Vintage Saturday: Crew-Served November 8, 2014 Ian McCollum Heavy MGs, Vintage photo 35 Once the photo session is over, someone’s going to have to go find a booster for the gun (photo from Drake Goodman – click to enlarge) German WWI Landwehr unit posing with an MG08. Share this:RedditTwitterFacebook Germany
And a great close-up of a hobnailed boot…
Noticeable drag marks where they got the thing in position. That must have been heavy.
Over 150 lbs altogether; 58 lb gun, 89 lb. sledge mount and about 9 pounds of water in the cooling jacket. (Recovery can and ammunition not included.)
The sledge mount made very good sense, even if it weighed more than the gun. It could be dragged like a sled, or if you swung the front pair of legs up horizontal, it could be carried by two men just like a stretcher. Very handy for moving it from one part of a trench line to another quickly, although that probably wasn’t quite what the designers had in mind originally.
Also, if you just wanted to fire the gun on a limited arc to cover a specific fire lane, the sledge mount once set down just didn’t move. You didn’t have a lot of traverse, but then again the gun wasn’t going to wander around due to its mount “bouncing” under recoil, either.
Add in that being water-cooled the MG08 could stay in the fight a good long time as long as enough water, ammo, and a few spare barrels were kept handy, and it was well-suited to fighting exactly the sort of static defensive battle the German Army ended up in, whether that had been the original intention or not.
The wonderful thing about water cooling, no spare barrels required! Water in the jacket? Good to go!
Even with water cooling, barrels can overheat in prolonged sustained fire, even by short to medium bursts.
This is why even water-cooled heavy MGs had provisions for barrel changing, which on most Maxim variants was to be done every 10,000 rounds. Note that at the normal sustained-fire rate of 200 rounds per minute in short bursts, 10,000 rounds were expended in about fifty minutes.
Air-cooled guns like the MG42 were supposed to change barrels every four belts of ammo. Since one belt was usually 250 rounds, this meant every 1,000 rounds, or about ten times as often as the water-cooled “heavies”.
The usual setup for a barrel change in the water-cooled gun was to “break” the receiver open as for field stripping, with the gun pointed upward as close to vertical as the mount will allow.
Pull the bolt, and as the barrel is pulled out about an inch, the No. 2 pushes a cork into the hole in the front of the jacket (no, really).
The gun is then pointed down as far as it will go, the barrel is pulled out, and the fresh barrel inserted.
When you shove the new barrel in, it pushes the cork out and seats itself in the watertight bushing. Reassemble the gun and, with the bolt locked back, keep it pointed down and shake it a couple of times. What little water got in the barrel during the change drains out, and you’re good to go again.
During the famous World War One sustained-fire run by 100th Company of the BEF Machine Gun Corps at High Wood on 24 August 1916, ten Vickers guns had to interdict a section of the frontline area against German troop movement for 12 hours.
They expended almost exactly one million rounds of 0.303in ammunition,had two men on a belt-filling machine the whole time loading 250-round belts, had two infantry companies detailed off as support (ammo carriers, rations, and water supply), and used up every round of pre-“dumped” ammo, all the water in the area (including canteens and the contents of the latrine buckets)- and also used 100 replacement barrels, ten per gun, changing every 10,000 rounds, as per the manual.
Every gun finished the fire mission in perfect working order, and one crew won a five-franc prize for putting 120,000 rounds downrange.
Needless to say, nothing moved through that target area for those 12 hours.
Even water-cooled heavy MGs need barrel changes. But with enough spare barrels, water, and ammo, they can make things hot for the enemy for a long, long time.
That sledge mount is quite massive. No, it is NOT a tripod, if you were wondering. The barrel-jacket seems different at the muzzle on account of the steam hose and its attachment point. Incidentally, the hose shouldn’t stay with the other end near the spotter’s boots (leather and scalding hot water and vapor are a bad combination, especially if the leather is on your foot!!)! This stuff aside, at least one crewmember needs a KAR98 AZ and a revolver should a hostile person charge while the belts are being changed. Or, if the attacker manages to get within melee range with no ammunition left for both parties, would a carbine stock or bayonet (or even a well-aimed boot to the face) suffice for dispatching him?
