Do you want to know about different types of small guns. Now, we’ll start with the heavy machine gun, the HMG, because this is the first machine gun to really see major combat use – leaving out the ones that were all manually operated. The primary essential characteristics of the heavy machine gun, in the original sense. Originally a heavy machine gun was a machine gun designed primarily for a high volume of sustained fire. These were fed by belts, they were typically water cooled, but if not water cooled they had very serious design characteristics to allow for continuous fire for long periods of time. So if they weren’t water cooled they typically had very heavy barrels to absorb a lot of heat.
Now these guns are responsible for a lot of the image we have of World War 1. When I say that they were designed primarily for sustained fire, that was at the expense of portability. So with these early heavy machine guns like the Vickers and the Maxim and the Hotchkiss 1914, what you have are guns that can only be fired from their mounts (or only effectively fired from their mounts) and when you combine the gun and the mount, you’re looking at as much as 100 pounds or more of weight. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t move quickly – it often doesn’t move at all. What you would do is build a fortified position and place a machine gun in it, and that was the intent.
Over time did people realize, we need to be able to move these things a little bit more. After we got out of the conditions of static trench warfare in World War 1 into a more mobile type of warfare like World War 2, the requirements changed a bit, and heavy machine guns sort of morphed into the medium machine gun. The American Browning 1919A4 is a classic example of a medium machine gun. Another good example would be the Soviet SG-43, the Goryunov machine gun. These are intended to provide the same basic role as the heavy machine gun: sustained firepower.
But they’re giving up a little bit of their real sustained capability in exchange for having a little bit better mobility. So the Russians, for example, have the 1910 Maxim, and they designed the SG-43 Goryunov to take over some of that role. These medium machine guns are going to be distinctive for firing full power rifle cartridges, in this case.30-06, they are going to be belt-fed to allow maximum firepower, typically 250-round belts, they are generally air cooled, because the water-cooled guns, while they offered a little bit better heat reduction and a little bit longer firepower capability, it added a lot of weight, and you could simplify the manufacture and the operation and the weight by getting rid of the whole water cooling system. And so you’ll find guns like the SG-43 and the 1919 are air cooled.
These don’t have quick-change barrels either, they just have very heavy barrels to absorb as much heat as possible before not being able to fire any longer. While these guns are a little bit lighter, they’re still designed to be fired from a fixed position off of a tripod only, and medium machine guns don’t have bipods. That’s one of the other key characteristics that differentiates them from some of the other guns that were out there. So, speaking of which, if we go back to the origins of machine guns with the heavies, because those guns were so heavy, there is an effort to also have something that could be a lot more mobile.
The two counterparts to the heavy machine gun where the automatic rifle and the light machine gun, and the light machine gun was invented first, but we’re going to start by talking about the automatic rifle because it shows up, and then it pretty quickly goes away. There were originally two quintessential automatic rifles, and they were the US M1918 BAR and the French M1915 CSRG Chauchat. They were both designed – in fact what they really have in common is they were designed to be fired from the hip or from the shoulder, and also perhaps from a bipod, but the bipod’s not really an essential element of the automatic rifle. The original design intent with these guns was to provide a capability for walking fire, where troops could lay down a continuous field of fire while moving from their trench to the enemy trench or enemy position. Now this didn’t turn out to be a very successful tactic, and it was pretty quickly abandoned, but the automatic rifles, they did survive the abandonment of that original tactic.