I am Heavy Weapons Guy. And this... is my weapon. She weighs 150 kilograms and fires $200 custom-tooled cartridges at 10,000 rounds per minute. It costs 400,000 dollars to fire this weapon...for 12 seconds.Back to Cool Guns
—The Heavy, Team Fortress 2
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The Gatling Gun
The original multi-barreled bullet-hose, designed by Richard Gatling, the Gatling Gun was mounted on carriage wheels like a Cannon and fired by hand crank, and later, by electric motor. Gatling hoped the weapon would reduce the size of armies and serve as a deterrent by showing everyone how futile war would be with such destructive firepower. He did reduce the size of the army the Gatling Gun was pointed at by a fair bit, but otherwise, the Gatling was simply added to the arsenal as the world's first Automatic weapon. Gatlings were originally replaced by single-barrel machine guns like the Maxim below, but Gatling-type weapons came back into their own when it was discovered that multiple barrels sharing the heat load could offer much much higher rates of fire and sustain them longer than any one machine gun could. Gatling's attempt to render war futile instead birthed the progenitor of some of the deadliest weapons currently used to kill regular infantry and later, scaled-up versions that could do the same to tanks. Oh and the thing's legal for anyone with a gun permit to fire. You just have to afford one first.
The Maxim Gun
Literally the grand-daddy of them all, the Maxim was the first “True” machine gun that we would recognise. Developed by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, an American-born British inventor, whose attempts to make a fortune via invention in America early on failed until he was (allegedly) told that if he wanted to make money he should “Invent something to help those damn-fool Europeans cut their throats more efficiently”. He noticed that when a gun fired, it produced recoil, and rather than seeing this as a nuisance he realized that this could be used to force the spent cartridge out of the gun and load a new one. Over 600 times a minute in fact. At least one version allegedly had a rate of fire of 666 rounds per minute, leading to the nickname "The Devil's Paintbrush". So he made a water-cooled tripod mounted belt fed weapon and went to Europe and tried without much success to sell the idea. Then he came to Britain, where they had been having a spot of bother pacifying the natives in… well in most of the world, and they liked the gun so much they knighted him. Suddenly the rest of the world decided they wanted the gun too. The Maxim became pretty much the standard machine gun of the world during the first world war with notable exceptions of America, where they decided that they were never getting involved so they didn’t need to standardize machine guns, and France and Austria-Hungary, where they insisted on using local designs (that were usually inferior but decent, aside for the horrible Saint Etienne 1907). Italy also ended up without them (at least without many of them), but they had to adopt a more unreliable Italian design due to the Italian government failing to get the machine guns they had already paid for due to the start of World War I (note that the Italians also had another design comparable with the Maxim. Sadly, the guy who had designed the unreliable model was among the people assigned to choose the gun to replace the Maxim with, with obvious results). The British went one further with an improved version, the Vickers, which was used until the 70’s by Britain and the 90’s by other nations. This was mostly because it never broke: it could jam if the ammo fed into it was dud, and drills existed to get the duds out and the weapon firing again, but the gun itself was almost indestructible. In one 1916 test, ten guns of the 100th machine gun company fired one belt short of one million rounds in twelve hours, and only two guns encountered problems: all ten were serviceable again following basic maintenance. British soldiers did similar, impromptu "tests" just before the Vickers was finally retired, as a more fun way to dispose of the .303 ammo that no other weapon still in service used. Despite the guns having been used for decades, they held up just as well as in those early tests.
