When was the first machine gun patented?

Machine gun

A Machine gun (short MG, in the Swiss Army Mg) is a fully automatic firearm for firing rifle ammunition.

M60 machine gun developed in the USA in the 1950s
The Austro-Hungarian MG "Schwarzlose" model M07 / 12 with ammunition box and textile ammunition belt

When the trigger is pulled, machine guns fire projectiles until the trigger is released again, the supply of ammunition is interrupted or a malfunction occurs. The automatic loading mechanism is operated either by the gas pressure of the expanding powder gases, by the recoil force or by an external drive such as an electric motor. MGs are considered war weapons in the Federal Republic of Germany. Trade and possession of machine guns in Germany are regulated by the War Weapons Control Act.

MGs calibers range from 5.56 mm to approx. 15 mm or a maximum of 20 mm (see list of small arms ammunition). Fixed machine guns or machine guns mounted on mounts with a caliber of 12 to less than 20 mm are referred to as heavy machine guns. Automatic firearms with a caliber of 20 mm or more are machine guns and usually fire grenades instead of solid bullets. Fully automatic weapons that fire pistol ammunition fall under the designation of submachine guns and are usually smaller than machine guns.


Structure and technology

In terms of structure, rifles and machine guns differ primarily in the way the reloading mechanism of the weapon works and the locking technology. The basic structure is otherwise identical. In the case of heavy machine guns, the use of the ammunition belt is another special feature compared to (automatic) rifles. A belt enables higher cadence compared to conventional ammunition feed with a magazine.

The modern Gatling weapons are a machine gun design that differs from the current principle. With these types of machine guns, multiple rotating barrels during the rotation cycle each have a fraction of a second to cool down. There is therefore no longer any permanent load on just one single run. In addition, the rotation of the barrel set causes air to flow around the barrels, which improves cooling. Machine guns that work with ammunition belts generally require special barrel cooling, as the steel of the barrel otherwise burns out and wears out due to the high rate of fire. In the past, water was often used for cooling, today the barrels are either changed regularly after a number of belts or replaced entirely.

Model types

Within the group of machine guns, a further differentiation is made between light, medium and heavy machine guns.

  • Light machine guns (IMG) are characterized by the fact that they can be transported by one soldier alone and also shot free-hand and are not much heavier than the respective standard weapons. The ammunition is usually fed via magazines, but belt feed is also possible. The barrel of most light machine guns is not interchangeable and is permanently installed. While in the past, when multi-loading rifles were still ordinance, IMGs were a separate line of development (e.g. BREN) or were derived as a light variant from the universal MG (MG 42), nowadays variants of common assault rifles of the same caliber, equipped with a heavier barrel and bipod, are often used are used. Examples are the Soviet RPK or the Swiss LMg 25.
  • Medium machine guns - also called multi-purpose machine guns or universal machine guns - are not based on an assault rifle, but are usually a separate development. In these weapons, more powerful cartridges with a larger caliber than in assault rifles may be used. Multi-purpose machine guns can be used both as a light machine-gun with a bipod and as a heavy machine-gun on a mount. Other key features for medium machine guns are:
    • the ammunition supply through ammunition belts in order to be able to lead an effective continuous fire, and
    • a replaceable barrel to avoid overheating of weapons without water cooling.
    • Exemplary models for multi-purpose machine guns: German MG 34, MG 42, Soviet PK / PKM, FN MAG.
  • Heavy machine guns are permanently installed MGs or mounted on mounts. These are either medium-sized MGs or separate developments for special applications. Gatling machine guns are generally classified as heavy machine guns because of their high weight, high recoil force and because of the extremely high consumption of ammunition.

Occasionally one also finds the name over-heavy machine guns, mostly for heavy machine guns with a caliber of 12.7 mm and higher. An example of this is the Soviet KPW with a caliber of 14.5 × 114 mm.


The light machine guns (and medium machine guns on bipods) are classed as handguns because they can be operated by one person. However, the shooter is often supported by someone else when transporting the ammunition. They are mostly used as group machine guns in an infantry unit or as on-board armament in military vehicles.

Heavy machine guns (and correspondingly mounted medium machine guns) are mostly used to arm fighter planes, combat helicopters or tanks, for example, but also to defend fortified positions. Since they cannot be carried or can only be dismantled (in weapon and carriage) and cannot be operated by one person without problems, heavy machine-guns are not classed as handguns.

Use with ground units

In combat operations, machine guns are mainly used to give support fire and to hold down the actions of the enemy (fire protection - barrage).

