Chapter 1
Maxim Machine Guns

Maxim's Early Years

For many years nothing surpassed the American gunmaker's ingenuity. Even refinement of existing firing mechanisms was considered a task challenging the utmost skill of any designer. However, the world did not reckon with a young man from America, Hiram Stevens Maxim, who was for the first time to combine the words "automatic" and "machine gun." He accomplished this by using the power of the recoil forces generated from the explosion of the powder charge in the cartridge to produce the entire cycle of operation. The only human energy now required was for releasing the sear. The internal forces of the gun performed the loading, firing, extracting, ejecting, and cocking of the piece.

Maxim had not previously been a gun designer. His meager schooling had deprived him of the engineering misconceptions preached in his day. He did not believe a better machine gun design was impossible. The simple mechanism he originated as a first attempt worked so successfully that for the last 64 years the famous Maxim automatic machine guns have been basically unchanged.

A summation of his life is given in an attempt to portray the background of this quick-witted American, whose keen observation, native intelligence, and amazing energy have greatly influenced world history.

The Maxim family was of French Huguenot descent. Driven out of France, the ancestors of Hiram Maxim fled to Canterbury, England; then emigrated to Plymouth County, Mass. Here, according to Maxim, "they could worship God according; to the dictates of their own conscience, and prevent others from doing the same."

Maxim's great-grandfather lived first at Ware-ham, Mass., where his grandfather was born. The latter married an unusually large and strong woman, Eliza Rider, also a descendant of early English settlers. This couple emigrated to the district of Maine, not yet a State, and took possession of a tract of land on the shores of Androscoggin Lake, in sight of the White Mountains.

Maxim's grandfather had seven children. The youngest, Isaac Weston Maxim, was the inventor's father. The middle child in the family was Eliza, a very intellectual young woman and a physical giantess like her mother. Throughout the family history there was in each generation one person of unusual physical proportions. The inventor himself claimed he was the strong member of his own generation and cited the fact that in each place he worked he had made it a point to whip every barroom bully. His father was only average in size, being 5 feet 8 inches in height and weighing 180 pounds.

As a young man, Maxim's father assisted on the grandfather's farm. Later he moved to

Hiram Maxim at the Age of Seventeen
Hiram Maxim at the Age of Seventeen.


Massachusetts, only to return to Maine, and marry Harriet Boston Stevens. They went to Sangersville, Maine, cleared a farm, erected buildings, and started farming. At this place Hiram Stevens Maxim was born on 5 February 1840.

When Hiram was six, the father gave up his farm, and started a wood turning establishment at French's Mill in the same township as Sangersville, where Maxim began his education at the local school.

The boy was a great hunter and natural outdoorsman. He and his brother, Leander, killed many bears, then so numerous in the Maine woods.

A self-educated man, he took advantage of every opportunity offered. An outstanding example was his contact when 12 years of age with a sea captain, who taught him to read longitude and latitude. At this time his inventive genius first became noticeable. Lacking money to buy a chronometer, he made one that worked perfectly. Since he showed quite an interest in this field, his father obtained for him a book on astronomy, as well as Comstock's Natural Philosophy. Both were eagerly read by Maxim.

At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Daniel Sweat, a carriage maker at East Corinth Village. The recommendations stated that Maxim had built an excellent boat, was a natural mechanic, and, though young, was very handy with machinery. Sweat paid the boy $4 a month, although not in cash.

It was summer. Sweat and his crew began work at 5 o'clock in the morning, breakfasting at 7. Work was resumed at 7:30 and continued until the dinner hour, 12 to 1. In the afternoon they labored until a 5 o'clock supper, followed by more duties until sunset.

Years later in New York, men striking for an 8-hour day were told by Maxim, "The 8-hour day is nothing new to me. I used to work 8 hours in the morning, and 8 in the afternoon."

After several months with Sweat, Maxim decided to leave and go back to his father, who had moved to Sangersville Village. On the way he stopped for several days with his uncle, Capt. Samuel Maxim, who suggested that a firm in Sangersville making rakes for farmers might have a place for a young man with his aptitude. Hiram worked with this company until school commenced. While attending school at Sangersville, he supplemented his income by trapping animals.

In Abbot Lower Village, Daniel Flint owned a fine carriage shop equipped with many machines driven by water power. When school was finished that spring, Hiram's father recommended him highly to Mr. Flint, and mentioned the boy's large size, saying that he could do a man's job and do it well. Flint put him to work immediately. The use of power driven machinery made the work easier; the hours, however, were the same as at Sweat's. While with Flint, Maxim started applying his gift of drawing to designing parts, sketching things he thought would be improvements in the carriage business.

After 4 years with Flint, Maxim set up and operated his own grist mill at Abbot Main. Like all grist mills it was infested with mice. While working at the carriage shop Maxim had constructed a few box traps during his off time. The difficulty with these was that after a mouse had been caught, another could not be trapped until the first had been taken out. He therefore decided to make an automatic trap, one that would wind up like a clock and set itself a great number of times. The trap was to be actuated by a coil spring, somewhat like a clock. On the morning after the first one was set, he found it contained five mice. It was the first of the many successful original devices he produced. He made no attempt to patent the trap and years later saw its widespread sale by someone else who had copied it in detail.

Business at the mill involved very little cash, as most of the payments for grinding were taken out in grain, which was hard to sell. So Maxim was again forced to work for Daniel Flint to earn enough to purchase a suit of clothes, as he said, "to get out of Abbot," and obtain more money for his work. Being under age, it was necessary that he have published in the Piscataquis Observer what was known as a "freedom notice." In this his father had to state that he relinquished all claim to the young man's earnings.

In Dexter, Maine, he saw Mr. Ed Fifield, who, Maxim understood, needed a decorative painter. Fifield told him the vacancy had been filled but he needed a good wood turner. Maxim applied for this job. Upon learning Maxim had several


years' experience as a wood turner, Fifield gave him the position which he held when the Civil War broke out.

The younger men at Dexter formed a home guard company, with the local shoemaker as captain. They used broomsticks for their drilling in lieu of rifles. Maxim soon tired of what he called "playing soldier." He left the organization and gave his entire time to Fifield's shop. The home guard officers bitterly denounced him for not continuing with the local company.

Their attitude worried Maxim. He sought the advice of an old friend, Dr. Springall, who advised that he was entirely too promising a young man to go off to war and it was hardly worth while, anyway, as every one conceded the war would not last more than 3 or 4 months. And he would have to be seeking another job when it was all over.

Although he was of age, and eligible for military service at the time, he never made another attempt to join the service. A short time after this Maxim left Dexter and went to Huntingdon, Canada. This fact caused people to believe the story circulated by rival concerns at a later date that he deliberately dodged the Civil War draft in the United States by taking up residence in Canada.

While in Huntingdon he was employed in decorating sewing machines, and painting signs for local taverns. He even did some contracting and bartending. Once he had a contract to paint several thousand wooden chairs, for which he received the price of 6 cents each.

While in Canada he tried almost every job imaginable to make a living. One resulted in an unusual achievement. He constructed an entirely new type of blackboard for a schoolhouse at St. Jean Chrisostome, by originating a paint that allowed the chalk to work successfully on plain plaster walls. This would save the school board many hundreds of dollars. He was bitterly disappointed that his work was not accepted with enthusiasm, and had been cut down, as he said, to the price of an every-day laborer. He never forgave the board for this, as it turned out later to be a very valuable invention, and one from which he did not realize a single cent. This influenced him greatly in leaving Canada, which he shortly did. The argument of the school board in refusing to pay him, was that while it would save them hundreds of dollars, he only used 40 or 50 cents worth of materials, and that the $6 he asked was entirely too high.

Hiram Maxim. Picture Taken Shortly Before His Death in 1915
Hiram Maxim. Picture Taken Shortly Before His Death in 1915.

By this time Maxim's two brothers, Leander and Henry, were in the Army and since it was a policy of the draft board never to take more than two members from one family, he was never called.

Ever seeking to improve his education, Maxim found Ure's Dictionary of Arts, Mines and Manufactures. He spent the entire winter reading this book. Later he said it was the background for most of his education. According to him, it amused the girls in the village very much to ridicule him for reading a dictionary. The teasing did not stop his reading. But, he said, it did end his interest in silly young women.

Maxim was soon looking for another job, first


in one community, then another. In Boston, he met a young lady whom, after a courtship of a few months, he married. Even this did not settle him. He continued roaming—in the South, in the Far West, and back again in the North-specifically, to Fitchburg, Mass., where he was employed in the engineering shop of his uncle, Levi Stevens. This family connection meant little. The uncle put him to work, like any other novice, cleaning brass off the new castings.

One day some white metal castings were to be made into patterns. The head foundryman gave the job to Maxim, stating, "You are too good a man to work at cleaning castings. The way to get out of your present job is to make a good showing on these patterns that I am giving you."

Maxim followed his advice and did an unusually good job. The foreman showed them to Stevens, who promoted Hiram to a big lathe on rough cast iron work, and he was soon turning out as much work as the average journeyman.

Soon his uncle contracted to make a number of automatic illuminating gas machines for the Drake Co. of Boston, Mass. Maxim was asked to dismantle the prototype machine that had been furnished, and make mechanical drawings. He got together the necessary wrenches for dismantling the working model, put up a draftsman's table, collected the mediocre drawing instruments the office afforded, and started to work the next morning. His uncle complimented him very highly on his skill, and suggested that he never let this particular talent drop.

Maxim explained that he had studied every book he could find on the subject. To encourage this gift, his uncle obtained better drawing instruments and provided him with a regular draftsman's office.

The Drake machines had not been made for many months before Maxim's uncle felt that he, himself, could construct a much better one. He drew up the working details, and then had one made. It was a dismal failure. He then asked Hiram if he would like to try designing one. The machine Maxim planned worked satisfactorily. His uncle ordered patterns made of the latter machine, a New York firm having agreed to sell all that he could deliver.

As Maxim studied the question, he found that by changing the design again, he could greatly simplify the machine and reduce the cost of production. Also by interposing a very powerful box spring between the drive gear and the pump, the pump could be made to continue running for a few minutes while the machine was being wound.

The shop had already commenced to produce the original model, and, as the new design would require tooling up all over again, Maxim's uncle was furious. He seemed to think the improved design should have been drawn first. The disagreement led to Maxim's being fired and again he was out of work. This turned out to be a fortunate event for Maxim. He was employed in Boston by Oliver P. Drake, an instrument maker by trade, who understood his business thoroughly. Maxim was working for him when the Civil War came to an end in 1865.

Gas machines in those days consisted of a wet meter wheel used as a pump, and driven by a falling weight, after the manner of a clock. The air forced into the carburetor came into contact with gasoline. When the machine was at the temperature of the surrounding air, and freshly charged, the gas was very rich and would smoke if used in a common burner. After the machine had been running for about an hour, the refrigeration due to evaporation reduced the density of the gas so that it was just right for the burner. Unfortunately, it did not stop at this density. If many burners were used at the same time the evaporators would become too cold and, as the gas diminished in density, the flame soon became weak.

Maxim suggested to Drake that a density regulator would diminish the richness of the first gas made, and add to the gas made at the end of the evening.

Drake replied, "Yes, that would be splendid, if it could be done. But I think it impossible."

Maxim found by experiments that the air expanded only in the degree that it was carbureted. He also discovered that by putting two meter wheels on the same shaft, one slightly larger than the other, the smaller one pumped air into the carburetor while the larger one pumped gas out. Pressure would be formed in the carburetor if the gas were too rich. This, working on a diaphragm, would open a valve and allow the passage of air from the pump directly into the gas


pipe where it would mix with the gas, thus reducing the density.

The first model worked and the principle attained widespread use. He did not get it patented because of the cost. Maxim was led by this experience to try to sell patentable ideas of his to various concerns.

While in Boston a large furniture factory burned for the third time. Maxim was asked to design something to prevent this. He invented and installed the first automatic sprinkler that would be started by the fire itself. It would sprinkle only the place that was burning, at the same time ringing an alarm at the fire house giving the exact location of the outbreak. He installed it in the factory, but met with little success in trying to sell it elsewhere. When the patent expired, however, it was adopted almost universally.

His next place of employment was the Novelty Iron Works of Boston, Mass., where he acted as foreman and draftsman. For this he was paid $5 a day, a considerable sum at that time. Later he received $7.50 a day for working in the company's New York establishment on the East River.

Maxim next went into business for himself and formed the Maxim Gas Machine Co. with offices at 264 Broadway, New York City. This venture was very successful. Mr. A. T. Stewart, one of the wealthiest men in America, gave him a lucrative contract to light his mills and a large hotel in New York City.

People were beginning to talk about electric lamps. Regardless of how clever they might be, designs using alternate means of lighting were doomed. Seeing the trend, Maxim did not try to combat it with an improved version of a gasoline lamp. Instead, he met it by producing a fairly successful electric bulb using carbon. It is recorded that the first electric lights used in New York City were installed by Maxim's company in the Equitable Insurance Co. Building at 120 Broadway, in its day considered to be the most modern in the world.

When electric lighting first came into use in America, everyone wanted to examine the machines which produced the current. Many of these sightseers had high-priced watches which became magnetized and stopped.

Maxim developed a simple machine that could demagnetize a watch in a matter of minutes. At first he charged a dollar each for demagnetizing watches. The flow of business took much of his time. After patenting the machine, he made it available to any watchmaker or jeweler. The demagnetizers were used until the introduction of alternating current, at which time anyone could demagnetize a watch in a matter of seconds.

The instrument was made with a very powerful electric bar magnet rotated on a vertical axis, presenting the north and south poles in rapid succession. The magnetized watch was placed near the magnet, and rotated on a wheel and horizontal axis at the same time. As the crank turned, the carriage holding the watch was slowly withdrawn from the magnet by the action of a screw. By the time it reached the limit of its travel, no trace of magnetism was left on the watch.

Few oceanic crossings by an individual have affected the history of mankind more than Maxim's embarking for Europe on the S. S. Germanic on 14 August 1881. This voyage was made after he had held jobs in practically every section of the United States. His current employer had come to the conclusion that it would be to the firm's advantage for Maxim to visit the Electrical Exhibition then being held at Paris, France. During this interval he was engaged by the United States Electric Lighting Co. at a salary of $5,000 a year. By this time Maxim had bestowed upon himself the title of "engineer."

Immediately after his European arrival he received orders from his home office to examine carefully every exhibit of an electrical nature, and describe it in his own words, and to collect and study all circulars and pamphlets on the subject.

He did such a thorough job that he was asked to describe each patent on electric lighting in the French patent office, from the very first one entered to the latest on file. For this job he was assisted by two secretaries and two draftsmen. The important ones were copied verbatim in French, and he wrote his own ideas of their worth to the home office.

At the completion of this project, Maxim examined Belgian patents in the same manner as he had those in France. This work later proved


very valuable to his company, as it helped the firm to defend itself against a considerable number of lawsuits for infringement of previous American patents.

The First Automatic Machine Gun

When his home office sent Maxim to London to reorganize the British subsidiary, the Maxim-Weston Co., he noticed that every inventor in Europe, regardless of qualifications, was attempting to perfect some sort of machine gun. While in Vienna on business, it was suggested to him that he also try to originate a machine gun. The person advising this was an American friend, also in Europe on electrical business. Disgusted with the delay and red tape encountered in this field, he stated to Maxim, "Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with greater facility."

Maxim later stated that the idea of his machine gun came to him during some target practice with the Springfield caliber .45-70-405 service rifle, which, when fired, left his shoulder black and blue. With his alert mind he naturally asked himself, "Cannot this great force, at present merely an inconvenience, be harnessed to a useful purpose?"

He instantly saw the uselessness of a machine gun constructed like the Montigny mitrailleuse with its terrific weight and meager firepower. Maxim's idea was to produce a single-barrel weapon that, if possible, would fire full automatic.

Maxim attempted first to develop an automatic rifle to be fired from the shoulder. It was designed to utilize the kick that he had observed as a young man.

His original drawings in 1883 were for a loose spring-supported heel plate fitted to a standard Winchester rifle, with a series of jointed levers, arranged so that the recoil of the piece against the shoulder operated the loading lever. When the recoil force ceased, the action of the spring-loaded butt stock pressed the rifle away from the shoulder and locked the action in battery ready for firing again. The specifications on another early drawing showed a blowback fully automatic rifle fed by a revolving magazine of the Roper type.

At this time a London broker, in an attempt to sell shares, made the exaggerated announcement in English newspapers that "Hiram Maxim, greatest electrician in the world, has been engaged to come to London to reorganize the Maxim-Weston Co. at Bankside."

This publicity was the occasion for much ridicule directed at the American. It influenced him greatly in breaking away from the electrical end of the business and devoting his time solely to the development of the machine gun.

Inspecting his newly reorganized factory, he observed a Brown and Sharpe milling machine. Maxim asked that the machine be assigned to him, and it was upon this American-made product, which in background and origin itself came from the early gun industry, that Maxim made

The First Automatic Weapon Patented by Maxim
The First Automatic Weapon Patented by Maxim.


the first working model of a fully automatic machine gun.

He set up a small workshop at 57 Hatton Gardens, corner of Clerkenwell Road. Bringing with him the milling machine used at Bankside, he purchased additional American lathes, planers, drill presses, and other tools necessary for the work. He did not attempt to make the barrel for his machine gun, but purchased suitable ones from the London office of the Henry Rifle Barrel Go. These barrels, used in Maxim's first experiments, were the product of the outstanding American gun designer, Tyler Henry, then president of the Winchester Arms Co.

When Mr. Purvis, superintendent of the Henry Rifle Barrel Co. of London, heard that Maxim planned to construct a fully automatic machine gun, he said, "Don't do it. Thousands of men for many years have been working on guns. There are many hundred failures every year. Engineers and clever men imagine that they can make a gun do as you have described. But they have never succeeded. They are all failures. So, you had better drop it and not spend a single penny on it. You don't stand a ghost of a chance in competition with regular gun makers. You are not a gun man. Stick to electricity."

Maxim replied, "I am a totally different mechanic from any you have ever seen before, a different breed."

The barrels were delivered, chambered for the .45 caliber British Gatling gun cartridge of that day, having an 80 grain black powder charge and a 485 grain bullet.

Maxim took his drawings to a local pattern maker. However, the first brass castings delivered for the prototype were not satisfactory because of faulty patterns.

In describing the work on his first model, Maxim states that, as tools were required for the various machines, he forged and tempered them himself. His helpers thought it exceptional for a man in his position to do a blacksmith's and toolmaker's work.

There was no precedent for Maxim to follow. No one before had ever carried experimentation to this point, as it was generally believed that recoil forces would not be adequate to operate machine guns successfully. Maxim ignored these dogmas and continued with his original idea. By fabricating the components and fitting them together by hand, he saw his experiments evolve into a mechanism that showed promise of success.

It was still necessary for him to conduct a series of tests before he could make final mechanical drawings. He constructed an apparatus by which he could determine the force and character of the recoil and find the distance that the barrel should be allowed to retract, in order for the projectile to clear the bore and let the gun be safely unlocked. All the hand-made working parts were easily assembled. After adjusting them to produce what he thought would be successful results, he placed six cartridges in the feedway and pulled the trigger. They all fired in what was later estimated to be half a second.

Maxim saw certain success ahead, and worked day and night on his drawings until they were finished. Then in his machine shop he proceeded to build a gun rugged enough to meet required demands.

In the spring of 1884 he had progressed to a point where his experiments resulted in a finished product. His original model is now at the South Kensington Museum in London, and is labeled, "This apparatus loads and fires itself by the forces of its own recoil, and is the first apparatus ever made in the world in which energy from the burning powder is employed for loading and firing the arm."

If the single-barrel Gardner is closely compared with Maxim's prototype, it is evident that the action of the former was taken under study by Maxim as the most logical weapon then in existence with which to apply the theory of automatic fire.

Faced with the problem of constantly increasing momentum if the bell crank be allowed continuous rotation. Maxim restricted its motion to three-quarters of its circumference in bringing the bolt back to battery. Firing at this point reversed the rotation.

This not only prevented increased inertia, but likewise eliminated the danger from hangfires, as the mechanism had no means of operating until energy for commencing the next cycle was generated by the fired round.

It is believed that Maxim's earliest experiment resulting in his first successful automatic fire was


The First Model Maxim Automatic Gun
The First Model Maxim Automatic Gun.


clone with the conventional post type vertical feed. Realizing that his success would not be complete until he had devised a way to make the weapon continuously feed cartridges from its own energy, he next designed two systems of feed, both operated from surplus barrel recoil energy, first the flat type drum and finally the belt. He perfected the latter, having concluded that it was the only practical system for sustained fire.

He produced several hand-made guns before he let it be known to the press that "Hiram Maxim, the well-known American electrician in Hatton Gardens, has made an automatic machine gun with a single barrel, using the standard caliber .45 rifle cartridge, that will load and fire itself by energy derived from the recoil at a rate of over 600 rounds a minute."

Everyone thought this was somewhat like the advertisement for the "world's greatest electrician" and a bit of Yankee brag. But this time he was waiting with the finished product to squelch any scepticism.

The first person of any prominence to see the new weapon was Sir Donald Currie. A day or so later, Mr. Matthey, a dealer in precious metals in Hatton Gardens, brought His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke was delighted and congratulated Maxim on a great achievement. This seemed to be the signal for everybody in London interested in such matters to visit Hatton Gardens to see the phenomenon.

The first cartridges he fired were manufactured by the British Small Arms Co. Many proved faulty. He applied to the government for better ammunition and was sold the latest lot number available, which proved satisfactory.

In demonstrating his weapon, Maxim personally fired over 200,000 rounds. Government authorities became interested in his gun. Lord Wolseley, accompanied by a large number of high ranking officers of the War Office, made an appointment with Maxim. At the designated hour Maxim fired thousands of rounds of ammunition for them. Afterwards, Lord Wolseley said to Maxim, "It is really wonderful, you Yankees beat all creation. There seems to be no limit to what you are able to do."

One of the officers in Lord Wolseley's party was Lt. Gen. Sir Andrew Clarke, inspector general of fortifications. He advised the inventor to simplify the gun as much as possible and said, "Do not be satisfied until it can be disassembled, examined, and cleaned with no other instrument than the hands."

Taking his advice, Maxim immediately redesigned the feed system, and simplified the working mechanism, so that, if anything injured it, the components could be taken out and replaced in 6 seconds.

The only change from the prototype in what is known as the first model had been a refinement for the purpose of making a presentable gun for demonstration. Having proved the weapon, he now felt it advisable to lighten the gun as a whole and add the features suggested by General Clarke, until its high rate of fire, combined with its light weight and simplicity, would be a selling point. Basically it remained the same with the single barrel supported in a jacket by front and rear bearings.

At the moment of firing the recoil drives the barrel rearward for practically three-quarters of an inch. It is this movement of the barrel alone that unlocks the bolt and actuates the mechanism of the gun, producing continuous fire. The cartridges are placed in a canvas belt, similar to those worn by the sportsmen of that day. Each belt is seven yards long holding 333 cartridges with a clip device on the end for attaching another loaded belt. An external firing and rate control arrangement consisting of a lever placed against a graduated quadrant at the side of the gun determines the rapidity of firing. If the lever, or selector, is pulled toward the gunner until the pointer indicates the figure "1" on the quadrant scale, the gun will fire at the rate of one round per minute. By pulling the selector farther to the rear the rate of fire is gradually increased in proportion to the rearward travel of the lever, until the end of the scale is reached. Then the fire is maintained at the rate of 600 rounds per minute.

It was possible to fire a single shot, bursts of 10, 20, or 100 per minute and to maintain a continuous fire, fast or slow. When a rate had been selected, the gun would fire at that speed, independent of human agency, until all the cartridges had been discharged. Should the man working the gun be killed, the gun would still continue to fire.


A Drawing of Maxim's Original Machine Gun
A Drawing of Maxim's Original Machine Gun. Published in Scientific American, 1884.


The rate-of-fire regulator found only on the very first model Maxims employed a simple hydraulic oil buffer arrangement. It controlled the speed of counter recoil by which the weapon returned to battery by varying the size of the orifice in the buffer tube through which the oil flowed. The weapon would complete the recoil movement without restriction but the return movement was checked by the oil and piston method. If the weapon's regulator was set for "Open," the operating parts returned to battery unrestricted and a rate of fire of 600 shots per minute was maintained. If the orifice was closed, however, the return speed of the battery was slowed to any length of time desired, including a creeping action of a minute or more. While this device was very impressive, it was of small military value and was soon dropped.

Besides the system of feeding from a belt, Mr. Maxim devised another plan in which 96 cartridges are placed in a flat brass drum on top of the gun. The movement of the bolt rotating the drum, withdraws the cartridge and forces it into the feedway to be positioned in the chamber.

Breech Mechanism of the Improved Maxim Gun
Breech Mechanism of the Improved Maxim Gun.


When the empty drum is removed, another can be substituted without stopping the operation of the gun, as an auxiliary magazine holds enough cartridges to maintain continuous fire.

Gen. Sir Gene Graham (Royal Engineers) preferred the belt feed to the drum feed and suggested that Maxim bend all his efforts to producing a gun that fed in this manner.

The machine gun belt feed was also used with Maxim's automatic rifle fired from the shoulder. In one instance, he altered a Winchester rifle so that the recoil extracted the empty cartridge case, ejected it, cocked the hammer, closed the breech, and performed all necessary functions except pulling the trigger. The inventor also made another gun in which all these operations were performed by means of a slight elongation of the cartridge case at the moment of firing, the case being corrugated to afford the required extension. The last-described system scarcely seems practical.

French Army officials, upon hearing of Maxim's automatic machine gun, invited him to demonstrate it before them. One of their first questions was whether it would be possible to produce one with a controlled rate of fire; they did not know the weapon already had this feature. Their idea was a gun firing automatically, but with a prolonged delay between shots, to be securely locked in position covering a breech in enemy fortifications. The intermittent shots, sighted in during daylight hours, would prevent men from working after dark in the target area.

For answer, Maxim fired the initial round, adjusting the regulator for one shot per minute, and left the gun by itself. While waiting for the second shot to explode, a young lieutenant approached, requesting to see the gun in action. Upon being told by Maxim that the gun was firing, he refused to believe it.

In a few seconds the gun went off by itself. The young lieutenant then waited with watch in hand. One minute later the gun went off again. He threw the remains of his cigarette on the ground, and walked off, exclaiming that while he had seen it, he still did not believe it.

To the French officers, Maxim described the weapon as an engine: the gunpowder in the cartridge being analogous to the steam; the breech block, the piston; and the trigger, the valve gear. These basic characteristics have remained in every machine gun from that day to this.

Maxim's early successes led him to experiment in earnest on automatic guns from 1883 until 1885. During this time, insofar as it was possible, he patented every conceivable method by which automatic fire could be obtained.

The principle he decided to be the most practical was what is known today as the short recoil system. To this he added the ingenious features of initial extraction, adjustable headspace, an accelerator that transferred energy from the recoiling barrel to the bolt assembly, the T-slot extractor, and "wipe" ejector. These methods have not been improved on.

During the summer of 1885 the general public was shown the Maxim gun at the Inventions Exhibition in South Kensington, a small contract having been let to Albert Vickers, the steel producer of Crayford in Kent, for the manufacture of the gun. At the Inventions Exhibition the gun was fired daily for the crowds.

To operate the weapon, the gunner inserts the loaded ammunition belt in the right side of the gun and raises the safety catch. This permits the thumb piece to be pushed forward, actuating the trigger bar and sear and releasing the firing pin. As the powder charge in the cartridge is ignited, pressure is built up, and the projectile starts through the bore. During this time the barrel and bolt are securely locked.

After recoiling three-quarters of an inch, the bolt is unlocked. The crank engages the unlocking cam, breaking the toggle joint and freeing the bolt. The recoiling forces are now able to accelerate the bolt assembly to the rear and rotate the crank. This winds the actuating chain, loading the extension-type driving spring while the recoiling mechanism completes its rearward stroke.

The initial rotation of the crank pivots the cocking lever, forcing the firing pin back against its spring, until the sear engages the sear notch of the lever.

At the first movement of recoil after unlocking, the sliding boltface (T slot) begins simultaneous extraction of the empty case from the chamber and withdrawal of a loaded round from the belt. Continued rearward movement engages cams in the receiver to force the sliding boltface


A Demonstration Gun and Mount Used by Maxim
A Demonstration Gun and Mount Used by Maxim.
The Wooden Case Was Used as a Tripod When Firing and to Contain the Gun and Ammunition During Transportation.

downward, bringing the loaded round in alignment with the chamber, and the empty case in position for the ejection tube. The loaded cartridge is held securely in place by a latch arrangement located in the face of the T slot.

During recoil a cam lever action moves the entire feed block slide to the right. The top feed-pawls move over to engage the incoming round in the belt (being held in position by the bottom belt-holding pawl), at the same time compressing the barrel return spring. After completing its full recoil stroke, the forward action of the barrel and barrel extension returns the feed block slide to the left, bringing the next live round in the ammunition belt into position against the cartridge stops for engagement by the sliding T slot.

The complete force of recoil having expended itself, the extended driving spring starts the movement of counter recoil. As the bolt moves forward, the cartridge to be fired is positioned for chambering. When this is accomplished, the T slot rises, "wipes" itself clear of the spent case and slips over the rim of the incoming round in the belt.

When the bolt has reached its extreme travel forward, the toggle joint is forced slightly below the horizontal by the connecting rod. At this securely locked position the sear is depressed and disengaged from the firing pin, removing the safety feature, so that continued pressure on the trigger piece permits automatic fire.

The above cycle represents the basic operating principle on which were constructed all future Maxim and Maxim-Vickers guns (later internationally called the "Vickers"). There were from time to time a few modifications such as muzzle boosters to accelerate recoil, changing the direction of throw of the toggle joint, various attempts


to aid unlocking, and numerous miscellaneous refinements, but nothing that ever affected the original principles of the gun. Although Maxim chambered the weapon to shoot practically every form of cartridge in existence, ranging from black to smokeless powder and from rifle caliber to artillery ammunition, the mechanism remained the same except for weight, rate of fire, systems of cooling, and mounting.

First Trials of the Maxim Gun

When the light version was finally satisfactory to Maxim, he displayed it at Hatton Gardens. Here Mr. Pratt, of the Pratt and Whitney firm, viewed the weapon. One of the finest machinists in the world, this old friend of Maxim's voiced his amazement, "If any one had told me that it would be possible to make a gun ... do all these things in the tenth part of a second, I would not have believed it. . . But now I have seen it with my own eyes."

Maxim was wined and dined by London society and met many distinguished personages. On one occasion His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cambridge, took him by the arm, saying, "Come with me, Maxim, and I will introduce you to everyone here who is worth knowing." There were several members of the royal family present. Maxim capitalized on these contacts.

A short time later he received an invitation from the then Duke of Sutherland to spend a week end at Trentham, where he met the Duke of Manchester, Sir Reginald McDonald, and a Mr. Henry Stanley, later famous as the African explorer who found Dr. Livingston. Maxim and Stanley became fast friends. And Maxim humorously mentioned later how they hid out many times to keep from going to church, an act expected of all the guests.

Maxim always leaned strongly toward what he termed "book learning." Whenever he took up anything new, he read everything that could be found on the subject. As he had commenced to make guns, he purchased and read gun books, military documents, and the like.

One day a bookseller obtained for Maxim a very large volume supposedly published for the exclusive use of army and navy officers. In it, Maxim saw at once a fallacy of reasoning. The

designer was calculating a "one-shot" weapon. Repeated shooting would destroy it if constructed on such erroneous calculations. Maxim felt that, if international authorities dispensed such false doctrine, the profession needed practical experience in gun design.

Mr. Pratt, before leaving London, again visited his old friend, and stated he had never made successfully a certain type of gun actuating spring last more than a few rounds. Maxim told him a secret process for constructing springs which an old gun maker had taught him. Pratt, after returning to the United States, wrote how successful this method had been. The springs made following Maxim's instructions had all been tried thousands of times on a testing machine devised by Pratt without any indication of breaking.

The British Government's first order for a Maxim gun specified that it must weigh less than 100 pounds, and be able to fire 400 shots in 1 minute, 600 shots in 2 minutes, and a thousand in 4 minutes. Three guns were supplied to the British Government for trial in March 1887. They easily passed the test. The last fire delivered a thousand rounds in a minute and a half, having previously passed the sand and rust test. The three guns were then purchased by the government. Yet the machine gun was not adopted as a weapon in the regular British Army at this time, although the territorials and militia acquired and used several on their own initiative.

Maxim had unlimited confidence in his gun. When he received an invitation to fire at Enfield for an official trial, he was delighted. After having passed every test easily, he placed the gun on an ordinary tripod, put in a double cartridge belt that contained 666 rounds, and fired them all in 1 minute. As an added attraction, he provided himself with a very large ammunition box and a belt containing 3,000 cartridges. The gun was placed on a naval cone, such as used for machine guns on battleships. The bottom of the cone was filled with water and compressed air. Upon pulling the trigger, a valve was opened allowing the water to circulate inside the water jacket. This provided a cool gun. Maxim introduced the belt and pulled the trigger. The cartridges ran through the gun at the rate of 670 a minute. Many of the bystanders had to leave before the


belt was emptied because the constant firing hurt their ears.

