The German MG-34 General Purpose Machine Gun,
Perhaps the most advanced machine gun design of the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the MG-34 was a new concept of warfare called the general purpose machine gun. During World War I and the post war era, machine guns came in two general classes. Heavy machine guns were large mounted weapons used primarily in defensive roles because of their exceptional firepower and lack of mobility. Light machine guns were made to be man portable, and thus used for offensive actions. However they often lacked the firepower of the heavy machine guns. During World War II, the German Wehrmacht revolutionized warfare by introducing the concept of the general purpose machine gun, a man portable machine gun which also sported exceptional firepower, and thus could be utilized in a number of roles.
The MG-34 was designed in 1934 by Rheinmetall and based on an earlier design called the MG-30. It was first introduced to the German Army in 1936 after Adolf Hitler formally denounced the Versailles Treaty and began the large scale rearmament of the Germany Army. It was also supplied to the fascist government in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During the 1930’s and throughout World War II, the MG-34 would serve as the primary infantry machine gun of the Wehrmacht. What made the MG-34 truly unique among other machine guns of its era was its incredible firepower at 800 rounds a minute. Most other machine guns of the time, whether light or heavy, could only manage around 500-600 rounds per minute. This combined with its portability gave the common German infantry platoon an incredible amount of firepower. Such high rate of fire was accomplished using an open short recoil action. The MG-34 was both semi and fully automatic, utilizing a special double crescent trigger. The upper trigger fired the weapon in semi auto, the lower trigger fired it in full auto.
The MG-34 was air cooled, but had a detachable barrel which could be quickly switched out in case of overheating. It was chambered for 8x57 Mauser, also the standard infantry rifle round of the Wehrmacht.
The most important aspect of the MG-34 was its versatility as a general purpose machine gun. In different forms it was used in three main roles; as an offensive machine gun, as a light machine gun, and as a heavy machine gun. In its light machine gun form, it was carried by only one man, firing from a 50 or 75 drum magazine. In its light machine gun role, it was operated by two men, firing from an ammunition belt. In a pinch, the MG-34 could even be fired from the back or shoulder of another soldier.
In its heavy machine gun role, the weapon was mounted on a large tripod for added stability, which also included a range finder and telescopic scope. In addition, the MG-34 could be mounted on vehicles and aircraft, or mounted in groups of two or four as light anti-aircraft guns.
Throughout World War II German infantry tactics, both offensive and defense, revolved around the general purpose machine gun, with two or three MG-34’s serving as the backbone of a German platoon, while it was the duty of the other infantry to support the machine guns. Later, an improved version of the MG-34 was introduced called the MG-42. Simpler to mass produce, it had a blistering rate of fire at around 1,200 - 1,500 rounds per minute. As great as it was, German production could not produce enough for wartime demands. As a result the MG-34 remained the most popular general purpose machine gun in the German Army. After World War II, the concept of the general purpose machine gun became a mainstay of almost all modern military’s.