The Maschinengewehr 34
The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG34, was a German machine gun that was first produced and accepted for service by the Wehrmacht in 1934, reaching ground units by 1935. It was an air-cooled belt feed machine gun firing 7.92 mm Mauser cartridge at a rate of 850 rounds per minute with a unique interchangeable barrel assembly..
The MG34 was a dual role weapon, designed to perform both as a light squad machine gun and also in heavier roles mounted on the Lafette-34, thus being the first example ever of a general-purpose machine gun in modern eyes. In the light role, it comes equipped as standard with a bipod and 50-round belt contained in a drum magazine. In the heavier role it was mounted on the lafette tripod and was belt-fed from boxes. However in practice the infantry usually just belt-fed the bipod version, resulting in it functioning as a classic medium support weapon.
Designed by Heinrich Vollmer from the Mauser Werke, it was largely based on the recently introduced Rheinmetall-designed Solothurn 1930 that was starting to enter service in Switzerland. The principal changes were to move the feed mechanism to a more convenient location on the left of the breech, and the addition of an air-cooled cross-drilled jacket around the barrel. Along with changes to the operating mechanism to give improved the rates of fire.
The new gun was accepted for service almost immediately and was generally liked by the troops. It was used to great effect by German soldiers assisting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The weapon went on to feature heavily during the opening campaigns against Poland and France and Low Countries and on to provide infantry support during the invasion of Russia in operation Barbarossa.
At the time it was introduced it had a number of advanced features, however the MG 34 was also expensive to produce, both in terms of construction and the raw materials needed (49 kg of steel) and it was unable to be built in the sorts of numbers required for the ever expanding German army. It also proved to be rather temperamental, jamming easily when dirty.
The MG34 was belt-fed with 7.92 mm ammunition of various types. Belts
were supplied in 50-round non-disintegrating strips and could be joined
together to make up 250-round boxes for sustained fire. The drums held
either 50 rounds in the standard version, or 75 in the special "double
drum" saddle version.
Like most machine guns, the MG34's barrel is designed to be easily replaced to avoid overheating during sustained fire. During a barrel change, the operator would disengage a latch which held the receiver to the barrel sleeve. The entire receiver then pivoted off to the right, allowing the operator to pull the barrel out the back of the sleeve. A new barrel would then be put in the back of the sleeve, and the receiver rotated back in line with the barrel sleeve and latched. The entire process took just a few seconds when performed by a well-trained operator, causing minimal downtime in battle.
A unique feature of the MG34 was its double-crescent trigger, which provided select fire capability without the need for a fire mode selector switch. Pressing the upper segment of the trigger produced semi-automatic fire, while holding the lower segment of the trigger produced fully-automatic fire. Though considered innovative at the time, the feature was eliminated due to its complexity on the MG34's successor, the MG42.
In the light machine gun role it was used with a bipod and weighed only 12.1 kg making it a light weapon compared to others of the day. In the medium machine gun role it could be mounted on a tripod, weighing some 23.6 kg. This tripod, the Lafette-34, included a number of features such as multi positional legs and table. A ZF scope could be fitted with special sighting equipment for indirect fire. The tripod could be placed to allow the gun to be fired "remotely" allowing it to sweep an arc of fire back and forth in front of the mounting driven by the weapons own recoil. It could also be aimed through a periscope, attached to the tripod when hidden in a bunker or deep trench. The legs of the tripod could also be extended in such a way as to allow it to be used in the anti-aircraft role along with a Spider sight issued to every Number One gunner’s tool kit.
Because of the production drawbacks with the MG34, a new weapon designed to replace it was introduced in 1942. The MG42 was in many respects an updated version of the 34 and included many of the lessons learned from the 34 to produce a world-class machine gun that’s still in production today. However the demands of the war meant that the MG34 was to remain in production till the end of the war in an effort to satisfy the growing demands of an all-consuming Wehrmacht.
Although the MG34 was used as the standard infantry machine gun early
in the war, it was also employed as the primary tank defensive weapon
fitted with a heavier barrel jacket (omitting the holes) to give extra
protection to the barrel. This continued right up till the end of the
war since the MG42 (the MG34’s intended replacement) featured a
barrel changing mechanism that was unsuitable for this role.