The list of WWII machine guns is long as many countries were manufacturing their own. Nevertheless, a few among them really stand out. So, without further ado, SOFREP presents the best WWII machine guns (and for those keeping track, the list is in no particular order).
Japanese Type 99
Japanese Type 99 light machine gun. The Type 99 light machine gun (LMG) was used by the Imperial Japanese Army. The design was quite similar to the earlier Type 96, but Type 99 fired the new and more powerful 7.7 mm Arisaka cartridge, replacing the weaker 6.5mm cartridge. This improved its power by over 50 percent.
The Type 99 Light Machine gun entered service in 1939. It also saw service in the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and was even used during the war in Vietnam.
It weighed 22.9 pounds, had a detachable 30-round box magazine that mounted at the top of the weapon, and the finned gun barrel could be rapidly changed to avoid overheating.
The Type 99 Light Machine Gun had a blade front sight and a leaf rear sight, with graduations from 200 to 1,500 meters, as well as a wind adjustment. A 2.5X telescopic sight with a 10-degree field of view could be attached to the right side of the weapon. The telescopic sights were often issued to the best marksmen in the unit. A standard infantry bayonet could be attached to the gas block below the barrel but was ungainly due to the weight of the weapon and was blocked by the flash suppressor.
The weapon had a rate of fire between 450 and 500 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity of about 2,300 feet per second. The Japanese also produced a compact version for airborne units. This version would be placed in a weapon container that would easily be assembled upon hitting the ground.
Japanese Type 92: ‘The Woodpecker’
The Japanese Type 92 heavy machine gun was the standard heavy machine gun for the Japanese Army during World War II.
Type 92 was an air-cooled, gas-operated weapon. The weapon was not belt fed but strip fed with a 30-round strip clip which was loaded in the side.
The weapon weighed an ungainly 122 pounds and required a crew of three to carry it. It was intended to be fired while mounted on the tripod and had a rate of fire of about 400-450 rounds per minute. Unusually, the sights were aligned off-center on the right side of the weapon.
U.S. troops that fought against the Japanese nicknamed the Type 92, the “Woodpecker” for the distinct stuttering sound it made when firing.
An interesting footnote is that the “92” stands for the Japanese imperial year 2592. Under the Gregorian calendar, this is the year 1932 which is when the machine gun entered service.
Soviet DShK Model 1938
Now we come to the Soviets and their entry into the best WWII machine guns. The Soviet DShK Model 1938 heavy machine gun is an iconic weapon that has been a staple of Russian forces since before World War II.
The Soviets wanted to replace the old Maxim 1910 machine gun and, using the Browning M2 as inspiration, built a weapon that is still widely in service today with more than a million having been produced since the war. The machine gun can be found in Syria, Libya, or anywhere else where Russian weapons are purchased. The mujahadeen in Afghanistan used them to great effect as anti-aircraft weapons against their former owners.
Vasily Degtyaryov’s early 1930s design was a slow-firing, gas-operated machine gun that fired off of a 30-round drum magazine. But Georgi Shpagin, who later develop the iconic PPsH submachine gun, improved the DK’s design with a more practical belt-feed mechanism and muzzle. This version entered production in the late 1930s as the (Degtyaryov-Shpagin) DShK 1938.
The weapon’s ribbed barrel is air-cooled and fires at the rate of 600 rounds per minute to an effective range of 1.5 miles. The machine gun weighs 75 pounds but the Soviets mounted it on a two-wheeled trolley that increased its weight to a whopping 346 pounds. The Soviets also placed it on top of tanks and armored vehicles.
And for anyone who has ever fired one, it is an unforgettable experience when taking in the sound, flash, and recoil.
Degtyarev DPM Light Machine Gun: ‘The Record Player’
The Degtyaryov machine gun is fired the 7.62×54mmR cartridge that was used by the Soviet Union in 1928. It was the standard Soviet infantry LMG used during World War II. It was used in aircraft as well as almost all Soviet tanks as either a bow machine gun or a co-axial machine gun controlled by the gunner in the turret.
Like most Soviet designs, the weapon was simple to use, robust, and cheap to manufacture. The gas-operated weapon fired off of a 47-round pan magazine nicknamed the “Record player” by the Soviet soldiers as it resembled a gramophone. The pan magazine, which mounted on top of the weapon, was difficult and slow to reload. It had a rate of fire of 550-rounds per minute, but the limited ammunition magazine meant it couldn’t keep up with the belt-fed German weapons.
Once improvements were made to the bipod and recoil spring in 1943, the DPM, became a reliable, tough light machine gun that would fire in dust, mud, and grime. The weapon was found in nearly every conflict since WWII. It was most recently seen in Mali in 2014 when it was used by Islamist insurgents.
Vickers K (VGO) Medium Machine Gun
One of the most iconic WWII machine guns, the British Vickers K machine gun, known as the Vickers Gas Operated .303-inch, was initially developed and manufactured for use in aircraft by Vickers-Armstrongs. It was later adopted for land use.
The weapon fired the standard .303 British cartridge. It was a gas-operated, air-cooled machine gun that weighed in at 29.5 pounds. It fired from a 60- or 100-round pan magazine mounted on top of it.
SAS troops would typically load only 96-97 rounds in the magazine to cut down on feeding problems. The Vickers K fired at a rate of 900 rounds per minute which was comparable to the German MG-34.
Bren Light Machine Gun
The Bren gun was an LMG first manufactured by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1992. It was the British and Commonwealth forces’ primary light machine gun in WWII. Although outfitted with a bipod, it could also be mounted on a tripod or be vehicle-mounted.
