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The Evolution of the Machine Gun

Over time there has been a constant search for a weapon that could spit out more bullets at a time. At first, significant wars depended upon the offensive tactic of war, ignoring the technological advancement of weapons used. Especially in the European nations believed that using machine guns was a sign of weakness, such as the Russians after defeat in the Franco-Prussian war(Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). The European countries focused more on tactics and maneuvers believed to have facilitated the win in the Franco-Prussian battle(Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). From the onset, soldiers were conservative in that they did not recognize the importance of artillery in future wars; they believed in combat engagements that were slowly evolving. Constant technological advancement demystified tactics and offensive theories that promoted soldiers’ morale and arrangements. With the introduction of the machine gun to warfare, the offensive tactic became irrelevant as enhanced rapid-fire led to enemies digging trenches and seeking cover from the fire. As a result, trench warfare was introduced in the world war(Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). Since then, there has been significant reliance on the machine gun in most prominent battles of the twentieth century, with constant upgrades to make them more effective. Following the past upgrades made to machine guns, we can therefore predict the future designs and functionality of machine guns.

Early Machine Gun

Machine gun development is believed to originate from the desire for rapid-fire, leading to inventions such as the organ gun, comprised of mass barrels. Then came the Puckle gun, consisting of a manually controlled, crew-served revolver cannon (veteran et al., 2021). Although the puckle gun had been rarely utilized, it helped advance the idea of muzzle loading cannons used in machine gun developments. With time there were different models of the machine gun concept, a major one being the Gatling gun that exhibited the impact of a sequential firing firearm designed in 1861. The weapon consisted of a lock cylinder that revolved with the barrels and a separate firing pin for each of the initial six barrels. The rotation of the gun’s handle would lead to six shots; hence ten revolutions had sixty shots. The cyclic rate of the caliber58 of the Gatling gun resulted in a dispense of two hundred rounds a minute, although causing the problem of overheating(Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). The firearm had several trials before being adopted by the U.S. naval military, where it would be mounted on ships for defense due to the ability to offer unparalleled firepower. The gun depended highly on the loading by an assistant gunner to ensure continuous firing, just like the belt-fed modern machine guns. The weapon was believed to have worked against the developer’s intentions to reduce war casualties. The gun could produce a fire that would otherwise require more soldiers than those used to operate the Gatling gun (veteran et al., 2021). The development of the weapon was considered a significant milestone, leading to Dr. Richard Gatling getting recognition and being awarded patent recognition.

Middle-Era Machine Gun

The first real machine gun was the maxim machine gun due to its automatic capabilities, unlike the Gatling gun, which required reloading (Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). The first world war is called machine-gun war because the dominant use of machine guns led to many development and advancements in artillery. The first Maxim machine gun prototype was developed in 1884; features differentiating it from previous machine guns include the short recoil concept that utilized the recoil of the previously fired round to operate the weapon’s automatic capabilities (veteran et al., 2021). A reloadable canvas belt would be fed consisting of 250 round cartridges comprising full-powered rifle rounds such as the 7x57mm Mauser cartridge and the .303 British. The machine gun had a robust fire rate of 550 to 600 rounds per minute, making it practical for mass firing (veteran et al., 2021). The introduction of a water jacket countered the challenge of overheating, which could lead to the barrel’s melting despite the weight. The bulkiness of the maxim machine gun required a circular base which would then be mounted on the ships.

The British first utilized the Maxim machine gun to increase their African colonial protectorate (Longstaff & Atteridge, 2012). The machine gun was deployed in South Africa against the Matabele soldiers. The high firing rate resulted in massive noise from the machine gun that would scare away enemies, but the Matabele soldiers were a bit reluctant, leading to the mass killing of the four British soldiers. The U.S. utilized the maxim machine gun in minor conflicts in the 1900s, such as the Chinese boxer’s encounter (veteran et al., 2021). Before world war1, different designs and models of the maxim machine gun emerged such that either side utilized a type of maxim machine during the war. Research showed issue of four machine guns by the U.S. to each troop in 1912 with 336 being wield by each unit by1919. (veteran et al., 2021). Maxim machine guns prompted the different nations to develop other variants, such as Americans issuing four different machine guns per dispatch in 1912. But by 1919, a Company wielded 336 machine guns. The British acquired Maxim Company and converted it to Vickers, which advanced the new machine guns to lightweight weapons and mounted them on aircraft. Other light machine guns developed included Lewis Gun and the Chauchat leading to magazine-fed firearms used at the front.

The second world war led to more advanced machine guns since most nations involved had seen the effectiveness of machine guns. Main aspects such as the weight of the machine guns were reviewed to reduce it to enhance portability. Guns model designs like the M1919 from Browning became light (veteran et al., 2021). Others increased in size like the M2 “Ma Deuce” machine gun of 50 variant. Russians utilized the pan magazine system to model their machine-gun models such as DP-27, the DS-39, and caliber DShK. The germans, having successfully integrated tactics and machine gun use, became great supporters of machine gun developments (veteran et al., 2021). Germany was able to mount the machine guns on aircraft and was also able to fix the issue of propeller failure experienced. During the second world war, polish soldiers used the Browning machine gun pattern 28, which had been designed to fire in bursts and was cooled by air due to heat from the barrel (Maciej, 2021). The Browning 28 incorporated bipod use, making it lighter for effectiveness, accuracy, and high fire rate(Maciej, 2021). The Germans model M.G. 34 and M.G. 42 were more advanced, making Germany the best in production of machine guns that later became known as General Purpose Machine Guns(G.P.M.G). The machine guns weighed 26 pounds despite the belt-fed system expected to be heavy.

