Heavy Machine Guns of the Western Front, WWI

I have been really enjoying The Great War series on YouTube (a rolling weekly account of what happened in WWI this week 100 years ago), so I figured I ought to take advantage of an opportunity to look at several WWI heavy machine guns side by side. This is a video to give some historical context to the guns, and not a technical breakdown of exactly how they work (that will come later). These really were the epitome of industrialized warfare, and they wrought horrendous destruction on armies of the Great War.

The guns covered here are the German MG08, British Vickers, and French Hotchkiss 1914. If you would like to own one of these yourself, they are coming up for auction at RIA on the weekend of September 11th, 2015 and you can see the specific catalog pages for these three guns here:

Other heavies used in the war include the Austrian Schwarzlose 1907/12, the Russian 1905 and 1910 Maxims, the Italian Fiat-Revelli, and the American Browning 1895. The book I was quoting from towards the end was Dolf Goldsmith’s unmatched work on the Maxim, The Devil’s Paintbrush.


  1. On “the whole 9 yards” story, I recall hearing it would originate from (american?) groundattack-fighterplanes from the second world war. Their machineguns carried belts being 9 yards long and if attacking groundtargets, emptying all their guns in one single strafe, they would hand out the whole 9 yards. Someone will have to verify that one though.

    • That is correct. The 350-round belt of 0.50in used in the inboard guns on each side of the M2 .50 gun system of the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt (four guns on the six-gun P-51, six guns on the 8-gun P-47), was exactly 27 feet, or 9 yards, in length when fully assembled.

      The 240-round belt used on the outboard guns on each side was 18 feet 6 inches long altogether. But “the whole six and a half yards” doesn’t sound nearly as emphatic.


      To figure it for yourself, treat each round of ammunition in its link as being .915 inch in width. A calculator helps.



      • Were they still the canvas type? That must have played into their tendency to harden due to absorbed moisture; if that was the case.

        • Hi, Denny :

          Almost all World War Two-era American aerial machine gun and automatic cannon applications that utilized belted ammunition used standard disintegrating-link belts, regardless of caliber, service or type, and regardless of whether they were in fixed, flexible or turret-mounted configurations. These applications usually also incorporated flexible external guide chutes to improve reliability and proper feeding into the guns, as can often be seen in wartime documentaries such as William Wyler’s original “Memphis Belle”, where the aerial combat footage was taken mostly during that famous B-17’s last three missions in the ETO, both from the “Memphis Belle” herself and from other B-17’s of the 91st Bomb Group.

          Similar footage, a lot of which was actually borrowed from Wyler’s documentaries, can also be seen in the classic, original 1949 production of “Twelve O’Clock High”, the poignant and moving film of life, humanity and death in the wartime Eighth Air Force which was based on the story of the same name written by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett, both of whom served in that organization during the war. Lay and Bartlett were generally successful in portraying some of what life was like for so many, regardless of rank or status, during those terrible years, but they also centered much of their story around the soul-destroying loneliness and unrelenting enormity of personal leadership and responsibility borne by the character of Brigadier-General Frank Savage, who was based on the real-life Colonel ( and later, Brigadier-General and then Lieutenant-General ) Frank Armstrong, Jr., famed one-time combat commander of the 97th and 306th Bomb Groups.

      • Whilst I’m sure you’re correct about the length of this particular belt of ammo, the phrase did NOT originate with aircraft MGs.

        The phrase, in context but in the form ‘full nine yards’, dates back to at least 1907 (various sources listed on the Wiki article) and very likely originated in the sport of baseball.

        The fact that one or more aircraft MG belts was nine yards long is therefore a coincidence. I’m not ruling out flyers or groundcrew having used the phrase with reference to ammo belts, but a) there’s no written evidence of that and b) the phrase had already been invented.

    • Carolus
      Have heard sooo many explanations for the whole 9 yards it has become ridiculous. Good rule of thumb is: if it sounds too glib or sophomoric it is a made of whole cloth. Myself, I have modernized, no one uses yards anymore, I say ” the whole 8.3 meters “

    • “(american?) groundattack-fighterplanes from the second world war”
      Why does American A for Attack aeroplanes were armed with many .5″ machine gun rather than with fewer autocannon like other nations attack aeroplanes? For example A-26 Invader (solid nose variant) has 8 x .5″ MG in nose and up to 8 x .5″ MG in underwing pods, giving up to 16 x .5″ MG. For comparison (forward firing guns):
      British Hawker Tempest has 4 x 20mm Hispano
      Soviet Il-2 has 2 x 23mm VYa + 2 x ShKAS
      Were M2 Brownings so cheap that it was more feasible to use multiple M2 guns rather than fewer autocannon or USA fail to get good autocannon design?

      • Hopefully no one minds the tangent…

        If I recall, earlier US variants of the Hispano weren’t known for reliability. The reasons escape me.

        It’s also Doctrinal- the AAF wasn’t keyed into the tactical role, so principal USAAF attack aircraft were all repurposed- the A-20 was born a level bomber, the B-25 was a level bomber… Pretty much all the fighters proved to be good attack aircraft.

