Hiram Maxim's invention at the close of the 19th century dominated the 20th century. Colt and Browning, two American small arms giants, combined to produce a machine gun, the Colt-Browning "Potato Digger", while the Danish produced the Madsen - significantly, the first light machine gun (LMG) - which has often been overlooked.The Maxim machine gun
In 1883-85 US-born Hiram S. Maxim developed the first fully automatic machine gun. After cocking the weapon and pressing the firing button, a round was fired. The recoil energy from firing operated the breech-block; the spent cartridge was expelled, a new round fed into the breech, the firing pin cocked, and a new round fired. As long as the button was depressed a Maxim would fire until the entire ammunition belt was expended. Trials showed that the machine gun could fire 500 rounds per minute. Maxim was knighted for his work after becoming a British citizen.
The Maxim machine gun was adopted by the British Army in 1889. In the following year the Austrian, German, Italian, Swiss and Russian armies also purchased Maxim's gun. The gun was first used by Britain's colonial forces in the Matabele War in southern Africa, in 1893-4. In one engagement, 50 soldiers fought off 5,000 Matabele warriors with just four Maxim guns.
The success of the Maxim machine gun inspired other inventors. The German Army's Maschinengewehr and the Russian Pulemyot Maxima were both based on Maxim's invention.
The Colt-Browning "Potato Digger"
The 1895/1914 Colt-Browning .3 machine gun was initially adopted by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) at the start of World War I pending delivery of other weapons, including the Browning M1917. The Colt-Browning, which weighed a little over 45.9kg/1011b, had a maximum cyclic belt-fed firing rate of 500 rpm. It is regarded as the first successful gas-operated machine gun, designed by John Moses Browning and offered to the Colt company towards the close of 1890.
Originally designed to use .3 Krag Jorgenson cartridges, the gun was modified in 1914 and chambered for .30/60 cartridges. Italy purchased a number of Colt-Browning 1895/1914 guns in 6.5mm calibre for use by its army as a supplement to the home-grown Fiat-Revelli gun. This machine gun got its nickname "potato digger" because of the action of |the swinging lever below the gun.
The Madsen LMG
The Danish 8mm Madsen light machine gun (LMG) was first introduced in 1902 and was the first true light machine gun. A recoil-operated weapon, it was fed from a 20-round curved box magazine. It has been said of the Madsen that the remarkable thing about it was not that it worked well, but that it worked at all. It had a complex mechanism built around the Martini breech-block action. The breech was opened by a recoil-driven cam, and then a separate rammer pushed the cartridge into the chamber before it closed and the round was fired. The Madsen has a long operational history; it first saw action with Russian cavalry squadrons in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. In World War I Germany, Britain and France used it in limited numbers. The German Army formed the first light machine-gun units based on the Madsen; the
Musketen Battalions. They went into action in the Champagne sector in September 1915. Yet the German Army failed to realize their potential. The three Musketen Battalions were used in a defensive role, and so did not demonstrate the advantages of an LMG in the attack. Later, when the utility of an LMG became apparent, the Germans ignored the Madsen and instead developed the MG08/15 water-cooled gun.