MG-34: The Universal Machine Gun Concept
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MG-34: The Universal Machine Gun Concept

Hi guys, thanks for tuning in another
video on I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here at the James D Julia auction house taking a look at some of the machine guns that they’re going to be selling in their upcoming Fall of 2017 firearms auction. And specifically today, we’re going to take a look at the MG34. Now, more important than the 34 itself, perhaps is understanding where it came from, because this was really one of the very first implementations of the concept of the universal machine gun. This is an idea that was circulated in the
literature, starting in the … early 1930s, and I believe it actually originated with a
Danish military officer. And the idea was to combine all of the different machine guns
that were needed by a military force into one. This. Hence ‘Universal’. Now for the Germans, and this was
dictated by the German military in 1932, they put out a request for a machine
gun that would combine the roles of the light machine gun, which had been the MG 08/15,
the heavy machine gun, which had been the MG 08, and then machine guns for use in armoured
vehicles, machine guns for anti-aircraft use, and machine guns for use in
pillboxes or fortified emplacements. They wanted one universal gun that could be
readily adapted to all of these different purposes, and they actually had a really interesting … philosophy
of a development program to make this happen. There were elements of what became the MG34 that
came from a whole bunch of different developers. The Rheinmetall company was pretty heavily involved.
They had a gun, elements of which went into the MG34. The Mauser Company had a lot of
involvement. Mauser is often credited with this gun as a whole thing,
but … they were only part of the story. Vollmer was involved. The Simson company plant, which became
BSW and later Gustloff, they were involved. Ultimately, in order to negotiate patent
rights for the German government to create and manufacture this gun, they had to
have, like, an independent arbiter sit down. There were something like 18 different
patents from these three major companies, Gustloff, Mauser and Rheinmetall, and
they had to negotiate the relative value of all of the patents … as they applied
to the gun itself and come up with payment royalties for each company. That
part was a gigantic bureaucratic mess. But it’s really impressive that anyone
even tried to do something like that. Normally with machine gun development
you would outsource to a single company, and that company … would use only their
patents and design a gun that they thought best fit the government request. Well in
this case, the development was largely shepherded by the German Ordnance
Department, Waffenamt Prüfwesen. They had actually Louis Stange, the
Rheinmetall designer, who by the way had a bunch of other cool developments to
his name, including the FG42 later on. He was probably … the primary engineer in putting all
of these different elements together into the MG34. Now this was ultimately completed in ’34. It was tested
in 1935, and it was actually put into production in 1936. However it didn’t actually become formally announced
as a German military small arm until 1939. At which point, by the way, they
already had 50,000 of them, give or take. But this was actually considered a serious
state secret up until ’39, the original couple of editions of the manual were classified.
They didn’t let any foreign, you know foreign military attaches, even see the guns.
For one thing, they weren’t really supposed to be doing this sort of machine gun
development under the Versailles Treaty, and for another thing, this really was … a pretty
novel and impressive concept at the time. This took the idea of a light machine gun, a ZB-26 for
example, and put it into a really truly universal role. So … I should actually elaborate on
that universal role a little bit. One of the requirements
… for the MG34 was that it had to have both semi and full-auto capability,
which is OK, that’s not a problem. And they also wanted an adjustable rate of fire.
And the original MG34s actually had a clockwork rate reducer in the grip frame
that could allow you to adjust the rate of fire, from 400 up to 900 rounds per minute.
And the reason for that was the different requirements for the different roles that this
gun would be put into. So in an anti-aircraft role they really wanted as high a rate of fire
as possible, in fact the 900 rounds a minute that the original early MG34s could do,
that wasn’t high enough. They wanted more for shooting at airplanes, because
you have this very fleeting chance to hit a fast-moving target and the more bullets you
can fire at it, the better your chances of getting a hit. At the same time, 900 rounds a minute for a
bipod mounted machine gun like this in 8mm Mauser … would have significant control issues.
