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A heavy machine gun or HMG is a belt-fed machine gun that fires full-powered/magnum cartridges and is designed to be significantly more massive than light, medium or general-purpose machine guns.As the name implies, heavy machine guns are typically not man-portable by infantry and thus require mounting onto a weapons platform to be operably stable or tactically mobile, have more formidable firepower, and generally require a team of personnel for operation and maintenance.
There are two generally recognized classes of weapons identified as heavy machine guns. The first are weapons from World War I identified as "heavy" due to the weight and cumbersomeness of the weapons themselves, which prevents infantrymen from transporting on foot. The second are large-caliber (12.7x99mm, 12.7×108mm, 14.5×114mm, or larger) machine guns, pioneered by John Browning with the M2 machine gun, designed to provide increased effective range, penetration and destructive power against covers, vehicles, aircraft and light buildings/fortifications beyond the standard-caliber rifle cartridges used in battle rifles and medium or general-purpose machine guns, or the intermediate cartridges used in assault rifles, light machine guns, and squad automatic weapons. Heavy machine guns also have more felt recoil, compared to light and medium machine gun variants.
The term was originally used to refer to the generation of machine guns which came into widespread use in World War I. These fired standard rifle cartridges such as the 7.92 Mauser, .303 British or 7.62×54mmR, but featured heavy construction, elaborate mountings, and water-cooling mechanisms that enabled long-range sustained automatic fire with excellent accuracy. However, these advantages came at the cost of being too cumbersome to move quickly, as well as requiring a crew of several soldiers to operate them. Thus, in this sense, the "heavy" aspect of the weapon referred to the weapon's bulk and ability to sustain fire, not the cartridge caliber. This class of weapons was best exemplified by the Maxim gun, invented by the American inventor Hiram Maxim.The Maxim was the most ubiquitous machine gun of World War I, variants of which were fielded simultaneously by three separate warring nations (Germany with the MG 08, Britain with the Vickers, and Russia with the PM M1910).
The modern definition refers to a class of large-caliber (generally .50 or 12.7mm) machine guns, pioneered by John Moses Browning with the M2 machine gun.These weapons are designed to provide increased range, penetration and destructive power against vehicles, buildings, aircraft and light fortifications beyond the standard rifle calibers used in medium or general-purpose machine gun, or the intermediate cartridges used in light machine guns. In this sense, the "heavy" aspect of the weapon refers to its superior power and range over light- and medium-caliber weapons, in addition to its weight. This class of machine gun came into widespread use during World War II, when the M2 was used widely in fortifications, on vehicles and in aircraft by American forces. A similar HMG capacity was later fielded by the Soviets in the form of Vasily Degtyaryov's DShK in 12.7×108mm. The ubiquitous German MG42 general-purpose machine gun, though well-suited against infantry, lacked the M2's anti-fortification and anti-vehicle capability, a fact that was noted and lamented by the Germans. The continued need for a longer-range machine gun with anti-materiel capability to bridge the gap between exclusively anti-infantry weapons and exclusively anti-materiel weapons has led to the widespread adoption and modernization of the class, and most nations' armed forces are equipped with some type of HMG.
Currently, machine guns with calibers smaller than 10mm are generally considered medium or light machine guns, while those larger than 15mm are generally classified as autocannons instead of heavy machine guns.
In the late 19th century, Gatling guns and other externally powered types such as the Nordenfelt were often made in a variety of calibers, such as 0.5-inch and 1-inch. Due to their multiple barrels, overheating was not so much of an issue, but they were also quite heavy.
When Maxim developed his recoil-powered machine gun using a single barrel, his first main design weighed a modest 26 pounds (11.8 kg) and fired a .45-inch rifle-caliber bullet from a 24-inch barrel. A famous photo of Maxim showed him picking it up by its 15-pound tripod (6.8 kg) with one arm. It was similar to present-day medium machine guns, but it could not be fired for extended periods due to overheating. As a result, Maxim created a water jacket cooling system to enable it to fire for extended periods. However, this added significant weight, as did the change to more powerful rifle cartridges.
There were thus two main types of heavy, rapid-fire weapons: the manually powered, multiple-barrel machine guns and the single-barrel Maxim guns. By the end of the 19th century, many new designs such as the M1895 Colt–Browning and Hotchkiss were developed, powered by gas operation or recoil operation. Also, rather than the heavy water jacket, new designs introduced other types of barrel cooling, such as barrel replacement, metal fins, heat sinks or some combination of these.
Machine guns diverged into heavier and lighter designs. The later model water-cooled Maxim guns and its derivatives the MG 08 and the Vickers, as well as the American M1917 Browning machine gun, were all substantial weapons. The .303 Vickers, for example, weighed 33 lb (15 kg) and was mounted on a tripod that brought the total weight to 50 lb (23 kg). The heavier designs could, and in some cases did, fire for days on end, mainly in fixed defensive positions to repel infantry attacks. These machine guns were typically mounted on tripods and were water-cooled, and a well-trained crew could fire nonstop for hours, given sufficient ammunition, replacement barrels and cooling water. Carefully positioned heavy machine guns could stop an attacking force before they reached their objectives.
