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German Machine Guns
Pre-war, the German Army carefully analyzed how machine guns would be used on future battlefields and the technical requirements for same.  The result, development of a "universal machine gun", first the MG34 and then the MG42.
The Germans rejected the concept of special purpose machine guns.  The MG 34 and the MG 42  could be fired without a mount  or it can be mounted on a bipod for use as a light machine gun.  On a tripod mount, both served as a heavy machine gun and on a special antiaircraft mount or on the standard tripod mount with adapter and special sight, the weapons utility morphed into a antiaircraft gun.  
The functionality continued on numerous other types of mounts on tanks and other vehicles Consequently, these all-purpose 'universal' guns were the most common German automatic weapons in use by the German armed forces.  Every infantry squad was usually armed with one or the other.  Almost all German aircraft and mechanized equipment employed one or the other as a standard weapon.
The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG34, was first issued in 1934.  It was used as the primary infantry machine gun early in the war and remained as the primary tank and aircraft defensive weapon.   The weapon pictured employs a multi-functional tripod making it useful for a number of roles. The legs are extended to allow it to be used in the anti-aircraft role and when lowered it could be placed to allow the gun to be fired "remotely" while it swept an arc in front of the mounting with fire, or aimed through a periscope attached to the tripod.
Air-cooled, the barrel will overheat quickly and  has to be changed as often as every 300 rounds fired. The change is done in seconds by a trained gun crew and they carried a number of spare barrels with them.  Each infantry squad had an MG34. This was an integral part of the squad and formed a major portion of their firepower.
The Maschinengewehr 1942, or MG42 was developed as a successor to the MG34. The effective MG34 was too expensive and time consuming to produce during wartime. The MG42 used stamped parts, simplifying the production. The result lower production costs and more weapons.
The MG42 had no single shot capability. It proved to be reliable and rugged, even under the most extreme conditions. The only draw backs were it used vast quantities of ammunition and remained susceptible to overheating, both due to its high rate of fire. During WWII, the MG42 had the fastest rate of fire of any weapon, at 1200 rounds per minute (up to 1800 in some versions.) At this rate the human ear cannot discern the sound of individual bullets being fired. When in use the MG42 makes a sound described to sound like "ripping cloth", earning the nickname of "Hitler's Buzzsaw".  
The MG 42 is regarded by many experts as the best machine gun ever.

maschinengewehr 42 MG 42 MG42 machine gun diagram

maschinengewehr MG 34 machine-gun mauser

maschinengewehr MG 42 machine-gun mg hitler's buzzsaw

maschinengewehr MG 42 machine-gun mg hitler's buzzsaw

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