WWI Austro-Hungarian Small Arms Part I

Roth-Steyr Models 1907 and 1912

Austria-Hungary finally moved to replace its aging Rast-Gasser revolvers with the Roth-Steyr 8mm Pistol Model 1907 and the 9mm Steyr Pistol Model 1912. Österreichische Waffenfabrik Gesellschaft (Steyr) manufactured some 60,000 Model 1907s; Fegyvergyr of Budapest produced another 30,000. The Model 1907, or Repetier Pistole M. 07, served as Austria’s first semiautomatic pistol and, issued to the Kaiserliche und Königliche Armee (Ku. K), saw wide use during World War I. Its well-publicized use by aircrews during the war also earned it the title Flieger-Pistole (Flyer Pistol). Austrian pistols were stamped with the Austrian double-headed eagle and date, with Hungary marking its pistols with the country’s crest and date of issue. A brass disk fixed to the right grip panel denoted regimental issue. In addition to Austria-Hungary, the Model 1907 also saw service with the Australian Air Service.

The Model 1907 is a recoil-operated weapon and was designed by Georg Roth and Karel Krnka. Its 10-round internal magazine in the grip is loaded with chargers or stripper clips. The Model 1907 is also somewhat unusual in that although the action of the breech mechanism reloads the pistol it does not cock its striker. The striker was activated by an independent trigger mechanism that, as in a double-action, required a deliberate and heavy trigger pull to cock and fire the pistol. This feature was most probably intended as a safety measure, as the Model 1907 was initially destined for issue to cavalry units. It may have lessened the chances of accidental discharge while on horseback, but unfortunately for infantrymen and others it did make the Model 1907 difficult to aim accurately. The Roth-Steyr was a well-built weapon but was expensive and difficult to manufacture. It was also somewhat bulky, with a large knob on the rear of its bolt, giving it something of the appearance of a child’s ray gun.

The most widely issued semiautomatic pistol among Austrian forces during World War I was chambered for the 9mm Steyr cartridge and was known by a number of names. It was variously called the Model 1911 (or M11) in its civilian version, the Steyr Pistol Model 1912 (or M12) in its military form, and officially as the Selbstiade Pistol M12. It was also popularly known as the Steyr Hahn, (hahn meaning to “hand” or “hammer”), in contrast to earlier hammerless models. Some 250,000 Model 1912s were manufactured and issued before Steyr ended its production in 1919. The Model 1912 was also used by Chile and Romania, and during World War II a number were rebarreled to 9mm Parabellum and issued to Nazi troops. The slides of Nazi reissue Model 12s were stamped “08” to distinguish them from their original 9mm Steyr chamberings.

Unlike the Model 1907, the Model 1912 was more conventional in its outer appearance, superficially resembling the squared lines of the Colt-Brownings of its day. Still, the eight-round magazine, although located in the grip, was not removable and was charged by means of stripper clips guided by a slot machined into the top of the slide. It was also fitted with a hold-open device that keeps the slide open after firing the magazine’s last cartridge. This was a distinct advantage to combat troops in that it alerted them to an empty magazine in the heat of battle. The Model 1912 was equipped with a thumb safety on the left side of the frame near the hammer, and another safety prevents the pistol from discharging unless the slide was fully closed. Despite such measures, it was still possible for the Model 1912’s main safety to become partially disengaged, allowing it to accidentally fire.

The locking of the action was accomplished by means of corresponding slots and ribs in the barrel and inside of the slide. Upon ignition, the barrel and slide remain locked during the initial recoil, but as the bullet passed through the barrel the internal cams twisted the barrel to the left, freeing the slide and allowing it to continue in its rearward cycle. This movement opened the action to eject the casing, cocks the pistol’s exposed hammer, and strips a fresh cartridge from the magazine. The Model 1912 was a rugged pistol but, as were other Steyr designs, already outdated when it was introduced, owing to its lack of a detachable magazine.

Frommer Stop

While a member of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, Hungary insisted on arming its Honved (Army) officers with a domestic semiautomatic pistol-the Frommer Stop-rather than its allies’ Steyrs. The early designs of Rudolf Frommer (1868-1936) of the small arms firm Fegyver és Gépgyar Részvénytarsasag of Budapest reflected his close association with both Krnka and Roth. His pistols were thus beautifully engineered but typically overly difficult to manufacture and maintain for military use. Frommer patented the Frommer Stop pistol in 1912, and it became known in Hungary (for obscure reasons) as the 19 Minta Pisztoly, or Model 1919 Pistol. Possibly as many as 329,000 were manufactured before production ceased in the 1930s (Ezell 1981: 233).

The pistol operates on a turning bolt mechanism and is a long recoil-operated weapon-a needlessly complicated system for its relatively underpowered 7.65mm (caliber .32) Browning cartridge. The Frommer Stop also presents a somewhat unique appearance in the use of a tubular spring housing above the barrel. The housing contains both the recoil- and bolt-operating spring; a clever economical use of space, it presents a tricky arrangement for a soldier to disassemble in the field.

Unlike the Steyrs, the Frommer is fitted with a grip safety and a more modern detachable seven-round box magazine released by a catch at the base of the grip. External metal components are blued, and grips are of vertically grooved walnut and marked with the “FS” logo in an oval. The Frommer was generally unpopular among Hungarian troops, as it lacks stopping power and is more delicate when compared to other contemporary military pistols. Fegyvergyar manufactured a more powerful Frommer chambered for the 9mm Browning (caliber .380 ACP) cartridge at the end of World War I, but apparently few if any made their way to front-line troops.


A German designer who made a significant mark on rifle design, even though his weapons were never adopted in Germany, was Ferdinand von Mannlicher. He was born in 1848 in Bohemia and was educated in Vienna at the technical college. In 1876 he went to the World Exhibition in Philadelphia, where, instead of concentrating on the railway exhibits since he worked for Austrian railways, he became sidetracked by the Winchester and Hotchkiss weapons exhibits.

Mannlicher went into rifle design from that moment and received honors for his work, including a Gold Medal at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris. Although many of his designs were failures, his place in rifle history is assured because of his inventive genius. One significant design was a semiautomatic rifle patented in 1895, improved by 1900, which was operated by gas tapped from the barrel that forced a piston to actuate the mechanism. This principle is at the heart of most SLRs today. One area in which his weapons still survive is that of stalking, for Mannlicher sporting rifles made around 1900 can still be seen doing excellent work in the Scottish Highlands.


M1885 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt action. Clip-loaded magazine.

Cartridge: 11.15 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.3in (1328mm).

Weight: 10lb 8oz (4.8kg).

Barrel: 31.8in (808mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

M1886 Rifle

As M1885, new sights.

Cartridge: 11.1 5 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.2in (1326mm).

Weight: 9lb 15oz (4.5kg).

Barrel: 31.7in (806mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

1886/90 Rifle

M1886 rifles converted to fire 8 x 50R Mannlicher cartridge.

M/v: 2035 fps (620 m/s).

1888 Rifle

M1886 rebarreled.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1281mm).

Weight: 9lb 1oz (4.4 kg).

Barrel: 30.2in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1755 fps (535 m/s).

1888/90 Rifle

Model 1888 with new sights for M88/90 cartridge.

M/v: 2028 fps (618 m/s).

1890 Cavalry Carbine

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.6in (1005mm).

Weight: 7lb 5oz (3.3kg).

Barrel: 19.61 in (498mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1886 fps (575 m/s).

1890 Gendarmerie Carbine

1892. As cavalry carbine.

Details: as M1890 Cavalry Carbine.

M1895 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1280mm).

Weight: 8lb 5oz (3.78kg).

Barrel: 30.1 9in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 2030 fps (620 m/s).

1895 Short Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.49in (1003mm).

Weight: 6lb 13oz (3.09kg).

Barrel: 19.68in (500mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1902 fps (580 m/s).

1895 Cavalry Carbine

Similar to short rifle.

Details: the same

M1914 Rifle

As German Gew. 98 but with a different stock.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.19in (1275mm).

Weight: 8lb 13oz (4.0kg).

Barrel: 30.7in (780mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round integral box.

M/v: 2034 fps (620 m/s).

