distinction magazine

Machine guns of World War II

The British Army

The Bren Gun

Length 116 cm                          
Weight 9 kg (empty) 10.2 kg (loaded)
Calibre 0.303 in (7.7 mm)
Magazine 30 round box
Muzzle Velocity 745 metres per second
Rate of Fire 500 rpm

The Bren light machine gun, the base of fire for the British Infantry throughout World War Two

The Lewis gun had been in British service for some twenty years before a replacement was found just before the outbreak of World War Two.  Trials had been held with a number of weapons and opinion seemed to favour the Vickers-Berthier.  In 1934, the Czechoslovakian ZB26 entered the seemingly endless trials, now the only opposition to the Vickers design.  In the final shootout, the Czech weapon showed itself mechanically far more reliable and was adopted as the new light machine gun for the Army in 1937.

It proved to be the most important procurement decision taken by the Army for many years.  The fact that a ‘foreign’ design was chosen over a British entrant (actually designed by a Frenchman) gives some indication of how impressive the weapon was.  The original Czech model was, ironically, chambered for the German 7.92 mm round.  In British service it was adapted to the standard 0.303 in round used in the Lee Enfield rifle and Vickers medium machine gun.  It was also given a new name, taken from its birthplace at Brno and the new factory at Enfield where it was produced as the Bren.

The Bren was a gas operated weapon which held the bolt group to the rear between firing.  It came with a second barrel which could be quickly changed and a host of spares.  It soon became the basis of the Rifle Section, the first line of defence against air attack and also the armament of the Universal Carrier and several models of Scout Car.  It proved itself utterly reliable in all climes and conditions, the only modifications being to simplify production with the Mark 2 and to shorten the barrel in the Mark 3.

Ammunition wise, each Bren was provided with twenty five magazines, one with the gun and the rest carried in two boxes holding a dozen each.  In the Rifle Section the boxes were not taken into action.  Instead, each of the six men in the Rifle Group carried two magazines, and each of the three men in the Gun Group carried four.  Two magazines could be held in a single webbing pouch.  It was quickly found that the only real flaw concerned the magazines, which if loaded to capacity would jam.  The maximum load was therefore reduced to twenty eight rounds each, 700 rounds for a full complement of magazines.  This was rounded up to 1000 rounds with loose ammunition, carried by its vehicle, or distributed as an extra fifty rounds for each man in the Rifle Group.

The United States Army

The M1918A2 (Browning Automatic Rifle)

Length 122cm                          
Weight 8.2 kg (empty), 8.8 kg (loaded)
Calibre 0.30 in (7.62 mm)
Magazine 20 round box
Muzzle Velocity 855 metres per second
Rate of Fire 300 to 350 or 500 to 600  rpm

The BAR was not capable of delivering the same volume of sustained fire as either the Bren or the German GPMG.  Nevertheless it remained highly popular among the troops

The first point to note regarding the BAR is that it was not a light machine gun.  There was no facility to change the barrel and the magazine capacity was noticeably limited.  The BAR had first appeared on the Western Front towards the end of the Great War, wielded as an early 'assault rifle’.  It remained in service thereafter and was regarded as little more than a supplement to the M1 rifle.

The BAR was a gas operated weapon which held a chamber in the round between firing.  The original M1918 had no bipod, this being added to the A2 version described above.  This model also deleted the single fire option in favour of two rates of automatic fire.  The absence of a barrel change meant that the danger of overheating could only be tempered by limiting fire.

Ammunition supply is difficult to estimate.  Jim O'Neil provides the following information; a six pouch belt holding twelve magazines was worn by the Automatic Rifleman, a four pouch belt with the assistant rifleman and two bandoleers, each with three pouches worn by the ammunition bearer. That would give a grand total of 32 magazines.  In the US Marine Corps, the automatic rifleman carried twelve magazines and the assistant rifleman a further twelve, which with the loaded box totalled 500 rounds, though later war it would seem that these magazines were spread out among the fire team. 

