Gun Library ArticleMachine Guns
The machine gun is one of the most important firearms in the entire gun industry. Today, they are fully-automatic but the very first machine guns ever invented were manually operated. Throughout time, technical developments have brought major changes for the simple machine gun, transforming it into a powerful weapon, portable and capable to fire an incredible number of rifle cartridges more quickly than anyone could imagine. A machine gun is fact, potent and with an incredible velocity. It is indeed the perfect firearm.
The history of the first machine guns dates back to the 19th century, when important names such as Richard Gatling developed the manually powered machine guns. These were very different from the modern machine guns but represented the start for something greater that was about to come. If the Gatling gun needed a crank for reloading and firing, with the automatic machine guns you just have to hold a trigger down.
Machine guns were constantly developed and improved, gaining their popularity especially during the American Civil War. During that time, the demand for firearms of all possible types increased very much and that included the manual machine gun as well. Manufacturers started to produce them in as larger quantities as possible, especially two models: the Gatling gun and the already famous ‘coffee’ gun. The Gatling gun has remained in the history of manually-powered machine guns as a standard, a representative, a pillar. It has served during the war and proved its immense qualities. But more changes were about to come and they were mostly related to the first automatic machine guns.
When the first automatic machine gun was released under the name of Maxim (pictured here), people knew that a new era was beginning for the American firearm industry. Operating on a recoil mechanism and having ammunition strapped to a belt, it was more than perfect. The advantages were more than obvious, especially if we were to consider the automatic loading and the single barrel. If the Gatling gun had been the standard for the manually-operated machine guns, the Maxim gun has become a comparison pillar for the modern automatic and semi-automatic machine guns. The bullet energy was finally understood and it was used for the recoil mechanism in the automatic machine guns.
The end of the 19th century brought another technological innovation for the modern automatic machine guns. The first gas-operated machine guns were produced and one of the most famous ones was the Colt Browning 1895. The firing mechanism was based on the gas that was released from the burning powder and it seems that is was incredibly efficient. People were impressed with the machine gun released under the names of Samuel Colt and John Browning, two very important personalities of the American gun industry.
As the industry of machine guns production started to diversify, a need for categorization was felt. Soon, machine guns were divided into machine guns with a caliber of maximum 20 mm and larger-caliber firearms that were called auto cannons. Depending on the type of rounds that were fired, they were split into conventional and explosive. As an example, the larger-caliber machine guns that used the explosive rounds started to be called auto cannons or grenade machine guns. Soon, there were more categories for the modern machine guns, the majority using link ammunition and having associated equipment (tripod).
Automatic machine guns are usually heavy weapons. They are especially used by the military and they’ve certainly been improved since the first appearance of the manually-operated machine guns. Some are fired using a support and others are hand-held. All of them are equipped with a special made cooling system as they tend to overhead incredibly fast. And what is more important, some require a single man to operate them, while others a whole team for operation. There are certain machine guns which are smaller in size and that operate the same caliber ammunition as do pistols; these are usually called machine pistols or submachine guns, being part of the modern automatic machine guns history.
Drifting a little bit from the general descriptions of modern machine guns, we should go back to the Vietnam War when the machine gun made more than history. Used both for offensive and defensive purposes, machine guns such as the Browning M2 have proved out to be accurate and reached targets at far greater distances than anyone could ever thought of. Using a 50 caliber, the Browning M2 has helped important personalities to fight the heavy war, men like Carlos Hathcock who set his very own personal record with such a machine gun. He is remembered today as one of the bravest and daring men to have fought in the Vietnamese War, setting the record of a long-distance shot at 2250m with the Browning M2, fitted with a telescopic sight. The history of American machine guns would not be complete without him and his courage.
Machine guns were also popular during the World Wars, especially the smaller types such as the machine pistols or the submachine guns. They had a special operation system, called the blowback and they’ve served as some of the finest firearms ever produced. Other important machine guns were the recoil-operated machine guns such as the Browning 50, one of the first original models. The Gatling guns are just as famous and so are the revolver cannons. All these models go to prove of how intricate and complex the history of American firearms and machine guns in particular really is.
Being manually-operated it was more than evident that there was room for improvement. Another famous man, Hiram Maxim came up with the incredible idea of using a recoil-operated mechanism and so was the Maxim machine gun invented. Gatling was a man that was always looking for technological innovations and he tried to introduce externally-powered machine guns as well. Today, such a mechanism can be observed in modern firearms. And we can thank Richard Gatling for having the boldness and the interest to experiment, just as other great men have done, contributing in their own way to the making of history!