In 1887 Maxim also took one of his automatic machine guns to Switzerland for trial in competition with the Gatling, the Gardner, and the Nordenfelt. The two-barrel Gardner had already beaten the field and large orders were expected. Maxim wrote to the authorities telling them what his gun could do and asking them if they would allow him to fire it in Switzerland in competition with the Gardner. On this occasion he was accompanied by Mr. Albert Vickers, who was now deeply interested in the business. Their gun had been chambered to use a certain German-made cartridge which was not quite so large and powerful as the English. When testing it against the Gardner, they found the latter was using a new cartridge of smaller bore and longer range. To compete with the improved Gardner cartridge, Maxim dipped his projectiles in hot beeswax and tallow to prevent barrel fouling and lubricate the bore. Vickers did the firing and showed great skill as a machine gun marksman, as he outshot the Gardner in spite of its improved ammunition.

The next trials were in Italy at Spezzia, in competition with the Nordenfelt gun, which had already been thoroughly tested and the performance of which was definitely known.

The Maxim gun was lighter and by trial proved much faster and more accurate. Fewer men were required to work it. Next, the Italian officer in charge of the test requested Maxim to submerge the gun in the sea, and allow it to remain there for 3 days. At the end of the period, without cleaning, the gun performed as well as it did before subjection to this unusual demand.

After Italy, the next demonstration was held in Vienna, where thousands of rounds were fired before high ranking army officers, who expressed their amazement that a little gun could fire so last, and that the crank handle should turn without anyone touching it. Among the high officials who came out from Vienna was His Royal Highness, Archduke William, the Field Marshal of the Austrian Army. He greeted Maxim warmly, and looked with great curiosity at the gun. Maxim showed him the working mechanism and explained all the parts in detail to him. He was then asked to fire it at various ranges. Vickers and Maxim alternated in operating the weapon and fired practically the entire day. After the test, the archduke approached the party and congratulated them on the performance of the weapon. When asked by Maxim if it fired fast enough to suit him, he answered, "Indeed, too fast. It is the most dreadful instrument that I have ever seen, or imagined."

During this Austrian test, Maxim used British-made cartridges. While the officers were well pleased with the gun, they insisted on having one that used their own rifle cartridge, which Maxim agreed to make on his return to England. Unfortunately it was illegal for anyone to take one of the Austrian service cartridges out of the country. He had to content himself with a mechanical drawing and a piece of unprimed brass. Upon his

Hiram S. Maxim Holding the light Maxim Gun and Mounting
Hiram S. Maxim Holding the light Maxim Gun and Mounting.


return to England, he ordered a lot of cartridges made according to the specifications. But it appeared that the manufacturer, the Birmingham Small Arms Co., did not understand continental weights and measures. The shape and size of the completed round was correct, but the powder charge was considerably lighter than that of the Austrian cartridge. Maxim attempted to fire the ammunition and found that it would work successfully if the springs were lightened to compensate for the weak charge.

On 7 July 1888 the Austrian committee on the Maxim ordered a preliminary trial with two rifle caliber guns (one 11-mm). They were satisfied as to rapidity of fire, simplicity and ease of manipulation. At 200 meters, 30 shots, all hits, were made in 3 seconds. At 400 meters the same story was repeated. At 000 meters there were 40 rounds in 4 3/10 seconds, all hits. At 1,000 meters, 40 shots in 4 seconds produced 36 hits. At 1,200 meters 25 shots in 2 5/10 seconds gave 24 hits. Again at the same range, 40 shots in 4 seconds gave 29 hits. At 1,400 meters 60 shots fired in 6 1/10 seconds gave 46 hits. And at 1,575 meters, 60 shots in 6 seconds gave 45 hits.

For a reliability and endurance test, 13,504 shots were fired without serious mishap. The cartridges were supplied in belts each containing 333 rounds and averaged 10 rounds per second during the entire test. The original mainspring was of insufficient strength, and gave way after 7,281 rounds. A striker broke after 10,223 rounds and a buffer failed after 11,418 rounds. But these were easily replaced on the scene in a few seconds, and the firing continued. The committee reported strongly in favor of the Maxim. After 6,356 rounds the accuracy was found to be excellent.

The official report stated, "Wet does not impair the mechanism; dust diminishes the speed of firing, but the mechanism, especially the feeding apparatus, is very susceptible to wet and dust combined. If certain reserve parts are supplied, and the buffer spring made stronger, the efficiency of this machine gun is guaranteed under all circumstances."

The committee concluded with this significant summation: "From the foregoing results it is evident that the original favorable judgment formed after the preliminary trials was justified. It can therefore be asserted that of all systems of machine guns hitherto tried, the Maxim is the best adapted to the purpose for which it is intended."

The next test was in Germany. Although the gun worked perfectly, no decisions were made for a long time. Thousands of rounds were fired, but still no orders were received. While things were in this state, His Royal Highness, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visited the Kaiser. When the conversation turned to arms, the Prince asked the Kaiser if he had yet seen the Maxim gun. He said he had not, but had heard a lot about it. The Prince told him that it was really a wonderful weapon, loading and firing itself 600 times a minute. As the gun was at Spandau, only a short distance from Berlin, the Prince suggested they see it. A day or so later, the Kaiser and the Prince visited Spandau where elaborate preparations had been made to show all forms of machine guns. A total of 333 rounds were to be fired from each gun under test at a large target located 200 meters distant. The Gatling gun, worked by four men, fired the cartridges in less than a minute. The same number of men fired the same number of rounds from the Gardner gun in a little over a minute. The Nordenfelt also was fired in approximately the same time. Then Maxim advanced, took his seat on the trail of his automatic gun, pressed the trigger, and 333 cartridges were fired in less than half a minute. The Kaiser, much impressed, walked over to the gun; placing his hand upon it, he said, "That is the gun—There is no other."

Had Maxim tried to market his invention a short time earlier, there is ample reason to believe that he would have found his task more difficult. Several powers were alert for an improved gun when his was introduced. Had he found all war departments completely stocked with hand-operated weapons, he would have had no purchasers. Italy already owned many Gardner hand-operated machine guns. She ignored the new, expensive automatic, as did the United States. The hand-cranked Gatling was relied upon in this country 10 years after the British service had purchased the Maxim full automatic.

In 1887 Maxim took his gun to St. Petersburg, Russia. Here he used the well-made English


cartridges on which he could rely. It appeared to Maxim that the Russian officers were very impatient, and looked with contempt upon his little gun. One young officer went up to it, took hold of the crank, turned it backwards and forwards, and said in French, "It is absolutely ridiculous for anyone to pretend that this gun can be fired 600 rounds in a minute. No man living can turn this crank handle backwards and forwards more than 200 times in a minute."

The Russian even offered to bet any reasonable amount that the gun could not be fired as fast as 200 times a minute. Maxim chose to answer him by placing a belt of cartridges in the gun and fired 333 shots without stopping. The handle that the officer was talking about worked so fast by itself that it was impossible to see it. The officers present had not the least conception of what an automatic gun really was. Any gun in Russia was said to be automatic when one turned a handle to fire it. Newspapers described it as "a gun that would load and fire itself simply by turning a crank handle."

The Russians, seeing the handle working by itself and the center of the bulls-eye shot away, were wildly enthusiastic. But Maxim encountered much red tape in Russia. He had not been in St. Petersburg 2 weeks when he was informed he must either leave the country or go to police headquarters and give an account of himself. A friend, Mr. de Kabath, went with him.

The official spoke English perfectly, and commenced by asking Maxim how old he was and where he was born. Maxim told him.

"What religion have you?"

"None whatever, never had any."

He was told no one could remain in Russia unless he had a religion. He replied in that case he would most certainly have to find one—what particular brand did the officer recommend?

Mr. de Kabath suggested that it was more popular to be a Protestant.

Maxim Machine Gun, Model 1893, Cal. .45
Maxim Machine Gun, Model 1893, Cal. .45.


Maxim asked if a Protestant was not one who protested against something? The Russian admitted that such was the case.

Maxim then said to the official, "Put me down as a Protestant. I am a Protestant among Protestants. I protest against this whole thing." In that way, Maxim said, he became a member of the Protestant church.

Although the Russians moved slowly, they finally purchased vast numbers of Maxim guns. Later, observers reported that over half the Japanese casualties in the Russo-Japanese War were inflicted with the Maxim gun.

On 23 April 1892, Maxim published an article in Engineering, from which the following is quoted:

"Of late there has been going the rounds of the press, especially in America, an account of an automatic machine gun made by the Winchesters, which is said to fire a thousand rounds a minute, and to beat the Maxim, because the Maxim only fires 750 a minute. In connection with this it might be interesting to the public to know just how fast it is possible to fire a single-barreled automatic gun. and what sort of cartridges can be fired with the greatest rapidity.

"The first automatic Maxim gun which was submitted to an official test at Enfield was claimed to fire 600 rounds a minute, using the Royal Laboratory machine gun cartridge. At the trials 1,000 cartridges, all in one belt, were fired in l 1/2 minutes. This would give a speed of 666 rounds per minute. The Royal Woolwich cartridges, considered from all points, are perhaps the most perfect cartridges to be met with today. Of over 200,000 rounds which I myself have fired, I have only found one faulty cartridge, and this missed fire on account of not having any fulminating powder in the primer.

"At the official trials in Switzerland, where the German Mauser cartridge was used, the official speed was 612 per minute. At the Italian trials, which took place with the same cartridge at Spezzia, the rate of fire was found to be 620 per minute. The French Gras cartridges, which had been made for 7 or 8 years, were found to fire at the rate of about 500 per minute; those which were only 2 or 3 years old, at the rate of 600 a minute; while with those that had only been made up a few weeks, the rate of fire amounted to nearly 700 rounds a minute.

"At the Austrian trials with the old Mannlicher cartridges the rate of fire was 620 rounds per minute. With the new Austrian cartridge with compressed powder a speed as high as 770 per minute was attained. With the Russian Berdan cartridge, made on the old fashioned plan, having a hollow rim, 1,000 rounds were fired out of a single belt in 2 1/4 minutes. This was the slowest of all European cartridges except those made in Italy for the old Vetterli rifle, which were found to be imperfect, and the rate of fire in some cases did not exceed 300 per minute. In Spain, cartridges were found which were so bad that they could not be fired at all with an automatic gun. In Germany, the rate of fire varies according to the kind of cartridges which are employed and ranges from 600 to 700 per minute.

"Of all the black powder cartridges the American service cartridge has been found to attain the highest speed. This arises from the fact that the cartridge is small and short, the powder compressed, and the primers very large. At trials which took place in England with this cartridge the rate of fire was 742 per minute. At trials which took place in the United States, in which new cartridges made by the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. were employed, the rate of fire was 775 per minute. This was the highest rate of fire ever attained by an automatic gun deriving all of its energy from the recoil.

"After the Maxim gun had been formally adopted into Her Majesty's service it was found necessary to provide some means of operating them with blank cartridges, as these of course did not give sufficient recoil to operate the mechanism. Attachments were then put on to guns which were required for the maneuvers, in which the escaping gases at the muzzle of the gun produced an action upon the barrel similar to that of recoil. The first of these guns was made for the Easter maneuvers some 5 years ago, and the first cartridges experimented with were loaded with 60 grains of black powder, the rest of the case being filled with tallow, but the rate of fire was so enormously high that the powder charge was reduced to 42 grains, and with this the rate fell to about 600 per minute.

"About 2 years ago, while we were


experimenting with the French Lebel cartridge in Paris, I had a gun constructed to utilize the force of the escaping gases at the muzzle for operating the mechanism. The number of cartridges which the officer brought to the trial was only 200; consequently only small belts were used. Upon placing a belt of 20 cartridges in the gun and pulling the trigger, I remarked, 'The gun has stopped, it does not work,' whereupon my French assistant pulled the belt out and said, 'It is quite empty.' My ear had been accustomed to a fire of about 600 per minute, and the usual belts that we first try a gun with hold only 10 cartridges. These 20 Lebel cartridges had gone off in just about the time that 10 English cartridges would have been fired. The speed was found to be somewhere between 1,100 and 1,200 rounds per minute, and the officer in charge decided that the rate of fire was altogether too high, expressing the wish that we should seek to reduce the rate of fire rather than to increase it.

"It is a curious fact that the German and the French committees, acting quite independently of each other, expressed their opinion that the most desirable rate of fire would be 250 per minute, and guns were, in fact, made for these two nations provided with regulators, but it was found that the mechanism necessary to reduce and regulate the speed of a gun was quite equal to all the rest of the mechanism in the gun. The first one-pounder Maxim guns fired at the rate of 400 shots per minute. The speed was afterwards reduced to 300 per minute.

"The effect of very rapid firing upon the chamber and rifling of the gun is most marked. In Austria, when a gun was fired at the rate of about 600 per minute with steel-covered [jacketed] bullets, and the fire was often stopped to replace the ammunition boxes, it was found that the gun made as good a target after 20,000 rounds had been fired as it did upon starting, while with a speed of 670 per minute with practically no stoppages, the bore was considerably injured after 10,000 rounds had been fired. During all the Austrian trials with the Maxim gun, 200,000 rounds of ammunition were used, the greatest number fired at one time from a single gun being 35,000.

"As regards the speed that it might be possible to attain with a single-barreled gun, I would say that probably if both the gun and cartridge were made expressly for producing the highest possible rate of fire, and if the recoil energy, together with the escaping forces of the gases, were both utilized, 1,500 to 1,600 rounds a minute might be fired, but at this speed the barrel would be very highly heated, even if inclosed in a water casing.

"Machine guns which are operated by hand are as a rule provided with more than one barrel, and perhaps the greatest absolute speed that ever has been attained was with a 12-barrel Nordenfelt gun, in which each barrel was fired 100 rounds per minute, but this fact can only be accomplished by a very powerful and trained athlete. The Gatling 10-barrel gun did not, I believe, fire over 400 rounds a minute at the Shoeburyness trials, but it is said now to fire at the rate of 100 rounds per barrel per minute. The greatest speed ever attained by a single barrel hand-operated machine gun was when Gardner himself fired 250 rounds per minute. The Nordenfelt five-barrel gun, such as is used in the British Navy, may be fired with three trained operators about 400 to 500 rounds per minute. At the Swiss trials the two-barrel Gardner gun, with four men to operate it, fired 333 rounds in a minute."

While the whole world marveled at the machine guns of American origin, a French chemist, Paul Vieille, was quietly trying to develop for his government a smokeless powder that would not reveal the infantryman's position or obscure his aim. In 1885 he discovered a successful propellant that gave off practically no smoke. Mixing cellulose with gelatinized nitroglycerine not only eliminated smoke, but produced a progressive burning powder that left little or no residue. While seeking a musket propellant, he had unknowingly invented the perfect fuel for the automatic machine gun.

Black powder generates all its force at the moment of ignition, then the chamber pressure decreases quickly. Smokeless powder, on the other hand, continues to burn after maximum pressure, giving a prolonged thrust, leaving a high residual pressure in the bore. This allowed machine gun inventors to design mechanisms taking full advantage of this prolonged power-impulse, and to utilize the force of expanding gases in the


barrel after the projectile is gone, to accelerate further the recoiling parts.

That the engine came before the fuel cannot be questioned. Maxim was already firing his automatic gun over the continent of Europe, using almost any black-powder cartridge of current design. But peak efficiency was not reached until he used the French Lebel service cartridge. The prodigious rate of fire mentioned in his article in Engineering was produced by the first military cartridge in the world having smokeless powder as a propellant charge.

The Maxim gun was first used by the British colonial forces in the Matabele War of 1893. In this campaign of 1893-94 against the Matabele of the Northern Transvaal, a detachment of 50 infantrymen with four Maxim machine guns defended themselves against 5,000 warriors who charged them five times in an hour and a half. All of these fanatical charges were conducted with great bravery and were invariably stopped each time about a hundred paces in front of the English firing lines by the lethal fire of the Maxim guns. It was recorded that the enemy after the charges left 3,000 dead in front of the English position. The troops engaged against the Matabeles were the armed police of the Rhodesian Charter Co. They were greatly outnumbered by the enemy which attacked with the reckless courage of the Zulu tribes. The Rhodesians, realizing the deadly power of the machine guns, provoked the Matabeles to charge. A handful of men fortified themselves with Maxim guns. And against these determined rushes of thousands of fierce fighting savages, the streams of bullets from the Maxim guns tore lanes of dead through the enemy masses and always broke the attack.

In the Chitral campaign in 1895 on the Afghan frontier, the English again used their Maxim guns against the fanatical mountaineers of the Hindu Kush, the fire proving so effective that the British colonial troops who charged the position found only the dead bodies of the enemy to oppose them.

Later on, in some of the fights of the 1898 campaign in the Sudan these guns were extremely successful. It is stated that General Kitchener could not have held out had it not been for them. A battalion had two machine gun sections, each organized as a battery of four Maxims mounted on wheeled carriages. A special precaution was taken to prevent the mechanisms from becoming fouled by the desert sands which formed almost a fog on windy days in the Sudan. Each gun had a silk cover in which it was kept wrapped until brought into action.

At Ferkeh, on 7 June 1896, the four guns were only in action for a few minutes, but in this time they broke up the dervishes' only attempt to charge. Perhaps the battle of Omdurman was the most classical example of the deadliness of the weapon. No less than 20,000 dervishes were slaughtered and three-fourths were officially credited to the Maxim machine gunners at this battle. A German military attaché, Major von Tiedemann, told how he watched the effect of the Maxim gun battery on the right front. "The gunners did not get the range at once. But as they soon found it, the enemy went down in heaps and it was evident that the Maxim guns were doing a large share of the work in repelling the dervish rush."

For a moment it seemed as if the dervishes might overwhelm the Sirdar's forces. In dense array they moved forward, but their ranks were torn by the murderous machine gun fire. It is interesting to add here that Winston Churchill went into action with the cavalry charge, almost the last on record in British history. He was attached to the Twenty-First Lancers. British casualties amounted to less than 2 percent, while the enemy was practically annihilated (all due to the deadly Maxims).

Hoping to reach American markets, Maxim wrote to all prominent gun and pistol producers in the United States, telling them that his automatic system could easily be applied to all sizes of pocket pistols or rifles, and advising them to use his mechanisms under license. From these gunmakers he failed to receive one favorable reply. In fact, he stated, most of the answers were scurrilous. In spite of professional jealousy his market grew. Soon the little factory in Hatton Gardens became too small to fill all the orders for his automatic machine guns.

Maxim amalgamated for a short while with Nordenfelt, the financier, and formed the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns & Ammunition Co. In this way he was able to take advantage of the


Maxim Machine Gun, Model 1895, Cal. .303
Maxim Machine Gun, Model 1895, Cal. .303.

manufacturing facilities of the Nordenfelt plants to fill his backlog of orders. While they produced many models of rapid-firing naval guns, the only automatic weapons manufactured were the 37-mm pom-pom and the rifle caliber gun, known as the Maxim-Nordenfelt. All were based on his earlier patents.

Other Maxim Weapons

The success of the rifle-caliber gun led the British Admiralty to ask Maxim to design a special-objectives weapon for use against torpedo boats, specifying that the projectile must be large enough to penetrate light armor, and the rate of fire as high as thought practical.

Lord Wolseley asked Maxim also to produce, if possible, a projectile that could be used effectively against armor at a great range when used as solid shot, but at the gunner's will the same projectile could be converted to fragments having the effect of a shot gun with buckshot when used against personnel at close range.

These demands resulted in 1898 in the long range caliber .75 machine gun with the disintegrating bullet. This projectile was of peculiar construction, being made up of several segments, arranged around a central steel core and held together by rings of lead, hardened by adding tin. A cutting device on the muzzle allowed the gunner either to fire a solid armor-piercing bullet at great range, or to spray fragments over an area at close quarters. The cutter having severed the bands, the projectile disintegrated from centrifugal force. When not cut, it stayed together and the hardened core easily penetrated light armor.

The next development was the pom-pom, an automatic 37-mm shell gun. The name was given it by African savages trying to describe its unusual report during automatic fire. The operating mechanism was basically the same as the rifle caliber gun. Originally rated at 400 rounds a minute, Maxim concluded this was too fast for peak performance, and slowed the action to 300 a minute, where it remained.

It is ironic that the pom-pom, developed at the request of the English Government, was ignored by the major powers until it proved its deadliness in use against the British soldier. The weapon, when introduced, was scorned by English artillery experts. They contended it was too large for use against personnel, too small for employment against fortifications, and any field battery could put it out of commission in a relatively short engagement.

The War in South Africa disproved their


evaluation. The Boers obtained a few of these automatic shell guns and, in engagement after engagement, a single pom-pom manned by a crew of four secreted behind rocks and dense foliage would quickly put out of action a whole battery of British artillery. The cartridges were loaded with smokeless powder. The Boers got on a target with single shots, and then covered the area with a full automatic burst, usually fatal to the British artillery unit. The English gunners, though skillful, were unable to take aim at the sound. And, before they could locate their adversary, their battery would be destroyed.

The Boers were aided by their exploding projectiles as the smoke and dust from the detonation showed the pom-pom gunner how far he was off in sighting. Then, making the correction, which rarely took more than three or four spotting shots, he fired approximately half his 25-round belt full automatic into the target.

Neutral newspapers all over the world gave page after page of publicity to the plucky Boers in annihilating the British field artillery units.

Maxim pointed out that the error was not his, as he had made the weapon at the suggestion of the English Government, only to have it turned down by the army. The Boers had purchased their guns from the French, who had bought a considerable number, ostensibly for their own use.

Maxim later was approached by a Chinese Government representative in London, who stated, in behalf of his country, that he would like to see the firing of the 37-mm and rifle-caliber Maxim guns. On the day fixed, the Chinese staff met with a large number of prominent Londoners to watch the demonstration. After a 1,000-round burst by three Maxim rifle-caliber guns, the pom-pom was brought into position. The Chinese representative questioned its advertised rate of 400 rounds per minute. The gun fired, and the projectiles, being filled with explosives, went off upon striking the target. When the firing had ceased, he observed the bursts from the exploding shells continued to flash at the target. When this had stopped, he still heard the reports of the exploding shells from the distance. He at once came to the conclusion that there was some trick, that some machine located behind the target was producing the flash and report, having failed to cut off when the gun was stopped.

It was then explained to him, as had been previously done for other incredulous observers, that, with the target a thousand yards away, a number of projectiles were still in the air when the gun ceased firing. After the last projectile had struck the target and exploded, the reports in the air were still echoing. The Chinese was satisfied, and, as he had timed the gun with his own watch, said it fired faster than 400 rounds a minute. He examined a cartridge and, on being told the price was 6 shillings 6 pence, he said, "This gun fires altogether too fast for China."

The King of Denmark, likewise, wished to see the pom-pom fired. When told the cost per round he stated, "That gun would bankrupt my kingdom in about 2 hours."

The English press also took up the cry "Economy," pointing out that at 6 shillings for each shell fired, these guns would require the expenditure of 90 pounds per minute in cost of ammunition. The quantity of ammunition for this one gun alone in a war, even if victory were assured, would make the cost prohibitive.

The British Government, still smarting from the lesson handed it by the Boers, who were not so economy minded, answered these paper theorists by adopting the weapon and ordering millions of rounds of ammunition.

Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun

Though the short-lived Nordenfelt association produced the pom-pom, Maxim's best known and lasting affiliation was with Vickers. Vickers Sons and Maxim Ltd. was formed on 20 July 1888. In this company Hiram Maxim remained an active participator until his seventy-first birthday. The Vickers-Maxim rifle caliber gun is only a refinement of the original Maxim invented in 1884. Its point of difference from the first gun lies in the toggle-joint action, which is inverted, and the weight, which is reduced approximately one-third. This was accomplished by the substitution of superior steel and aluminum in lieu of heavier metals. The 1904 model was reduced to 40.5 pounds, whereas the previous weapon had weighed 60 pounds. Though Maxim had been associated with Messrs. Vickers and


Sons of London for 16 years, it was the first gun to bear the name "Vickers" along with "Maxim."

The South African War between the British and the Boer Armies was the first war in which regular armies composed of white troops both used Maxim guns. The Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria in 1904-5 is also of special significance—it being the first major war between regular armies in which automatic machine guns were employed in large numbers on each side, and with full fire effect. The Russians, converted to a belief in machine guns by the Gorloff (Gatling), used Maxim caliber .312 manufactured by Vickers Sons and Maxim. The Japanese began the war without automatic weapons except for a few in the cavalry. In November 1904, they issued to the infantry large numbers of another type of automatic machine gun having a caliber .253 of French design, but manufactured at Tokyo.

The Russian Maxims were recoil operated and water cooled, while the Japanese weapons were gas operated and air cooled. The Russians and Japanese organized their machine guns alike in batteries of six or eight and treated them as a special arm. The Maxims were mounted first on artillery carriages with high wheels. Due to the exceptionally heavy losses sustained by the Russian batteries at the Yalu River, a low tripod with a shield was substituted.

Field reports spoke in glowing terms of the Maxim guns, saying that in some cases even bet-

German Maxim Model 1908 with Sled Mount
German Maxim Model 1908 with Sled Mount.


ter results were obtained with them than with artillery. One of the best examples of Russian employment of this type of weapon was during the battle of Mukden when 16 Maxims, half of them used at a time, repelled seven fierce Japanese attacks. The eight guns, not firing, were serviced and held in reserve. The guns fired altogether 200,000 rounds of ammunition that day, and every gun remained in excellent condition.

A German observer with the Russian Army sent the following report, which was reprinted in the official Journal of the German Army and Navy. "On January 28, 1905, near Lin-Chin-Pu the Japanese attacked a Russian redoubt that was armed with two Maxim guns. The Japanese company about 200 strong was thrown forward in skirmishing order. The Russians held their fire until the range was only 300 yards. The two machine guns were then brought into action. In less than 2 minutes they fired about 1,000 rounds and the Japanese detachment was literally swept away."

During the Russo-Japanese War military observers for the first time began to look upon the machine gun not as a piece of inferior artillery, but as a superior military rifle.

In the Philippine insurrection, the American Army had not yet adopted an automatic gun. It is interesting to note that Maxim full automatic machine guns caliber .303, manufactured in 1895, were captured from the natives by our forces.

One of the first countries to capitalize on the potential lethal effect of the automatic machine gun was Germany, which adopted the Maxim gun in the year 1899, and issued it experimentally for some years to various units of the German Army.

After observation by German officers of the deadly employment of these weapons in the Russo-Japanese war, Germany determined to equip herself with large quantities. A heavy Maxim gun designated Model 1908 was developed at the Government armory at Spandau. With a metal sled-like mounting, it weighed around a hundred pounds. A later mount made at Erfurt reduced the total to 85 pounds. The weapon was chambered for the German service cartridge caliber 7.92-mm Mauser, supplied in 250-round belts.

Russia continued to be a big purchaser of the Maxim gun, but now employed an unusual mounting, called the Sokolov, which consisted of two small wheels supporting the traversing mount and a heavy steel shield setup in front of the action of the gun to protect the operator. The Russian gun was chambered for the 7.62-mm infantry rifle cartridges, and the model is listed the M-1910.

Though Englishmen armed the world with an American inventor's weapon, the British pacifist

Russian Maxim Model 1910 on
Russian Maxim Model 1910 on "Sokolov" Wheeled Carriage.


element saw to it that England profited less than any other European power. True, there was always an intense and intelligent interest in the machine gun by a minority group of the army. One or two pioneers even suggested the formation of a machine gun corps, but it was not carried out.

In 1908 the rule of Turkey in the Far East was seriously shaken. A reform group calling themselves "The Young Turks" deposed Abdul Hamid in favor of his brother. In the resulting confusion Bulgaria declared its independence, and the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovenia were annexed by Austria. The Balkan League was then formed by Greece, Serbia, Rumania, and Bulgaria. In 1912 the League waged war against Turkey and conquered all of its European possessions, except Constantinople. The principal infantry arm of practically every nation involved was the Maxim machine gun, chambered to fit each country's rifle caliber ammunition. A few employed the 37-mm pom-pom. And a Greek report stated that Greece received as booty from the Balkan War a quantity of the 7.95-mm Maxim.

The first recorded trial of Maxim guns by the United States was in 1888. Although the gun performed well, nothing came of it. From the test Maxim admits he got the highest rate of fire ever obtained with black powder. The Navy continued Maxim trials up to the Spanish-American War. It decided against the rifle caliber in favor of an American-developed automatic machine gun. following its policy of favoring American products. But it did adopt the pom-pom, since nothing comparable was being produced in this country.

During the peaceful first decade of the twentieth century the American Government, especially the Navy, ran constant trials as new automatic weapons were introduced by their inventors. But there was no prospective need for automatic machine guns. Finally the United States realized she was unarmed compared with

Maxim Automatic Gun After Firing 15,000 Rounds at an American Trial in 1899
Maxim Automatic Gun After Firing 15,000 Rounds at an American Trial in 1899.


the rest of the world, and tests were frantically resumed.

In the 1913 competitive tests, the outstanding automatic machine gun was the Vickers, built by Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co. of Hartford, Conn. This was basically the 1904 Vickers-Maxim, which in turn had the same operating mechanism as the original Maxim model that was featured in the 1888 trials. However, when this weapon was adopted by the United States Army, it became known as the 1915 Model Vickers.

The United States Army Board unanimously declared that the Vickers tested on 15 September 1913 was superior to any of the other seven guns submitted. (The weapon showed it was still capable of the excellent performance this mechanism had demonstrated in the 1888 trial.) Not a single part was broken or replaced, nor was there a jam worthy of the name during the entire series of tests. A better performance could not be desired.

The Board also reported that, with the exception of the Vickers, none of the others submitted showed enough superior qualities to warrant consideration for adoption.

Another test of the Vickers in 1914 was summarized by the Machine Gun Board: "This gun fired 40,000 rounds in a satisfactory manner. While there were a number of malfunctions, they were mostly due to a failure to completely seat

British Sergeant Instructing American Troops in France
British Sergeant Instructing American Troops in France.

the cartridge in the chamber, and the jam was removed by giving the side lever a sharp blow. Four main springs, one gib, and one muzzle gland were broken. The latter was caused by the loosening of the muzzle attachment, causing a bullet to strike the edge of the orifice. While the firing was sometimes irregular, the time of firing including time for cooling, cleaning, and repacking the barrel was 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 55 seconds consumed for the first 20,000 shots; and 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 9 seconds for the next 20,000 rounds."

The Board stated that the Colt-made Vickers gun was a very efficient weapon, and recommended immediate procurement of 4,600 guns. But nothing was done. Finally, 2 days after the United States declared war, General Crozier, Chief, Ordnance Department, authorized the purchase of 4,000 Vickers, since there was not a single machine gun in the country suitable for use on the European front.

The high command in the Army insisted that an American-developed gun was superior, and cited an early 1917 test as conclusive. Better or not, production on the new gun was almost a year away; consequently, the Vickers was the only gun to fall back on, since Colt was tooled up to make it. Cables from the A. E. F. indicated its efficiency and requested immediate continuance of production.

The first deliveries from Colt were in July 1917. By 12 September 1918, 12,125 Vickers Model 1915 had been made, but few saw action, since the war ended 2 months later.

The French high command, in the fall of 1917. urgently requested a thousand American-made Vickers for a special objective. They offered their machine guns in exchange. This request was granted. Subsequent production was used to equip mobile army troops until the American-developed gun could be available. When this new gun was finally issued, there was such a serious shortage of spare parts it had to be replaced by the Vickers gun.

Every major power in the world, at one time or another between 1900 and World War I, had adopted the Vickers-Maxim gun, either in rifle caliber, the pom-pom, or both. The German high command apparently were the first to realize


the deadliness of the weapon and made thorough preparations for the coming war, having more than 50,000 Maxim-type guns ordered or on hand at the outbreak of World War I. True to the German military tradition, they sought to build tomorrow's weapons today. In contrast, it has always been our custom to build yesterday's weapons soon.


Chapter 2
Skoda Machine Gun

A very peculiarly designed weapon, popularly known as the Skoda automatic machine gun, made its appearance on the Continent shortly after the Maxim gun. Invented by Grand Duke Karl Salvator and Colonel von Dormus of Austria, it was patented in 1888. Patent rights were purchased and the gun produced by the famous Skoda Works of Pilsen, Austria-Hungary. This company was established in 1859 by the Count of Waldstein and came under the ownership of M. de Skoda in 1869. It was one of the outstanding armament manufacturing plants in Europe.

The odd-looking Skoda gun operated from retarded blow-back and was made in rifle calibers ranging from 6.5 to 11 millimeters. Austria-Hungary adopted it and gave it the designation Model 1893. It was, however, relegated to fortifications and naval use. There is no record that the army ever officially used it as a first-line machine gun. But an Austro-Hungarian naval detachment, equipped with the Skoda, was sent to the defense of the Legation at Pekin during the Boxer rebellion in 1900. Its use in this engagement was very limited.

The military authorities of Austria-Hungary looked upon the weapon as suitable only for the defense of fixed positions and recommended that it be installed in turrets behind heavy armor.

A lengthy article in a military publication, Review of Artillery,volume 43, 1893, noted the reliability of the gun when it was subjected to a rugged proving ground test in Austria-Hungary.

Skoda Machine Gun, Model 1893
Skoda Machine Gun, Model 1893.


The weapon fired a considerable number of bursts of 3 minutes' duration and, on one occasion operated continuously for 9 minutes before a stoppage occurred to put it out of action. It also passed the dust and mud test and was fired successfully in temperatures ranging from 32° Fahrenheit to 20° below zero.

The gun was optionally provided with a water jacket and, when so used, the barrel life was found to be of unusual length. In fact, a single barrel was required to fire 20,000 rounds and still have a certain degree of accuracy in order to pass an official endurance trial.

