The US Adopts A Maxim: The Colt Model 1904

The US Army spent nearly 16 years languidly testing the Maxim gun, but was never willing to actually make a decision until a final trial in 1903 finally settled the matter. The Maxim was deemed the bet available machine gun and a contract was signed with Vickers, Sons, & Maxim to purchase 50 (later increased to 90). Eventually a total of 287 were procured; 90 from VSM and a further 197 made by Colt in the US. The first British guns were chambered for .30-03, with the Colts all made for the later .30-06 (and the VSM guns updated to that standard).

The Model 1904 was the heaviest Maxim gun ever made, weighing in at 62 pounds for the gun and another 80 for its tripod. Despite excellent reliability and durability, it was so heavy and unwieldy that it was pretty universally hated by American soldiers. The final order for 1904 Maxims was placed in 1908 and jut the following year the M1909 Benet Mercie light Hotchkis-pattern was was adopted. By the time World War One arrived, half the Maxims had already been relegated to long-term storage. They were pulled out of the warehouses for training troops prior to their deployment to Europe, but they never saw any more significant military use.


  1. Another magnificent US military procurement effort.

    I’d be interested to hear the career outcomes for that attache in London and his subordinate. No doubt, they went on to glorious futures after munging up what should have been the most important weapons procurement of the early 20th Century. Same-same with the bright lights at Ordnance who thought they “knew better” than the guys who designed the weapons in the first place, and who’d had a couple of decades of experience by that point of producing them.

    All of a piece with later issues like the M60, to be brutally honest. How’d they screw up copying the mechanisms of the Lewis, the FG42, and the MG42 to the degree that they did with the M60? Which, on the face of its design features, should have been a highly successful weapon. Just like this one should have been at least as well-done as the MG08…

    Boils down to an utterly insouciant approach to everything they’re supposed to be doing, and a stunning ineptitude at actual execution of their jobs as engineers and procurement specialists. Why on earth did the arrogant bastards think they should dictate to Vickers what the design details and dimensions would be?

    Ah, well. American bureaucrats are often utter idiots, and totally incompetent at their jobs. This is just another historical example from a history replete with incompetence, sloth, and generalized stupidity. No doubt, they all patted themselves on the back and gave each other performance bonuses.

    • I put them in the same category as the British senior officers who waxed rhapsodic about the Territorials’ rapid-fire riflery during the storied and sacred Retreat from Mons.

      “The rifle fire of the Territorials was so rapid and precise the Germans thought they were facing heavy machine gun companies! That proves the supremacy of the trained rifleman over all!”

      No, gentlemen, it proves that you stupid bastards didn’t buy enough machine guns before it dropped in the pot. If those had been actual heavy MG units, backed up by rifle companies, they would have thoroughly massacred the Germans and there wouldn’t have been a frigging “retreat”.

      Our problem isn’t that our enemies are smarter than we are. It’s that they tend to be quicker to unlearn the wrong lessons and learn the right ones than we are.

      That’s why one of the basic rules of war is “Whoever makes the least number of mistakes wins”.



      • That story has been looked into and apparently it’s complete myth. Nobody ever said that. However it’s one of those stories that has been repeated over and over again without people going back to the original source to see if it was really ever happened.

        • Thats called a factoid, false “fact” that is promoted by citing invented article.
          There are lot of people out there who on the outside, if layman listens to them, seem and sound very knowledgeable, but the thing is, they are blabbers and their knowledge consists mainly of half-true or fictional shallow “facts” they never bothered to check.

          • I blame the sensationalistic news media and the credulous academics that actually believe the news is the “first draft of history”.

            Having been a few places where “news” was being made, I’d sooner ask a deaf, dumb, and blind witness to the events in question than rely on anything I ever saw in the media.

      • The British army of 1914 was trained in a way to learn from the lessons of the Boer Wars including fieldcraft, massed accurate rifle fire and entrenchments. It had two Vickers guns per battalion from memory. At that time no army, I believe, had HMG companies or larger formations – everyone thought it would be a war of maneouver rather than the fixed fortifications that the western front developed into.

    • I was assigned as a gunner and humped the M-60 for 33 months in a rifle platoon. I rarely if ever had issues with the gun mechanically. 1 time a bolt roller plug pin fell out. Of course I knew to use Grease GAA on rails and locking lugs, yoke, and oil for the rest.

      • Hear, hear bro. Put over 2000 rounds through Mr. Pig one night NW of Saigon. Proper lube and cleaning was the answer. Every complaint about the M60 I heard was about a gun that looked like it was left out in a sand storm then cleaned by pissing on it.

  2. Incidentally, one of the last, if not the last planned use of the Finnish Maxim guns was defence of coastal artillery positions. This was in the 1990s. They didn’t have spoked wheel carriages, though, just tripods…

    • If it still works, why not?

      I rather like the idea of a weapon whose cost can be amortized over the course of centuries…

      • At the same time the Finnish Army still had DP-28 LMGs warehoused for possible wartime use. The their cost was very well amortized indeed, considering they were all captured from the Soviets and therefore free… Or perhaps you could say that the initial cost was in blood rather than money.

        • Well, blood and Karelia.

          On the whole, I’d rather have the lives and the land where my ancestors lived.

          Of course, history ain’t over with. I suspect we may have the grand spectacle of various former Russian Federation territories petitioning their neighbors to take them in, rather than deal with the chaos surrounding the regime’s collapse. Not quite sure how that’s going to work out, but it is my opinion that Putin is going to go down in history as the worst thing that ever happened to Russia, outside of Nicholas II.

