20mm explosive rounds (PzB 41, Lahti M39, Japanese Model 97).

          It really comes down to intent. You could argue that the Wz35 was probably more practically a specialized long-range sniping rifle; given a good scope of about 10x-15x, it most likely was accurate enough to serve, at least until the bore wear got too severe.

          And the 20mm weapons were probably better deployed as light AA, where their explosive shells would have done some actual good.

          The joker in the deck was the “other” BESA, the 15mm that ended up as the turret-mounted main gun of several British Daimler and Humber armored cars. While it didn’t fire an explosive round AFAIK, its big armor-piercing solid slugs and APIT bullets wouldn’t be comfortable things to have “knocking on the door” of your Italian-issue M13/40 or German PzKw II.

          15mm BESA; HMG or ATR? You tell me.

          cheers

          eon

          • Good points, Eon, especially the ones about intended purpose. In that light, the 15mm BESA would probably have to be considered an HMG with very useful performance against light armor ( as it was with other HMG’s such as the Browning .50-cal. M2HB and DShK M1938/46 ).

          • The German forces uses “2.8 cm schwere Panzerbüchse 41” which may be translated as “2.8cm heavy anti-tank rifle” but it fired “2.8 cm PzGr.41” and “2.8 cm SprGr.41” – the “PzGr” and “SprGr” was German terms used for artillery ammunition.

  3. The same basic articulated-leg design concept is used for the original, standard MAG58 tripod. Very useful when adjusting to uneven terrain and all kinds of cover.

    • This stand also inspired Czechs in designing their own model for 7.62x54R Vz.52, heavy version. It had similarly as this one, AA configuration.

      BTW, I do not exactly concur that heavy MG needs heavy tripod; not necessarily so. I recall reading time ago article by Peter Kokalis where he highly praised one Russian lightweight tripod (not sure of model; maybe the one used for NSV). Conduct is more important than its weight.

  4. AS to the articulated Breda and Vz37(ZB53) Tripods, both were derived from the MG07/12 Schwarzelose Tripod of WW I (The Italians because they had hundreds of them,(Booty) and the Czechs because they “Inherited” them.

    The Reason was for use with “Fixed Lines of Fire”, ie, the MG set up firmly to cover a Particular area of “Killing ground”, on Fixed Lines (set elevation, small traverse), for sustained Covering or Denial of Ground Fire. With Light tripods, the Vibration of 20-30 round Bursts would “upset” the Gun’s aim and Lay, so hence the Heavy Tripod. A Bit of a Nonsense with the Breda, as it was restricted in fire capability by use of a 20 round Strip tray…Italian crews had to be very well trained to maintain a high rate of fire (as the Japanese were with the 30 round Woodpecker strip)…the Waffen SS ( major users of the Vz37) simply had to “set up and Fire” (250 round belt)… a Breda 37 with Belt Feed ( steel Link) would have been a Winner…

    BTW, the Brits already had the Heavy Vickers Tripod Mark IV ( Gunmetal Pintle/cradle, Gunmetal adjustment wheels, etc)…so they Wisely Placed the BESA into AFVs
    ( soon replaced by Browning 1919A4s in US lend Lease AFVs). Also, they wisely left the calibre 7,92mm…too much stuffing around to convert to .303.

    Doc AV

    • Good commentary — thanks! Per your last two paragraphs, the British Army had no issues with leaving the BESA ( ex-Vz.37 ) in the original 7.92mm x 57 Mauser caliber for two reasons :

      1. Usage in AFV’s of The Royal Armoured Corps was considered a special application, so it did not impact or disrupt the logistical train as far as general ( as in Army-wide ) applications were concerned. The RAC, by its very nature, required all kinds of specialized logistical support unique to its intended mission, so MG ammunition of a different caliber was simply an additional facet of the same. The existing logistical system was already set up to cater to such special needs.

      2. 7.92mm x 57 Mauser ammunition was widely available to both the Axis and Allied protagonists if they wanted it, either through in-house production or captive stocks, so it was not as if Logistics would have to deal with some sort of rare, hard-to-obtain ammunition on behalf of the RAC.

    • I thought it was because the Vz.37 always PUSHED the round into the chamber-British 303 must always be pulled from belt.