WWI Austro-Hungarian Small Arms Part II

Machine Guns

Maxim traveled Europe while demonstrating his weapon. He was accompanied by Albert Vickers, a steel producer from South Kensington who had become intensely interested in Maxim and his invention. In 1887, Maxim took one of his guns to Switzerland for a competition with the Gatling, the Gardner, and the Nordenfelt. It easily out-shot all competitors. The next trials were in Italy at Spezzia. There the Italian officer in charge of the competition requested Maxim to submerge his gun in the sea and allow it to be immersed for three days. At the end of that time, without cleaning, the gun performed as well as it had before being subjected to this officer’s unusual demand. The next trial was in Vienna, where an impressed Archduke William, the field marshal of the Austrian Army, observed that the Maxim gun was “the most dreadful instrument” that he had ever seen or imagined. History would prove the archduke’s observation to be only too true.

Many observers were first skeptical toward Maxim’s claim that his weapon could fire 10 shots per second and maintain that rate of fire for any extended length of time. At the Swiss, Italian, and Austrian trials and those that followed, Maxim made believers out of all who saw the weapon in action. One exception was the king of Denmark, who was dismayed at the expenditure of ammunition and decided that such a weapon was far too expensive to operate, saying that it would bankrupt his kingdom.

In 1888, Maxim formed a partnership with Vickers, an association that would last until Maxim’s seventy-first birthday. Having successfully demonstrated his weapon in Europe, Maxim and his new partner began producing the machine gun. The first production model was capable of firing 2,000 rounds in 3 minutes. It was very well built, easy to maintain, and virtually indestructible. By 1890, Maxim and Vickers were supplying machine guns to Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and Russia.

In Austria in 1888, Archduke Karl Salvator and Colonel von Dormus patented a very simple gun using the blowback system. This gun was unique in that it did not have a breech lock. Because of that, it could use only relatively weak cartridges. Nevertheless, the design was sold to the Skoda company of Pilsen, where it was manufactured as the Skoda Mitrailleuse Model 1893 Machine Gun. Later modified as the Skoda Model 1909, this weapon remained in service in the Austro-Hungarian Army through World War I, during which it was primarily used for fortress defense. In 1893, another Austrian, Captain Baron Adolph von Odkolek, took his idea for a gas-operated machine gun to the Hotchkiss company in France.

By 1907, the Austro-Hungarian Army had become disenchanted with its Skoda machine gun and turned toward a new model invented by the German designer Andreas Wilhelm Schwarzlose. His design, first patented in 1900, employed a blowback system in which the gun was operated by the rearward movement of the breechblock. The Schwarzlose, first introduced in 1905 and manufactured by Steyr in Austria, was cheap, simple to understand and operate, and solid and robust. In fact it was so heavy that the parts never seemed to wear out, and many of the Austrian guns used in the coming war would be around for use in World War II. It was also sold to the Netherlands, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Sweden.       

Škoda M1909

Manufacturer(s) Škoda

Production began 1909

Production ended 1917

Technical specifications

Machine gun

Caliber 8x50mmR

Action Delayed blowback

Length 945mm

Barrel length 530mm

Weight 41.4kg

Feed system Belt

Cyclic rate 425rpm

Maximum effective range 1000m

Muzzle velocity 2030fps

The M1909 is a machine gun made by Škoda during the Austro-Hungarian era. The weapon was a belt fed derivative of the Salvator Dormus M1893. Although it was unable to compete with the more reliable Schwarzlose m/07, it was used in the same period, albeit mostly by reserve and home guard battalions within the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.

The M1909 is a 8x50mmR calibre, water cooled, delayed blowback operated machine gun. The operation is unusual, it uses a rolling block that operates as the bolt, which is delayed by the friction of a tilting block against the return spring when the round is fired. The cocking lever is on the right side and also has a folding stock.

Schwarzlose machine gun

Maschinengewehr (Schwarzlose) M. 7

Other name(s) M.7/12, 07/12

Manufacturer(s) ŒWG

Technical specifications

Weapon type Medium machine gun

Caliber 8×50mmR Mannlicher, 8×56mmR, 7.92x57mm Mauser, 6.5x53mmR, 6.5×55mm, 7.62×54mmR, .303 British

Action Toggle delayed blowback

Length 945 mm (37.2 inches)

Barrel length 530 mm (20.9 inches)

Weight 41.4 kg (91.8 pounds)

Cyclic rate 400-580 round/min (M.07/12), 600-880 round/m (MG-16A)

German arms designer Andreas Wilhelm Schwarzlose patented a basic design for a machine gun in 1902. He subsequently sold his patent rights to the Steyr arms factory in Austria, which produced the first guns of the Schwarzlose pattern in 1905. After two years of trials and development, the military forces of the Empire adopted the Schwarzlose machine gun in 1907; this gun was also later adopted in a range of calibers by the Netherlands and Sweden (who both manufactured Schwarzlose machine guns under licence until the 1930s), and by Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey – all before the World War I. In 1912 it was modified with the introduction of stronger parts and slightly reshaped retarding levers (struts). The primary visible difference between original M1907 guns and modified M1907/12 guns is the lack of the gap between the hump on the receiver and the barrel jacket on the latter guns.

After the WWI and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great many Schwarzlose guns were adopted by smaller countries that emerged from the remains of the Empire, such as Czechoslovakia (which put the gun into production) and Hungary. Many Schwarzlose guns also went to Italy as war reparations, and subsequently saw some use during WW2, mostly in Africa in the original 8x50R caliber. Another user of Schwarzlose machine guns was Russia, which captured several thousands of Austrian machine guns during the early parts of World War One.

The Schwarzlose machine gun, although overshadowed by more famous weapons such as the Maxim or Browning, has its own merits. It is quite simple in construction, robust in service, and usually quite reliable. Its drawbacks come from its basic design, which centers on a retarded-blowback action. This action calls for a relatively short barrel so that the chamber pressure drops before the case begins to leave the chamber; otherwise it would rupture – although when the Czechoslovak army converted their old 8x50R Schwarzlose machine guns to the more powerful 7.92×57 Mauser ammunition, they had no problems associated with high pressure, even with new, significantly longer barrels. Nevertheless, most of the Schwarzlose guns retained short barrels throughout their service life. This obviously limited the muzzle velocity and thus the maximum range and possible bullet penetration at any given range, compared with contemporary guns with a locked breech. The short barrel also called for a dedicated flash hider, to suppress the significant muzzle flash which otherwise would blind the gunner at night. Finally, the lack of primary extraction required an integral oiler, which squirted a small amount of oil into the chamber just before chambering the next round. Nevertheless, the Schwarzlose was a good weapon and saw considerable use through both world wars, although during the Second World War it was mostly relegated to second-line troops, fortifications and other such uses.

The Schwarzlose machine gun is a retarded-blowback operated, water cooled, belt-fed weapon that fires from a closed bolt. The method of operation requires a heavy breechblock, connected to the receiver through a pair of knee-joint struts. When the bolt is in battery, the struts are folded forward, with their joint axis lying relatively low above the barrel axis. Upon firing, the pressure of the powder gases acts on the breechblock through the base of the cartridge case. The rearward movement of the breechblock unfolds the struts, but because of a carefully arranged redirection of forces through the struts and joints, most of the initial pressure is transferred to the receiver. Upon further recoil, joint axis rises above the barrel, and thus the recoil force is re-distributed with more and more of it being used for bolt acceleration. Upon recoil, the bolt compresses a massive and powerful return spring which forces it forward and into battery once the recoil stroke is completed. The charging handle is attached to the axis of the forward strut, and has to be rotated back to cycle the bolt.

Due to the lack of primary extraction, the Schwarzlose has to use oiled cartridges. To avoid the problems associated with factory-oiled or waxed ammunition (which tends to collect fine dust and then cause jams) the gun has an internal oiling system which squirts a small amount of oil into the chamber just before the chambering of each round. This system includes an oil reservoir, located in the receiver’s top cover, and a small oil pump, which is operated by the reciprocating bolt.

The belt feed system is very simple, and involves few parts. The major part is the star-wheel, located in the lower left corner of receiver. Upon bolt recoil, the star-wheel is rotated for one step by the interaction of the cam surfaces on the bolt and the wheel. Each cartridge has to make three steps in the feed before being presented to the bolt for chambering, therefore initial belt loading requires three deliberate pulls on the charging handle. The feed direction is from the right side only, ejection being to the left.

The trigger system also is of rather simply design. It involves a separate striker, a striker spring and a sear, mounted on the bolt. The sear is cocked by a lever attached to the rear bolt delaying strut, and this cocking movement adds to the retarding force applied to the bolt. After cocking the striker is held to the rear by the sear. The thumb trigger is located at the rear of the receiver, and once pushed by the operator, it holds the connection bar so it trips the sear when the bolt is in battery. A manual safety is located next to the trigger and blocks it unless pushed forward by the operator’s left thumb. Dual spade grips are located horizontally at either side of the receiver, and can be folded up for storage or transportation.

