MG 39 Rh prototype general purpose machine gun

Designed by Louis Stange and Manufacture by Rheinmetall-Borsig in Sömmerda c.1937-39 - serial number 006.
7x57mm Mauser belt-fed, gas operated automatic, removable barrel, makes extensive use of stamped sheet metal and spot welding to facilitate production.

Made first to be a cheaper replacement for the MG34, the then widespread German prejudice against gas operated firearms - based on the thought that drilling the gas tap inside the barrel would affect ballistics - screwed it over in favor of the future MG42. The Rheinmetall company nevertheless developped their prototype further in the hope that the then disastrous short recoil competitor might be abandoned at a later date, at which point they would have a finished gun of a much higher quality than any other prototype for the Wehrmacht to look at.

Sauce : Forgotten Weapons


Another way of using the MG 42 machine gun as demonstrated by soldiers of the Wiking Division in the summer of 1944, east of Warsaw.


The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG 34, is a German recoil-operated air-cooled machine gun, first tested in 1929, introduced in 1934, and issued to units in 1936. It accepts the 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridge, and is generally considered the world’s first general-purpose machine gun.

The versatile MG 34 was arguably the most advanced machine gun in the world at the time of its deployment. Its combination of exceptional mobility – being light enough to be carried by one man – and high rate of fire (of up to 900 rounds per minute) was unmatched. It entered service in great numbers following Hitler’s repudiation of the Versailles Treaty in 1936, and was first tested by German troops aiding Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.


Russian PKM General-Purpose Machine Gun

“Pulemyot Kalashnikova,” (Kalashnikov’s Machinegun"), Modernized.

Chambered in 7.62x54r and firing at 650 to 800 round-per-minute (via an adjustable gas block).  Pictured with the 100 and 250-round box magazines full of belted Bulgarian silver-tip.


British L7 General Purpose Machine Gun 

Designed by Ernest Vervier, the FN MAG or Mitrailleuse d'Appui Général became the principal general purpose machine gun of many Western nations. The MAG brings together design traits from a number of earlier weapons including the Browning Automatic Rifle and the German MG42. Vervier and FN sought to develop a weapon similar to the MG34 & MG42, the first true general purpose machine guns. The FN MAG quickly gained a reputation for being a reliable, robust machine gun which could function in a variety of harsh environments. In 1958 the Swedish Army became the first to adopt the MAG, in their then standard 6.5x55mm Mauser service cartridge, as the Kulspruta 58.

The British Army began testing and evaluation of the FN MAG chambered in 7.62x51mm in the late 1950s designating it the X15E1. Troop trials continued through 1959 when the weapon was finally adopted as the L7 in 1961. Entering service during the 1960s, the L7 has seen action in dozens of conflicts from the Indonesian–Malaysian Confrontation and counter-insurgency operations in Northern Ireland to the Falklands and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The L7 GPMG has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘gimpy’ by generations of British troops.

Original sectional drawing from the notes prepared for the troop trials of the X15E1 (source)

It was initially intended that the L7 would replace both the venerable Vickers Gun and the Bren. The Bren, however, remained in service as the L4A4 into the 1990s. Britain bought a license to produce the MAG and FN manufactured the first batch of guns while the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield established a production line. Enfield made some small improvements to the L7A1 in the late 1960s to create the L7A2. Improvements included: a new 10-position gas regulator, a plastic buttstock, improved feed pawls, a refined bipod, provision for a feed box and a new optic mounting bracket.

In the late 1980s the British Army adopted the L86A1 LSW (Light Support Weapon), chambered in 5.56x45mm, to replace the L7A2 in the assault role. FN’s Minimi light machine gun, designated the L108A1 (standard) and L110A2 (para), in turn replaced the the L86A1′s when the LSW’s sustained fire capability proved to be unsatisfactory. Despite attempts to replace it with lighter weapons the L7A2, along with the L8 vehicle mounted and L20 aircraft mounted MAGs, continue to be extensively used by the British military. 

L86A1 Light Support Weapon (source)

FN offer the MAG in three main variations: the Model 60-20 for infantry roles, the Model 60-40 which can be mounted on armoured fighting vehicles and the Model 60-30 suitable for mounting on aircraft. All three variants are gas-operated, locked breech machine guns which fire from an open bolt.  

Firing from an open bolt the MAG uses a long stroke gas piston positioned beneath the barrel. It has a cross-bolt safety which disables the sear. Vervier borrowed heavily from other weapons with the MG42 influencing the MAG’s trigger mechanism, feed system and quick change barrel system. The MAG derived it’s locking mechanism from the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.

The weapon weighs ~11kg when fitted with its butt and bipod and is 126cm (or 50 inches) long. It has a selector switch which allows the operator to chose between a lower rate of fire (~600 rounds per minute) and a higher rate of approximately 1,000 rounds per minute. The MAG can be used in both offensive and static defensive sustained fire roles (see image #4, #6, #7 & #9). In the sustained fire role the British L7 can be set up in a tripod and with a two-man crew can lay down fire out to ranges of up to 1,800 metres. The MAG feeds from the left using 50-round M13 disintegrating link belts, which can be linked end to end. Spent cases eject downward and links exit the receiver to the right.

Despite competition from contemporaries such as the American M60, French AA-52, and German MG-3 the MAG came to dominate the market and over 80 countries have purchased weapons from FN. FN also sold production licenses to countries including the UK, India, Argentina, Sweden, Singapore, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States. Over 200,000 MAGs have been produced during its sixty year service life with dozens of countries continuing to use them in a variety of roles. 


Image Sources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Provisional British Manual for X15E1 (1958) [source]

British Manual for L7A1 & L7A2 GPMG (1970) [source]

Jane’s Infantry Weapons 1983-84, I.V. Hogg

If you enjoy the content please consider supporting Historical Firearms through Patreon!



The Russian 7.62x54mmR general purpose machine gun with a few changes. This example has had several aftermarket parts installed from a company called Zenit. They make specialized rails for the AK and SVD platform but this is the first time I’ve seen PKM stuff from them. Although the handguard is a nice touch for modular adaptability, that stock is a bit peculiar since it has a secondary pistol grip right behind the original pistol grip. Although Zenit makes actual weapon parts, the PKM in the photo might be a deactivated example or an airsoft gun. (GRH)



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.  

External image

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.

External image

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 sight. 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.


The MG 42 (shortened from German: Maschinengewehr 42, or “machine gun 42”) is a 7.92×57mm Mauser general purpose machine gun designed in Nazi Germany and used extensively by the Wehrmacht during the second half of World War II. Intended to replace the more expensive and time-consuming to manufacture frontline MG 34, it ended up produced side by side until the end of the war.

The MG 42 has a proven record of reliability, durability, simplicity, and ease of operation, but is most notable for its ability to produce a high volume of suppressive fire. The MG 42 had one of the highest average cyclic rate of any single-barreled man-portable machine gun: between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm, which results in a distinctive muzzle report.

A German MG 42. Considered one of the best general purpose machine gun designs ever, the MG 42, and its predecessor the MG 34, was a key part of German military tactics during World War II, providing effective suppressing fire for infantry operations, and influencing countless future designs, not only in such related designs as the M60 machine gun, but most notably in its direct descendent the MG 3.



HK 21

A belt-fed 7.62x51mm GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) based on the HK G3. It shares some minor parts compatibility with the parent rifle. These are very difficult to build because of the extensive modifications needed for the receiver as well as welding the reinforcements. Improper welds can cause the receiver to warp. Semi-auto versions are available through companies such as Michael’s Machines. (GRH)