Browning Automatic Rifle
Proof that even John Moses Browning's failures could still be incredibly successful, the BAR was originally designed as a "walking fire" gun, a WW1 concept for an automatic weapon that could be fired from the hip by a soldier crossing no man's land to support his comrades. However, the BAR ended up a bit ahead of its time. Chambered for the same .30-06 ammunition as standard-issue rifles, the weapon was too cumbersome and unwieldy for its intended application. (It would only be when "intermediate" cartridges appeared decades later for assault rifles that the original idea behind the BAR became feasible.) Being twice the weight of an M1 Garand and in post-1918 models almost thrice the weight of usual bolt-action rifles in .30-06; it was instead employed as a light machine gun, used to give the infantry squad additional firepower and range. Despite being widely adopted, it had a number of flaws as a support weapon; in particular, it lacked any facility for changing barrels quicklynote or accepting a belt feed, instead only able to use 20-round box magazines. On top of that it was too light a weapon to use in this role - controlling it while firing fully automatic was relatively difficult. This effectively made it a very heavy battle rifle rather than a true light machine gun. In spite of these shortcomings, it continued in service with the US military right into the Vietnam war, eventually being replaced by the M60; the US National Guard continued to use it into the 70s, and some countries continued to use the BAR all the way into the 1990s. The modern FN MAG/M240 is also based in part on the BAR's action, except flipped upside down and adapted to belt-feed using an MG42-derived top plate.
Lahti-Saloranta M 26
A light machine gun fed by magazine designed by Aimo Lahti and Arvo Saloranta (their only cooperative effort, as the men did not get along well) in 1926 for the Finnish Army, it was an example of Gone Horribly Right, having the same qualities as the BAR and same limits of practical use. It was accurate like a rifle, had almost same ergonomics as a rifle due to a cleverly designed stock and grips, and looked cool as hell, yet it had only a 20-round magazine with no way to use belt feed. A 75-round drum mag was also developed, but never used in combat. Also, it took a long time to change the barrel, had a complex action which was an enormous pain to clean and would also jam within a very short time if not cleaned, and spare magazines were heavy steel and hard to carry. The Finns needed a machine gun and got instead a very complicated rifle. While it was a highly accurate rifle, the Finnish soldiers' nickname for the M26 says it all: kootut virheet (assorted mistakes). It didn't help that Saloranta, when put in charge of the production of M26, made several unauthorized changes to the design that were intended to improve reliability but in practice did the opposite, so the weapon the Finnish Army got wasn't actually the one they'd chosen to adopt. This also exacerbated the existing feud between Saloranta and Lahti.
Degtyarev DP- 28
The light machine gun of choice for the Red Army in World War II. Just like the BAR and M26 above, it more or less is a machine-rifle. It has a distinct round horizontal-mounted pan (ie flat drum) magazine owing to the need to reliably fire the standard Russian 7.62x54R cartridge, giving it a very distinct look (and a significantly higher magazine capacity than box-fed machine guns, at 47 rounds). It also has exceptional reliability and a high tolerance for dirt, in tests it fired even after being buried in sand and mud. It fired more slowly than competing designs, but the reduced rate of fire eliminated the need for a changeable barrel. The Soviets built it in plenty of versions and issued it to infantry troops as well as fitting it to tanks, aircraft, even the sidecars of motorcycles. Many were captured by Finland during World War II (nearly 10,000 captured, compared to the 3,400 M26 machine guns they built themselves), enough that they simply stopped making the M26 and used the DP as their primary machine gun for the duration of the war and beyond. There are still some of them in service that were fired as recently as the 2011 Libyan Civil War and the 2001-present Afghanistan War. After WWII, the Soviets issued a conversion kit to enable the Degtyarev to be converted to a belt-feed; the resulting RP-46 is a relatively rare sight and not particularly well-known. Nevertheless, it served as the standard light machine gun of the Red Army until replaced by the RPD.