The Bren was also a gas-operated, air-cooled weapon. It used the same standard .303 ammunition as the British Lee-Enfield rifle. It had a rate of fire between 480 and 540 rounds per minute, depending on the model. Its relatively slow rate of fire, due to the 30-round curved box magazine mounted on top of the weapon, eased in the cooling of the barrel. It required a crew of two.
The Bren weighed 25 pounds fully loaded. The assistant gunner carried extra magazines and a spare barrel. Barrel change was quick and easy as the gun had a carrying handle that rotated and allowed the assistant gunner to remove the hot barrel without burning his hands.
The Bren was a reliable weapon with an effective range out to 600 yards when firing off a bipod and although there were some initial issues with the weapon in the desert, these were dealt with through improved maintenance.
German Maschinengewehr Modell 34 (MG 34)
The MG 34 or “machine gun 34” was a German recoil-operated air-cooled machine gun that was first introduced in 1934. It is generally considered the world’s first general-purpose machine gun (GPMG) and was by far the most advanced
The machine gun weighed 26.5 pounds and had a rate of fire between 600-1,000 rounds per minute. It featured select-fire, allowing the gunner to shoot single-shot or automatic. Its muzzle velocity was 2,500 feet per second and had an effective range of 1,200 meters. The weapon could fire from belts, 50-, or 75-round drum magazines.
Changing barrels was quick and easy. The gunner would flip a latch and swing the receiver to the right where the assistant gunner would insert the new barrel into the shroud.
The MG 34 light machine gun was an excellent weapon and some would call it the best of WWII machine guns. However, like many German designs, it had precision-engineered parts and used different metal alloys which slowed production.
Maschinengewehr Modell 42 (MG 42): ‘Hitler’s Buzzsaw’
The MG 42 or “machine gun 42” is a 7.92×57mm Mauser general-purpose machine gun designed by Germany and used extensively during the second half of WWII.
Entering production in 1942, it was intended to replace the MG 34, which was more expensive and took much longer to produce. Nevertheless, both weapons were produced until the end of the war.
The MG 42 was cheap to produce and proved to be highly reliable and easy to operate.
The machine gun is remarkable for its very high cyclic rate. So, it was extremely effective in providing suppressive fire
Soldiers from all armies could easily identify as it produced a sound like ripping cloth. Its unique sound led to it being nicknamed “Hitler’s Buzzsaw.” The Germans called it the “Bonesaw.”
Its rate of fire, about 1,200 rounds per minute, while devastating to enemy troops also meant that the gunner would burn through a 50- or 250-round drum much faster. It could also operate using belts.
The high rate of fire also meant much more frequent barrel changing but changing barrels was as easy as in the MG 34.
The MG42 could be carried and used with its bipod or as a crew-served weapon with a tripod that weighed 45 pounds. The machine gun’s belt-feed mechanism was copied by the U.S. and used in the M60 machine gun. The trigger mechanism of the FN MAG or MAG-58 is a virtual copy of the MG 42’s. The German Army’s MG 3 used today and rechambered to 7.62×51mm NATO, has nearly all of its parts interchangeable with the MG 42. So, in essence, the MG 42 is still in use.
Browning M1919 Machine Gun
Among the most famous WWII machine guns, the M1919 Browning is a .30 caliber medium machine gun that was the primary U.S. infantry machine gun during World War II, the Korean War, and was still used during the Vietnam War. The M1919 was used as a light infantry weapon, coaxially mounted on tanks and vehicles, as well as on aircraft.
The M1919 was an air-cooled weapon based on Hiram Maxim’s design of the .303 machine guns from World War I.
The machine gun fired from a 250-round cloth belt that was loaded through a pull tab. The gunner had to cock the handle twice, palm up in case of accidental firing. Like nowadays, gunners were taught to fire three-five round bursts to delay the barrel from overheating.
The M1919A4 weighed about 31 pounds and was ordinarily mounted on a 14-pound low-slung tripod for infantry use. The short-recoil operating system fired at a rate of about 550 rounds per minute using the standard U.S. .30 caliber (30.06 Springfield) cartridge. With a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second, the machine gun was effective out to 1,500 yards.
Changing barrels was very difficult and time-consuming. However, the weapon was reliable, accurate, and had a very long service life with some variants still found in Third World countries today.
Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun
The longest-serving of WWII machine guns, the M2 machine gun or Browning .50 caliber machine gun, is a heavy machine gun designed toward the end of World War I by John Browning. The M2 entered service in 1933 and is still used by the U.S. military today.
The M2, affectionately known as “Ma Deuce” due to its name uses the powerful .50 BMG (12.7 mm) cartridge. The cartridge was developed alongside the weapon and takes its name from it (BMG standing for Browning machine gun).
The M2 is deadly effective against infantry, unarmored or lightly armored vehicles, buildings, and fortifications, as well as low-flying aircraft.
The Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been in use longer than any other firearm in U.S. inventory except the .45 ACP M1911 pistol, also designed by John Browning. It is one of the most iconic weapons in U.S. military history.
The Browning M2 machine gun is air-cooled and belt-fed. It fires from a closed bolt operated on the short-recoil principle. The powerful .50 BMG cartridge offers incredible long-range, accuracy, and immense stopping power. It fires at a rate of 450-600 rounds per minute and is loaded from a box magazine that originally held 105 rounds. It was eventually was changed to 100-round box magazines that load from the weapons left.