      • According to Small Arms of the World, that was basically it. The British had to make “substantial changes” (Smith’s term) to the Besa to make it practical to mass-produce, but changing its feed geometry from a straight “push” to a “first pull, then push” was pretty much “outside the realm of practical politics”.

        The Besa, while gas-operated, has a recoiling barrel that is still moving forward in counter-recoil as the next round is chambered by the breechblock as it moves forward, stripping the round out of the belt as it goes.

        Changing a Rube Goldberg (or “Heath Robinson”, if you prefer) setup like that to a Vickers-Maxim type feed is a job for Gyro Gearloose, not the engineers at Enfield.

        And since 7.9 ammunition production was already being put in hand in Canada by about mid-’38 (due to sales to the Kuomintang forces in China that had been fighting the Japanese and the Communists both since ’32), it’s not like 7.9 would have been hard to come by.

        An interesting “what if?” would be to speculate about the effects if, in about ’35, the British War Ministry had decided not to redesign the Bren to use 0.303in, but instead had decided that since it and the Besa were 7.9s, it would make more sense to just order the new No.4 Rifle in 7.9, change the barrels and breechblocks in the Vickers 0.303 guns to 7.9, and gradually phase out the 0.303in round. They might have gotten it done by the summer of ’39 except for reserve formations.

        I don’t think the difference in power would have made much of an “impact”, but logistically speaking, it could have been the Sten on an even bigger scale. I.e., what if every British-issue weapon could have used captured German ammunition?

        cheers

        eon

        • Bravo Eon!

          This is my thinking; give the guys on both sides same ammo (for less-friendly exchange) and eventually – provide them with the same weapons. What a saving, what an efficiency!

          In todays terms, if you ask me to propose carbine/ rifle/ DMR/ LMG, I go straight into full in-field interchangeability (thru free issue kit) among 5.45, 5.8 and 5.56. Done for good.

          • Also something I’ve thought about. One would think that having been on the receiving end the British and French would have seen the advantages of the 7.92x57mm. Why bother inventing a new cartridge (like the French 7.5x54mm). And the British had large stocks of P14 Enfields that could readily have been converted to 7.92 while a new No. 4 Enfield was developed in 7.92. Stocks of .303 ammo and No. 1 Enfields could have been used up in the colonies. But I suppose national pride would have made adopting the enemy’s cartridge a non-starter.

          • Not trying to be sarcastic, but fact of the matter is that when comes to firearms, sense of ‘national pride’ is (at least in Europe, with exception of some odd cases) gone.

  5. Well, I don’t know anything about the weapon, but from where I’m standing, it looks like a rotten fire position, even for sustained fire. Fire round cover, rather than over it, I was taught, it makes you less easy to see, and avoid big rocks if you can, because the splinters from enemy fire are just as dangerous as the bullets that cause them.

  6. what if every British-issue weapon could have used captured German ammunition?

    Well, it certainly would have been handy for the Germans in putting to use all the British weapons they captured in France and North Africa… 😉

    • They used so much “foreign equipment” anyway it probably wouldn’t have made much difference to their TO&E.

      For instance, they made extensive use of captured Russian SMGs on the Ostfront because the 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev and 7.63 x 25mm Mauser really only differed in powder charge, and of the two the Mauser was generally slightly more emphatic.

      And of course, the Italian Beretta SMGs all used 9 x 19mm. They were very popular with the SS.

      If you really want to change things on the Axis side, have Japan settle on a single 7.7 or 7.9mm rifle round for all services, rather than the four different ones they actually had; a rimless 7.7, a semi-rimmed one, a fully-rimmed one (that was basically a copy of the British 0.303in round), and a 7.9 that may or may not have been simply a Japanese rendition of 7.9 x 57 Mauser (accounts differ on this point). And no, they generally weren’t interchangeable, although reportedly the Type 92 HMG would work with at least the rimless and semi-rimmed 7.7s both.

      Pity the poor Japanese supply officer. He really had his work cut out for him.

      cheers

      eon

      • “Pity the poor Japanese supply officer”
        Notice that Japanese Empire fielded also Type 11 light machine gun, which not only fire 6.5×50 Arisaka round but it was also feed from Type 38 cartridge clip which required hopper-feed system which don’t work reliable. It is absurd to have the machine gun compatibile with rifle feed devices and at the same time four different which differed only enough to prohibit interchangeability, not enough to legitimise its concurrent production.