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the Germans were mostly equipped with the MG34. While a truly excellent machine gun in its own right, the MG34 was really too good; it was labour-intensive, expensive, and took a long time to manufacture. The MG34 also proved to be less rugged than expected, due to the very tight design tolerances. This resulted in a total redesign being ordered with mass production as the primary goal, and the end product is widely regarded as one of the best machine guns ever designed. The MG42 made extensive use of pressed and stamped steel parts to cut down on cost and production times, and used a recoil operated, roller-locked mechanism augmented by a gas recoil booster which increased both reliability and rate of fire; the resulting weapon was distinctly more rugged than the rather finicky MG34. The MG42 remains one of the fastest-firing single-barrel weapons to not require external power, able to fire 7.92mm Mauser rounds at an average of 1,200 RPM. A true general-purpose machine gun, it could be used in the light machine gun role with a 50-round drum magazine and bipod, or the medium role with a tripod and belt feed. Its main drawbacks stemmed from the gigantic rate of fire; it was incredibly loud, barrel changes were frequent, though taking only 3-7 seconds thanks to a superbly designed quick-change barrel, and ammunition consumption was very high even when all efforts were made to conserve it. The huge rate of fire also made the gun's report extremely distinctive, described by troops who faced it as a buzzing or tearing sound rather than distinct individual shots, leading to nicknames like "Hitler's Buzzsaw". This had its advantages, as the noise was quite terrifying. The MG42 was the basis of Germany's later machine guns following the war, from the MG1 to the modern MG3, and along with the FG42 was also the basis of the American M60. The US also attempted to make a .30-06 version of the MG42 for testing, but neglected to redesign the receiver to account for that round being 6 millimeters longer than the 7.92mm Mauser and didn't realize this was why the .30-06 conversion wouldn't cycle. The MG3 is so similar (and externally almost identical) to the MG42 that they have many interchangeable parts.
The M60 was introduced in 1957 as a replacement for the venerable Browning Automatic Rifle as a squad automatic weapon. Drawing on the designs of the MG42 and FG42, the designers produced a 23-pound belt-fed general purpose machine gun chambered in 7.62mm NATO. The result is widely regarded as an rather poor weapon; the M60 is prone to jamming, has some alarming tendencies to fall apartnote or fail to stop firing when the trigger is released, features a terribly designed barrel change system (the entire gas piston, barrel, bipod and front sight having to be detached, and without the use of any kind of handle; instead an asbestos-lined glove was issued), and is just as heavy as the BAR, itself regarded as quite a hefty weapon. The M60 is also notable for being the only weapon for which the US Army designated the receiver (the main body of the gun, containing the moving parts) as a replaceable part; with every other gun a broken receiver meant the rest would be stripped for spare parts. The weight earned it the nicknames "pig" and "hog" in Vietnam, and attempts to reduce the weapon's weight resulted in the even less well-received M60E3 version. Despite this, the weapon's brawny appearance and easy availability made it hugely popular in 80s and 90s action movies, with the depiction in Rambo particularly iconic.
FN Minimi/M 249
Light machine gun that was developed for the U.S. Army as a squad assault weapon, to replace the M60. The M249 was developed from the FN Herstal Minimi (short for Mini Mitrailleuse; or Mini Machine Gun) light machine gun and fires the 5.56mm NATO round whose lighter weight allowed gunners to carry more ammo. A lot more ammo. The standard feed mechanism is a 200-round belt, with a plastic container for the belt clipped to the bottom of the gun (thus allowing the gunner to operate independently of a loader), and in a pinch it can also use standard NATO 30-round assault rifle magazinesnote . The SOCOM Mk 46 variant has also been developed into a slightly larger 7.62x51 version, the Mk 48, to finally replace the M60E4. The Mk 48 is actually lighter with a 100-round belt than an M60 is with no ammo at all, and it's a more reliable gun to boot. Like its big brother, the FN MAG, the Minimi family was designed by Ernest Vervier.
See Avtomat Kalashnikova.
