Heavy machine gun

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The M2 heavy machine gun on an M3 tripod. It is used by many armies in various designs.

A heavy machine gun is a machine gun with a caliber between 12 mm and less than 20 mm or a machine gun with a lower caliber that is more destructive and has a better hit rate thanks to a base such as a tripod or a mount (tripod mount ) .

In German usage, the abbreviation sMG is used for heavy machine gun . A universal machine gun with medium caliber on a field tripod is also known as the sMG. In English, the term HMG (Heavy Machine Gun) is used. Machine guns from 20 mm are classified as machine guns .

Heavy machine guns use up cartridges with a cadence 400-1500 rounds per minute. The ammunition is fed either via rod magazines or via ammunition belts . The recoil of the bolt loads the weapon for the next shot. Heavy machine guns are fired in continuous fire . The shooter is required to fire short bursts in order to achieve a higher hit rate and not to heat the barrel of the weapon too much.


Hiram Maxim with the Maxim machine gun he developed , 1885

The first self-loading machine gun was the Maxim machine gun , developed in 1885 by the American-British inventor and designer Hiram Maxim . It was the most important weapon of its kind until the early 20th century.

The Vickers machine gun , which was exported to many countries, emerged from the Maxim in 1896 when the company was renamed. Shortly thereafter, several European countries began developing their own machine guns such as the MG 08 (Germany), Machine Gun 07/12 (Austria), Mg 11 (Switzerland), PM 1910 (Russia) and Hotchkiss M1914 (France). All MGs mentioned had a tripod due to their weight. The caliber was less than 8 mm.

The development of armored vehicles gave rise to the desire for a machine gun with a stronger caliber or with a greater destructive effect. The air defense played a role and demanded greater ranges of the machine guns.

While in the USA from 1918 the Browning M2 with the caliber 12.7 mm (in English 0.5 inch) was introduced, in Germany they stayed with the caliber 7.92 x 57 mm and instead developed a mount with the weight of the MG has been brought into a stable position while firing. The gunner could move the machine gun horizontally to and fro, as well as change the elevation range in the vertical, and thus cover a large area in front of his position. The range of the MG 34 and MG 42 increased through the use of the gun carriage to up to 3500 meters in indirect aiming.


A MG 34 on a mount (rear) and a MG 34 with a bipod

Heavy machine guns were often grouped into companies. Their task was to provide support fire in the event of an attack, or to cover large areas in front of their own front . Ideally, the apron for a heavy machine gun is flat and easily visible. Since the weapon can be locked vertically on most models, the shooter can move the weapon horizontally in both directions just above the horizon. Infantry attacks against such buried SMG positions were thus doomed to failure and resulted in very high losses with no prospect of success.

Due to their weight, SMGs are mostly used on vehicles (trucks, armored personnel carriers, wheeled armored vehicles, tanks) or on ships. When used by the infantry , the load (between 35 and 50 kg for machine guns and mounts) is mostly distributed between two or three soldiers (shooter 1, shooter 2, shooter 3). The ammunition for the sMG is distributed to the rest of the group or company.


Soldiers of the Großdeutschland division with machine gun 42 lying on the mount, Russia, June 1943
A Japanese type 3
The Swiss Mg 11
The French Hotchkiss M1914
The Russian PM 1910

Below is a list of SMGs. Without the tripod or mount, some of the SMGs listed can be described as light machine guns.

The SMGs are listed in the order in which they were introduced.








United States


United Kingdom


Web links

Commons : Heavy_machine_guns  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Archive link ( Memento from May 30, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Heavy Machine Guns
  2. Archive link ( Memento from May 30, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Heavy Machine Guns