        • “BAKA!”

          To compound supply issues further, the autocannons of the Imperial Japanese Army and those of the Imperial Japanese Navy did not chamber the same ammunition if I’m not mistaken. Adding inter-service rivalry (to the point where each branch would attempt to assassinate officers of the other branch out of spite) into all of this makes for an epic failure to fight effectively! And as Japanese officers privately purchased pistols, some chose nice guns (like Walthers and Brownings) whose cartridges were not standard-issue…

          The only weapons not dependent on ammunition supply in Imperial Japan were bayonets (which were nightmares for anyone on the receiving end) and officers’ swords. But for the Japanese, any guy who had a family sword likely re-hilted the blade and brought it to the front (standard-issued Shin-Gunto swords were not well-liked due to manufacturing issues which left them too brittle for battle usage).

          • And yet for all this slagging of the Japanese, if Midway had gone the other way they would have won the war. I suspect that interchangeability of rifle and machine-gun 7.7mm cartridges played a remarkably small role in that particular battle.

          • They did make up for it to a certain extent though, by coming up with the Ho-301 cannon;

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho-301_cannon

            While it wasn’t exactly practical as an aircraft gun as it was intended to be, in many ways it was the forerunner of today’s automatic grenade launchers. And AFAIK, it was the first weapon to use the type of “caseless” ammunition seen in several Russian issue GLs, today, notably the GP-25 and GP-30;

            http://world.guns.ru/grenade/rus/gp-25-and-gp-30-e.html

            And of course the Balkan automatic GL:

            http://world.guns.ru/grenade/rus/balkan-e.html

            The U.S. 40mm M79 and its successors use a variant of the “high-low” pressure system introduced on the WW2 German “Puppchen” AT gun, which wasn’t so much a true “cannon” as more of a “Super Panzerschreck”, minus the backblast. The Japanese Ho-301 sort of uses the same physics, but “turns it around”, with the propellant charge exhausting backward rather more like a rocket. It’s an ingenious system for a full-auto weapon as it has most of the advantages of a true “caseless” system without a lot of the drawbacks.

            It occurs to me that this system, while unlikely to ever be practical for a weapon needing high velocity, could easily be used to create a belt-fed GL, much like Balkan, but with a genuinely appallingly high rate of fire. Simply because it doesn’t have an extract/eject component in the firing cycle.

            Imagine that on top of a MICV in MOBUA.

            (eek.)

            cheers

            eon

        • The Type11 fired the same round as the Type 38. It was not a reduced loading as the US thought! Some ammo boxes had a G stamped on them and the US assumed it was for Genso-reduced. It actually stood for glycerine. It had the new double base powder that had been catching on in the 30s, not the older and inferior single base powder.

  7. That is a soldier of the 7th or 11th SS in the Balkans circa 1943-44. Both were volunteer formations, the former from ethnic Germans living in the Balkans, and the latter from mostly Muslim Bosnians and some Croats. These divisions were largely equipped with Czechoslovakian crew served weapons.

  8. Good information, Ferris — thank you. This also highlights yet another seemingly contradictory feature of Third Reich practices in the name of the avowed pure Aryan ideology — how ironic it is, but even the most avid, hardened National Socialists had to quietly set aside ideology in exchange for practical, real-world utility in the face of the insatiable demands of total war, hence the recruitment of ethnic groups who would otherwise still be considered less than entirely desirable ( but not as “undesirable” as Jews or Blacks ). Such was the twisted rationale behind their thinking.

  9. Lots of detailed discussion here.

    My question is simple – what sort of cover (hat, headgear) is he wearing? It doesn’t look like the usual German soft cover / field cap.

    • [GASP] You’re right! What is he doing with a civilian cap? It almost looks as if he mugged a baseball player for it! WHERE ARE WE!?

    • SS Gebergstruppen such as this gunner often had a tailor sew up a camo field cap out of camo smock fabric. Otto Kumm’s book “Prinz Eugen” has several photos of 7th SS Div mountain troops wearing camo caps in Yugoslavia, probably Bosnia. Not sure they were an issue item but seemed to be popular with the troops at least in that division.

  10. I’ve handled the British Besa version of the ZB-37, and it appears they took a massive block of steel and removed as little metal as possible from it till it became a machinegun…

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