|Place of origin||German Empire|
|In service||1908–1945 (Germany)|
|Used by||25+ countries|
|Designer||Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM)|
Spandau and Erfurt arsenals
72,000 MG 08
130,000 MG 08/15
23,000 LMG 08/15
HMG Type 24
|Mass||Total 69 kg (152.1 lb) with water, 65 kg (143.3 lb) without water|
26.5 kg (58.4 lb) gun body, 4 kg (8.8 lb) of water, 38.5 kg (84.9 lb) tripod
|Length||1,175 mm (46.3 in)|
|Barrel length||721 mm (28.4 in)|
13×92mm TuF (TuF variant)
|Action||Short recoil, Toggle locked|
|Rate of fire||450-500 rounds/min|
|Muzzle velocity||900 m/s (2,953 ft/s)|
|Effective firing range||2,000 m (2,187 yd)|
|Maximum firing range||3,700 m (4,046 yd)|
|Feed system||250-round fabric belt|
500-round fabric belt (aircraft)
The Maschinengewehr 08, or MG 08, was the German Army's standard machine gun in World War I and is an adaptation of Hiram S. Maxim's original 1884 Maxim gun. It was produced in a number of variants during the war. The MG 08 served during World War II as a heavy machine gun in many German infantry divisions, although by the end of the war it had mostly been relegated to second-rate fortress units.
The Maschinengewehr 08 (or MG 08)—so-named after 1908, its year of adoption—was a development of the license made Maschinengewehr 01. The firing rate depends on the lock assembly used and averages 500 rounds per minute for the Schloss 08 and 600 rounds per minute for the Schloss 16. The gun used 250-round fabric belts of 7.92×57mm ammunition. It was water-cooled, using a jacket around the barrel that held approximately 3.7 litres (0.98 US gal) of water. Using a separate attachment sight with range calculator for indirect fire, the MG 08 could be operated from cover. Additional telescopic sights were also developed and used in quantity during the war.
The MG 08, like the Maxim gun, operated on the basis of short barrel recoil and a toggle lock. Once cocked and fired the MG 08 would continue firing rounds until the trigger was released or until all available ammunition was expended. Its practical range was estimated at some 2,000 metres (2,200 yd) up to an extreme range of 3,700 metres (4,000 yd) when firing the S Patrone. The MG 08 was mounted on a sled mount (German: Schlittenlafette) that was ferried between locations either on carts or else carried above men's shoulders in the manner of a stretcher.
Pre-war production was by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) in Berlin and by the government Spandau arsenal (so the gun was often referred to as a Spandau MG 08). When the war began in August 1914, 4,411 MG 08s were available to battlefield units. Production at numerous factories was markedly ramped up during wartime. In 1914, some 200 MG 08s were produced each month, by 1916—once the weapon had established itself as the pre-eminent defensive battlefield weapon—the number had increased to 3,000; and in 1917 to 14,400 per month.
Adoption and development
The German Rifle Commission began firing tests of the Maxim gun at Zorndorf in 1889. In 1892, Ludwig Loewe's company signed a seven-year contract with Hiram Maxim for production of the gun in Berlin. The Imperial German Navy ordered Maxim guns from Loewe in 1894. The Navy deployed them on the decks of ships and for use in amphibious warfare. In 1896, Loewe founded a new subsidiary, the Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), to handle production. The agreement with Maxim concluded in 1898 and DWM received orders from Austria-Hungary, Argentina, Switzerland and Russia.
The Imperial German Army first considered using the Maxim gun as an artillery weapon The German light infantry Jäger troops began trials of the gun in 1898. The Guards Corps, XVI Corps and XVI Corps made more experiments in 1899. The tests produced a recommendation of independent six-gun detachments to march with the cavalry, with the guns mounted on carriages pulled by horses.
The Army purchased the modified MG 99 and MG 01 versions of the Maxim gun from DWM in limited quantities. The MG 99 introduced the sled mount that would remain standard in the MG 08. The MG 01 added lightweight spoked wheels, making possible the pushing and pulling of the weapon. The MG 01 was also exported to Chile and Bulgaria. By 1903, the German Army had 11 machine-gun detachments serving with cavalry divisions.
Criticisms of the MG 01 stressed its limited mobility and inability to keep up with the cavalry. The DWM and Spandau Arsenal developed the design further, decreasing weight by 7.7 kg, adding a detachable gun shield, an option for an optical sight, and removing the wheels. The result was the MG 08, which went into production at Spandau in 1908.
The German Army observed the effectiveness of the Maxim gun in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, many of them German exports. With the importance of the machine gun apparent, the Army asked for additional funding from the Reichstag to increase the supply of machine guns. After criticism of the request from Socialist deputies, the Army's demand for six guns per regiment was reduced to six guns per brigade in 1907. The Army Bill of 1912 finally gave the Army its demanded six guns per regiment. On 3 August 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War I, the Army had 4,411 MG 08s, along with 398 MG 01s, 18 MG 99s and two MG 09s.
