The MG-34 — 15 Facts About Germany’s First GPMG

I’ve always found the German weapons of WWII to be the most innovative and interesting. Despite being on the side of the bad guys, they are just intriguing. To say that Germany was a weapons pioneer is an understatement. Their MG-34 was the first General Purpose Machine Gun, which is one of the reasons I’ve always been attracted to it. If you’d like to learn some facts about Germany’s MG-34, tag along and we’ll delve into the subject.

1. MG-34 —The World’s First General Purpose Machine Gun

Germany’s first General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) was the MG-34. MG-34 stood for Maschinengewehr 34, or Machinegun 34, which was introduced in 1934 and officially issued beginning in 1936.

MG-34 gun crew.
German gunners with the MG-34 in France. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Not only was it Germany’s first GPMG, it was also the world’s first. Despite their evil intentions during WWII, you have to hand it to the Germans—their innovation was admirable.

2. MG-34 Particulars and Specs

Chambered in 7.92×57 Mauser, The MGl-34 used the same cartridge as Germany’s battle rifle, the Mauser 98. It weighed 26.7 pounds by itself and 70.5 pounds with the tripod. It was 48 inches in length.

The MG-34 was quite complex and relied heavily on machining, making it a nightmare to manufacture. (Photo: WikimediaCommons)

The MG-34’s action was recoil operated with an opened, rotating bolt.

3. Variable Rate of Fire

Early versions of the MG-34 had a selectable rate of fire (located in a selector on the pistol grip) and were capable of firing either 600 or 1,000 rounds per minute. Later, the rate of fire was fixed at the rate of 800-900 rounds per minute. Other models, which were typically used on aircraft, had higher rates of fire, some 1,200 or even 1,500 rounds per minute.

4. Caution

Gunners were cautioned to only fire 150 rounds rapidly before changing out the barrel, lest they ruin the barrel by overheating it. Barrel changes took 10-15 seconds by a skilled crew.

5. Disadvantages

Although it was cutting edge for its time, the MG-34 was a complex weapon, which brought up two major issues that were against it.

  • Its complexity made it unreliable because of close tolerances.
  • If it became dirty, which was common during filthy combat conditions, it would suffer stoppages.

As well, that complex machining made it more difficult to produce. It was time-consuming and expensive. Being made from large pieces of steel, it was difficult to machine. Nevertheless, it was produced right up until the very end of the war.

Pencil drawing by Jim Davis of a Stug III comader wit MG-34 at the ready.
A Stug III commander with MG-34 at the ready. The gun is behind a metal shield, which offered some protection from small arms fire. Artwork by the author.

6. Feeding

The MG-34 was fed by metallic ammunition belts, which came in either 50 or 250 rounds. These belts could also be loaded into a 50 or 75-round drum to make transporting the machine gun easier. The belts were non-disintegrating and could be reused again.

Belted ammunition.
Belted ammunition came in 50-round belts that could be linked together. It was non-disintegrating. (Photo: Benjamin Nunez Gonzalez)
MG-34 action, feed mechanism and drum that holds a belt of ammuntion
The feed mechanism is visible here, along with a drum that holds a belt of ammunition. (Photo: The Armory Life)

7. Select Fire

The trigger had two crescents; one permitted single shots to be fired and the other was fully automatic. The portion marked “E” was for semi-auto fire, and the portion marked “D” was for fully automatic fire.

MG-34 select fire trigger.
Double crescent trigger. “E” was used for semi-automatic fire and “D” was used for fully automatic fire. Later versions of the MG-34 made use of stampings rather than machined parts for the trigger mechanism in an effort to simplify production. (Photo: RCR Museum)

8. Production

During WWII, over 350,000 MG-34s were produced. Had it not been so complex to machine and made use of so many high-quality alloys, more would have been made. The MG-42 outpaced the MG-34 in numbers because it made use of more stampings and was faster and easier to make.

