Saturday, 18 April 2015

1914 German Maxim Machine Gun

Early War MG08 position.
Miniatures from "Great War Miniatures" by NorthStar.

It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to go “Over The Top”. The senseless fight of flesh against bullets and shrapnel, is perhaps most inherent in the mechanical, almost sewing machine-like, sound of the Maxim machine gun grinding its way through the attacking infantry. In the early and more mobile battles of the Great War, machine guns were used with horrific effect, and an integrated part of offensive as well as defensive tactics. It’s therefore a natural addition to my Early War German collection.

The spotter directing fire.

Originally invented in 1883 by the American Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, the Maxim was the first recoil-operated machine gun to go into production at a Vickers subsidized factory in London. The machine gun became highly popular, and was used in the colonial wars of the late 19th century, the Russo-Japanese War and of course it became one of the most feared weapons of the Great War.

By the outbreak of the Great War many of the large European powers had adopted the Maxim, or further developed copies of the 1884 original. The German Maschinengewehr08, named “08” for 1908 – it’s year of adoption, was such an enhanced version. 

Each MG08 team will be based as ZUG-support on ø60mm bases.

The 57kg water-cooled MG08 could fire 500 shots per minute, via 2 x 250-rounds fabric belts fed into the side of the gun by one of the 5-man crew. Another of the crew members would be equipped with binoculars, effectively directing the fire on the enemy. Compare this for a second with the air-cooled French Hotchkiss machine gun, firing strips of 25-rounds, and thus in need of more frequent change.

The German Maschinengewehr08, named after it's adoption in 1908.

A weakness for the MG08 was the water-cooling system, as it produced a small cloud of steam, sometimes giving away the position of the gun. It was also prone to jamming, or for the barrel to overheat in spite of the water-cooling system. In fact, each MG unit would have 6 spare barrels for this purpose.

The MG08 would shoot 500 shots per minute, via 2 x 250-round belts.
A considerable advantage against the 25-round strips fed into the Hotchkiss.

By 1914 the German army fully understood the value and destructive power of the MG08, and tactical doctrine reflected this in detail. In the 1909 Exerzier-Reglement a comprehensive doctrine update was made, to include the MG08 in offensive action by the infantry. A five-man team would be equipped with a four-legged mount, enabling the team to carry forward the gun, as support to the advancing infantry.

Note the number of ammunition boxes. 
Each MG08 unit would carry with it 5 of these boxes.

Engaging enemy infantry effectively at 1.000 meters, the MG08 could lay down a tremendous field of rapid fire, fitting right in with the German philosophy of gaining fire supremacy in parts of the battlefield. It proved a very effective at supressing enemy defensive fire, and ideal for a mobile advance, where the MG08 would often try to take up positions that could pour enfilade fire at any enemy infantry counter charge.

A great little 5 min. documentary on the development of the Maxim,
and it's use in the Great War.

The Maxim gun would undergo further developments during the Great War. LMG versions were developed as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft models. The Maxim machine gun became one of the icons in the Great War’s gallery of horrific weapons. Feared, respected and deadly beyond understanding, it was part of the arsenal of the new, modern war.

Thank you very much for reading!


  1. Interesting article - nice figures too :)

    1. Thanks Mike, happy you liked the little write-up!

  2. Great article Soren, really love your painting of the blackened gun and ammo boxes and all over painting and basing!

    1. Thank you very much for those kind words Chris!

  3. Excellent post and beautiful vignette Soren!

    1. Cheers Phil! I'm happy you liked to ø60mm format for support bases - it does offer some more work space to be creative on.

  4. Nice brushwork as always, Soren. Great War minis are really nice - only thing for me is my figs are mostly OG and Foundry - which are at tad smaller than Great War. If I had to go back in time though... :)

    1. Thanks a lot Dean - I think your OG's and Foundys would probably go well size wise with the Mutton Chop WW1 range sculpted by Paul Hicks. I've just got my hands on some, and they are truly amazing sculpts! Have a look via Empress Miniatures site.

  5. Another excellent piece of work followed up by thorough description.


    1. Thank you very much Christopher - I can't help these little history write-ups. It's a nice way to get familiar with the subject on the painting desk. Happy you took time to give it a read:0)

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks for dropping by for a read and a comment! Cheers

  7. Wonderful brushwork and composition of your MG and crew. Always enjoy your history lesson too.

    1. Thanks Jonathan - glad you approved of the arrangement. First I had ø40mm bases in mind for the supports, but eventually went with the ø60mm, which does offer some more creative elbow room.

  8. Excellent paintwork Sören !!!

    Very interesting historical re-cap

    1. Thanks Micke - glad you liked the little write-up too:0)

  9. Great article and great paintwork

  10. Superb painting Sören!

    Very interesting to hear the Germans based their tactics on the MG in WW1 also. I know their tactics in WW2 was pretty much built around the LMGs and their superior firepower.

    1. Thanks Jonas - yes, from what I've understood their observers in the Boer War noted the importance fire superiority in limited parts of the battlefield. The MG08 was certainly up for that job, and thus in the infantry regulations of 1906/08 the focus was put on how to best use this weapon in a step-by-step forward moving strategy. You have to give it to the Germans, they've always been good at innovation and beer... wait, is there a connection here?

  11. Fantastic work Sören! That MG team looks ace. I think you've hit the nail with the colours. As always I enjoyed your post a lot. It's nice to read some additional facts about the matter at hand so your small historical excurses are highly appreciated.

    1. Thanks M! Happy you liked the chosen color scheme - I took time to really study the colored images of the Ausmarschuniform, and get that light dusty grey-green color right. Appreciate the readership too, its rewarding to know that people take time to, and enjoy, reading the posts. Cheers!

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