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The MG 34 (shortened from German: Maschinengewehr 34, or “machine gun 34”) is a German recoil-operated air-cooled general-purpose machine gun, first tested in 1929, introduced in 1934, and issued to units in 1936. It introduced an entirely new concept in automatic firepower – the Einheitsmaschinengewehr (Universal machine gun) – and is generally considered the world’s first general-purpose machine gun (GPMG). Both the MG 34 and MG 42 were erroneously nicknamed “Spandau” by Allied troops, a carryover from the World War I nickname for the MG 08, which was produced at the Spandau Arsenal. The versatile MG 34 was chambered for the full-power 7.92×57mm Mauser rifle cartridge, and was arguably the most advanced machine gun in the world at the time of its deployment. The MG 34 was envisaged and well developed to provide portable light and medium machine gun infantry cover, anti-aircraft coverage, and even sniping ability. 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 from 1939. Nonetheless, the design proved to be rather complex for mass production, and was supplemented by the cheaper and simpler to mass produce MG 42, though both remained in service and production until the end of the war.
|In service||1936–1945 (officially, German military) 1936–present (other armies)|
|Manufacturer||Rheinmetall-Borsig AG Soemmerda, Mauserwerke AG, Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG, Waffenwerke Brünn|
|Unit cost||312 ℛℳ (1944)|
|1260 EUR current equivalent|
|Mass||12.1 kg (26.7 lb)|
|32 kg (70.5 lb) (with tripod)|
|Length||1,219 mm (48.0 in)|
|Barrel length||627 mm (24.7 in)|
|Action||Recoil-operated, opened rotating bolt|
|Rate of fire||800–900 rounds/min|
|Early versions: 600–1,000 rounds/min selectable on pistol grip|
|MG 34″S”: 1,500 rounds/min.|
|MG 34/41: 1,200 rounds/min.|
|Practical: 150 rounds/min|
|Muzzle velocity||765 m/s (2,510 ft/s) (s.S. Patrone)|
|Effective firing range||200–2,000 m (219–2,187 yd) sight adjustments|
|3,500 m (3,828 yd) with tripod and telescopic sight|
|Maximum firing range||4,700 m (5,140 yd)|
|Feed system||50/250-round Patronengurt 33, 34, or 34/41 model belt, 50-round drum, or 75-round drum magazine with modification|
|Sights||Iron sights, antiaircraft sight or telescopic sights|
In 1932 the Reichswehrministerium (Ministry of the Reichswehr) ordered several companies, including Rheinmetall, to develop a new Einheitsmaschinengewehr (Universal machine gun) to replace several role specific machine guns then in German use. The following specifications for the gun were set:
- light weight
- simplified operation
- quick-change barrel
- single-shot capability as well as two (fast and slower) cyclic rates
The MG 34 was based on a 1930 Rheinmetall design under the direction of Louis Stange at Rheinmetall’s Sömmerda office, the MG 30. The Swiss and Austrian militaries had both licensed and produced the MG 30 from Rheinmetall shortly after it was patented and the gun started to enter service in Switzerland. The technical challenges in meeting the Reichswehrministerium specifications were broader than the gun development itself. It also encompassed various mounts and other accessories that had to adapt that gun to different roles. The MG 30 design was adapted and modified by Heinrich Vollmer of Mauser Industries. Vollmer originally designed the feed mechanism to accept MG 13/MG 15 inspired 75-round Patronentrommel 34 spring-loaded saddle-drum magazines. The Patronentrommel 34 was a rather complex magazine for which a filling device had to be used and requiring ordnance personnel and a special tool to optimize the spring tension for reliable feeding. Users were ordered not to adjust the drum spring tension. The result, the multiple role capable MG 34, wherein Rheinmetall’s Sömmerda plant had a significant influence, reflected the Reichswehrministerium specifications.
In 1937 the feed was redesigned to use reusable non-disintegrating Gurt 33 and Gurt 34 metal belts and a 50-round Gurttrommel 34 (belt drum). The feeding system was based on the direct push-through of the cartridge out of the link into the gun’s chamber. Accordingly, the link had to be of the half-open type to enable the motion of the bolt through the link. Vollmer also increased the rate of fire. The MG 34’s double crescent trigger dictated either semiautomatic or fully automatic firing modes. The capability to use the previous 75-round Patronentrommel 34 saddle-drum magazines (with a required change of the feed cover for a Trommelhalter magazine holder) was retained.
As the MG 34 was technically based on and featured design elements of several other machine guns, the German arms industry under the guidance of the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency) negotiated and worked out complex royalties and patents matters regarding the MG 34 to every involved side’s satisfaction.
Before large scale production commenced, 2,300 MG 34s in two main early versions, slightly more complex and different from the final design, were produced between 1935 and 1939. At the time it was introduced, it had a number of advanced features and the general-purpose machine gun concept that it aspired to was an influential one.
During the period between 1934 and the adoption of the final version the Waffenamt realized the MG 34 Einheitsmaschinengewehr was too complex and expensive to mass-produce and started looking for ways to simplify and rationalize the technical concept. In 1937, the Waffenamt requested three companies to submit new more economical Einheitsmaschinengewehr designs.
The final version of the MG 34 was eventually adopted for main service on 24 January 1939. The MG 34 was the mainstay of German Army support weapons from the time of its first pre large scale production issue in 1935 until 1942, when it was supplanted by the next Einheitsmaschinengewehr generation Maschinengewehr 42 or MG 42. Although the MG 34 was fairly reliable — it was sensitive to extreme weather conditions, dirt and mud — when competently maintained and dominant on the battlefield. Its dissemination throughout the German forces was hampered due to its elaborately milled precision engineering with tight tolerances and use of high-quality metal alloys, which resulted in high machine time, skilled labor requirements, production costs and a relatively slow rate of production. MG 34 production during the war amounted to over 350,000 units
- 12,822 in 1939
- 54,826 in 1940
- 80,952 in 1941
- 63,163 in 1942
- 48,802 in 1943
- 61,396 in 1944,
- 20,297 in 1945
Attempts to incrementally improve the fundamental drawbacks of the basic MG 34 design failed. For its successor, the faster firing, less complex, sensitive and expensive MG 42, the Germans instead used mass production techniques similar to those that created the MP 40 submachine gun. In 1943, MG 42 production surpassed MG 34 production and continued to do so until the end of the war. The Germans nevertheless continued widespread production of MG 34s in parallel until the end of the war.
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