 The most common mounting was a tripod of solid construction, with tubular legs of adjustable height and traverse and elevation mechanisms. An optional armored shield was available for this gun, which was unusual in that it also provided frontal and lateral armored protection for the thin metal of the water jacket. Alternatively, a low-height, lightweight tripod was provided for the “light” role. This tripod had no traverse and elevation mechanisms.

Barnitzke Machine Gun (Flywheel delayed blowback)

7.92x57mm cartridge


The German Gustloff Barnitzke light machine gun. Derived from the MG 42 by Karl Barnitzke, the weapon used an unusual delayed blowback action consisting of two flywheels in a rack and pinion arrangement. The flywheels were exposed to dust and mud, and were overcomplicated in design, and the gun remained a prototype only

The information on this gun is really really scarce, the only thing known about it is that it’s a prototype. It is  a delayed blowback machine gun and to quote “during firing the bolt opening is delayed by the rotational inertia of two flywheels, which are driven by a rack and pinion arrangement on the bolt carrier”. Though similar to the MG-42 it was supposed to replace, its internal design differed greatly and the complexity of this weapon possibly led to no further development after WW2.

Other Rare MGs Mauser LMG Modell 1934, Wollmer LMG Modell 1926, Gustloff Barnitzke LMG, MG-131 Ground Version

During the war a number of companies produced the MG 42, although never in the numbers needed to keep up with the ever increasing demand. These included Gustloff-Werke in Suhl, Mauser AG-Werke in Borsigwald, Steyr in Vienna, Grossfuss in Dobeln, and Maget in Among them, 129 MG 42s were made each day from 1942 through 1945. More than 400,000 units were produced (17,915 in 1942,116,725 in 1943, 211,806 in 1944, and 61,877 in 1945).

Machine Guns WWI: Issue, organization and doctrine


The German MG08, fitted with an optical sight and an armoured cover for its water-jacket.


A graphic representation of machine gun cones of fire and beaten zones. Taken from British machine gun training notes.

The level of machine gun issue in the armies of the major powers in 1914 was roughly equivalent. The Russians were actually the most lavishly equipped on paper, with an eight-gun company attached to each regiment. However this remained a sadly theoretical scale of issue for some Russian regiments, for whom even riles were a scarce commodity. The Russian Army was 833 machine guns short of its official scale of issue at the outbreak of war. Once the fighting began this situation worsened, as pre-war forecasts of wastage proved to have been far too low. Efforts were made to increase production and to negotiate purchases from abroad. It was not until 1916, however, that production exceeded the average rate of wastage, which stood at 600 guns per month. Russian machine-gunnery was further hampered by a severe shortage of small arms ammunition, which prevailed throughout 1915.

Austria-Hungary, Russia’s chief enemy in 1914, also suffered from a shortage of riles, due to pre-war parsimony. Conversely, small arms ammunition was very plentiful – undoubtedly to the benefit of the machine-gunnery of the Habsburg Empire’s armed forces. When their former ally, Italy, attacked in May 1915, machine guns were to prove the mainstay of the successful defensive campaign mounted by the outnumbered Austro-Hungarian forces. They took a particularly high toll of Italian troops attempting to force the valley of the River Isonzo. Italy had rather neglected the machine gun, with only two guns attached to each regiment (which were composed of either three or four battalions). The elite Alpini fared rather better, with two guns per battalion. Italy purchased 892 Vickers ‘C’ Class machine guns between 1910 and 1914. Reports reaching Britain suggested that they were intended for the defence of Italy’s northern frontiers. The coming of war cut off any further possibility of commercial purchases from Britain: such was the need for machine guns in the British Army that selling them to neutral nations was out of the question. Consequently the Italians were obliged to turn to an indigenous design: the Revelli, named for its designer Abiel Bethel Revelli. Like the Schwarzlose, the Revelli worked on the delayed blowback principle, although, just to complicate matters, the barrel also recoiled for a short distance after firing. The delay was effected by a swinging wedge mechanism. In another echo of the Schwarzlose, the cartridges had to be lubricated to ensure clean extraction. The Revelli did not possess the ruggedness of its Austrian counterpart and its potential for unreliability was only enhanced by its use of a unique open magazine, containing fifty rounds. The troubles of Italian machine gunners were compounded by the fact that the Italian Army used a rather underpowered 6.5mm cartridge. As the war progressed the Revelli was supplemented by considerable numbers of the St Etienne gun, supplied by France – thereby augmenting the quantity, if not the quality, of Italian machine guns.

The most effective user of machine guns in the first year of the war was the German Army. German machine-gunners held a decided advantage over their opponents: not because they possessed more guns, but for organizational reasons. Ostensibly the German provision of two guns per battalion matched arrangements in the British and French Armies. However the German guns were organized in a separate company, which was considered the thirteenth company of each three-battalion regiment. This meant that instead of being distributed piecemeal to the three battalions of the regiment, the machine guns remained under the direct control of the regimental commander, and were often grouped together in action. Indeed German regulations specifically stipulated that machine guns should always be under the command of the senior officer present. In addition to the machine gun companies of infantry and cavalry regiments, eleven independent machine gun ‘detachments’ (Abteilungen) were available to corps commanders – these had originally been intended for use in conjunction with the cavalry.

One of the earliest lessons learnt by machine-gunners during the First World War was that this type of ‘brigading’ of guns could greatly enhance their effectiveness, by concentrating their firepower at crucial points. A clear example of this occurred on 26 August 1914, during the Battle of Tannenberg, when, near that village, a Russian counter-attack was shattered by the concentrated fire of the six machine guns of the German 150th Infantry Regiment. In the West, the battle of Le Cateau witnessed the offensive use of ‘closely massed’ German machine guns. The Germans went further than other nation in laying down field regulations for the employment of machine guns. Concentration of fire was encouraged and it was considered a ‘mistake’ to advance machine guns closer to the enemy than 800m if effective supporting fire could be delivered without so doing. Nevertheless, in common with other armies, the Germans still thought in terms of a war of manoeuvre; thus their regulations contained instructions for such activities as firing upon enemy bivouacs by night.

Another advantage held by the Germans was the specialist nature of their machine-gunners and machine gun officers. American historian Dennis Showalter has pointed out that this effect was enhanced in wartime because the limited numbers of trained machine-gunners meant that there was little interchange of machine gun officers and NCOs between first line and reserve regiments (the reverse being the case with their counterparts in rile companies), therefore ‘an active machine-gun company was likely to take most of its peacetime cadre into the field, with corresponding benefits to morale and stability’. However, before attributing too high a level of preparedness to the Imperial German Army, it would be wise to reflect on what this meant for machine-gunnery in reserve formations, which were expected to fight at the Front and which, in many instances, lacked machine gun companies altogether. This fact, added to the natural wastage of the stock of machine guns that occurred in combat, meant that German divisions in the field were running short of them by the autumn of 1914. Of the eight German divisions primarily involved in the Battle of the Marne (those of III and IX Armeekorps of von Kluck’s First Army and X and X Reserve Armeekorps of von Bölow’s Second Army), only one could deploy its full complement of machine guns (twenty-four). Others fared less well, with one division having only six – the average per division being fifteen. Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, in their indispensable work Fire Power, assert that each German battalion was furnished with a machine gun company. This is certainly not so, except in the case of Jöger Battalions, which were not grouped in regiments. This fact is not only implicit in the levels of equipment quoted above, but is also proved by the reliable figure we possess for the total number of guns available, which simply would not support such a scale of issue. Contemporary Allied observers certainly did credit the Germans with more Maxim guns than they possessed, with estimates of up to 50,000 being bandied about. This might be taken as a sign of the effective use made by the Germans of the guns that they did have, but was also a consequence of the general pre-war tendency to underestimate the potential effect of machine gun firepower.

The situation in the French Army could hardly have been more different. Although the French level of machine gun issue met the two guns per battalion ‘norm’ of the period, their policy was to use only one at a time. This was due to the unreliability of their guns. It was thought better to keep at least one gun firing continuously, rather than risk two failing simultaneously. Naturally, the grouping of guns was not a consideration in this context. The reliability problem was not just a fault of the bizarre mechanism of the St Etienne gun. It was a general failing of air-cooled machine guns. Due to the state of metallurgy at that date, air-cooled guns inevitably began to lose accuracy in sustained fire, due to expansion of the barrel. Tests conducted with Hotchkiss guns revealed that the expansion was such that bullets began to fail to take the riling after three to four minutes of sustained fire. The Colt ‘Potato Digger’ became dangerously hot after 500 rounds had been discharged. Water-cooling, although more cumbersome, was far more efficient.