Motorcycle side car with MG-34.
Motorcycles were popular in the German Army, and they made use of machine guns in the sidecars. In this case, an MG-34. The firepower and mobility that were offered by this combination are extraordinary when you stop to think about it.

9. Quick Change Barrel

The first to make use of a quick change barrel, the MG-34’s barrel needed to be changed after 150 rounds of rapid-fire or it would experience misfires. Spare barrels weighed 4.4 pounds each and had a service life of approximately 6,000 rounds, assuming they were not overheated.

10. Armored Vehicles

The MG-34 was used more extensively than the MG-42 inside armored vehicles because the 34’s barrel took less room to change inside the vehicle. The MG-42’s barrel was awkward to change in enclosed spaces because of the angle required for removal. The MG-34’s barrel could be removed and installed in line, therefore it was used inside armored vehicles.

Machineguns on a Panzer IV.
In this photo, not only can we see the MG-34 mounted on the turret near the commander’s hatch, but also the hull-mounted MG-34. The vehicle is a Panzer IV.
Reenactors and Panzer IV.
Another angle on the Panzer IV. Here are two reenactors from a German SS division chatting.
Panzer IV with MG-34.
The view from the right side shows the turret mount clearly. Note the stand-off armor of the Panzer IV, meant to detonate hollow charge rounds before they impact the turret. The vehicle also sports side skirts.
German assault gun.
A German self-propelled assault gun with a cupola-mounted MG-34 advances amid a cloud of exhaust smoke.

11. It Wouldn’t Quit

Even after WWII, the MG-34 wouldn’t quit—it was used in a myriad of different wars, including by the Viet Cong in the Viet Nam War! It also saw action in the Suez, the Six Day War, the Angolan Civil War, the Cuban Revolution, the Troubles in Ireland, and others.

12. Infantry Squad

German infantry tactics dictated that the entire ten-man squad was focused to support the machinegun. It was the focus of their firepower. Aside from the machinegun crew, the other squad members were there to provide extra ammunition and protect the crew. The machine gun was the nucleus of the infantry squad.

Infantry squad.
The entire infantry squad existed to support the machine gun. Riflemen carried spare ammo and provided cover to the gun crew. The machine gun was the nucleus of the squad. )Photo: Bundesarchiv)

13. Firing

Gunners were taught to fire short bursts and to change barrels every 150 rounds of fire rapidly to preserve barrel life. In emergencies, they were authorized to fire up to 400 rounds rapidly, but this decreased the life of the barrel.

MG-34 Rear sight assembly.
MG-34 rear sight assembly, adjustable to 2,000 yards. (Photo: The Armory Life.)

14. Tripod

The tripod was best suited for defensive positions and had recoil-absorbing buffer springs in it. An optic could be mounted to enhance firing at extended distances out to 3,000 meters. The Lafette tripod weighed 44 pounds. The legs were adjustable so that the tripod could be at low, medium, and standing positions, and could be used in an anti-aircraft role.

MG-34 anti-aircraft mount.
The anti-aircraft tripod is seen here amid a reenactor encampment.

There were several other tripods that were also used, including one that raised the gun very high for dedicated anti-aircraft use.

Firing the MG-34 from the tripod.
The Lafette tripod is seen here with a gun team firing the MG-34 in the Ukraine. (Photo: Wiki Fandom)
mg-34 in twin AA mount.
Two MG-34s in a double anti-aircraft mount. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Certain optics and additions to the mount could be added for indirect fire, and the machine gun could be used more like artillery.

MG-34 with helmet, grenades, and drum.
When used by the infantry for assault, the bipod was the preferred mode of deployment for the MG-34. Recoil could push the bipod backward, causing it to collapse, so the gunner had to lean into the gun to prevent that from happening. (Photo: The Armory Life)

15. Norwegian Use

In the 1950s, Norway converted the MG-34 to .30-06 and then later to 7.62 NATO and used it into the 1990s.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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