Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > Themes in History > War and Military History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

War and Military History War and Military History Forum - Warfare, Tactics, and Military Technology over the centuries


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old January 3rd, 2018, 12:02 AM   #1
Historian
 
Joined: Nov 2014
From: Birmingham, UK
Posts: 1,131
To what extent was the MG42 a force-multiplier in WW2 infantry combat?


Pretty much as per the title, really; its well-known that the MG42 had a much faster rate of fire than the squad or platoon-level MG's available to their opponents. I'm just wondering exactly how impactful this was in combat, whether this was in any way measurable or tangible (rather than anecdotal, as there is lots of anecdotal testimony from Allied infantrymen of the effect of the fast-firing MG's they faced). Or, if the Werhmacht was able to get greater utility from its use of MG's was this a matter of better doctrine, or simply the fact that the Wehrmacht (i believe as a result of experiences in Russia) committed to providing a greater number of MG's down to the squad/section-sized unit?
Arminius is online now  
Remove Ads
Old January 3rd, 2018, 08:26 AM   #2
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 4,682

Germans pushed MGs into their non-assault squads back in WW1, as a reaction to the British and French both having light machine gun (LMG) in their squads (Lewis and the Chauchat). It was highly necessary too, since after taking an enemy trench line the infantry who'd just done it would nearly always be subject to a massive counterattack, and since these troops often were out of contact with their own artillery, mortars, or battalion/regimental heavy machine gun units, they needed to rely on what they could bring with them to repel these counterattacks. Since rifles couldn't do it, they needed full auto. But the Germans didn't have one built, so they went off to the drawing board. At the time, a few companies had made reliable magazine fed weapons but most were failures. The most reliable MGs were belt fed because magazine construction back then, plus springs inside them, weren't all that great. So the Gerrmans took a standard MG08 Maxim and milled it down heavily to reduce weight, stuck a lighter water cooling jacket on it, then an air cooling barrel, and called it the MG08-15 and issued it to their infantry squads.

Post war they continued R&D to improve their stuff while most other countries did not, they even got pretty shady with it by using shell companies inside neutral countries to avoid the legal restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. The result was that in the inter war years they developed better machine guns that eventually led to the MG34, which was to replace all machine guns used in the Heer, only a few other variants of MGs for aircraft were maintained, everything else was the MG34. So naturally that replaced the MG08/15 in their squad.

The MG08 firing rate that was shared with the MG08/15 and most other heavy machine guns (HMG) was designed around sustained long range fire, often from tripods, often done indirectly with plunging fire. That lower rate helped conserve ammo since the weapons were planned to be firing near continuously sometimes for hours on end.

The MG34 wasn't just replacing that machine gun, it was replacing many others, as the Germans had decided to standard all machine guns (or at least most of them) into one type, the Universal Machine Gun as they call it, the General Purpose MG as we call it. So the MG34 had a slightly higher than normal firing rate because beyond the customary rate dictated for infantry use (usually 500-600).

This increased firing rate, 900-1,100 was still doable with infantry firing it off the bipods in the LMG role, and in the HMG role on the massive and complicated Lafette tripod (50 lbs and this many parts, very complicated to build). Using that tripod and multiple barrels and a squad to do nothing but haul ammo, the battalions heavy machine gun company had the ability to keep those MGs firing continuously as long as they could supply the ammo. More so the MG34 would serve in non-infantry roles, for anti-aircraft duties, and in armored duties as the tank's coaxial machine gun (Co-ax) and the MG mounted on the commander's cupola.

The increased firing rate of the MG34 was actually the result of its anti-air duties, as shooting down a fast moving low flying enemy aircraft necessitated putting a curtain of bullets in its path, needing a very high cyclic rate (you can see this too with other German and Soviet MGs designed primarily for air combat, which had massive rates of fire over 2,000 rpm).

The MG34 was a hit compared to what it had replaced and what most contemporaries were using (since they went cheap after WW1 and the Depression and didn't blow money on small arms R&D). But the MG34 was not perfect, the reality was that it wasn't really a good combat weapon. It was a pain in the butt to make and its operating system was more delicate than the arduous combat of the Eastern Front demanded, between filth and frost, it jammed a lot. So after lessons learned from Poland, France, but especially that first horrible year in Russia, especially that winter, they rushed in a brand new design, the MG42.