M 2 Browning Machine Gun
One of the many weapons on this page passed down directly from God via John Browning, the M2 entered service just after WWI and has been the US military's principal heavy support weapon ever since. This .50 caliber 84-pound recoil-operated weapon, known affectionately as "Ma Deuce" during World War II, has been adopted by virtually every Western armed force and can be seen on everything from infantry tripod mounts right up to armoured vehicles, warships and aircraft. It is essentially a scaled-up version of the M1919 machinegun, another Browning design that used smaller caliber .30-06 rounds. The M2 has a rate of fire of 450-575 rounds per minute and sports a distinctive perforated sleeve over the lower barrel as an aid to air cooling; aircraft mounted versions exist with far higher rates of fire, the fastest being the mechanically or electrically boosted AN/M3 which could fire 1,200 rounds per minute. The weapon has an effective range of 1.2 miles when fired from the M3 tripod, and can put shots down over four miles away. During the Vietnam War, a Marine sniper by the name of Carlos Hathcock famously mounted a scope on one◊ and used it for long-range sniper shots, leading to the later development of anti-materiel sniper rifles chambered in the same caliber. Efforts have been underway to develop a replacement with decreased weight and recoil, as the M2 is not exactly portable; candidates included the high-tech XM312 and the XM806, but both have been cancelled. As such, the M2 is likely to remain a common sight for the foreseeable future.
A collaborative effort between legendary Soviet gun designers Vasily Degtyaryov (who designed the PTRD anti-tank rifle and DP-28 machine gun) and Gegorgi Shpagin (designer of the PPSh-41), the Degtyaryova-Shpagina Krupnokaliberny is the Soviet equivalent to the M2 Browning. Introduced in 1938, the DShK was the heavy machine gun used by the Soviets in nearly identical roles to the M2 during World War II and onwards, such as an anti-aircraft weapon for tanks and trucks. It was also used in an iconic two-wheeled trolley equipped with a metal shield for heavy infantry support. In the 1970’s, it was largely replaced with the NSV and then later the Kord HMG’s. However, like many Soviet-era Russian weapons it was imported by a number of client states and produced under license, still seeing use in many of them. It has also been popular with insurgent forces, such as the Viet Cong and Provisional IRA. Russian troops nicknamed it "Dushka" (“Sweetie” or Dearest”) due to the similarity in pronunciation.
The RPD is the world's first SAW, or Squad Automatic Weapon. It fires an intermediate caliber 7.62x39 round, the same as fired by the SKS, AK-47, AKM and many other such fine weapons. Developed near the end of World War 2 by Vasily Degtyaryov, and accepted into Soviet service in 1944. It saw limited use in the last days of WW2, though it has gone on to serve with distinction throughout the world.
The standard light machine gun of the British Empire and Commonwealth nations in World War II, and remained in limited use all the way into the early 1990s and was kept in reserve until 2006. Easily recognized by its distinctive top-mounted removable box magazine, the Bren was adapted from the less common Czechoslovak ZB vz. 26, with the main alteration being chambering it to the standard .303 British round. The name "Bren" is a contraction of "Brno" (where the Czechoslovak original was developed) and "Enfield" (where the British version was adapted). It's clear that the designers had paid attention to the BAR's shortcomings in the squad support role, as they made sure to include a quick-change barrel. While it was still magazine-fed instead of belt-fed, it used larger 30-round magazines and the top-mounted magazines were much quicker to change, especially when firing prone. After WW2, the Bren was redesigned to use the 7.62 NATO round, and this version could use the same magazines as the FN FAL.
The MAG (Mitrailleuse d'Appui Général; French for General-Purpose Machine Gun) general purpose machine gun which has seen usage in too many countries to list here. Generally regarded as the general purpose machine gun, it can be used for infantry support (though it's very heavy for this role, being 3 pounds heavier than the already hefty M60) or mounted on tanks, APCs and ships. One unusual aspect of its design is that the safety can only be engaged when the weapon is cocked. Hollywood tends to gloss over this one in favour of the M60 or M249 mainly due to the fact that the US uses the MAG (or M240 if you really want to be pedantic) mainly in the vehicle mounted role. As noted above, it's partially derived from the BAR with a trigger and feed mechanism based on the MG42. The MAG's designer Ernest Vervier was the protege of FAL and Hi-Power designer Dieudonné Saive, who in turn was a protege of John Moses Browning. Despite its incredibly widespread use, in fiction you'll usually only see it on top of a tank.