The Skoda machine gun, Model 1893, was presented to the United States Army in 1895 for consideration and adoption. The following description and cycle of operation are derived from official Army records and give the conclusions drawn from the test by the Ordnance Board:

The weapon is a single-barreled arm, which operates automatically by a system known as retarded blow-back. Its 25-pound weight puts it in the lightweight gun classification. The rate of fire can be regulated at will. It uses an Austrian cartridge with a weight of 244 grains, and a smokeless powder charge of 42 grains.

The principal parts are the barrel, the receiver, the breech mechanism, and the driving spring.

The barrel, made of Bessemer medium carbon steel, is enveloped by a bronze sleeve, in which circulates a continuous current of cold water. This sleeve is pressed against the shoulder by a nut, screwed on the muzzle. Leather washers make the connection watertight. A screw locks the sleeves in proper position.

An inlet and an outlet are provided in this part, through which cold water can be led in by rubber tubes. The water is forced in by a small pump and finds its way from front to rear through a metal tube placed under the upper element of the sleeve to the outlet. In this way the barrel is constantly covered with cold water.

The pivoted breechblock, mounted between the parallel sides of the casing, is recessed to contain the firing mechanism and, when closed, is held in position by the block support. This pivoted support is continually under the pressure of the accumulator spring through a spindle and exercises a pressure on the block. When the piece is fired, the shock of recoil, exerted against the face of the block at the instant the bullet leaves the bore, forces it to the rear. This in turn drives back the support against the spring, causing the forward end of the support to revolve downward. A quick screw thread is cut on the forward end of the spindle, which works through a closely fitted cylindrical nut. Its shoulder serves to relieve the spring of part of the energy of recoil. The friction of revolving also diminishes the speed with which the breech is opened and closed.

As soon as the energy of recoil is expended, during which time the empty cartridge case is ejected and a new cartridge supplied from the feed, both being accomplished automatically, the spring forces the support forward, closing the block and pushing the cartridge into the barrel. The rear end of the spindle screws into the nut joining the spindle to the sleeve. Attached to the latter is a crank. The rear of the spring cylinder is cut in the form of a helicoidal ramp, against which the crank rests. To load the first cartridge, the crank is turned to the left. Being forced to the rear by the ramp, it draws the spindle and the support with it, allowing the block to fall and open the breech.

The steel receiver is composed of two parallel frames, screwed on to the rear end of the barrel. On the left frame is fixed a distributor, in front and in rear of which are supports to receive the feed. The distributor consists of a swinging lever pivoted at a point flush with the mouth of the feed. On the outer side of the distributor is a spring, the lower end of which, shaped like a hook, projects through an opening into the receiver.

The feed is a sheet-iron frame, through which the cartridges pass to the distributor, their rims sliding in a groove. When the machine gun is mounted in a turret, the feed is made in two parts, the lower part fixed, and the upper part movable. The lower part rests in the support; the upper part is joined to the lower by a hinge and is held in place by a spring, a tenon of which catches in one of the four holes of the lower part. By this arrangement the movable part can be raised or lowered slightly to allow the necessary space for filling the feed under different angles of fire.


Section Drawing of Skoda Model 1893
Section Drawing of Skoda Model 1893.

Under the receiver is hung the pendulum, a swinging arm, on which is the adjustable weight that regulates the rapidity of fire. In the weight is a mortise containing the rear stop plunger placed over a heavy spring. At the top is the pendulum stop buffer, also mounted over a spring. These springs are intended to increase the impulses which make the pendulum oscillate. The pendulum arm and the trigger gear are connected by a bar. This bar consists of two parts threaded on the adjoining ends and joined together by a nut. By turning the nut, the rate of fire can be varied at will.

On the receiver is a sight that can be raised or lowered and a deflection plate which throws to one side the empty cartridge cases as they are extracted from the breech.

The breech mechanism comprises the block and the support. The block is recessed to contain the firing pin, the hammer, the firing pin spring, the tumbler, and the tumbler spring. The lower part of the front of the block forms a loading shelf, the location of which assures the proper positioning of the cartridge. The upper

part of the front of the block carries the extractor. In the left face are two openings for the distributor, the forward and rear openings. At the rear of the block is the cylindrical bearing surface.

When the breech is closed, the bearing surfaces of the block and support should be in complete contact. The plane surface closes the rear opening of the barrel and the loading shelf is in front of and below this surface.

When the support revolves to the rear opening of the breech, its finger presses against the tail of the hammer until the nose of the tumbler falls into the notch of the hammer. The piece is thus cocked. While revolving, the support rests on the arm of the block, sending the latter to the rear. When the breech is thus completely open, the block, with the loading shelf above it, rests on the support.

To close the breech, the crank is turned in the opposite direction from that which opens the breech. The spring extends, revolving the support and the block and closing the breech.

In order to fire the weapon, the pendulum is


drawn to the rear until stopped by the bolt striking against the cylinder and then let go. The trigger sear then releases the tail of the tumbler, freeing the nose from the notch of the hammer. The striker spring throws the hammer against the firing pin and discharges the piece. If the breech is not completely closed, the tail of the hammer will strike against the support. The firing pin being thus protected, premature discharge cannot take place.

When the piece is discharged, the recoil throws the breechblock and the support to the rear, the breech opens, the hammer is cocked, the empty case is extracted, and the next cartridge is placed on the loading shelf. Then the driving spring starts closing the breech, shoving the cartridge on the shelf into the chamber, while the lowest cartridge in the feed falls on the distributor tray. The swing of the pendulum causes the trigger assembly to strike the tumbler and the piece is again discharged.

To fill the feed, a charger is placed over its upper end. It is reinforced at one end by the sabot, on the outside of which is a spring. The nose of this spring projects through an opening in the charger and supports the cartridges. At the upper part of the feed, there is also a sabot, with a lug directed toward the interior. When a charger is placed over the feed, this lug pushes outward the wedge-shaped nose and, consequently, the spring. As the cartridges are no longer supported, they drop one by one into the feed.

When the breech opens, the block pushes toward the outside the arm of the distributor spring; the latter throws the distributor in the opposite direction, and the cartridge is rapidly projected on the loading shelf. The tray of the distributor positions the cartridge and directs it into the chamber.

At the closing of the breech, the cartridge is pushed into the chamber by the front face of the breechblock. At the same time the block acts on the extraction arm of the distributor and pushes it to the outside. The next cartridge, which has been resting against the head of the distributor during the loading of its predecessor into the chamber, now falls on the distributor tray, ready to be inserted when the breech opens again.

The rapidity of fire can be regulated in two ways: First, by lengthening or shortening the connecting bar by turning the nut; second, by varying the position of the weight on the pendulum arm, thus changing the time of oscillation.

This gun was tested on 5 June 1894 in the presence and under the direction of the Ordnance Board. The firings were conducted and the gun manipulated by a representative of the company, who was present for the purpose. Owing to the limited amount of ammunition available, the firings were restricted to those necessary to determine the ease and certainty of action of the mechanism when set for different speeds; also for rapidity during comparatively long and short periods of time. Six hundred rounds in all were fired, as follows:

Single shots to test action of mechanism. 25
At the rate of 175 rounds per minute 25
At the rate of 300 rounds per minute 25
At the rate of 500 rounds per minute 25
In 1 minute 5 1/2 seconds 400
In 13 seconds 100

The following conclusions are quoted from the Board's report:

"No tests could be made of the action of the mechanism when subjected to the dust or rust tests, defective cartridges, or excessive pressure. A positive opinion of the merits of the system under these circumstances cannot therefore be formed. It would seem, however, that the mechanism is somewhat delicate and would be liable to get out of order when subjected to the severe conditions of field service, although it was claimed by the representative of the gun that two of them had been tested with 40,000 shots each (with smokeless powder) in hot and cold weather and when covered with dust and rain, and that it has successfully withstood uninterrupted firing for nine minutes. For permanent fortifications or other positions where the gun could be cared for and kept in good condition, it might be a useful arm in repelling storming parties or other work of like nature. Its fitness for adoption in the service as compared with other arms of a similar character can be


Skoda Machine Gun, Model 1909
Skoda Machine Gun, Model 1909.

determined only by a much more exhaustive trial than was practicable during the test above referred to."

The Board consisted of the following officers: Frank H. Phipps, Major, Ordnance Department, U.S.A., president; Frank Heath, Captain, Ordnance Department, U.S.A.; and William Crozier, Captain, Ordnance Department, U.S.A.

The Skoda was later completely redesigned and appeared as the Model 1909. The engineers responsible for this modification deserve great credit, as they incorporated many features that were obviously improvements. The bulky ill-designed hopper-type feeder was done away with and the feed system was altered to use the conventional fabric belt employed by most machine guns of the era.

The swinging pendulum rate-of-fire regulator was replaced by a compact buffer arrangement and a simple cyclic rate control that not only did not interfere with the gunner's aim during firing but allowed the arm to be streamlined.

In the complete working over of this weapon, the designers made great efforts to lessen weight and succeeded to the extent that the finished product was one of the lightest full-automatic belt-fed machine guns of its day. Had this very much improved model with its many true re-


fìnements made its appearance in place of the crude 1893 Skoda, it would have furnished serious competition to the other automatic machine guns of that time.

There is no record of this later weapon getting beyond a few insignificant trials and its only contribution to machine gun study is as a rare museum piece.


Chapter 3
Browning Automatic Machine Guns

John M. Browning's Early Years

The next outstanding step in automatic weapon design was made by a young western gunsmith, John Moses Browning. It would be impossible to produce a greater contrast in men than that existing between the two great masters of automatic weapons, Maxim and Browning. Hiram Maxim, a brilliant opportunist, needed only the incentive of promised wealth to turn from electricity at the age of 44; and, on his first attempt at producing an automatic machine gun, he succeeded where countless hundreds before him had failed. John M. Browning, on the other hand, was destined by inheritance to be a gunmaker.

His father, Jonathan Browning, an outstanding riflesmith, produced weapons that were as advanced as was possible considering the ammunition of the day, which consisted of loose powder, ball and percussion cap. Born in Sumner County, Tenn., in October 1805, he went to Nashville for his apprenticeship in gunsmithing. When he was about 21 years old, he moved to Davidson County, Tenn., where he set up his own gunsmithing business. He subsequently moved in 1834 to Adams County, Ill., where he invested largely in land and carried on agricultural pursuits in connection with his gun and blacksmith trade. From 1842 to 1846 he conducted his business in Nauvoo, Ill., followed by a move to Kanesville now known as Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Here he engaged in manufacturing guns, wagons, and other equipment. He also continued his farming and discharged the duties of magistrate, an office he had held in his other places of residence. The merits of his various repeating guns are described in the following advertisement in the Kanesville Frontier Guardian of 19 September 1849:


"The subscriber is prepared to manufacture, to order, improved Fire-arms, viz: revolving rifles and pistols; also slide guns, from 5 to 25 shooters. All on an improved plan, and he thinks not equalled this far east. (Farther west they might be.) The emigrating and sporting community are invited to call and examine Browning's improved fire-arms before purchasing elsewhere. Shop eight miles south of Kanesville on Musquito Creek, half a mile south of Trading Point.


During his stay in Kanesville, Jonathan Browning produced two different styles of repeating rifles. One was a slide-action weapon that had a rather ingenious arrangement whereby the five-shot magazine alined each chamber concentric with the bore. The magazine was a rectangular piece of bar iron, chambered to accommodate powder and ball. The magazine, or bar, slid through an opening in the breech from left to right, being manipulated by finger pressure on a small lever on the side. At the same time it jacked the action forward, forming a gastight seal between chamber and barrel. This weapon was hailed as a great achievement by the gun trade, as it allowed the user not only to have several quick shots ready in the gun, but also to carry a number of loaded magazines.

Success encouraged Jonathan to make another repeater of different design. This time the breech mechanism housed a cylinder having six chambers operating somewhat on the order of the single-action revolver. Neither of these weapons, which added to the fame of Jonathan Browning throughout the frontier, was ever patented. It is indeed probable that he did not even consider the idea.


Original Repeating Rifle Developed by Jonathan Browning
Original Repeating Rifle Developed by Jonathan Browning.

After accumulating a small amount of money, he deemed it appropriate to move further west, and was selected to captain a wagon train, being regarded by his neighbors to be as resourceful and reliable as the weapons he made. Despite the ever-present danger that existed in such an undertaking, he led his wagon train safely through the territory of Utah to the Mormon settlement of Ogden, and opened a gun shop there in 1852.

Money was scarce, and, though there was no end to the demand for superior weapons, profits had to be kept at a minimum in order to sell. Jonathan's gun shop was small. And, as was the custom of that day, his home was but a modest addition to his workshop.

It was in these surroundings that John Moses Browning; was born in 1855. He soon showed his heritage from Jonathan Browning. Before he was 20 years old, he was supplying the family table with wild chicken killed by a gun of his own construction. He also made an improved rifle for his brother, Matthew, which his proud lather admitted was the best gun he had ever seen and far surpassed anything he had made in all his years as a riflesmith.

John Moses was given an interest in the business and worked daily at the foot-power lathe that the elder Browning had brought with him by oxcart from Council Bluffs. He served as an apprentice for 10 years before he applied for his first patent. It was on a single-shot rifle, operated by a trigger guard lever that opened the breech, ejected the empty cartridge case, and cocked the piece; when locked for firing, the hammer was out of the line of sight. The patented mechanism was promptly bought by the Winchester Arms Co. of Hartford, Conn., and

made in numerous calibers. Thus began an association between Browning and Winchester that lasted for many years. His reputation established, he only worked harder to improve and originate other types of weapons that he felt

John Moses Browning when 18 Years Old
John Moses Browning when 18 Years Old.


Matthew Sandefur Browning
Matthew Sandefur Browning.

would meet the demands of the critical public.

The successful partnership between John Moses and Matthew Sandefur Browning resulted from the death of their father and the added responsibility of providing for the family—as well as from their inherited love for fine guns and pride in their ability to produce them. These basic demands and the unlimited resourcefulness which characterized the lives of the two young men were the deciding factors that lifted the J. M. & M. S. Browning Co. of Ogden, Utah, from obscurity to world fame.

Each believed a man does best that for which he has the most natural aptitude, and wisely decided at the very first to separate their business duties. In complete agreement, they decided that John M. should devote his entire time to the origination of new weapons and the improvement of previous designs, since he had already shown his ability along this line. On the other hand, Matthew, having exhibited unusual talent in marketing products and in handling patents, contracts and investments, would devote his attention to business and financial problems. It was the latter's shrewd foresight that made them stop catering to individual demands for custom-made weapons. Instead they would decide on a promising design and proceed to have made in the little shop as many as 600 identical guns before a single one was put on the market.

Matthew found that, by this standardization and an assembly-line method of production, not only could he manufacture more economically, but also he was in a position to bargain with larger gun companies by virtue of his potentialities as a serious competitor.

One of the earliest successes of the J. M. & M. S. Browning Co. was the sale, at a good profit, of the complete output of 600 rifles of a popular design to the Winchester Arms Co. The wholesale part of the business became so lucrative that they were able to employ a well-known gunsmith as well as their half brothers, Samuel, George, and Ed Browning, at the tedious task of handmaking and assembling the rifles.

Manufacturing activities expanded and the brothers were forced to buy a two-story building for their business. The lower floor was outfitted as a sporting goods store, in which they displayed for sale not only their own, but also all the popular brands of firearms. The upper floor was converted into a workshop and a pattern room, where John M. made mock-ups of guns that time would prove to be the world's best.

At the age of 26, the designer conceived the idea of a lever-action repeating rifle. The patent was granted in 1884, assigned to Winchester on a royalty basis, and in a comparatively few years the weapon literally monopolized the market. It became known as the '86 model Winchester.

A business competitor of Winchester, shortly after the deal, said to Mr. Browning, "I don't know what you received for the repeater you sold Winchester, but I would have given half my factory for it."

The design was so basically sound that thousands of the weapons are in existence today, and


The First Shop and Arms Factory. John and Matt Browning are Shown in the Doorway
The First Shop and Arms Factory. John and Matt Browning are Shown in the Doorway. Left to Right Are Sam, George, John, Matt, and Ed Browning, and Another Gunsmith.


John M. Browning at the Height of his Career
John M. Browning at the Height of his Career.

it is said that practically every improvement in repeaters since that time has been influenced by this mechanism. The cartridges were carried in a tubular magazine under the barrel. Fore and aft movement of the lever controlled the entire operation of opening the breech, cocking the gun, ejecting the empty cartridge, picking up and inserting the incoming round into the chamber, closing the breech, and securely locking it. All this was done in less than a second's time. The trigger finger could remain in position for firing while this was being accomplished.

The mechanism of this gun was an improvement over that of any other rifle of this period. It was especially effective since the joint between breech and barrel was perfectly sealed. When closed, the sliding part of the locks fitted into place so accurately that the breech had the appearance of one solid piece. The ease and simplicity of locking and the economy of manufacture, coupled with the ruggedness and reliability of the weapon as a whole, made all other rifles obsolete. A carbine version accompanied Admiral Perry to the North Pole, and Theodore Roosevelt chose a custom-built caliber .405 model for his African hunting expedition.

The Winchester Co. became so convinced of Browning's skill and gun talent that it asked him if he could design for it a caliber .22 (short) repeating rifle. Browning sent drawings of a proposed model. To his utter surprise, he soon received a letter telling him to discontinue his efforts, as the weapon he had submitted could not possibly work. Browning made a working model of the gun, according to the submitted plans. Upon completion, he took it personally to the factory to show to the officials who had said it would not fire and stated, "You said it would not work, but it seems to shoot pretty well for me."

Not only did he design for Winchester, but also for Remington, Stevens, Colt, and other arms companies. His rifles, shotguns, and pistols have been used so long under other factory names that it is often forgotten that they were the inventions of this gun genius.

The Colt Model '95 Machine Gun

In 1889 John M. Browning made a discovery which, in due time, affected all the military world. Like most great events its place of origin was unimpressive. He was function firing one of his latest rifles in the salt marshes near Ogden, Utah, when he noticed something countless other

men had seen before, but had not thought worth remembering. Every time Browning fired, the bulrushes parted from the blast for quite a distance from the muzzle. To others this phenomenon meant nothing. But to Browning's mechanical mind it revealed a wasted, perfectly timed power source which could be utilized to operate the weapon's mechanism and produce sustained fire. Just as Maxim had observed the possibilities of the kick of a gun for harnessing the recoil, Browning likewise realized the potentialities of the muzzle blast—which at the time did no more than make a loud report. The keen observations of a man firing a high-powered rifle in tall rushes resulted in the experiments producing the first successful gas-operated automatic machine gun. In order to ascertain the amount of power gen-


Browning's First Experimental Model of a Gas-Operated Automatic Firearm
Browning's First Experimental Model of a Gas-Operated Automatic Firearm.

erated by the muzzle blast, Browning made a device in his shop to fasten to the identical rifle he had fired in the marsh. One inch in front of the muzzle he put a 4-inch square piece of iron weighing approximately 5 pounds. The iron block had a hole drilled in the center, which he adjusted until it was in alignment with the bore. By means of a long lanyard, he pulled the trigger. As anticipated, after the bullet had passed through the hole, the subsequent blast blew the iron block the full distance of the room.

He next made a concave cap of steel with a hole in the center to fasten over the muzzle of the rifle, and connected it by a hinged arrangement to the spring-loaded operating lever. When the bullet passed through the opening, the blast blew the cap down, pulling the loading lever forward. The spring returned the lever rearward to the locked position, and another pull of the trigger repeated the cycle.

This experiment was followed almost immediately by still another rifle modification. This time the rifle was magazine fed and rigged to fire full automatic. The barrel was tapped near the muzzle, and a gas piston was actuated while the bullet was just clearing the bore. At the completion of the cycle of extraction, ejection, loading, locking, and cocking, a built-in device seared off the piece. The action was continuous as long as the trigger remained depressed.

Such was the modest introduction of the world's first successful automatic gas-operated weapon. This unusual gun has been credited with firing 16 shots a second, using caliber .44-40 black powder cartridges.

Much more experimentation and hard work produced the basic design for the first automatic gas-operated machine gun to be developed by Browning. It was offered for production to the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co. in a letter in Matthew S. Browning's own handwriting dated 22 November 1890.

Browning's First Gas-Operated Machine Gun
Browning's First Gas-Operated Machine Gun.


Original Letter from Browning Brothers to Colt's Patent Fire Arms Company, 1890
Original Letter from Browning Brothers to Colt's Patent Fire Arms Company, 1890.


"Dear Sirs:

"We have just completed our new automatic machine gun & thought we would write to you to see if you are interested in that kind of a gun. We have been at work on this gun for some time &: have got it in good shape. We made a small one Inst which shot a 44 W. C. F. chge at the rate of about 16 times per second & weight about 8 #. The one we have just completed shoots the 45 Gov't chge about 6 times per second & with the mount weighs about 40 #. It is entirely automatic & can be made as cheaply as a common sporting rifle. If you are interested in this kind of gun we would be pleased to show you what it is & how it works as we are intending to take it down your way before long. Kindly let us hear from you in relation to it at once.

"Yours Very Truly,

"Browning Bros."

The gun was tested by the United States Navy as early as 1893. By 1895 it had been perfected to a point where it would successfully handle both the caliber .30-40 Krag (Army) and the 6-mm Lee (Navy) smokeless powder, rifle cartridges. Known officially as the Colt '95 model machine gun, it was promptly nicknamed by the service the "potato digger," on account of the unusual movement of the gas-actuating arm that swung in a half arc beneath the muzzle.

The following report was made by the Inspector of Ordnance to the Secretary of the Navy in 1896. It shows that the trend of the Navy was to get away from the manually operated machine gun and secure as soon as possible a reliable weapon capable of firing sustained bursts full automatic, at a minimum of 400 rounds actually fired during 1 minute of operation.

"The year has been an eventful one in machine-gun matters, and though at this date a final decision has not been reached as to which one of several competing guns is the most desirable for adoption as the standard naval gun, much has been done toward that end, and it seems probable that a few weeks at most will see the question settled.

"In the last annual report from this office three machine guns were named as being in course of development in this district for submittal to the naval board on machine guns; shortly afterwards, and before the August session of the board, the Pratt & Whitney Company suspended work on their gun, a two-barreled, crank-operated gun, on the Gardner system, having become convinced after long experiments that no crank gun could be made to handle successfully and safely the modern smokeless powder ammunition, owing to the danger from hang-fires. Repeated instances occurred of cartridges exploding after being entirely drawn from the gun, in rapid fire, and in one case a cartridge was discharged when partially out of the chamber, damaging the mechanism.

"The Gatling Gun Company, still having faith in the crank principle, and having met with gratifying success in handling .30-caliber ammunition, completed a gun of 6-millimeter caliber and submitted it in competitive trial to the Navy board.

"The Colt automatic gun was also completed and was tested by the board. Other guns submitted were the Accles Improved Gatling, the Maxim automatic, [and an automatic weapon produced by a French arms company].

"The board held several sessions, at which all these guns were tested, and in January, 1896, all tests having been completed, a report was submitted. Shortly after, 50 guns of the Colt automatic type were ordered from the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, and the Maxim and French companies informed that a second opportunity would be given them to exhibit their guns to the board before the remainder of the guns required were ordered.

"The Colt Company accepted the order for 50 guns, guaranteeing perfect operation with rimless cases (all competitive tests were with flanged cartridges) and a minimum uninterrupted speed of 400 shots per minute for one minute. Work was at once begun, and a model gun made, which has been tested and found to work in an eminently satisfactory manner, justifying the Bureau's conclusion that a successful automatic gun could be produced.

"Three guns have been completed, assembled, and provisionally tested. Lack of suitable ammunition has made it impossible up to this time to give any of these guns the exhaustive tests contemplated by the Bureau, or even to prove them for acceptance. It is hoped at an early date to


Colt Machine Gun, Model 1895
Colt Machine Gun, Model 1895.

receive a large shipment of Troisdorf powder, when sufficient ammunition can be furnished to complete the tests of the three finished guns. Thereafter the remainder of the order will be rapidly pushed to completion, a large percentage of the parts being already in hand.

"The Colt gun is exceedingly simple in construction, and has not more than one hundred separate parts, a surprisingly small number, considering the type. It has been designed with great care and with due attention to the often conflicting requirements of lightness and strength, so that with a maximum weight of 40 pounds no part, with the single exception of the extractor, has been broken in the course of a number of very severe tests.

"The rifling adopted is the same as that decided upon for the barrels of the new small arms. It is of pure Medford form, consisting of six grooves of a uniform depth of 0.004 inch, and having a twist of one turn in 7.5 inches. The life of this rifling has not yet been determined, but it is evidently considerably longer than that of the experimental rifling previously used, in which the groove was of slightly different form and of more rapid twist.

"A flat-leaf front sight has been adopted, which is grooved on each side, leaving a bead at the top, upon which the eye is quickly fixed without effort. The rear sight is a plain folding-bar sight with spring slide. It is marked for all ranges from 300 to 2,000 yards. In the course of the experiments for marking the sight several hundred shots were fired, with most gratifying results as to accuracy. The idea held in some quarters that the motion of the pendulum would seriously affect the accuracy of the gun has not been borne out by experience. The vertical jump-angle of the gun and service mount is only about 4' of arc, and is practically constant in all ranges and at all rates of fire. On one occasion, in an ammunition test, 140 shots were fired rapidly at a 300-yard target; 2 sighting shots not considered, all the rest fell in a circle of 12-inch radius, the greatest lateral dispersion being about 7 inches. The gun was undamped and in hand during this firing.

"The slight recoil of the automatic gun and the absence of strain on the mount are evidenced by the facts that it can be fired from the shoulder without inconvenience, that when placed in the saddle without a retaining pin and fired for several seconds the displacement is so small that the pin can usually be readily entered without moving the gun, and that when secured in the saddle, the tripod placed on a smooth platform, and the gun fired, there is only a slight rearward movement of the tripod after considerable firing.

"A tripod mount has been designed for use on shore, the pivot of the saddle being of such a diameter as to fit the adapters hitherto used for mounting Gatling guns in 1-pounder cage stands. The shore mount will weigh about 52 pounds. Two men will be able to transport gun and mount without inconvenience.

"With each gun and mount there will be furnished ten belts, each holding 250 cartridges, and a small box of accessories and spare parts. The accessory box and the jointed wiping rod will be secured to the tripod, and will thus always be at hand when required.

"In case the Bureau should, in the future, order additional guns of this type, a few minor improvements might be made. As at present constructed, the interior of the receiver is difficult of access, some other automatic guns being superior to it in this respect. It would not be a difficult matter to so alter the design that free access could be had into the mechanism without detracting anything from the strength of the frame. There are a number of screws used in the gun, which, though not particularly objectionable, as


their removal is not often necessary, might be replaced by pins with locking devices. All pins could be brought to one or two standard sizes without affecting weight or strength materially.

"In addition to the 6-millimeter gun, the Colt Company has also perfected guns of the same type of other calibers for handling the following cartridges:

United States Army inch .30
Remington millimeters 6     
Mauser millimeters 7.65
Mexican millimeters 6.5  
Austrian millimeters 7  " 

The Navy's order of 50 Colt weapons, which were delivered in 1897, represented the first purchase of an automatic machine gun by the United States Government. It is a matter of history that their use in the hands of the Marines saved the foreign legations in Pekin during the Boxer uprising.

In 1898 an additional 150 Colts were procured. The machine gun field, as far as the Navy was concerned, had been cleared of crank-operated guns. Browning had proved that the gas-operated automatic weapon was not only a possibility, but an accomplished fact. The Army, however, thought otherwise and kept the Gatling as standard equipment for another decade.

The model '95 consists of a heavy barrel attached to the breech casing which carries the mechanism for charging, firing and ejecting the shell. The loaded belts are contained in boxes to be attached to the gun casing so that the ammunition supply will not be affected by vertical or horizontal motion of the weapon. The mechanism is operated by the pressure of the powder gases in the barrel after the projectile has received its maximum velocity, and is done without injuring either the range or penetration. In the barrel to the rear of the muzzle a small radial vent opens downward from the bore. This is closed by a piston which fits in the gas cylinder surrounding the outer edge of the vent. The piston is pivoted to a gas lever in such a way that the latter adjusts itself to the gas cylinder. The lever swings in a vertical plane.

The small weight and bulk of the gun

Section Drawing of Colt Model 1895
Section Drawing of Colt Model 1895.


rendered it ideal for landing parties, since it could be carried by the individual soldier, or on a mount attached to the side of a landing craft.

On 20 April 1897 the auto-loading pistol was patented. It was the forerunner of the Army Colt caliber .45. In order to promote further his commercial models, Browning became connected with the Fabrique Nationale d Armes de Guerre of Liége, Belgium. The first gun produced was a hammerless auto-loading pistol which made its appearance in 1900. Six years later a quarter million had been sold. Twelve years from the time the first weapon was produced, the millionth pistol was made. After this fact was engraved on the receiver, the weapon was presented to John M. Browning during the ceremony of conferring the title "Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold" by King Albert of Belgium. Unlike Maxim who renounced his citizenship to receive an equivalent British honor, Browning accepted it as one of the necessary nuisances accompanying success. But from that day on, the title, medal, and all lay unused in his desk drawer.

Of all the design problems that confronted Browning, producing an auto-loading shot gun was the most challenging; and its successful accomplishment in 1900 was his greatest pride. It was first manufactured in Belgium by the Fabrique Nationale, and later by American arms plants, as were his auto-loading rifles, including the high-powered and the numerous caliber .22 models. All these later Browning-designed rifles, manufactured originally in Belgium, were also made by the Remington Arms Co. of Ilion, N.Y.

About the only real purpose served by the Colt machine gun Model '95 was to introduce a full automatic weapon into equipment of American armed forces. Its use at Santiago de Cuba was limited to Navy landing parties going into action beside the Army's Gatlings under Lt. J. H. ("Gatling Gun") Parker. The first model was modified in 1902 and again in 1904.

The modified Colt was purchased in considerable numbers by all the South American countries and by most of the great European powers. One of the distinguishing features of the early models was that no adjustments were to be made by the gunner, the weapon having been adjusted at the factory to shoot at a rate slightly greater than 400 shots per minute.

Cooling was dependent upon the heavy barrel construction. The system was inadequate in not permitting a sustained burst of undue length, nor could the weapon be fired with the gunner lying prone on the ground. The fore and aft sweep of the gas-actuated loading lever made this impossible.

To operate the weapon, the gunner pushes the brass tip of the loaded belt through the opening in the feedway and, at the same time, swings the loading lever downward and to the rear until it strikes the bottom plate of the gun. Upon release of the spring-loaded lever at the extreme end of the movement, it will return to its ready position, at the same time chambering the round, cocking the piece, and locking the breech. The safety latch is then pushed to the lire position and the gunner pulls the trigger actuating the sear. After the powder charge has exploded and the bullet has passed the orifice, the gases expand through the radial vent upon the piston in the end of the gas lever. When forced downward and to the rear, the latter opens the breech, extracts the empty case, ejects it, and feeds the incoming round into position in the carrier. The lever, returned by a spring, chambers the live round, closes and locks the breech, and in the final act of locking, releases the sear of the firing mechanism. The cycle continues as long as the trigger is held rearward.

The working parts were all readily accessible. One of the selling features of the gun was that the hammer allegedly pumped cool air into the chamber. Regardless of this exorbitant claim, it was considered necessary that the gunner unload the weapon immediately after firing, as the rapid heating of the barrel made it hazardous to leave a live round in the chamber following a burst of moderate length. This necessitated unloading the chamber at the end of practically every burst if the weapon was not to be put immediately in action again.

As a result of the Navy's successful use of the '95 model Colt in the Spanish-American War, the Army also became interested in the weapon. But it could not use the Navy's guns due to the difference in caliber between Army and Navy rifle ammunition. In December 1898 a joint


John M. Browning with the 'Browning Peacemaker'
John M. Browning with the "Browning Peacemaker."

Army-Navy board met and recommended standardization not only of rifle cartridges, but of all small arms in the service. The report was as follows:

"The board is of the opinion that there are no conditions in the nature of the service peculiar to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps which require a different caliber for their small arms and machine guns.

"Since the board finds no sufficient reason for a different caliber of small arms and machine guns for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps the board is of the opinion that the same caliber should be adopted for these services, and since interchangeability of ammunition is the special advantage to be gained by the use of a single caliber, a standard and uniform cartridge to the extent of securing interchangeability should be adopted.

"As the board is of the opinion that there should be but one caliber of small arms and machine guns for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and as great numbers of satisfactory


caliber .30 rifles are now in service in the Army and are being manufactured at a considerable daily rate, after large preliminary expenditures for plant, and as, under the prospective enlarged sphere of the Army's action and possible increase in numbers, it will require an immediate additional supply of such arms, the board is further of the opinion that the retention of the caliber now in use is at present imperative for the Army, and therefore, under their previous conclusions, it should also be adopted for the Navy and Marine Corps.

"The board, however, while recognizing the desirability of a uniform caliber for both services, does not deem it of vital importance, and is of the opinion that the change of the Navy caliber might well be postponed until it has been definitely settled whether or not it is advantageous to modify the Army cartridge by the use of a cannelured instead of a rim case.

"In considering a standard cartridge the board recognizes that the cannelured case is a simple one for small arms and machine guns, and its use in the Naval weapons of these classes has been satisfactory. It is further of the opinion that, if found practicable at moderate cost to adapt the present Army rifle to the use of such a case, a cartridge conforming in other external forms and dimensions to the present Army cartridge should be adopted as the standard and uniform small-arms cartridge for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps."