The M1919A4 (Browning Light Machine Gun)

Length 104 cm                          
Weight 14 kg (gun), 6.4 kg (tripod)
Calibre 0.30 in (7.62 mm)
Feed 250 round belt
Muzzle Velocity 855 metres per second
Rate of Fire 400 to 500 rpm

The M1919A4 was intended to be used at Company level with a large team to support it.  Parachute and Ranger units both used it at Squad level in preference to the BAR

The M1919A4 fulfilled the light machine gun role for US forces in the absence of a more appropriate weapon.  It is difficult to describe it as a light machine gun, as it was noticeably heavier than other examples and also needed a weighty tripod mount to fire from.

The M1919 used an air cooled barrel, which could be changed so a spare was carried.  It operated on the recoil system and chambered a round between firing.  In an effort to reduce weight for those troops issued the M1919 in lieu of the BAR (Rangers, Paratroops), a revised M1919A6 was developed.  This fitted a bipod in place of the tripod mount, and used a rifle type shoulder stock.  It weighed in at 14.7 kg and was longer at 135 cm, but remained otherwise unchanged.

Ammunition was carried in boxes, each packing a single 250 round fabric belt.  How many could be carried along with the other equipment needed depended on the size of the team serving the weapon, but at least 1000 rounds would seem reasonable.

The Red Army

The DP (Degtyaryev Pakhotnyi)

Length 129 cm                          
Weight 9.3 kg (empty/loaded?)
Calibre 7.62 mm
Magazine 47 round drum
Muzzle Velocity 850 metres per second
Rate of Fire 500 rpm

The standard infantry model DP, with its visually distinctive drum magazine.  Models adapted for use in tanks were sometimes issued to Rifle formations to make up for a shortfall in numbers

The DP was the standard Red Army light machine gun throughout the Great Patriotic War.  It saw its first major use with the Communist forces in the Spanish Civil War and was modified accordingly from the experience learned.

It was a gas operated weapon and proved remarkably reliable in the harsh conditions it was subjected to.  It fitted a visually striking drum magazine which actually held 49 rounds, but was deliberately restricted to 47 to prevent stoppages.  It did have a facility to change the barrel, but in typical Red Army style a spare was not carried. 

The German Army

Maschinengewehr 34 (MG34)

Length 122 cm                          
Weight 12.1 kg (empty) 14.6 kg (loaded)
Calibre 7.92 mm
Feed 50 round belt
Muzzle Velocity 755 metres per second
Rate of Fire 800 to 900 rpm

The MG 34 (Maschinengewehr 34, “Machine Gun 34” in German) was a German medium machine that began to be made and accepted for service in 1934. The first units were distributed in 1935. She was an air-cooled machine gun that fired cartridges 7 92x57 mm Mauser and had a similar performance to other medium machine guns.It was designed both as light weapon of squads and old tasks, being an early example of general-purpose machine gun. As light weapon, he is thought to equip with a bipod and drum magazine 75 rounds. As heavy machine gun was mounted on a tripod and used ammunition tapes. In practice, it is using only infantry bipod version, resulting in an average support weapon.

Maschinengewehr 42 (MG42)

Length 122 cm                          
Weight 11.6 kg (empty) 14.1 kg (loaded)
Calibre 7.92 mm
Feed 50 round belt
Muzzle Velocity 755 metres per second
Rate of Fire 1200 to 1300 rpm

The lethal MG42, known as the 'Burp Gun’ by US forces from the unmistakeable report of some 20 rounds per second.  The British knew both types as the 'Spandau’

The German Army finished World War One with the firm conviction that the machine gun was the major arbiter of infantry battle.  During the peace that followed, they developed the idea that, rather than using two different weapons in the light and heavy roles, a single 'general purpose’ design could be found.  This concept was given form in first the MG34 and later the mid war MG42.

Whilst the weapons were actually two distinct designs, there are enough similarities to describe them together.  Both used a combination of recoil and gas in their operation and maintained the bolt group to the rear during firing.  They each had the facility to change barrels and could be mounted on a tripod for use as Heavy Machine Guns or on a bipod in the light role.  The other trait they shared was a phenomenal rate of fire.  German theory ran that a gunner would only have a few seconds to fire at the enemy before they took cover.  It was thought that the more rounds he could fire in this time, the more casualties he could cause.  It proved to be a dreadfully effective tactic.  