This weapon, stamped and much cheaper and easier to make than the MG34, was far more robust as well. It had increased its cyclic rate by an addition 200-400 RPM, depending on the conditions/ammo used. This worked out well for its anti-air role, it worked in the LMG role as long as the gunner fired very short bursts, it wasn't that good in the area fire role of the HMG (in which case it couldn't fire often or else consume its ammo supply, so objectives could not be suppressed as effectively as a slower firing MG). Based on the operating system of the MG42, roller-locking recoil, it has no settings to adjust like other MGs that are gas operated, which usually have an adjustable gas regulator set for normal conditions with small opening for gas and then emergency/dirty setting with a large opening for more gas. With the MG42, the manner in which they ensured it would work in all temperatures and filth, and with questionable pressured ammunition was to increase the rate of fire. If the MG normally fired 1,300-1,500 RPM clean, dirty gun, plus dirty ammo, plus freezing temps it would still fire 800-900 RPM. The feed pawl springs in the feed tray cover were excellent, very strong, it would pull ammo in dirty or cold or snagged on something, and the well designed operating system would fire it, and it would do so reliably all the time. It worked. Better yet, it was cheap, so they could make many of them to quickly replace most of the MG34s.

You're probably going to read some people stating that the high fire rate of the MG42 created a shotgun effect for increased hit percentages. That's nonsense, it comes from people looking at "cone of fire" and actually believing they are circular with the target in the center. They aren't, when MGs fire they recoil, and the impulse is violently up and usually slightly to one side, often the right (based on the rifling). So the cone of fire for a 7.92x57mm full power cartridge firing 10 rounds in a second is going to be a straight line heading about to the 1 o'clock. And even fired from a stable prone position with the bipod properly loaded it would be unlikely that the shooter would be able to get more than a single round on a man sized target in normal combat ranges before the cone of fire is well above the target (which is why the MG42 in LMG mode was fired in ~1 second bursts, pull the trigger and let go instantly, before your brain even recognizes its firing).

Another technique that sprung up in late war when the quality of the machine gunners declined (previously they had gone to a school that was weeks in length) was to remove every sixth round from the non-disintegrating belt to limit firing while in LMG mode. That way a gunner would sight in on an individual, shoot five rounds, then he'd need to cycle the gun again to repeat. This was done when ammo consumption was an issue and when troop fire discipline was a problem, and only done when used in the LMG/Bipod role.

Overall, the concept of a universal/general purpose machine gun was a huge hit. It made sense to standard all the MGs, logistically, training, etc. But as a weapon in the squad, the GPMG was largely a failure, most nations that do have a belt fed in the squads use an intermediate cartridge LMG/SAW/LSW since it recoils less and the gunner can carry more ammo.

As for the firing rate, a whole lot of other countries developed very effective and famous GPMGs post WW2, using much different operating systems. What were their cyclic rates? Nothing close to MG42, mostly because post WW2 nobody was depending on GPMGs to shoot down low flying jets. But also because they realized that a slower cyclic rate, 700-800, allowed the gunner to control the sights better and achieve more hits and not waste as much ammo.

So how effective was 10 rounds per second in a GPMG? Since nobody used it afterwards besides the Germans Bundeswehr with their MG3, I'd say it wasn't that effective. And even that model often has a recoil reducer in the muzzle or added weight to the bolt, to lower the cyclic rate.

Last edited by aggienation; January 3rd, 2018 at 08:32 AM.
aggienation is offline  
Old January 3rd, 2018, 08:58 AM   #3

Ichon's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Mar 2013
From: .
Posts: 3,239

Most interviews and letters of German soldiers I've seen who were squad machine gunners (who had a relatively lower rate of survival since they were always prime targets) seemed to prefer the MG34 because the MG42 rate of fire was so high it consumed ammo more quickly and led to the barrel needing to be changed more often while also being less accurate.

