Automatic cannon

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Machine gun example:
M61 Vulcan

Machine cannons (also called rapid fire cannons ) are fully automatic firearms . Automatic cannon ammunition are grenades with a guide ring or armor-piercing projectiles. The larger caliber introduced only in the early days of machine gun a valid criterion for distinguishing machine gun is. Guns of the artillery with automatic charger are not machines guns; they can be seen as rapid fire guns . Automatic cannons are generally weapons of war . Trade and possession of automatic cannons are accordingly regulated in Germany by the War Weapons Control Act.

Automatic cannon (MK)

The term automatic cannon originated at the time of the Second World War in order to obtain a terminological differentiation from the machine guns. The distinguishing feature is the projectile , which is primarily a projectile in machine guns and a grenade in machine guns . A projectile acts in the target through its kinetic energy , i.e. H. by the own speed when hitting the target and by the weight. A grenade, on the other hand, is a hollow body filled with explosives or other agents with various types of detonators. As a result, the impact of the projectile depends not only on the speed at which it hits the target, but also, above all, on the explosive content of the grenade. The first automatic cannons fired, due to immature production technologies, still projectiles and no grenades. With the introduction of suitable manufacturing processes, shells of smaller caliber from 20 mm could later be manufactured and fired.

In contrast to the artillery , which also verschießt grenades, machine guns are automatic firearms with a much higher cadence than with manually or with an automatic loader again loaded guns. Machine cannons achieve cadences like machine guns, but the explosive power of their grenade ammunition does not come close to that of the larger artillery shells.


There are different types of machine guns, which differ, in addition to the caliber , by the number of tubes and the associated principle of the self-loading process as well as the type of drive .

The first automatic cannons were simply machine guns with a larger caliber. B. the 20 mm on-board machine gun for aircraft, the Oerlikon FF or their derivatives. The locking principle was largely adopted from machine guns. The propellant charge was ignited either mechanically via a firing pin (early versions), similar to a machine gun, or by an electrical pulse to avoid or minimize misfires. The automatic cannon is operated either mechanically as manual reloading of the weapon - similar to the machine gun - or, especially with remote control in aircraft or combat vehicles, by electrical or pneumatic assistants. This is because the weapon cannot be reached or the required operating forces due to the strong locking springs are too high for a person.

The development of automatic cannons reached a technological limit in the Second World War, as it was not possible with the existing locking mechanisms or self-loading processes to increase the rate even further while maintaining the same caliber. In Germany, the MG 213 revolver cannon was developed towards the end of the war . In this design, a cartridge drum rotates, similar to that in the revolver , with three to six chambers in the locking system. This means that the self-loading processes are spatially separated from one another; d. H. inserting the cartridge into the breech, firing and ejecting the case takes place in the same chamber, but in different places and is repeated in the same way in the other chambers. This means that there is more time for each individual process, which significantly increases the cadence. However, a revolver cannon only has one barrel, so that the barrel heats up strongly in a short period of time during continuous fire. The weapon usually has its own gas-powered drive (see gas pressure loader ). The principle of the revolver cannon was able to establish itself in many areas after the war. In addition to self-propulsion, there are also externally powered revolver cannons, although they are rarely found.

In the USA, the M39 revolver cannon based on the MG 213 was developed after the war . After that, however, the development of the automatic cannon was switched to the Gatling principle . Since each cartridge chamber has its own barrel, the above-mentioned disadvantage of the barrel overheating is eliminated, and you can achieve an even higher rate than with the revolver cannons: up to 6,000 rounds per minute with the American M61 Vulcan or even 10,000 rounds per minute with the Soviet / Russian GSch-6-23 . Gatling cannons are mostly used for. B. driven by electric or hydraulic motors. Exceptions to this are most of the Russian Gatling guns, which are gas-powered .


The various terms relating to the automatic cannon can be misunderstood, e.g. Partly due to incorrectly interpreted English terms, as well as no clear technological distinction between weapons.

Automatic cannon
Generic term for all automatic cannons from caliber 15 mm or 20 mm, regardless of the type. A rapid fire cannon is another name for a machine gun, but it means the same thing.
Examples of classic MK: Oerlikon FF , MK 108 , MK 30
Revolver cannon
Special type of machine gun with a rotating cartridge drum with three to six chambers, but only one barrel. Mostly gas-powered self-propulsion ( gas pressure charger ). Higher cadence than the classic machine guns, which were developed on the basis of machine guns.
Examples: MG 213 , Mauser BK-27
Chain gun
Literally translated: chain cannon . An automatic cannon powered by an engine and a chain. No own gas drive. All self-loading processes are synchronized via a chain. But again only a pipe - a chain gun is not a Gatling gun. Mainly used in heavy combat vehicles or combat helicopters.
Example: M242 Bushmaster , M230 Chain Gun
Gatling cannon
Revolver cannon working according to the Gatling principle. It has no drum, but at least three tubes with cartridge chambers rotating around an axis. Earlier Gatling guns were hand cranked, modern guns are powered by a motor. Thanks to the directly charged pipe, you have no gas losses. In addition, multi-barreled weapons overheat more slowly. They are mainly used in heavy combat vehicles or attack helicopters.
Examples: Minigun , M61 Vulcan , Grjasew-Schipunow GSch-6-23
Automatic grenade launchers (also machine grenade launchers or grenade machine launchers)
An automatic grenade launcher is not a machine gun. With an automatic grenade launcher, grenades with a relatively low muzzle velocity are transported into the target in a more or less flat ballistic trajectory. The effect in the target is based purely on the explosive or penetrating power of the warhead. Can also be used for infantry.
Examples: HK GMW , Mk 19