        Though the Mustang was originally adopted as the A-36, a dive bomber, because the P-38 and P-40 were “good enough” as fighters.

        • According to Col. George Chinn, the problem with the Hispano cannon was that it needed pre-lubricated cartridges, but USN BuOrd kept trying to get around the problem by redesigning the feed system, chamber, etc., to work with non-lubricated cartridges, so they could avoid having to oil the cartridge cases during loading.

          Finally, they gave up on that idea, and did what they should have done in the first place. They asked the American chemical industry to come up with a better type of lubricant. Johnson & Johnson came up with a hard wax that could be “dipped” on the rounds at the factory.

          It dried hard, didn’t attract dust and grit, wouldn’t “leak” into the cartridge case and contaminate the propellant powder or priming, and stayed intact through temperature ranges from desert to arctic areas.

          The postwar “paste wax” for cars, and modern day “floor wax” (actually a clear acrylic coating- I use it on model airplane clear plastic canopies), are descendants of the “wax” used on wartime 20mm cannon ammunition.



        • ” earlier US variants of the Hispano weren’t known for reliability. The reasons escape me.”
          IIRC the reason was that formally anything .60″ or bigger was artillery and hence manufacture tolerance for artillery pieces were applied which obviously doesn’t work with autocannon.

        • Another reason for the attack role of early mustangs was the Allison engine that lacked high altitude performance at low level this wasn’t an issue. During D day RAF 268 squadron used them to call in naval gunfire and air support on German positions in land.
          Note the Allison engine and the different canopy to the p51d

        • If I recall correctly, the US went through a long and not very successful development effort for their own designs of auto-cannon in the 20 – 25mm range (including 1 inch) for both aircraft and ground (and shipboard) use. This class of weapon is extremely finicky and getting a design to work properly takes either an exceptional amount of skill or an exceptional amount of luck.

          When the US gave up on their own efforts they copied or licensed foreign designs, but then proceeded to tinker with them again unsuccessfully, wasting still more time.

          It’s also worth noting that you can’t simply stick cannon into an aircraft that wasn’t designed for them. The recoil would twist and bend the wings to an unacceptable degree. The British had to strengthen the wings of their Spitfires before they could use 20mm cannon. This process takes still more time, but the British were in the war from the beginning while the US only came in half way through. Sticking with .50″ guns may have made sense from a timing perspective.

          The big advantage that a 20mm gun has over an ordinary MG is that it fires an explosive shell. A bullet of any size will only make a small hole in something, and with an aircraft a bullet has to actually hit something vital to have any effect. Simply punching a hold in the skin and going out the other side makes little difference. Even a single cannon shell exploding in a aircraft however will create a shower of fragments that are very likely to hit something that matters.

          The RAF concluded in the 1930s that if they were going to bother switching from .303″ to anything heavier then to make it worth while it should have an explosive shell. The smallest practical size for that was 20mm. The Italians did develop a .50″ explosive round (based on the Vickers, ironically). But as the British expected, the fuse could not be made small enough to leave room for a worthwhile amount of explosive.

          The British had .50″ Vickers (two sizes of that, counting the ‘D’ class Vickers) and 15mm Besa (roughly equivalent to today’s 14.5mm Russian), but went directly to 20mm. The Germans did use a 15mm MG in some of their aircraft, and I think a few other countries used 13mm aircraft MGs. The Russians of course used 12.7mm. However, for the most part everyone except the US made the jump to 20mm for most of their aircraft (the Germans also went to 30mm late in the war). It’s not as if only the US had .50″ guns or that nobody else tried them. It’s that they were tried and found inadequate.

          US efforts with auto-cannon would be an interesting subject for Ian if he can dig out information on them. The US prototype guns might even be still around somewhere in a museum or arsenal collection.

        • The Mustang was originally designed for the British, to British standards. The “Mustang” never met USAAF structural integrity standards. It was only after the Allison engine was removed and replaced with the Packard built Merlin that the “Mustang” became the solution to long range penetration. Mustang tails and wings occasionally parted during violent combat maneuvering of heavy weather penetration. Plus the P-51 had only four 50’s. Eight fifties in a P-47 beets four in a P-51 any day of the week. The Mustang as a “dive bomber” was a total fiasco. This was not so with the P-38 or P-47. The P-40 could only marginally hold it’s own at low level. Nothing could keep up with a P-38 in a maximum rate, not angle, climb. Nothing could dive or roll with a jug. The P-38 had poor visibility downward, necessitating the last man in the formation constantly slewing from side to side. the P-38 was limited in diving because of compressibility, until special brakes were fitted. If you want to look like a fighter pilot take the picture next to a P-51. If you want to come home from over Germany fly a P-47.