After the agreement to standardize all small arms and ammunition, the Navy ordered all its 6-mm guns rechambered for the caliber .30-40 Krag ammunition — making them practically identical with the gun in which the Army was interested. However, each service retained its own system of identification. The Navy continued to designate with Mark and Roman numeral; the Army with model and year. The Navy's 6-mm gun was known officially as the Colt machine gun, Mark I, and the modified weapon rechambered for the caliber .30-40 was called the Mark I Modification 1.

At a later date, when the Krag caliber .30-40 was dropped from the service in favor of the Springfield caliber .30, the Navy again rechambered the weapon to use the new service round.

But, for reasons unknown, unless it was considered too obsolete to warrant the additional trouble, the Mark and Modification numbers were not changed. This is believed to be the only time a major power twice rechambered the barrels of an automatic machine gun while it was still in the status of being in active service.

While the Army gave it the designation known throughout the world, there is no record of its ever having officially adopted the '95 model Colt machine gun. Instead, the Gatling gun, after the successful demonstration at San Juan Hill, had a tremendous following in the Army. And while the Colt '95 was tested at regular intervals, and made a creditable showing in every instance, the Army's official stamp of approval was never given. The following report of a machine gun board at Springfield Armory to the Chief of Ordnance, United States Army, on 14 June 1895, is typical of the weapon's reception:

"The Colt automatic gun is an ingenious, compact, and relatively light arm. Its continuous automatic firing depends upon the action of the ammunition used. It is easily pointed by hand, and its fire is completely under the operator's control. Its rapidity of fire during the tests was about 100 rounds in 17 seconds.

"A perusal of the tests made shows that stoppages in the firings were experienced from various causes, necessitating in each case a recocking of the piece by hand, and in consequence it appears that the uninterrupted automatic firing of a belt of 100 or more cartridges is not apt to be obtained. The mechanism, composed of a large number of working parts and spiral springs, was prevented from working by such a small particle as the piece of brass punched out for the gas channel in a cartridge shell head, and as experience shows that pieces of the primer or cartridge shell, if detached from any cause, are apt to fall into the working parts, this is considered a serious defect. During the firings there was a constant vibration of the muzzle, and in general the elevation was increased, due, undoubtedly, to the action of the gases in escaping through the vent in the underside of the barrel and the repeated striking of the gas lever on the same point of the barrel when returned to its position by the gas-lever springs.


Colt Machine Gun Model 1895, as Modified in 1914
Colt Machine Gun Model 1895, as Modified in 1914.

"It is thought probably that the heat developed in a prolonged, continuous firing would so expand the gas cylinder and the piston on the gas lever as to interfere with uninterrupted automatic action, and that the continuous action of the gases on the head of the piston and also the striking of the gas lever on its return may so upset the piston as to have the same effect. The liability of the mechanism to derangement would require a gun crew equipped for and practiced in making repairs.

"The advantages of this arm are: Relative lightness, compactness, automatic action, ease of manipulation, complete control of the firing, small gun crew required, and absolute safety from hang fires.

"The disadvantages are: Numerous small working parts, dependency upon spiral springs, delicacy of mechanism, liability to be clogged by foreign particles, decrease in initial velocity due to loss of gases escaping through vent, vibration of muzzle and consequent inaccuracy, necessity of loading belts by hand before gun can be used, and frequent interruptions in automatic firing from various causes. The board is of the opinion that in its present form, as shown by the tests made, this arm is not suitable for ordinary service and has no place in the land armament.

"There being no further business before the board, it adjourned sine die.

"D. M. Taylor,
Captain, Ordnance Department.
"Jas. Rockwell, Jr.,
Captain, Ordnance Department.
"Jno. T. Haines,
First Lieutenant, Fifth Cavalry.
"Tracy C. Dickson,
Lieutenant, Ordnance Department.
"The foregoing proceedings and opinions are approved.
"A. Mordecai,
Colonel, Ordnance Department,
U.S.A., Commanding."

At the outbreak of World War I our unpreparedness made the Government disregard the fact that the Colt '95 was outmoded. Due to our deplorable lack of machine guns on entering the conflict, large contracts were given for the weapon. While it was admittedly obsolete in every respect, it still represented about the only machine gun with any chance of speedy delivery. Since Colt was tooled up for it and other companies were making a rechambered version for Russia, these firms would be able to turn out large quantities of the weapon in short order. The only change made in the weapon was that it was to have an interchangeable barrel and to identify this version it was known as the Mark III (Navy) or the Model 1917 (Army).

The Colt Co. supplied 1,500 of these weapons before the end of the war. But by this time recoil-operated machine guns (also a Browning design) were being delivered. They were so superior to the gas-operated "potato digger" that the latter was relegated to training uses only.

The Browning Model 1901 Machine Gun

American-made recoil-operated guns had their inception at the turn of the century. Like most machine gun designers, Browning determined that the cleanest, most efficient and practical principle for a high-rate-of-fire automatic weapon was the short recoil system. As early as 1900 he


Marriner A. Browning, Son of Matthew S. Browning
Marriner A. Browning, Son of Matthew S. Browning, Firing the Recoil-Operated Machine Gun, Model 1901.

filed application, and in 1901 was granted the patent for a short-recoil-operated water-cooled gun, incorporating all the basic features of the present line of Browning automatic arms.

Due to the lack of financial support from the United States Government for the development of an automatic weapon, he let this design lie dormant until 1910, as there was a ready civilian market for his hunting rifles, shot guns, autoloading pistols, and high-powered weapons to keep him busy during this interval. But having reached the zenith in gun design for commercial purposes, he turned again to machine guns.

In case there is doubt that our present family of Browning machine guns is of such early origin, quotation is made from Browning's own description of the weapon's cycle of operation, written in 1900 (current nomenclature added in brackets):

"The operation is as follows: The belt, which contains cartridges, is fed into the opening . . . in the casing until the flange of the first cartridge in the belt enters under the hook of carrier [extractor claw] . . . and the second cartridge is just past the cartridge-feed stop [belt holding pawl] . . . Now grasp handle and draw the bolt back. As the bolt and barrel extension are in tins position locked together by the locking-block [breech lock] . . , the barrel will move back with the bolt, compressing both barrel [buffer] and bolt [driving] springs and cocking the hammer [striker], which is caught by both sears. The cartridge is drawn back by the hook of the carrier


[extractor claw]. (It thus appears that the hammer [striker] cannot fall against the firing-pin except when the barrel is in its forward position, in which position the barrel and bolt are firmly locked together.) When the pin . . . of the locking-block [breech lock] reaches the downward incline . . . of the cam-groove [breech lock cam] in the casing [receiver], the locking-block [breech lock] will be forced downward, freeing the barrel from the bolt. The barrel is then thrown forward by the action of its spring [buffer spring]. . . . The pressure of plunger [cover extractor cam] . . . throws down the forward end of the carrier [extractor claw], causing the front of the cartridge to fall into the receiver [T slot] . . . so as to move forward below the cartridge-belt in line with chamber. The forward movement of the barrel is stopped by the barrel-latch [accelerator claws] . . . engaging the projection . . . of the barrel extension [shank].

"The projection . . . on the barrel extension or receiver at the same time locks the bolt-latch [accelerator] . . . so that the bolt cannot be engaged thereby. . . . The feed-lever . . . , feed-slide . . . , and feed-pawl will have been moved to the proper position . . . by the backward movement of the cam. . . . If the grasp on the bolt be now released, the bolt [driving] spring will throw the bolt forward, carrying the cartridge into its chamber in the barrel. When the bolt is near the limit of its independent forward movement, the cam . . . on its under surface engages the arm [claw] . . . on the barrel latch [accelerator], thus forcing down said latch [accelerator] and releasing the barrel to continue its forward movement under the influence of the barrel [buffer]-spring.

"The barrel and bolt then move forward together, and as pin . . . of locking-block [breech lock] . . . rides up the incline in the casing . . . the locking-block [breech lock] is forced into engagement with* the groove [locking recess] . . . in the bolt, so that the barrel and bolt are locked together. When about at the limit of its forward movement, the forward end of extension . . . of the barrel-piece strikes sear . . . and disengages this sear from the hammer [striker], leaving the sear . . . in engagement and the gun in position for firing by bearing on the trigger . . .

"When the gun is fired and as long as the trigger is held down and cartridges supplied, the automatic action of firing will be continued in manner as has been explained, . . . the sear . . . then alternately holding and releasing the hammer [striker]. The action of the bolt moves the cartridge-feed [belt feed lever], as has been explained, and as long as there are cartridges in place in the belt the firing will continue unless trigger . . . is lifted, when the firing will cease.

Section of Browning Cal. .30 Recoil-Operated Machine Gun
Section of Browning Cal. .30 Recoil-Operated Machine Gun.


The cartridges are fed forward by the bolt almost their whole length while the barrel is held back by the barrel-latch [accelerator]. This allows them to feed into the receiver just forward of the retracted position of the carrier [extractor claws] with little lost motion.

"As the barrel moves forward while the bolt is held back by the latch [accelerator claws] . . . a stud [combination extractor feed cam and ejector] . . . on the left-hand side of the barrel extension, which extends into the path of the cartridge (the bolt being grooved to allow it), comes into contact with the rim of the fired shell as it is held back by the ejector and ejects the shell. . . . When the gun is fired, the barrel recoils to a position further back than when the bolt is drawn back by hand, and by its action on the cushion-rocker [accelerator body] accelerates the backward movement of the bolt, while its own motion is gradually checked by the rocker [accelerator body], as explained.

"The bolt . . . has a bayonet-catch groove . . . cut around the bore, in which the bolt-[driving-] spring . . . is inserted, and the rod, . . . which guides the spring, has a pin . . . projecting at one side, which pin can enter said groove, so that when the spring is compressed and the rod forced into the bore of the bolt with its pin in the groove a partial turn of the rod will lock the spring in place, when the rear cover [back plate] . . . can be lifted if in place . . . or can be applied to the casing if said cover has been removed and can then slide down over the rod. Then by drawing the bolt back, the rear end of rod will project through the rear cover, and by turning the rod the spring is released and bolt thrown forward. The rear cover [back plate] is retained in place by the rod . . . projecting through a hole in said cover . . ."

The weapon ejected the empty cartridge case from an opening in the right side of the receiver, and not through the bottom. This feature, however, had no bearing on the basic principles of operation used throughout the development of the later guns. The absence of a rear buffer should also be noted; but since high rates of fire were not demanded, it was of small consequence. The barrel buffer and driving springs were adequate in stopping the recoiling parts and returning them to battery at a speed considered reasonable.

Browning's description of the preceding cycle of operation was written when there were only 45 states in the Union and 3 years before the Wright brothers made the first flight in an airplane. This serves as a yardstick by which to measure just how far this remarkable man was ahead of his time with his basic machine gun principles.

The water-cooled prototype of 1910, built on the 1900 specifications, was proofed at Ogden, Utah, and worked reliably. Browning thought that it needed only refinement and increased rate of fire. The first change was to do away with side ejection of the empty cartridge. Though dependable, it presented the problem of hot empty brass flying at a right angle, thus limiting the area in which another gun could be operated.

A Drawing from J. M. Browning's Drafting Board
A Drawing from J. M. Browning's Drafting Board. Browning Often Worked from Freehand Sketches Made on Wrapping Paper.


It was solved by cutting an opening in the bottom of the receiver just forward of the breech-lock cam. The incoming brass, forced down by the extractor, knocked the empty case straight down to the ground. The last round fired was struck by the ejector tip and thus cleared the gun.

In order to return the bolt to battery faster and smoother, a buffer filled with horn fiber discs served the two-fold purpose of absorbing the surplus energy and bouncing the bolt back at a greater speed. Browning also did away with the hammer method of firing, replacing it with a two-piece firing pin that had a sear notch on the rear, and had sufficient weight to serve as both striker and firing pin.

A trigger bar was added which allowed the operator to actuate the sear from two positions. The nose of the bar, upon being depressed, pushed the sear down out of engagement with the sear notch on the aft end of the firing pin.

Other minor improvements included the use of breech lock depressors to assist in disengaging the breech lock from the locking recess in the bottom of the bolt. However, all these changes were merely refinements. Not a single basic feature was used that John M. Browning did not already have in his 1900 design. The reliability of the mechanism and its freedom from adjustments enabled the individual soldier to obtain a large volume of fire without much preliminary training and its simplicity of construction from a manufacturing standpoint was quite acceptable. Browning, on his own initiative, developed and improved the weapon until he corrected practically all the minor defects.

Browning Guns in World War I: B.A.R. and Browning Machine Gun Model 1917

The United States showed no interest in machine guns until after we were officially at war with Germany, at which time Browning, along with other inventors, was asked to submit weapons with a view of adoption. It is true that there had been earlier trials of various machine gun mechanisms of both American and foreign manufacture. But nothing resulted from them except a passive interest by our Government. Thus, although we had practically two years to prepare after the start of World War I before we entered and it was almost a foregone conclusion that we were to be a participant, there had been no effective machine gun program in spite of the early demonstration by Germany as to the deadly employment of the weapon.

Machine gun development in this country floundered on one thing only: Those in authority could not make up their minds on what was wanted. Had they come to some happy conclusion as to what weapon would be adequate, there would have been no machine gun problem to face on 6 April 1917. On that afternoon the headlines proclaimed that a state of war existed between the United States and the Imperial German Government. But the public was not told of a confidential report issued the same day to the military high command that to fight this strictly machine-gun war there were on hand only 670 Benét-Merciés, 282 Maxims, Model 1904, and 158 Colts, Model '95.

In other words, we had a total of 1,100 of what

The Prototype Model of the B.A.R.
The Prototype Model of the B.A.R.


could be called machine guns (if one was generous enough to include the gas-operated, lever-action Colts, and the outmoded Benét-Merciés), while our requirements were at the time conservatively estimated at no less than 100,000 machine guns. Germany, upon entering the war over 3 years before, had done so with 12,500 highly improved Maxim-type guns with an additional 50,000 under construction. And she only needed to have each of her ordnance plants manufacture a moderate number each year to possess a staggering total at this period of the war.

In order for the United States to participate in the war with a semblance of machine gun armament, it was finally agreed, after still more debate, that until we did put into production something of our own design, our forces sent overseas would be armed with whatever the French had to offer. The arms sold us. as can be easily understood, were their second best. The fact remains, regardless of how unpleasant it may be, that the country which originated and showed the world how to produce this deadly instrument actually entered the war with a most obsolete assortment of machine guns. They would have been more in keeping with the armament of revolutionists in a banana republic than as weapons of soldiers representing one of the richest and most progressive nations on earth.

The first French machine guns used to arm American troops were chambered for the Lebel 8-mm rim-type cartridge, necessitating the issuing of two different types of cartridge by our

John M. Browning Examining One of His Automatic Machine Rifles in 1918
John M. Browning Examining One of His Automatic Machine Rifles in 1918 with Mr. Burton, One of Winchester's Experts.


supply department, one for machine gunners, another for riflemen. And as they invariably operated together as a unit, the logistics involved certainly should have given much aid and comfort to the enemy.

During the prewar period of indecision, John M. Browning personally brought to Washington, D. C., for purposes of demonstration, two weapons, the heavy (water-cooled) machine gun and the machine rifle (to be known later as the B.A.R.). These were both chambered to take the standard Springfield rifle cartridge known throughout the service as the .30/06.

The B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) had been designed as an answer to the demand for "walking fire"—thought to be so necessary to the individual soldier in trench warfare. The rifle can either be fired single shot or be converted instantly to full automatic with a maximum rate of 480 shots per minute. It is gas actuated, air cooled and employs a 20-shot magazine that can be emptied in 2 1/2 seconds. The unloaded magazine can be detached and a fresh one put in its place in about the same length of time. Three orifices are on the gun to insure smooth functioning. The weapon's seventy pieces can be completely disassembled and assembled in 55 seconds.

The rifle is designed to be carried by the advancing infantryman with the sling over his shoulder, allowing the butt to be held firmly against the hip. When necessary to fire a burst, the safety switch is moved to "Automatic," and as long as the trigger is held the weapon will continue firing.

The operating mechanism is rear seared. The trigger releases the bolt to go forward. The latter strips the round from the magazine and starts to chamber it. When two inches from battery, a circular cam surface on the bottom of the bolt lock begins to ride over the rear shoulders of the bolt support, camming up the rear end of the bolt lock.

As the link pin rises above the line joining the bolt and hammer pins, the bolt lock is alined with its locking recess in the receiver and pivots about the bolt-lock pin. The hammer pin on its link revolves, forcing upward the bolt lock. The rounded surface of the lock slips over the locking shoulder in the "hump" of the receiver and provides additional thrust, forcing the bolt all the way into battery.

This final act removes the obstruction from the firing pin, exposing it to the center rib of the hammer. On the final movement forward of the slide, the hammer drives the firing pin into the primer exploding the powder charge in the cartridge. All counter recoil is ended when the slide strikes the shoulder at the rear end of the gas cylinder tube.

Prior to the bullet's clearance of the bore, the gases pass through a port 6 inches from the muzzle, expanding in the cylinder and impinging on the piston head. This sudden blow forces the piston to the rear.

The initial backward movement of the slide cocks the hammer before moving either the attached bolt lock or bolt. The circular cam on the lower part of the bolt lock, operating in conjunction with the rear shoulders of the bolt support, produces a leverage that loosens the empty case in the chamber. This initial extraction occurs before the weapon is fully unlocked.

After the piston has carried the slide rearward, the gas is exhausted through six ports located at the rear of the gas-cylinder-tube brackets. Two rings on the piston prevent the gas from returning through the cylinder tube.

A Sectionalized B.A.R., Cal. 7.92 mm, of Polish Manufacture
A Sectionalized B.A.R., Cal. 7.92 mm, of Polish Manufacture.


B.A.R., Cal. .30, as Standardized for U.S. Service, Serial Number 5
B.A.R., Cal. .30, as Standardized for U.S. Service, Serial Number 5.

When the recoil has reached one-fifth of an inch, the breech pressure is low enough to allow the bolt to be safely unlocked. At this point the link is compelled to revolve forward about the hammer pin, drawing the bolt lock down clear of the "hump" in the receiver. A cam slot in the bottom side of the bolt lock comes in contact with the firing-pin lug, drawing the tip of the firing pin away from the primer.

After the piece unlocks, the empty case is carried rearward on the face of the bolt, held there by the extractor. When the base of the cartridge strikes the ejector, the extractor serves as a pivot point to throw the brass through the slot in the right side of the receiver. As the cartridge case passes through the opening, the brass strikes the outside frame and is deflected to the right and forward.

At the end of the extreme rearward travel of the bolt, the recoil spring is fully compressed, storing energy for the return movement. The sear nose is now in position to catch in the notch at the underside of the slide and hold the mechanism back under spring compression ready for the next pull of the trigger. If the trigger is still held to the rear, the weapon continues the cycle of operation.

The first public firing demonstration of the B.A.R. and the water-cooled machine gun took place on 27 February 1917 at a location outside the city limits of Washington, D. C, known as Congress Heights. It was witnessed by 300 people including men of high rank in our own military service, many Senators and Congressmen, members of the armed services from Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Italy, and representatives of the press. The latter wrote much about the exhibition. They gave a glowing account of the reliability and tremendous firepower of both weapons and painted verbal pictures in the local papers of how a hundred men advancing with these weapons firing full automatic would literally sweep an enemy out of the way. The only feature they seemed to forget was that though war, at this point, was practically inevitable, the superb weapons demonstrated were the only ones in existence and were a long way from mass production.

The successful exhibition at Congress Heights, however, did create an interest that encouraged Browning to continue personally to improve and function fire his water-cooled gun at the Colt plant until he was satisfied that it was ready for endurance trials. The Government had adopted the B.A.R. from its initial showing at Congress Heights, but felt that a machine gun of the water-cooled type should be tested more thoroughly because of the more rigorous treatment given this type of weapon. In May 1917 he brought his heavy water-cooled gun to the Government Proving Ground at Springfield Armory for an official test. It showed a reliability that was amazing for a newly introduced weapon. A total of 20,000 rounds was fired without a malfunction or broken part at a cyclic rate in excess of 600 rounds a minute.

After the splendid performance of the weapon, Browning decided to test it further and fired an additional 20,000 rounds. All 40,000 cartridges were expended without the failure of a component part. This was such an unusual performance for a new weapon that it aroused great


Browning Machine Gun, Model 1917, Cal. .30, as Introduced to the Service in World War I
Browning Machine Gun, Model 1917, Cal. .30, as Introduced to the Service in World War I.

interest and some skepticism among its most ardent backers.

In order to show that the gun was not especially prepared for the test, a second weapon was used that not only duplicated the original trial, but bettered it by operating continuously for 48 minutes and 12 seconds. This was accomplished by having available sufficient belted ammunition for this phenomenal burst.

Following this excellent demonstration, the board of five Army officers and two civilians appointed by the Secretary of War to study the problem of machine gun supply recommended for immediate adoption the water-cooled Browning, pronouncing it and the previously accepted B.A.R. the "most effective guns of their type known to the members."

The outstanding features were reliability and simplicity of design. The officers who demonstrated the weapons showed that it was possible for the operator, while blindfolded, to take them down and reassemble them in a matter of minutes. This was so impressive that all machine gun schools adopted the blindfold test as a "must" in their courses of instruction.

The easily constructed mechanism was a great selling point for the Government, as it appeared possible to get the weapons into mass production quickly. Nothing was more important at this critical stage.

After the hasty adoption of the Browning automatic machine gun and the machine rifle, it was quite apparent that no single manufacturing plant was capable of taking care of the vast war need for these weapons. The Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co., which had an exclusive concession to manufacture the weapons under the Browning patents, agreed to sell its rights to the Government. By July 1917 it delivered prepared gages and drawings that other companies could work from in producing the guns.

During July and August 1917, more than 2


Westinghouse Production of Model 1917 Cal. .30 Browning Machine Guns
Westinghouse Production of Model 1917 Cal. .30 Browning Machine Guns.

months after our entry into the war, a survey was made of facilities and plants thought capable of turning out the water-cooled version in quantity. The Colt Co. established a plant at Meriden, Conn., for the manufacture of 10,000 guns. In September 1917, Remington Arms Union Metallic Cartridge Co. of Ilion, N.Y., was given a contract to produce 15,000. On 1 January 1918, the New England Westinghouse Co. was approached concerning its availability to construct 20,000 and a contract was agreed upon on 10 January 1918.

The Westinghouse production schedule proved to be very outstanding. In 29 days a hand-made pilot model had been constructed, and in 63 days the first gun came off the assembly line. Some 3,500 rounds were fired through this gun without a single malfunction or stoppage. And at the time the Armistice was signed 9 months later, this plant was producing 500 guns a day.

From the quantity standpoint Westinghouse was the most prolific in the manufacture of this machine gun. It was the middle of May before Remington began to deliver the completed weapon, having been delayed due to a previous Russian contract. Colt, strange as it may seem, was the last to come into production, as it was late in June 1918 before its Meriden plant started to deliver the guns. The company's time had been largely occupied by the preparation of mechanical drawings and the manufacturing of precision gages for the other plants, and by its earlier contract with the British for the making of the Maxim-Vickers machine gun.

The final production schedule illustrates how some forethought on what was needed would have found us properly prepared for war. For,


once put into operation, the wheels of industry started a constant flow of these weapons from the plants. By the end of June 1918, Westinghouse had a cumulative production of 2,500 and Remington a production of 1,600 weapons. As of 1 August both plants had made a few under 10,000; 2 months later, they had turned out 26,000. And when the Armistice was signed, the three companies had sent from their proof ranges nearly 43,000 machine guns of this type, divided as follows: Westinghouse, 30,150; Remington, 12,000; and Colt, 600.

While these figures are most impressive, it can be readily seen that this stupendous effort was practically worthless as far as the war effort was concerned. The dates of delivery were far too late to get the weapons into the hands of our troops in France, who were still armed with the French and English war surplus. Great emphasis has been placed on the impressive number of Browning machine guns made during World War I, but those who have boasted most of this accomplishment have negligently failed to mention the fact that these guns arrived too late to offer more than a token demonstration against an already defeated enemy. Our allies, though impressed by the clean lines and simplicity of construction of the Browning automatic machine guns, never considered them as having been battle tested.

The first of these weapons sent overseas were routed to machine gun schools to acquaint the soldier with the much publicized American product that would rid him of the French arms. They met with the enthusiastic approval of all who viewed them. Requests came from the Allied high command to speed up delivery so as to have their presence felt at the front. The war ended, however, before we had equipped even a small portion of our own Army.

Lt. Val A. Browning, Son of John M. Browning
Lt. Val A. Browning, Son of John M. Browning, in France Instructing Troops in the Use of the Browning Machine Gun, Cal. .30.

First combat use of the Browning automatic machine guns was on 26 September 1918 by a small detachment of the 79th Division. The following report was sent General Pershing by the commanding officer of this detail:

"During the 5 days that my four guns were in action they fired approximately 13,000 rounds of ammunition. They had very rough handling due to the fact that the infantry made constant halts, causing the guns to be placed in the mud.

The condition of the ground on these five days was very muddy, and considerable grit, etc., got into the working parts of the guns. Guns became rusty on the outside due to the rain and wet weather, but in every instance when the guns were called upon to fire, they fired perfectly. During all this time I had only one stoppage, and this was due to a broken ejector."

Only after Browning's guns had been officially adopted by the United States Government and production had reached its peak, did a conference take place between representatives of the War Department and agents of the J. M. & M. S. Browning Co. in regard to royalties.

The Government representative was asked what he thought would be a fair remuneration for the use of all Browning patents on machine guns and the caliber .45 auto-loading pistol. When he suggested a certain sum, the Browning Co.'s agent stated that his firm's instructions to him were to allow the Government to set its own price and to accept this cheerfully without hesitation or further bargaining. The records reveal the settlement amounted to less than one-tenth the amount our government usually allowed its inventors.


The Secretary of War, upon hearing of the generous terms the Brownings had agreed upon as a settlement, sent John M. Browning the following letter in expressing the whole country's gratitude, not only for his invaluable contribution in the field of weapon design, but also for his patriotism in accepting such a modest return on the products of his genius.


"November 13, 1917.

"My Dear Mr. Browning:

"I have learned from Major Little of the patriotic and generous attitude taken by you in the negotiations for the use of your patents of light and heavy machine guns in this emergency, and beg leave to express my appreciation of it.

"You have performed, as you must realize, a very distinct service to the country in these inventions, and contributed to the strength and effectiveness of our armies. You have added to that service by the attitude you have taken in the financial arrangements necessary to make your inventions available to the Government.

"Cordially yours,

(Signed) "Newton D. Baker,
Secretary of War."

While the production effort in turning out these arms was most commendable, the major weakness of the system of mass production manifested itself. All identical components are constructed with a manufacturing tolerance of with in a few thousandths of an inch. Once tooled up. if an error is made, thousands of weapons would be turned out with the "built-in" malfunction. Correcting an inherent defect in design some times resulted in an expenditure of time and money greater than the original cost of manufacture.

This was most certainly the case with the 1917 model gun; and while its use was very limited in World War I, it is indeed most fortunate that the gun did not see too much service. The receiver of this mass-produced weapon was found to have a weakness in the bottom plate, caused, not from faulty design, but from choosing an inadequate metal. The mistake could have been prevented had time permitted more strenuous endurance firing of sample weapons taken from random lots. Such a part failure necessitated the construction of a piece known as a reinforcing stirrup that fitted over the affected spot on the outside of the receiver. Over 25,000 guns were modified by this addition in one year, and this and other hand work required as much time and expense as did the construction of the gun.

The production of the B.A.R. followed a similar pattern. Browning carried on most of his early development on the machine rifle at the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co. Later, Winchester gave valuable assistance in connection with the preparation and correction of the drawings, adding many refinements to the gun. Winchester was the first to start manufacture on this model. Since the work did not begin until February 1918, it was so rushed that the component parts of the first 1,800 to be put out were found to be not strictly interchangeable. Production had to be temporarily halted until the required

John M. Browning with His Cal. .30 Machine Gun
John M. Browning with His Cal. .30 Machine Gun.


A Demonstration of the B.A.R. in 1918
A Demonstration of the B.A.R. in 1918.

manufacturing procedures were altered to bring the weapon up to specifications. At the end of the war the Winchester Co. was producing 300 B.A.R.'s a day. A total of 63,000 items was canceled at the time of the Armistice.

The Marlin-Rockwell Corp. intended originally to use the Hopkins and Allen Co. plant for the construction of this weapon, but found that a contract for making rifles for the Belgian Government fully occupied its facilities. The corporation then acquired the Mayo Radiator Co.'s factory for use in its contract to produce the B.A.R. The first gun from this source was made on 11 June 1918, and by 11 November 1918 the company was turning out 200 automatic rifles a day. The postwar cancellation was 93,000 weapons.

The Colt Co., because of the heavy demands of previous orders, produced only 9,000 B.A.R.'s. The combined daily production by all companies was 706 and a total of approximately 52,000 rifles was delivered by all sources.

In July 1918 the B.A.R.'s arrived in France in the hands of the United States 79th Division, which was the first organization to be equipped with them and took them into action on 13 September 1918. The 80th Division was the first American Division already in France to be issued the weapons. It is an interesting fact that First Lt. Val Browning, son of the inventor, personally demonstrated the weapon against the enemy.

The B.A.R. was more enthusiastically received in Europe than the heavy water-cooled gun, and requests for purchase by all the Allied Governments were made immediately after it arrived overseas. The French Government alone asked for 15,000 to take the place of the inferior machine rifle, then being used by both French and American troops. The latter weapon was found so unreliable that many were actually thrown away by troops during action.

However, the war ended so soon after this that the bulk of the American forces were still equipped with machine guns supplied by the British and French.

Browning Caliber .50 Machine Gun

The Browning caliber .30 machine guns had scarcely been introduced overseas when a larger weapon was demanded by the commanding officer of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John J. Pershing, who had observed the rapid advances of the British and French in raising their machine gun caliber from .303 and 8 mm to


caliber .50 and above. This change was considered vital in order to be able to penetrate the armor that was beginning to make its appearance on combat vehicles, tanks, and in some cases, the individual soldier. The smaller bullet was no longer considered completely effective against such targets.

At the United States Army machine gun school at Gonducourt, France, the officer-in-charge, Col. John Henry Parker, had noted the deadliness of the 11-mm incendiary, armor-piercing bullets used in lately developed French weapons to penetrate armor and ignite hydrogen-filled observation balloons. He learned from a liaison officer that a French proving ground had two prototype machine guns, entirely new in principle, that successfully fired a bullet and powder charge even larger than the 11-mm one.

General John J. Pershing
General John J. Pershing, Whose Specifications Resulted in the Cal. .50 Machine Gun.

Colonel Parker, always a man of action, detailed Capt. Henry B. Allen to look into the situation and secure as much information as possible. The weapons were located at Bourges Arsenal and arrangements were made for Captain Allen to take one of the guns to the United States for study.

The American Army's ordnance engineers had tried earlier to meet the increased caliber demand by rechambering a caliber .30 heavy (water-cooled) barrel to take the French 11-mm cartridge. The attempted quick-fix met with only fair success, because of the great difference in the ballistic characteristics of the two cartridges that were to operate the same mechanism. Nevertheless the Army Ordnance Department gave an experimental order to Colt for eight guns to be rechambered in this manner for the 11-mm shell.

By this time the French gun secured by Captain Allen had arrived and, after being thoroughly checked, it was decided that its velocity was too low to meet General Pershing's demands. He had specified that the bullet should weigh not less than 670 grains with a muzzle velocity of at least 2,700 feet per second. The French ammunition could not approach this and all work on machine guns to fire 11-mm cartridges was consequently dropped.

As early as July 1917, John M. Browning, using the facilities of the Colt plant, undertook the problem of increasing the caliber of his machine gun, while keeping its simplicity of construction and all basic operating features.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Co., in cooperation with Browning, attempted to develop a suitable cartridge. Winchester, forced by the ever-present time element, scaled up the present caliber .30/06 case, but put a rim on it in hopes it could be used in both the machine gun and the clip-fed, belt-action, anti-tank rifle it was manufacturing at the time.

When the specification for this ammunition was delivered to General Pershing, he cabled the Ordnance Department on 18 July 1918 rejecting the Winchester cartridge, and ordered that the case be immediately redesigned to be rimless.

Winchester followed instructions and sent a dummy round for Browning to use in his mock-up, then under way at the Colt plant. This was a prototype that retained all the mechanical features of the caliber .30 gun, but possessed larger physical proportions to stand the increased powder pressures.

To expedite the project, Browning took his original gun to the Winchester Co. for experimental single-shot firing in order to determine


quickly a balanced load that would give the greatest velocity and the minimum strain on the component parts. The work progressed so well that although the weapon was originally started at Colt's, he decided to stay on at Winchester to develop it.

On 12 September 1918 Browning received from the Colt Co. all the parts it had completed to date, allowing him to assemble finally the first caliber .50 machine gun. Winchester agreed to start the construction of six more guns. This was deemed to be a sufficient number to permit the endurance tests that are necessary to detect and eliminate the various errors of design in any new weapon.

On 15 October 1918 the first caliber .50 machine gun was ready for the proving ground. Upon its initial attempt the weapon fired 877 rounds in bursts of 100 to 150 rounds each. The rate of fire was under 500 rounds per minute. The five and a quarter inch cartridge had a 707-grain bullet that developed a velocity of less than 2,300 feet a second. This velocity was also under the minimum set by General Pershing.