Such considerations were of marginal interest to most in the French Army of 1914. Their tactical doctrine was one of attack. The infantry assault with the bayonet was to be pressed home as soon as the enemy’s defensive fire had been neutralized. The riles and machine guns of the infantry would play a part in this neutralization phase, but the main work would be done by the artillery – specifically by the 75mm field gun. The French Soixante-Quinze was an excellent weapon, but the reliance that the French placed upon it certainly retarded the development of machine-gunnery in their army. As it turned out, the 75 was found to be vulnerable when brought forward to aid the assault. The Germans had not invested all their hopes in a single weapon system and, although their 77mm field gun could not match the 75, they could engage it in counter-battery fire with the 105mm howitzers with which their infantry divisions were also equipped. Moreover, field guns firing in the open made a tempting target for enemy machine guns.

The situation altered as France was forced onto the defensive. In other armies in 1914 the machine gun came to the fore as the primary source of defensive firepower – indeed the French infantry suffered grievously at the hands of German machine-gunners during the Battle of the Frontiers. How-ever, in the French Army this role was performed with great success by the Soixante-Quinze, which could indeed develop a frightening level of destructive power. A four-gun battery of 75s, firing at a rate of ten rounds per minute (just half of the twenty rounds theoretically possible) could put 10,000 shrapnel balls per minute into an area 100m by 400m. That is to say ten times more projectiles than four machine guns firing at the standard French cadence moyenne of 200–300 rounds per minute. Little wonder that the German soldiers referred to the French gunners, in their dark blue uniforms, as the ‘Black Butchers’.

Thus, for the time being, the machine gun remained a mere adjunct of infantry firepower, although the French field regulations made the following succinct differentiation: ‘The infantry must advance and shoots to advance; the machine gun must shoot and advances to shoot.’ This phrase, agreeably elliptical though it is, cannot mask the fundamental absence of machine gun doctrine in the French Army of 1914.



Designer Mikhail Kalashnikov poses with its AK-74 assault rifle



AK 47 info 1

All Kalashnikov military rifles operate with the same basic gas-piston and rotating-bolt system. Features for recognition are the short fore-end and handguard, the gas cylinder above the barrel, and the curved magazine.


Probably the most recognized and certainly the most common assault rifle of the twentieth century. It first appeared in 1949, originally with wood for the furniture, but later it was made of plastic. The simplicity and durability of the weapon have made it the favorite of armies and militias across the world, and many Western soldiers have often expressed the wish that all of their weapons be as simple and reliable as an AK47.

Since its first issue, the rifle has been made in many countries (not always under license) and in many forms. It has been lightened, shortened, fitted with telescopic sights, and generally has served as the standard for the infantry of many countries.

The most distinctive feature of the weapon is its curved magazine, originally designed for 30 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 rounds, the Russian short cartridge designed during World War II.

Its simplicity is clear, but an additional design feature is that the body has a great deal of clearance, meaning that the working parts and the spring have gaps around them so that dust, sand, and mud can fall away from the working parts as they move, and can also fall away from the body through the gaps in the bottom. This weapon is rightfully one of the most reliable rifles: true stories exist of soldiers burying the weapon in sand or mud and digging it up months later, still capable of firing.


Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 34.2 in (869mm).

Weight: 9lb 7oz (4.3kg).

Barrel: 16.3in (414mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2329 fps (710 m/s).

Rate of fire: 775 rpm.


1950. As AK-47, but with a folding wire butt.

Details: as AK-47 except Length, butt folded: 27.5in (699mm).


Various modifications were made to the original AK47, including a folding stick version, but the main changes were in the manufacturing process. The Russians experimented with machined receivers but went back to the original sheet metal receiver quickly, and the new design was known as the AKM.

1959. Modified AK-47 with manufacturing shortcuts.

Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 34.49in (876mm).

Weight: 8lb 7oz (3.8kg).

Barrel: 16.3in (414mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2329 fps (710 m/s).

Rate of fire: 775 rpm.


1960. As AKM, but with steel folding stock as AK-S.

Details: As AKM, except Length, butt folded: 25.9in (657mm); Length,

butt extended: 35.2in (895mm); Weight: 7lb 13oz (3.5kg).


1975. Shortened AKM-S for armoured infantry.

Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 28.4in (722mm).

Weight: 7lb 6oz (3.35kg).

Barrel: 8.9in (225mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2116 fps (645 m/s).

Rate of fire: 800 rpm.


In the early 1970s a new cartridge was developed (the 5.45mm x 39.5mm M74), which may have been due to studies made of the U. S. 5.56mm x 45mm round (otherwise the U. S. .223 Remington). So the AKM was redesigned to fire this cartridge, and the new weapon became the AK74. If anything, this rifle is more reliable than the AKM, because the cartridge rim of the M74 round is thickened to allow the even heavier bolt of the AK74 to extract the round without tearing through the rim, another problem with the M16.

The Russians had thus arrived at the same conclusion as the European and U. S. military: the smaller caliber round did more damage out to its optimum range of about 300 or 400 yards and allowed assault rifles to be built that could fire the round on full automatic. By the late 1960s all modern armies were equipping, or planning to equip, with small-caliber rifles, and the Russians had taken the lead in producing a rifle that today is still regarded by combat soldiers as the most reliable weapon available. It is this reliability that causes many soldiers to comment that they would rather have an AK74 or even an AK47 or AKM in preference to their issue rifle-be it a variant of the M16, the Israeli Galil, the German G3, or the British SA80.

1974. Reduced caliber AKM.

Cartridge: 5.45 x 39.5mm.

Length: 36.5in (928mm).

Weight: 8lb 8oz (3.9kg).

Barrel: 15.8in (400mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2953 fps (900 m/s).

Rate of fire: 650 rpm.


1974. Folding-stock version of the AK-74.

Details: the same, except Length, butt folded: 27.16in (690mm).


1980. Reduced caliber AKM-SU with folding butt.

Cartridge: 5.45 x 39.5mm.

Length, butt extended: 26.6in (675mm).

Length, butt folded: 16.61in (422mm).

Weight: 5lb 15oz (2.7kg).

Barrel: 8.11in (206mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2411 fps (735 m/s).

Rate of fire: 700 rpm.


1996. Similar to the basic AK-74.

Cartridge: 5.56 x 45mm NATO.

Length: 37.1in (943mm).

Weight: 7lb 8oz (3.4kg).

Barrel: 16.34in (415mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2985 fps (910 m/s).

Rate of fire: 600 rpm.

Soviet WWII Machine Guns

The Soviets were latecomers to machine-gun development generally. Prior to World War I, the czarist army bought machine guns from other countries and manufactured some under license. For this reason, Russian machine-gun development and production had to start virtually from scratch after the Russian Revolution. A top priority was the development of a light machine gun to replace the Lewis, Hotchkiss, Madsen, and Chauchat left over from World War I. It had been difficult to get spare parts, and the weapons’ various ammunition calibers placed stress on the logistics system. The Soviets also had many water-cooled Maxims left and the factories to build them, so the initial effort went into developing a lightweight conversion of the Maxim. Several designers were given the task of coming up with independent designs for the conversion. F. V. Tokarev came up with the winner, in which he modified the Maxim by replacing the water-cooled sleeve around the barrel with a slotted jacket to produce a light, air-cooled weapon with a rifle butt and pistol grip. After extensive testing, the Maxim-Tokarev was finally approved in 1925 as the future light machine gun. However, Soviet troops complained that the weapon was still too heavy to meet the requirements for a light machine gun. Modifications were made, but the Soviet high command realized that the weapon was still only the extension of an outmoded design. So they gave another designer, Vasily A. Alexeyevich Degtyarev, the task of developing an entirely new light machine gun.

Degtyarev’s first successful model was the Degtyareva Pulemet (DP), which appeared in 1926. The DP was a simple, gas-operated weapon with only six moving parts. It proved very reliable in the harsh conditions it would be subjected to in the coming war. It fitted a visually distinctive drum magazine on the top of the weapon that held 49 rounds. In action, it was served by a two-man crew. The DP, including the infantry, tank, and aircraft versions, would be used in very large numbers throughout World War II.

