Shooting the Madsen LMG – The First True LMG

We have looked at a couple different Madsen light machine guns previously, but until today I have not had the chance to do any shooting with a fully automatic example of one. So I am taking this 1924 Bulgarian contract example out to the range wth some ammo!

The Madsen is a really interesting gun for several reasons, both historically and mechanically. It was the first light machine gun actually put into real combat use, seeing service in the Russo-Japanese War. It would go on to be used in World War One, World War Two, and too many smaller conflicts to count, right through to staying in service with Brazilian police units into the 1990s if not 2000s. A service life that long would be impressive for any machine gun, but particularly so for such an early an unusual design.

Mechanically, the Madsen is best described as a short recoil falling block action. It uses a top-mounted magazine which is offset to the left, and which has no feed lips (they are machined into the receiver instead). Cartridges are pushed laterally into the action by a rotary block below the magazine, and then rammed into the chamber by a long swinging arm (definitely take a look at my previous video on the Madsen disassembly to see how this works in detail). The breechblock pivots at the rear and drops down to lock behind the cartridge when firing. It does fire from an open bolt, although the semiautomatic conversions available in th eUS are converted to closed-bolt operation.

Firing the Madsen, it is clear that one is working with an early design. The grip is not nearly as comfortable and intuitive as later guns, and the trigger pull is rather heavy. It remains a durable and effective weapon, however, with its unique eccentricities standing in for the polish that would come with later guns like the ZB-26.


  1. If it’s good enough to serve for the entire century then the development team got something right! Making the gun more ergonomic would be a matter of getting a pistol grip and adjusting the trigger control group. I would also advocate a fire stock or grip so that one does not hold the gun by the barrel shroud.

      • But “air” career of Madsen does not end in 1918.
        After end of Great War, man named Hambroe was given task of adopting basic Madsen machine gun to various application, thus increasing potential market.
        These were named with alphabet as follows:
        α – light machine gun, 7,3 kg, 453 mm barrel, ability to use bayonet
        β and γ – other barrels lengths
        η – on tripod, 8,5 kg, 588 mm barrel, able of AA fire
        ε – tank machine gun
        Work on aviation version culminated in model 1927 (Danish designation, other might be found depending on users, but difference is mainly in caliber used). Special muzzle device and spring buffer were added resulting in Rate-of-Fire of 1000 rpm. This gun could be synchronized. Feeding from either metallic disintegrating belt or 50-round drum. Feeding only from left side. This gun was used in Scandinavian countries and some South American. Argentine used 7,65-mm and 11,35-mm version. Second use unique 11,35×62 mm cartridge (see photos section) developed by KYNOCH, which was much less powerful than say .50 Browning or 12,7×108, but allowed construction of small and light (for caliber) machine gun – 11,35 mm version mass feed from 100- or 200-belt, mass of gun was 10,5 kg, overall length 1280 mm, barrel 750 mm, Rate-of-Fire 900-1050 rpm, muzzle velocity 825 m/s (with 20 g bullet).

        • Municion has entry for that 11,35 mm cartridge:

          using bigger bullet might be explained by ability to pack more TRACER substance or HE filler. It was worth noting as it predates practice of necking-up cartridge (more generally: using bigger but slower projectile) for aircraft machine gun during World War II, for example in Germany – MG151 which from 15 mm become 20 mm weapon.

        • But 11,35 mm was not end in size, Madsen in 1920s created 20-mm auto-cannon:
          basically it was Madsen machine gun upscaled to 20×120 cartridge and equipped with hydraulic buffer. First demonstration for foreign attachés was in 1926, but failed to spark bigger attention – gun fired at moderate 180 rpm and was 50 kg heavy and also need some refining.
          Later muzzle device was added increasing Rate-of-Fire to 300-400 rpm. Marketing was now mainly as AT or AA gun, various shells were developed (AP, HE, HE-T), feeding was from 10-round magazine or 60-round magazine or 100-round belt. As AA gun it will be used in limited numbers in various places during Second World War.
          Anyway for making it more appealing for potential buyer Madsen decided to create 23-mm version (23×106 cartridge, heavier bullet, but same overall length, see photos section) which was even bit lighter (53 kg vs 55 kg). Rate of fire was 400 rpm. Feed from 100-round metal belt. It was exposed during Paris Aviation Exhibition 1936, soon orders arrive. Beyond “traditional” customers from South America, 4 examples (+5000 ammunition) were bought in 1937 by United States and tested on some prototypes (XP-38, F4F, XF5F-1) but found to be unreliable.
          Chile bought 20 example for arming Breda Ba 65. France also bought few, but was content with reliable unlike United States. Most notable user of 23 mm Madsen autocannons was Siam (Thailand) which armed 25 examples Curtiss Hawk 75N with pair of that autocannons. These aeroplane were used in combat against French Indochina in 1941 and against Japanese invasion.
          While never used on very big scale, it spawned some interest in 23 mm caliber, for example U.S. .90″ caliber (T1, T2, T3 and T4 guns).

          • Finland actually used the 20mm Madsen AA/AT gun in fairly significant numbers. In summer 1941 the Finnish Army had 360 guns, of which only 20 were on an AT mount.

            As an AT gun the Madsen was inferior to the L-39 Lahti and other guns chambered in the 20×138mmB “Long Solothurn” cartridge. Accordingly, the Madsens were removed from AT duty in Spring 1942 and used as light coastal defense guns for the rest of the war.

          • A correction: actually only 20mm Madsen 200 guns in summer 1941, many of which were used by the Finnish Navy instead of Army. 360 guns would be correct for late 1943.

    • Ian,

      Early weapons had a “swivel” pivoting on the back of the trigger guard that could be turned up to prevent full travel of the trigger when semi-auto was required. So, apparently, short-pulling the trigger would also provide for single shots on those early weapons. I have suspected (but do not know for sure) that short stroking the trigger will will still provide semi-automatic fire on later built weapons. Did you try short-pulling the trigger?

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