Not everyone felt this way and vehicle mounted MG42 which were often more for suppression than threat elimination was probably a bit better than MG34 but later in the war it would have become quite difficult to find MG34 for the average squad and there were certainly people who were able to overcome MG42 issues and make good use of it at the squad level so while the MG42 had some real issues it wasn't a bad weapon at all.
Ichon is offline  
Old January 3rd, 2018, 09:39 AM   #4
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 4,682

I lucked out and got the chance to fire an MG42 some years back in Vegas at one of those machine gun rental ranges. It was rechambered in 7.62 NATO, so less recoil than 8mm Mauser, and was mounted in a pintle mount set in concrete to the floor, so much more stable than bipod mode. Even then it recoiled like crazy, jumping all over the place. I can't imagine hitting anything with it off the bipod besides maybe the first or second shot in a burst, everything else would likely fly overhead. But even that works well in combat, for suppressive fire to be effective in a caliber like that the bullet needs to pass within 3-5 meters of a person for them to feel threatened enough to take cover. The MG42 firing rate was so high it created its own signature, the series of snaps overhead was a major psychological weapon that worked well grounding the enemy.

That was the point of this training video to GIs in the ETO. To remind US Army soldiers that the bark of the MG42 was legitimately worse than the bite, and that sound doesn't kill you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dGx...ature=youtu.be
aggienation is offline  
Old January 3rd, 2018, 09:59 AM   #5
Historian
 
Joined: Nov 2014
From: Birmingham, UK
Posts: 1,131

Great answers thanks
Arminius is online now  
Old January 4th, 2018, 12:09 PM   #6
Academician
 
Joined: Jan 2018
From: Canada
Posts: 89

Quote:
Originally Posted by aggienation View Post
The MG34 wasn't just replacing that machine gun, it was replacing many others, as the Germans had decided to standard all machine guns (or at least most of them) into one type, the Universal Machine Gun as they call it, the General Purpose MG as we call it. So the MG34 had a slightly higher than normal firing rate because beyond the customary rate dictated for infantry use (usually 500-600).

This increased firing rate, 900-1,100 was still doable with infantry firing it off the bipods in the LMG role, and in the HMG role on the massive and complicated Lafette tripod (50 lbs and this many parts, very complicated to build). Using that tripod and multiple barrels and a squad to do nothing but haul ammo, the battalions heavy machine gun company had the ability to keep those MGs firing continuously as long as they could supply the ammo. More so the MG34 would serve in non-infantry roles, for anti-aircraft duties, and in armored duties as the tank's coaxial machine gun (Co-ax) and the MG mounted on the commander's cupola.

The increased firing rate of the MG34 was actually the result of its anti-air duties, as shooting down a fast moving low flying enemy aircraft necessitated putting a curtain of bullets in its path, needing a very high cyclic rate (you can see this too with other German and Soviet MGs designed primarily for air combat, which had massive rates of fire over 2,000 rpm).

The MG34 was a hit compared to what it had replaced and what most contemporaries were using (since they went cheap after WW1 and the Depression and didn't blow money on small arms R&D). But the MG34 was not perfect, the reality was that it wasn't really a good combat weapon. It was a pain in the butt to make and its operating system was more delicate than the arduous combat of the Eastern Front demanded, between filth and frost, it jammed a lot. So after lessons learned from Poland, France, but especially that first horrible year in Russia, especially that winter, they rushed in a brand new design, the MG42.

This is a very good comment.

In my opinion, about 80% of the firepower of a German squad rested on their GPMG, which was used as a crutch to compensate for their Kar 98 bolt action rifles. Every man in the unit would carry ammo to keep the gun properly fed. The MG 34/42 was flat out superior to any machine gun used by the Allys.

I would add that depending on their rate of fire, a machine gun can have different 'attack profiles', so to speak. The rapid firing MG 42 was highly effective at suppressing groups of soldiers, while the slower bren gun was was great at engaging individual men. The guns did less well when their roles were reversed.

