Luftgekühltes Maschinen Gewehr 08/15 (Video)

I recently had a chance to do some shooting with a friend’s luftgekühltes maschinen gewehr 08/15 – the air cooled, lightened version of the German MG08 Maxim gun. These were one of the standard armaments for German aircraft in WWI (mounted in fixed positions on the fuselage or cowling and fitted with synchronizer gears), and they were also used to arm Zeppelin airships. The one I was shooting is set up as a Zeppelin gun, although keen-eyed observers will not a couple problems with it. Specifically, it has a standard MG 08/15 ground gun top cover and rear sight, and a fabricated front sight (this gun should have a spiderweb-type AA sight). For the video, we used an MG34 belt to run the gun, which is a practice that was used later, during WWII. The timing of the belt is such that it will run fine, but the standard feed block pawls don’t properly pull the belt through, so an assistant gunner must keep tension on the belt during firing. A special feed block was developed to allow use of MG34 belts in 08/15 guns, but these are quite rare in the US today.

At any rate, and with a big thank-you to Mark and his father for giving me the opportunity, let’s take a look:



    • With an MG08 belt, no. With an MG34 belt (and without the special feed block), yes. During WWI, the MG34 had not yet been developed, so using those belts would not have been an issue.

      • That is probably because you have the belt in upside down (That is not upside down, like its suppose to be when using MG34 belts in a Maxim. Its now allowing the top pawl to push down enough to grab the round remember. Its that OR it could be that because you have the belt on backwards, the rims of the rounds are not lining up and causing to much friction going into the feedblock. By pulling you are basically forcing a rounds into the feedblock. One of the first things you learn shooting a maxim is if the rounds are not seated at the same depth, it will jam the feedblock. Its very important and why loading cloth belts by hand does not really work very well.

        I have a MG08 and MG08/15 feedblock that were converted by the Germans. They are very rare in the US. My MG08/15 works 100% with MG34 belts. The MG08 version I have not used as much but is more like 95% reliable with MG34 belts. I looked in my videos and saw that I don’t have any real good video of it. However I do have some:

      • My questions may seem naive : we are told that the belt for 08/15 could be used here (almost) interchangeably with the MG-34 belt.
        Now – how could this be possible as far as overcoming the basic difference between the two guns (Maxim and MG-34) would be dealt with: in MG-34 the cartridge was PUSHED from the belt forward, whereas in the Maxim construction I am familiar with (from reading mostly), the cartridge would first have to be PULLED BACK from the (cloth or metal) belt, and tehn aligned with the chamber, since Russian Maxim and British Vickers (and British until 1960’s and Russians until now) are using the RIMMED cartridge.
        I was watching the video very carefully – it seemed as if the cartridges were PUSHED IN (which was possible, the Mauser cartridge being rimless) but what about the original Maxim construction? Did it give the option to the major buyers of choosing the method of extraction from the belt depending on the cartridge that a country had been using. Some producers did – for instance Madsen – but it was magazine fed, so, I presume, there teh cartrdige is PUSHED anyway.
        I find it difficult to believe, that MAxim would have been so liberal, as at the beginning is mechanism was complex enough (especially, for a pioneer).
        Regards, Andrzej

  1. Does anyone have any historic pictures of a LMG08/15 being used with a stock and pistol grip? That is on a Zeppelin or anywhere else? I don’t think I have ever seen any?

    The Zeppelins were used really fairly early in the war before the 08/15 came out. MG08s were the usually armament. Also because the weight was not a big issue on the Zeppelins, like it was on early AC, I doubt many 08/15s were used on Zeppelins. The Zeppelins use the Naval MG08 with a special mounting bracket. The Imperial War Museum has a bunch that were recovered from Zeppelin crashes:

    I think the Stocked 08/15 on a Zeppelin may be just a Hollywood thing… However I am far from a Zeppelin Expert

    I wonder if he has the original Top Cover. Some repro LMG front sights have been made if he needs some.

  2. Interesting how in the slow motion video we can see occasional daylight between the top cover the the receiver as the the vibrations from firing cause it to bounce around.

    Normally I think of firearms as having parts that should move and parts that should not, but the reality (as is so often the case with many things) is more complex.

    • Remember there are springs on the bottom of the top cover that push down the face of the lock. Equal and opposite… so as the springs push down the face of the lock(Bolt), the springs push up on the top cover.

      • The article in Wikipedia:
        Has some photos of early aircraft MG08-derived guns with even more metal removed from jacket. Remember that early airplanes was quite small and even small increase in weight can decrease parameters crucial for air fight like climb-rate, so the desire to lighten armament as far as possible can be understand.

  3. When the first specialized aircraft machine gun was designed (i.e. designed from scratch to be mounted on aircrafts)? The earliest I know is Hungarian Gebauer machine gun.

      • I believe the the German MG 15 is the first one that qualifies for being developed solely as an aircraft machine gun in the early 1930. After that came the Soviet ShKAS and then the German MG 81. Pretty much all other aircraft rifle-caliber machine guns were derived from ground designs, although in some cases extensively modified like the AN/M2 in .30-06 and British Browning .303 Mark II.

  4. Given that this was mounted on a Zeppelin, what was the usual ammunition load? I speculate that the usual gunner’s load was something along the lines of X amount of armor-piercing bullets followed by a smoke-tracer bullet where X is a value between 3 and 6. Can anyone correct my estimate? Note: glowing incendiary tracers probably did not exist back then!

    Didn’t the aircraft version of the Vickers have teething problems as well?

    • Not an expert, but as far a I know armor piercing ammunition wasn’t regularly used in aircraft in either World War (not counting the few ground attack aircraft) as regular jacketed ammunition was deemed effective enough, problems generally came down to caliber being to small (hence the general switch to 20 and 30 mm cannon as WWII went on) to do enough damage, but that would not have been an issue against relatively flimsy WWI aircraft. Tracer was obviously necessary to successfully hit anything and incendiary rounds (not sure if combo or separate) if taking on balloons or zeppelins, which proved surprisingly immune to machine gun fire.

      • I believe that is correct. WW1 aircraft were mostly of fabric covered mixed material frame construction, so there was no use for AP bullets. They became really necessary only when steel armor was introduced in the mid-1930. Even duraluminium construction, which became much more common after WW1, was still soft enough to be penetrated by regular “ball” ammo. On the other hand incendiary bullets were useful against heavier than air aircraft as well once invented, since they could ignite the fuel.

  5. All that and I still don’t have an authoritative answer to the question “What caliber for Zeplin?”. Guess I’ll have to stick to 20ga if anybody comes down my chimney tonight.

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