Looks like pressed from heavy gage sheet metal, parts connected by rivets. Typical way of engineering of the period.
One thing for sure, it isn’t going to “break” no matter how badly it gets mistreated in the field.
Short of an assault with sledgehammers or getting hit by a howitzer shell, I’m not sure it can break.
German MG troops during WW1 were often issued the M1879 or M1883 “Reichsrevolver” for that exact reason. Primitive and single-action, yes, but a 262 grain .44 caliber semi-flat-nosed lead slug @ 700 FPS arriving amidship had to be a pretty discouraging prospect for a would-be hero on the other side.
Reminds me of this joke explaining why children are best suited to crew served weapons:
And on a more serious note, here’s the current U.S. Army manual on crew served machine guns (FM 3-22.68) covering the M249 SAW, M60 MG, and M240B:
Interesting tidbits such as, the wait time to clear a failure to fire in a “hot” M249 is 15 minutes, in a tactical situation: 5 seconds.
M249 is “(s)crew served”? That’s new to me.
Five seconds wait is plenty, even 3 is enough. If is does not go off, open action and eject the dud. Fifteen is liability – suing for damages is omnipresent.
Btw, do you know how that (absurd) barrel heat-shield on M249 came about? Some general touched hot barrel; expert handling apparently.
They are ‘tactically’ placed in view – oh well. Yeah, nova days there is one man to handle GMPG, that time there was whole team. Good picture!
Its not missing a booster! It has a muzzle gland installed. Thats basically a but with a hole through it. It holds the barrel and packing in place just like the booster. Germans would run these when the gun was working well. Less to clean…etc. So the lack of a booster is totally correct.
My dumb question of the day: wars are fought in all climates at all times of the year, so weren’t there times when a water jacket froze and split like an engine block without anti-freeze?
I would assume that you wouldn’t fill the jacket to capacity to prevent ice damage.
You have a point, but adding glycerol to the water would prevent that from happening. And in winter, nobody tops off the water jacket. If you were shooting a lot in the cold, what would happen to that water? Apply basic thermodynamics and have yourself a cup of tea (but don’t use the gun’s cooling water for tea since it’s too oily).
Look at the cooling jacket on the Russian version of the Maxim. There’s a big flip-top lid there like an oversized version of the ceramic-lined fliptop on the U.S. water jerrycan. It was for rapid refilling of the water jacket in combat.
In winter, it was entirely normal to refill it by dropping chunks of ice in. They melted in nothing flat in water that was pretty much at the boiling point.
BTW, re brewing up, Land Rovers used to come with a bracket in the engine compartment for a teapot. Fill the billy up with water, snap the lid down, put it in the bracket, close the bonnet, drive ten miles at about 20 MPH, and have a cuppa.
“There’s a big flip-top lid there like an oversized version of the ceramic-lined fliptop on the U.S. water jerrycan.”
This apply only to Russian Maxim produced in or after 1940. This feature was copied from Finnish Maxim (Maxim M/32-33) after example of it was captured during Talvisota.
Also, a minor nitpick: snow was normally used to fill the jacket, since it’s much easier to find than solid ice.
Just wondering – if water gets into boil, than you are running risk of jacket explosion. How was this prevented? By filling less than full? But than I’d guess the system was gravity based….
Denny, did you look at the water jackets of the MG’s of the period? There are safety valves or hoses connected to them!
Which in turn were connected to condensate collection cans for recycling of the water back into the jacket.
The first bit of footage in my standard video intro segment is a Vickers which has been heated to boiling – you can see a plume of steam coming out the front of the jacket where the condenser hose would normally be.
Frankly said I have seen them, loooong ago and do not recollect details well.
Therefore, in conclusion it is closed system, albeit some suggest otherwise (maybe in emergencies). Cooled condensate turned into (still pretty warm) water goes back not by gravity, but by suction in the jacket.
The jackets are designed to vent steam to the outside which prevents pressure from building up
Although there are a lot of instances when thirsty soldiers did drink the water, oily or not, from MG water jackets out of immediate desperation ( as Erich Maria Remarque has himself stated based on his personal experiences in “All Quiet On The Western Front” ).
