Home Forums WWII Are all vehicle machine guns equal?

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    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I was looking at a book with tank models in it, and I got to wondering:

    Most game rules treat bow, coaxial and occasionally AA machine guns the same in rules terms (possibly modifying for .50s) but are there actually differences in effectiveness based on the mounting?

    Obviously the fields of fire might differ, so lets leave that out for now but is either type of machine gun superior in its ability to actually operate as a machine gun compared to the other types?

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    Fairly obviously, yes.

    https://www.tankarchives.ca/2018/11/bow-machine-guns.html reproduces a report on the effectiveness of bow MGs with and without sights. As far as I am aware, most bow MGs had no sights worth the name, and the opinion was offered that a “bow machine gun with no sight is merely a means of wasting valuable ammunition.” This must surely apply with even stronger reason to those MGs in fixed mountings, a curious waste of space seen on the M3 medium and M3 light and, weirdly late, in the boxes on the track-guards of the early model Swedish STRV 103.

    Contrariwise, a co-ax would be able to use the optics associated with the main gun, and so do a vastly better job of aiming.

    MGs mounted in their own cupolas or sub-turrets would presumably fall between these two extremes of effectiveness, as would free mounts as AAMGs using the guns’ own iron sights.

    There is a reason that the co-ax is the type of MG that has survived when all others have fallen by the wayside.

    All the best,


    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Thanks! That makes sense.

    Being able to reduce cost, amount of junk that has to fit in the tank and weak points in the armour must also be worthwhile factors as far as whether to keep them or eliminate them.

    I guess in that light the bow MG is to an extent an intermediate step between the WW1 and the modern tank.

    Avatar photovtsaogames

    Most interesting, thank you.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    Avatar photomadman

    On another similar note. I remember mention of the British in WWII using a .5″(?) variant of their mgs in tanks. I have done some research and found .5″ Vickers but it was primarily phased out by WWII and the 15mm Besa. That one appears to almost have been used as a single shot weapon. It only had 25 round belts and was often fired single shot. Makes it sound almost like a secondary main gun.


    My question is two fold. Is (was) there another about 1/2″ mg used by the British (not the M2) and how would one handle the Vickers (obsolete so limited availability?) or Besa (single shot only as apparently when fired automatic it was inaccurate)? Note this is from Wikipedia info so potentially suspect. Thank you in advance.



    The role of co-ax MGs is twofold: one as a traditional antipersonnel weapon or to attack thin skinned vehicles, but its equally important role was as a ranging weapon for the main gun.

    MGs on the bow, while mostly unable to see a target were designed as suppression weapons to force infantry andAT weapon crews to keep their heads down.  Kills weren’t really necessary, but it was a lot of ammo used for little value.

    Free swinging MGs mounted on the top of vehicles, and fired by the commander, more often than not, were for anti-air defense, although many supporting APC and tanks located behind an assault’s leading edge might have also used them to engage soft targets at long range in addition to using HE from the main gun.  I doubt they were ever used while actually assaulting as the tank commander was very pre-occupied with other more important tasks. It looks great in comic books and cinema but then so do banzai charges.

    Tank design began to see that the MGs on them were not nearly as valuable as a crew served infantry MG dismounted.  Combined arms teams of infantry and tanks were more effective than tanks by themselves.  Infantry MGs have two very important virtues:  infantry can can spot targets better, and they are harder to be spotted in turn. Tanks…not so good.

    Mick Hayman
    Margate and New Orleans

    Avatar photoDarkest Star Games

    There is a reason that the co-ax is the type of MG that has survived when all others have fallen by the wayside.


    Tank design began to see that the MGs on them were not nearly as valuable as a crew served infantry MG dismounted.

    I believe these 2 quotes really only apply during certain “real wars” and are not based on the experiences in more modern conflicts, and usually fall under the decision of designers and not users like the crews themselves who would always vote for more firepower.  I’ll point out that in Vietnam it was imperative that tank commanders had their own “sky mount” MGs (usually .50s) and that they were heavily used (ignoring the MGs added to APCs to make ACAVs and convoy Gun Trucks).  The cupola mounted MGs were removed due to their unreliability and difficulty in reloading, while advantage having a sky mount was that the TC had much better vision and acquisition in the close confines of jungle and city.  This was done to M4s, M48s, M24s, LVT5Ps, M41s, M113s, M88s, V100s, Centurions and just about every other vehicle handy so there must have been a value.

    This was also a lesson relearned in Bosnia/Kosovo, Kuwait, and then during OIF and in Afghanistan where tanks sprouted their MGs for TC and loaders, had bullet resistant shields added, then transitions to a combination or manned and remote MGs (CROWS), both with sighting devices of one kind or other.

    I can see the roof mounted MGs being much more dangerous positions in WW2 and Korea where the high amount of incoming artillery and hard defensive lines would make the life of any unbuttoned TC a short proposition, but modern warfare differs.  I would bet that with the advent of anti-tank drones we will start to see very high rate of fire MGs with probably smaller calibers installed for quick reaction and drone destruction.

    In a WW2 context, and especially in a game, I’m not too sure how granular you want to get with any rules.  Was there a big difference between a .30cal on an M4 vs the MG34 derivative on a German tank?  Probably not.  Would the .50cal AA gun on an M4 be more effective than a ball mount?  Yes vs light skinned vehicles but the mounting wasn’t intended for ground directed fire (I never did understand this one…) so the arc would be different.

    You definitely could make an case for the sighted vs unsighted MGs in effectiveness but maybe care would need to be taken so that it couldn’t swing a fight in a game using D6s and become the uber sniper MG.

    YMMV of course.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I’ve seen a few systems that handle it through the range instead (assuming presumably that the bow gunner can’t see for shit and thus can only shoot at things more or less right there) which is probably a reasonable case.


    Vietnam and the Balkans didn’t have much in the way of armor to engage or fight against by the mech forces deployed.  You might say the primary weapon of apc/tanks on convoy was indeed the nominally AA purposed MG.  The terrain was never terribly suited for mechanized forces to fight in, certainly no tank vs tank fighting.  Still, the same weapons dismounted, in defensive fighting would have be more effective, and probably offensively as well, when trying to advance in thick terrain, but you certainly can’t tell a tanker that.

    Mick Hayman
    Margate and New Orleans

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