Your warning about the 'cone of fire' is correct, too.
PlasmaTorch is offline  
Old January 4th, 2018, 12:23 PM   #7
Scholar
 
Joined: Oct 2015
From: Norway
Posts: 505

Since I was a second machine gunner on a MG3 in the Norwegian army I found Aggienation's claim that the Rheinmetal MG3 was only used by the West German military odd. So I consulted Wikipedia. They list 40 countries as users of MG3. The MG3 and FN MAG were the GPMG's of European NATO countries during the cold war and the weapon can't be called a failure by any definition of the word I can think of.
Number24 is offline  
Old January 4th, 2018, 12:57 PM   #8
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 4,682

Quote:
Originally Posted by Number24 View Post
Since I was a second machine gunner on a MG3 in the Norwegian army I found Aggienation's claim that the Rheinmetal MG3 was only used by the West German military odd. So I consulted Wikipedia. They list 40 countries as users of MG3. The MG3 and FN MAG were the GPMG's of European NATO countries during the cold war and the weapon can't be called a failure by any definition of the word I can think of.
I'm not talking about people who bought or used it or managed to acquire them. But what I was referring to is that of all the major industrial nations post WW2 that developed and produced popular MGs, US, France, Belgium, Russia, China, Israel, etc., only one of them tried to duplicate the MG42, and that was Germany, and its not a stretch to understand why they did it.

Germany had to rush to create the Bundeswehr but had little ready. Their fix for MGs was to convert leftover MG42 stockpiles to 7.62 NATO (the MG42/59) but as those were wearing out they needed to be replaced, so even though they lost the design prints and machines to the Soviets during the occupation they had to literally reverse engineer their own machine gun to build the next version, the MG3.

So the reason the Germans kept the MG3 all the way to a couple years ago when they replaced them with the abortion that is the MG5 is because it was the cheapest solution. Not because the MG42 was the best MG out there.
aggienation is offline  
Old January 4th, 2018, 01:18 PM   #9
Scholar
 
Joined: Oct 2015
From: Norway
Posts: 505

That makes more sense. But wasn't the design of the M60 and parts of the FN MAG pretty much taken from the MG42? And did all those countries chose the MG3 instead of the FN MAG, the M60 etc. just because it was cheaper? It's strange that the weapon was such a commercial success if it was so bad, isn't it?
Number24 is offline  
Old January 4th, 2018, 01:37 PM   #10

gustavolapizza's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Apr 2015
From: Italy
Posts: 1,699

Quote:
Originally Posted by aggienation View Post
I lucked out and got the chance to fire an MG42 some years back in Vegas at one of those machine gun rental ranges. It was rechambered in 7.62 NATO, so less recoil than 8mm Mauser, and was mounted in a pintle mount set in concrete to the floor, so much more stable than bipod mode. Even then it recoiled like crazy, jumping all over the place. I can't imagine hitting anything with it off the bipod besides maybe the first or second shot in a burst, everything else would likely fly overhead. But even that works well in combat, for suppressive fire to be effective in a caliber like that the bullet needs to pass within 3-5 meters of a person for them to feel threatened enough to take cover. The MG42 firing rate was so high it created its own signature, the series of snaps overhead was a major psychological weapon that worked well grounding the enemy.

That was the point of this training video to GIs in the ETO. To remind US Army soldiers that the bark of the MG42 was legitimately worse than the bite, and that sound doesn't kill you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dGx...ature=youtu.be
isn't actually the point of a machinegun like an mg42 to be a suppression machine, therefore preventing the enemy to shoot at you more than actually hit them?
gustavolapizza is offline  
Reply

  Historum > Themes in History > War and Military History

Tags
combat, extent, forcemultiplier, infantry, mg42, ww2



Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Did the arabs use force to force any people to convert to Islam? Does the persians ha darkpearl1945 Middle Eastern and African History 152 April 16th, 2018 02:44 AM
1351 The Combat of the Thirty or Combat des Trente Banastre Medieval and Byzantine History 2 December 19th, 2016 01:59 AM
Massed melee infantry vs musket armed infantry Menshevik War and Military History 33 January 2nd, 2016 03:01 PM
Would you rather have a large tank force or a larger artillery force? Darth Raidius War and Military History 20 April 21st, 2015 02:00 AM
Inter-American Peace Force - Legitimate peacekeeping force or US-led military alliance? Saturn War and Military History 2 October 8th, 2010 09:34 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.