Modern era Machine Gun

The cold war between the Soviet Union and America caused significant refinement of other weapons, but the machine gun has not changed in many aspects since the M60 Series machine gun. While processing the same elements and characteristics as the M60 machine gun, the M240 machine gun system is more durable, reliable, and easy to maintain than the M60 Series machine gun (Brown, 2002). The major disadvantage of the M60 and the M2 Browning machine guns is that they were heavy automatic machine guns and always required a crew of at least two to ensure they operated effectively. Some of the improvements were made with the introduction of M14 and M16 rifles with a fully automatic mode system. during wartime, the best option was to use the semi-automatic mode to conserve the ammunition and increase accuracy. The riffles failed to support the automatic mode because they had not been designed with the sustained automated fire system. This condition always ensured overheating and consistent jamming.

The M60 varieties had a limited supported automatic system viability compared to the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon because the M14 and M16 had a 30-round and 20-round magazine(Brown, 2002). In 1984 the M249 S A W was embraced by the U.S. marine corps because of its cost and performance aspects. Although it was reported to have some hazards, such as sharp edges and hot barrels, it was modified, and its production resumed after its suspension by James R. Ambrose the U.S. Army Secretary of the Army in 1985.

Design of the current machine gun

The modern machine gun, the M249 SAW, had improvements in the design, which had more advantages. For instance, the M249 SAW uses the belt-fed system (Miller, 2002). The machine gan also “fires the 5.56×45 mm NATO cartridge, usually a combination of one M856 tracer and four M855 ball cartridges fed from M27 linked belts” (Miller, 2002.). It is gas worked and usually fires from an open bolt. On pulling the trigger, both the bolt and bolt transporter push ahead due to the force of the backlash spring. The bullet down the drag as the cartridge is taken from the belt, loaded, and released. This strain caused by the increasing gases redirected through the barrel opening into a chamber moves the piston, giving the energy to remove and discharge the spent packaging, advancing the belt, and finally packing the backlash spring, consequently getting ready for more ammunition. This machine gas is more effective because it includes a 200-round strap and plastic ammunition bag.

To prevent overheating and jamming of the barrel, the M249 Light Machine Gun has a “rifling twist rate of one turn in 180 mm (7 in)” (Miller, 2002). the two different gas points allow the machine gun to have a cyclic rate of fire. There have been improvements to the M249 SAW, thus producing various variants such as the M249 PIP, which included only one gas port instead of the dual gas port to reduce overheating Miller, 2002. Although the double gas port replacement had an advantage, the M249 PIP no longer fires at a higher cyclic speed. Different handguards have been installed to prevent burns and soft fabric magazine boxes from replacing the plastic ammo boxes.

Future evolution of machine gun

Although the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is still effective, the U.S. army is still determined to make more improvements and modernize the arms such as the Squad Automatic Weapon (Mizokami, 2018). Modernization aims to improve the shooting distance, reduce weight, and increase accuracy. According to Mizokami (2018), the replacement of the M249 SAW will be known as Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (N.G.S.A.R.). The weapon “will combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a rifle, yielding capability improvements in accuracy, range, and lethality” (Mizokami, 2018). By ensuring the weapon is light and uses light ammunition, the army states that it will improve soldiers’ mobility and firing accuracy and increase the survival rate. The details of the future automatic rifle will be up to twelve pounds, maximum of thirty-five inches long, and using a semi-automatic mode, the shooting diameter should be 3.5 inch in a hundred years and a 7-inch collection in hundred yards (Mizokami, 2018). The telescope weapons are the new generation automatic machine gun that the U.S. Army is interested in.


As technology advances, so do the machine guns, continually advancing toward a more sophisticated weapon. From the earlier idea of a riffle dispensing bullets at a higher and faster rate, the canons’ development was critical in advancing the machine gun idea to the current machine guns a person can carry. The improvements also influenced the war tactics from the previous offensive to a defensive tactic due to machine guns reducing the number of soldiers involved; some nations, such as the U.S., developed maneuver warfare. With the current sophistication in modern machine guns, it may seem difficult to overtake them, but there are plans to integrate telescopes into them. With weight and size being the main aspects of advancement, machine guns are expected to be smaller and portable to move around.


Brown, M. (2002). Surface Warfare Shop Proposes New Jfacc Liason For Land Attack. Inside the Navy,  15(46), 1-23.

Longstaff, F. V., & A Hilliard Atteridge. (2003). The book of the machine gun. The Naval & Military Press Ltd.



Miller, D. (Ed.). (2002). The Illustrated Directory of Modern American Weapons. MBI Publishing Company.

Mizokami, K. (2018, July 23). The Race Is on to Replace the Army’s M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The National Interest.

Veteran, T. P. is an M. infantry, Enthusiast, F., gun, N. certified instructor H. a lifelong shooter who just happened to be mediocre enough with a, Two, A. K. to C. the, courses, write H. currently teaches concealed carry, firearms, enjoys spending time in F. N. C. H. is interested in helping folks protect themselves with, & Range, S. B. at the. (2021, July 11). Machine Guns: The History and Evolution of Rapid Fire. Pew Pew Tactical.


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