However, during the same period a number of lighter and more portable air-cooled designs were developed weighing less than 30 lbs (15 kg). In World War I they were to be as important as the heavier designs, and were used to support infantry on the attack, on aircraft, and on many types of vehicles.
The lightest of the new designs were not capable of sustained automatic fire, as they did not have water jackets and were fed from comparatively small magazines. Essentially machine rifles with a bipod, weapons like the Lewis Gun, Chauchat and the Madsen were portable by one soldier, but were made for single and burst fire.
The medium designs offered greater flexibility, either being fitted with a bipod in the light machine gun role or on a tripod or other weapon mount as medium machine guns. An example was the Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun weighing 27.6 lb (12.2 kg) fitted with a mini-tripod and using linkable 30-round ammunition strips, but there was also a belt-fed version.
This type of multipurpose machine gun would be further developed, and later given names such as "universal machine gun", and later "general-purpose machine gun", and would eventually supplant the water-cooled designs. These later designs used quick-change barrel replacement to reduce overheating, which further reduced the weapon's weight, but at the cost of increasing the soldier's load due to the extra barrels. Some earlier designs like the Vickers had this feature, but it was mainly for barrel wear, as they normally used water cooling. It was in the 1920s and 1930s that quick barrel replacement for cooling purposes became more popular in weapons such as the ZB vz. 30, the Bren, the MG34 and the MG42.
The heavier designs continued to be used throughout World War II and into the 1960s, but were gradually phased out in favor of air-cooled designs. The mediums were now used both as medium machine guns while mounted on tripods and as light machine guns while mounted on bipods. This was possible in part because a heavy, static MG position was not a very effective tactic in vehicle-centered warfare, and the significantly lighter air-cooled designs could nearly match the capabilities of the water-cooled versions.
Gatling-type machine guns such as the Minigun and GShG-7.62 reappeared after World War II. These are typically mounted on ships and helicopters because of their weight and large ammunition requirements (due to their extremely high rate of fire.) The need for sustained automatic fire on the ground, however, is now nearly entirely filled by air-cooled medium machine guns.
A general-purpose machine gun (GPMG) is an air-cooled, usually belt-fed machine gun that can be adapted flexibly to various tactical roles for light and medium machine guns. A GPMG will typically feature a quick-change barrel design calibered for various fully powered cartridges such as the 7.62×51mm NATO, 7.62×54mmR, 7.5×54mm French, 7.5×55mm Swiss and 7.92×57mm Mauser, and be configured for mounting to different stabilizing platforms from bipods and tripods to vehicles, aircraft, boats and fortifications, usually as an infantry support weapon or squad automatic weapon.
A machine gun is an auto-firing, rifled long-barrel autoloading firearm designed for sustained direct fire with fully powered cartridges. Other automatic firearms such as assault rifles and automatic rifles are typically designed more for firing short bursts rather than continuous firepower, and not considered machine guns. Squad automatic weapons, which fire the same cartridge used by the other riflemen from the same combat unit, are functionally light machine guns though not called so. Submachine guns, which are capable of continuous rapid fire but using handgun cartridges, are also not technically regarded as true machine guns.
A squad automatic weapon (SAW), also known as a section automatic weapon or light support weapon (LSW), is a man-portable automatic firearm attached to infantry squads or sections as a source of rapid direct firepower. Weapons fulfulling this role used to be light machine guns, but nowadays are often modified selective-fire rifles fitted with a heavier barrel, bipod and a belt/drum-fed design to perform like general-purpose machine guns.
The MG 34 is a German recoil-operated air-cooled machine gun, first tested in 1929, introduced in 1934, and issued to units in 1936. It introduced an entirely new concept in automatic firepower – the Einheitsmaschinengewehr – and is generally considered the world's first general-purpose machine gun (GPMG). Both the MG 34 and MG 42 were erroneously nicknamed "Spandau" by Allied troops, a carryover from the World War I nickname for the MG 08, which was produced at the Spandau Arsenal.
The MG 42 is a 7.92×57mm Mauser general-purpose machine gun designed in Nazi Germany and used extensively by the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS during the second half of World War II. Entering production in 1942, it was intended to supplement and replace the earlier MG 34, which was more expensive and took much longer to produce, but both weapons were produced until the end of World War II.
The Bren gun was a series of light machine guns (LMG) made by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1992. While best known for its role as the British and Commonwealth forces' primary infantry LMG in World War II, it was also used in the Korean War and saw service throughout the latter half of the 20th century, including the 1982 Falklands War. Although fitted with a bipod, it could also be mounted on a tripod or be vehicle-mounted.
