Vintage Saturday: Early WWI Machine Gun Emplacement

German MG08 machine guns on the line early in WWI
It would not be long before this sort of blatantly visible emplacement would constitute pure suicide.

I don’t have a date or location for this photo, but it is clearly quite early in the Great War. Note the nice pickelhaube covers and the big shields on the MG08s. Those shields would quickly go from being bullet protection to being bullet magnets, and soldiers would learn to disguise their machine gun emplacements lest they become immediate focal points for all the artillery and small arms fire the enemy could muster.


  1. The guns are definitely MG08s, but I’m thinking the gun shields are adapted Skoda M1909 shields.

    That would likely make this an Austro-Hungarian unit, who also wore pickelhaube helmets at that time IIRC.

    Just a guess.

    But yes, those shields were very little protection against even rifle fire. Let alone the usual British or French response to a heavy MG emplacement, i.e. high-explosive shells from 13- or 18-pounders or a 75mm.



    • The shields were meant to protect against artillery debris, not direct hits from artillery shells. This is the same principle as that found in the French Adrian helmet. The armor won’t stop bullets, but direct rifle shots to the head are rare compared to wounds given by debris produced by artillery strikes near the trenches.

    • “likely make this an Austro-Hungarian unit”
      Can anybody say something basing on uniforms. What that dark parallelogram on uniform of nearest soldier mean?

      • Another at far left has the patch too. My guess would be an enlisted rank emblem – likely for a private, since it’s just blank. On the other hand, I think I’ve seen regimental numbers displayed on lapels with similar placement, in which case blanks might mean… Reservists? Fortress troops?

  2. As there’s not a single shell crater visible but the defenses look prepared my guess would be some area that’s not formally at war yet but getting ready for it. Austria/Italy in 1915 maybe?

    • Very likely. Although Italy was a pre-war ally of Austria-Hungary and Germany, they refused to enter the war in August 1914, remaining neutral until May 1915.

      At which point they joined the Allies and declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany.



      • Italy was never an ally to Austria. The pact of non-aggression was hard to be trusted, which proved to be true in spring of 1915. Austria got tricked into it, although it should have known better based on long previous history.

    • “some area that’s not formally at war yet but getting ready for it”
      I think it might be some training area and this might be photo from exercises.
      Notice buildings in background.

  3. Yeah, it’s early in the game, a time when that shield looks pretty inviting, ’cause many of this gang are crowding behind that metal and clearly shuffling like a deck-o-cards:):):)

  4. I am curious about that very large hook on the end of the tripod. I can’t match that with any machine gun pics I have seen.

    • Totally mis-interpreted that pic. There is no hook and it is not a tripod. Standard four legged 08 mount presumed. Think the fourth guy has his had on the other rear leg.

  5. The high terrain on left appears like ideal staging ground for unflanking. Just 100 years later and look where we are; not much different by essence of conflict, but hugely different in tactics and equipment.

    • Good observation — I agree. Terrain features still dictate, to a large extent, fire-and-maneuver tactical movements even with the huge advances in tactics, equipment and technology. Another way of looking at it is that the PBI ( Poor Bloody Infantry ) still have to slog it out the hard way in the end. So much for the glorious rhetoric about being the “Queen Of Battle”.

      By the way — and I know this is off-topic although I could not resist commenting — have you noticed that the fellow in the middle left of the photo bears a fair resemblance to the late actor Robert Vaughan? There is a saying that “God only made eleven ( or so ) faces”, meaning that basic facial types, depending on the angle of view, skin tones, facial structure, et al, within the human race are really not as far ranging as we would like to think.

      • Hi Earl

        I was thinking a bit about what you say. As you know, there was endless number of war movies made, by not only Hollywood but also by British, French and other studios. Those pieces of art featured many known and less known actors and frankly, they were often pretty well made, reflecting of what is generally perceived as a possible reality.

        This fact in addition to some fussiness as presented by readers above makes mi pose a question: is his real or is it just (another) movie shot? With my miniscule knowledge of cinematography I cannot tell.

        • Hi, Denny :

          What you are saying is interesting food for thought, and certainly opens the door to an equally interesting tangent of discussion — although I do feel that the photo in this article is the real thing, even if it was posed for at the time as a publicity shot.

          Hope you had a great Christmas with your family and friends, and I always look forward to hearing from you and all the other FW readers.

    • Actually that particular area of ground would be covered by other machine guns. Note there are two crests on a hill, the actual crest and the military crest, the military crest being the position where you could dominate the ground at the base of the hill. You cannot dominate the base from what appears to be the higher position. These guns are set up to fire into opposition which would advance at an angle across their position.

      • I read what you say and admit that it is difficult to assess tactical land deposition/ formation on scene from one single picture. In distant past I had visited historical battle sites and I often thought, how to conduct operations using land features in those situations. But, land formation is only one part, important for overall assessment of advantage for one or the other side. Situation in warfare is frequently developing dynamically against what one may see as best position how to lay out his defence at start.

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