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Evolution Of The Machine-Gun

The Evolution Of The Machine-Gun And Its Deployment On The Western Front In The Great War.

Introduction
To the British general public at the time, and perhaps even more so now, the First World War became synonymous with the machine-gun. There is no way of knowing, but it seems probable that the majority of the 60,000 British casualties on the first day of the Somme (1st July 1916) were its victims. So the connection is understandable.

Rapid-fire weapons existed long before that date: there were multiple firing flintlocks and muzzle-loaders in the 1700 and 1800's. Even earlier, around 1630, the Organ, or Volley, gun was invented. The Puckle gun - a sort of large mounted revolver - was introduced in 1718 and was said to have fired 63 shots in 7 minutes. In the American Civil War (1861-65), the 0.50-in. calibre Gatling Gun (1862), with a reported firing rate of up to 1000 rounds per minute (rpm), and the Agar 'Coffee Mill' (1860) - 120 rpm - were used in some numbers. These guns were followed by other hand-cranked multi-barreled models such as the Gardner, the Lowell and the Nordenfelt. In the period 1870-90 the British and Russian armies adopted the Gatling Gun whilst the Royal Navy used three makes - the Gatling, the Gardner and the Nordenfelt.

But none of these weapons was a truly automatic machine-gun. All required some form of cranking and/or manipulation; a later model of the Gatling had its barrels rotated by an electric motor. This manipulation, combined with the effect of the recoil, meant that the accuracy of these rapid firing guns was generally unpredictable.

The French and Belgians developed similar weapons - les mitrailleuses. The principal product being a 37-barrelled weapon invented in 1870 by Joseph Montigny.

Fully automatic machine-guns
The first fully automatic machine-gun (apart from the initial cocking action) was developed by Hiram S. Maxim between 1883 and 1885. It used the recoil from firing to activate the breech-block. By simply depressing the firing button, a round was fired, the spent cartridge was expelled, a new round fed into the breech, the firing pin cocked, the new round fired, and so on. Maxim (1840-1915) was an American but developed his recoil-operated machine-gun in the UK. He used American 0.45-in. Martini-Henry brass cartridges transversely mounted in long canvas belts of up to 250 rounds. He first demonstrated the Maxim machine-gun to British Army staff officers in 1885. The Maxim he demonstrated fired 600rpm and was oil-cooled. The British Army showed surprisingly little enthusiasm - some influential senior staff officers thought that the machine-gun was an improper means of waging war.

Initially, only a small number of the 0.303-in. calibre model were bought for use in the various colonial wars of the time, e.g. Gambia, South Africa, North West Frontier Province of India and the Sudan. Both sides in the Boer War employed the Maxim. However, high level contacts in the British Royal family ensured the Maxim was effectively promoted to the Kaiser, and Germany placed an immediate order for 2,000. Later, licenses were obtained by both Germany and Russia for local production.

  • A British, water-cooled version of the Maxim named the Vickers Mark I after the manufacturer was introduced into the British Army in 1912. It had a firing rate of 450, 0.303-in. rpm. Earlier, in 1908, the Germans had developed a version called the MG (MaschinenGewehr) Modell 1908 (or MG08). It had with the same firing rate as the Vickers Mk. I. All of the heavy machine-guns had the additional weight of a mounting tripod or 'sledge', ammunition belts, an optional bullet-proof shield, or wheeled carriage, so required a gun team (4 to 6 men) to man them.
  • The Austrian Skoda Company separately developed an 8mm. calibre, water-cooled, machine-gun called the Schwarzlose Model 07/1912, which was operated by bleeding off some of the propellant gases 'blowback' to activate the breech mechanism. It had a firing rate of 400rpm.
  • The French Army adopted Hotchkiss's development of an 8mm. calibre, air-cooled, gas-operated machine-gun in 1897, with a firing rate of 600rpm, and up-dated it in 1914. Later the water-cooled Browning M1917 was also in limited use.
  • In 1914 the Italians produced the water-cooled 6.5mm calibre Fiat-Revelli Model 1914 using a 'delayed blowback' system to give a firing rate of 400rpm. It used a unique steel clip belt that disintegrated into its component parts after firing.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Russians produced the Maxim under license. It used a 6.92mm. calibre round and was designated as the Pulemyot Maxima PM1910 Russian.
  • When the Americans entered the war in 1917 they used their air-cooled Colt-Browning Model 1914; it was of 0.30/06-in. calibre and had a firing rate of 500rpm. Later (1917) the Browning M1917 was introduced, and in early 1918 the Browning M1918 (Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR) appeared. The M1917 was water-cooled and the M1918 air-cooled.
  • The German Army entered Great War with a complement of 6 Maxim MG Modell 1908 (MG08) machine-guns per infantry battalion, whilst the British had only 2 Vickers Mk. Is or Maxims. However, from the outset of the fighting the Germans tactically concentrated these already co-ordinated battalion teams into batteries and thus gave the appearance, and effect, of having even more machine-guns than was actually the case. At Loos, on the afternoon of 26th September 1915, German machine-gun teams opened fire at 1400 metres on the advancing British infantry. Around 8,000 casualties (50%) were inflicted on just two British New Army Divisions (21st and 24th). A single machine-gun team is said to have fired 12,500 rounds. Later, at High Wood on the 24th August 1916, during the First battle of the Somme, 10 British Vickers Mark I machine-guns reportedly fired one million rounds during 12 hours of action.