Impressed by the test, the Engineering Division of the Office of Chief of Ordnance recommended that Winchester be given an order for 10,000 guns. The original model was water cooled and had only a 30.5-inch barrel, the longest that Winchester was then equipped to rifle. The Ordnance Department was assured that a better balanced powder charge and a longer barrel would bring the velocity up to the required specifications and that this would be

A Rare Photograph of John M. Browning's Work Shop with an Early Model Cal. .50 Machine Gun
A Rare Photograph of John M. Browning's Work Shop with an Early Model Cal. .50 Machine Gun.


accomplished long before the delivery of the weapons on order.

The gun, in later tests conducted by the infantry, was found to be extremely difficult to keep on a target when fired full automatic, as the energy developed was so much greater than that of the smaller bore weapon. It was practically impossible to hold the gun down for horizontal fire. The weight of the gun and tripod was about 160 pounds, a fact that made quick mobility extremely difficult. For these reasons, strictly as an infantry arm the weapon did not meet with approval. And for tank use it was not overly successful, since the rate of fire was too slow for anti-personnel use and the bullet was too small to penetrate the thicker armor on the late model tanks. Before the weapon had gotten too far along in development, a few German anti-tank rifles were captured, together with some 12.7-mm ammunition. It was found that the Germans were getting a muzzle velocity in excess of 2,700 feet a second with an 800-grain bullet that would penetrate one inch of armor at 250 yards.

Not to be outmoded before completion, Winchester immediately increased the penetration requirements of the caliber .50 under development to conform to the identical ballistic properties of the German anti-tank rifle cartridge.

One important deviation that Browning made from the caliber .30 mechanism was in the addition of an oil buffer. It was employed for a dual purpose: first, to absorb the excess energy of the recoiling parts resulting from use of an increased powder charge; and second, to provide a method of regulating the firing speed. The oil buffer tube could be turned to any required position for opening or closing the valve. When the oil flow was restricted, the buffer absorbed more recoil and reduced the rate of fire.

On 1 December 1918 the Ordnance Department decided that all future development of the caliber .50 ammunition would be done at Frankford Arsenal instead of at the Winchester plant.

John M. Browning Firing His Cal. .50 Machine Gun in Colt's Pasture
John M. Browning Firing His Cal. .50 Machine Gun in Colt's Pasture.


Products of John M. Browning's Genius
Products of John M. Browning's Genius.


This did not take effect immediately, as Winchester continued to furnish caliber .50 ball ammunition to the Government all through 1918 and 1919, until production at Frankford reached a point where it was felt that it could take over. The Arsenal did very little to alter Winchester's established load and weight dimensions for the powder charge and projectile that in turn had been copied from the German 12.7-mm anti-tank rifle cartridge. The latter developed a maximum chamber pressure of 52,000 pounds and a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second.

Browning incorporated a few minor features in this weapon that are not to be found in his small caliber automatic machine guns. For instance, a latch located at the upper rear of the receiver securely held the bolt in the rear position. In lieu of the pistol grip of the smaller gun, the caliber .50 was provided with a double spade grip attached to the back plate. The back plate also housed the bolt latch release and the thumb piece that actuated the trigger bar. When the weapon was fired from the latch-back position, thumb pressure released the latch mechanism, allowing the bolt to drive forward under compression from the driving springs. If continued pressure of the thumb on the sear release was applied, the weapon would fire automatic as long as this condition remained.

The head space adjustment, the most important feature in the Browning caliber .30 machine gun, was retained. This critical feature could be regulated in the field by the most inexperienced ordnance man by the simple use of gages. The original water-cooled gun without the mount weighed 82 pounds when the 16-pint jacket was filled. The barrel rode in close-fitting bearings at the muzzle and breech, packed with fabric washers to allow it to recoil freely without leaking.

The total time consumed by John M. Browning on the caliber .50 machine gun from conception to successful firing was slightly over a year. When asked by the press to what he attributed his achievement, he replied, "One drop of genius in a barrel of sweat wrought the miracle."

Browning can surely be called a self-made man. He had no formal education except a few months now and then when he could be spared by his father. He picked up a fair working knowledge of French in the course of his work at the Fabrique Nationale in Belgium in his later years. His thorough knowledge of mechanical drawing, mathematics, and manufacturing procedure was gained simply by observation in the course of developing his designs through model room to production line.

He died suddenly at Liége, Belgium, on 20 November 1926 while supervising the manufacture of arms of his own design. In a long eulogy delivered by the Honorable Dwight F. Davis, Secretary of War at the time, the following words were used:

"It is a fact to be recorded that no design of Mr. Browning's has ever proved a failure, nor has any model been discontinued. The War Department, through its agency, the Ordnance Department of the Army, will be greatly handicapped in its future development work on automatic firearms as a result of the loss of Mr. Browning's services. It is not thought that any other individual has contributed so much to the national security of this country as Mr. Browning in the development of our machine guns and our automatic weapons to a state of military efficiency surpassing that of all nations."


Chapter 4
Hotchkiss Automatic Machine Guns


After the successful efforts of Hiram Stevens Maxim to produce a weapon that delivered sustained fire from the generated energy of its recoil forces, inventors of all countries tried to design firing mechanisms that were capable of duplicating this act without infringing on Maxim's patents. One of the most effective European attempts to accomplish this was made by a young Viennese nobleman and officer in the Austrian Army, Capt. Baron Adolph von Odkolek, who constructed a prototype gas-operated automatic machine gun. Seeking a market for his invention, he brought it in 1893 to the Hotchkiss gun manufacturing plant at St. Denis, France, just outside the city limits of Paris, in hopes he could interest this already world-famous establishment in producing his weapon.

The company at this time was in a very disorganized state. It had flourished when the manually operated revolving cannons it produced were purchased by almost every major power in the world. In 1884 the business of the firm having outgrown the capacity of the St. Denis factory, connection was made with William Armstrong & Co. for manufacture of Hotchkiss mate-rial at the Elswick works in England. The following year the founder and president, Mr. B. B. Hotchkiss, died and by 1887 the parent branch was reorganized under the name of Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements, Hotchkiss et Cie. with offices at 21 Rue Royale, Paris, and the English plant under the firm name of Hotchkiss Ordnance Company. Limited, with offices at 25 Victoria Street, London. The management of both firms was under the control of the French office.

In the same year, the stockholders decided to appoint as head engineer and promotion manager an American, Laurence V. Benét, who had been connected with the company prior to the death of Mr. Hotchkiss. Few men of his age had a more qualifying background for this kind of work. His father, Gen. S. V. Benét, the United States Army's Chief of Ordnance following the Civil War, was famous for his progressive development of cartridge case and primer design that contributed greatly to the early successes of the Gatling and other manually operated machine guns.

General Benét was very ambitious for his son's future and realized better than any one else the difficulties of earning a living in the United States in the machine gun field. He advised his son to go to France and seek out his friend, B. B. Hotchkiss, for employment in a field where the products of his labor would not only be appreciated but also result in financial gain.

Hotchkiss was delighted to have the services of this brilliant young man, already a recognized authority on certain types of artillery, particularly at a time when Maxim's introduction of the full automatic gun had made obsolete the manually operated weapons then being manufactured. He hoped that Benét would be able to carry the Hotchkiss Co. through this transition period from manual operation to full automatic. But before anything had been settled upon as the optimum automatic weapon, Hotchkiss died and reorganization followed, with Benét as the man in charge of the company's future policy.

Laurence Benét showed from the start a talent not only for gun design but also for choosing good associates. A very interesting sidelight in this connection was his affiliation with Henri A. Mercié, who was selected as his chief assistant.

When the Hotchkiss plant was being built, everything went along smoothly until a power source was installed. The machinery on hand was found to require far more energy than anticipated by the plans. The French Government, anxious to assist the plant in every way possible, offered the loan of a railway locomotive as an


Laurence V. Benét Firing the First Model Hotchkiss Machine Gun
Laurence V. Benét Firing the First Model Hotchkiss Machine Gun.

auxiliary power supply until a more permanent one could be arranged. In due time the locomotive arrived and was placed adjacent to the buildings housing the steam-driven machinery. To operate this stationary engine, the railroad supplied an elderly engineer named Mercié and his son, Henri, who was serving as an apprentice.

Young Mercié showed such natural aptitude in solving the many problems that faced this makeshift arrangement that Benét never forgot it. At the first opportunity, he offered him a place high in the management of the company, an act that not only showed Benét's sound judgment but later added much to the success of a company that was trying to regain a world market.

Hotchkiss Machine Gun

Captain Odkolek appeared at this time with his prototype machine gun under conditions that an inventor too often fails to encounter. He had unconsciously picked a moment when there was a demand for just the type of weapon he had brought along to show the business executives of Hotchkiss.

Benét and Mercié saw certain basic principles in the model which could be employed in building a reliable and efficient machine gun. As for Odkolek's weapon itself, they thought little of it and firing tests at the plant later proved their judgment to be right. But the one thing covered by his patent claims which they desired was the operation of a simple mechanism by a housed piston fastened beneath the barrel.

The Hotchkiss Co. refused to make Odkolek's weapon on a royalty basis, but offered to buy the patent outright in order to use certain desirable features. The inventor agreed to this, accepting a lump sum for assigning all manufacturing rights to the company.

Benét and his assistants immediately began refinement and development of the principles sold them until they had produced a weapon


Components of Hotchkiss First Model Gun
Components of Hotchkiss First Model Gun.

which in their opinion would give competition to any in the world without infringement of patents. The redesigned gun, chambered for the 8-mm Lebel cartridge, was strictly gas-operated and employed a simple reciprocating piston, instead of a swinging lever, as did Browning's gas-operated Colt machine gun. As a tribute to the founder of the company, the finished product was named "the Hotchkiss."

The first of these guns was tested at the St. Denis factory by Laurence Benét in 1895. While the mechanical features held up even better than anticipated, there was a tendency for the heavy barrel to overheat and after a relatively small number of rounds the rifling was destroyed.

Benét's alert mind quickly found a solution for this problem. He realized that a mass of metal toward the breech end of the barrel was necessary to absorb the great amount of heat generated at this point. But instead of adding to the solid metal, which would make the weight of the gun prohibitive, he formed heavy circular doughnut-shaped fins at the critical heating places. The fins added little weight and gave more than ten times the original radiating surface for air cooling. This feature, which proved so successful, has been identified with the Hotchkiss gun so long that the slightest change in its design is noted immediately by those familiar with it.

The following description is derived from a contemporary Hotchkiss pamphlet on the first model. It outlines the simple operation and improved features that distinguished the weapon from the conventional belt-fed, water-cooled, recoil-actuated machine gun of that day.

The first round is loaded by hand, after which the operations of feeding, firing, extracting, and ejecting are carried on automatically but under complete control of the operator. Slow automatic fire may be delivered at any rate up to about 100 rounds per minute, and rapid fire at the rate of 500 to 600 rounds per minute.

The weapon's single barrel is securely fastened to the breech, allowing none of the moving parts to be subjected to the heat developed by the powder gas. Consequently a water jacket or any other cooling device is superfluous, and the gun may be fired indefinitely without danger of jams from expanded parts. The design is extremely simple, comprising 38 parts in all, exclusive of the sights, but including barrel, shoulder-piece, etc. In the whole mechanism there are but four springs, viz: main, sear, extractor, and pawl springs, and no screws. With the exception of the barrel and the cylinder, the gun may be completely dismounted and assembled without tools, a wrench being necessary for these two parts only.

Beneath and parallel to the barrel is fixed a small cylinder, which is in communication with the bore through a port drilled through the barrel a few calibers from the muzzle. To the rear of the cylinder is an exhaust port opening to vent


Section Drawing of Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1897
Section Drawing of Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1897.

off this gas. On the discharge of the gun, as soon as the bullet has passed the port connecting bore and cylinder, the powder gas enters the latter throwing a long piston to the rear. When the piston has recoiled a given distance, the exhaust port is uncovered, permitting the gas to escape, and the piston is held in its backward position by an ordinary sear. On releasing the latter, the piston is thrown forward to its original position by the mainspring. It is obvious that if the sear is held out of engagement by the trigger and the supply of cartridges is kept up, the piston will have a constant and automatic reciprocating motion. The piston engages with the breechblock, which is somewhat similar to the original Lee rifle straight-pull bolt. Its motion opens and closes the breech, unlocks and locks the bolt, and fires; performing, in other words, the function of the soldier's hand when operating a straight-pull rifle.

Instead of feeding ammunition in fabric belts, the Hotchkiss uses metal strips. The cartridges are packed in these clips, each containing 30 rounds, and having a length of about 15 inches. Each loaded strip is in an ordinary pasteboard box, from which, when opened, it may be fed directly to the gun. The feed mechanism consists of a spur wheel, which engages in cams cut in the piston, and in openings formed in the clip. It is so arranged that the feed strip may be engaged, with breech either open or closed. The strips being so constructed as to lock one with another, a series may be fired without the necessity of cocking the gun each time by hand.

To the breech is fitted a shoulderpiece, or stock, which the operator brings to his right shoulder, and the sear is controlled by a trigger mounted in a pistol grip. Aiming and firing are therefore carried out, as in all Hotchkiss guns, with the same facility as when firing a rifle from a rest. A safety lock is fitted to the piston, by which the mechanism may be secured with the breech closed or open, as may be desired.

It is an interesting bit of ordnance history that the United States Navy tested the original Hotchkiss machine gun before any model number had ever been assigned. This test took place on 3 January 1896, at which time the weapon failed due to improper heat treatment of components and poor choice of metals in construction. At the suggestion of the Navy, the Hotchkiss Co.


employed Mr. Edward G. Parkhurst, of Hartford, Conn., to correct the manufacturing errors that caused the gun to fail.

Parkhurst, who had done such outstanding work on the Gardner manually operated machine gun, suggested certain changes in design and submitted them to the company, which not only used the ideas but thanked him through the Navy Department for his contribution.

The improved gun then came out as the Hotchkiss '97 model and has been basic ever since. As no water jacket was employed, the weapon's weight was held at about 20 pounds.

To prepare the '97 model gun for firing, the operator turns the lever of the cocking handle upward and to the left as far as it will go. The nibs on the collar in the guard are then opposite the closed grooves in the cocking handle, while the lugs on the head of the latter are engaged in front of the collar in the piston rod. After pulling the cocking handle smartly rearward to its full extent, the operator then pushes it forward, still keeping the lever slightly to the left of vertical. When it is fully home, the lever is set at an indicator according to the nature of fire desired. The weapon is now ready to fire.

A pull on the trigger releases the sear latch on the under side of the piston. The energy of the recoil spring then forces the piston forward. The lug of the firing pin resting between the firing-pin projection and the breechblock tang of the piston is held back in this safe position. The nose of the piston bearing against the breechblock lock carries this part forward. The front face of this piece forces the forward end of the ejector out of the path of the operating mechanism. The lower part of the breechblock face strikes the base of the cartridge, stripping it from the feed clip and driving it forward into the chamber.

The feed wheel is advanced through the first half of the feeding movement by the action of the large feed cam of the piston against an operating lug on the wheel's ratchet. The cartridge-holding pawl is then engaged by the ratchet, thus preventing rebound. As the breech lock chambers the round, the extractor cams itself over the rim of the cartridge. The breechblock lock is in position above the recoil block in the receiver and is now free to lock. This movement is against the cam surface of the breechblock lock, causing its rear end to tilt up in front of the recoil blocks.

The piston continues forward, carrying the firing pin which detonates the primer in the cartridge. After the explosion of the powder charge in the cartridge and before the bullet has cleared the muzzle, it passes a gas port in the barrel. The gases expand through this orifice into the gas chamber and impinge against the head of the piston forcing it to the rear. This action compresses the recoil spring and stores up energy for counter recoil.

The piston withdraws the firing pin from the primer, as the lower cam of the breechblock lock on the upper cam surface of the piston raises the lock clear of the recoil blocks. The breechblock tang on the piston strikes the rear shoulder of the breechblock and carries it back. The extractor withdraws the empty shell from the chamber, while the rear end of the ejector rides out of its groove in the breechblock. The front end is thus pivoted into the path of the cartridge, striking it at its base and throwing the empty case clear of the slot in the receiver and to the right.

The small feed cam on the piston now completes the rotation of the feed wheel and places the next cartridge in position above the stripping linger, while the feed-wheel pawl engages the feed-wheel ratchet and prevents rebound. This backward motion is limited by the rear end of the piston striking its buffer. If the trigger is still held back manually or by the automatic trigger catch, the mechanism starts immediately on its forward motion. If, however, the trigger has been released, it springs up and engages the sear notch of the piston, holding the gun in a cocked-bolt position. When the feed strip has been fed entirely through, it allows the upper lug of the arrester catch to engage the lug on the piston. This locks the piston back so as to allow loading of the next strip.

Laurence Benét retained his American citizenship throughout his connection with the Hotchkiss Co. and at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War he returned to this country, serving in the United States Navy with the rank of ensign. At the end of hostilities he went back to his duties in France with the Hotchkiss Co. The French Government in the meantime had purchased a limited number of the Hotchkiss,


Hotchkiss Machine Gun Model 1897
Hotchkiss Machine Gun Model 1897.

model '97, for its armed services. Its military leaders looked with great favor on the weapon's air-cooled feature, as desert warfare was at its height in the African colonies, where cooling by water would have been a serious problem.

A modified version, known as the Hotchkiss 1900 model, appeared at the turn of the century. The so-called improvements consisted more in refinement of the mount than in the weapon itself. The only changes in the gun were the substitution of circular steel cooling fins in lieu of the brass ones and a barrel designed to withstand the terrific heat resulting from long bursts.

This model with its added features was tested at Springfield Armory by an Army board on 3 May 1900. The purpose was to determine whether the new barrel would pass the rigorous endurance test that was based on performance of water-cooled guns. The barrel was made with only 0.020 percent carbon, but with 5 percent nickel added, and was considered by its creators as being far superior to former barrels made with a high carbon content.

The physical properties of the new barrel were as follows: Tensile strength, 98,730 pounds per square inch; elastic limit, 48,800 pounds per square inch; percent elongation, 15.3; percent reduction of area at fracture, 41. The ammunition used throughout the trial was of Frankford Arsenal manufacture with a velocity of 2,200 feet per second. The propellant charge was 36 grains of Peyton smokeless powder.

Firing commenced at 10:47 a. m. and the weapon successfully expended 1,376 rounds in 4 minutes and 10 seconds before a serious stoppage was caused by the jarring of a cartridge out of the feed strip which jammed the mechanism. This necessitated removal of the bolt to clear the malfunction.

The officers observed that after 2 minutes and 20 seconds of continuous firing the barrel showed a dull red and at the end of the 4 minutes and 10 second burst it was bright red from the radial cooling fins to the muzzle end.

At 10:56 firing was resumed and a burst of 848 rounds was completed before another stoppage took place, again caused by a cartridge falling prematurely from the feed strip into the mechanism.

The barrel already having been heated to a


Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1903
Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1903. The First Hotchkiss Gun to Use a Belt Feed.

very high degree from the previous firing, it was noted that in I minute and 8 seconds it showed a dark red, and before the end of the 848 rounds of sustained fire it was again a bright red.

Upon examination of the working components, there was evidence of much fouling in the receiver, while all the oil had been burned away from the forward part of the piece. These parts were working sluggishly when charged back and forth by hand. A total of 2,224 cartridges had been fired in 6 minutes and 8 seconds of actual firing time.

As the mechanism showed such fouling, it was decided by the board to allow the barrel to cool so it could be checked for both fouling and erosion. When examined, it was found that erosion began just in front of the chamber, with the rifling showing noticeable wearing away to a point aft of the gas port. The forward portion of the rifling showed very little wear.

When the weapon was reassembled, the cocking piece worked hard and further examination showed it to be sprung out of shape and "considerable filing and hammering had to be done before it could be made to work freely again."

After lunch, firing was resumed at 2:29 p. m., at which time 773 rounds were discharged. A lug on the gas piston then broke, stopping the weapon. The time consumed was 2 minutes and 5 seconds. A new piston was substituted for the broken one and firing was resumed. The first round jammed the mechanism in the act of feeding. The officers held that the round had been jarred out of the strip when the piston change was made. When this malfunction was cleared, the test continued. After 750 rounds were fired on this attempt, the extractor failed to pull the empty cartridge case from the chamber. When the case was removed and firing commenced, it was found that the extractor had failed at this point and a new one was substituted.

The remainder of the ammunition that had been put into the feed strips, 816 rounds in all, was then fired without incident, making a total expenditure of 4,500 rounds.

The weapon was then disassembled and all components were examined thoroughly for excessive wear or signs of breakage. None were found to be unserviceable, and, with the exception of the piston lug and the extractor, all parts


finished the test in serviceable condition. The barrel was ordered sawed in half. Slight erosion was found, although the rifling was practically worn away from breech to muzzle end. The sawed portion of the barrel was photographed as a record of the event.

The Army report concludes as follows: "The system of feeding the cartridges into the gun by the use of metal feed strips has not shown itself to be as satisfactory as a canvas belt feed, but the advantages of having an additional source of supply in case of emergency would, in the opinion of the board, warrant the use of this gun in addition to the Maxim and Colt, both of which have already been reported upon as being suitable for adoption."

The members of the board were: John E. Greer, Major, Ordnance Department, U.S.A., president; Jno. T. Thompson, Captain, Ordnance Department, U.S.A.; and Odus C. Horney, Captain, Ordnance Department, U.S. A., Recorder.

In approving the report, Lt. Col. Frank H. Phipps, commanding officer at Springfield Armory, added:

"These tests seem to indicate conclusively that a high percent of carbon in a gun-barrel steel shortens the efficient life of the barrel.

"The rapidity of fire in this test was greatly in excess of what it would be in service; the great heat generated caused the wearing away of the rifling before the completion of 4,500 rounds.

"The desirability of a water jacket for automatic guns has been demonstrated by the tests of the board."

The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) was the first conflict between major powers in which machine guns were employed by each participant. The Russians were equipped with Maxims, while the Japanese had the Hotchkiss. The deadliness of machine-gun fire was demonstrated time and again by the two armies using these different types of automatic weapons.

Puteaux and St. Etienne Machine Guns

Since 1900 French Army officers had worked continuously on refinements that in their opinion would result in the ultimate in machine guns. The National Arsenal at Puteaux produced in 1905 a version that used a modified version of the Hotchkiss system. The normal rate of fire was 500 rounds per minute but the gun had a device that permitted regulation of the cycle of operation from eight shots a minute minimum to 650 maximum. The weapon had a series of brass circular fins that extended from the breech to the muzzle of the barrel. It was issued to French colonial troops in 1906 but was never as popular as the standard Hotchkiss, over which it was supposedly an improvement. It was soon relegated to reserve units and fortifications. The latter use was so widespread that it is sometimes erroneously known as the "Fortification model."

In another attempt to improve existing machine guns, the officers at the St. Etienne Arsenal in France made what is known as the 1907 model St. Etienne. This weapon was a compromise between the Puteaux 1905 and the Hotchkiss 1900. However, the gun used one of the most unusual methods of operation yet to be developed. While it was gas actuated by means of a piston, the French reversed the conventional principle.

Instead of the piston thrust rearward furnishing the source of energy to operate the piece, the gas propels the piston forward to unlock the bolt. The piston is attached by a spring-loaded rod to a gear rack. This in turn engages a spur gear which is fastened to an actuating lever. When the lever is in the forward horizontal position and engages a cam slot in the bolt, the gun is locked. Upon firing, the gas drives the piston forward, compressing the spring and causing the spur gear to rotate clockwise. The actuating lever turns with the gear for a half revolution, retracting the bolt and stopping at the rear horizontal position. The driving spring then forces the piston rearward, which reverses the action and returns the bolt to battery.

The weapon is readily distinguishable by the heavy brass casting of the barrel receiver. The actuating spring, located under the barrel and behind the gas piston, is always visible, as the heat from its close proximity to the barrel would destroy its life if housed.

It is of interest that Baron von Odkolek, whose original patents were the basis of the Hotchkiss weapon, attempted to produce another machine


St. Etienne Machine Gun, Model 1907
St. Etienne Machine Gun, Model 1907.

gun during this period. In order to stay clear of his already assigned patents, he resorted to features that were unusual from an engineering standpoint.

For instance, the weapon was both water cooled and gas operated. In order to cover the barrel and gas piston cylinder with a water jacket that would not allow the liquid to leak into the critical gas-cylinder chamber, he constructed the barrel and gas-cylinder chamber out of one piece, by turning the muzzle and breech ends eccentric. This method allowed a sufficient mass of metal, which was offset from the breech end and was an integral part of the barrel, to house the gas-cylinder chamber.

The gas cylinder was located on top, instead of on the underside, of the barrel. This 180° turn no doubt was intended to help make the model look more original. However, a close examination shows that the operating mechanism was very similar to the prototype weapon submitted to the Hotchkiss Co. in 1893.

The feed was the only radically different feature, for in lieu of brass strips of 30 cartridges each, he used a drum and reel arrangement, on which 250 cartridges were attached to a belt made of light and flexible brass. The Odkolek weapon was never recognized and did not progress beyond its prototype stage.

Benét-Mercié Machine Rifle

The French Army ordnance engineers at the government arsenals, in their attempts to produce an all-purpose machine gun modeled on the Hotchkiss, had succeeded only in developing two weapons of questionable merit. In 1909 another modification appeared, a highly portable machine gun developed by the Hotchkiss Co. It differed in a mechanical way from the 1900 and 1907 guns only in the means of closing the breech, and the upside-down introduction of the feed clip from the right side, so that the cartridges were underneath the clip. This was just the reverse of earlier models. The gun was even simpler in construction than its predecessors, having only 25 parts.

This weapon was the joint effort of Laurence


St. Etienne Machine Gun, Model 1907, 8-mm, Sectionalized
St. Etienne Machine Gun, Model 1907, 8-mm, Sectionalized.

Benét and his assistant, Henri Mercié. While it was known on the Continent as the Hotchkiss Portative, it was called both in England and America the Benét-Mercié machine rifle Model 1909, since the weapon was fitted with a shoulder stock. It was adopted by both the French and American armies in 1910. The French chambered theirs for the 8-mm Lebel cartridge, while our army used a caliber .30/06.

The breech is locked by a device called the "fermature nut" which is cylindrical in shape. On top of this piece a long longitudinal cut provides clearance for the cartridge in loading. Near the left rear end is a semicircular depression to allow the passage of the front side of the feed strip. The rear shoulder of the fermature nut is beveled and has a lug to engage the corresponding recess in the gas piston. The function of the latter piece is to lock the breechblock slightly before firing and to unlock when gas pressure has dropped to a safe operating limit.

This locking system is located in the forward part of the receiver, directly in the rear of the breech, and is held in place by a shoulder on the barrel. On the top side of the piston actuator is a large slot that moves the camming projection on the rear surface of the fermature nut. If the locking nut holding the assembly is permitted to work loose, it allows the barrel to creep slightly forward resulting in excessive head space. In an emergency this can be corrected by turning the nut as far past the locked position as possible. The locking screw is then screwed up tightly, holding it for a short duration.

To fire the Benét-Mercié Model 1909 machine rifle, great care must be taken to enter the 30-shot feed strip properly into the feedway in the upper right side of the receiver. Then the gas


Benét-Mercié Machine Rifle, Model 1909
Benét-Mercié Machine Rifle, Model 1909. This Weapon Manufactured by Colt's Patent Fire Arms Company is Serial Number "O".

piston and bolt assembly is pulled to the rear by means of the cocking handle until it engages the sear holding it in a cocked position. The handle is then pushed forward. When all the way home it may be turned to the right and lined up with either the letter "A" (for Automatic)or "R" (for Repeater or Semi-automatic fire) as desired.

A round has now been positioned and the weapon cocked ready for firing. When the trigger is pulled back, the sear releases the action that starts forward under compression of the driving spring. The face of the bolt strikes the first round in the feed strip forcing it into the chamber while the claw of the extractor snaps into the cannelure of the cartridge. As soon as the bolt engages the fermature nut, the firing pin and its large lug contact the ramp in the receiver, causing the firing pin to rotate partially and disengage the lug from the transverse cut in the bolt. Immediately after the bolt is locked rigidly behind the chambered cartridge, the pin is free to go forward and is driven into the primer discharging the weapon.

When the bullet has passed the gas port in the barrel, a part of the powder gases is bled into the gas cylinder and forces the actuating piston to the rear. The cam surface cut in its upper portion engages the lug in the fermature nut the rotation of which unlocks the bolt. The firing pin then turns on its axis and is withdrawn, coming to rest with its lug in the transverse cut in the bolt, thus holding it retracted.

Engaging the rim of the empty case, the claw of the extractor draws it from the chamber and holds it during recoil until the ejector strikes the cartridge base and knocks it out the ejection slot on the left side of the receiver. When the gas piston has recoiled over half-way, the cam surface cut on its right side fits into the upper lug of the feed piece causing the latter to rotate from right to left on its axis.


Components of the Benét-Mercié Model 1909
Components of the Benét-Mercié Model 1909.

The feed arm engages the lug in the central opening of the feed strip, indexing the next round for loading into the chamber. Full recoil stroke is accomplished when the driving spring is completely compressed and the operating parts then start counter recoil movement. The cycle of operation is repeated as long as the trigger is held back.

The Benét-Mercié remained our standard automatic machine gun until 1917. It saw limited service at the landings at Vera Cruz in 1913 and fell into general disrepute during the border trouble in 1916 with the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa. The Benét-Mercié failed to operate during Villa's night raid on Columbus, New Mexico. The alibi given by the machine gun squads was that the weapons could not be operated after dark because of their intricate system of loading. Newspapers throughout the United States had a field day with this statement and wrote many sarcastic stories, calling the Benét-Mercié the Army's famous "daylight gun" and suggested that the rules of warfare be rewritten so that no fighting take place except in daylight in order that our machine guns could participate.

Discontent in the press with our inadequate equipment was further increased when a short time later efficient American-made Colt guns (model '95) chambered for our caliber .30/06 ammunition, as well as medium and heavy


Section Drawing of the Benét-Mercié Model 1909
Section Drawing of the Benét-Mercié Model 1909.


Hotchkiss '97 machine guns, were captured from the Mexican guerrillas by our troops. The American Army's commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, sent them to the West Point Museum.

The United States, like all other countries, soon realized that no type of machine rifle could supplant the machine gun. While the Benét-Mercié was quite popular with the troops in peacetime because of its light weight, it could in no way meet the demands of warfare which required the heavier belt-fed weapons.

Hotchkiss Machine Gun Model 1914

The summer of 1914 found France at a serious disadvantage because of its small stock of automatic arms. Army leaders, however, did feel that they were very fortunate to have available a thoroughly tested weapon simple to construct and reliable enough to give a good account of itself under any condition. In preparation for the coming war, the Hotchkiss machine gun was given a final bit of refinement and went into production as the Model 1914.

It soon became evident that machine guns would be required in unthought of quantities. The government factories at St. Etienne and Chatellerault lacked the manufacturing capacity for the numbers required, and the French War Department called upon the Hotchkiss Co. to prepare for quantity fabrication of the Model 1914.

Most of the first guns so produced were issued to territorial regiments of the line, then held in reserve, so there was little opportunity to judge their merits in actual fighting during the operations of 1915.

Function Firing the Hotchkiss Model 1914 in France
Function Firing the Hotchkiss Model 1914 in France.

In the following year when mass production had been realized, the Hotchkiss machine gun was issued as first-line equipment, a large number of brigade companies having been formed and armed with this weapon. The reliable qualities of the Hotchkiss gun were then promptly recognized by the entire army.

The best instance, among many, demonstrating the efficiency of the weapon was in the spring of 1916, during the heroic defense of Verdun, when a section armed with two Hotchkiss machine guns held its position near Hill 304 for 10 consecutive days and nights. Entrenched 150 yards behind the crest which the Germans were endeavoring to seize, this unit repulsed unaided all assaults, mowing down the succeeding waves of attack as they reached the summit. During these 10 days, the section, cut off from all supplies and communication expended over 150,000 rounds of ammunition. The original and normal supply of a section was 5,000 rounds. Fortunately, a dump of infantry cartridges was near at hand and, such was the enthusiasm aroused by the fire of the machine guns that all hands, including the officers, set about reloading the feed strips, thus enabling the section to carry on to the end. When it is realized that each gun fired upwards of 75,000 rounds and still was serviceable, one must have admiration for weapons that proved so reliable under such conditions.

The winter of 1916-17 confirmed the favorable opinion of the French Army for the Hotchkiss gun, as it could always be relied upon in spite of snow, mud, or the bad condition of the ammunition available. In March 1917, the French contingent operating in Belgium had to have its St. Etienne weapons, model 1917, replaced with Hotchkiss guns, because "this gun is the only one which works in spite of the sand, which on the Nieuport dunes constantly blows into the mechanism." By this time there arose a spontaneous demand from all French armies for the Hotchkiss.

On 15 July 1918 the weapon reached the zenith of its achievements. Military authorities


Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1914, 8 mm.
Hotchkiss Machine Gun, Model 1914, 8 mm.

agree that the heroic defense made that day by the Fourth (Gouraud's) Army against the last desperate German drive, marked the end of the offensive power of the enemy, and permitted Foch, 3 days later, to launch the general offensive that continued without respite for nearly 4 months and only ended with final victory for the Allies.