The M2 machine gun or Browning .50 caliber machine gun is a heavy machine gun designed toward the end of World War I by John Browning. Its design is similar to Browning's earlier M1919 Browning machine gun, which was chambered for the .30-06 cartridge. The M2 uses the much larger and much more powerful .50 BMG cartridge, which was developed alongside and takes its name from the gun itself. It has been referred to as "Ma Deuce", in reference to its M2 nomenclature. The design has had many specific designations; the official US military designation for the current infantry type is Browning Machine Gun, Cal. .50, M2, HB, Flexible. It is effective against infantry, unarmored or lightly armored vehicles and boats, light fortifications, and low-flying aircraft.
A light machine gun (LMG) is a light-weight machine gun designed to be operated by a single infantryman, with or without an assistant, as an infantry support weapon. LMGs firing cartridges of the same caliber as the other riflemen of the same combat unit are often referred to as squad automatic weapons.
The M60, officially the Machine Gun, Caliber 7.62 mm, M60, is a family of American general-purpose machine guns firing 7.62×51mm NATO cartridges from a disintegrating belt of M13 links. There are several types of ammunition approved for use in the M60, including ball, tracer, and armor-piercing rounds.
The M240, officially the Machine Gun, 7.62 mm, M240, is the U.S. military designation for the FN MAG, a family of belt-fed, gas-operated medium machine guns that chamber the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge.
The Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six- to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition, and spare parts. Not to be confused with the Maxim machine gun, it was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft.
The PK, is a belt-fed, general-purpose machine gun, chambered for the 7.62×54mmR rimmed cartridge.
The M1917 Browning machine gun is a heavy machine gun used by the United States armed forces in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War; it has also been used by other nations. It was a crew-served, belt-fed, water-cooled machine gun that served alongside the much lighter air-cooled Browning M1919. It was used at the battalion level, and often mounted on vehicles. There were two main iterations: the M1917, which was used in World War I and the M1917A1, which was used thereafter. The M1917, which was used on some aircraft as well as in a ground role, had a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. The M1917A1 had a cyclic rate of 450 to 600 rounds per minute.
The Maschinengewehr 08, or MG 08, was the German Army's standard machine gun in World War I and is an adaptation of Hiram S. Maxim's original 1884 Maxim gun. It was produced in a number of variants during the war. The MG 08 served during World War II as a heavy machine gun in many German infantry divisions, although by the end of the war it had mostly been relegated to second-rate fortress units.
A medium machine gun (MMG), in modern terms, usually refers to a belt-fed machine gun firing a full-powered rifle cartridge, and is considered "medium" in weight. Medium machine guns are light enough to be infantry-portable, but still cumbersome enough to require a crew for optimal operational efficiency.
The Maschinengewehr (Schwarzlose) M. 7, also known as the Schwarzlose MG, is a medium machine-gun, used as a standard issue firearm in the Austro-Hungarian Army throughout World War I. It was utilized by the Dutch, Greek and Hungarian armies during World War II. It was routinely issued to Italian colonial troops, alongside the Mannlicher M1895 rifle.
The Colt Machine Gun or CMG was an open bolt belt-fed machine gun that fires 5.56×45mm cartridges designed by Colt Manufacturing Company in 1965. Colt hastily developed the CMG-1 to complement the CAR-15, a Colt branding of the M16 rifle, so that Colt might offer both of them as an alternative to the Stoner 63 weapons system. It failed to achieve any sales, and was replaced by the Colt CMG-2, which also failed to achieve any sales. The CMG-3 was a 7.62×51mm NATO version that failed as well.
The 7.5 mm Maschinengewehr 1951 or Mg 51 is a general-purpose machine gun manufactured by W+F of Switzerland. The weapon was introduced into Swiss service when the Swiss Army initiated a competition for a new service machine gun to replace the MG 11 heavy machine gun and the Furrer M25 light machine gun adopted in 1911 and 1925 respectively.
The M249 light machine gun (LMG), also known as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) which continues to be the manufacturer's designation and formally written as Light Machine Gun, 5.56 mm, M249, is the American adaptation of the Belgian FN Minimi, a light machine gun manufactured by the Belgian company FN Herstal (FN). The M249 is manufactured in the United States by the local subsidiary FN Manufacturing LLC in Columbia, South Carolina and is widely used in the U.S. Armed Forces. The weapon was introduced in 1984 after being judged the most effective of a number of candidate weapons to address the lack of automatic firepower in small units. The M249 provides infantry squads with the high rate of fire of a machine gun combined with accuracy and portability approaching that of a rifle.
The M1919 Browning is a .30 caliber medium machine gun that was widely used during the 20th century, especially during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The M1919 saw service as a light infantry, coaxial, mounted, aircraft, and anti-aircraft machine gun by the U.S. and many other countries.
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