Efficacy of the machine-gun
The firepower represented by the machine-gun team, as compared with the already highly efficient volley effect of the battalion infantry riflemen, was extraordinary. In principle, a British battalion of 600 well-trained riflemen, firing at 20 aimed rounds per minute, could provide covering fire of 12,000 rounds per minute. A single, 4-6 men Vickers Mk. I machine-gun team would provide a sustainable 450 rounds per minute - equivalent to 22, or more, riflemen. The German Army maintained that one of their Maxim machine-guns was equivalent of 80 of their, presumably, less rapid-firing riflemen. However, due to the natural tendency of the machine-gun to bunch it's fire, the likelihood of hitting a series of individual targets - e.g. advancing soldiers - per bullet fired, was accordingly less. Typically, only one of every three bullets fired would be on target, even when well co-ordinated firing patterns were used.

The sustained firing of any machine-gun inherently raised problems of over-heating and malfunction. Jacketing the barrel with a water-filled cooler eased the problem considerably. The coolant water tended to boil after around 500 rounds of rapid fire and evaporation occurred at a fast rate thereafter. Sometimes, replenishment of the cooler-jacket and its reservoir with water (capacity = 4 litres) could be difficult in the field and, on occasion, emergency supplies were obtained directly from the gun-team members! Continued firing also ultimately affected the accuracy of the machine-gun, and barrels were routinely changed at around 35,000 rounds. However, the Austrian Schwarzlose was claimed to be still fully effective after firing 35,000 rounds.

Apart from its dominant role of repelling assaulting infantry by direct and enfilading fire, the heavy machine-gun was commonly used as a form of light artillery. A curtain of bullets was fired over the heads of 'friendly' troops; either to support their advance or to repel counter-attacks by the enemy. This objective was best achieved when the guns were aimed at the enemy on higher ground. When the ground was level, or there was a reverse slope, the tactic became much more dangerous to the 'friendly' troops. Nevertheless, the tactic was often employed in extremis.

Even in the more static conditions of trench warfare, the sheer lack of mobility of these heavy machine-guns became a serious impediment. Inclusive of its mount, the German MG Modell 1908 (MG08) weighed 56kg. and the British Vickers Mk. I, 41kg. The Russian Pulemyot PM1916 weighed in at a massive 74kg. and the air-cooled French Hotchkiss M1914 at 53kg. To effectively man a heavy machine-gun a team of 4-6 men was required. Accordingly, lighter and more mobile machine-guns were developed.

New types and models

  • First, the French introduced the lightweight Chauchat in 1914. It used recoil to discharge the fired round and reload the breech, was of 8mm. calibre, air-cooled and fired at 250rpm. It was also purchased in some numbers by the American Army.
  • In 1915 the Germans introduced a lighter version of their water-cooled MG 08/15 which could be handled by a single infantryman. Of 7.92mm. calibre, it weighed only, at maximum, 16kg. and had a firing rate of 600rpm. In 1918, an even lighter air-cooled version - 15kg - was adopted, the MG08/l8.