General Electric M134 Electric Gatling "Minigun"
The weapon that inspired a trope in and of itself, the M134 is a belt fed, electrically-driven air-cooled six barrel machine gun firing the 7.62x54mm NATO round at a staggering 2,000 to 8,000 RPM. Despite what Hollywood might like to think, the M134 is exclusively a crew-serviced weapon, typically mounted on helicopters but can also be mounted on boats and other land vehicles. The action of the M134 is driven by an electrical motor and spins the six closed-bolt barrels in a circular housing. As the barrels rotate, one fires its round while two others are in stages of shell extraction and the rest are being loaded. This allows the gun to have its insane firing rate without running into the overheating problems a single barrel would encounter. Oddly enough, the high firing rate also makes the gun extremely accurate, which makes it especially good at suppressing a target or just tearing it to pieces. The M134 is an offshoot of the rotating barrel cannons the U.S Air Force had for its fighter aircraft. During The Vietnam War, transport helicopters encountered stiff resistance from North Vietnamese Army soldiers firing machine guns and RPG's from the dense jungles. Helicopter crew-serviced weapons, which at the time consisted of single-barreled weapons such as the M60, could not put down the volume of fire required to suppress enemy positions without overheating or jamming and leaving their vehicles even more vulnerable. General Electric designers then took the rotating barrel cannon designs and scaled them down to serve as crew-serviced weapons. The resultant weapon was called the M134 and the men who used them quickly took to calling it a minigun, since it was a miniature version of those rotating cannons. Since then, the M134 has been a staple of U.S Military service, deployed on transport helicopters, attack helicopters, fixed-wing gunships and brown-water navy boats. The U.S Air Force uses their own versions of the M134, the GAU-2/A and the GAU-17/A, distinguishable by a barrel shroud on the front of the barrels. A similar weapon was developed by the Soviet Union, the GShG-7.62 for the Mi-24 helicopter gunship and sees use today in helicopter hard point-mounted gunpods. Naturally, the M134 is just too damn cool not to show up in a great many films and video games. Of course, they like to take certain liberties with how it is portrayed. While it shows up plenty of times bolted to a helicopter or SUV, they also put it in the hands of their heroes as a hand-held weapon. Doing this in real life would require you to lug a backpack the size of a VW Bug full of heavy bullets and a couple of car batteries around and would knock you on your ass with a quick burst. Those don't belong here, check out the Rare Guns page for examples there.
The Lewis Gun
The Lewis Gun was a light machine gun — possibly the first LMG — designed in the USA, and given to Britain at the start of World War One. It continued being in service all the way up to the Korean War. It's easily recognized by the drum Magazine on top, holding 47 or, for airplanes, 97 rounds of normal .303 Lee-Enfield rifle ammunition, and the massive, tubular cooling shroud that cooled the gun via air. The Lewis Gun was made the US Army Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, hence the name "Lewis Gun." However, the US Army did not actually adopt the gun-instead, General Crozier, who disliked the gun, made the Army use the utterly terrible Chauchat, which often jammed after firing four rounds. Lewis became very frustrated from trying to persuade the Army, so he resigned and went to Belgium, and later, the UK. In 1913, the Belgium Army adopted the Lewis Gun, and the British Army agreed to manufacture it in 1914. Colonel Lewis became very rich from the manufacturing profits. When World War One began, the Lewis Gun was issued to many infantry soldiers, and later, the Royal Flying Corps. The gun was quite light — light enough to be carried by one man — and reliable. It fired fast, and although it was hard to reload (due to the drum magazine), the British Army loved it enough for it to be used throughout the entire war. In 1917, the US Marines and Navy adopted the design. In World War II, all three British services used it, along with the Home Guard alongside the Bren Gun. In media, there are often two types-the Infantry version◊, which has the large air cooling shroud and a 47-round pan magazine, and an aircraft one◊, which has a 97-round pan magazine and no air cooling shroud, exposing the barrel. Infantry Version: