The need arose on the battlefield for an easily transportable machine gun to compliment the German Blitzkrieg, a new type of warfare. The High Command placed the MG30, which had promise, into the hands of the artist Paul Mauser. This resulted in the Machine Gun of 1934, or MG34. However, as with most German weapons of that era, it was complicated and it did not react well to dust. Can you say Tiger Tank? The lock of the MG34 was so complex and required such fine manufacturing tolerances that it was prone to wear down in dirty and dusty environments. This would cause a catastrophic and permanent failure. However, it still was a very successful weapon and it was instrumental through out the Second World War. Nevertheless, a better weapon was waiting in the wings.
That weapon would be the Maschinengewehr 42 Machine Gun of 1942 or just the MG42. The allies in World War II feared no single weapon more. It possessed an unbelievable rate of fire—around 1,200 to 1,500 rounds per minute! At its best, the MG34 could reach 1,200 rounds per minutes, but this was unsustainable and quickly wore the lock and barrel out. The MG34 was a great basic idea that suffered from over-engineering. Can you say Tiger Tank? When compared to other machine guns of the time, like the French FM 24/29 LMG at 450 rpm, the Browning 1917 M17A1 LMG at 600 rpm, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) at 500-600 rpm, and the Japanese Type 11 LMG at 400-450 rpm, the MG42 had no equals. To help deal with the sound of this terrifying weapon, American soldiers had to watch training films so they knew what to expect from the MG42. The distinctive sound the gun made prompted soldiers to give it nicknames such as Hitler’s Bonesaw, Hitler’s Buzzsaw, or Hitler’s Zipper.
When fired, a monstrous cartridge exited the muzzle. The 7.92×57 Mauser, which when rounded up represents the 8mm Mauser, which is what we have come to know it. With around 2,700 ft-lbs of kinetic energy, this caused a storm of overpowering projectiles to fill the air. It was inescapable in most circumstances when caught in the field of fire.
At that rate of fire, the barrels would quickly become too hot and start to melt. However, the real genius of the gun was the ability to change barrels within seconds by an experienced gunner. Technically speaking it is roller-locked, short recoil operated, gas assisted, belt feed, light machine gun. That just sounds cool. Easily carried as a light infantry weapon, or used as suppressing fire from a mounted position, it would soon become an invaluable weapon for the Germans. The fact is that it was the best light machine gun of World War II, hands down.
As history tells us, it would not be enough to win the war. At places like Utah and Omaha beaches, it was evil personified and would leave its mark on history like no other gun before or after. It would see battlefields in the bitter cold of the Russian Steppes and the burning deserts of Africa. The MG42 was home in either condition. With almost 400,000 built during World War II, it was everywhere.
At the end of the war, the original blueprints would disappear and the true MG42s would pass into history as very collectible masterpieces. Yugoslavia would produce a version known only as the Model 53. It makes one wonder where those blueprints went. Germany would produce versions as late as 1958 and 1959. These later version MG42/58 and MG42/59 would become the MG2 and MG3 respectfully. The American M60 would take many ideas from the MG42 design. Next to the M1 Garand, there was not a more effective and superior weapon on the battlefields of World War II.