          That’s the thing about Russian history: You can always sum up any era of it with the simple phrase “…and, then, it got worse…”

          • Yeltsin offered to sell Karelia to the Finns in the 90s for pennies on the dollar, funnily enough. That is the old Finnish region of Karelia which is Vyborg and its surroundings, not the whole Russian Republic of Karelia. The contemporary Finnish government refused to not have to deal with an East Germany sort of situation…

          • @Vic

            This is getting very far from the subject of this forum, but as a Finn a feel I have to answer:

            Yeltsin never officially offered to sell Karelia back to Finland. There were apparently some unofficial talks, but their details have never been made public. A price of 15 million USD has been mentioned by Russian sources (Yeltsin’s advisor Andrei Fyodorov), but other sources have denied that anything was offered at all. In any case, there is reasonably good English Wikipedia about the subject:


          • Well, it’s easy to say that land value has appreciated somewhat since the US bought Alaska: we paid like $10.00 a square mile, and it would look like Yeltsin wanted roughly $225,000.00 per square mile of Karelia…

            Either that, or the Russians have gotten smarter about land value. If they ever do put it on the market, I have to wonder what the clean-up costs are going to be for everything they’ve left behind in terms of environmental damage…

  3. Should be noted that the “Son of Maxim Gun”, the Vickers was a US produced and issued gun. “Field tests were conducted of the Vickers in 1914, and the gun was unanimously approved by the board for the army under the designation “Vickers Machine Gun Model of 1915, Caliber .30, Water-Cooled”. One hundred twenty-five guns were ordered from Colt’s Manufacturing Company in 1915, with an additional 4,000 ordered the next year, all chambered for .30-06. Design complexities, design modifications, and focus on producing previously ordered weapons meant that when the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, Colt had not manufactured a single M1915.

    Production began in late 1917 with shipments to the Western Front in mid-1918. The first twelve divisions to reach France were given French Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns, and the next ten had M1915s. The next twelve divisions were to have Browning M1917 machine guns, but there was a shortage of parts. By August 1918, thirteen U.S. divisions were armed with the Colt–Vickers machine gun, and many aircraft were armed with the weapons as well (2,888 guns were converted). 7,653 guns were issued during the war out of 12,125 produced in total. War damage losses reduced the number of M1915s in the U.S. Army inventory from 9200+ to about 8,000 total.

    After World War I, the Colt–Vickers machine guns were kept in reserve until World War II. Several hundred were sent to the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, and were all eventually lost to enemy action. In 1940 and 1941, a total of 7,071 M1915 guns were purchased by the United Kingdom to re-equip their forces after the Dunkirk evacuation, which depleted the weapon from the U.S. inventory before their entry into the war. Because the M1915 Colt–Vickers was not chambered for the standard British .303, it was painted with a red band to differentiate it and restricted it to Home Guard use”

  4. Here are comments from a British officer in 1910:

    “Gun.—At present there are three machine guns in use in the United States, viz.:
    (b) The Maxim Automatic.

    (b) The Maxim Automatic.—This is similar to the one in use in our own service, and takes the ·3 in. U.S. service ammunition.
    Mounting.—For infantry and cavalry, a tripod mounting. For use in fortified works, a two-wheeled shielded carriage.
    The transport is by means of pack-animals. A complete outfit consists of five packs, e.g. the gun and tripod form one pack, and the remaining four packs carry 1,500 rounds of ammunition and accessories for the gun, including water for filling the water-jacket.

    For firing blank it is fitted with an attachment called the “drill and blank-fire attachment.”

    A “silencer” for the Maxim was tested in March, 1909, and the results compared with those obtained from the gun without the silencer. As regards accuracy of fire there was nothing to choose between the two. The silencer, however, reduced the noise to that of a ·22 in. long cartridge, and when used at night the flash was entirely obliterated.

    Organisation.—Infantry.—One battalion in each regiment has a machine-gun platoon consisting of 1 sergeant, 2 corporals, and 18 privates, and 2 guns.

    Cavalry.—In a regiment of 3 squadrons, 1 squadron has a machine-gun platoon of 3 corporals and 18 privates.”


    • Most of you guys who liked the things only ever drew them out of the Arms Room and then used them on ranges or in the field. You never saw the grief that went into keeping those things running, or had to worry about doing that late in the system’s lifespan.

      I did, and I loathe the things with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I spent most of my military career with the question of “Will my M60s work…?” as a constant nagging worry, because I rarely had all nine of the ones assigned my company fit for use, let alone deployment. If it wasn’t lost or worn parts, it was receivers that should have been junked a decade before they reached my hands.

      Also, it does tie in with this video: You can draw a line of incompetence and sloth directly from this Maxim through to the M60, and clearly discern a pattern of insouciant carelessness about machinegunnery inherent to the US Army Ordnance department.

      People that say they liked the M60 rarely, if ever, had anything at all to do with managing them, or keeping them running. I did both, and I was a gunner whenever circumstances allowed. I did not like that system, and it was unequivocally the happiest day of my military career when we turned ours in and drew the M240B instead. I went from having constant nagging worries about the guns to it being a non-issue literally overnight. Turning the M60s in was like having an infected tooth pulled; the only thing I really felt was the vacancy of pain and worry about the guns being ready to go. Every so often, it’d impinge on my awareness that that worry was gone, and I’d be like “Oh… Yeah. We turned those POS in… Thank you, God!!!”

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