A close relative to the DP, the Degtyareva Pulemet Tankovii (Degtyarev-Type Machine Gun, or DT) was first issued in 1929. It was designed for use in armored vehicles but was basically the same gun as the DP. Both weapons saw service with Loyalist forces during the Spanish Civil War, during which some deficiencies in design were noted. Modifications were made, and the two guns went on to become the principal squad and antitank machine guns in the Red Army for most of World War II. In 1944, the DP was modified into the DPM. Although there were some problems with the fragile tin drum magazine, the DP, DT, and DPM proved remarkably reliable under the harshest conditions.

Because of the initial difficulties in establishing an indigenous machine-gun industry, the Soviets had to develop mediums and heavys for their forces, still armed with the Maxim 1910 model. As part of the first Five-Year Plan for reequipping the Soviet Army, the Maxim 1910 underwent modifications to modernize the design. However, as was the case with the light machine gun, the Soviets wanted a new design to replace the older weapon. In the late 1920s, specifications were published for a replacement for the Maxim. The new weapon was to be similar in mechanism to the DP and DT guns to ensure uniformity of training. It was to be air-cooled and belt-fed, with a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute, weigh not more than 30 kilograms (66 pounds), and a tripod mounting with or without wheels.

In 1930, Vasily Degtyarev, in conjunction with G. Sergei Shpagin, produced a design that met the Red Army specifications. The Degtyarev Stankovy (Degtyarev Mounted, or DS) was a tripod-mounted machine gun in caliber 7.62mm using the same gas-piston and lock system as the DPs and DTs, but with a belt feed and a very heavily finned barrel. It was adopted in 1939, but there were serious problems with the design. The weapon ripped cartridges to pieces when withdrawing them from the belt, and it jammed in dusty conditions and froze up in cold weather. Ultimately, only 10,000 DS guns were made; production of the Maxim 1910/30 was restarted.

While trying to perfect the new MMG design, the Soviets also recognized the need for a true heavy machine gun that could be used against aircraft, light armor, and similar hard targets. Degtyarev was again called upon, although he was still busy trying to perfect the DS. He devised a caliber .50-inch gun that employed his locking and gas-piston system. Using a drum magazine, the new weapon, designated the Degtyarev Krupnokalibernyi (Degtyarev Heavy Caliber, or DK), was approved in 1933. The gun was reasonably well designed, but during tests users complained of a low cyclic rate of fire and difficulty in changing the bulky drum magazines. Production was stopped, and Degtyarev went back to the drawing board. Once again, he called in G. S. Shpagin to assist in modifying the design, particularly with regard to the feed problems.

The result of this collaboration was the 12.7mm Degtyarev-Shpagin Krupnokalibernyi (Large Caliber Degtyarev-Shpagin) 38 (DShK 38), submitted for initial testing in 1938. The DShK was similar to the Browning M2 but was gas-operated. Degtyarev contributed the gas operation and locking system from his DP LMG series, and Shpagin devised a novel way to extract incoming rounds from the belt by means of a rotary-feed cylinder. The DShK 38 saw extensive service during World War II; it became the infantry heavy-support machine gun and also became the universal air-defense machine gun in the Red Army; by the beginning of 1944, 8,000 were in the field.

By the beginning of World War II, all the major military powers had a range of choices of LMGs, MMGs, and HMGs. Many had been tested in combat during the 1930s in places like Manchuria beginning in 1931 and the Chaco Wars between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1932. The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, and the Italians invaded Abyssinia that same year. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Italy invaded Albania. In all of these conflicts, machine guns played an important role, providing firepower for infantry, close-in protection for tanks and other vehicles, and armament for ships, fighters, and bombers. Although the machine gun would not rule the battlefield in World War II as it had in World War I, it would still play a major role in combat on the ground, in the air, and at sea.

World War II

The Soviets entered the war with a mix of medium Maxims and light Degtyarevs, with the DShK being produced to replace the Maxims. However, when the Red Army attacked Finland in the 1939 Winter War, its DP and DT machine guns did not operate as well as hoped in the cold environment. They experienced major problems, especially the failure of return springs. Several quick fixes were tried but proved unsatisfactory. Eventually, the spring design and placement were radically changed; the resulting weapons were designated the DP Modernized (DPM). Similar changes were applied to the DT, resulting in the DTM, which was the tank and armored vehicle version.

Other modifications and revisions were made in the early years of the war, including converting them to belt-feed, but this made the DPM too heavy, and the long, flapping ammunition belt was a nuisance to the gunner when sprinting to a new position. It is suspected that the DPM was merely a stopgap pending the development of better weapons.

While production of the DPM continued, the Soviets put engineers to work developing a new 7.62mm LMG. A number of designers, including Vasily Degtyarev, Sergei Simonov, and Mikhail Kalashnikov (his first appearance as a designer; he would later become famous for his assault rifle), participated in this competition. Degtyarev offered two gas-operated guns, one belt-fed and the other with a top-mounted box magazine. Simonov designed a gas-operated weapon. Kalashnikov presented a short-recoil design. The Simonov design was selected after initial trials, but the weapon was neither durable nor accurate.

By the middle of 1943, the Soviets had developed a new short cartridge, the 7.62x39mm, and this led to a rethinking of the LMG concept in the Red Army.

Although the new round had been developed for the assault rifle, it was accurate out to 800 meters, sufficient for the squad light automatic weapon. A call went out for designs using the new cartridge. A number were submitted, and after trials the Degtyarev entry was selected. It was approved in 1944 as the RPD (Ruchnyy Pulyemet Systema Degtyarev-Light Machine Gun by Degtyarev).

The RPD was a derivative of the earlier DP and DPM models but was belt-fed from a drum clipped beneath the gun. For the first time, Soviet infantrymen had a machine gun that they could pick up and use in the assault. Unlike most LMGs, it had a fixed barrel, and the gunner had to be careful to avoid firing more than 100 rounds in one minute to prevent overheating. The war ended before this weapon could be perfected. It would go into full production in 1953 and proved to be a rugged and effective design; it became the standard squad automatic weapon for the Red Army and for Soviet client states.

The Soviets also developed a medium machine gun during World War II. The Degtyarev DS MMG had proved a failure in service, and production was halted in 1941. The Red Army reverted to the Maxim M1910, but when the Germans attacked in OPERATION BARBAROSSA, the supply of machine guns was woefully inadequate. The choices were to build more factories to turn out more of the older model, or to come up with an entirely new design. Pyotr Goryunov had already been working on a medium, and in June 1941 he demonstrated his design to the military. He was instructed to make 50 guns for extensive testing, including some sent to front-line units. The reports were favorable; after some revisions and more tests, it was adopted in May 1943 as the 7.62mm Stankovyi Goryunova 43 (SG43). The SG43 was gas-operated and air-cooled. It was fed by belt and was usually mounted on a wheeled carriage similar to that used with the Maxim 1910. During the Winter War of 1944 against Finland, the SG43 was mounted on a sled for easier movement over snow. It is extremely heavy but was very good for use in the defense. This gun was manufactured in some numbers during the war but never entirely replaced the PM1910, which stayed in production right till war’s end and remained in front-line service with the Soviet Army into the 1980s.

The Soviets also used the 12.7mm DShK HMG during World War II. It had originally been employed primarily as an antiaircraft weapon, but by 1943 it was in wide use in the infantry support role. With the increase in usage, problems with the weapon became apparent; chief among these was a feed problem. Modifications were made to the Shpagin feed system, and various other parts were strengthened, making the gun easier to manufacture, more reliable, and less likely to jam. The new model was designated the DShKM 38/46.

Degtyaryov machine gun DP-27

The Degtyaryov machine gun or DP-27 is a light machine gun firing the 7.62×54mmR cartridge that was primarily used by the Soviet Union, with service trials starting in 1927 followed by general deployment in 1928. Besides being the standard Soviet infantry light machine gun (LMG) during WWII, with various modifications it was used in aircraft as a flexible defensive weapon, and it equipped almost all Soviet tanks in WWII as either a flexible bow machine gun or a co-axial machine gun controlled by the gunner. It was improved in 1943 producing the DPM, but it was replaced in 1946 with the RP-46 which improved on the basic DP design by converting it to use belt feed. The DP machine gun was supplemented in the 1950s by the more modern RPD machine gun and entirely replaced in Soviet service by the general purpose PK machine gun in the 1960s.