Funny way how this gun was modified for Fokker plane installation;
The same machine gun was used in other German fighters besides Fokker as well. The synchronization gear was a major invention at the time (1915) and gave the Germans a clear edge in air combat until new Entente types with better armament arrived in spring 1916. That period was later named “Fokker scourge”. The Fokker Eindecker, which was responsible for the “scourge”, was not in any way exceptional fighter, but the synchronized MG 08 in a relatively easy-to-aim position put serious firepower at the disposal of the fighter pilot for the first time.
Yes, I read about it in past. I was and still somewhat remain interested in old flying technology. Thanks for mention it anyway.
British Vickers, basically product improved Maxim had preponderance to jamming during dog fights. Probably caused by play of forces in feed system during maneuvers. There is mention of it in some sources. I do not remember however reading recollection of same with Spandau made guns (had book by Ernst Udet “My life of pilot”).
It was the Fokker E-1 “Eindecker” monoplane with the synchronized MG that made the careers of several of the early German aces, including Max Immelmann, who developed the famous Immelmann maneuver, which was essentially a vertical reversal. The modern version of the Immelmann is a bit different, involving a half loop with a 180-degree rollout back to level flight at the apex, and with the option of aileron turning during the execution of the maneuver.
Interestingly, the first German pilot to score a victory with the E-1 in July 1915 was Kurt Wintgens, who was also the last German ace to fly the Eindecker (the E-4) to combat in summer 1916, and die while flying one. At the time (September 1916) other German aces and even most “ordinary” pilots had upgraded to more modern aircraft. He was shot down by a French ace Alfred Heurteaux in a SPAD S.VII, which was so much more advanced that going against it must have been like flying a bi-plane fighter in WW2 or a prop fighter in Korea.
Wintgens was 22 when he died, a solemn remainder how young these guys were, although he was even a couple of years younger than most other German aces. On the other hand, Alfred Heurteaux lived to an age of 92 and took a “tour” of German prisons during WW2, including Buchenwald, for being an early and active member of the French resistance.
Thank you for your reply, Euroweasel — I have always greatly enjoyed reading your posts and the informational exchanges between you and other members of FW, myself included. If you don’t mind my saying so, I hope this will continue for a very long time to come.
Today, on this Armistice / Veterans’ Day, which is also the 100th anniversary of the end of “The war to end all wars”, your comments about Wintgens, Herteaux and the very young average age of pilots on the Western Front reminded me of a book and film that have been largely forgotten ( except perhaps by those of us at FW and any number of other historical web sites ). The novel is “Aces High” by William Hughes ( Avon Books, 1976 / ISBN 0-380-00788-6 ), which was based on a screenplay by Howard Baker. It was made into a very good, very humanistic, poignant and painfully realistic film about the personal challenges and fears of young airmen serving in an RFC fighter squadron during the Great War which, I might add, was entirely representative of every such group of young men, regardless of nationality or creed, who ever served. Presented by Nat Cohen, produced by S. Benjamin Fisz and directed by Jack Gold, it featured such notable actors as Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward, Peter Firth, David Wood, Sir John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Ray Milland.
There is a profoundly terrible, breathless and inexorable quality to “Aces High” that reflects the life expectancy of the average RFC pilot of the time — three weeks — and the strange quality of the survival of the very small handful who made it through. The back cover of my old copy of the book says it in no uncertain terms : “Parachutes were not issued – they were considered ‘bad for morale’. From schoolboys playing the game of war to hardened fighters waging battles for international stakes, this is the story of the men of the RFC – a monumental yet intimate evocation of the bravery and despair of a generation, set against the murderous chivalry of the first great air campaign”. I think this applied in equal measure to all the young men of all sides during that most terrible conflict.
I would strongly recommend that all who read this post try to obtain a copy of the book and film, for they are definitely worth the time and effort in expanding upon our understanding from a human and historical standpoint.
There is a restored version of the “Aces High” film available now on Blu-Ray:
It contains also a DVD version for those who don’t have a Blu-Ray player. Unfortunately no info yet on the region coding of the Blu-Ray (might be region B only or multi-region).
I remember at the Enfield Pattern Room, many years ago, Herb Woodend suggesting that the Russian wheeled Maxim with the large captive lid on the jacket could be filled with snow. Alternatively a female squaddy (of which there were a fair number in the Red Army in WW2) could straddle the thing and… Well, you get the idea.