You wanted a slower rate of fire for the gun when it was deployed as a light
machine gun. Now the light machine gun configuration is what we have here. In this setup it
has a pistol grip, it’s easy to control, has a bipod. This weighs just over 26 pounds, about 12 kilos. The typical weight for a magazine-fed
light machine gun was 10 to 12 kilos, so this is at the high end, but
this is really in the weight area for a magazine-fed typical light
machine gun, where [the MG34] is belt-fed. So it was able to take the role of something
like a Bren gun, or a ZB-26, or a Chatellerault, or certainly a BAR. This thing could run circles
around a BAR as a light machine gun in that role. It was controllable, it was portable by a
single man. It would typically have probably been run by a two-man crew, one guy
carrying ammo, helping with various tasks involved in the shooting. But one
man could operate this by himself. In the heavy machine gun role, the same
gun was fitted to a really complex and advanced tripod called a Lafette mount. The advantage of this was it was what
was … called at the time, a soft mount, where instead of simply being a solid
tripod that you bolted a gun into, and you made it very sturdy, and you sand bagged
it down, and made sure it couldn’t move. Instead, the idea of a soft mount
(which by the way is also Danish in origin, the Madsen company was the first
company to develop these), the idea there was the tripod is firmly fixed to the
ground, but then the gun is actually in a spring-loaded recoiling cradle in
the tripod, so when the gun fires the … recoil from the gun is
absorbed by a mechanism in the tripod, which allows for much more accurate fire.
In fact with a gun like this, the gunner, when the gun was in a tripod, a Lafette mount,
didn’t actually use the trigger directly. He used a separate trigger built into
the tripod which would then activate the trigger in the gun,
so that you weren’t trying to hold on to the gun while it was cycling
back and forth on this recoiling mount. The Lafette mounts were sophisticated, they’re
ludicrously complicated, and disassembling them is an absolute nightmare, but they
did their job really well, and they allowed, basically, allowed a light machine gun to effectively
turn into a heavy machine gun on this tripod. You’re capable of sustained long-range firepower,
and it worked really well in doing those jobs, both the light and the heavy machine guns. I should point out, it does also have a quick-change
barrel, we’ll take a look … at that in a moment. The quick change mechanism is actually set
up to be ideally used in the Lafette mount. The need to change the barrel was a little bit less as a
light machine gun unless you were shooting quite a lot. One other thing that I want to touch on is the
number of these guns that actually existed. So I mentioned that 50,000 had been
made … by the beginning of 1939, when the gun was adopted. A lot of people
have this conception that the MG34 was, like, the standard German military machine gun through
all of World War Two, right from the beginning. Well, propaganda pictures are always
going to show the guys with the nicest, and best, and newest equipment. And so
during the early campaigns of the battle in western Europe in World War Two, most of
the pictures the Germans deliberately took, showed guys with MG34s. However,
when the war started in September of ’39, the Germans had about 84,000 of these,
out of a total of a 178,000 machine guns total in their inventory. So, of the German
produced guns they had, like I said, 84,000 of these, and then they had about
40,000 or 45,000 older German machine guns, a combination of MG 08s, 08/15s
and MG 13s, and these were all used extensively in the campaigns in
Poland and France and the Low Countries. At that time the Germans had also occupied
Austria and Czechoslovakia, and they’d picked up a lot of guns there. They got, I think,
43,000 machine guns from Czechoslovakia, a lot of converted Schwarzlose heavy guns,
as well as ZB-26 light machine guns, and they got another 7,000 or 8,000
guns from the Austrians, so MG 30s and another batch of Schwarzlose
heavy machine guns. So, early in the war, you know, maybe two in five
German machine guns were actually MG34s. Now they would continue to produce these
very quickly. They were made by a whole bunch of different companies
over the course of the war, and by March of 1941 they did successfully
completely standardise on the MG34. In that year they issued orders for all
of the non-standard guns to be sent back. Those guns were overhauled and refurbished
at arsenals, and then made available for use in rear-echelon, you know, guys on the
Atlantic Wall, places where they weren’t expected to be in front-line combat. And
the combat elements of the army all had 34s. So, let’s take a closer look at exactly how this works, and
what made it such an effective universal machine gun. Now let’s take a look at some of the various
elements of the MG34, there’s a lot to go over here. This is, of course I should say, 8x57mm,
standard 8mm Mauser, and it is a belt-fed gun. Now in the heavy machine gun role on a Lafette
mount it would have a big long belt of ammunition. In the light machine gun role through
most of the war it operated with these, (or through all of the war actually). This is
the Gurttrommel, and it is a little clamp-on device here. If I flip this handle over that
way, it allows me to unlock and open this. This is a 50 round belt with a starter tab on it. And the way that this drum works is that simply you load 50 rounds in the belt, and then you wind it up, and set it inside this drum. The back plate here, by the way, is a little
spring loaded just to stop a little bit of rattling. And then this, this doesn’t feed
cartridges really, this is just a container for a 50 round belt of ammunition.