          Cannons do work but a load of 50’s are buzz saws from hell. A friend of mine, a P-47 jock, was shot down by Emile “Bully” Lang over France and lived to tell the tale. He saw the Bf-109 but thought that no one could make such an extreme deflection shot. He thought that until cannon rounds started to go off in his cockpit. But the chap on the sending end was known as one of the most aggressive pilots and accurate deflection shots in the entire GAF. He collected parts of his aircraft on each trip back to Europe. Sadly he died shortly after Katrina. Bully did not survive the war. Remember, the P-47 was used for both ground attack and pursuit very successfully. That was not so with the P-51 of P-38. the P-40 was respectable in ground attack for the Brits in North Africa but too much of a DRUT in Europe.

          • The other reasons that the P51 Mustang became the long range preferred escort fighter was a) the adoption of drop tanks. Drop tanks had been looked upon with scepticism and it wasn’t until the insistance of McArthur in the South-West Pacific campaign where it was demonstrated that drop tanks became a safe force multiplier that they were then adopted first on P47s and P38s. Up until early 1943 drop tanks were forwned upon as being too dnagerous. b) The P51 Mustang was cheaper to produce than the P47 Thunderbolt and more of them could be produced for less therefore making it possible to produce aircraft at a cheaper rate. It is a myth that the Mustang could outrange P47s or P38s once drop tanks were introduced. The politics behind the introduction of drop tanks was the principle hinderance to the introduction of drop tanks. Later production P47s and P38s when fitted with drop tanks equalled or outranged the P51 Mustangs. Late model P47Ds and especially P47M and Ns as well as the P38Ls etc., could easliy fly to Berlin and back and have at least 20 minutes of combat time on these escort journeys. An interesting history of politics of drop tanks is available on the web site “chicagoboyz.com”. Well worth a read!

      • The shear volume of lead shot out by the eight 50 caliber machine guns of a P47 was a thing to behold. For the mere fractions of a second that the target is in range and properly sighted the MANY 50’s guaranteed more hits than the generally much slower firing allied cannons. The Olds cannon in the early P39’s could do a lot of damage IF one could hold the target long enough to get the one good hit. Until the US got truly fast firing cannons, lots of 50’s were definitely preferred. I NEVER heard a jug pilot with to change the eight 50’s for ANY cannon. In front of a P38 was like being in front of a watering can or nozzle sprayer. The cannons were only really necessary for HEAVILY armored vehicles or military ships. When the tougher built jets came along, or if up against B17’s or B29’s were cannons really necessary.” If you want to look like a fighter pilot take your picture with a P51. But, if you want to come back to base from Germany fly a P47.” – Francis Gabresky The A-20’s and A26’s were SUPER aircraft in EVERY right.

        • “In front of a P38 was like being in front of a watering can or nozzle sprayer”
          P-38 has mixed autocannon + machine gun armament. I don’t consider P for Pursuit aeroplanes armament, but A for Attack.

          “The cannons were only really necessary for HEAVILY armored vehicles or military ships.”
          20mm autocannon can fire effective HE projectile, unlike .5″ MG. Aren’t HE more effective against unarmoured vehicles?

          • Hits on target is the idea. The US cannons were so slow that the 50’s made more than enough hits for the desired effect. Explosive rounds from cannons are great, but if they do not connect, they are less than useful unless you believe that you can scare a adversary to death. Review the damage done to Japanese shipping by Pappy Gunn’s 50 caliber armed attack B25s. Without skip bombing, Pappy Gunn’s creations could bore holes through Japanese shipping than sent them to the bottom forever. A 75 mm cannon was tested in the B25, but it was rejected because of recoil and slow rate of fire. For a given length , time, of a squirt from a P-47 with its eight 50’s grinds up more trucks, other light skinned vehicles, and personnel than ANY cannon armed Typhoon or Tempest. Yes the cannon rounds individually have a greater effect than the 50 BMG, but the cannon has FAR FEWER rounds on target because of its slower rate of fire. Heavy skinned vehicles, PxKw IV, Panther, etc really need cannons or HV rockets for guaranteed effect.

      • Just personally preference really the 50cal had good performance against most targets, while most European nations started ww2 with guns in the 30cal these were often ineffective unless within 50yards and even then they had to hit something important. This wasn’t an issue for the 20mm guns, you can also engage from longer range.
        You can tell the rifle calibre guns from the cannons

      • Regarding cannon on WWII US planes, the P-39 had a 37 mm cannon (as LG stated in his post), but the plane was not especially popular in the US (although there were exceptions, Chuck Yeager liked it); mainly they were exported to Russia where they seemed to be put to good use. The P-61 night fighter used four 20 mm cannons (in addition to a turret with 50 caliber MG’s), it entered service in 1943–the original intent of it may have been to go after enemy bombers (there were not many Axis bombers left by the time it entered combat in numbers). The B-29 bomber used a 20 mm cannon for a tail gun, and 50’s for the turrets.

        As others have written, the cloud of metal that several 50’s could produce was deadly, especially to Japanese fighter planes that had little or no armor. For ground attack, rockets were in use no later than 1943 and saw extensive use against ground targets in Europe after D-Day. A-20’s, P-47’s, etc. were equipped with rockets. For anything lightly armored the 50’s were plenty, and for hard targets rockets would beat the 20 mm’s.

        If someone has a good history of air to ground rockets in WWII, and especially how that did (or did not) have an impact on airborne cannon design and doctrine, it would be interesting to hear.

        • The RAF found that armour piercing rockets when fired into the water in front of an enemy ship the rockets would curve up and hit the ship underwater (a rather nasty surprise for the Germans) they also used heavy gun fire to suppress flack.
          The ultimate ship buster was the mosquito fb mk XVIII Tsetse armed with 4 303s an automatic 6pdr 57mm gun and a payload of rockets.

        • Yes, The Ruskies like the tricycle gear arrangement of the P-39 and P-63 for operation on frozen strips, fewer ground loops. But several Russian pilots stated that they liked the metal propellor of the P-39 because it was better for ramming! Most of the Russian fighters had wooden or composite type propellors. I heard a Russian ace state that he liked the P-63 King Cobra because he had his crew chief wire the MGs and centerline cannon to fire at the same time with one button press. Lots of lead really increased the number of hits. Only the hits count.

        • Yeager flew the P-39 in training not in combat. Chuck was a natural pilot and fighter ace. He could have shot them down with a paper kite. “Weaties” Welch, who flew the P-39, the version with the 20mm centerline cannon, against the Japanese, according to friends who flew with him, intentionally destroyed them so that the nuggets could not fly them and be sacrificed to the Japanese.

  2. Hey there, Ian. Just wanted to point out that Ludwig Loewe got into the Maxim game many years before the MG-08 and even as DWM they were offering World Standard Maxim guns iquite early in the game. Mine is a Model 1891 built by DWM in 1898. The German Navy was also using this gun befre transitioning to the MG01 and then to the MG08.

  3. Thank you, Ian. That was a marvelous take on the earliest guns. My only question is how JMBrowning’s Model of 1917 (and it’s later M1919 & M2 derivatives) compared to these weapons, in your opinion.

    As for the 9 yards thing, I have always heard it from US fighter jocks. That said, it seems much more likely to have begun before them. It would be interesting to do a proper search of the literature and see when the first use of the phrase actually happened.

  4. Ian-

    Thank you! That was very fun to watch. Interesting note that Rock Island doesn’t make clear- all three of these are original guns. they are not sideplate guns or manufactured as many Vickers are. William Barnett-Lewis- I don’t know for sure but Ian may have that video in store for you as Rock Island also has an original WW2 1919A4 and an original 1917 (not A1) Browning in their possession right now.

  5. For anyone who may be interested in these- Please note Rock Island has a slew of spare parts for many Class 3 items now to include feed strips for the Hotchkiss and ALL the Madsen LMG’s that are hitting the market. They have 12 boxes plus links for the Madsen with the spindly steel butt stock and plenty of curved mags for the normal guns. Not sure why they didn’t put them out with the guns but everything minus the AR-10 arrived with feed devices.

  6. …The Brits referred to their Vickers as an MMG…medium machine gun. You list the schwarzlose in the medium class in your sidebar Vault. I’m curious why you now call them Heavy ?

    • I’m confused also. I always think that American style is that medium machine gun mean rifle-caliber tripod (or other thing) mounted weapon and heavy machine gun mean .50 caliber (or bigger) weapon. In Russian light/medium/heavy words were not used for machine gun taxonomy, but descriptive words like ручной (~hand-held), станковый (~mounted, i.e. designed to be fired from tripod or Sokolov mount) and крупнокалиберный (big-bore). I know that gun taxonomy varies depending on country (for example RAF consider 20mm guns (British Hispano) to be cannon, when Luftwaffe (2cm MG 151) to be machine gun) but please be clear to which taxonomy we are using.

      • Termiology varies by country/ user and by time.
        Generally, it appears that MGs were classifies by their portability rather than by caliber. An example is Vz.37 HMG http://www.fronta.cz/fotogalerie/tk37
        Called Heavy but caliber was ‘just’ 8mm.

        I’d say that Russian terminology is relatively simple and descriptive such as “ruchnyi” vs “stankovyi”. In that sense, PKM would fall under former, although it fires intermediate (rifle) round.

