Firearms: How Machine Guns Work

Ever wonder how a machine gun fires ammunition continuously and doesn't stop? This article explains the different systems, models and how to operate them.

The history of the machine gun has a rather destructive past. It's arguably one of the most significant modern military inventions. It has permanently changed the way wars were to be fought and waged forever.

The machine gun is a firearm which can continuously fire ammunition. Some are light, which can be easily carried. Medium machine guns can be carried, but they are not as mobile as light machine guns. Heavier machine gun variations are usually mounted to some form of vehicle.

Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling invented the first modern day machine gun in 1861, and received a patent for it in 1862. This weapon is commonly referred to as the Gatlin Gun. It was operated with a hand crack, which powered the loading, and ejection process. The gun was very heavy and had to be mounted on a tripod. It proved to be a very destructive weapon. The United States Army was the first country to adopt the gun. The rest of the modern world soon followed.

Basic Operations of a Machine Gun

1. Fresh round inserted into firing chamber.

2. Breech is locked in position.

3. Trigger pulled, firing pin strikes the back of the round, igniting the gunpowder.

4. Breech is unlocked, discharged round ejected.

5. New round is loaded into gun.

While most machine gun technologies use these basic operations to function, there are many various operation methods for machine guns. These different guns each have their advantages, and disadvantages. They are listed below.

Recoil machine guns use the recoil of the discharged round to propel the next round into the chamber. These guns are very reliable, but are complex with many moving parts. They also offer a slow rate of firepower.



Blowback machine guns utilizes the pressure from the round being discharged. The pressure pushes the bolt, which is located behind the shell, against a spring back and forth. Blowback machine guns are quite simple and reliable, but require ammunition with low pressure to operate.

Gas machine guns redirect the gas from the spent round, and move it towards the piston in the front of the gun. Gas machine guns have a very high rate of fire, but are not as durable and reliable as other models.

External power machine guns are most often found on naval ships, vehicles, or aircraft. They use a motor drive to power the ejection and reloading operations. These weapons are quire heavy, and not very likely to be carried by hand.

The machine gun must also have a source of ammunition. Some of the different methods are listed below.

Spring magazines offer a very reliable method to supply the gun with ammunition. It is a metal casing which pushes the shells up into the weapon. They can only hold a small amount of ammunition. Examples of guns that have spring magazines are the AK-47, and the M-16.

The belt feed system is another popular way of feeding ammunition into the breech. The cartridges are fixed onto the belt, which is most commonly made out of metal. The belts feed in weapon, and the recoil of the weapon powered by the recoil. This method offers a very high rate of fire, but can be very cumbersome.

New machine guns on the drawing board will integrate electronic technology to make true 21 century smart weapons. These new weapons will continue to shape the world far into this new century.

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