- Combined Arms
- Modern Infantryman
Once machineguns were made light enough to be carried by individual soldiers, the firepower available to even the smallest infantry unit multiplied. Building Modern Infantryman units gives the best and cheapest general ground unit available in the Modern Age.
By the end of the 19th century modern (Western European) infantry was equipped with magazine-fed bolt action rifles and heavy tripod-mounted machineguns. The rifle gave the infantry more firepower than they had ever had before as individuals, but the water-cooled heavy machinegun had increased the firepower that could be directed against an attack by an order of magnitude. The result was the bloody debacle of World War One, in which infantry learned, and relearned again and again, that they simply did not carry enough firepower with them to advance against machineguns. The obvious answer was to carry machineguns forward into the attack with the infantry. The problem was that the machineguns of the time were either too heavy to move easily or if light enough, had very little firepower compared to the heavy defensive weapons. One solution was to mount the machineguns in a tracked armored vehicle, the tank, and support the infantry with that. The other was to develop the machinegun until it could be carried forward easily by each individual infantryman. By the end of World War One, the German Army had started experimentally using ’machine pistols’ or sub-machineguns, which fired a pistol cartridge and so could be made much lighter and smaller than a conventional machinegun or rifle. They had a very short range, but could spray a lot of bullets. In the 1920s, working with Swiss small-arms manufacturers, the Germans developed a light machinegun with the firepower of a heavy machinegun. The MG-34 was belt-fed and its barrel could be changed in seconds, so that it did not need a heavy water-cooled jacket to maintain a high rate of fire. Best of all, it could be carried by one man and fired almost continuously by a two-man crew. After world war two, virtually every army developed versions of the MG34 and its successor, the MG-42, for themselves. Meanwhile, the submachinegun was adapted to fire a cutdown (lower-power) rifle cartridge, first by the Germans in their MP-43, and then by the Russian Kalashnikov, whose first automatic rifle came out in 1944. By the 1970s, Kalashnikov’s "assault rifle" was the most widely used infantry weapon in the world and weapons similar to it in design and function equipped virtually every soldier in every army.