Country of origin
7.62 x 51 mm NATO
Weight (unloaded, on tripod)
1 225 mm
Cyclic rate of fire
1 100 rpm
Practical rate of fire
50, 100, 120 or 250 round belts
1 200 m
Range of effective fire
1 200 m
Rheinmetall MG-3 is one of the most successful machine guns in the
world today, and remains in production and widespread service more
than 60 years after it was first adopted.
There is little to be said of the MG-3's design or
development, as it is essentially just an improved MG-42
re-chambered for 7.62x51 mm NATO round. The MG-42 had been the most innovative
machine gun of World War 2, arguably the most successful, and it was
one of the most feared weapons in the arsenal of the Axis; for its
blistering rate of fire, US troops knew the MG-42 as "Hitler's Buzzsaw", the Russians called it "The Linoleum Ripper", and German
troops called it "Hitler's Bone Saw". It had twice the rate of fire
of most other machine guns in use at the time, but was still easily
controllable, and boasted the first quick-change barrel ever seen on
a battlefield. The consensus of historians is that the MG-42 was the
best machine gun of World War 2, and there are more than a few of
these authorities who still consider it to be the best ever made.
After the war, nearly every army in the world wanted surplus MG-42s,
or other weapons with many of the same qualities, and it inspired
the development of the MAG 58, the
M60, the AAT-52, and
When the decision was made for West Germany to re-arm in the
1950s, they re-introduced the MG-42. NATO allowed this as an interim
measure, but required West Germany to adopt the 7.62x51 mm NATO
cartridge as their standard rifle round. Rather than importing a
completely new weapon, or developing one from scratch, West Germany
simply put the MG-42 back into production in the new 7.62 mm NATO
chambering. The resulting weapon went into service in 1958 as the
MG-1, which was further reinforced by the MG-2 (MG-42s built in
World War 2, that were factory-rebuilt to fire 7.62 mm NATO).
However, even these were stopgaps for a "second-generation"
MG-42 with several improvements, whose development was not yet
completed by that time. This new weapon was adopted in 1959 as the
MG-3. This new weapon greatly impressed the other NATO nations, many
of whom adopted it (some very quickly); even the US, the UK, and
France trialed the MG-3 in its early days, though ultimately none
of these three nations adopted it.
The MG-3 has an unusual "fishtail" shaped buttstock with a
buttplate curved inward, the top of which extends backward to rest
atop the user's shoulder. The receiver section is long and
rectangular, with a distinctive long, shallow gradient on the cover
section that slopes toward the buttstock; it is hinged in front, and
the entire receiver cover opens to facilitate loading. The weapon is
fed by a belt that normally hangs freely from the left side, though
a rectangular box or round drum may also be attached. A submachine
gun-style pistol grip and trigger group are located underneath the
middle of the receiver group. Of course, a simpler way to describe
the layout of the MG3 is that it looks almost exactly like the
MG-42. The barrel is surrounded by a long, narrow, rectangular, and
heavily-ventilated jacket, the right side of which is a panel that
swings-open to allow access to the barrel. A folding bipod and
conical flash hider are fitted to the end of the jacket.
The receiver, barrel shroud, and bipod of the MG-3 are made
of stamped steel, while the barrels are bored from cold rolled
steel. The furniture is typically a synthetic polymer, though older
examples of the MG-3 (notably the MG-1 and MG-2) have wooden
furniture. Interestingly, aside from the barrel, chamber, and
action, most components in the MG-3 are interchangeable with the
The MG-3 is not a selective-fire weapon; the only fire
settings are "safe" and "fire", and effectively producing short
bursts or single shots depends solely on the shooter's skill. The
safety is a cross-bolt type, which is switched on or off via a
button-like switch. The cyclic rate of fire may be altered by
installing different bolts and recoil springs, and the conical
muzzle brake also doubles as a flash hider and a recoil booster.
The MG3 is short recoil operated and striker-fired, with a
roller-locked bolt carrier, and fires from an open bolt. The bolt
carrier consists of a bolt head (which includes a spring-loaded
casing extractor and ejector) and body, two cylindrical rollers, a
wedge-shaped striker sleeve, and a return spring; the striker sleeve
locks the bolt in place. Both the barrel and barrel extension recoil
when the weapon is fired, which cycle the action by colliding with
the bolt carrier and drive it rearwards, retracting the striker
sleeve (which unlocks the bolt), and camming the rollers in and out
of their sockets via fixed cams, which also unlocks the bolt head.
The bolt carrier and bolt continue to travel rearward, steadied by a
set of fixed guides, while the barrel and barrel extension return to
battery. As the bolt returns, the breech camming surfaces and the
surfaces of the striker sleeve force the rollers outward, locking
the bolt head securely into the barrel extension. Spent brass is
ejected from the weapon when the ejector strikes the buffer head,
which drives the ejector bar forward and strikes the ejector pin.
The pin pushes the casing (still held at its base by the extractor
system) downward, forcing it out of the weapon through the ejection
chute underneath the action.
The roller-locking mechanism was an especially important
innovation of the preceding MG-42, and was the sole reason that it
was manageable with such a high rate of fire (to reiterate, most
machine guns in World War 2 had half the MG-42's rate of fire). As
with the delayed roller used in the later CETME, G3, and SG 510
rifles, a side effect of the roller locking system was to eliminate
most of the weapon's oscillation and muzzle rise, which enabled
gunners to send a tremendous amount of bullets down-range with
The MG-3's barrel is integrated directly into the barrel
breech. It is chrome-lined, 565 mm long, and employs conventional
groove-and-land rifling (though polygonal-rifled barrels have also
been developed for this weapon) with 4 grooves in a 1:305 mm twist.