        • The culprits in the “heavy” controversy are Germans, as usual. At first they were just in-line: anything belt-fed was just “Maschinengewehr” (starting with MG94 Maxim, thru MG08 and MG08/15), while magazine-feds didn’t rate “Maschinengewehr” moniker and were “Muskete” (Madsen, Chauchat, Lewis). Then in mid- to late-war a new set of sobriquets were devised, whereas portable MGs were “light” and mounted were “heavy”. Large-bore MGs were then unheard of, and when they came, they were called the “ueberschwere” or ‘heaviest’ (same as B-29 in WW2, when Superfortress wings were called “Very Heavy” to differentiate from mere B-17s or B-24s). These names went into official doctrine only in mid-1920s (up until then an LMG 08/15 meant Luftgekuehlt or air-cooled MG 80/15 with cut-out water jacket). In 1925 the 08/15 was officially re-named leichtes Maschinengewehr (note lower case letter “l”, as “leichtes” is an adjective, while “Luft” is a noun, written with upper case letter in German), or light machinegun, whereas MG 08 became sMG08, schweres Maschinengewehr. This change in names was accepted all over Europe – but still there were some local variations. E.g. in Poland there were 4 categories: 1. “ręczny karabin maszynowy” or “rkm” (literally a handheld MG or Machine Rifle in American parlance – a magazine-fed squad automatic, Chauchat and later Polish wz.28 BAR clone), 2. “lekki karabin maszynowy” or “lkm” (light machine gun) which meant a lighter version of the heavy, e.g. lkm wz.08/15, 3. “ciężki karabin maszynowy” or “ckm” (heavy MG) which was a rifle-caliber mounted MG, and 4. “najcięższy karabin maszynowy” or “nkm” (here’s the US heavy, but in Polish nomenclature it also took in the light automatic artillery, so in calibers, anything fully-automatic from .50-Cal to 20 mm). In French there were “fusil-mitrailler”, “mitrailleuse” and “mitrailleuse lourd”, which are respectively 1., 3. and 4. category above. In Czech the 1. above were called the LK (Lehky Kulomet or Light MG), the 3. and 4. above were TK (Teżky Kulomet or Heavy MG).

          So, really, everybody had his own nomenclature, and there’s no one “Solely Correct” names.

      • True in the current nomenclature, Daewoo. However, the water cooled .30 cal. 1917 Brownings were also considered heavy machineguns. The air cooled variants, the 1919 cal. .30 machineguns, were medium machineguns. And the same M1919 with a modification to use a bipod and a butstock, became the M1919A6 light machinegun. It was more about the portability and intended role of the weapon than cartridge chambering or actual weight. Try looking up the WW2 US Ordinance Catalogues, my copy was printed as a softcover called The Arsenal of Democracy. Come to think of it, by that logic, the M1895 Colt/Browning MG and it’s derivative, the Marlin Gun, would have been considered medium machineguns.

        • As I don’t see a way to edit my post after the fact, it was a reply to Daweo’s question regarding the classifications of American MGs, and my apologies for both getting his screen name wrong, and for using the wrong title for the book I recommended. The proper book title is The American Arsenal, a Greenhill Military Paperback. It is a collection of the various US Ordinance publications throughout the war into the 1944 US Ordinance Catalogue. It covers all small arms, artillery, armor, automotive equipment, and ammunition approved for us production and procurement during the war. It does not cover naval assets or aircraft. Well, perhaps not every item, but the majority of them in production by 1944. For example, it omits the various models of Thompson, as they were replaced in production by that time by the M3 SMG.

  7. Your presentation, Ian, on the three guns was excellent, clear, concise,and valuable to learning what transpired with Maxim, Hochkiss, and Vickers before and during the Great War.
    I noted that the Japanese went with the hochkiss mechanism but I am sure they toyed with a few Vickers and Maxims too. I assume that the Japanese selected the metal feed trays because they were going to invade countries with hot humid heavy rainfalls and didn’t want to get MG belts wet?
    Mis dos pesos.

    • If you recall, the Hotchkiss guns don’t use up as much ammo per minute. Belts and feed-strips alike are a hassle, but strips were easier to lug around and index than cloth belts. Metallic belts in Japanese ammunition supply were reserved for aircraft-mounted Vickers guns which constituted the primary armament for the infamous Type 0 Carrier-borne Fighter (obviously dubbed the Zero both in Japan during the war and around the world after World War Two ended). Interestingly, the Zero’s trigger bar was located on the throttle-handle and not on the control stick, and it had three settings on the safety catch: totally safe, MGs only, and MGs with cannons.

      • Watch out for the P-40’s built for the French. The French used a reversed throttle compared to the rest of the world. The French had full throttle as back and closed throttle as forward, somewhat like the differences between Harley’s and Indian motorcycles until the original Indian’s last few years.

  8. I was once in a T.A barracks at Bow in Londons Eastend and they had the Times history of the Great war gathering dust on a bookshelf, a load of big cloth bound burgundy volumes like an encyclopedia set. They were from the era, or just after, I really enjoyed reading them sort of like scrapbooks newspaper cuttings etc, postcards and whatnot from 1914 all the way through. There’s some for sale, and even a CD version below:
    http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2053587.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.Xthe+times+history+of+the+great+war.TRS0&_nkw=the+times+history+of+the+great+war&_sacat=0 out of interest.

  9. Weapon of choice scenario:

    I hate sitting in this uncomfortable, clammy, and mostly underground fortress, but at least it isn’t part of the Maginot Line. Given a choice of relatively immobile weapons, which would you grab if you were defending one of the bunkers or pillboxes from a “medieval European fantasy” horde (think of a situation similar to the first and second episodes of the anime Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri)?