Several other light models were also developed: the Madsen (7.92mm), and the Bergmann (7.92mm.). All weighed in the 10kg. range. The Masden (also used by the Russian Army) took readily portable pressed-steel magazines for 25-40 rounds.

  • Meanwhile, the British rushed into production with the Lewis (also an American design) light machine-gun weighing 12kg. with a handy 47, 0.303-in. round drum magazine and a firing rate of 550rpm. From 1916, they also used a British, 0.303-in. calibre version of the Hotchkiss which they designated the Mk. I.
  • The Americans adopted the 0.30/06-in. calibre Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR M 1918) weighing 9kg. and, as mentioned above, also used a special American version of the Chauchat called the Shosho.
  • The only really effective submachine-gun used in the war was the German Bergmann MP 1918/1 - which was actually a machine-pistol as the model number indicates - although the Italians were first in 1915 with their poorly performing Fiat-Revelli M1914. The new German gun took a pressed steel magazine and produced a rate of fire similar to that of the heavier machine-guns. It was used to a limited, but highly effective, extent, by the German storm troopers in the 'Michael' Offensive of 1918.

Special tactics
As the war progressed, special tactics were evolved by both of the warring factions for the use of machine-guns. Dedicated machine-gun sections were established in every infantry battalion/regiment and given an increasing establishment of both heavy and light machine guns.

On the Western Front in February 1915, the British battalion establishment of 2 Vickers Mk. I machine-guns was increased to 4. From October 1915, the British heavy machine-guns were organised into the Machine-Gun Corps which eventually operated at all levels up to the Division. The heavy machine-guns of the battalions were progressively replaced by Lewis guns which only required a two-man team to operate them. The Vickers were then transferred to a relatively autonomous Brigade Machine-Gun Company with an establishment of 16 Vickers. Before this reorganisation, one heavy machine-gun had served 250 yards of divisional front. After the reorganisation, the coverage was halved to 125 yards. By the first day of the Somme all active-service battalions had received 16 Lewis guns, around half of which would be in the line at any one time.

In 1918, the British battalion establishment on the Western Front was again increased to 36 - one Lewis gun per 27 yards - giving a divisional total, for both Vickers and Lewis guns, of 144 and a divisional front coverage of 1 heavy/light machine gun per 41 yards.

During 1917-18, both the British and Germans made a change from the defensive to a more offensive role for the machine-gun. The British used the Machine-Gun Corps to undertake specific charge of highly co-ordinated offensive and defensive measures, including barrages and mobile tactics. The infantry then concentrated on the deployment, with much success, of the lighter Lewis machine-guns at the platoon level.

The airborne machine gun
In the air, the early defensive (reconnaissance) role of the belligerents' aircraft of 1914 soon changed to a more offensive stance; largely at the initiative of the individual pilot. Hand held weapons soon gave way to mounted machine-guns. The first victim of aerial machine-gun fire on the Western Front was a German Aviatix pilot who in October 1914 was downed by a Hotchkiss mounted on a French Voisin.

The development of dedicated 'fighter' aircraft generally had to await the introduction of reliable forward-firing machine-guns. In the interim most aerial combat took place between observers whose guns were mounted in the front cockpit on 'pusher' propeller aircraft, and in the rear cockpit on 'tractor' propeller aircraft. Forward firing guns were mounted on the upper-wing surfaces of some aircraft. But these had to be so aligned to miss the arc of the propeller, signally compromising the ability of the pilot to estimate the aerial ballistics involved. Eventually, a French pilot - Roland Garros - invented the expedient of attaching bullet-deflector plates to the propeller blades and using this hazardous measure had some success. The Germans quickly emulated it.

Pressed by the Germans to find a more efficient device, in August 1915, Anthony Fokker, a Dutch aviation engineer and contractor for the German airforce, came up with a really practical solution. It was a modification of an earlier invention; an interrupter gearing which synchronised the firing of the machine-gun with the rotation of the propeller allowing the stream of bullets to pass between the rotating blades. This allowed the pilot to sight and fire directly ahead using the whole aircraft as a stable gun platform. It gave the Germans a large degree of air superiority until the Allies could introduce this new technology into their own aircraft.