    DPM, modernized version adopted in 1943–44, with a more robust bipod fastened to the cooling jacket and the recoil spring housed in a tube projecting from the rear of the receiver which necessitated a pistol grip for this model of the weapon (manufactured in China as the Type 53)

    DA, for mounting and loading in aircraft. Also used in tandem mounts known as DA-2. Employed in the early versions of the Tupolev TB-3 bomber and in the Polikarpov R-5 and Polikarpov Po-2 army cooperation aircraft. The DA weighted 7.1 kg empty and 11.5 kg with standard ammunition load. Its rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute. It was built between 1928 and March 1930 with 1,200 units delivered. It was soon superseded by the ShKAS, which had a much higher rate of fire.

    DT and DTM, for mounting and loading in armoured fighting vehicles. The DT (Pulemet Degtyareva Tankovii) is a close relative of the DP. It was originally designed for use in armored vehicles but is basically the same as the DP. It has an adjustable metal butt and can be fitted with a bipod for ground use. The DT was fitted to most of the Russian tanks used during World War II, including the famous T34 series.

    DTM-4, quad mounted variant.


    RP-46: metallic-belt fed version adopted in 1946 with a heavier barrel to allow prolonged sustained fire. About 500 rounds could be fired continuously before the barrel had to be swapped or allowed to cool down. Also had a user-adjustable gas system, with three holes of varying diameters provided, to cope with varying environmental conditions and residue buildup. Although the empty weight of the RP-46 exceeded that of DP by 2.5 kg, when considered together with a single ammo box of 250 rounds, the RP-46 weighed 10 kg less than the DP together with the same amount of ammunition in DP pans. The RP-46 remained in Soviet service for 15 years before it was replaced (together with the SGM) by the PK machine gun. The RP-46 was later manufactured in China as the Type 58 and in North Korea as the Type 64. The RP-46 could still fire from DP-style magazines by removing its belt-feeding system. The online tactical shooter game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege features an RP-46 configured to feed from DP magazines as the signature weapon of Spetsnaz operator Alexsandr “Tachanka” Senaviev. The original belt-fed RP-46 is used by the NVA/PAVN and the VC/NLF in the tactical shooter Rising Storm 2: Vietnam.

The original DP is more commonly called the DP-28 (or DP-27), although there is some confusion as to whether these are official designations or not.

Degtyaryov DS-39

DS-39 was a Soviet medium machine gun, designed by Vasily Degtyaryov, that was used during the Second World War. The work on the gun’s design began in 1930, and it was accepted by the Red Army in September, 1939. About 10,000 were made from 1939 to 1941, but the weapon was not successful in service and its production was discontinued after the German invasion of June, 1941, with factories converted to produce the older, more reliable Russian M1910 Maxim machine guns. It was later replaced by the SG-43 in service.

About 200 were captured by Finland in 1941 and issued to Finnish troops.

SG-43 Goryunov

The SG-43 Goryunov was a Soviet medium machine gun that was introduced during the Second World War. It was chambered for the 7.62×54mmR cartridge, and was introduced in 1943 as a replacement for the older M1910 Maxim machine guns. It was mounted on wheeled mounts, tripods and armored vehicles.

PM M1910

The PM M1910 is a medium machine gun that was used by the Imperial Russian Army during World War I and the Red Army during Russian Civil War and World War II. Later the gun saw service in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The Soviet Union manufactured more PM1910 Maxim guns and would keep them in service until the end of World War II, manufacturing more than 600,000 units.


     Russian Empire

        Maxim’s machine gun model 1910 on a wheeled Sokolov’s mount

        Maxim’s machine gun model 1915 on a wheeled Kolesnikov’s mount

     Soviet Union

        Maxim’s machine gun model 1910 on an antiaircraft tripod

        Maxim’s machine gun model 1910/30 on a wheeled Vladimirov’s mount


        PV-1 machine gun



        Maxim M/09-21

        Maxim M/32-33

    Poland Second Polish Republic

        7.92mm Maxim wz. 1910/28

RPD machine gun

The RPD is a 7.62mm light machine gun developed in the Soviet Union by Vasily Degtyaryov for the 7.62×39mm M43 intermediate cartridge. It was created as a replacement for the DP machine gun chambered for the 7.62×54mmR round. It is a precursor of most squad automatic weapons. It was succeeded in Soviet service by the RPK.


During its service life, the weapon was modernized several times. Initially, the gas block was modified as was the rear sight, where the windage adjustment knob for the rear sight was moved to the left side of the notch. Later, the RPD was modified with a non-reciprocating cocking mechanism with a folding charging handle (replacing the fixed charging handle connected to the bolt carrier) that does not move during firing. The feed port received a dust cover, which when open, serves as a feeding ramp for the ammunition belt. This version of the light machine gun was produced mainly in China and Poland. A further modified variant (sometimes referred to as the RPDM) includes an extended gas cylinder and a recoil buffer mechanism in the stock. Late production RPD variants also had the fixed drum attachment removed (instead, the ammunition container was “hung” from the feed port cover) and feature a folding cleaning rod, that is stored in the weapon’s butt (in the Chinese Type 56-1 variant).


The DShK 1938 is a Soviet heavy machine gun with a V-shaped “butterfly” trigger, firing the 12.7×108mm cartridge. The weapon was also used as a heavy infantry machine gun, in which case it was frequently deployed with a two-wheeled mounting and a single-sheet armour-plate shield. It took its name from the weapons designers Vasily Degtyaryov, who designed the original weapon, and Georgi Shpagin, who improved the cartridge feed mechanism. It is sometimes nicknamed Dushka (a dear or beloved person) in Russian-speaking countries, from the abbreviation.


    DShKM: modernized version

    Type 54: Chinese unlicensed production. Also produced in Pakistan with a Chinese license.

KPV heavy machine gun

The KPV-14.5 heavy machine gun is a Soviet designed 14.5×114mm-caliber heavy machine gun, which first entered service as an infantry weapon (designated PKP) in 1949. In the 1960s, the infantry version was taken out of production because it was too large and heavy. It was later redesigned for anti-aircraft use, because it showed excellent results as an AA gun, with a range of 3,000 meters horizontally and 2,000 meters vertically against low flying planes. It was used in the ZPU series of anti-aircraft guns. Its size and power also made it a useful light anti-armour weapon on the BTR series of vehicles and the BRDM-2 scout car.


The first recorded combat use of the Maxim was in the British colony of Sierra Leone on 21 November 1888. A small punitive expedition under General Sir Francis de Winton was sent out to deal with a tribe that had been raiding various settlements. The British troops took with them a caliber .45 Maxim gun that de Winton had purchased. Using the Maxim, the British troops rapidly routed their opponents at the fortress of Robari. A contemporary report in London’s Daily Telegraph noted that the “tremendous volley” of fire caused the tribesmen to flee for their lives; it further stated, “Such was the consternation created by the rapid and accurate shooting of the gun that the chief war town was evacuated, as well as the other villages of the same nature, and the chiefs surrendered, and are now in prison.”

The British Army adopted the Maxim in 1889, originally in caliber .45 but later in caliber .303. The Maxim changed the equation in colonial battles, giving the Europeans a decisive advantage. One of the first uses of the new weapon after its official adoption by the British Army was by colonial forces in the Matabele War of 1893-1894 in the Northern Transvaal of South Africa. A detachment of 50 British infantrymen with four Maxims defended them- selves against 5,000 native warriors who charged them five times over 90 minutes. Each time, the charges were stopped about 100 paces in front of the English lines by the devastating Maxims. It was recorded that 5,000 dead lay in front of the English position after the battle.

Maxims were also used effectively by British colonial troops on the Afghan frontier during the Chitral campaign of 1895 against the mountain tribesmen of the Hindu Kush. Elsewhere, the Maxim continued to make a name for itself. In 1898, at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, the disciples of the Mahdi, the fabled Dervishes, repeatedly hurled themselves against British lines, only to be re- pulsed each time by six Maxim guns firing 600 shots per minute. “It was not a battle, but an execution,” reported G. W. Steevens. “The bodies were not in heaps … but … [were] spread evenly over acres and acres.” Another British observer proclaimed, “To the Maxim primarily belongs the victory which stamped out Dervish rule in the Sudan.” It is doubtful that Lord Kitchener and his troops could have prevailed without the Maxim guns.