And that means you can have this clamped onto the gun, like so, while one man is carrying the gun,
so it’s not running around unloaded. This is the sort of thing that they did not
have, for example, on the US 1919A6 light machine gun. You had to carry a box of
ammo separately, and then load the gun when you got to your new position.
Or else run around with a loose belt of ammo hanging out the gun. Those aren’t
good solutions. This is a good solution. Now early on in its development, at the
very beginning, they had a different design for the top cover. And they actually
had a separate replaceable top cover that was able to use a double drum
magazine. That proved to be a lot more trouble than it was worth. Those things
are extremely rare and valuable now, but they were actually removed from service and
replaced by this before the war actually started. So this is what you will see troops actually using. Those very early guns also had an adjustable
rate of fire control here. That was fairly quickly dispensed of, it was also more trouble
than it was really worth. And the standard wartime production grips are like this, they
have this fairly distinctive two finger trigger marked ‘D’ at the bottom and ‘E’ at the top.
The [top] is a single fire trigger, semi-auto, and the [bottom] is a fully automatic
trigger, so basically if you pull the trigger without depressing this secondary
lever, you’ll only fire semi-auto. This button at the top is a manual safety, … the
gun is not cocked, so the safety won’t work. There we go, now with the gun cocked I can
engage the safety and that blocks the trigger. The safety disengaged, it will now fire. In order to access the working parts of the
feed system, we have a top cover that we can lift up. One important safety note here, should
you ever be using an MG42 [or MG34]. Never open the top cover without having the bolt locked back. If you have a stoppage while shooting, it is
entirely possible … to have opening the top cover release the bolt, and chamber a round,
and explode, and it can be a bad thing. So before you open it, lock the bolt open and then
we can lift the top cover up. We also then have a separate feed
tray here, … you can just pull this out to have better access to the
feed system should you need it. This is the late, or the standard
I suppose, production version. It feeds only from the left side,
the very earliest iteration of the MG34 actually had a reversible feed tray that could go either
side. And that was an important aspect in it also being like a pillbox or a vehicle mounted machine gun,
you could switch the feed from side to side very easily. They realised that wasn’t all that
important and they could simplify it a lot, and also add the two clamps here for the belt box, and so that was the standard
production version through the war. Now, we’ve got our bolt in here,
we will take this apart in a moment, but I can give you a nice little
preview of how this works right now. What we have here is a recoil
operated gun with a rotating bolt, so when I (I’m going to drop this gently), when the bolt goes
forward, it is going to rotate into battery right there, and then rotate back out of battery when the
bolt cycles, so that’s the basic locking mechanism. We have four locking lugs up here at the front,
they’re going to rotate into the barrel. The sights fold down when you’re not using them,
so in use you would lift them up like that. But we can get a nice good look at them here,
they’re going to go out to 2,000 metres, which is actually not all that crazy for a
heavy machine gun. You could certainly fire at a large area that far away. This is adjustable
up and down, and it’s just a rear notch sight there. Up at the muzzle end we have
the front sight, which also folds down. When I lift that up it’s usable, it is a
barleycorn sight. The sight picture on these is basically the same as the
K98k Mauser, which of course makes sense. We have a flash hider and muzzle booster at the front. That’s integral to the recoil operation of
the gun. And then, of course, there is a bipod attached at the front. There is this little
thing hanging down from the bipod and that actually allows you to make the legs
narrower or wider to fit whatever sort of terrain you might be on. So I can thread that down,
spread out the legs and drop the gun a bit. Or I can do the opposite, thread it in this way,
pull the legs together and raise the gun up higher. One of the essential elements of the gun
dictated by the German military was that it had to have a quick-change barrel, and the barrel
change mechanism is kind of unique on the MG34. We want to have the bolt locked open, which it is,
and then there is a latch right here on the side of, well, the back of the barrel shroud.