The adaptation of the land based machine-guns to aircraft presented early teething problems. But, over time, tended towards a standardisation with air-cooled versions and steel pan, or drum magazines rather than fabric feeder-belts; when fired in-flight, these fabric belts had an unfortunate tendency to get wrapped around the aircraft controls.

Examples of the models of the air-cooled machine-guns that were used by the combattant aviators on the Western Front were: the British - the Vickers Mk. 2 and Lewis Mk. 2, with the Lewis particularly favoured by the observers; the Germans - the Parabellum Model 14 or Spandau (a version of the Maxim); and the French - Hotchkiss, Vickers Mk. 2 and Lewis Mk.2. Many of the British and French aircraft carried both Vickers and Lewis machine-guns; the latter usually for defensive purposes.

Conclusion
During the Great War, the rise of the machine gun as a crucial weapon of war was a spectacular one. Starting in 1914, in the role of a backup weapon for the rifle firepower of an army battalion, it rose by the Armistice to the status of Queen of the battlefield and the basis of a self contained Machine-Gun Corps under the direct commanded of the higher echelons of the belligerent armies.

Whilst it is true that the effects of the artillery guns inflicted many more casualties on the combattants overall, the machine-gun proved to be a deadly weapon and the outcome of many actions were determined by its destructive power. There are instances on innumerable battlefields when a single well operated machine-gun stopped an advance, or forced a retreat, and saved the day.

Mounted in aircraft, the ruled the air, causing wide-scale destruction and death and injury to many air crew as well as effectively harassing the ground troops.

Made mobile on land, machine-guns became standard equipment in armoured cars, tanks and even motorcycles. One man operated sub-machine-guns, weighing only a few kilogrammes, became increasingly available as the war neared it end, providing the infantry with ever more effective firepower. This played its part in the subsequent re-emergence of the war from the trenches in 1918 and, eventually, the successful denouement for the Allies.


Specifications Of The Machine-Guns Used In The Great War


O.E.D.: Machine-gun. = A mounted gun which is mechanically operated, delivering a continuous fire (1870).

GLOSSARY

    AEF = American Expeditionary Force.
    a.k.a. = Also known as.
    Calibre = Size of round in millimetres (mm.) or inches (in.).
    GAAS = German Army Air Service.
    HMG = Heavy machine-gun.
    Interrupter gear = Device fitted to aircraft to permit machine gun(s) to fire through the arc of the propeller without hitting the blades. Not all of the then existing machine- guns could be adapted to it.
    LMG = Light machine-gun.
    Magazine = Maximum number of bullets held in one magazine or belt.
    MP = Machine-pistol.
    Range = Maximum operational distance in metres.
    RPM = Rounds (bullets) fired per minute.
    SMG = Submachine-gun.
    USAAS = United States Army Air Service.
    Weight = Weight of the MG ready for action, excluding ammunition, in kilogrammes (kg) or pounds (lbs.). If shown, the weight in brackets is the MG without its normal operational mounting.

Introduction

Reading the Great War literature, one may assume that only one or two models of machine-gun were used in any numbers during the conflict. Whilst it is true that some models were much more widely used than others, such was the extent of the fighting and the number of belligerent nations involved, considerable numbers of other lesser known automatic weapons were employed. Another consideration is that some MGs appeared in a range of different models designed for specific tasks.

The object of this article is to set out the whole spectrum of these weapons in a comparative way, detailing their genesis and deployment.

The MGs are listed by country of design in alphabetical order, which does not necessarily indicate their relative importance on the battlefield. Some of the weapons were made under licence in countries other than where they were designed - where this is known this is stated.

Captured weapons were often used by armies that did not purchase them, or manufacture them under licence.


AUSTRO-HUNGARY

SCHWARTZLOSE M07/17 HMG.

    Date: 1912.
    Calibre: 8mm. Austrian Mannlicher/7.92 mm. Mauser.
    Used by: Exclusively by Austro-Hungarian Army; captured weapons used by Italy and Russia.
    Weight: 40kg. (20kg.).
    Cooled by: Water jacket.
    RPM: 400 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare:
    Modified version with interrupter gear introduced in 1917.
    Comment:
    Carried first flash-eliminator on the barrel.

DENMARK

MASDEN LMG.

