The MG 34 and MG 42 were the main German machine guns of the Second World War, designed from the start to be multi-purpose guns that could be used as a light machine gun or as a medium machine gun when used with its dedicated tripod.
The focus here is on the actual guns themselves, rather than on their use in combat. As a result we get a detailed history of their development, production, markings and the fairly minor changes made during their production runs, the accessories produced to work with them (from the tripod to the optics). The examination of the guns as physical artefacts is excellent, but we don’t get much material on how they were actually used in combat - the short section on the use of the gun focuses on how an individual gunner set up, loaded and fired the weapon, rather than how it was integrated into German units, or how the machine guns were used tactically on the battlefield.
One very valuable feature of the book is the excellent description of how the gun actually worked, taking us through the sequence of events from the moment the operator pulled the trigger, tracing what each moving part did, and how each movement led into the next movement, including where the motive power came from. For me this was rather clearer than the more usual attempt to explain the complex inner workings of a machine gun using a series of 2D diagrams, in which much of the detail is hidden.
I hadn’t realised that work on the MG 42 actually began in the mid 1930s, well before the outbreak of war and only a couple of years after the MG 34 had entered service. The earlier gun was an excellent design, but it was vulnerable to mud and sand, and was complex and expensive to manufacture. Ironically progress actually seems to have slowed down after the outbreak of war, and it took three more years for it to enter full production!
As you’d expect the book is splendidly illustrated, with a very impressive collection of colour photographs of both the guns and their accessories, mainly modern photographs of surviving weapons. The use of surviving weapons also means that the authors have been able to produce any shot that they want, rather than being limited to what has survived, so we get direct comparisons of the various barrel types, close-up views of obscure but important corners etc.
Overall this is an excellent study of these two machine guns, focused largely on the actual guns themselves, and supported by an excellent collection of photographs.
1 – Origins
2 – Presentation of the MG 34
3 – Use and Operation of the MG 34
4 – Manufacturers, Production Figures and Markings of the MG 34
5 – Variations in Parts Manufacture of the MG 34
6 – The MG 42 Machine Gun
7 – Use and Operation of the MG 42
8 – Markings and Finishes of the MG 42
9 – Production Variants of the MG 42
10 – ‘Lafette’ Model 34 and 42 Mounts
11 – MG.Z 34 and MG.Z 40 Mounted Optical Sights and Their Accessories
12 – Mounts for Antiaircraft Fire
13 – Accessories
14 – Conclusion
Author: Luc Guillou & Erik Dupont