The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG 34, is a German recoil-operated air-cooled machine gun that was first tested in 1929 and was introduced in 1934, and first issued to units in 1936. It accepts the 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridge.
The versatile MG 34 was arguably the finest machine gun in the world at the time of its adoption and deployment with the German Army.It entered service in great numbers following Hitler's repudiation of the Versailles Treaty in 1936, and was first tested by German troops aiding Franco's Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. The MG 34 combined four substantial advantages over other machine guns: 1. mobility, being light enough to be carried by a single soldier; 2. an astonishing rate of fire of up to 800 to 900 rounds per minute; 3. the ability of the gun to sustain that fire; and 4. an effective range of over 2,000 meters.As such, it can generally be considered to be the worlds first general-purpose machine gun.
In the field, the weapon could operate in offensive or defensive applications. The offensive model, with a mobile soldier, used a drum magazine that could hold either 50 or 75 rounds of ammunition. In a stationary defensive role, the gun was mounted on a bipod or tripod and fed by an ammunition belt. Belts were carried in boxes of five. Each belt contained 50 rounds. Belt lengths could be linked for sustained fire. During sustained fire, barrels would have to be changed at intervals due to the heat generated by the rapid rate of fire. If the barrels were not changed out properly, the weapon would misfire. Changing barrels was a rapid process for the trained operator and involved disengaging a latch and swinging the receiver to the right for the insertion of a new barrel. Accordingly, stationary defensive positions required more than one operator.
The MG 34 was the mainstay of German Army support weapons from the time of its first issue in 1935 until 1942, when it was supplanted by the next generation Maschinengewehr 42 or MG 42. Although the 34 was very reliable and dominant on the battlefield, its dissemination throughout the German forces was hampered due to its precision engineering, which resulted in high production costs and a relatively slower rate of production.For its successor, the MG 42, the Germans instead used mass production techniques similar to those that created the MP 40 submachine gun.However, the Germans nevertheless continued widespread production of MG 34s until the end of the war.