Still, the weapon was not without its limitations. The Maxims were not well-suited for mobile warfare in mountains and jungles, where the enemy could fight dispersed or become invisible. There were also difficulties in effectively employing the weapons; pushed too far forward, they might become isolated and their crews overwhelmed. Also, the Maxim, at this point in its development, was not free of mechanical problems and had a tendency to jam at the most inopportune times. Nevertheless, the Maxim in the hands of British troops proved successful in colonial campaigns on the Indian frontier, in the Sudan, and in Africa. Still, progress in selling the army at home in Britain on the utility of the machine gun was very slow. This suggested that military authorities were not yet convinced of its applicability to more traditional concepts of warfare due to the limitations of the weapons. The British War Office exhibited little interest, regarding it as useful in warfare against colonials but having little utility on the civilized European battlefield. Such an attitude would inhibit the consideration of new tactics and doctrines to make the most efficient use of these deadly weapons.


Maxim went back to his workshop and dedicated himself to improving the weapon and making it lighter, simpler, and more reliable. Within three months, he completed a major overhaul of the original design. The weapon, reduced to just over 40 pounds in weight, still used recoil as the driving force, but Maxim replaced the flywheel crank with a toggle-type lock that greatly simplified the extraction, feeding, and firing cycle. This improved design was so effective that it was to serve largely unchanged in some armies until World War II.

In another major innovation, Maxim improved the feeding mechanism by devising a cloth belt stitched into pockets, each pocket carrying a cartridge. The movement of the block extracted a cartridge from the belt, fed it down in front of the chamber, and moved the belt one cartridge at a time. As long as the gunner pressed the trigger and the belt was long enough, the Maxim gun could fire indefinitely, deriving its energy anew from every shot it fired.

Even though Maxim made the modifications requested by the British Army, something that resulted in a much better weapon, he still met resistance. In European armies, most officers came from the landowning classes; left behind by the Industrial Revolution, they still thought of war in terms of the bayonet and the cavalry charge. They clung to their belief in the centrality of human power and the decisiveness of personal courage and individual endeavor; after all, one did not pin a medal on any gun. Additionally, they thought that the machine gun was an uncivil weapon to use against European opponents. Thus Maxim changed his approach and began to market the weapon for use in the colonies to pacify native colonial populations. Inevitably, cases of slaughter by machine gun among the major powers’ far-flung colonies tainted the weapon, making it even less palatable for European warfare in the eyes of many officers holding traditional ideas toward combat and warfare.


Undaunted by squeamishness among potential customers, Maxim traveled Europe while demonstrating his weapon. He was accompanied by Albert Vickers, a steel producer from South Kensington who had become intensely interested in Maxim and his invention. In 1887, Maxim took one of his guns to Switzerland for a competition with the Gatling, the Gardner, and the Nordenfelt. It easily out-shot all competitors. The next trials were in Italy at Spezzia. There the Italian officer in charge of the competition requested Maxim to sub- merge his gun in the sea and allow it to be immersed for three days. At the end of that time, without cleaning, the gun performed as well as it had before being subjected to this officer’s unusual demand. The next trial was in Vienna, where an impressed Archduke William, the field marshal of the Austrian Army, observed that the Maxim gun was “the most dreadful instrument” that he had ever seen or imagined.  History would prove the archduke’s observation to be only too true.

Many observers were first skeptical toward Maxim’s claim that his weapon could fire 10 shots per second and maintain that rate of fire for any extended length of time. At the Swiss, Italian, and Austrian trials and those that followed, Maxim made believers out of all who saw the weapon in action. One exception was the king of Denmark, who was dismayed at the expenditure of ammunition and decided that such a weapon was far too expensive to operate, saying that it would bankrupt his kingdom.

In 1888, Maxim formed a partnership with Vickers, an association that would last until Maxim’s seventy-first birthday. Having successfully demonstrated his weapon in Europe, Maxim and his new partner began producing the machine gun. The first production model was capable of firing 2,000 rounds in 3 minutes. It was very well built, easy to maintain, and virtually indestructible. By 1890, Maxim and Vickers were supplying machine guns to Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and Russia.


Maxim continued to perfect his weapon. In 1904, he produced a new model that was the first gun to bear the name Vickers along with Maxim. The Vickers was stronger and more reliable than its predecessors. Maxim’s weapons were adopted by every major power in the world at one time or another between 1900 and World War I.

The success of the Maxim gun inspired other inventors, and guns based on its principles appeared in armies in Germany, Russia, the United States, and other nations. The weapons that would have such a devastating impact on the battlefields of World War I were, largely, direct descendants of the first Maxim design.


British troops advance to within musket range at Bunker Hill, as depicted by 19th Century American artist Howard Pyle.

The reasons why, in combating the American rebels, the British put so much emphasis on what were (by European standards) seemingly outdated shock tactics are explored in detail in the next chapter. Here it is necessary to examine how the redcoats delivered their fire in combat and whether or not it was generally effective.

Strikingly, there is little evidence that British infantry in action in America often employed the regulation firings, whereby volleys were delivered in strict succession by the battalion’s fire divisions (whether by the four grand divisions, the eight subdivisions, or the sixteen platoons) in prearranged sequences. This is hardly surprising for three reasons. First (as discussed in the next chapter), throughout the war the British preferred to spurn the firefight wherever possible in favor of putting the rebels quickly to flight at the point of the bayonet. Second (as noted in the last chapter), a combination of broken ground and the battalion’s extended frontage often prevented field officers from exerting close control over the whole in action, compelling captains to exercise an unconventional degree of tactical autonomy in handling their companies. It was only natural that this tactical decentralization extended to musketry. Third, because, for most of the war, the rebels lacked good cavalry and most of their infantry were unlikely to adopt the tactical offensive, the British did not need to ensure that a fraction of the battalion was always loaded to repel any sudden, determined enemy advance. These three factors ensured that British battalions on the attack seem commonly to have thrown in a single “general volley” (or “battalion volley”) immediately prior to the bayonet charge.

When sustained exchanges of musketry did occur, as at Cowpens or Green Springs, it seems likely that each company loaded and fired independently of the others under the command of its captain or senior subaltern. Evidence of this can be found in George Harris’s later account of the action at the Vigie on St. Lucia, where (as major in the 5th Regiment) he commanded the single grenadier battalion: “on my ordering the 35th [Regiment’s grenadier] company, commanded by Captain [Hugh] Massey (from a reserve of three companies which I kept under cover of a small eminence) to relieve the 49th [Regiment’s grenadier] company, he was in an instant at his post, and as quickly ordered the company to make ready, and had given them the word ‘Present!’ when I called out, ‘Captain Massey, my orders were not to fire; recover!’ This was done without a shot, and themselves under a heavy fire.” In another possible example, at the battle of Camden, a British officer was “ungenerous enough to direct the fire of his platoon” at the horse of Colonel Otho Williams. The rebel adjutant escaped injury from the British volley only because, as Williams recounted, “I was lucky enough to see and hear him at the instant he gave the word and pointed with his sword.”53 More conclusively, in August 1780 Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hope directed the 1st Battalion of Grenadiers that, when the “Preparative” was beaten in action, the corps was “to begin firing by companies, which is to go on as fast as each is loaded till the first part of the General, when not a shot more is ever to be fired.”

Although British musketry was supposed to have been quite effective by European standards, contemporary eyewitnesses and modern historians have tended to give the impression that the redcoats were generally no match for the American rebels in the firefight. It is of course impossible to qualify this phenomenon with any degree of precision since, for any given exchange of fire, we cannot precisely document the number of troops engaged on either side, the total rounds discharged, or even the casualties they inflicted. Yet one particularly striking example may serve to indicate how the premise may have had some basis in reality. At Guilford Courthouse Cornwallis’s initial attack pitted about 1,100 British and German regulars against roughly 1,600 smoothbore-and rifle-armed militia and light troops, mostly posted behind a rail fence that separated the ploughed farmland to their front from the woods to their rear. Once the British line had advanced to within about 150 yards of the enemy, the rebels opened a general fire that appears to have inflicted numerous casualties. For example, Lieutenant Thomas Saumarez (with the 23rd Regiment, on the left wing) noted that the rebel shooting was “most galling and destructive,” while Dugald Stuart (an officer with the 2nd Battalion of the 71st Regiment, on the right) later rued: “In the advance we received a very heavy fire, from the [North Carolina Scotch-] Irish line of the American army, composed of their marksmen lying on the ground behind a rail fence. One half of the Highlanders dropped on that spot, [and] there ought to be a pretty large tumulus where our men were buried.”