The brilliant tactical use of artillery and machine guns by General Gouraud resulted for the first time since the beginning of the war in stopping short a powerful general attack at the exact point of prepared defense. So completely was the attack shattered by the devastating machine-gun fire that the enemy withdrew in disorder, leaving more than half of his force as casualties on the field, and so broken and demoralized that no further attack was ever attempted.

On 18 July 1918 the Allied offensive began by the attack of the Franco-American Army under Mangin from Château-Thierry toward Fere-en-Tardenois. Midway between these positions the advance of the French division was stopped by extremely violent fire from a large number of machine guns. The situation was critical, for these machine guns, concealed and scattered in fields of wheat, escaped the effects of artillery and an exposed clearing 1,500 yards in depth prevented an advance within range of direct fire. All the machine guns of the entire French division were promptly united into a single battery and proceeded methodically to sweep the area occupied by the Germans. The effect was immediate and complete, and the enemy abandoned its positions with considerable loss.

It was with the 8-mm 1914 model that American soldiers were originally armed when our entry into World I found us practically without machine guns of our own. Twelve American divisions were equipped with this weapon.

The Army, in order to solve the logistics involved in carrying two kinds of ammunition, one for riflemen and another for machine gunners, had rapidly replaced the original 8-mm Hotchkiss machine guns with ones chambered for our .30/06 service rifle cartridge. After a brief period of battle use, there arose a pressing need for extra barrels. This shortage became very critical and it was with the greatest difficulty that the supply organization found the 20,000 spare barrels required. Manufacturing plants in America had not been tooled up long enough to meet the demand for the vast amount of extra barrels chambered for American ammunition. The urgency of the situation greatly alarmed the commanding officers of the sectors held by our troops.


Hotchkiss Balloon Gun, Cal. .472
Hotchkiss Balloon Gun, Cal. .472.

Hotchkiss 12-mm Machine Gun

The French Army is noted for the work of its artillery men in producing some of the world's most outstanding heavy ordnance. Needless to say, their influence in military planning has been great and when the machine gun became such a lethal reality, they asked for the development of a long-range machine gun capable of inflicting heavy damage on observation balloons and on mobile artillery gun crews attempting to bring their pieces into action.

This demand resulted in much experimental work on such a weapon. Although research had been undertaken from time to time beginning with the turn of the century, it was late in the war before the Hotchkiss company really approached perfection along this line with the introduction of the 12-mm machine gun. To distinguish it from the rifle-caliber weapon, it was referred to as the "balloon gun," since its employment on observation balloons at great range was most effective. The large caliber bullet contained an adequate charge of incendiary compound that ignited the hydrogen-filled bags upon contact.

The mechanism of the gun consisted of only 18 parts and was very similar in design to that of the rifle-caliber gun. The initial velocity, however, was 2,020 feet per second with a mean maximum pressure of 37,000 pounds per square inch at the breech. The range of the gun was 3,000


yards; the armor-piercing bullet at its extreme range had a velocity of 500 feet per second. French officers felt that this weapon would be able to put any mobile artillery gun crew out of action at a range which would be impossible with the rifle-caliber gun. The importance of this additional reach could hardly be overestimated in engagements in which the opposing forces of both armies were armed with machine guns.

The maximum rate of fire of the Hotchkiss balloon gun is 400 to 500 rounds. At a hundred yards the armor-piercing bullet would perforate one inch of homogeneous steel plate. The weapon can be fed by the conventional metal tray that holds 20 rounds of ammunition or by a long belt consisting of a series of cartridge holders on a flexible metal strip, which are hinged together to make possible a continuous feed.

Each holder has four clips which embrace the cartridge at the neck and near the base. To the first cartridge holder is hinged a thin steel tongue by means of which the belt is started into the feed. The cartridges are packed in a continuous belt of 250 rounds, having a length of 20 feet. Being wholly metallic, the belt is not affected by oil, water or temperature, and may be used repeatedly without deforming. The loaded belts are carried already folded in light wooden chests from which they can be fed directly to the gun.

It was this weapon that Col. John Henry Parker heard about when it was in its prototype stage and, knowing that the United States was at the time trying to raise the caliber of its machine gun, he made arrangements with the French Government to borrow one of the two weapons under test and send it to this country.

After a thorough study was made of its ballistic features, it was decided not to adopt the weapon as it did not meet the minimum specifications in regard to bullet weight and muzzle velocity laid down by General Pershing in a cablegram to the Army's Chief of Ordnance. While the gun was undoubtedly superior to the rifle-caliber-type gun for certain tactical uses, it was dropped as far as the United States was concerned. Time has proved the wisdom of Pershing's decision not to consider any large-caliber machine gun that did not have a muzzle velocity of at least 2,750 feet per second.

The military authorities of all countries had great respect for this model and it was adopted by many governments. When the velocity was later increased, it was considered an ideal weapon for special objectives.


Chapter 5
Nordenfelt Automatic Machine Gun

A weapon that made its appearance on the continent in prototype stage only was known as the Nordenfelt Model 1897. It was actually the invention of Capt. W. Bergman of the Swedish Army, who sold his patent outright to the Nordenfelt Co., then located in Paris, France.

This company, like all other arms manufacturing plants that were selling manually operated weapons, suddenly found its products made obsolete by the success of automatic machine guns.

A booklet was published by this firm in order to arouse the interest of military authorities in the Nordenfelt Model 1897. It described the basic operating principles and went into great detail about the advantages to be found exclusively in this model.

The outstanding feature of the gun was that it was designed for both automatic and manual operation. Its rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute when fired full automatic. On conversion to manual operation, it had a rate of fire of 130 shots per minute.

The operating mechanism is completely contained in a receiver, with bearings that support the barrel fore and aft. The gun is water cooled, having a jacket with valves to vent off steam. The rear of the receiver has two quick openings that permit the operator to get at the mechanism for purposes of inspection or clearing a malfunction.

A barrel extension is attached to the barrel and recoils with the latter between the parallel inner walls of the receiver. The bolt is thrown rearward at high speed by an accelerator. The barrel, extension and all operating components move longitudinally and are locked together for only a fraction of an inch, making; this one of the shortest recoil actions known.

To load the piece for automatic fire, the operator places the first cartridge in the belt under

Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Model 1897
Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Model 1897.


the star wheel in the feed. After placing the fire regulator on Safe , the handle is pulled smartly to the rear four times and released. The compressed driving spring, in returning the mechanism to battery the required number of times, performs the cycle of feeding first by taking the cartridge out of the link in the feed belt and then by chambering it.

The piece is fired by a trigger located at the upper forward part of the pistol-type handle. While the powder charge is building up its peak pressure, the bolt is securely locked to the barrel and barrel extension and recoil begins. In less than an inch of rearward travel, the accelerator lever starts to pivot about the pin.

This rotation moves the roller in the accelerator cam groove of the locking angle and starts the accelerator cam turning rearward. The roller, which is attached to the bolt and rides in the accelerator cam groove, whips the bolt back at high speed, driving this part during recoil at a ratio of four to one.

In order to relieve the shock on the mechanism and prevent rupture of cartridge cases, the weapon is so designed that not until well after the chamber pressure has passed its peak does the breech lock begin to open. Then the recoil movement is utilized to loosen gradually the empty cartridge case in the chamber before sudden extraction takes place. The case is ejected in the most peculiar fashion ever used by a machine gun. It is wiped from the face of the bolt and pushed through an opening on the upper right side of the receiver and on the same side from which it is fed.

After unlocking, the bolt assembly, consisting of the bolt, striker, striker spring, extractor, and two sears, recoils as a unit, and during this movement the striker is compressed against its spring and the weapon cocked. This is brought about as the accelerator cam engages the rear of the striker. When fully retracted, the sears drop into their notches.

The gun is front seared and the accelerator lever times the release point for the striker during full automatic fire. It will continue to operate as long as the trigger mechanism is actuated.

To convert the weapon for operation by hand, the selector on top of the cover is moved from

Components of the Nordenfelt Machine Gun
Components of the Nordenfelt Machine Gun.


Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Model 1897, with Mount Folded for Carrying
Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Model 1897, with Mount Folded for Carrying.

Automatic to Manual and the large crank on the right side is rotated in a counterclockwise direction. An eccentric on the crank cycles the barrel and barrel extension which in turn throws the bolt rearward.

By continued rotation the lugs on the operating crank shove the bolt into battery and chamber the incoming round at the same time. The lug then comes into position behind the bolt. This securely locks the mechanism so that the whole assembly will not recoil as in automatic fire. When this position is reached, the handle cams in the manual sear that protrudes through the right rear side of the receiver and the cartridge is fired. The operation will be repeated as long as the crank is rotated.

The ammunition is loaded 200 rounds to a belt and is led from right to left. The feed mechanism consists of a star wheel with six divisions or spaces. When feeding during automatic fire, the recoil of the barrel extension actuates a projection on the feeder to the rear. This piece is engaged in a helical cam and the movement of the lug causes the cam to rotate one-sixth space counterclockwise, and winds a torque spring fastened to the star wheel shaft.

When the lug has made full movement, an escapement allows the stored energy in the spring to index the feeder. A ratchet arrangement then releases the barrel extension and permits the assembly to return to battery.

The belt enters the right side near the top of the receiver. If the weapon is to be fired manually and the force of the barrel-return spring is not utilized to help load the weapon, as is done when it is set for automatic fire, the crank handle must be rotated four complete revolutions to index the belt over the feeder and put the first round in the chamber.

One of the many peculiarities of the weapon is that if set on automatic fire and the trigger is actuated before the crank handle has been secured in its rest position, the latter will on the first shot rotate to its proper place and remain motionless throughout the remainder of the burst.

A barrel-return spring of the Maxim type, located underneath the front part of the receiver, can be adjusted to give any desired pressure by the adjustment of a winged nut.

The most notable feature of the feed system is that in 1897 the gun employed a push-out type of metallic link that is practically identical with ones used today.

Thorsten Nordenfelt was of the school that did not believe the automatic weapon was here to stay. Having long built and promoted the sale of manually operated multibarreled guns that enjoyed a fair amount of popularity throughout the world, he had little confidence in self-loading weapons. This was his first and last attempt to enter a field strange to him and towards which he was bitter and hostile.


Chapter 6
De Knight Water-Cooled Machine Gun

On 20 July 1898 Victor P. De Knight, a resident of Washington, D. C., applied for a patent on a gas-operated water-cooled automatic machine gun. Originally chambered for the caliber .30 Krag United States infantry rifle cartridge, it had a rate of fire of 600 rounds a minute. While it represented one of the few water-cooled gas-operated guns ever to get beyond the design stage, it still was unsuccessful and is described here only to show the great lengths an inventor will go to in order to avoid infringement of anyone else's patents.

De Knight interested the Pratt & Whitney Co. in producing a prototype, which was given the designation, Model 1902. At the time this company was seeking a mechanism to market in place of its hand-operated Gardner, then being outmoded by the appearance of self-loading rapid-firing guns.

The weapon, although very clumsy in many respects, did have a few advanced features. The hinged top of the receiver not only made all working parts readily accessible but also housed the driving spring. Inertia firing, a pivoting bolt that was securely locked by the advance of the gas piston, and a simple screw in the side of the receiver that served as an ejector were also innovations. But the complicated gas system

De Knight Automatic Machine Gun, Cal. .30, Manufactured by Pratt and Whitney
De Knight Automatic Machine Gun, Cal. .30, Manufactured by Pratt and Whitney.


covered by a water jacket with a regulating device that supposedly could be adjusted from the outside doomed the weapon from the start.

Feeding was accomplished by a lug on the gas piston which cammed the feed slide over one space on the recoil stroke. With the return of the piston a heavy spring pulled the feed pawl over behind the next round. The cartridge rim was engaged by a spring-loaded hook device that, when pulled a sufficient distance to the rear, removed the round from the belt and pivoted, forcing the bullet end down in alignment with the bore.

To fire the De Knight, the tab on a belt of ammunition is slipped through the left side of the feedway and the bolt-handled charger is pulled until the first cartridge is seated behind the stops and the next round in front of the holding pawl. When the bolt is pulled all the way to the rear, the operating mechanism is held by a sear located at the top of the pistol grip. The cartridge has been removed from the belt and tilted for chambering. Actuation of the trigger releases the bolt and gas piston to be pulled forward by the spring in the top of the receiver. The bolt face hits the bottom rim of the cartridge and drives it ahead into the breech end of the barrel.

As the bolt reaches battery, the extractor snaps over the cartridge rim and a lug on the gas piston in completing counter-recoil movement cams down the forward part of the pivoting breech lock. The rear end is thrust up into its locking recess in the receiver. The front part of the lug exposes the firing pin, which is struck by a portion of the gas piston to discharge the chambered cartridge.

When the bullet clears a gas port located nearly three-fourths of the way up the barrel, gas is let through the orifice and, after being vented through a long tubular affair, is finally released in a large cylinder and brought to bear on the piston. By this time the bullet has cleared the bore. As the piston is shoved back, the lug strikes the rear of the pivoting piece unlocking the action. The gas piston and bolt start recoil movement with the extractor claw holding the rim of the cartridge until it collides with the ejector screw, kicking it out the right side of the receiver. Meanwhile, the incoming round has been removed from the belt and pivoted down. The recoil movement is stopped by driving spring tension and, if the trigger remains depressed, automatic fire will result.

Outside of a few unofficial demonstrations nothing was done in the way of development since the De Knight first appeared in 1902. Even in the few trials it did have, it could by no means be classified as reliable, having at all times an abnormal number of stoppages. In 1916, with the United States at the point of war, interest in the weapon was revived and a thorough test was ordered by the Army on 31 May 1917. The only change from the earlier model was the use of a spring-loaded firing pin in place of inertia firing. That this was a mistake is evident by the results of the trial.

Part of the test report is given in order that the reader may judge for himself the reliability of the De Knight water-cooled machine gun.

"During the first 1,150 shots, three breechblocks broke and there were also many misfires and other malfunctions.

"The gun was then temporarily withdrawn by the representatives of the company in order to procure new parts.

"Upon resuming the test there were many malfunctions during the first 6,000 shots, and the representatives again desired to withdraw it for alterations and repairs. This the board did not allow on account of the short time remaining at its disposal and the gun then was permanently withdrawn.

"Total number of malfunctions: Misfires—143; Jams—5; Broken parts—7; Ruptured cases—1; Failure to eject—1; Failure to extract—0; Failure to feed—16; Other malfunctions—9. Total—182. Total number of rounds fired 7,150."


Chapter 7
Madsen Automatic Machine Gun

There came into existence in 1902 an automatic machine gun the parentage of which has been one of the most controversial subjects in the history of such weapons. It has been officially known under the names, Madsen, Rexer, D.R.R.S., and Schouboe, and was originally manufactured by the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat of Copenhagen, Denmark.

It derived the title by which it is best known, Madsen, from the name of the Danish Minister of War of that period, as a tribute to his enthusiasm for the weapon at the time of its adoption by the country's armed services. The use of the name, Rexer, is due to a long-standing policy of the British Empire in not considering for adoption any small arm that was not fabricated on English soil. Thus, in order to interest the authorities, many of these guns were made at a

Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1903
Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1903, Being Demonstrated by Lt. Schouboe.


British arms factory known as Rexer. The D.R.R.S. title uses the initials of the Danish firm. The designation of Schouboe comes from the widespread belief that Theodor Schouboe, the director and engineer of the rifle company, was the actual inventor of the weapon.

Research on this bewildering topic adds even more complications. While it is true that Schouboe on 14 February 1902 did patent the basic operating principles of the mechanism, it is also a fact that on 15 June 1899 Julius Alexander Rasmussen, the director of the Royal Military Arms factory, in Copenhagen, applied for and was subsequently issued a patent on the identical features claimed by Schouboe three years later. To confuse the issue further, Rasmussen assigned his patent rights to the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat, the first to produce the weapon.

The original patent grant to Rasmussen covers fully all principles involved in utilizing an automatic rifle in which the energy of its recoil forces makes the arm automatically feed, fire, extract, and eject. It employs the basic system, first manually used in the lever-operated Peabody and Martini rifles, whereby a pinned breechblock rises during the forward lever stroke to uncover the base of the fired cartridge case, thus allowing its extraction and ejection. Then by its first rearward action, the bolt or breechblock falls below the barrel opening to permit chambering of the incoming round. The final movement forces the bolt to rise again to give support behind the loaded cartridge.

These actions, on the automatic weapons, are governed by a circular stud on the recoiling barrel extension working in grooves on a switch plate fastened to the receiver. The bolt is locked in the up position for the first half inch of recoil and so held until the bullet has traveled through the bore and the powder pressure has dropped to a point where it is considered safe to start the cycle of operation.

While this unique system has worked with great reliability, many still insist that the action is unsound in an automatic weapon, for the reason that each round, upon being rapidly loaded, is slightly distorted into an arc while being chambered. This view is supported by the fact that a very high percentage of stoppages results from stuck cases, especially when rimmed ammunition is used. This is thought to be caused by a deformation of the round in the act of loading.

The pilot model was chambered for the 8-mm Danish Krag-Jorgensen round with a muzzle velocity of 2,228 feet per second. This was nearly identical with the service rifle cartridge employed by the United States Army just after the Spanish-American War. Practically all models that followed were designed for rimless ammunition, which was always considered more reliable, since a more tolerant head space can be allowed.

The first-mentioned use of the Madsen in warfare was by Russian forces in the Manchurian war of 1904-05. Some of their cavalry units were armed with it, but the foreign observers barely made note of the fact beyond a statement that a few had been seen.

Officials tests were begun by the United States Army on the machine rifle version on 9 September 1903, at Springfield Armory, Springfield, Mass., and later concluded at Fort Riley, Kans. The firing was done by Lt. Theodor Schouboe, of the Danish Army, who personally represented the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat. In this test the feed was considered unsatisfactory and, when the ammunition was not lubricated, a ruptured cartridge case generally resulted.

A total of 7,163 rounds were fired, during which enough malfunctions occurred to justify the official conclusion that the Madsen weapon had not reached a stage of reliability to warrant adoption. The most objectionable feature occurred when the driving spring repeatedly failed to propel the mechanism home and Lieutenant Schouboe then had to rise to a kneeling position in order to exert enough force on the charging handle to shove the action full into battery. In combat such a movement would make the operator an outstanding target. The weapon's accuracy was considered satisfactory and complimentary reference was made to its unusually light weight.

An air-cooled, belt-fed heavy Madsen machine gun, designed for calibers from 6.5 mm to 11.35 mm, made its appearance shortly after this. Many of the earlier malfunctions were corrected, so that it was considered reliable for special objectives. If certain peculiarities are overlooked, the


Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1903
Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1903. Photographed During United States Trials.

Madsen can be classed as one of the few automatic weapons that have successfully stood the test of time.

When the belt-fed automatic machine gun version is prepared for firing, the ammunition belt is started into the left side. The disintegrating links used in the feed belt are of peculiar design. The front of the link fits over the shoulder of the round which has to be pulled through it by the feeding action. The rear portion of the link is of the type known as the "push-out" or "half-link," in that it does not go all the way around the base of the cartridge. A sharp claw of spring steel holds the case firmly until it is finally withdrawn.

Once the weapon is cocked and the first cartridge is placed under the belt-holding pawl, the large charging handle on the right side is pulled back. This action moves the barrel extension a considerable distance to the rear after the bolt rises. The pawl holding the cartridge in position is carried to the right by the camming action which takes place between the barrel extension and the piece supporting the incoming round until the cartridge is forced through the feed slot in the receiver.

At this time a spring-loaded claw cams itself over the rim of the cartridge. The pivoting of the feed arm actuates the claw rearward and withdraws the cartridge from the belt, positioning it in the feed trough in the top of the bolt. The pivoting lever has by now taken its place behind the round. Upon release of the cocking handle the energy of the compressed driving spring sends the lever forward. The front end of the bolt is pivoted down below the bore in the barrel. Further movement forward of this lever causes it to strike the base of the cartridge, ramming it into the chamber. The final pivot movement raises the breech block full behind the bolt and the weapon is ready to fire.

The rearward pull of a trigger releases the large striker which flies upwards in an arc against a firing pin. detonating the primer.


Action of the Madsen
Action of the Madsen. (1) Loaded, Locked, and Ready to Fire. (2) After Firing, Bolt Pivots Up to Eject Cartridge. (3) Bolt Pivots Down for Loading. (4) Loaded, Locked, and Ready to Fire. (5) and (6) The Action of the Loading Arm. (7) Magazine Cut off Device.

During recoil, the barrel, barrel extension, and bolt are securely locked for one-half inch, until the trigger bar is struck by the rear of the recoiling bolt mechanism. This frees it, allowing the striker to be forced back to the cocked position and the spring-loaded firing pin is withdrawn into the bolt body. The guide stud then passes out of the horizontal groove and travels up the top cam of the switch plate to pivot the bolt face upwards. The base of the empty cartridge case is thus uncovered, permitting the recoiling extractor to apply a sudden mechanical advantage as it strikes the lug in the bottom of the receiver. The extractor claw, in one rolling motion, not only withdraws but ejects the empty case from the chamber. The case is guided out of the receiver by the curved contour of the bolt until it falls clear to the ground.

During the last of the recoil movement the barrel extension has cammed another round into the receiver feed slot, and the pivoting feed and operating arm positions it in the trough formed by the machined recess in the top of the bolt. Counterrecoil, originating in the stored energy of the driving spring, when it starts the entire operating assembly back to battery, first depresses the bolt and then drives the cartridge into the chamber.

The bolt and barrel extension are then accelerated forward by this spring acting through the medium of the cammed pivoting of the radial operating arm. When the counterrecoil movement is almost completed and the base of the cartridge is fully covered by the rising of the pivoting bolt, a cam on the arm automatically releases a sear if the trigger is still held rearward. The striker again flies up to continue the cycle.

This was the most unusual employment of the short-recoil principle known to date. Although the bolt unlocked in scarcely a half-inch rear travel, the barrel extension continued to recoil to a point slightly exceeding the combined overall length of the cartridge case and projectile.

On some models a device was fastened to the barrel jacket at the muzzle end to trap the blast after the bullet cleared the bore. This was done


Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1914, 8 mm.
Madsen Machine Gun, Model 1914, 8 mm.

by a controlled orifice that permitted the bullet to clear along with some of the still-expanding gases. The remainder acted on the face of the barrel somewhat on the order of a piston, accelerating the recoil forces and resulting in an increased rate of fire plus an added amount of belt pull.

The Madsen was greatly respected by European governments and met in open competition all the machine guns that were commonly known at the time. Although it was more reliable than spectacular and had a notoriously slow rate of fire when the muzzle booster was not used, it nearly always managed to pass successfully the various trials. An experimental Madsen gun with a muzzle booster, fast return spring and very light working parts was once found capable of reaching a very high speed but had frequent stoppages due to ruptured cartridge cases. However, this was eventually overcome by lubrication of the ammunition.

Many consider the Madsen the first truly light machine gun to make its appearance in the automatic field. It was accurate, reliable with good ammunition, and had little recoil to disturb the gunner's aim. It was however prone to serious stoppages that were exceedingly hard to clear unless ammunition was used that was above the average issued for service use. And while it was fairly simple and very robust in design, it was found to be unusually expensive to manufacture due to certain features that required extensive machining.

While the Madsen was standard equipment of the Danish and Norwegian Armies and was used by some small states on the Continent, it was not looked upon favorably by the larger powers. Both England and Germany tested the weapon experimentally during World War I. England used a few to a very limited degree while Germany rejected it outright.

The action on this machine gun has been exploited perhaps as much as any other system in existence. This has resulted in over a hundred different models that were used by most of the military forces of the smaller nations, with the Balkan and South American countries buying the bulk of these weapons. It has been chambered at one time or another for just about every size rifle cartridge that has ever been developed.


Chapter 8
Bergmann and Dreyse Machine Guns

Bergmann Machine Gun

Perhaps there has been more confusion surrounding Bergmann and Dreyse machine guns than for any other automatic weapons on record. Although these two are separate and distinct mechanisms, they are here presented in the same chapter in an attempt to show clearly the differences between them.

The original gun was designed by Theodor Bergmann of Gaggenau, Germany, and patented by him in 1900. The weapon was known as Model 1902 and was manufactured by Bergmann Industrie Werke Abt. Waffenbau of Suhl. It was followed shortly by Model 1903, which differed from the first gun only in mounting and positioning of the feed box.

The Bergmann is operated on the principle of short recoil, whereby all recoiling parts are securely locked until the bullet has cleared the bore. At the instant of unlocking the bolt is free to move to the rear, with all components working in a straight-line movement. Its simple construction makes it possible for the soldier in the field to disassemble and put the mechanism together again without the aid of tools. A vertical rising type lock is employed.

There are three principal parts to the gun: The receiver, which houses the barrel, barrel extension, and water jacket; the back plate, which contains the trigger mechanism and has fastened to it the spade grips; and the cover group, which encases the feed system and serves to lock the receiver to the cover.

To fire the weapon, the gunner places the first round in the cartridge belt under the belt-holding pawl until the round comes to rest against the cartridge stop. The bolt is then manually pulled back by a cocking handle. When it starts rearward, the claw of the feed slide begins to extract the loaded cartridge from the feed belt. This rearward action also pushes the striker down until it engages the sear that holds it in a cocked position. By the time the bolt has reached its full stroke, the feeder arm pivots over and places another round in the belt in place of the one just removed.

When the bolt is released, it is driven forward by the driving spring. In doing so, it picks up the cartridge held by the feed claw and chambers it. At the same time the extractor lip is cammed over the rim of the cartridge case.

The weapon is now charged and ready to fire. The disc-shaped upper part of the trigger is

Theodor Bergmann Firing the First Model Bergmann Machine Gun
Theodor Bergmann Firing the First Model Bergmann Machine Gun.


pressed forward after the safety catch has been disengaged to force back the trigger bar. This in turn pulls the sear away from the cocked hammer, which flies up detonating the primer in the cartridge. Upon discharge of the cartridge, all recoiling parts move together securely locked for one-half inch. At this point the bolt is unlocked. The breech lock is cammed down out of its locking recess and allows the bolt to recoil free of the heavier parts. The extractor withdraws the empty case and holds it in position for the ejector, a curved spring-loaded arm fastened in the top of the receiver. It strikes the empty case a blow on its base, knocking it through an opening in the left side at an angle of 45 degrees downward. This cycle of operation is continued as long as the gunner depresses the trigger piece located between the spade grips.

The Bergmann machine gun was looked upon favorably by the German Army because of its many refinements. It was compact in form, built on small dimensions and protected from dust, mud, and moisture by its tight-fitting receiver. The so-called "straight-line" action has always been regarded by the Germans as the most durable and the one that would require the least servicing in the field.

The barrel had a quick disconnect that could be changed in 20 seconds, being held securely to the receiver by a bayonet lock that could be disengaged merely by pressure on this part. The most notable feature about the gun was that this act could be accomplished without losing the water out of the jacket. This was done by tilting the barrel down at a 45° angle. When the barrel extension and barrel were pulled out from the rear, a leather stopper was placed in the front barrel bearing to prevent a leak. The insertion of

Bergmann Machine Gun, Model 1910
Bergmann Machine Gun, Model 1910.


a fresh barrel simply knocked the plug out of the bearing as it was inserted in the proper position.

The cover could be lifted to expose the breech lock and recoiling parts. The operator thus had full view of all parts that might need maintenance. As the feeder was housed by the cover, any fault could be easily corrected without delay.

A double safety arrangement gave absolute security against accidental discharge from any conceivable source. This was considered of great importance by the Germans as their maneuvers required machine gun units to drag loaded weapons through thick underbrush.

The rate of fire was fairly low, with a maximum of only 400 to 450 shots per minute. This feature was also felt to be adequate by the Germans, as it was thought that with the Bergmann gun's medium weight any higher cyclic rate would only increase dispersion.

One of the best features was the withdrawing and positioning of ammunition from a belt by an extractor claw arranged on the feed slide. The part was so located that the claw would engage the rim of the incoming cartridge case even when haphazardly belted. This permitted reliable firing of ammunition the linkage of which would prohibit use in other machine guns. The belt itself was constructed of aluminum non-disintegrating links.

Such refinements show the meticulous skill of Theodor Bergmann, who not only designed this fine weapon but had numerous other patents on all types of automatic arms ranging from heavy machine guns to blow-back-operated submachine guns and pistols. His products have always demonstrated the highest degree of skill in the art of gun creation.

The weapon was again modified and issued as the Bergmann machine gun Model 1910. The changes in the basic mechanism were slight, the mount receiving the major alterations.

Dreyse Machine Gun

In 1912 a new water-cooled machine gun, caliber 7.9-mm, was introduced to the German service. The weapon was called the Dreyse, in honor of Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse, the inventor of the German needle gun and founder of the arms factory so named. This mechanism was patented by Louis Schmeisser of Erfurt, Germany, in 1907 and all rights were assigned to Rheinische Metallwaren und Maschinenfabrik A.G. of Düsseldorf. Although at first glance the gun appears to be but an improved Bergmann, basically it is different and there is no similarity in the mechanism. The main difference between the two is that the Bergmann lock rises vertically while the Schmeisser (or Dreyse) lock pivots.

The principal features found in the gun were the mechanical accelerator and a three-claw arrangement on the mainspring housing that withdrew the cartridges from the feed belt. The claws were positioned in a manner that made it practically impossible to have belted ammunition so much out of alignment that one of the three would not pick it up and position it for chambering.

The breech lock was known as the oscillating or pivoting type. It was pinned at the bottom of the barrel extension, swinging down for unlocking as the rear portion rode up a ramp on the recoil stroke. The addition of the accelerator gave a rate of fire of 600 shots a minute.

The weapon, when it made its first appearance, was looked upon as just another machine gun by German military leaders. Later the Dreyse Models 1915 and 1918 were introduced as the possibilities of its design were better appreciated. The Model 1915 did not perform successfully. However the Model 1918 proved to be quite reliable.

The German Army, which had been committed to the Maxim, found that this heavy weapon and its sled-shaped mount did not lend itself to the mobility that had by this time been found vitally necessary. A lightweight machine gun was needed that could be carried by a single soldier and was capable of delivering sustained fire so that relatively few men so armed could hold a position until reinforcement by the heavier Maxims was possible.

The Dreyse had been designed for just such a use. It could fire bursts of great duration since it was water cooled. It was the lightest gun of its type then known, weighing only 37 pounds with water jacket empty. The Germans had several light machine guns but the others were air cooled and the authorities thought much more highly


Dreyse Machine Gun, Model 1912
Dreyse Machine Gun, Model 1912.

of the efficiency of the water-cooled weapon. Since only a few pounds separated the two different styles, they looked very favorably on the extremely lightweight Dreyse. The large tripod mount originally designed for it was removed, and a bipod was substituted. This permitted the advancing infantryman to fire from the prone position. It was thought that this weapon, so mounted, best fulfilled the high command's conception of the primary function of all automatic weapons, namely, to deliver economically the greatest volume of fire power without sacrifice of mobility and accuracy.

Provision was made on the receiver for mounting a telescope sight; otherwise the conventional graduated iron sights that could be folded down when not in use were employed. The double safety arrangement was retained from the original design. There were only three main groups in its construction: The receiver, the back plate, and the cover. The receiver housed the barrel, barrel extension, operating parts, and water jacket; the back plate contained the buffer spring and trigger mechanism; while the cover held the feed slide and components.

To unload the weapon, the belt-holding pawl was lifted, allowing the belt to be pulled back so that the feed pawl would not engage the last round. Then the chambered round was removed by pulling back all the way on the retracting handle and then releasing it.

To fire the Dreyse water-cooled machine gun, Model 1918, a loaded cartridge belt is placed in position and the tip is pulled to the left until the first round snaps behind the belt-holding pawl. The retracting handle is withdrawn all the way and released, only one pull being necessary to withdraw the cartridge from the belt and chamber it. The trigger is now pushed in to pivot the sear back, releasing the hammer which, upon flying up, strikes the firing pin and detonates the powder charge. After the barrel extension, barrel, and bolt recoil a distance of less than a half inch, the breech lock is lifted at its rear end by the cammed surface at the bottom of the receiver. This forces down the front part


Section Drawing of Bergmann Machine Gun
Section Drawing of Bergmann Machine Gun.

Section Drawing of Dreyse Machine Gun
Section Drawing of Dreyse Machine Gun.

located behind the bolt, allowing it to recoil free of the heavier parts.

Actuated by the stud on the barrel extension, the accelerator then drives the bolt to the rear. The hammer is caught by the bolt lock and held to its rear position by the safety sear. The base of the cartridge strikes against the right guide which serves as the ejector and kicks the empty cartridge out the left side of the gun at a downward angle. The rear claws on the mainspring housing draw the new cartridge from the belt, and the housing, continuing to travel to the rear, catches the feed lever by means of a stud. The longitudinal movement is thus translated into transverse motion, actuating the feed slide over one space and positioning the incoming round.

The belt-holding pawl at the same time slips behind the next cartridge in the belt and holds it


for the next phase. The two remaining claws on the mainspring housing depress the withdrawn cartridge into the feedway. The recoil stroke having reached an end, the stored energy in the driving spring then starts the firing mechanism forward. After chambering the round, the accelerator releases the barrel and extension from a retracted position to go into battery. This pivots the swinging lock, which is raised by the cam on the bottom of the receiver, and locks the barrel, barrel extension, and bolt together.

