Weapons: December 17, 2002

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Part Two Of Three: The Machine-Gun: World War II

Japan never produced a good machine-gun. But, in tests after the war their Type 38 bolt action rifle proved stronger than Mauser, Springfield or Enfield. Their LMGs, however, requiring each cartridge to be lubricated before chambering, were prone to stoppages. The MMGs were copies of the French Hotchkiss from World War I. However, in at least one instance captured British Brens and Vickers guns were used, killing American soldiers and marines with ammunition manufactured by Remington.

The US deployed a number of excellent Browning designs in both .30 cal and .50 cal. that were either air or water cooled. The British wanted a replacement for the Lewis Gun and adopted a weapon made in Czechoslovakia, the ZB vz/26. The Bren gun (BRno+ENfield) became one the most reliable weapons of its class. Gas operated, it fired from a 30 round, top mounted, curved magazine at 500 rpm. Hot barrels could be changed in seconds by raising the barrel latch and pulling the barrel forward by the carrying handle. 

The Russian Degtyarev DP 7.62 LMG (1928), simple and failure free, was one of their first indigenous designs. It had a 47 round drum magazine on top of the weapon and used firing pin locking flaps to lock the bolt. Still in use in some parts of the world.

The 7.62mm Goryunov, wheeled, had a heavy chrome plated barrel. Designed to take the place of the old Maxim, it came into service in 1942.

The DShK, 12.7mm, was adopted in 1938. It was wheel mounted, said mount could be convert it to AA work. It has many of the ballistic characteristics of the Browning .50 and is still in first line service.

Marine Captain Melvin Johnson designed a rifle and a LMG in the late 30s, both using the short recoil system, the former to compete with the Grande and the latter with the BAR. Neither was accepted. The Dutch East Indies, however, ordered the weapons. When the Indies fell to the Japanese those LMGs already manufactured were used by the US Rangers, Special Services and Marine Raiders. Not as reliable as the BAR the weapon had some unusual features. It could fire from a closed bolt for single shots or an open bolt when in full auto to insure that a round wasnt cooked off by a hot barrel. It had a 20 round box magazine mounted horizontally to the left of the breech but could be loaded from the right with either rifle stripper clips or single rounds. By adjusting the tension in the buffer spring the cyclic rate of fire could be altered between 300 and 900 rpm.

Deployed in 1936, the German MG34 was a short recoil gun, that could, with various mounts and ammunition feeds, serve as a light, medium or light anti-aircraft machine guna truly general purpose weapon. The trigger toggled on its center and pressure on top gave semiauto fire, bottom, full auto. Cyclic rate of fire was 800-900 rpm. The barrel could not be changed as quickly or easily as either the Bren or its own successor, the MG42. Manufacture of the MG34 required high tolerance machine operations, making fabrication expensive and time consuming. Further, though strong it was plagued with stoppages from dirt or snow. 

The successor to the MG34 was the extraordinary MG42. Rumor had it that the German gun was based on a Polish design. True or not the gun was remarkable for the fact that it made use of more stampings than any other weapon up to that time, allowing for fast, inexpensive fabrication. It employed a smooth, delayed roller locking system that fired at 1200 rpm. It could mount a bipod or tripod and the barrel could be changed in six seconds. A superb weapon, it is still in service today with Germany and many other countries.

In 1943 the US charged Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors to produce a prototype of the MG42, designated, the Machine Gun Caliber .30, T24. The American made weapons could not be made to function. Reason: the 30.06 case is longer than the 7.92mm and the bolt face could not recoil far enough to eject empties; a stunning piece of mismanagement and lost opportunity!

Whenever WWII weapons are discussed, the German Fallschirmjagergewehr 42 (FG42-1 & FG42-2) is always given special mention. It was designed at the request of German paratroops returning from Crete. They wanted something that could fire both singly with a scope as a sharp shooter rifle or full auto, while not weighting more that the M98 rifle! 

Louis Strange (of MG34 fame) designed a remarkable selective fire weapon chambered for the full powered 7.92mm cartridge, yet fully controllable in auto modemade possible by the straight stock, a fine compensator and a recoil-spring, sliding stock system. Firing from an open or closed bolt (bolt locking copied from the Lewis which in turn had copied others) it fed from a 20 round horizontal magazine, left of the breech. Reminiscent of the Johnson but far more robust and reliable. It had a folding, four sided bayonet, a bipod and made use of sheet metal stampings. 

The FG42-1s (9lbs 10oz) pistol grip raked back at a curiously high angle. This allowed for firing on decent but when tried in the field the recoil spun the paratrooper in the canopy lines. It also gained fame being used in the liberation of Mussolini on the Gran Sasso. 

But only 9,000 FG42s were manufactured. Due to their short barrels the MP44s (assault rifle) Kurz round was almost as powerful (2247vs 2132 fps) and its magazine was one third larger.-- Peter38

 


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