Machine Gun Terminology

Machine Gun Terminology

Are you interested in class of guns. There could different class of guns. So there’s one other type of machine gun that we need to touch on here, and that’s the heavy machine gun. Not the same heavy machine gun we talked about at the beginning, but rather the modern understanding of the heavy machine gun and where a World War 1 heavy machine gun is typically.30 caliber and water cooled, a modern heavy machine gun is air cooled and.50 caliber, somewhere between.50 caliber, which is 12.7mm, and 20mm. Once you hit 20mm you’re in the realm of what’s considered a light weapon, and a 20mm gun is considered a cannon, it’s no longer a machine gun.So for that space between 12.7 and 20mm, you have guns that are designed for attacking things like light vehicles and infrastructure, shooting through building walls, shooting things like delicate installations, radar, fuel tanks, that sort of thing, something that needs a larger, more powerful bullet than a.30 caliber, than a GPMG would be capable of delivering.

So the heavy machine gun in this form originated shortly after World War 1. In fact, its origins were being designed to be an anti-tank weapon. 50 caliber Browning, in 1919, was capable of basically taking out any armored vehicle then in existence. But tanks, tank armor grew pretty quickly and by the time there was another real war,. 50 caliber Browning ammunition wasn’t really an effective anti-tank weapon, or wouldn’t be for very long. So these guns were pushed into anti-aircraft use. By the end of the Korean War, aircraft were simply moving too fast for a machine gun to really be a viable anti-aircraft weapon, so they’re kind of pushed out of that role and they remain today as anti-materiel and anti-light vehicle sorts of guns.

You’ll see them primarily mounted on vehicles or mounted in fixed positions, kind of like the heavy machine guns from World War 1, so we have a situation where the nomenclature has stayed the same, but what it’s really describing has has changed fairly fundamentally, from a gun that’s heavy to a gun that fires a heavy cartridge. Now of course, not quite everything really is going to fit neatly into this puzzle of terminology. There’re always going to be some outliers because people don’t design guns to fit these standard terms, they design guns to do specific jobs, and then we take this whole field of guns and we try and kind of encapsulate them into various names, various labels.

So we’re always going to be left with some things like this, that just don’t really fit any of our definitions. This is a 1919A6, this is the Israeli variant of the gun, or Israeli take on how to make a 1919A6. This comes about from the US government having the 1919A4, which didn’t have a buttstock, didn’t have a bipod, had to be fired from this tripod, looking at this gun and it is going “well, jeez, the Germans have these machine guns that they can just pick up off the tripod, flip down a bipod, and run around with, and they’re way more mobile and boy wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that,” so they basically kludged on a bipod and a shoulder stock, the shoulder stock is literally held in place by a giant thumb screw it is the definition of, like, the Acme light machine gun kit, and what you end up with is a gun that technically works.

You can pick this thing up, run to a position without a tripod, throw it down on the bipod, get behind it with the shoulder stock, and use it like a light machine gun, but boy, it’s a really heavy light machine gun. So what does this technically fall into? Well, I would say it’s a light machine gun, it’s just not a very good one.

Another example along these very same lines would be the German MG 08/15, This was kind of the same sort of thing, it was, “Wow, boy, those British have some, uh. you know, the French have this Chauchat and the British have this, uh, Lewis gun, and it’d be really nice if we had a machine gun that someone could just pick up and move with, so let’s take the Maxim and let’s try and turn it into a light machine gun. ” This thing is a little too heavy, and it’s belt fed, which is awkward in a light machine gun. The 08/15 was even worse, it was a little too heavy and belt fed, and it was still water cooled, and they were trying to run around with it.

I mean that thing was like 45 pounds. But hey they put a pistol grip on it and a bipod, so it must be a light machine gun, right? Well, sort of. These are examples where our terminology isn’t really well matched to the guns, but I would argue it’s because the guns really weren’t well matched to their roles. So I’m sure in the comments folks will come up with some other examples of things that don’t really quite fit these parameters.


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