Training and use
Training was regulated by the Field Service Regulations of 1908, providing the German Army six years to train with the guns before the outbreak of World War I.
The MG 08/15 was the "rather misguided attempt" at a lightened and thus more portable light machine gun from the standard MG 08, produced by "stepping-down" the upper rear and lower forward corners of the original MG 08's rectangular-outline receiver and breech assembly, and reducing the cooling jacket's diameter to 92.5 mm (3.64 in). It was tested as a prototype in 1915 by a team of weapon designers under the direction of an Oberst, Friedrich von Merkatz; this became the MG 08/15.
The MG 08/15 had been designed around the concept of portability, such as the French Chauchat, which meant that the firepower of a machine gun could be taken forward conveniently by assaulting troops, and moved between positions for tactical fire support; as such, the MG 08/15 was to be manned by two trained infantrymen, a shooter and an ammo bearer. In the attack the weapon would be fired on the move (marching fire) while on the defense the team would make use the bipod from the prone position. To accomplish that, the MG 08/15 had a short bipod rather than a heavy four-legged sled mount, plus a wooden gunstock and a pistol grip. At 18 kg (40 lb) the MG 08/15 had minimal weight savings over the MG 08, being "a cumbersome beast to use in the assault". Intended to provide increased mobility of infantry automatic fire, it nevertheless remained a bulky water-cooled weapon that was quite demanding on the crews and never on par with its rivals, the Chauchat and the Lewis Gun. Accurate fire was difficult to achieve and usually in short bursts only. The fabric ammunition belts were prone to stretching and there were cartridge extraction problems when they were wet.
It was first introduced in battle during the French Second Battle of the Aisne (Chemin des Dames offensive) in April 1917. Deployment in increasingly large numbers with all front line infantry regiments continued in 1917 and during the German offensives of the spring and summer of 1918.
There were other, less prominent, German machine guns in WWI that showed more promising understanding of tactical firepower; such as the air-cooled 7.92 mm Bergmann MG 15nA which weighed "a more manageable 13kg", had a bipod mount and was fed from a 200-round metal-link belt contained in an assault drum instead of fabric belts. Despite its qualities, it was overshadowed by the production volumes of the MG 08/15 and exiled to secondary fronts, being largely relegated to use in limited numbers on the Italian Front. The Bergmann MG 15nA was also used by the Asien-Korps in Sinai, Mesopotamia and Palestine. Being air-cooled, the Bergmann MG 14nA's barrel would overheat after 250 rounds of sustained fire. Other light machine guns would maintain the water-cooling system, such as the Dreyse MG 10 and MG 15; with an air-cooled version produced just before the war, known as the Dreyse-Muskete or the MG 15.
Despite such developments, the MG 08/15 remained by far the most common German machine gun deployed in World War I, reaching a full allocation of six guns per company (72 guns per regiment) in 1918. By that time, there were four times as many MG 08/15 light machine guns than heavy MG 08 machine guns in each infantry regiment. To attain this goal, about 130,000 MG 08/15 were manufactured during World War I, most of them by the Spandau and Erfurt government arsenals. The heavy weight remained a problem though and a "futile attempt" to solve this problem was a late-war air-cooled version of the MG 08/15, designated as the MG 08/18; but it was only 1 kg lighter than the MG 08/15. The MG 08/18's barrel was heavier and it could not be quickly changed; inevitably overheating was a problem. It was battlefield tested in small numbers during the last months of the war. As noted, "the Maxim Gun was not a sound basis for an LMG".
The designation 08/15 lives on as an idiom in colloquial German, nullachtfünfzehn (zero-eight-fifteen, pronounced Null-acht-fünfzehn), being used even today as a term to denote something totally ordinary and lacking in originality or specialness.
A lightened air-cooled version of the original water-cooled rectangular pattern-receiver MG 08 infantry automatic ordnance, the lMG 08, was developed by the Spandau arsenal as a rigidly mounted aircraft machine gun and went into production in 1915, in single-gun mounts, for use on the E.I through the E.III production versions of the Fokker Eindecker. A lower case letter "L" beginning the prefix meant luftgekühlt (air-cooled) rather than Luft (air).