The stud on the main spring housing carries the feed lever all the way in to place the incoming round against a cartridge stop in position for the extractor claw to slip over the cannelure of the cartridge. A projection on the barrel extension will trip the safety sear if the trigger is still depressed. And the last forward movement of the locked bolt and barrel releases the cocked hammer that drives the firing pin forward to discharge the next cartridge.


Chapter 9
Perino Machine Gun

Italian inventors, like those of every other nation in Europe, felt as a matter of national pride that their military forces should be armed with an automatic machine gun that was not only designed but fabricated in their own country.

In 1901 Giuseppe Perino, officer in charge of the Italian artillery factory in Rome, designed a machine gun that must still be admired today for its many advanced features.

The Italian Government, coming to the conclusion that it had a superior arm, immediately placed it in confidential status. Only a few at a time were built and experimented with, until it was felt the weapon was improved enough to compete with well-known machine guns.

In 1908 the government conducted a secret trial to compare the Perino with the Maxim. The test revealed that the Perino had a higher rate of fire than the latter, and that when water boiled in the jacket from prolonged bursts, the liquid could be changed during continued operation in the Italian gun but not in the other.

The mechanism was also found to be of simpler construction and was far easier to handle in the field, although it weighed 50 pounds without mount.

The most objectionable feature noted by the examining board was the delay caused by the need for manual removal of empty cartridge cases from the strips before they could be reloaded. This was an odd complaint since it was a by-product of one of the best and most unique methods of feeding to be found at this early date.

Metal trays holding 25 rounds of 6.5-mm cartridges were fed into the gun from left to right. The ammunition box held five such trays or clips. The weapon fed the trays one at a time from the bottom of the ammunition container. In this manner it was easy for the gunner's assistant to keep the box full by laying loaded ones on top of the stack. It also allowed a sustained fire as long as the gun functioned. A loaded tray followed immediately behind the ejection of an expended one from the right side of the weapon with the empty brass reclipped in the tray. In this manner of feeding, no metal link or fabric belt was required and no case ejection chute was necessary, since the empty case was placed back in the tray after being extracted from the chamber.

To fire the Perino, a clip or tray of ammunition is inserted in the feed opening on the left side. This is done only when the bolt is in battery, and secured by the pivot lock that is fastened to the barrel extension and engages the locking grooves on both top and bottom of the bolt.

The charging handle is then pulled smartly to the rear. When it reaches its full rearward stroke, a sear engages the bolt recess and holds it in the cocked-bolt position. This movement also indexes a round in position to be chambered. Upon pulling the trigger, the sear releases the bolt, which is then driven forward by the stored energy of the barrel-return spring. The bolt does not strip the round, as in most other machine guns of this type, but pushes it out of the clip into the chamber. It actually passes over the top of the clip where the cartridge was formerly held.

When the round is chambered, it is fired by inertia after the bolt is securely locked. After firing, the barrel, barrel extension, and bolt are locked together until the barrel pressure has reached a safe operating limit. At this point the unlocking lug of the lock engages a cam in a fixed receiver and pivots the lock to free the bolt from the barrel.

At the instant the bolt is freed, the cocking device, consisting of a two-forked lever pinned to the barrel extension, strikes a fixed stop in the bottom of the receiver. Further recoil of the


Perino Machine Gun, 6.5 mm.
Perino Machine Gun, 6.5 mm.

barrel extension causes the cocking lever to rotate. The top end of the lever engages the bolt, and its rotation first retracts the firing pin and then accelerates the bolt to the rear.

When this movement starts, a lever attached to the barrel extension engages a gear rack in the bottom of the receiver. This is done to utilize all the energy of the extremely long recoil stroke, and to give positive timing between the bolt and barrel cycle. This linkage arrangement acts as an accelerator both for carrying the bolt to the buffer and for returning it to battery, with the bolt and barrel both in their most rearward position. The lever takes the place of a driving spring. For as the barrel return spring forces the barrel back to battery, this linkage whips the bolt forward, insuring that it will overtake the barrel in time to go into battery together. It also positions the bolt so that the cam-operated lock can engage it, thus preventing any possibility of firing before the piece is securely locked.

The long recoil stroke allows a gradual loosening of the empty cartridge case in the chamber. When the fired brass is withdrawn by the extractor, it travels its length rearward and in place of being ejected from the gun, it is released by the extractor and snapped down in the feed tray. The bolt continues its travel. After it has passed clear of the cartridge tray and is at the extreme end of its recoil stroke, the lug on the


barrel extension cams the feed tray over one space, indexing the next round into position. If the trigger is held, the automatic action will continue.

Italy planned to manufacture the Perino weapon in its federal arms plants, believing that this, coupled with its simple design, would allow the economical production of one of the world's finest machine guns.

After the secret trials the only important change was an alternate method of supplying cartridges besides the strip feed. This modification consisted of a drum arrangement on the left side of the weapon upon which was rolled the belted ammunition fixed on a flexible brass strip. The feature of rebelting empty cartridge cases was retained. The loaded ammunition still was fed in from the left side while the belted empty brass emerged from the right. The belts had a quick detachable snap at two-foot intervals, so that the gunner could instantly separate the strip if he cared to move the weapon's position when the empty brass and belt began to pile up.

This model was designed for cooling both by air and water. When the latter method was used, the barrel acted as a small reciprocating pump operating from recoil, insuring a constant circulation of water in the jacket during firing. A longitudinally ribbed barrel was employed, aiding in the control of dispersion when long bursts were fired. The ribs gave added strength with little weight and allowed considerably more surface for radiation.

A built-in device at the muzzle, after permitting the bullet to clear the bore safely, trapped the blast. This heretofore wasted energy was employed to accelerate the recoil further. No driving spring was used in this weapon, as the barrel-return spring and accelerator lever returned the bolt to battery. A muzzle booster with this unusual bolt action reached its highest efficiency at 600 shots per minute.

The cartridge was indexed by the surplus barrel-recoil energy. The ammunition tray or belt, if the latter was used, could be released from the mechanism of the weapon merely by pushing a button disconnect. This permitted the clearing of a feed failure without access to the working parts.

To clear a malfunction, the whole right side hinged down and exposed all the operating parts. A soldier, while lying prone on the ground without exposure to enemy fire, could completely disassemble and replace any parts that failed in action. The Italian authorities felt that this feature was of extreme importance.

To keep the weapon in secret status, the government actually purchased and equipped its army with Maxims, while at the same time continuing to perfect the Perino gun. Shortly after

Perino Machine Gun with Right Side Hinged Down to Expose the Mechanism
Perino Machine Gun with Right Side Hinged Down to Expose the Mechanism.


the next trial there appeared what is known as the 1908 model, which was only a highly refined version of the original design. A 1910 model followed later.

Still no effort was made by the authorities of the Italian army to put the weapon in open trial. Had the Perino gun been given competition and failures corrected by firing as they appeared, it would no doubt have been ranked with the best the world had to offer. The ultra-security measures of the Italians did more to retard the development of the weapon than anything else. The gun, having been in existence for so long without any proof of its efficiency, was for this reason considered outmoded before it had been adequately proved. The Perino heads the list of fine machine gun principles that have been stifled by over-security.


Chapter 10
Carr Machine Gun

The Navy's Bureau of Ordnance on 14 April 1901 was requested by the Driggs-Seabury Gun and Ammunition Co., 43 Cedar Street, New York City, to arrange a test of a new machine gun at the Naval Proving Ground, Indian Head, Md. The inventor of the gun, produced by this company, was Howard Carr of San Francisco.

The Navy assured Driggs-Seabury that it would give the weapon a trial and consider it for adoption if it proved capable of meeting certain requirements. The date for the test was set for 16 July 1901, at which time the weapon would be given an official rating on rapidity of fire, efficiency, accuracy, durability, and simplicity of design.

Since the request did not originate with the Navy, it was specified that all ammunition used would be provided by the Government but paid for by the promoters of the weapon. This was agreed upon and Mr. Carr, the inventor, arrived at the appointed time with his gun, having elected to fire the weapon himself.

The following account is taken from official records of two trials. Lt. Francis Broughton, USN, Inspector of Ordnance, was officer in charge.

The gun, which was chambered for the caliber .30 Krag-Jorgensen rifle cartridge, was recoil operated and drum fed, having a single barrel. A fire regulator allowed both single-shot and automatic firing. The gun was mounted on a tripod, fitted with a seat for the operator. Changes in both train and elevation were obtained by gear and screw attachments, which could be thrown quickly out of action and the gun aimed by the pistol grip or shoulder stock.

The magazine was circular in shape, and slipped into position on top of the breech end of the receiver. The drum was divided into 62 radial compartments, each holding 4 cartridges, making it hold 248 in all. An even larger drum, holding 310 rounds, 5 to a compartment, was also brought with the gun.

Carr, in describing the weapon's action to the Navy Board, gave the following cycle of operation:

"Upon discharge, the barrel recoils about one inch, extending a heavy return spring fitted underneath the receiver. The barrel and bolt, at the moment of firing, are held securely locked by a jointed lever. The end of this lever engages a sear located in the pistol-grip. After unlocking, the barrel is returned to battery by the barrel return, while the lock continues to travel rearward.

"When about half of the recoil movement is accomplished, the empty cartridge case is extracted from the chamber and ejected downwards through a slot in the bottom of the receiver. A lug on the side of the receiver revolves the magazine and at the same time places a cartridge in position, forcing it down in line with the chamber. The driving spring then completely closes the breech, throwing the toggle lever into a straight line with the breech block, and, in case of automatic firing, releasing the firing pin.

"Automatic or single firing can be obtained by placing the fire regulator in the position desired. Fitted on the right side of the breech is a lever for charging the mechanism by hand. It is used to clear feed failures or any other malfunction that might arise, obviating any considerable delay in firing."

Mr. Carr, in order to demonstrate the general action of the gun to the assembled officers, fired 20 shots singly and 20 full automatic. It worked perfectly during this part of the test. To show how rapidly it was possible to assemble the weapon in the field, the gun, feeder, and tripod were brought in separately. In 40 seconds they were assembled and the first shot fired.

To prove the general efficiency of the mechanism, the Carr gun was tested under the following conditions:

(a) Twenty-five rounds were fired, with a

dummy cartridge every fifth round. It was


Carr Machine Gun
Carr Machine Gun.

found that the "dud" was in every case quickly removed by means of the hand charger.

(b) Twenty-five rounds were fired with one vacant space at the end of the first five rounds, two at the end of the second five rounds, three at the end of the third five rounds, and four at the end of the fourth five rounds. The gun ceased functioning upon coming to the vacant spaces. To resume firing, it was necessary by means of the hand charger to revolve the magazine until the next cartridge was dropped. Ten rounds were then placed in the feeder, one of them being a cartridge that had been purposely deformed so that it would not enter the chamber. When fed into the gun, it jammed the mechanism, but was extracted manually without difficulty.

(c) Fifty rounds were successfully fired with the gun elevated 15°, and another 50 with the gun depressed the same amount.

(d) On two different occasions a handful of dust was thrown into the mechanism, the time taken to clean the lock and fire the first shot being 35 and 40 seconds, respectively. Carr did not deem it necessary to dismount any portion of the mechanism for cleaning, but charged the gun by the hand-operating lever until all parts worked freely.

Three targets were made at a range of 120 yards, using the Army B target. Seventeen rounds were fired single shot, using the elevating and training gear. Fifty rounds were fired full automatic, using the elevating and training gear. Twenty rounds were fired singly, with the elevating and training gear thrown out of action, the gun being held by means of the pistol grip.

Carr experienced considerable difficulty in holding on the target, so that only a few shots hit the bull's-eye. He attempted to account for this by stating that the sight had not yet been adjusted for drift. As the shoulder bar had not been sent with the gun, it was not deemed safe to endeavor to make a target with the gun firing


Target Made by Carr Gun in 1901 Trials
Target Made by Carr Gun in 1901 Trials.

automatic, while the elevating and training gear was disconnected. A velocity check showed 1,966 feet per second 88 feet from the muzzle. The velocity obtained with this cartridge in the Army rifle is given as 1,954 feet per second 53 feet from the rifle.

The bolt was withdrawn by the inventor and entirely taken apart in 50 seconds without the use of any tools. It was reassembled in 3 minutes. There were very few screws, those in use being principally for the purpose of holding small springs. During the test a great many empty cartridge cases were pulled apart upon extraction, breaking at a point about one-half inch from the base. This part was extracted and ejected, the rest of the case remaining in the gun. It was not found difficult to remove it with an ordinary cleaning rod.

In order to ascertain whether the ammunition was defective, 100 rounds were fired in the Colt automatic gun. None of the cartridge cases pulled apart nor showed any signs of breaking. It was, therefore, considered that the defect lay with the gun, and was due either to a swelling of the rear portion of the chamber or to a failure of the breech-block in holding the cartridge home sufficiently secure. The ammunition used came from Frankford Arsenal. It was loaded with W. A. powder and primed with H-48 primer.

It had been intended to test the gun for durability by firing 1,000 rounds as rapidly as possible, observing afterwards the condition of the barrel, the rifling, and the mechanism, and obtaining velocities and targets. As the firing was interrupted frequently by reason of the splitting of the cartridge cases, it was considered impossible to carry out this test.

Another barrel fitted with a small water jacket was sent with the gun. This also would have been used in the durability test, had it not been postponed until the inventor thought his weapon could meet the required demands.

On 25 July 1901 the second and final phase of the trial began, Carr having declared his weapon ready for the endurance and rate of fire test.

It was found that 4 minutes and 45 seconds were required for one man to load a drum with 248 rounds. To test the extractor, six cartridges were coated with varnish, so as to stick in the chamber. They were extracted satisfactorily. In 35 seconds 192 cartridges were fired full automatic; in 40 seconds, 240 cartridges were fired in a single burst. This was at a rate of 360 rounds per minute.

The endurance test of 1,000 rounds of sustained fire was attempted, but interruptions were so frequent that it was not completed. The failures were due principally to: (1) A lack of operating power, the magazine gear not leaving enough force to close the breech; and (2) failure to extract, the extractor slipping from under the rim of the cartridge.

The splitting of the cartridge cases in the first trial was found to be due to the fact that the cartridge was not shoved completely home. This was remedied by screwing the barrel one thirty-second of an inch further into the breech casing, thus forming a more perfect head space. Why the weapon started to rupture cases during the latter part of the second trial was not determined by the board.

The test was then stopped by the officer in charge as the weapon had not shown a degree of reliability that warranted further consideration. Overheating was of such a nature as to cause the weapon's operating mechanism to seize and slow it until there was not enough energy to rotate the feeder and lock the bolt.

It was interesting that this machine gun


employed the drum-type feed that was used so much at a later date. While Hiram Maxim was the originator of this method of feeding, Howard Carr was the first to attempt to put it to practical use. The unusually large number of rounds in the feeder made the weapon breech heavy and when this large mass rotated, it was found that unless the weapon was securely fastened to the front mount it was exceedingly hard to hold on the target. It also added greatly to the clumsy appearance of the gun.

These were the only official tests run on the Carr weapon. By this time the inventor no doubt realized it had fallen so far short of Navy requirements that to meet them would require complete redesign. On the whole, the weapon was quite inferior to many guns that had already been proved reliable.


Chapter 11
Schwarzlose Machine Gun

Andreas Wilhelm Schwarzlose of Charlottenburg, Germany, was an inventor who was already well known on the continent by 1900, having produced many designs for self-loading pistols. His first one used a locked breech with short-recoil action. It was later developed into what was known as the blow-forward system, in which the breech remains motionless while the entire mechanism, including the barrel, goes forward when the shot is fired.

Schwarzlose is best remembered for his machine gun, patented in 1902 but first manufactured in 1905 by the Steyr arms works in Austria. He was perhaps the first machine gun designer to accomplish true simplicity of mechanism. He determined to eliminate the hard-to-manufacture lock and moving barrel of the Maxim and also to avoid any of the gas-operating features of the Hotchkiss. A straight blow-back mechanism, as used in several successful self-loading hand arms, was out of the question; all smokeless-powder high-pressure rifle-caliber cartridges ruptured unless the initial extraction was slow enough to permit pressure to drop to a degree where they would not stick to the chamber.

Schwarzlose solved the problem in an unusual manner. A powerful mainspring and heavy bolt were used that provided inertia enough to resist the first rearward thrust of the exploding powder charge. But this alone was not sufficient. A comparatively short barrel was also employed, coupled with an arrangement of levers that caused the bolt to act at a mechanical disadvantage when trying to compress the mainspring suddenly.

To fire the weapon, a tag at the beginning of the cartridge belt, on the under side of which are held the rounds, is inserted in the belt guide at the lower right side of the feed. The belt is then pulled to the left and over the sprocket wheel of the feeder until the first cartridge engages a tooth. The charging handle is pulled smartly to the rear three times and released. The driving spring, in taking the parts to battery on the third return, alines the round with the chamber.

The gun has a double trigger actuated by the thumbs. In order to fire, one thumb has to keep an automatic safety catch to the left before the other can depress the trigger releasing the sear. When the powder charge is detonated, the barrel, not being locked to the bolt, does not recoil as in other automatic weapons. The pressure exerted on the base of the cartridge is transmitted to the face of the bolt. In order to keep the action in a closed position as long as the bullet is in the barrel, the bolt is so constructed that when in battery it forms a linkage. An elbow joint is attached to the bolt with another arm pivoted to a fixed axis in the receiver.

During the initial movement rearward the elbow has to move through an arc. Since there is a very small angle between the linkage and crank when the breech is closed, much of the shock of initial recoil is absorbed by the receiver. This movement is utilized first to withdraw the firing pin from the primer and cock the weapon by engaging the crank handle in the receiver with a camming toe on the cocking piece.

After the retarding action the bolt starts to recoil. It carries the empty cartridge which the extractor is holding by the rim in position to be struck and thrown out of the left side of the receiver by the ejector. The movement of the bolt is completed, against the resistance of the unusually strong return spring, by the acquired momentum of the heavy moving parts of the mechanism. The bolt then starts counterrecoil from the stored energy of the driving spring. When the incoming round from the feed is rolled into position and chambered, the striker is seared off automatically. This operation will continue as long as the two thumb triggers are actuated.


Schwarzlose Machine Gun, Model 1907/1912
Schwarzlose Machine Gun, Model 1907/1912.

The breech mechanism of the Schwarzlose weapon is never positively locked. The necessary delay in opening the breech is largely dependent upon the inertia furnished by the elbow-type linkage, the resistance of a strong spring, and the absorption of the first shock of the early stage of peak pressure by the receiver. However, the major factor is the use of a 20 3/4-inch barrel. This is the maximum length that can be used to insure the bullet's clearing the bore before recoil of the bolt begins. If any longer barrel were to be used, with the rifle caliber cartridge it was designed for, the mechanism, to be safe, would assume such large proportions that it could not remain in the portable machine gun class.

The Schwarzlose is constructed so that it can be disassembled in a few seconds. In its design the theme of simplicity is followed so closely that operating parts are kept at a minimum. One outstanding example of efficiency is the employment of a single large rear-positioned spring that serves as a buffer, bolt return, and firing pin spring, performing each cycle in turn.

The feed is unique, being a star-wheel type located on the lower right side. It consists of only two working parts, the feed roller and the detent slide. The roller engages the cartridges in its sprockets as the belt is pulled into the mechanism by action of the bolt on the roller. As the ammunition passes through the wheel, the rounds are slowly cammed rearward for a short distance before the extractor claw on the bolt makes a final withdrawal. This initial movement adds greatly to the ease of feeding, as contrasted with other weapons of a similar nature which attempt to pull the round from the belt by a sudden jerk rearward.

The roller is synchronized with the bolt so


Action of the Schwarzlose Gun
Action of the Schwarzlose Gun.


Schwarzlose Machine Gun, 8 mm.
Schwarzlose Machine Gun, 8 mm.

that, when the latter is at its rearmost position, the top sprocket wheel rolls the cartridge upon an inclined shelf directly in line with the chamber. It is so confined in this recess that the rim always makes contact with the bolt face that pushes it forward into the chamber.

This system is appropriately designated retarded blow-back. Due to the fact that the cartridge is extracted under relatively high gas pressure, it was found necessary to lubricate the ammunition. Schwarzlose settled this problem by installing, as an integral part of the weapon, a pump to lubricate the cases. This device pumped a squirt of oil in the chamber between each extraction and loading. The combination of the lubricated ammunition, heavy spring, large bolt assembly, and short barrel allowed the use of an unlocked action which proved quite satisfactory.

The Schwarzlose was fairly popular with European governments and was used by a number of foreign powers at one time or another. The gun was water cooled, belt fed, and tripod mounted, with all typical blow-back peculiarities, including the low rate of fire of 400 rounds a minute. It was originally chambered for the Austrian service rifle 8-mm rim cartridge, and came in three models, the 1905, 1907, and 1912.

The 1912 model was redesigned to fire dry ammunition, no oil pump being required for its functioning. This was done by adding more weight to the bolt, a heavier driving spring and slightly more angle in the linkage action. Having no breech lock, this new toggle design put the blow-back forces to a still greater mechanical disadvantage, allowing the crank to be moved far enough off center to permit the pressure to push the bolt back more slowly. When the 1912 gun is in battery, the crank is not quite on dead center, so that the first action of the gas pressure is to raise the crank out of line. This longer delay in starting the mass in recoil is just enough to dispense with the lubrication of the ammunition.


Chapter 12
McClean Machine Gun

Before going into the description and background of the McClean automatic weapons, first patented in 1902 and government-tested both in 1903-05 and in 1916-18, it is necessary to bring attention to the fact that the inventor is often confused with Dr. James H. McLean, patent medicine salesman and so-called machine gun inventor of the manual-operated period. The designer of the weapons under discussion resembles the St. Louis doctor only in the close spelling of the last name.

Samuel Neal McClean at an early age began to patent improvements on magazine repeating arms. He then progressed to designing a full-automatic firing mechanism and formed the McClean Ordnance & Arms Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, to produce it in both rifle and shell gun caliber.

The first gun made by this new company had a bore of 37 millimeters and was commonly called a one-pounder. This truck-mounted cannon was completely automatic in action and according to the company would revolutionize artillery through its rapidity of fire and mobility.

McClean, feeling that the weapon should be introduced by an official capable of insuring its being brought to the attention of the proper people, employed Gen. Joseph Wheeler, United States Army, Retired, to present the weapon to the Army board for purposes of trial and adoption. The request for an official test was granted and Brig. Gen. William Crozier, Chief of Army Ordnance, ordered that it be scheduled on 10 November 1904. The inventor was allowed to conduct two earlier firings in order to bring to light and correct any malfunctions that might jeopardize the performance during official considerations.

The Sandy Hook Proving Ground was selected for the test. While 670 rounds were fired in the preliminary stages between 8 March and 2 April 1904, many stoppages resulted. It was decided to ship the weapon back to the place of manufacture after McClean concluded that certain modifications would be necessary.

After the needed changes it was returned and 518 rounds were expended between 17 June and 26 August 1904. While the reworking of the components showed a marked improvement in performance, the gun was again sent to the factory to incorporate in it other refinements in order to be in first-class condition for the official test in November.

In these two warm-up runs, McClean did the firing and other members of the company were present to assist. The Chief of Army Ordnance was also an interested spectator during these attempts. For the final trial an Army board convened at the time set by General Crozier and the weapon was presented and described by the inventor. As each component was disassembled, its function was outlined. The speed with which it could be put into action and its mobility were especially stressed.

The McClean cannon is clip fed and gas-piston actuated, with a non-recoiling barrel. The principal parts are the barrel, the receiver to which it is fastened, the gas cylinder located directly beneath the barrel, and the bolt assembly that operates from and in conjunction with the gas piston. The ammunition is fed into the mechanism by means of two sizes of clips, holding five and ten cartridges respectively.

In order to reduce the shock of recoil, which, if not taken into consideration, would make mobile mounting of such a large bore gun impossible, a device located at the front end of the barrel has been added. This serves as a muzzle brake through the action of the expanding gases striking angular slots in the attachment after the projectile clears. The application of blast at this instant counteracts the recoil forces to a marked degree.

The operating mechanism consists of a reciprocating and rotating breech lock as an integral


Samuel M. McClean Demonstrating His 37-mm Automatic Cannon
Samuel M. McClean Demonstrating His 37-mm Automatic Cannon.

part of the bolt, a gas-actuated piston, a sear, and a trigger so constructed that single-shot firing can be converted to full automatic without the gunner taking his finger from the trigger. The port in the barrel through which the gas bleeds for action on the piston has a regulator that controls the size of the orifice. The rate of fire is governed by the setting of this device.

The gas-driven piston is so constructed that by a series of consecutive steps it controls the entire cycle of automatic fire. It has a cam engagement with the breech lock which regulates positively the unlocking, reciprocating, and locking action of the bolt by the breech lock. It also has another cam that engages the cartridge feed to insure the alternate positioning of the incoming cartridges. Finally, an inertia-type firing pin and sear notch for engagement with the scar controls firing action for either automatic or single shot.

The heavy steel receiver screws to the breech end of the barrel. It has a cylinder housing in which the bolt travels and a companion opening in which the piston rod moves. On the under side there is a pistol grip encasing the trigger and a dial that can be set to regulate the rate of fire. The upper right hand side has a short slotted post arrangement in which are slipped the loaded clips. A latch permits the instant freeing of the clips after insertion.

An easily removable gas-actuating assembly is connected at one end to the gun barrel, a short distance from the muzzle, and at the other to the frame. The piston rod is a hollow tube. A piston at the forward end is screw-threaded into the bar to permit a coiled return spring to be added to, or removed from, the piece. The rear part of the piston is provided with an upwardly projecting arm to the forward end of which the firing pin is attached. It has a cam that mates with one on the breechblock to give positive control over the locking action of the gun. Another cam on its right side engages the feed in such a manner as to position and then chamber the incoming cartridge.

The breechblock is a cylindrical bolt having an interrupted screw thread. This forms a series of lugs that are cammed down into the locking recesses cut in the receiver near the chamber. A heavy conical-shaped firing pin is also fastened to the piston. The lugs have to be in position for engagement before the piston can advance all the way into battery and drive the firing pin


McClean Machine Gun, Cal. .30, Being Fired by the Inventor
McClean Machine Gun, Cal. .30, Being Fired by the Inventor.

into the primer. The bolt also houses the extractor hooks which are short stiff hooks so formed as to lock into the extractor seats and fasten over the rim of the cartridge in a modified form of T slot. It is not released until the empty case has been fully withdrawn.

A swinging lever, which is a part of the bolt, is designed so that when the empty cartridge is over the ejection opening in the receiver, the rear of the ejector rides up on an angle and pivots the front down. The spent round is thus knocked clear of the operating parts.

The whole extractor and ejection system is carried on the bolt in three pieces, two extractors and the ejector, which could be removed from the gun and replaced in a matter of seconds. The firing indicator lever, with a dial showing the type of firing desired, is located on the right side of the pistol grip. The entire mechanism can be completely disassembled and put back together without the aid of wrenches or tools other than a specially designed shoulder bar.

The cartridge slips are formed of sheet metal and have a flanged guide that form a T slot to engage the rims of the shell cases. They were designed for five or ten rounds as desired. The ammunition is the standard service fixed one-pounder or 37-millimeter with a muzzle velocity of 2,100 feet per second and capable of generating a maximum chamber pressure of 25,000 pounds.

Five proof charges were fired with the


McClean Machine Gu
McClean Machine Gun.

McClean automatic cannon that reached a peak pressure of 39,700 pounds and a close visual inspection showed no breakage or deformation of parts. But when the official tests for automatic fire got under way, numerous stoppages were encountered, most of them being feed jams. When these were cleared, an attempt was made to fire 100 rounds in two 50-round bursts; during this try there were eight malfunctions. The stoppages were the result of the piston slowing up and finally halting. The officers present thought this was due to the expansion of the moving parts from heat.

A total of 200 rounds were tried next in one burst; this was done in 6 minutes and 51 seconds. It also was not accomplished without piston seizure taking place. Temperature of the bore at the muzzle was taken before starting and recorded at 230° F.; at the end of the burst it was 428°.

It was observed that all stoppages took place when the end of the feed pawl was in the cam groove at the rear position of the piston's stroke. The board was asked that McClean be allowed to change the angle of the cam slightly with a view to improving conditions. This was permitted; however, the time delay was charged to the gun. When firing resumed, the same type of stoppage persisted. After 1,182 rounds had been fired, the trial was terminated. McClean expressed a desire to send the piston back to the factory and increase its diameter in order to give it more operating power.

The weapon had a very improved buffer for this early date. It operated by compressed air, the recoiling parts striking the piston backed up by a high air pressure.

The following conclusions are taken from the official reports of the Army board:

"The results of the trials of the gun and mount are not satisfactory. . . . The muzzle attachment takes up a considerable percentage of the recoil in a useful manner: the reciprocating piston rod and its control of the breechblock is simple and effective and its action has not, so far as observed in these trials, been materially interfered with by fouling of the piston from the powder gases. The mechanism of the gun otherwise comprises a large number of springs and small parts which govern important functions in operation and the trials have been characterized by a great number of breakages and interruptions, including especially the feed mechanism, the extractors, the ejector, and the cushion


piston. The sights are not satisfactory, nor the training gear. The rate of aimed fire is very low. It has not been practicable to secure a good rate of continuous fire at will, and the accuracy of fire at fixed targets, and especially at moving targets, shows a very low standard generally.

"The failure . . . [of the piston rod] . . . to work properly especially in the 200 rounds continuous automatic action test and also in the dust and rust tests renders the trials unsatisfactory. It is thought a gun of this character should be capable of delivering a considerably greater number than 200 rounds continuous fire without trouble, and the number of rounds for this test in one-pounder automatic guns in future may properly be increased to 300."

The members of the board were: Charles S. Smith, Colonel, Ordnance Department, president; R. Birnie, Major, Ordnance Department; George L. Anderson, Major, Artillery Corps; and B. W. Dunn, Major, Ordnance Department.

To fire the McClean one-pounder, the gunner drops five loaded rounds into the hopper feed and pulls the operating mechanism rearward by means of a drawbar. When released, the parts are driven forward as the compression of the driving spring strips the round from the feeder and chambers it. Continued movement forward locks and cocks the piece.

When the trigger is pulled, the exploding powder charge starts the projectile through the bore. After it has passed a port in the barrel, the expanding gases enter the gas cylinder and impel the actuating piston rearward. Mounted on the piston is the unlocking lug to which is attached the firing pin. The first movement rearward withdraws the pin, which works in a slide-way in the piston, and further travel of the piston rotates the bolt body with its lugs, thus unlocking the action.

McClean Machine Gun with Feed Drum
McClean Machine Gun with Feed Drum.


The projectile has now safely cleared the muzzle. The empty shell case withdrawn by the extractors is held by these pieces until the opening in the bottom of the receiver is reached. A pivoting ejector then snaps over the bolt face, striking the empty case and knocking it through the ejection slot.

The operating parts continue to recoil until the rear buffer is struck. The latter absorbs all surplus energy and, aided by the fully compressed driving spring, starts counterrecoil movement. A raised part of the bolt body makes contact with the first round in the hopper and starts to chamber it. At a distance of one and a half inches from battery, the firing pin is held in a retracted position while the gas piston, in going home, fully rotates the bolt body, engaging its lugs in their locking recesses. The obstruction in front of the firing pin is removed by this means, and if the trigger continues to be held back, the striker flies forward to drive the firing pin into the primer.

The stockholders of the McClean Arms & Ordnance Co. were so disappointed at the performance of the automatic cannon that they would not underwrite another venture on the weapon and for the most part dropped all financial backing of the company. Reorganization followed, but instead of developing the larger gun, this time all energy was placed on producing a caliber .30 automatic lightweight machine gun, chambered for a service rifle cartridge. For promotional work the services of Lt. Col. O. M. Lissak, United States Army Ordnance, were secured. The weapon when produced was even called the McClean-Lissak machine gun, although there is nothing to show that Lissak contributed anything beyond his business ability. The weapon was still McClean's early invention with many features of the automatic cannon being scaled down to rifle caliber and used in this model.

It was quite apparent that the designers tried to create a weapon that excelled any known weapon in every feature. The McClean-Lissak weighed only 19 pounds and the operating parts were fewer in number than those of the Benét-Mercié. The company claimed the barrel could be removed in one-half the time required by any other machine gun.

The McClean cannon, which never passed a successful proving ground test either for the Army or the Navy, dropped out of existence for a while. During World War I, Russia, desperately in need of any kind of armament, did buy quite a number from its new producer, the Poole Engineering Co. of Baltimore, Maryland. As late as 1916 the United States gave Poole Co. officials another chance to demonstrate the "improved" model, but it also failed as miserably as its predecessors.

This gun, with its unenviable record, still has a leading place in weapon history. The features patented by Mr. S. N. McClean were assigned by him to the Auto Ordnance Co., of Buffalo, New York, and were later used in the devisement of one of the outstanding early aircraft machine guns. A close study reveals the similarity of construction in the two arms.

After McClean had sold his patents to the Buffalo firm and their utilization in an adapted form had turned out to be highly successful, he tried once again to produce a machine gun by a method known as reversing the principle.

The flat drum feed was moved from the top to the side, making the weapon very cumbersome and heavily unbalanced at the part to which the feed was attached. The mechanism itself was practically identical with the one-pounder. In May 1919 McClean finally interested the Navy to the extent that he was allowed to demonstrate this model to the Bureau of Ordnance at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, D. C. While he did fire the weapon to a more or less satisfactory degree, it did not warrant, in the opinion of the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, any further testing and on 31 May 1919 McClean was so notified.

