Monday, July 4, 2011

Defective designs

The Italian Mitriaglice Fiat 1914/35 has the appearence of a good medium machine gun, just as the Breda Modello 30 has the look of a good light machine gun. However, appearances can be deceptive. Both guns had some troublesome design defects that only came to light when the unfortunate soldiers were in action in the front line. The German Flugzeugmaschinen-gewehr MG 15 and 17 were tested in action in Luftwaffe bombers, before they were modified for a ground role.

The Mitriaglice Fiat 1914/35
From 1935 onwards the Italians modernized the old Fiat 1914. The new machine gun, the Mitriaglice Modello 1914/35, had a 300-round belt feed. The water jacket had been removed and replaced with a heavy air-cooled, quick-change barrel. The gun was rebarreled for the larger calibre of 8mm, and engineers at Fiat hoped that this would mean that they could dispense with the oiler. However, the old violent blow-back mechanism (the way that the recoil from the exploding cartridge pushes back the bolt and a new round is fed in) had been retained from the Revelli-designed Fiat 1914. To reduce wear and tear from this violent action, the oiler had to be reintroduced. Despite all these modifications, the gun was not a success; in fact, many old soldiers said it was worse than the Fiat 1914. Among the undesirable features was the tendency for the barrel to overheat and, as always in the desert, the oiler attracted dust and dirt that clogged the mechanism. The Germans, who were always keen to use any available weapons, gave the Fiat 1914/35 the designation 8mm sMG255(i). Although it was widely available from captured stocks in 1943, they do not appear to have used it. They were probably aware of its deficiencies. The complete gun with its tripod weighed in at 36.6kg/81.25lb. It fired 500 rounds per minute and could be used both in a ground role and as a light anti-aircraft gun.
Here the Mitriaglice Fiat 1914/35 appears on a high-angle anti¬aircraft mount during the Italian campaign in the Balkans of 1939-41. While one man keeps the mount stable, the other holds the belted ammunition so that it will feed smoothly when the gunner fires.

The Fucile Mitragliatore Breda modello 30
This was the standard light machine gun of the Italian Army during World War II. It was widely regarded as a poor weapon: it had fired the underpowered 6.5 x 52mm cartridge in 20-round clips that were inserted into a fragile hinged magazine, and the gun was prone to jamming. It had a cyclic rate of fire of 450-500 rounds per minute.
The Italian Fucile Mitragliatori Breda modello 30 was one of the first air-cooled machine guns with a quick-change barrel. It had evolved from the Breda modello 1924 via the modello 1928.

The weapon fired from a closed bolt and had a small lubricating device that sprayed oil on each cartridge as it entered the chamber. However, this caused the chamber and barrel to heat rapidly, which in turn caused rounds to fire prematurely, or "cook off", before they were fully in the chamber. The oil from the lubrication also quickly picked up dust and debris, making the weapon highly prone to jamming during fighting in North Africa.

Some Bredas were modified to fire the new 7.35mm cartridge that was being introduced into service and designated modello 38. However, production problems with the new ammunition meant that this was a short¬lived programme.

The Flugzeugmaschinengewehr MG15 and 17
Based on the system of the Rheinmetall MG30, the Flugzeugmaschinengewehr MG15 and MG17 were the standard aircraft machine guns fitted to most German combat aircraft in 1939. The MG15 was developed by Rheinmetall in Borsig as a flexible-mounted defence machine gun for bombers, and the MG17 was the fixed forward-firing armament for fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109E. Both weapons were air cooled and recoil operated. The MG15 firing at 850 rpm was magazine fed from Doppeltrommel (double-drum) magazines containing 75 rounds, while the MG17 was belt fed. Both used Mauser 7.92mm ammunition.

When, later in World War II, the Luftwaffe concentrated on 13 and 15mm machine guns, the MG15 was distributed to ground troops - mainly the field units of the Luftwaffe. Since production of the MG34 and MG42 could never meet the demand from ground forces, reworking the aircraft machine guns for a ground role began in 1942. The modifications involved new sights, a shoulder stock, a tripod or bipod mount, a spent cartridge deflector and a carrying sling. It was widely used in garrison and guard units and issued to formations of the German Volksturm, the home guard, at the end of the war. Four MG17s could be mounted together in an anti¬aircraft role, and with a combined rate of fire of 4,400 rpm they were a potent low-level anti-aircraft weapon deployed as a stop-gap in the last two years of the war.

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