During sustained high rated of fire, it is essential to replace the
barrel at regular intervals of several-hundred rounds fired, in
order to maintain accuracy and safe operation. However, replacing
the MG-3's barrel is an exceptionally simple affair, and is achieved
by simply cocking the weapon, releasing the catch for the barrel
shroud which causes the right side to swing open, and the barrel
itself is then swung-out through the right side and removed by
elevating or canting the weapon. Replacing the barrel is basically
the same procedure in reverse. Expended barrels removed immediately
after extended cyclical fire are dangerously hot --- sometimes
approaching white-hot temperatures --- and must only be handled and
discarded using authorized equipment and methods. Each barrel weighs
The MG-3 accepts ammunition from continuous-link DM1 belts,
disintegrating-link DM6 belts, or similar belts (such as the
disintegrating-link M13), but it will not feed traditional cloth
belts. These include 50-round, 100-round, 120-round, and 250-round
belts, depending on the type in question. It cannot feed ammunition
from rifle magazines and drums, although H&K developed a drum for
the MG-3 that can hold a belt with up to 120 rounds. The DM2 steel
ammunition box may also be attached to the MG-3; this box holds DM1
belts with up to 250 rounds in total.
The sights consist of a front barleycorn and a rear V-notch,
as well as a flip-up anti-aircraft sight. The rear sight has a 430 mm
radius, and is adjustable for windage, and ranges of 200 m to 1 200 m
in 100 m increments.
Bipods are fitted to all MG-3s, and are attached to the front
of the barrel shroud. The MG-3 is also one of the few machine guns
in widespread service that is commonly fired from a tripod. The
standard model used by the German armed forces is the Feldlafette
("Field Tripod"), which also includes a Zielfernrohr 4×24 telescopic
The number of users of the MG-3 is even greater than the
number of bullets it can fire within the space of a second, and over
30 nations have operated it. These include Argentina, Australia,
Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Cyprus,
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Iceland, Iran,
Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Norway,
Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia,
Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Thailand, Togo, and Turkey. Most of these
still use the MG-3, although several (Germany included) are
beginning to phase them out of service.
In addition to being manufactured in Germany by Rheinmettal,
the MG-3 has also been manufactured under license by Steyr in
Austria, EBO in Greece, in Italy by Beretta, Franchi, and Whitehead
Moto-Fides, in Mexico by SEDENA, in Myanmar by Ka Pa Sa, in Iran by
AMIG, in Pakistan by POF, in Spain by Santa Barbara, in Sudan by
MIC, and in Turkey by MKEK. A new MG-3 costs about $3 000.
Given its numbers, distribution, and long operational
history, it should come as no surprise that the MG-3 has been used
in numerous armed conflicts across the world. These include many
recent conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq War, and ongoing conflicts
to include the Turkey-PKK conflict, the Afghan War, and the Yemeni
Civil War. Given the MG-3's results thus far, it would hardly be
surprising if this weapon from 1959 were still in service in some
capacity by 2059.
MG-42: Progenitor of the MG-3, and almost identical save for
its 7.92x57 mm Mauser chambering. The MG-42 was used in large
numbers by many nations across the world after World War 2, but it
appears that this venerable weapon is no longer in service.
M53: Essentially a cousin of the MG-3, the M53 is a Yugoslav
copy of the MG-42. However, its rate of fire has been reduced, and
no anti-aircraft sights were fitted.
MG-1: Essentially the early production model of the MG-3, the
MG-1 was simply an MG-42 re-chambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO. Its
original designation was MG42/59.
MG-2: These were wartime MG-42s converted to fire 7.62mm
NATO, essentially making them identical to the MG-1.
MG-3: An MG-1 with several improvements (notably its new
anti-aircraft sights), and the definitive production model of the
MG-3E: Reduced-weight version of the MG-3.
MG-3A1: MG-3 variant developed especially for use on armored
MG-3KWS: Improved MG-3 developed by Rheinmetall and Tactics
Group as an interim weapon, until the HK 121 machine gun becomes
available in quantity.
Ksp m/94: Licensed Swedish-built MG-3. The Ksp m/94 is used
mainly on the Stridsvagn 122 main battle tank.
Karar: Licensed Sudanese-built MG-3.
7.62 KK MG-3: Licensed Finnish-built MG-3.
MA 15: Licensed Myanmar-produced MG-3.
MG-58: Another "cousin" of the MG-3, the MG-58 is an Austrian
copy of the MG-42, re-chambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO.
MG 74: Austrian general-purpose machine gun based on the MG-42, with a new 7.62x51 mm
NATO chambering, a heavier bolt carrier that reduced the rate of
fire to 850 rpm, and composite furniture to reduce its overall
weight. It replaced the MG-42 in Austrian service.
m/960: Licensed Portuguese-built MG-3.
RMG 7.62: Triple-barrel MG-3 developed by Rheinmetall Defence
as a vehicle-mounted, crew-served weapon.
MG-14Z: Twin-barrel MG-3 developed by Tactics Group GmbH as a
vehicle-mounted, crew-served weapon.
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