If the First World War was the conflict in which the machine gun was defined, it was the Second World War that the weapon was refined—and also how it was employed in both defensive and offensive roles. The early water-cooled machine guns gave a defender a true advantage, but it was the development of air-cooled machine guns that truly changed the battlefield forever.
Efforts were made by several nations, but it was Germany with its MG13 and later MG30—that lead to the development of the general-purpose machine gun.
German MG34 and MG42
The MG34 (Maschinengewehr 34) proved to be the first successful “general purpose machine gun,” meaning it could be employed in both heavy and medium machine gun roles. The recoil-operated, air-cooled machine gun was developed even before the Nazis took power and it introduced a new concept in machine guns.
It could operate as a medium machine gun in a fire support role with just its built-in bipod, or when used with a Lafette tripod could be used as a heavy machine gun. With a rate of fire of 800-900 rounds per minute, and an effective firing range of 2,000 meters and a maximum firing range of 4,700 meters it could literally take command of the battlefield.
If the MG34 had an issue it was that it was expensive and time consuming to produce—a trend that the German military needed to overcome during the war. The result could have been a lackluster gun, but instead it gave the world Source…