One of the first major operations with machine guns was the suppression of the Mahdi uprising (1881 to 1899). The Mahdists were defeated by an Anglo-Egyptian force in 1898. This counted 482 killed and wounded, the Mahdi side 9,700 dead and 16,000 wounded.[3]

The bloody positional battles in World War I were due to the use of machine guns on both sides. The strategy and tactics of warfare changed fundamentally. Most of the attacks quickly collapsed due to the crossfire with machine guns on the long front. For example, in the Battle of the Somme, 90% of British casualties were due to German machine gun fire.[4]

During the Second World War, the machine-gun troop of each rifle group of the Wehrmacht consisted of up to four soldiers. The first ammunition equipment included 2500 rounds as planned. The machine-gunner carried 50 rounds in a belt drum, 500 rounds each for machine-gunner 2 and 3. The rest was carried in the war train. In practice, however, this ammunition was also distributed among the riflemen in the group and carried with them, and the assignment of a 3 machine gunner was soon dropped. The machine gunners went to carry up to four exchangeable tubes with them in order to be able to hold down enemy forces in defense but also in attack in longer battles, since the tube had to be changed to cool down after every 150 rounds fired. In the sMG troops of the MG companies of the infantry battalions, the MGs were used on field tripods. This also made it possible to take fire in areas of up to 1200 m further away, some with an archery shot. Tracer cartridges were also used for the MG to observe the firing position, especially at night and for anti-aircraft defense. For this purpose, a ratio of 1 shot of tracer to 3 shots of normal ammunition should be strapped.

In practice, the aim is to fight the enemy with short, targeted bursts of fire. Continuous fire with an operation of 250 rounds and more is only useful with field mounts and must be accompanied by changing the barrel, otherwise the barrel overheats and as a result a projectile can get stuck in the barrel and cause the barrel to burn out.

Use in aerial combat

First World War

In the First World War, machine guns were used as aircraft on-board weapons for the first time. On the German side, modified MG 08 and later MG 08/15 were used. The modifications consisted in doing without the water jacket, since the airflow was enough to cool the barrel. A German innovation were synchronized machine guns that could shoot through the propeller circle with the help of an interrupter gear. This increased the accuracy. In the case of fighter aircraft, two of these machine guns were usually arranged rigidly above the engine. French fighters also shot through the propeller circle, albeit unsynchronized. For this purpose, the propeller blades had to be covered with sheet steel, on which the lead bullets ricocheted off, which limited both the firepower and the performance of the machine.

The Parabellum MG was also used, especially in mobile installations.

Second World War

At the beginning of World War II, all powers used small-caliber machine guns (7.5–7.92 mm) in their aircraft. Due to insufficient penetration and range, these were soon replaced by super-heavy machine-guns (12.7–13.2 mm) or machine guns of larger caliber.

Since 1945

The last aircraft to carry machine guns as main armament were the American F-86s. Nowadays, machine guns are only used by light fighter planes and helicopters. Otherwise, the use of machine guns is preferred due to the significantly higher effect in the target.

Legal situation

Situation in Germany

In Germany, private individuals are prohibited from owning fully automatic weapons.[5]

Situation in Switzerland

Machine gun emplacements on the Simplon Pass (2019) 46.2456198.018434

In Switzerland, machine guns that can be carried and operated by a single person fall under Article 5 of the Weapons Act, the term series firearms, the acquisition and possession of which is prohibited. This also applies to those that have been converted into semi-automatic weapons. The law also prohibits shooting with series firearms. In justified individual cases, e.g. B. for collectors, issue special permits. These permits contain regulations that are regularly checked by the authorities. So are i.a. Keep the breech and weapon "physically separate and protected from access by third parties".


  • F. W. A. ​​Hobart: The machine gun. The story of a fully automatic weapon. 3. Edition. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-87943-277-5.
  • Daniel Musgrave: German machine guns. Development, technology, types. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-613-01653-2.
  • Eugen A. Lisewski: German machine guns in action. MG 01 to MG 42. Podzun-Pallas Verlag, Wölfersheim-Berstadt 1999, ISBN 3-7909-0681-6 (The weapon arsenal Vol. 180).
  • Rolf Wirtgen: The development of the machine gun. From the hand tube to the universal machine gun. Brochure for the special exhibition 2005 at the Defense Technical Study Collection. Federal Office for Defense Technology and Procurement, Koblenz 2005, ISBN 3-927038-66-0.
  • Ilya Shaydurov: Russian Firearms - Types.Technology.Data. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-613-03187-6.
  • Chris McNab: MG 34 and MG 42 machine guns, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-1-78200-309-0. 82 pages (online PDF) (Memento from May 15, 2018 in Internet Archive)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ G Lenotre: Vieilles Maisons, Vieux Papiers (fr). Tallandier, 2014, ISBN 979-1-02-100758-1, p. 81.
  2. La press (fr) May 22, 1838. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  3. ↑ The Mohammedan Movement in Egyptian Sudan. Lecture by Professor Dr. Dagobert Schoenfeld, 1904
  4. ↑ Rozina Sabur, Laurence Dodds: Ten facts about the Battle of the Somme, The Telegraph, July 30, 2016
  5. ↑ Appendix 2 (to Section 2 Paragraphs 2 to 4) Weapons List, Section 1 (Prohibited Weapons), (Fully automatic machines)