    1. Maxim gun variants (even the Pom-Pom autocannons)
    2. Hotchkiss machine gun variants
    3. Browning M1921
    4. Bergmann MG 15 (the original MG 15 designed by Bergmann and Louis Schmeisser)
    5. Fiat-Revelli (to be fair, the crew with this gun isn’t likely to be attacked soon, so you can relax with it…)
    6. Schwarzlose M1907/12
    7. Colt-Browning M1895
    8. Type 92 HMG with periscopic sight (likely for sniping somebody…)
    9. several Stridsvagen 103 outside the fortress hidden in the woods…
    10. Screw the budget! Get the Krupp K5 railway gun or Dicke Bertha!
    11. Get something else!

    If you decide to go on the offense instead, please select something from this list:

    1. M1897 Trench gun and M1917 revolver
    2. Bergmann MP-18
    3. PPSh-41
    4. Thompson, any Thompson
    5. FM 24/29 light machine gun or any Browning M1918 variant (why did I select a Polish model…?)
    6. ZB vz.26
    7. MG-42
    8. M1 Garand
    9. Sturmgewehr
    10. Carl-Gustav M/45
    11. Oh goody, a Panzer IV H
    12. Add your favorite toys to this list and ATTACK!!!

    This scenario is a voluntary activity. You are not required to participate if you do not wish to do so. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,


    • “11. Get something else!”
      Several M29 launchers should solve problems, assuming that “medieval European fantasy” is not immune to radiation and so can’t cross nuclear area.
      And if you from some reason hesitate to use nuclear warhead use alternative technology – TOS-1 “Buratino” flamethrower launching thermobaric rockets.

      “12. Add your favorite toys to this list and ATTACK!!!”
      Backpack flamethrower for psychological effect.

  10. Nice you noted Balkan used of Maxims, Serbia and Bulgaria quite got a worth of MGs during 1st and 2nd Balkan War. This (with host of other issues) enabled Serbia to score early victory at Cer and Kolubara vs Austro-Hungarians – Serbian army, while having less MGs and artillery managed to concentrate them much better than A-Hs did.

  11. The expression ‘the whole nine yards’ is much older than you think. When the English canal system (and later the railways)
    were built the workmen had to dig and move with a wheelbarrow nine cubic
    yards of soil per day to receive the maximum pay.It took six
    months to get fit enough to achieve this.

    • It’s possible, but there’s no actual evidence for it. Just one of many speculative origins for the phrase. The only one with any evidence behind it is the baseball reference I gave above (1907).

  12. I have a strong suspicion that the French adopted the metal feed strips because the 8mm Lebel was too tapered to stay in a cloth belt. It probably wouldn’t have worked too well with disintegrating metal links. The first thing they did after WWI was to develop a new cartridge which worked with more conventional feed mechanisms.

  13. The Whole Nine Yards>>>> Old British saying, from the Age of the .450 (BP) Maxim. The Belt, originally 333 rounds (Maxim’s Prototype Gun, which he demonstrated at Hatton Gardens for the General Public on a regular Basis) came down to 250 rounds for the British Army Models, first used in the Sudan and North Western India in the 1890s.

    They had a Belt approximately 9 yards (Imperial) Long.

    When attacked by Hordes of Fuzzy-Wuzzies or Wasiris (Natives & both Fanatical Muslims)), the anecdotal order given was “Give them the whole nine yards!!” ( ie, a continuous Belt Burst, which the Maxim was quite capable of doing without stopping, as long as water was maintained to the cooling Jacket, with Black Powder ammo.

    On another matter, The French adopted the Hotchkiss, because (1) It was “served up the them” as a complete, tested unit by Hotchkiss et Cie., an American Founded, but fully French company, with “Runs on the Board” with its auto Cannon etc from the 1870s onwards (2) the most important is “it was invented and made Here” ( although the original Patent was of Von Odkolek ( a Czech), but the system was perfected in Paris by Hotchkiss.
    Hotchkiss started a priori with the Steel or Brass strip, as even the Long Cylindrical BP Cartridge models of the Gun (11mm, 10mm etc) used a strip. And these Cases were virtually cylindrical or slightly Bottlenecked..well suited for metal tabbed Canvas Belts. ( Norwegian Jarmann calibre Hotchkiss M1897, Trial M74 Grass Cartridge Guns, etc.)
    Hotchkiss did develop a flexible metal belt for the French Airforce by 1914, to fit M1909 Portatives to aircraft (250 and 500 round spools, with each “plate” holding one 8mm Lebel cartridge, and Hinged between. For the “Export Models” (like the British MkI of 1909, and some others,) they developed a flexible plate system ( 2 or 3 cartridges per Articulated Plate.)These articulated belts were used by the British & Commonwealth in the first Tanks, Armoured Cars, and by Cavalry & Light Horse.

    France’s Artillery Section (their “Ordnance Corps”) tried to “Improve” on the Hotchkiss design, starting with the Puteaux M1905 ( Puteaux was a large Artillery Arsenal on the Outskirts of Paris, now “renamed” “La Defense” as an Upmarket Residential and Office Quarter. All the original factory Building have gone.

    This was followed by the “St. Etienne M1907” –MAS-designed and built in large quantities, and used everywhere in WW I (Verdun, Salonika, Romania, etc) until its susceptibility of Mud etc had it relegated to “Fortress” (ie, Clean) use after WWI. This was fitted for a “pull out” type strip, but then substituted with Metallic Belts late in WW I.

