Automatic weapon capable of rapid, sustained fire, usually 500–1,000 rounds per minute. Developed in the late 19th century by such inventors as Hiram Maxim, it profoundly altered modern warfare. The World War I battlefield was dominated by the belt-fed machine gun, which remained little changed into World War II. Modern machine guns are classified into three groups: the squad automatic weapon, chambered for small-calibre assault-rifle ammunition and operated by one soldier; the general-purpose machine gun, firing full-power rifle ammunition and operated by two; and the heavy machine gun, firing rounds of 12.7 mm (.5 in) or higher and often mounted on an armoured vehicle. See also submachine gun.
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