    Date: 1896.
    Calibre: 8mm Lebel. (7.92mm. Mauser model for German Army, but also other armies).
    Used by: Danish, German and Russian armies.
    Weight: 9kg.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 450 max.
    Magazine: Pressed steel, curved, top-mounted or box holding 25, 30 and 40 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare:
    Not known, but unlikely.
    Comment: One of the first LMG.

FRANCE

BENET-MERCIE M1909 MACHINE RIFLE.

(See HOTCHKISS M1909).

CHAUCHAT CSGR LMG a.k.a. SHOSHO.

    Date: 1907, revised 1915.
    Calibre
    : 8mm. Lebel.
    Used by: France and USA and other Allies. (Special AEF 0.30/06-in. calibre SHOSHO version gave poor performance - 20,000 produced).
    Weight:
    10kg.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM. 250 max.
    Magazine: Pressed steel, semi-lunar shape of 20 rounds or 16 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare: No special version.
    Comment:
    Cheap, massed produced using mass produced steel stampings. Reportedly the most shoddy MG of Great War. Heavy firing mechanism it difficult to control the recoil; unreliable spent cartridge ejection. Total production 1914-1918 exceeded 250,000.

HOTCHKISS 0.303-in. Mark I LMG.

(See HOTCHKISS M1909 LMG).

HOTCHKISS M1909 LMG.

    Date: 1909.
    Calibre: 8mm. Lebel.
    Used by: France, USA and Britain (Also see Comments).
    Weight: 12kg.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 500 max. but optimally fired in short bursts due to overheating problems.
    Magazine: Metal strip holding 30 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare. Was found to be particularly suitable for use in aircraft and tanks, where the need was for short bursts of fire.
    Comment:
    The American version was called the BENET-MERCIE M1909 MACHINE RIFLE and the British the HOTCHKISS 0.303-in. Mark I LMG.

HOTCHKISS M1914 HMG.

    Date: 1900 (water-cooled), 1914 (air-cooled).
    Calibre: 8mm. Lebel.
    Used by: France, USA, Britain and the Allies on the Balkan Front.
    Weight: 53kg. (24kg).
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 600 max. with metal belt magazine.
    Magazine: Metal strip with 30 rounds. Replaced in 1915 with metal belt with 249 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare: Considered unsuitable due to weight.
    Comment:
    Total production in 1914-18 was relatively low with only around 20,000 in service at the end of 1918.

ST. ETIENNE HMG.

    Date: 1907.
    Calibre: 8mm. Lebel.
    Used by: France.
    Weight: 26kg.
    Cooled by: Air via perforated jacket.
    RPM: 500 max. but much less operationally.
    Magazine: Metal strip, holding 24 or 30 rounds; later fabric belt.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare: Not used.
    Comment: The St. Etienne MG was a complete operational failure and, once other MGs models became available in sufficient numbers in1916, it was withdrawn from service.

GERMANY

BERGMANN MG 15NA LMG.

    Date: 1915.
    Calibre: 7.92mm. Mauser.
    Used by: Germany.
    Weight: 13kg.
    Cooled by: Water jacket, later air via perforated jacket.
    RPM: 500 max. operational limit 300 due to over-heating.
    Magazine: Fabric belt with 200 rounds.
    Range: 400m.
    Air warfare: One of the first MG used in aircraft-to-aircraft combat.

BERGMANN MP18/1 MP

    Date: 1918.
    Calibre: 9mm. Luger.
    Used by: Germany.
    Weight: 4.3kg.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 350 - 500 if sufficient ready-charged magazines available.
    Magazine: Pressed steel snail drum, holding 32 rounds, or box with 20 rounds.
    Range: 100-200m.
    Air warfare: Not used.
    Comment: Only true SMG widely operational in the Great War. Played significant role in the March 1918 German Offensive but only 10,000 in service in November 1918 against 50,000 on order.

MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08 HMG.

    Date: 1908. Revised in 1915 as MG08/15, and in 1918 as MG08/18.
    Calibre: 7.92mm. Mauser.
    Used by: Germany.
    Weight: 56kg. (19kg).
    Cooled by: Water jacket.
    RPM: 450 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt with 250 rounds.
    Range: 4,000m max. operationally effective at 2,000m.
    Air warfare: Not used, too heavy.
    Comment: Standard German MG in Great War; based on original MAXIM MG.
    In 1917 monthly production exceeded 14,000. Reportedly the MG responsible for the greatest number of casualties on the Western Front.

MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08/15 LMG, a.k.a. Devil's paintbrush.

    Date: 1915.
    Calibre: 7.92mm. Mauser.
    Used by: GAAS.
    Weight: 16kg. (15kg.).
    Cooled by: Water jacket perforated to improve air-cooling; later models air cooling jacket only.
    RPM: 600 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt with 550 rounds. Uniquely, had a round counter device.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare: Usually twinned MG0815s fitted to each aircraft.
    Comment: Replacement for PARABELLUM MG14 LMGin aircraft deploying interrupter gear.
    Once introduced, large production followed totalling 23,000 by November 1918.
    A.k.a. SPANDAU LMG see below.

MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08/18, LMG. A further 1918 refinement of MASCHINEENGWEHR MG08

    Comment: Air-cooled and even lighter at 15kg. Only just coming into service at the end of the war.

MAXIM.

(See MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08 HMG),

PARABELLUM MG14 LMG. Modified version of MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08).

    Date: End of 1914.
    Calibre: 7.92mm. Mauser.
    Used by: Primarily the GAAS.
    Weight: 10kg.
    Cooled by: Water jacket which was perforated to allow additional air-cooling.
    RPM: 700 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds enclosed with-in drum magazine to eliminate problems with aircraft slipstream.
    Range: ?
    Air warfare: Widely used until introduction of propeller interrupter gear in 1915 when incompatibility relegated its use to the observer in two-seater aircraft and in airships. Also used by ground troops to a limited extent.
    Comment:
    The standard free mounted MG of the GAAS.

SPANDAU or MASCHINENGERWEHR MGO8/15 LMG.

    Comment: British name for replacement of PARABELLUM MG14 LMG, i.e. the MASCHINENGEWEHR MG08/15 LMG. The British name was derived from the Trademark SPANDAU, which was stamped onto the body of the MG. The trade mark was derived from the name of the town where the MG works was located; Spandau in Germany. The Germans never used this name.

GREAT BRITAIN and EMPIRE

VICKERS HMG Mark I HMG, a.k.a. The Queen of the battlefield and VICKERS MAXIM HMG.

    Date: 1912.
    Calibre: 0.303-in. British Service.
    Used by: British and Empire forces as standard HMG and by numerous other nations either by purchase or capture.
    Weight: 41kg. (18kg.).
    Cooled by: Water jacket of 1gallon capacity replenished from separate condenser
    reservoir.
    RPM: 450 Max. Barrel required replacement after 10,000 rounds,
    Magazine: Canvas belt holding 250 rounds.
    Range: 4,000m. max. operationally effective at 2,000m.
    Air warfare and other. After invention of interrupter gear, and Lewis gun was found not to be compatible, air-cooled Vickers MGs became standard as fixed forward firing MGs on all British and French aircraft. Also used in tanks and armoured cars.
    Comment:
    A total of 70,000 Vickers HMG were manufactured for British Army in 1914-1918. Its cost was six times that of the Lewis gun.


ITALY

FIAT-REVELLI M1914 HMG.

    Date: 1908.
    Calibre: 6.5mm. Carcano.
    Used by: Italy.
    Weight: 17kg.
    Cooled by: Water jacket,
    RPM: 400 max.
    Magazine: Steel, strip-feed holding 50. Reloaded from the left by 5 round clips.
    Range: 1,500m. max.
    Aircraft: From 1915 to 1917, when replaced by Vickers or Lewis MGs.
    Comment:
    An inefficient MG at the best of times, being subject to frequent jamming - particularly in muddy or dusty conditions - it remained the Italian infantry's standard MG through the Great War.

VILLAR PEROSA, or VP, SMG.

    Date: 1915.
    Calibre: 9mm. Glisenti. Twin barrels.
    Used by: Italy.
    Weight: ?
    Cooled:
    Air.
    RPM: 300 max. from each barrel, but operationally much less due to elaborate recharging routine.
    Magazine:
    Pressed steel round box holding 25 rounds.
    Range: 800m, but operationally closer to 100m.
    Aircraft: Not used.
    Comment: Although the very first model of SMG to be used in action in the Great War, its operational problems reduced its efficacy. This was improved in late 1918 by a BERETTA design modification.