This decision ended his long period of machine gun development. And while it takes considerable research to identify his name with productive machine gun design, nevertheless automatic arms development owes much to his patient inventive efforts.


Chapter 13
Chauchat Machine Gun

In 1903 the French Government, having what it felt was an adequate heavy machine gun, started looking about for a machine rifle as a companion arm. Of the numerous types taken under study, the French Army board became interested in an extremely lightweight automatic arm that could be fired either single shot or full automatic and be carried by the soldier with as little difficulty as the standard infantry rifle. It became known as the Chauchat.

This weapon, while originally made at the French Government arsenals, was most certainly not native in design. It was undoubtedly inspired by the experimental weapon invented by the Hungarian arms designer, Rudolf Frommer, who had already become well known for his weapons built on the long-recoil system and had demonstrated a similar design at an earlier date. The fact that this machine rifle employed the long-recoil system for its operation is in itself of great interest, as it represents the only automatic machine gun ever produced by France that did not use gas as the actuating force. Although it has been experimented with by inventors of every country in the world, the French for some reason have always looked upon the operation of machine guns by gas as a specialty of their own. That they should deviate at this time indicates an outside influence in the matter of design.

The Chauchat employs a front-locking bolt

Chauchat Machine Rifle, Model 1915, 8 mm.
Chauchat Machine Rifle, Model 1915, 8 mm.


that releases on the straight-pull principle found both in Mannlicher and Frommer self-loading pistols. This rotary bolt has four locking lugs, is of heavy construction, and is actuated by a recoiling non-rotating sleeve. In this piece are incorporated the striker, a hook to engage the sear, the feed bar which projects forward under the bolt, and the cocking piece which in turn carries a rod to operate the feed block.

The tail of the bolt has two cams which engage in helical slots cut in the sleeve. They are locked together in the retracted position by a spring-loaded stud which is released only when the bolt is in the act of turning in battery position. The helical slots in the sleeve are cut on a shallow pitch, so that the sleeve carrying the striker must advance one full half inch after the bolt is closed and locked before the striker can make contact with the primer of the chambered cartridge. Another unusual safety feature is that a spring-loaded plunger projecting from the face of the bolt must be compressed by the rim of the seated cartridge in order to remove the plunger from alignment with the striker point. In effect, the bolt must be home, securely locked, and the plunger cammed back by a round in the chamber before the primer can be touched.

The feed is semicircular in construction and holds twenty 8-mm Lebel cartridges. Its unusually clumsy design is very adaptable to the steeply conical round. A swinging feed block operating in conjunction with the cocking piece during the cycle of operation first positions and then guides the incoming rounds from the circular magazine into the chamber.

To fire the Chauchat, a loaded magazine is inserted between the side plate and bottom of the barrel. The rear end is then pushed up until the magazine catch snaps, holding it in position. To fire single shot, the fire regulator is changed from "S," or safe ("sur" in French), to "C," or control ("controle" in French). If automatic fire is required, the regulator is moved to "M," machine gun or automatic fire ("mitrailleuse" in French).

Assuming that automatic firing is desired and the regulator is properly set, the operating knob is pulled to the rear until the sear engages the notch in the feed piece holding the action in the cocked-bolt position. Pulling the trigger

Section Drawing of Chauchat Model 1918, Cal. .30
Section Drawing of Chauchat Model 1918, Cal. .30.


rearward releases the operating mechanism, allowing it to fly forward under energy of the compressed driving spring. The rolling action of the cocking assembly pushes a cartridge from the magazine mouth, where it is picked up by the bolt and chambering of the round begins. This action is assisted by the cartridge guide which cams the point of the bullet up into the entrance of the chamber. A cam then moves the guide out of the way of the magazine mouth.

As the bolt travels forward, the locking lugs are vertical. To insure their remaining temporarily in this position, the bolt stop is used. This consists of a conical plug that fits partly in the bolt body and partly in the bolt head, thus preventing a torque motion between the two parts except when released. When the cartridge is firmly seated, the bolt stop rides inside the breech housing forcing the bolt head to turn. This locks the assembly securely when the movement forward has reached its limit. The driving spring continues to drive forward the portion of the bolt body that carries the striker, since the final rotary motion of the locking lugs frees the striker to detonate the primer.

The bolt, barrel, and barrel extension recoil rearward, still locked together, for a distance greater than the combined overall length of the cartridge case and bullet. At a point slightly less than its full recoil stroke, the bolt lugs unlock the bolt from the barrel extension and barrel. The bolt is then held to the rear by a searing device and the barrel extension and barrel start counter recoil. As the rim of the fired cartridge is held secure by the extractor in the bolt face, the barrel and barrel extension, in starting forward to battery, pull away from the spent brass. When the barrel has traveled a distance that will permit it, a spring-loaded ejector bearing on the empty case kicks it from the ejection slot in the right side of the receiver.

If the trigger remains depressed, the barrel assembly cams the sear off just before it reaches battery, releasing the bolt that had been held to the rear and the cycle is repeated.

No more crudely designed nor uglier automatic weapon has ever been put in the hands of soldiers of a first-rate power than this weapon. The Chauchat was cheap to construct and easy to adapt to mass production methods, as its careless manufacturing tolerances were of such a nature that anything could be accepted. When the danger of war became imminent, it was made by the thousands. To cite instances of its simple construction, the barrel jacket, barrel extension, and receiver were constructed of conventional tubing. Even the locking lugs were stampings or shrunk on, and the remainder of the frame consisted of assembled stampings that were screwed together. Anything resembling refinement was

American Troops Training with the Chauchat Machine Rifle
American Troops Training with the Chauchat Machine Rifle.


conspicuously absent. The handle did not even have the appearance of a pistol grip, being only a right-angled piece of wood screwed onto a stamped trigger guard and frame. And while the total production ran into many thousands, there was no interchangeability of parts, as the French methods did not call for such close gaging of components. Thus, the weapon could be considered hand finished as far as interchangeability is concerned.

The weight of the Chauchat weapon (19 pounds, including folding bipod) definitely placed it in the lightweight machine rifle class. The extreme distance of travel of the operating parts, brought about by the long recoil action, made it difficult to hold on a target and consequently it was very inaccurate. It is to be considered incomparably the worst machine gun of its class used by any belligerent in World War I.

At the time the United States entered the conflict, the country did not possess anything comparable even to the Chauchat, and when the A. E. F. landed overseas, the Government contracted with the French for enough of these weapons to arm each division as it arrived. While the American troops read glowing accounts of production feats at home with the superior Browning automatic machine guns, they were compelled to fight the war to the end armed with Chauchats. It is a matter of record that their issue to American troops was nearly twice what was anticipated as they were almost invariably thrown away in action.

The use of a weapon designed for the French cartridge made it necessary for our supply department to carry two kinds of rifle ammunition as all combat units had guns with both calibers. This situation was undesirable from a logistics viewpoint. It was found that with little difficulty and few changes the 8-mm Chauchat could be rechambered to take our caliber .30 service cartridge. On 17 August 1917, 5 months after we were in the war, an order was placed with the French commission to alter 25,000 weapons in such a manner. The revised gun was to be known as the caliber .30 Model 1918, with the reworking to be carried out by the original

The Chauchat in Action with American Troops
The Chauchat in Action with American Troops.


producers of the basic mechanism. As a result it was practically the same arm as before, except for the chamber. The magazine was cut from 20- to 16-cartridge capacity and there was a slight increase in rate of fire. The modified gun did not even approach expectations, being more unreliable than the original. The most prevalent malfunctions were parts breakage, feed jams, and cartridges sticking in the chamber as soon as the barrel became slightly hot.

Despite many requests from the field for certain changes, it was impossible to incorporate them because of the way the contract with the French was drawn. All modification and inspection was placed in their hands and the guns, as soon as passed by the French inspectors, were shipped to this country to arm divisions about to go overseas.

From 31 December 1917 to 3 April 1918, 37,864 Chauchats were purchased in 8-mm or altered to caliber .30, and nine American combat divisions were armed with them in the United States before sailing for Europe.

The gun got its name from Colonel Chauchat, chairman of the French commission that adopted it. It was customary in European countries, for some reason that can only be surmised, to name a weapon for a high government official, particularly if the said person showed an especial interest in the adoption of the piece under consideration. By the same token, this machine rifle is sometimes called the C. S. R. G., paying tribute to all members of the board that selected the automatic rifle for the French Army. The board was composed of Messrs. Chauchat, Suterre, Ribeyrolle, and Gladiator.

The last named member of the board at a later date went to Greece and manufactured the identical weapon with his own name on the piece in lieu of that of Chauchat. From the character of the gun's reputation, one can only marvel that anyone cared to have his name so implicated.


Chapter 14
Berthier Machine Gun

The French Army, from the earliest days of automatic arms, has considered gas operation as the most logical method of deriving the necessary forces to actuate the firing mechanism. As was customary at the time, practically every young officer showing any aptitude in advanced weapon design was given a chance to carry out his ideas. Most notable of these was Lt. André Virgile Paul Marie Berthier, who, feeling that the Hotchkiss heavy machine gun was adequate in its field, tried to make for the infantryman a lightweight machine gun that could be carried with the ease of a carbine and at the same time had the fire power of the heavier weapon.

As early as 1905 Berthier applied for a patent in Belgium while serving in Constantinople, Turkey. His first gun was simply a straight-pull rifle of the Mannlicher type. A gas cylinder with piston was installed on the right side of the receiver. It drove the bolt handle rearward by means of gas pressure being exerted on the face of the piston. The bolt and handle were returned by driving-spring compression. The weapon used a conventional magazine feed located underneath it. This model was known on the continent as the Berthier-Pacha. The latter name, also spelled "Pasha," was added as an honorary title granted by the Turkish Government in recognition of Berthier's contribution to ordnance.

Three years later he perfected another design that would fit the specifications demanded for an infantryman and still be rugged enough to stand the rigorous trials of the French proving grounds. The weapon, when it first appeared, was known as the Berthier Model 1908.

The rate of fire on this early Berthier was approximately 450 rounds per minute. It was first manufactured by the Anciens Etablissements Pieper at Herstal, Belgium, and a pamphlet

Berthier Machine Gun, Model 1911
Berthier Machine Gun, Model 1911.


published by the company not only gave its many features as an infantry arm but also pointed out its adaptability to cavalry tactics. Like all air-cooled machine rifles that were forced to use lightweight barrels, heating was the paramount problem. As a solution Berthier devised a system that permitted him to cool the barrel with water and still retain its low weight. The barrel was covered by a fairly close-fitting jacket made in two compartments. Using two small connecting rubber bags containing water, the gunner's assistant forced the liquid through the jacket from one container to another. This system was found to be adequate for up to 600 rounds of sustained fire. As a further remedy, the barrel and receiver were joined by an interrupted thread that allowed the barrel to be changed in a matter of seconds.

It is gas operated and locked by the "prop-up" method. That is, a part of the bolt when in battery is cammed in a vertical plane by the gas piston arm that actuates it as it continues on in a horizontal path. The barrel and receiver are designed so that the gun can use both air and water cooling. It is fed from a 30-cartridge clip located on top of the receiver. The cocking lever is placed on the side of the breech cover, allowing the operator to pull it to the cocked-bolt position, where it is held until released by the trigger. The firing pin, being attached to the gas-piston-actuating arm, detonates the primer from the continued forward travel of the gas-piston arm after it has cammed or "propped" the bolt up into locking position.

The main component parts may be divided for purposes of description into four main assemblies: Barrel group, consisting of the barrel, firing regulator, and gas block; receiver components, being the gas cylinder, buffer, trigger mechanism, and shoulder stock; recoiling parts, consisting of the bolt, piston, and driving spring; and the feed, which is in the form of a semicircular spring-loaded magazine.

All of the barrel assembly is easily detached as a unit. A trap, called the gas block, located about one-third of the way back from the muzzle, houses the cylinder and when removed can be inspected or readily cleaned. The group also has a regulator that has four settings to allow additional gas pressure to be vented to the face of the operating piston.

The receiver is milled from solid stock, the

Components of the Berthier Machine Gun
Components of the Berthier Machine Gun.


front being threaded to take the barrel, below which is constructed the gas cylinder. A recess is cut in the rear into which can be fitted a detachable stock, while a rectangular piece is formed on (op of the receiver which locks the magazine in place. An ejection slot in the right side of the receiver is closed by a spring-loaded catch except at the time of firing. Immediately behind the magazine housing is the locking shoulder, consisting of a transverse piece of case-hardened steel, set into the roof of the receiver and beveled on its leading lower edge to engage the rear of the tilted bolt. There are also four additional removable hardened cams (these comprise the feed piece) and the bullet guides that govern the cartridge's position on approaching the chamber. A recess to house the buffer is milled at the rear above the mainspring tunnel. This absorbs surplus energy and accelerates the return to battery of the recoiling bolt and gas piston assembly.

The recoiling group is summarized as follows. The head of the piston is slightly cupped with three annular grooves cut into the body to prevent formation of carbon. Its rear is constructed with a projection to form what is known as the cross head. This carries two cams which engage with inclined grooves inside the bolt. A third cam in the rear, known as the actuating cam, fits into a recess in the rear of the bolt body. A flat is cut on the bottom of the cross head with a notch to contact the sear. In front of the cross head is a shoulder to engage the piston stop cut into the receiver. It holds the entire assembly in the rear position when the trigger is released.

The bolt is a long rectangular block that not only slides horizontally between its recesses in the receiver wall but at the end of its travel is allowed a certain degree of tilting in a vertical plane. It is milled out on the rear underside to permit insertion and necessary lateral movement of the cross head. A groove is also cut on the bottom forward part to furnish a slideway for the lock lifting cam. The extractor is located on the right side and the feed guide on the top portion.

The left side of the bolt is cut away sufficiently to accommodate the ejector. The rear upper part of the piece that engages the locking shoulder is cut with a corresponding angle and casehardened to coincide with its mating part in the locking shoulder.

The cocking piece on the right side of the gun does not form part of the recoiling group. In order to cock the piece, the handle is drawn to the rear and its catch engages the notch in the guide key on the right side of the cross head. This pulls both bolt and piston back together until the latter engages the sear. The cocking lug is then pushed forward until it snaps into a oneway arrangement that prevents its recoiling with the operating mechanism.

The Berthier weapon represented the lightest water-cooled rifle-caliber machine gun that had yet been developed. Why it did not more than fulfill the requirements of the infantryman is not known, as it most certainly was an advance over the alleged machine rifles that were making their appearance at the time. One cannot help but note the comparison between the operating mechanism of the weapon upon which Berthier based his patent claim in 1909 and the later Browning automatic rifle that has proved so reliable in United States military service. The gas-operated rotating bolt in Berthier's first design of 1905 was a system that time has also proved to be among the best. It is hard to conceive that the French Army, having in its possession the nuclei of two fine automatic rifles, could have veered so far away as to consider the Chauchat. Only one conclusion can be drawn, namely, that mass production, so necessary to win wars, could not be geared to produce this well-balanced but hard-to-manufacture weapon, whereas the Chauchat, although admittedly inferior, could be turned out in practically any plumbing shop.

To fire the Berthier gun, a loaded magazine is slipped into a recess on top of the barrel until it engages its holding catch. The charging knob is pulled to the rear and then shoved forward. The selector located at the right rear is turned to automatic fire. This cams down one of the two sears that lock the piston. The other is released when the trigger is pulled and permits the bolt to leave the cocked position. Driven forward by the energy of the compressed driving spring, the upper face of the bolt strips a cartridge from the mouth of the magazine and starts to chamber it. During this act the extractor rides over the cartridge rim and snaps in the cannelure. Coinci-


Berthier Machine Gun, Water Cooled
Berthier Machine Gun, Water Cooled.

dental to reaching its extreme forward travel, the rear of the bolt goes slightly beyond a locking step that is machined in the top of the receiver body. The bolt has an opening machined in its rear portion in which is riding the camming lug of the cross arm. This is all connected or a part of the gas piston. When the bolt reaches its locking recess, the speed and inertia of the piston cause the camming lug of the cross arm to engage a corresponding angle inside the bolt body, pivoting the rear of the bolt up and against the locking step in the receiver body.

This swinging, or propping up, of the rear end of the bolt removes the obstruction that has been holding back the cross arm on which the firing pin is attached. Being forced by the sudden pivoting of the rear portion of the bolt body, the cross arm and firing pin can continue to advance with great speed for one half inch. The firing pin then enters its tunnel and its tip smashes into the primer of the chambered round.

After the powder charge explodes and the bullet has passed a port about two-thirds of the way up the barrel, gas is admitted through a controlled orifice that acts on the face of the gas piston. The latter's first movement rearward withdraws the firing pin tip from the primer, and after the cross arm is driven back approximately one-half inch it disengages the two cams that are holding the rear of the bolt against the locking step. The rear of the bolt assumes the horizontal in its slideway and starts to the rear.

A spring-loaded extractor withdraws the empty case and holds it close to the bolt face until the ejection slot is reached in the receiver. At this time the ejector fastened in the receiver collides with the base of the cartridge, pivoting and throwing it through the opening and to the right. The spring-loaded magazine pushes another round in position and the recoiling parts continue on against the loading forces of the driving spring. Full recoil takes place when the moving parts make contact with a spring-loaded buffer that not only absorbs the surplus energy but accelerates the operating mechanism during counter recoil. If the trigger remains to the rear, the return movement results in repetition of the cycle.

During the years between the weapon's conception and World War I, there was only enough interest shown by the various governments to which it was demonstrated to keep it from being totally forgotten. Many countries made inquiries and experimented at odd times with this machine rifle. However, France, the home of the inventor, seemed to go to great lengths to ignore it.

In 1916 Berthier, who had risen to the rank of general in the French Army, came to the United States to develop the weapon further, more by refinement of components for the purpose of being mass-produced than anything else, as the operating principles remained the same. On its first official trial by the United States


Air-Cooled Berthier Machine Gun Tested by the United States Army, 1917
Air-Cooled Berthier Machine Gun Tested by the United States Army, 1917.

Army in May 1917 the gun did not meet requirements. On 29 June of the same year, the Marine Corps after a very comprehensive test, reported it suitable for its use. The Ordnance Board tested the weapon again shortly after the Marine Corps made its report and this later Army board concurred with the Marines, who had again conducted trials that resulted in another favorable report.

The Army then ordered, on 2 October 1917, the manufacture for issue of 5,000 of these guns chambered for our caliber .30/06 infantry cartridge, provided the order did not conflict with other machine rifle production that was being planned. It was found that the Hopkins & Allen Co. of Norwich, Connecticut, was under contract by foreign interests that controlled the Berthier manufacturing rights. It was estimated that the firm could start producing within 8 months, as it was 80 percent tooled up. Contracts were given for the Army's 5,000 guns. An additional 2,000 were ordered by the Navy for the Marine Corps, and given the designation Mark IV. This division of Hopkins & Allen had been incorporated, after receiving the contract, under the name of the United States Machine Gun Co. But financial and other complications arose and the parent firm was forced to drop all plans for manufacturing the weapons. As no other source was available that could give any promise of delivery within a reasonable time, all contracts were canceled. Consequently the guns were never manufactured in the United States, except for a few handmade pilot models.

This weapon is one of the best examples of a good idea developed at a time of peace when its perfection was cut short by lack of interest and money for development. When it was urgently needed in war, it had still not been proved to a point that justified the expensive and time-delaying job of tooling up to make the components with the precision demanded of such a weapon.

Had any country, at the introduction of the Berthier 1908 model, seen fit to function fire and correct the inevitable errors of design that appear during this experimental stage, it undoubtedly would have had in its possession at the beginning of World War I one of the world's most reliable and efficient machine rifles. There is very little question that the mystery of mass production to Europeans, and especially the French, was the contributing factor that made them treat the gun as being simply non-existent. That the basic principles were sound is shown by the fact that at a much later date several battle-tested light machine guns and rifles have used identically the same operating features first presented by Berthier in his two designs of machine rifles.


Chapter 15
Kjellman Machine Gun

Sweden made the next contribution to automatic weapon development with a very interesting automatic machine gun. Officially known as the Kjellman, it was the result of what could be called "two-stage" progression. Originally designed for the 6.5-mm Swedish Army rifle cartridge, it was water cooled, belt fed, recoil operated, and had a rate of fire of 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The weight of the weapon, minus water in the jacket, was only 28 pounds, which puts it in the lightweight class. The rear-seared firing mechanism left it at the end of a burst in a cocked-bolt position. The operating energy derived from what is known as the short recoil system.

By "two-stage" development, it is meant that the basic operating principles were originally conceived and patented by Lt. D. H. Friberg of the Swedish Army as far back as 1870, in an attempt to design for his country an efficient manually operated machine gun. His endeavors resulted in the development and patenting of many features, especially the locking system. His death, however, cut short any attempt at actually producing a shooting model of his designs. In 1907, 37 years later, a civilian gun mechanic, Rudolf Henrik Kjellman of Stockholm, Sweden, in trying to enter the automatic machine gun field, became interested in Friberg's basic principles. In line with the Swedish lieutenant's conception, he made a pilot model of an automatic firing mechanism that employed short recoil to actuate the components.

Locking System Designed by Friberg and Used by Kjellman
Locking System Designed by Friberg and Used by Kjellman.

On the Kjellman-Friberg automatic machine gun, the barrel and bolt recoil securely locked together for a distance of 18 millimeters. At this point the bolt is unlocked from the barrel and continues to the rear, accelerated by a pivoted lever. Two projections at the point of unlocking hold the barrel and barrel extension to the rear against the barrel return spring and the bolt continues to compress the driving spring. The fired cartridge case is extracted by a T slot on the face of the bolt and the empty brass travels with the bolt to the extreme rear position. It is ejected on counterrecoil by the introduction of the incoming round in the T slot, plus contact with a gradual angle that engages the empty core during this part of its forward movement.

The round being chambered is first positioned by a movement of a sliding bolt face very similar to that of the Maxim. When the counterrecoiling bolt has reached a distance of 18 millimeters from battery, it strikes the pivoting breech locks. This simultaneously releases the barrel and barrel extension and locks them to the bolt, and all continue as a unit towards battery. If the trigger is held back, the firing pin is automatically released just before the entire recoiling mass makes contact with the receiver. The safety feature is also controlled by the breech locks which serve as an adequate obstruction in the path of the firing pin until the firing mechanism is securely locked.

A fire regulator is located on the left side of


Kjellman Heavy Machine Gun
Kjellman Heavy Machine Gun.

the weapon. It permits the operator to choose automatic or single shot. Due to the gradual camming effect on the empty cartridges, the cases, while positively ejected, are done so without being thrown forcibly from the gun. This unusual method caused Kjellman to incorporate, as an accessory to his gun, a metal receptacle that fitted in a slot beneath the receiver. This box has a trap in the top and each round, as ejected, is cammed through this opening. The bottom of the container slides between two right angles. It is spring loaded and at the end of a long burst or after cumulative firing, the gunner can pull back on a metal tab and dump the empty cases.

Kjellman Light Machine Gun Being Fired by the Inventor
Kjellman Light Machine Gun Being Fired by the Inventor.


When the last round has been fired from a belt, the operating mechanism is automatically seared to the rear. This feature facilitates loading as the bolt has to be in a retracted position when the first round is positioned. The conventional fabric belt is employed. It holds a total of 250 rounds, already packed in a light wooden container.

This weapon was given official consideration by the Swedish Army. Extensive trials were held and, for its stage of development, it held up remarkably well. Sweden, however, like the United States, not only had long been at peace, but saw no immediate prospect of war. Nothing but tests by the Army and a passive Government interest, as shown by the purchase of less than half a dozen of these weapons, ever resulted from the combined efforts of the two inventors.

Kjellman, thinking he could possibly arouse more interest if he refined the weapon to a point where it could be used by the infantryman as a machine rifle, did reduce the profile and streamlined the gun by adding a lightweight stock and tripod. For some unknown reason he retained the water-cooling feature with its bulky jacket. Had he chosen to make an air-cooled gun along these lines, he no doubt would have given the Madsen machine rifle severe competition.

Captain Lindengren, of the Swedish Army, who was considered one of the leading authorities on small arms, made many complimentary statements in writing about both weapons after witnessing the official trials. He wrote an article pointing out that, while the gun employed a very short recoil to work the mechanism, it was more securely locked than any other known automatic arm. To prove his statement he showed by spark photography that the bullet was 98 feet from the muzzle of the weapon before unlocking of the breech began.


Chapter 16
Revelli Machine Gun

A young Italian inventor in the year 1908 applied for his first patent on machine guns. It was to be followed by many others during the years in which his name was practically synonymous with Italian automatic weapon design. This prolific designer, later to become a high ranking military officer, was Bethel Abiel Revelli, a resident of Rome.

The automatic firing mechanism he had developed was a water-cooled machine gun with a box magazine, chambered for the 6.5-mm service rifle cartridge and weighing 38 pounds without mount. The maximum rate of fire was officially set at 500 rounds per minute. It was one of the few medium-weight machine guns to employ a magazine instead of the customary belt. Its unique method of feeding employed a metal box with 10 compartments of 5 rounds each, making a total of 50 shots per magazine. The ammunition container, when inserted in the feedway, was so constructed that, after the first five shots, the magazine itself was indexed over one compartment. When these additional five rounds had been fed through, the process was repeated until the entire contents were expended without interruption of fire. An oil pump for automatic

Revelli (Fiat) Machine Gun, Model 1914, Cal. 6.5 mm.
Revelli (Fiat) Machine Gun, Model 1914, Cal. 6.5 mm.


lubrication of each round was an integral part of the receiver.

There being no immediate prospect of war, nothing was done about the manufacture of the weapon except for the few handmade working models produced locally by the inventor. Revelli early became associated with the Fiat automobile plant located at Turin, Italy, and it was this company that first became interested enough to make a few demonstration models. There is an official record of the submission of a Revelli machine gun to an United States Army board in 1911, and in 1913 a test report by the Italian Government stated the weapon was suitable for service use. The gun employed at the time a 100-round magazine in lieu of the 50-round device. While it functioned satisfactorily, it was thought to exert too much weight at the left side of the mechanism when first positioned in the feedway, and restoration of the smaller box was recommended.

Italy's entry into World War I gave Revelli and his theories of machine gun construction a great opportunity, of which he took full advantage. This water-cooled model was turned out in great numbers by the Fiat Co. along with many other designs by this creator of Italian machine guns. The main Italian automatic infantry weapons stemmed from the earlier trial and development projects initiated by Fiat. The tests had been personally conducted by Revelli, who by this time held a captain's commission in recognition of his being instrumental in furnishing Italy with a machine gun of native origin.

To fire the weapon, the selector switch is moved from "Sicura" (safe) to "Rapido" (fast, or full automatic) and the trigger button pushed forward, bringing the sear out of contact with the bolt. This permits the striker to be thrust forward under compression of its driving spring, sending the firing pin into the primer to explode the powder charge in the cartridge. As the bullet travels down the barrel, the rearward action of the gas pressure against the cartridge base pushes with corresponding force against the breechblock.

The barrel sleeve and breechblock move back locked together for a distance of a half inch. The barrel extension is stopped at this point by a cross bar fixed to the receiver. Unlocking now begins by means of a wedge which starts to rotate about a fixed axis at right angles with the bore. As the breechblock goes back, the wedge is forced to swing to the rear.

The wedge passes through a slot in the under side of the sleeve at an angle that cams the sleeve and barrel to the rear. This slight delay permits the bullet to clear the bore and the gas pressure to drop to a safe operating limit. At this point the wedge is moved entirely out of engagement with the breechblock. The latter travels backward under the momentum imparted to it by the blow-back gases. A nose on the under side of the breechblock holds the wedge down for the remainder of the rearward action. During the retracting movement the extractor guides the empty cartridge case out of the chamber, holding it to the face of the bolt until its base collides with the ejector which hurls it through the top opening in the gun. As each magazine compartment is emptied, the projecting tip at the rear of the compartment raises a pawl which permits the feed ratchet arm to index the next compartment of the magazine.

A strong coil spring, which is extended during the rearward motion, provides energy for return. It is attached to a connecting rod, one end of which hooks to a claw on the bottom of the rotating wedge and the other end to an adjustable spring fastened to the frame of the gun.

As the breechblock continues traveling to the rear, its spring is compressed against the head of the receiver. When the force of the recoiling action has been dissipated, the spring attached to one end of the frame in the lower part of the receiver exerts tension on the clamp at the bottom of the wedge. The sleeve and barrel are drawn forward as the firing-pin spring acts to force the breechblock forward at the same time that the sear holds the striker back out of engagement.

In counterrecoil the breechblock strips the cartridge from the magazine, then positions, and finally chambers it. The operating parts are now in battery, ready for the release of the firing pin, which will start the cycle all over again.

An unusual feature of the Revelli is that the cocking handle is incorporated in the rear portion of the bolt, and protrudes unhoused from the rear of the gun. It is shaped like a cross


Section Drawing of Revelli Mechanism
Section Drawing of Revelli Mechanism.


permitting the fingers to be locked around both semicircular projections so that it may be drawn back against the tension of the firing-pin spring. This allows the gunner to cock the piece independent of the recoil action.

There is also a lever device, located directly above the thumb trigger piece, which permits both single shot and automatic firing at the will of the gunner. When single shots are desired, the selector switch is moved to "Lento" (slow) on the left side of the safety switch, permitting one shot to be fired each time the trigger is pressed. Pushed to "Rapido" (fast, or full automatic) at the extreme right, it fires automatically as long as the trigger is depressed. The vertical center position of the lever is marked "Sircura" (safe).

To load the magazine, the Revelli uses a trick magazine feeding system known as the "mousetrap action." In theory, the device provides far more flexibility than is possible from a belt-fed mechanism. The magazines are small and compact. They can be inserted rapidly and are expelled automatically from the gun when empty. In actual warfare, however, it was found that the magazines damage very easily. This alone offsets the apparent advantage of the system.

A tip on the magazine follower on each section protrudes from the back. This part may be pressed down by the thumb of the left hand while the base of the cartridge is forced down in front of the follower and slides in under the locking lips of each section. Five cartridges may thus be led into each of the magazine wells, thereby replenishing the ammunition without removing the box from the gun.

To install the magazine, it is inserted in guides

American Troops Receiving Instructions on the Revelli Model 1914
American Troops Receiving Instructions on the Revelli Model 1914.


in the feedway from the left-hand side of the gun. As each cartridge is chambered, the individual spring in the compartment forces the next cartridge up the line to be picked up by the forward motion of the breechblock. When the fifth and last cartridge in the compartment has been fired, the tip protruding from the back of the magazine engages a part of the mechanism. The latter shifts the box over to the right far enough to bring the next magazine compartment into line with the counter-recoiling bolt. When completely empty, the magazine is expelled from the gun on the right side.

A hinged plate covers the ejection slot on top of the gun. When ready to fire, the operator lifts it up to allow the empty cartridge cases to be thrown out through the opening.

The method of operation employed in the Revelli is known as "recoil and blow-back," or, in other words, retarded blow-back. The rearward thrust of gases in the firing chamber acting against the case pushes it back against the breechblock, causing a slight delay in unlocking. In the true sense of the word, the weapon is at no time securely locked, as in recoil-operated mechanisms, but utilizes hesitation to drop the gas pressure to a safe operating limit. The breech is then opened by the rotating wedge which connects the breechblock and barrel during the first stage of recoil movement to the rear.


Chapter 17
Laird-Menteyne Machine Gun

On 15 September 1913 a test of an English-made machine gun was ordered at Springfield Armory, Springfield, Mass. In the trial that followed it failed so miserably that it is mentioned here only to straighten out the classification of the weapon. It has been referred to as the Coventry machine gun, the C. O. W. rifle-caliber machine gun, and the Laird-Menteyne automatic gun. The first two designations were acquired because the Coventry Ordnance Works of Coventry, England, manufactured and promoted it in the testing at Springfield. A representative of the company was present to fire the piece.

The mechanism really was the invention of two French mechanical engineers, Paul M. Menteyne and Pierre A. Degaille, who as early as 20 October 1909 filed for a patent on the newly designed gun. Lacking capital, they spent 4 years before they finally interested a responsible gun manufacturing company in making a working model. The Coventry Ordnance Works produced two guns and offered them for trial by the United States Army. Charles W. Laird, a British engineer, was associated with the firm's development of the gun.

The weapon is best described as an air-cooled, magazine-fed, recoil-operated machine rifle using our standard service cartridge. The bolt is revolved to lock and unlock by engaging cams in the receiver, and the gun was loaded from beneath. It was so arranged that when the last cartridge was fed into position for chambering, the empty magazine automatically detached itself and fell to the ground. A fully loaded one was then inserted. It could be fired single shot or full automatic by the movement of a post device that was located directly in front of the trigger. A safety feature was incorporated in its construction whereby the cams that rotated the bolt for locking also revolved into alignment the firing pin with its tunnel in the bolt body. It was an impossibility to fire the weapon before the action was securely locked. The large main spring served also as firing-pin spring, since the inertia of the mass going into battery drove the end of the firing pin into the primer after cams turned the lugs on the bolt into the mating recesses in the receiver.

Considering the date of application for patent, this weapon had many advanced features that were used successfully in later guns, despite the failure of the Laird-Menteyne when subjected to the vigorous Springfield Armory test. The inventors stated in their claims that the mechanism was more adaptable to a larger shell gun than to the commercial rifle caliber as demonstrated.


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Transcribed and formatted by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation