The West German MG3 ("Machinengewehr Modell 3") General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) was introduced into service in 1968 under the Rheinmetall brand label and continues in widespread use today (2014). The weapon was developed as a multi-role GPMG, this classification denoting a specialized group of machine gun in military service. These weapons are generally air-cooled designs requiring the changing of the barrel, feed from an ammunition belt (usually of rifle-caliber size) and can be fired from bipods, heavy-duty tripods or as a vehicle-mounted weapon. As such, these versatile weapons are called to cover various battlefield roles - direct infantry engagement, suppression, anti-aircraft defense, etc... The Germans first realized the GPMG concept through their introduction of the MG34 GPMG of 1934 prior to World War 2 (1939-1945). The design was streamlined in 1942 as the MG42 and proved one of the finest machine guns of the war.
The MG3 began life as the "MG1", these essentially continued production of the German wartime MG42. However, with the Western shift to the 7.62x51mm NATO standard rifle cartridge in the decade following the war, the weapon was rechambered to accept the new round, discontinuing support for the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge of old. To fulfill a West German Army requirement for a modern GPMG, the MG42 was selected in the new cartridge form and design work began in 1958. Several other changes were instituted to the original design to better accept and fire the NATO cartridge in full. The MG1 line was formally introduced in 1960 and, on the whole, the weapon remained faithful to the wartime MG42 - whose original manufacturing plans were lost in the conflict.
After several years of in-the-field use, engineers revisited the MG1 and added a new feed mechanism and anti-aircraft sight device with support for ammunition boxes. These changes begat the MG3 designation to which the product was formally adopted in 1968. The weapon proved a local and global success, exported to a plethora of national armies worldwide as well as entering into local production with a select few powers.
This West German machine gun has evolved along several lines of variants. MG1 was used to signify the wartime MG42 machine guns reverse engineered and rechambered by Rheinmetall to fire the 7.62x51mm NATO standard rifle cartridge. This included changes to both the feed and bolt system but the weapon retained many of the wartime version's external features and internal function including its muzzle booster and gas ports. MG1A1 (MG42/58) of 1958 featured all new calibrated sights to content with the new cartridge being fired as well as a new trigger system. The bore was also chrome lined for robustness. The MG1A2 (MG42/59) of 1959 featured a lengthened ejection port for improved extractions, a friction ring buffer and a heavier bolt assembly - the latter to contend with the weapon's high rate-of-fire - and essentially served as the prototype to the upcoming MG3. The MG1A3 was an improved MG1A2 form with a revised bolt, trigger, feed system and bipod assembly. A new muzzle booster was also added. The MG1A4 was the MG1 for vehicle-mounting and did away with the bipod assembly, anti-aircraft sighting device and shoulder strap support. A shoulder pad was added and a new muzzle booster fitted. The MG1A5 was the MG1A3 upgraded to the MG1A4 standard complete with the same muzzle booster assembly. MG2 covered the major conversion of wartime MG42s rechambered from the classic 7.92mm Mauser cartridge to the 7.62x51mm NATO round. The barrel assembly, feed mechanism and bolt system were all changed as a result.
The MG3 was developed from the MG1A2 and also based on the subsequent MG1A3 while given an all-new rear sighting device for improved anti-aircraft functionality. The feed system now accepted continuous and disintegrating belts through an enlarged ejection port and supported a 100-round magazine box. The barrel featured external tapering and was chrome-lined for longevity. The MG3E then became a proposed lightened form of the MG3 for the NATO trials. The MG3A1 became the vehicle-mounted form and the MG3KWS served as an interim solution preceding the adoption of the Heckler & Koch HK121 GPMG of 2010.
Operators of the MG3 and related machine guns have proved plenty - ranging from Argentina and Australia to Togo and Turkey. Key operators also include Brazil, Canada, Finland, Greece, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sweden among others. In its various host countries, the MG3 has earned local designations such as the "MG74" of Austria, the "M/62" of Denmark, the "7.62 KK MG3" of Finland, the "Karar" of Sudan and the "KSP m/94" of Sweden.
The Iranians procured stocks of MG3s during the early 1970s to complement their newly-purchased Heckler & Koch HK G3 battle rifles (using the same ammunition though in magazine form). The MG3 replaced existing stocks of American Browning 0.30 caliber machine guns Czech ZB vz. 30 light machine guns in the same role. They were pressed into combat service during the bloody Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) in considerable numbers and remain in widespread use today. Local license production was also undertaken in Iran.
Pakistan produced the weapon locally under license through Pakistan Ordnance Factories. Additional production occurred in Greece through Hellenic Arms Industry (now Hellenic Defense Systems). SEDENA of Mexico produced the weapon locally as well as did the Military Industrial Corporation of Sudan. General Dynamics (Santa Barbara Sistemas) of Spain. Italian production was through Beretta.
As designed, the MG3 exhibited an overall weight of 23lbs with an overall length of 48 inches. Its barrel measured 22 inches long. The action centered around a recoil-operated, roller-locked system carried over from the wartime MG42. Rate-of-fire spanned 1,000 to 1,300 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second. Effective firing ranges reached out to 1,200 meters using the provided sighting assembly (open tangent iron sights). Maximum ranges could easily peak at 3,000 meters. The feed was typically 50-round continuous belts and, later, 100-round disintegrating belts.