The lMG 08s were later used in pairs by the time of the introduction of the Fokker D.III and Albatros D.I biplane fighters in 1916, as fixed and synchronized cowling guns firing through the propeller. The Parabellum MG14 built by DWM was a lighter (22 lbs) and quite different, air-cooled Maxim system gun with a very high rate of fire (600-700 rounds/min). It was introduced in 1915, and was, but not without serious problems on occasion (as noted by Otto Parschau), prototyped on Parschau's own A.16/15 Fokker A.III "green machine" monoplane with the Fokker Stangensteuerung gun synchronizer, received back with the synchronized Parabellum by Parschau on May 30, 1915 and first used in quantity as the synchronized forward-firing armament on the five examples of the Fokker M.5K/MG Eindecker production prototype aircraft, and soon afterwards served as a flexible aircraft observer's gun for rear defense.
The initial model of the air-cooled "Spandau" lMG 08 front-firing cowling machine guns had lost the stocks, grips, and bipods of the infantry MG 08s to adapt it to a fixed, forward-firing mount forward of an aircraft's cockpit, with gun synchronization allowing safe firing through a spinning propeller's arc. The 105 mm diameter cylindrical sheet metal water jacket used for the infantry's MG 08, an important support member for the barrel, was initially over-lightened with cooling slots, with fourteen rows of such slots completely surrounding and running the whole length of the jacket's circumferential sheetmetal.
These alternated between seven rows of nine "oblong" slots, alternating with seven more intervening rows of eight slots and twin round holes fore and aft of the slots apiece. Because of the important physical reinforcement provided by the cooling jacket on the MG 08 series of guns, the excessive slotting of the initial model of the air-cooled lMG 08 — amounting to slightly over 50% of the total area of the cylindrical cooling jacket's original circumferential sheetmetal — rendered the gun as too fragile, to the point of making it impossible to fit the muzzle booster that the water-cooled infantry MG 08 guns could be fitted with.
The later models of lMG 08 air-cooled machine gun variously "tweaked" the amount of slotting of the barrel by reducing the amount of sheet metal removed from it in minor ways through at least two or three trial formats, and eventually in the final versions produced, had the slotting omitted at the extreme ends of the cooling jacket's cylindrical member, with a 13 cm wide area of solid sheet metal at the breech end, and a 5 cm wide solid area at the muzzle end, giving the resultant gun much more rigidity. The lMG 08 also retained unchanged the rectangular rear receiver and breech assembly of the water-cooled MG 08 infantry weapon.
Later, the MG 08's receiver would be lightened by being "stepped down" at its upper-rear and lower-forward corners as the more refined and lighter weight LMG 08/15 version was developed, using the same airframe mounting geometry as the earlier ordnance to allow interchangeability between the earlier lMG 08 and later LMG 08/15 models, with the still well-perforated cooling jacket reduced to a 92.5 mm diameter. The LMG 08/15 was introduced in 1917.
The lMG 08 and LMG 08/15 guns were always used on fixed-wing aircraft, as fixed forward-aimed synchronized firing ordnance initially in single mounts for Germany's 1915-16 era Fokker Eindecker and Halberstadt D.II "scout" single-seat fighters, and by 1916 in dual mounts, first appearing on the mass-produced examples of Robert Thelen's Albatros D.I and D.II fighters in late 1916, and singly on German "C-class" armed two-seat observation aircraft for synchronized forward-firing armament. The usual ammunition load for fighters was for longer, 500 round, belts, one for each gun.
A device, occasionally fitted to the rear surface of the later LMG 08/15's receiver backplate, told the pilot how much ammunition was left to fire. Later on a significant upgrade to the gun's aerial usability was the fitting of the Klingstrom device on the right side of the receiver, which allowed the gun to be cocked and loaded with one hand from the cockpit. Various cocking/charging handle styles evolved with a simplified distinctive long handled cocking/charging device finally becoming preferred late in the war.
LMG 08/15's used the 30mm "two hole" ammunition belts of the flexible Parabellum MG14 machine gun rather than the wider "three hole" belts of the MG 08/15 water-cooled infantry weapon. It is possible that these belts were used as they were a bit lighter and less bulky than the wider "three hole" ground gun belts and certainly made for standardization which would have been easier for the armorers and in addition allowed for smaller and lighter "tubes" or "chutes" that guided the empty belts into storage containers in the aircraft after firing.
It is a common misconception that the tubes or chutes coming out of the fixed mounted aviation LMG 08/15 fixed guns were for expended cartridge cases. In actuality these attachments were for guiding the empty cartridge belts into a container inside the fuselage of the aircraft so that the belts would not interfere with the operation of the aircraft. As the entire MG 08 Spandau family of German machine guns ejected their empty cartridge cases forward through a round hole in the receiver's lower forward surface, immediately under the aft end of the barrel's cylindrical cooling-jacket (as can be clearly seen on many videos), these cartridge cases were guided out of the aircraft (except on Martin Kreutzer-designed Fokker biplane fighter aircraft, and the Fokker fighters designed by Kreutzer's successor Reinhold Platz) through tubes from under the barrel to the bottom of the fuselage. With Fokker designed aircraft following the Eindecker, the cartridge cases were ejected without tubes from the receiver hole directly into open trays that guided the tumbling cartridge cases backward and sideways onto the sloped fuselage decking, which then streamed down past the cockpit on either side. These trays are clearly visible in photographs but have rarely been recognized for their purpose.
