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The Vault

Madsen Light machine gun

The Madsen was the first successful light machine gun, entering production in 1902. It saw much use, but was an unusual design – basically a fully automatic falling block action. It used a top mounted magazine offset to the left side of the receiver, allowing the sights to remain on the centerline of the gun. The Madsen was available in a wide variety of calibers, configurations, and barrel lengths.

Videos

History and operation:

Running a semiauto Madsen LMG in a 2-gun action match:

Manuals (English)

Madsen Machine Rifle Main Characteristics & Tactical Use (English)

Madsen Nomenclature (multiple languages)

Madsen 1904/1912 comparison (English)

Madsen Model 26 line drawings

Description of the Madsen Model 1940 (English)

Manuals (German)

German Madsen Manual

Madsen manual, mostly covering 20mm models. Printed 1938.

 

Manuals (Spanish)

Argentine Madsen Model 26 nomenclature

Argentine Madsen Model 26 nomenclature

 

 

Photos

Madsen belt-fed tank gun

Madsen also produced a belt-fed variant of their long-lived light machine gun for use in armored vehicles (their is a similar aircraft version as well). We found a parts kit for one of these guns and took a bunch of photos of it (click here to download the whole gallery in high resolution):

23 comments to Madsen Light machine gun

  • Hrachya Hayrapetyan

    Awesome post!!!
    67 pics of such a nice gun ! Thanks a lot!

  • eric

    simplicity is soooooo overrated!

  • Ruy Aballe

    Indeed! It must have been extremely time-consuming and expensive to produce, with a consequently high price tag for prospective customers at the hand. Weapons procurement by the Portuguese army in the inter-war era was idiossincratic at best, either plagued by endemic corruption or by sheer incompetence or a combination of both: they made quite strange choices (except, perhaps, when they decided to choose 7,92×57 as their single rifle and mg cartridge), especially in the automatic gun department: why they choose the Breda M. 37 as their new heavy mg (meant also to replace and eventually supplement their own Vickers m/917 and locally-made FBP-Vickers m/917/30, too), fed by 20 round strips, over much capable belt-fed Brownings is beyond me! At the same time (circa 1938), the air arm choose superlative FN-Brownings for their Breda Ba 65 ground attack aircraft purchased from the very same source, refusing the original Breda-SAFAT guns. Portuguese Gladiators, received in the same year, were also armed with FN-Brownings.

    I can’t be 100% sure, but I am inclined to think that this belt-fed tank Madsen mg (btw, thanks a lot for the beautiful photos!) wasn’t purchased in the 40s, but rather in the 30s, for the armoured cars of the mecanized cavalry unit of the G.N.R. stationed in Lisbon, either to re-arm a few locally-built vehicles, originally armed with Vickers mgs in the first half of the decade, or possibly the Berliet VPCs ordered from France. The acronym G.N.R., engraved onto the receiver under the Portuguese coat-of-arms, stands for Guarda Nacional Republicana, a gendarmerie force equivalent to the Spanish Guardia Civil.
    Fascinating stuff!

    Do you have any clue on the calibre of this gun? If purchased before 1937, it can be .303. In 1937 or afterwards, it can be only 7,92 Mauser.

  • Ruy Aballe

    Thanks! And you are welcome! So, it must have been purchased during the large arms procurement program from the late 30s.

  • Dennis Hogan

    What was the price of the Madsen Light Machine Gun at various times during its history?

  • Dennis Hogan

    In your section on early semi-automatic rifles, you should add the predecessor to the Madsen Light Machine Gun, the M.1896 Rekylkarabin til flåden, a semi-automatic rifle that was used by the Danish Navy from 1896 until 1932. See http://www.arma-dania.dk/public/timeline/_ad_gevar_view.php?editid1=88

  • Chris Morton

    The Madsen is one of the most interesting machineguns ever designed, if for no other reason than the utterly Byzantine operating cycle controlled by the “switch plate”. I haven’t looked at all of the documentation contained herein yet, but if there’s a clear illustration of the path the breech takes in operation, it’ll be the first I’ve ever seen. If I remember correctly, Hogg notes that it actually bends the loaded round slightly, getting it into the chamber.

    The Madsen people managed to make this design work reasonably well, before the invention of the airplane, where Russell Robinson and the U.S. Ordnance Corps couldn’t get the M219, M73 and M85 to work, well into the age of computers.

  • Paul Zimmerli

    Interestingly enough, a couple of years ago, when the Brazilian police fought a pitched battle in Rio against the gangs for control of the favelas, I remember a great TV shot of a Brazilian cop cutting loose with a Madsen. I’ve also seen a still photo somewhere of the same battle – and a Brazilian cop behind a Madsen scanning the rooftops. So, more than a century after its introduction, it’s still out there kickin’ butt…

  • It doesn’t surprise me that it’s so complicated. Mankind is notorious for making things more complicated than required.
    What surprises me is that it functions at all, let alone as well as it did
    By what I’ve read, it wasn’t any less reliable than the Lewis MG. Anybody able to either, refute this or verify it for me

    It holds a special place in my favorite firearms of all time. Like the Russian Nagant revolver, it’s unique design and over complicated operation just intrigues me.

  • Thiel

    As far as I’m aware it worked quite reliably and despite its complicated mechanism it wasn’t all that hard to maintain and while the extensive use of machining in its manufacturing meant that it was a rather expensive weapon it also meant that it pretty much lasted forever.

  • Chris Morton

    There was actually a tactical live fire of this gun on the Military Channel’s show “Triggers” last night. The host negotiated a short fire and maneuver course with the gun. He did quite well with it and seemed to like it. I can’t recall what caliber the gun was. I THINK it was either 7.62x54mmR or .303.

  • The Madsen featured on TRIGGERS was mine. We went down to Georgia for the TV shoot. It is a semi auto ,modification(batf approved)by Midwest Metal Creations.
    Will Willis did enjoy shooting it. He did some plinking later with the Madsen,shot a number of cans of shaving cream off a log @70 yards. Plus one camera.
    The gun works really well,never had any trouble using good quality surplus ammo.Caliber used on TRIGGERS was 8x57mm. Have also a spare barrel in 30’06.It is very easy to swap barrels. Cleaning and field strip no trouble . All parts are very heavy duty,old school tough.It is a very unique mechanism,gives a slightly odd recoil impulse. The barrel recoils backwards while the bolt moves up and down.
    The semi auto version can be purchased in most of our 50 States,about 3g’s.

  • Fab

    Hey, great report, but…. there’s nowhere to see in which caliber Danes had this LMG….. thanks

  • […] Madsen Light machine gun […]

  • Woff 1965

    I was just on a UK military surplus website which had “Madsan” tripods at £400 GBP – I assume they mean Madsen. It looks like a lot like the tripod Ian used in the video.

    http://www.thexmod.com/item_detail.asp?id=16150

    They have 10 reported on the site. No idea what the quality is or what exact model they are though.

    How the UK MOD had these is a headscratcher.

  • Gelrir

    The tripod seems to have the remote trigger activator on it, and both of the shoulder carrying straps. It looks kinda rusty (though that might be paint).

    I have a Midwest Metals semi-auto Madsen, it always gets lots of attention at the range. I bought a canvas Sten gun handguard to wrap around the barrel shroud … better than the old tee-shirts and duct tape the Brazilian police seem to use. The Madsen was really made to be fired while supported by the bipod.

  • Brody

    I made some concept drawings of a blowback subgun using a similar (very loosely) system, but i stopped development because it offered no advantage over traditional styles.

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