    Too many other Points of Interest have appeared in this Thread to address all at once, some correctly stated, some woefully wrong…maybe another time.

    Please do more research before making what could possibly be a WOG (Way-out Guess) or even misleading.

    This Web Page has too much good information to be Mucked up by Incorrect, Approximate, or Fanciful Comments.

    Regards, Doc AV
    ( Old Curmudgeon from Down Under)

    • DocAV, do you have a single written reference for your claim re ‘the whole nine yards’? Because as I’ve stated above, the earliest known reference is 1907, with reference to American baseball.

  14. Here’s a a counterpoint to ammo capacity as a limitation for the Hotchkiss. The strips may not be long, but they are designed to be clipped together in much the same manner you would clip together a train track. so it is actually quite possible to fire very long bursts with the Hotchkiss as long as you string them together. I have also seen a set of flexible articulated feed strips for the hotchkiss where you have a flat strip for about ten rounds, a hinge, another ten rounds and so on.

  15. An excellent presentation.
    Just a few points to add to the thread:
    German aircraft MG’s used canvas belts, certainly the Bf109 had canvas belts for the nose guns requiring extra space in the offset ammo tanks for the empty belts, and when fitted with MG’s in the wings, the belt was continuous, going out to the wingtip, over a roller and back again. Not as neat as US or RAF practice but it seems to have worked.
    The Hispano 20 mm was fraught with development problems, it was a French gun, with a factory set up in the UK to manufacture it, then France fell, and the management of the UK factory was left with no guidance, and refusing help from BSA, Royal Ordnance or Vickers. Things got sorted out in the end with government impositions. The later MkV Hispano was an entirely Royal Ordnance Establishment gun, the drawings were presented to the Hispano factory with the instructions:” Make x of these”. Fairly early, due to shortage of the explosive round (hideously expensive at that stage, later simplified) ordinary ball ammunition was used in the 60 round magazines. To everyone’s surprise no difference in destructive power was observed, a burst of ball at that weight and velocity would break a fighter apart. Much the same goes for .50 cal., the kinetic energy contained makes a mess of anything heavy enough to offer resistance, such as engine blocks, armour plate, mainspars, etc. and there’s no self-sealing fuel tank that will seal that size of hole. By the end of the war the standard Hispano ammo was API and HEI.
    The american development of the M2 20 mm cannon was a headache because the Americans refused any assistance whatsoever from the British, who were the experts at that stage. The Yanks continued to make alterations and mistakes and never really managed to produce anything like The MkV or the previous long version. This placed the US at a disadvantage later on, when everyone was arming the first jets with cannon, the 20 mm was adequate but the RAF went to 30 mm, the US was stuck with 50 cal. guns which were not damaging enough any more. Belt feeds for the Hispano were also a problem. Bristol, Mollins and Hispano had a go, the only one that met the specs was the Mollins, the Hispano UK factory version was hopeless. The cost of a 20 mm Hispano at the beginning of the war was around £900, by the time the MkV was in production it had dropped to about £80, there was so much useless mechanism and manufacturing time in the original, barely developed gun. High speed photography was used to sort out some of the kinks, perhaps a “first” in gun development. See “Guns of the RAF”, an excellent book.
    The Vickers gun used in WWI and WWII was the epitome of the design’s development. Legendary reliability, accuracy and the capacity to just keep going. There was even a procedure to change the barrel quickly without losing water from the jacket, it took only a few minutes and was necessary because with the hot-burning cordite and boat-tailed MkVIII ammunition barrels had a life of some 10-20,000 rounds. The German version was nowhere near that level of development. The scale of issue of the Vickers was low because just before WWI started there was the controversy around the .276 round, and the authorities were wary of placing large orders until this was sorted out. In fact the Germans paid royalties to Vickers, and sent lists of serial numbers as proof, Vickers Co. became aware that something nasty was going to happen when these lists were no longer forthcoming, basically the Germans had increased production dramatically. The Vickers design reached its limits when it was speeded up for aircraft use in the Vickers type E and rare type F (a type E with the belt feed replaced by a magazine feed compatible with Lewis gun magazines, only Poland bought the gun, the RAF wanted the Vickers K then in the pipeline). The increased rate of fire brought the reliability tumbling down, and unreliable weapons were a main complaint of the Polish pilots in 1939, whose aircraft mostly carried Vickers E’s in 7.92mm Mauser. This made the RAF look for a replacement, the final contestants were the French Darne and the American Browning 1919, the latter won but had to be extensively modified, virtually a new gun. For tanks, the clumsy Vickers was replaced with the Besa in 7,92 mm Mauser because there wasn’t enough time to redevelop the gun in .303.
    Often we hear the expression “cook-off” as being a spontaneous firing of a cartridge. It isn’t, certainly not in .303 British, it is a situation where the high nitoglycerin content detonates as a high explosive due to the sudden temperature rise, rather than burn very fast together with the nitro and other components. This will blow a gun apart, and injure anyone in the vicinity. That is why the 1919 was changed to firing from an open bolt. The Vickers E presumably was not fast enough to present that risk.
    The Vickers .50 cal cartridge (and the Italian copy) was much less powerful than the Browning 50 cal, that is why they were phased out from AA shipboard use fairly early and replaced with Oerlikons, the guns were heavy, cumbersome and not much use.
    Finally, please remember that the cooling jacket of a Vickers is supposed to be connected to a condenser (pipe fitting near the muzzle) to absorb steam if it boils over, and when the gun cools it sucks water back into the jacket. Steampunk technology at its best!