Hermann Göring, who flew both the Fokker Dr.I and Fokker D.VII was so annoyed with the case tumbling out in front of him that he had deflectors made on his aircraft to ensure the empty cartridge cases did not find their way into his cockpit. On photographs of Göring's aircraft these plates, seen only on his aircraft, are very prevalent and have even been recognized in scale models of his aircraft copying his particular planes, but even then most historians have failed to recognize their purpose. Both empty belt guides and trays were attached directly to the machine guns rather than to the aircraft. In the famous film showing Australian officers handling the LMG 08/15s from Baron von Richthofen's crashed triplane, the Fokker type belt tubes/chutes and empty cartridge trays can be clearly seen still attached to the guns.
More than 23,000 examples of the LMG 08/15 and an unknown number of the lMG 08 were produced during World War I.
Anti-tank and anti-aircraft variant
A variant chambered in the same 13.2 x 92 mm SR round as the 13.2 mm (0.520 in) Mauser Anti-Tank Rifle was introduced in 1918. Designated MG 18 TuF (German: Tank und Flieger), it was issued in limited numbers in late World War I.
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Based on the commercial MG09, in 1935, the Chinese began to produce the derivative Type 24 Heavy machine gun, which was not based solely on German drawings and introduced several improvements and new features.
The Type 24 Heavy machine gun, first introduced to the National Revolutionary Army in 1935, designed to replace the original MG 08. It was the standard heavy machine gun for all Nationalists, Communists, and Warlords from 1935. They were usually made in the Hanyang Arsenal. Like the original MG 08, because of transportation difficulties, the M1917 Browning machine gun and other machine guns slowly replaced the Type 24 for the NRA after the Chinese Civil War. The PM M1910, and the SG-43 Goryunov (or Type 53/57 Machine gun) slowly replaced the Type 24 Heavy machine gun after the Chinese Civil War, but it was kept in service with the PLA, KPA and the NVA until the 1960s during the Vietnam War.
The Type 24 heavy machine gun's tripod resembles the tripod of the MG 08. This gun is not able to be mounted on sledge mounts. When aiming at enemy infantry, it usually comes with a muzzle disk. When used as an anti-aircraft gun, it uses a metal pole to make the tripod higher and usually does not come with a muzzle disk. The gun's receiver is similar to the MG 08's gun body. Like the original MG 08, it needs a crew of four.
The Type 24 heavy machine gun is chambered with the 7.92×57mm Mauser round, the standard Chinese military rifle cartridge of Nationalist China.
After the Chinese Civil War, People's Republic of China militia and reserve units converted a number of Type 24 HMG into the 7.62×54mmR Russian cartridge. They were used for training or as filming prop, and never entered service.
- Finland: MG-08 and MG-15 versions used by Finland as late as Continuation War.
- German Empire
- Indonesia: Used Chinese Type 24.
- Lithuania: About 800 MG 08 (7,92 mm sunkusis kulkosvaidis 08 m.) and 520 MG 08/15 (7,92 mm lengvasis kulkosvaidis 08/15 m.). Some MG 08 were modernized for anti-aircraft defense.
- Nazi Germany
- Netherlands: Ex-German MG 08s confiscated at the end of WWI entered Dutch service in 1925 in the light anti-aircraft role, with the designation M.25.
- People's Republic of China: Produced the Type 24 under license.
- Poland: From 1918-44, up to 5,964 MG 08 (ckm wz.08) and 7,775 MG 08/15 (lkm wz.08/15)
- Malaysia: Used Chinese Type 24.
- Manchukuo: Chinese-made Type 24s
- Republic of China: Made under license as the Type 24 heavy machine gun.
- Russian Empire
- Spanish Republic
- Vietnam: Viet Minh used Chinese Type 24 during the First Indochina War, as did the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
- Yugoslav Partisans
- Mexican Revolution
- Xinhai Revolution
- World War I
- Russian Civil War
- German Revolution
- Finnish Civil War
- Polish–Soviet War
- Spanish Civil War
- Chinese Civil War
- Second Sino-Japanese War
- World War II
- Korean War
- First Indochina War
- Vietnam War
Weapons of comparable role, performance and era
- Bergmann MG15 nA Gun
- M1917 Browning machine gun
- Kjellman machine gun
- Marlin M1917 & M1918 machine guns
- Russian/Soviet PM M1910 machine gun
- Schwarzlose MG M.07/12
- Vickers machine gun
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