RUSSIA

PULEMYOT MAXIMA PM1910 HMG.

    Date: 1910.
    Calibre: 7.62mm. Mosin-Nagant.
    Used by: Russia.
    Weight: 74kg. (24kg). The heaviest Great War MG.
    Cooled by: Water jacket.
    RPM: 550 max. operationally 250-300.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds.
    Range: 3,500m max. operationally 2,700m.
    Aircraft: Not used - too heavy.
    Comment: A very close Russian copy of the MAXIM HMG. Not to be confused with the PULEMYOT DP a SMG introduced in 1918, which did not take part in the main Great War fighting.

USA

BROWNING M1917 HMG.

    Date: 1910.
    Calibre: 0.30/06-in.
    Used by: United States.
    Weight: 45kg. (15kg.).
    Cooled by: Water jacket.
    RPM: 500 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Aircraft: Not used.
    Comment:
    The M1917 in serial number indicates the date first purchased by the US Army. Total purchased by November 1918 was 57,000.

BROWNING AUTOMATIC RIFLE (BAR) - M1918 LMG.

    Date: 1918.
    Calibre: 0.30/06-in.
    Used by: United States,
    Weight: 7kg.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 500 max.
    Magazine: Pressed steel holding 20 rounds. Fast reloading action - 6 to 8 seconds.
    Range: 550m. max.
    Aircraft: Not used.
    Comment:
    Could be easily carried and operated by one man, and fired as either semi- or fully automatic.

COLT-BROWNING HMG, a.k.a. Potato Digger. (Also see MARLIN LMG).

    Date:1895, revised 1914.
    Calibre: 0.30/60-in.
    Used by: United States and Italy (with 6.5mm. calibre Browning).
    Weight: 42 kg. (16kg.).
    Cooled by: Air, finned barrel.
    RPM: 500 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds,
    Range: 1,000m max.
    Aircraft: Yes.
    Comment:
    Used in ground fighting by American Expeditionary Force, but mostly deployed in air combat by USAAS.

LEWIS LMG, a.k.a. Belgian Rattlesnake.

    Date: 1911. In 1913 made under licence in Belgium and UK for 0.303-in British Service calibre round.
    Calibre: 0.303-in. British Service. (American Expeditionary Force used 0.30/06- in. from 1917).
    Used by: Britain and Empire, Belgium and United States.
    Weight: 12kg. Aircraft version 10kg. without cooling jacket.
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 550 max.
    Magazine: Ground version had circular pressed steel drum holding 47 rounds; air version 97 rounds.
    Range: 600m. max.
    Aircraft and others: Unsuitable for use with interrupter gear, widely used in air combat as free mounted auxiliary(ies) to fixed forward firing Vickers. Widely used by British and American navies. Also mounted on tanks, armoured cars and motorcycles.
    Comment: Became standard British Army LMG from 1916.

MARLIN LMG.

    Date: 1917.
    Calibre: 0.30/06-in.
    Used by: USA.
    Weight: ?
    Cooled by: Air.
    RPM: 650 max.
    Magazine: Fabric belt holding 250 rounds.
    Range: ?
    Aircraft and others. Although used by AEF on ground, mainly used by USAAS in aircraft with interrupter gear. Also used in Renault tanks of AEF.
    Comment:
    The MARLIN LMG was a lighter modification of the COLT-BROWNING HMG.

Postscriptum
As with most Great War matériel there is a lot of variability in the technical details provided even by the more authoritative sources. An example being HMG where the weight of the MG itself, that of weight of the mounting(s) and means of transportation (wheels or sledge), and even the weight of the cooling water is considered, or not, whichever is the case. In the figures given here, the weight given is the overall weight of the complete MG as far as it is known, with the actual weight of the MG itself given in brackets where that is known. In any event, the weight of the MG component in a HMG is rather academic since it was rarely used without its mount, and often its means of transportation, except in the more sensational war illustrations and films.

Some other facts such as details of the reloading methods and the effective range of the weapon are hard to come by, and when they are found they frequently differ considerably.

Dr David Payne

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 September 2008 08:21 )  

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