    • Very interesting information, Richard — thanks very much for sharing! One minor question, though, and please correct me if I am wrong — wasn’t it the Royal Ordnance Factories ( ROF ), rather than the Royal Ordnance Establishment?

  16. Earl: Quite right, I was writing from memory.
    The correct title for the development unit was the Gun Section at the Air Ministry, and the Small Arms Design Staff belonging to the Design Department. The Royal Ordnance Factories were the most competent contributors, as were certain private firms such as Vickers, that kept excellent engineers on their staff. The book reference is: The Guns of the Royal Air Force, G. F. Wallace, William Kimber ed. 1972, ISBN 7183 0362 8.
    Further comments:
    The Hispano 20 mm was nuch more effective than the .50 cal Browning. Early trials by the British had shown that weight for weight (and obviously discounting armour protection) the .303 was about as effective as the .50 cal, remember that the .50 cal gun was much heavier and the ammo weighed about 4x the .303, this is why there was no pre-war effort on the part of the RAF to obtain the .50 cal. Later these were useful in rear turrets for daytime use, as their range and armour piercing capacities were better, and 20 mm cannon could not be fitted as they were far too long.
    The Hispano MkV was 25 lb lighter than the MkII, had a rate of fire of 750 r.p.m., practically the same muzzle velocity, and a minimum life of 1500 rounds. This latter point made all the difference, early RAF doctrine demanded a minimum life of any component of 10,000 rounds, there was a good chance the aircraft would not last long enough for that. [The same idiocy was applied to jet engines, British jets were delayed by at least a year because the RAF wanted 100 hours between overhauls, and the Power Jets engine only had 75 hbo. Power Jets re-developed it and it ended up having 150 hbo. This explains why post war British engines were copied so profusely, they were super-reliable at a time when the best the Germans produced had 25 hno, but I digress…]. The British Hispano factory was called BMAR and was only one of several makers, including BSA, Royal Ordnance Factory (Poole), and Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield). Experimental work was centred at ROF (Poole), although the best finished guns were from RSAF. RMAS produced the least good ones, although they produced the vast majority. The MkV was designed at the Enfield drawing offices of the Small Arms Design Staff, prototypes and testing by ROF. BMAR became incandescent and sent a letter to the Air Ministry claiming they were the experts on the Hispano. The reply from the Design Staff was that the experts were in occupied France, BMAR had no staff with previous gun design experience, and their product had the highest rate of faults. The actual wording of the letter from the Air Ministry was “It is not the custom of the Department, to give reasons why a contract is placed with any particular contractor”. That seemed to shut them up, but was typical of their attitude.
    Correction: The price of a French made Hispano was £800, one from BMAR to French drawings was £350, MkII to British drawings was £120, MkII from ROF (Poole) was £55. The MkV was cheaper still.
    The Hispano only worked with nitrocellulose and a pre-oiled cartridge. This was absolutely anathema to the mandarins at the various ministries, so it produced no end of delays whilst experimenting with cordite etc. In the end they just had to stop being morons and accept that to win wars a little flexibility is essential. [Reading Winston Churchill’s memoirs of WWII we can see an awful lot of inflexibility on the part of the US, so it was not a localized pandemic].

  17. Hello
    While searching for info on firearms built at the Rock Island Arsenal, I came across your site and really enjoyed watching your video.
    I never have been a gun person, always found plenty to do racing motorcycles and building custom cars but this looks like fun.
    I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and after living in different areas of the country over the years, moved back here in 1993.
    I’ve sold used machinery for about 15 years now, and met a salvage dealer a few years ago and bought around 10,000 pounds of iron that came from R.I A. and saved it from being melted.
    Most is tooling related for machining which I plan to list on ebay, with some being marked early 1940’s such as 30/0 barrel assembly, s&w colt,and 50 mg m3 for example.
    After unloading the crates recently, I found several new machined parts that an ex desert storm vet said could be recoils from a 30 to 50 machine gun and others that will remain a mistery unless I can find someone that is familiar with RIA firearms.
    Most parts are marked with sbf prefixes or scribed with numbers starting with the letter F.
    I spoke with a colt collector friend the other day by phone and he said people collect items such as these and display them at guns shows across the country for awards.
    He is planning to come by and see what I have and try to help.
    Any ideas? I could take some pictures and send them to your site or to someone that you night know.
    Hopefully, someone can use part of it to start up a conversation.
    Thanks for your time, Randy

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