With explosive-filled projectiles, a machine gun achieves a significantly better projectile effect than a machine gun and is therefore particularly suitable for use against armored vehicles, low-flying aircraft or helicopters as well as against buildings or fortified enemy positions.

Automatic cannons are used as heavy on- board armament for combat aircraft or attack helicopters , as on-board machine cannons in armored vehicles, as anti-aircraft guns , as light ship guns and z. Some also used as a mounted infantry weapon.

Types of ammunition

There are various types of ammunition, depending on the use or the enemy targets to be fought.

ammunition meaning Translated
AHEAD Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction Anti-aircraft projectile with time fuse and sub-projectiles
AP Armor piercing Hard core bullet, can also be APDS
API Armor Piercing Incendiary Explosive-filled armor-piercing projectile, with fire accelerator
APDS Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot Sub-caliber hard core bullet
APFSDS Armor Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot Armor-piercing, wing-stabilized sabot bullet
APHEI Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary explosive-filled armor-piercing projectile, with incendiary effect (API supplemented with explosives)
FAPDS Frangible Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot Armor-piercing sub-caliber bullet that disintegrates in the target
HEDP High explosive dual purpose High-explosive incendiary projectile with armor-piercing properties
HEI High Explosive Incendiary Explosive fire projectile, the filling has an accelerator
HVAPDS High Velocity Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot Armor-piercing sub-caliber high-speed projectile
HVAP High Velocity Armor Piercing high-speed armor-piercing projectile
SAP Semi-armor piercing Explosive-filled armor-piercing projectile against light armor
SAPHEI Semi-Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary Half-armor-piercing bullet filled with explosives, with incendiary effect
TP Training Projectile (Blue Tip) Practice ammunition (blue)
-T Tracer (as additional information) Tracer ammunition, is usually fed alternately with normal ammunition


Since some of the ammunition is grenades, you need a detonator to ignite the explosive device. Different types of detonators are used depending on the ammunition.

All common types can be used as detonators:

  • Impact fuse , possibly with a delay
  • Time fuse
  • Distance fuses; ignites when a predetermined distance to the target is reached
  • Standoff detonators; combined distance and time detonator
  • Combinations of all types of detonators are also possible

In order to increase the safety when handling grenades, the detonators are provided with a safety device which only activates the detonator after the grenade has been fired and has left the barrel. This is achieved, among other things, by the centrifugal force, since the barrel of a machine gun is provided with pulls that set the grenade in rotation for flight stabilization. After leaving the barrel, the centrifugal force deactivates the grenade's fuse and arm it.

Examples of MK

Surname country drive caliber cadence Muzzle
mm rpm m / s kg
Classic automatic cannons (from World War II)
Oerlikon FF Switzerland Recoil loader 20th 520 600 24
Hispano MK.5 England Gas loader 20th 750 840 42
MG 151 cannon / 20 Germany Gas loader 20th 780 810 42.5
MK 108 Germany Gas loader 30th 650 540 58
Classic automatic cannons (post-war models)
Gryazev-Schipunov GSch-301 Russia Recoil loader 30th 1,800 860 46
MK 30-2 / ABM Germany Gas loader 30th 200/700 198
Rh 503 Germany External drive 35/50 150-400 575/615
M39 cannon United States Gas loader 20th 1,500 1,030 81
Revolver cannons (post-war models)
Mauser BK-27 Germany Gas loader 27 1,700 1,025 102.5
GIAT 30 France Gas loader 30th 300-2,500 1,025 65/120
ADEN England Gas loader 30th 1,700 741 87.1
35/1000 Germany Gas loader 35 1,000 1050-1440 450
Chain gun
M242 Bushmaster United States External drive 25th 200 1,100 110
Bushmaster II United States External drive 30th 250 1.405 154.6
M230 chain gun United States External drive 30th 625 n / A 55.9
Gatling cannons
M61 Vulcan United States External drive 20th 6,600 1,050 112
Gryazew-Schipunow GSch-6-23 Russia Gas loader 23 10,000 745 76
GAU-8 Avenger United States External drive 30th 3,900 1,067 281
automatic grenade launcher (no MK)
HK GMW Germany N / A 40 350 245 30th

Web links

Commons : machine guns  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Anthony G Williams: summary of information in the book Rapid Fire: the Development of Automatic Cannon, Heavy Machine Guns and their Ammunition for Armies, Navies and Air Forces ( Memento of August 18, 2012 in the Internet Archive )