One participant on the rebel left later recalled that “after they [i.e., the rebels] delivered their first fire (which was a deliberate one) with their rifles, the part of the British line at which they aimed looked like the scattering stalks in a wheat field when the harvest man has passed over it with his cradle.” By contrast, the volley that the British battalions delivered at much closer range, immediately prior to their charge, was almost wholly ineffective (rebel returns having indicated that the North Carolina militia sustained only eleven killed and wounded in the course of the whole action). Indeed, Henry Lee later reported of the North Carolina militia (which comprised almost two-thirds of the first rebel line and fled when the British rushed forward) that “not a man of the corps had been killed, or even wounded.”

The apparent disparity in the effectiveness of the British and rebel fire in this incident does not appear to have been wholly unrepresentative. To explain this, one is tempted to point to the popularly accepted view that, unlike in Europe, most males in America had access to firearms, which they were very proficient in handling. Although some British participants in the war subscribed to this view,58 it is likely to have been the case only in the wilder backwoods and on the frontier. Moreover, because the Continental Army and the state regular regiments filled their ranks largely with landless laborers (many of them recent immigrants), it follows that a good proportion of rebel enlisted men were hardly dissimilar to their British and German counterparts.

If most rebel regulars and militia were not inherently skilled in handling firearms, then it is necessary to consider the common assumption that, unlike European regulars (who supposedly simply pointed their muskets in the general direction of the enemy and blazed away on command), the Americans tended to deliver independent, well-aimed fire in combat. This may well have been true of the lively skirmishing that characterized the petite guerre, in which individuals typically moved, sought cover, and fired largely at their own initiative. Moreover, rebel militia used rifles more often than is sometimes realized, particularly in the South (as in the case of the North Carolina militia at Guilford Courthouse). For decades historians have been playing down the combat effectiveness of riflemen in America by pointing to their inability either to match the rate of fire of smoothbore-armed troops or to perform bayonet charges. While both of these points are valid, riflemen were undeniably able to do horrifying execution when employed as auxiliaries to smoothbore-armed troops. If thrown forward as a screen, riflemen were able to get off one or two destructive fires at the advancing enemy before retiring to the cover of their musket-armed compatriots in the main line — as occurred at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. In addition, riflemen were able to support their fellow infantry during a static firefight by picking off enemy officers, as occurred at Freeman’s Farm.

But if smoothbore-armed troops were likely to deliver independent, aimed fire when engaged in the kind of skirmishing that characterized the petite guerre, this was not the case in stand-up engagements in the open field, for which rebel regulars and militia alike were trained to employ more or less conventional volleying systems. Indeed, for much of the war, the rebels used the 1764 Regulations or its British or colonial variants as their standard drill.63 Because the experience of three years of war showed that the British-style firings were difficult for the relatively inexperienced rebel forces to master, the drill manual that Major General Steuben compiled for them in 1778 prescribed a simpler variant, whereby the different battalions within the line of battle could deliver general volleys in sequence.

The counterpart to the questionable notion that rebel troops generally delivered independent and thus accurate fire in action in America is the widespread assumption that European volleying techniques were ineffective because they were calculated primarily to terrify rather than to kill and maim. Admittedly, by the time of the American War, this kind of “quick-fire” mania appears to have been the hallmark of the Prussian infantry, who reputably were able to loose an astonishing six rounds per minute and whose king wrote in 1768 that “a force of infantry that loads speedily will always get the better of a force which loads more slowly.” Interestingly, the subject of speed also figured in contemporary British directives on musketry training. For example, the 1764 Regulations laid down that, during the performance of the “platoon exercise,” the “motions of handling cartridge, to shutting the pans,” and “the loading motions” (that is, the fourth to sixth and the eighth to twelfth of the fifteen motions) were “to be done as quick as possible.” Similarly, in 1774 Gage reminded the British regiments in Boston that in plying the firelock the soldier “cannot be too quick” in performing the motions, “more particularly so in the priming and loading,” and that “there should be no superfluous motions in the platoon exercise, but [it is instead] to be performed with the greatest quickness possible.” Strikingly, after the costly Concord expedition, one flank company officer complained that the inexperienced redcoats had “been taught that everything was to be effected by a quick firing” but that the determined harassment they experienced during the return march to Boston had disabused them of the notion that the rebels “would be sufficiently intimidated by a brisk fire.”

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to argue that the Prussian quick-fire mania had permeated the British Army by the time of the American War. Significantly, when in 1781 military writer John Williamson decried the “very quick” time adopted for “the performance of the manual,” he reasoned that “it does not appear that a battalion can fire oftener in the same space of time since the quick method has taken place, than before it.” Another military writer, Lieutenant Colonel William Dalrymple, made the same point in 1782. While he asserted that all motions with the firelock were “to be executed with the utmost celerity,” he nevertheless argued that British soldiers should be able to fire three times a minute (in other words, half the best Prussian quick-fire rate) and scarcely ever miss at ranges between fifty and two hundred yards. As Dalrymple’s comment suggests, if the British emphasis on rapid priming and loading did not markedly increase the battalion’s rate of fire, it certainly was not intended to diminish the accuracy of that fire. Indeed, the leading authority on the performance of British long arms in this period has argued that the eighteenth-century British fire tactics remained consistently and firmly wedded to making the infantryman’s musketry as deadly as possible. The dominant perspective probably remained that expressed by Wolfe when in December 1755 he reminded the 20th Regiment that “[t]here is no necessity for firing very fast; a cool and well-leveled fire, with the pieces carefully loaded, is much more destructive and formidable than the quickest fire in confusion.” It is instructive to note that Wolfe himself played a significant role in the introduction of the Prussian “alternate fire” volleying system into the British Army.

If the Prussian quick-fire method did not quite permeate into British training in the years before the American War, one might argue instead that volleying was in itself inherently prejudicial to accurate fire. There remains some disagreement on this question. Historians have commonly asserted that, to have had any chance of hitting his target, a man had to choose his moment to pull the trigger. Dr. Robert Jackson, who served in the American War as assistant surgeon to the 71st Regiment, subscribed to this view: “The firelock is an instrument of missile force. It is obvious that the . . .  missile ought to be directed by aim, otherwise it will strike only by accident. It is evident that a person cannot take aim with any correctness unless he be free, independent, and clear of all encumbrances; and for this reason, there can be little dependence on the effect of fire that is given by platoons or volleys, and by word of command. Such explosions may intimidate by their noise; it is mere chance if they destroy by their impression.”

Although Jackson’s argument sounds persuasive, not all contemporaries shared his opinion that volleying was incompatible with accurate, aimed fire. In fact the 1764 Regulations explicitly directed that, when given the order to present, the soldier should “raise up the butt so high upon the right shoulder, that you may not be obliged to stoop so much with the head (the right cheek [is] to be close to the butt, and the left eye shut), and look along the barrel with the right eye from the breech pin to the muzzle.” Military writers likewise commonly advocated that the men should aim carefully before firing. For example, Major General the Earl of Cavan recommended that officers “have at the breech [of the firelock] a small sight-channel made, for the advantage and convenience of occasionally taking better aim.” Similarly, in the directions for the training of newly arrived drafts and recruits issued three days before the battle of Bunker Hill, Lieutenant General Gage directed that “[p]roper marksmen [are] to instruct them in taking aim, and the position in which they ought to stand in firing, and to do this man by man before they are suffered to fire together.”

Furthermore, if volleying was incompatible with accurate, aimed fire, then it is difficult to understand why the army invested such effort in practicing the men in shooting. As John Houlding has shown, although before 1786 regiments did not receive sufficient quantities of lead in peacetime to fire at marks, in wartime troops spent a good deal of time shooting ball when they were not in the field. In America, shooting at marks was a common element of the feverish training that preceded the opening of each campaign season; indeed, it occurred almost on a daily basis during the tense months before the outbreak of hostilities in 1775. Here two examples of the ingenuity and effort invested in this activity will suffice. At Boston in January 1775, Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie of the 23rd Regiment wrote:

The regiments are frequently practiced at firing with ball at marks. Six rounds per man at each time is usually allotted for this practice. As our regiment is quartered on a wharf which projects into part of the harbor, and there is a very considerable range without any obstruction, we have fixed figures of men as large as life, made of thin boards, on small stages, which are anchored at a proper distance from the end of the wharf, at which the men fire. Objects afloat, which move up and down with the tide, are frequently pointed out for them to fire at, and premiums are sometimes given for the best shots, by which means some of our men have become excellent marksmen.