And what I’m going to do is push that latch in, and then the whole receiver pivots down, down and around, and we then … can slide the barrel right out of the gun. This, by the way, is part of the reason that
the MG34 continued to be used all the way through the end of World War Two, even
after it was basically replaced by the MG42. The thing is this system worked really
well in armoured vehicles in particular, where you didn’t need very much extra space at
all to just pivot the receiver around, basically around the axis of the barrel, and so you could mount these
in tanks and still be able to change the barrels out. When they switched to the MG42,
that required some lateral movement, or lateral space, to pull the barrels out
of the guns. And so a lot of vehicles and well, mostly vehicle mounts, it was
easier to just keep building MG34s for them, than redesign the interior of the
vehicle to fit a different machine gun. Anyway, we can actually take this one
step further, because we have a button right here, this button comes down on
the bottom of the receiver and lifts up, and that allows me to completely
remove the receiver assembly. So if I push that in, and then, pull the whole receiver off. Now I have this easily transportable
separate barrel shroud, or barrel jacket, and I can take the bipod (by the way, the
bipod folds up and locks … onto this stud, these two openings on the bipod
overlap, snap on to that and hold it in place). I realised I forgot to mention this. This little
bracket is the attachment for an anti-aircraft, like, a spiderweb type sight, so you’ll
find that on the guns but they usually didn’t have anti-aircraft sights on them.
This is again an element of this being a universal machine gun. In order to adapt
it for anti-aircraft use, all you do is snap on the anti-aircraft sight and mount it on
to any sort of anti-aircraft style of tripod, and the gun’s good to go. I mentioned that this was a recoil operated gun, and
so at the front here we can take off the flash hider, and we will actually find … we’ll find a recoil booster inside, this
helps push some of the gas pressure back against the face of the barrel here,
which helps to cycle the gun. Now before I take the rear end of the
gun apart, I want to show you something. There’s actually two disassembly
latches down here, and if I just use this one, this simply removes the butt-stock as a component. This is another element of it
being a universal machine gun. You can see there’s still a receiver
end cap here. If you are mounting this in, well, in a pillbox probably,
or definitely in an armoured vehicle, you didn’t need to have this sitting on the end
of the gun taking up a little more space. So the butt-stock went in a separate box with your bipod
and an anti-aircraft sight, if you had one, and the other components for turning it into a light machine gun,
and it could be used in the tank just like this. Now I want to take the whole rear
assembly of the gun off for disassembly, so I’m going to use this latch. Push that
in and rotate it, and then this will jump off. There we go.There is a fair amount of tension
in that recoil spring. And pull the recoil spring out. I can then use the bolt handle here to slide the … bolt out the back, and then this same latch allows me to remove the charging handle. And then one last thing I can do is remove
the grip assembly. This is held in place by two two-part split pins here, and on this gun they are
really tight, so I’m going to tap them out with a punch. Once we have both sides of the pins out, then
the grip assembly just lifts right off the receiver. But wait, we’re not done yet. Let’s open up the top cover, we can
take the feed tray out as before, and then this is a spring-loaded button
which is going to allow me to remove the whole top cover assembly. Alright, and finally there we have the whole gun stripped apart. This may take a little bit of time, but it’s actually a pretty darn simple process. And there’s nothing really to go all that wrong in it, so once you understand how this works, it may take more than about five seconds, but
you can do it pretty quickly. And you can certainly strip the gun down to all of its major
service level components pretty easily. I am not going to go into detail on the trigger
assembly here, because these are kind of a mess. I do actually have a video that I did many years
ago on specifically the MG34 trigger assembly, so there will be a link at the very end of this video
to that one. If you’re interested, check out that video. We are going to look at exactly
how this thing actually works, however. This is going to be a little bit hard to
show you on camera, but the barrel is going to sit just slightly inside the receiver
when the gun is all locked in place, and it is sitting like this with a plunger spring. This little guy is a really stiff spring because this is a recoil
operated gun, which means every time it fires, the barrel is actually going to come back a
few millimetres, and the reason for that is the bolt and barrel are going to remain locked
together, until the barrel recoils backward. That’s what allows pressure to drop
and for the whole thing to fire safely. So … that recoil of the barrel is
pushing against this spring-loaded plug, and as soon as the firing cycle is basically done, this is going to push the barrel forward again,
back into position to fire a second time. Now we also have a pair of curved
surfaces in here, and those are going to interact with the rollers on the bolt, but the
surfaces in the receiver are kind of secondary, the important ones are these
matching surfaces on the barrel itself. The MG34 here is going to work kind of like the AR-15,
in that the bolt is actually locking into the barrel, like so. We have these locking lugs, two on this side
and two on this side, and there are matching recesses in this barrel extension, right here. So this is the unlocked position. The bolt’s
going to come in and then these rollers are going to travel on this curved surface, the inside of the rollers are traveling on the
curved surfaces on the inside of the receiver, that’s going to force this to rotate the bolt head, … the bolt head is what’s rotating.