The original MG34 proved the soundness of the design, but it was susceptible to stoppages caused by sand and dust and was generally demanding to maintain.  Moreover, as a pre-war design it was complicated to produce.  The MG42 was commissioned to eliminate these faults, in which it succeeded.  There was no question of it replacing its predecessor though and the two types both remained in service side by side.

In the light role, the gunner carried one 50 round belt, loaded into its side mounted drum.  His assistant carried four more, plus 300 boxed rounds, while the ammunition bearer carried two further boxes for a total of 1150 rounds per gun.  When the ammunition bearer was later deleted from the Rifle Squad, his load was divided among the riflemen

The Japanese Army

Type 96

Length 105cm                          
Weight 9 kg (empty/loaded?)
Calibre 6.5 mm
Magazine 30 round box
Muzzle Velocity 730 metres per second
Rate of Fire 550 rpm

The Type 99, the final entry in the series.  It is identical in appearance to the Type 96, but fired the larger 7.7 mm round

The Type 96 was preceded in service by the Type 11 which was responsible for a great many of the problems in the Type 96.

The Type 11 used the five round rifle clip as the basis for its feed system.  Six clips were placed on a side mounted 'hopper’ and fed into the chamber minus the metal strip.  This approach was supposed the make the weapon easier to maintain by its attendant rifleman, but it caused no end of problems.  Chief among these was the need to oil each round against the effects of dust and dirt from the exposed mechanism.  In fact, the debris simply mixed with the oil to create an even worse gunge.  This flaw was only eliminated by using an even less powerful 6.5 mm round, which negated the envisioned co-operation with the rifleman who used the standard munitions.  

The Type 96 appeared in 1936.  It abandoned the hopper for a straightforward thirty round box magazine and introduced a barrel change.  However, it retained the low powered 6.5 mm round and the oiling mechanism, but this latter device was at least improved upon.  It overtook but never replaced the Type 11 in service.

As with the Arisaka Bolt Action Rifles a revised version of the Type 96 appeared to fire the 7.7 mm round.  The Type 99 needed no lubrication device and was statistically similar to the Type 96, though probably a little heavier.  All these weapons could fit the standard infantry bayonet for 'close assault’ use.

The Italian Army

The Breda Modello 30

Length 123 cm                          
Weight 10.3 kg (empty/loaded ?)
Calibre 6.5 mm
Magazine 20 round box
Muzzle Velocity 620 metres per second
Rate of Fire 500 rpm

Good view of the Breda displaying the side mounted magazine, only found elsewhere in the Johnson as I recall.  Note also the absence of a handle to remove the hot barrel

The Breda light machine gun carried over the same unreliable 6.5 mm round found in the Italian rifle.  This was coupled with a low magazine capacity and several other unfortunate features to create a less than satisfactory squad automatic weapon.

Chief among the problems was the barrel change, which lacked a handle by which the gunner or assistant could remove the red hot item without touching it.  The only solution was an improvised glove.  It also required a similar degree of lubrication to the Japanese weapons described above, which gave ample scope for stoppages combined with the desert sands.  The side mounted magazine was also an oddity.  The box was hinged to turn through 90 degrees, placing it flat alongside the body.  The lips were then facing the gunner, who would insert the ammunition from chargers before swinging the box back into place.  It was a slow and laborious process, and the hinge proved susceptible to damage which rendered the weapon inoperable.

As a result, the Breda 30 has little to recommend it other than its distinctive appearance.  Some were retooled for the 7.35 mm round as the Breda 38.



Two models of the German made bolt-action bullpup rifle; one in .338 Lapua Magnum, the other in .50 BMG. The DSR-1 is distinct in its double magazine configuration, although the forward most magazine is the spare. The second photo shows the DSR-50 in its transit case. Note the unfinished part of the barrel where the massive muzzle brake attaches to. Very few DSR-1 rifles were brought into the U.S. (GRH)



One of VLTOR’s flagship AR-15 models that uses their updated CASV Keymod handguard. The lower has a rather distinct over-sized magazine release button. While I don’t doubt the quality of the handguard, it seems to opposite of what most companies are moving towards; light and sleek. (GRH)