The rest of the bolt body back here does not. So the bolt body is actually
being held in place by the receiver. The bolt head rotates
and once it’s gotten to this point, it’s all the way in battery, and then
it’s going to rotate just a little further, and the firing pin is going to
snap forward and fire a cartridge. Then this whole assembly recoils backward,
the bolt is forced to rotate the other direction, that is going to re-cock the whole thing like this. (This is a little tricky to show you without the receiver in
place to actually control the movement of these parts.) But once this thing is going to unlock like that, and then separate backward to eject
the empty case and load a new one. I think the important point here is, or at least
one of the important points, is to recognise that these rollers have nothing to do
with a, for example, a roller locked gun. These are just roller bearings, kind of
like the roller on the back of an M14 bolt. They serve to make sure that the whole assembly
travels smoothly and they actually don’t have … any serious purpose in the locking. The locking is
done by these lugs right here in front of the rollers. As I’m sure you’re aware, the MG34 was replaced
by the MG42 a little later on in World War Two. And in case someone is going to ask why,
one of the big answers is this receiver. This is a very complicated receiver.
It’s expensive and, perhaps more relevant for German interests at the time, this
gun requires a lot of specialised steels. Strong alloys, alloys that require specific trace minerals
that Germany didn’t have a lot of native deposits of. That is why the Germans in general
moved towards a lot of stamped small arms. Not only was the stamping process
cheaper in bulk, it was more economical. But it also allowed them to use a lot of
stamping steel, which is a very simple, inexpensive and easy to acquire alloy.
There’s no fancy weird materials, you didn’t need extra nickel, or tungsten,
or molybdenum, or other trace metals in the steel alloys for stamping. So by switching
to the MG42 they were able to get away from this intricately machined and milled, and expensive,
and also requiring really good steels type of part and get to just a
much simpler stamped piece. So, we will cover the MG42
in more depth in a later video. Hopefully this video has given you a bit
more insight into the MG34 mechanically, and I think more importantly, some
insight into the universal machine gun concept. This really was the very first of that type
actually put into real substantial service. And the universal machine gun concept
continues to be very relevant today. Some of the best machine guns that are still
out there today follow this same premise. The Soviet PK or PKM being one of
the fantastic examples. Set up for … It’s a light machine gun, it’s a heavy machine
gun, it’s a vehicle mounted machine gun, it’s kind of pretty good at everything. So, it was the Germans, acting
on what appears to be Danish suggestion, that first were able
to actually put that into practice. If, having seen this, you decide that you really have to
have an MG34 in your own life, well they are out there. They do show up for sale and here’s an example
of one, in fact. So if you would like this one, take a look at the description text below, you’ll find
a link there to the Julia catalogue page on this gun, you can take a look at their pictures, their description.
It comes with a whole bunch of extra accessories that I don’t have in this video, and you can see all of those as well. And you can come to Fairfield, Maine, and participate live in the auction, or submit
a bid over the phone, or through the website. Thanks for watching.


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