Vintage Saturday: Naval Maxim

Maxim 08 in German Naval service
I bet a lot of modern day ship captains wouldn’t mind bolting a few of these to their decks before embarking into today’s pirate-rich shipping lanes… (photo courtesy Beryl Barnett)

MG-08 Maxim in German naval service, complete with shoulder stock, AA sights, ammo can, and brass-catching bag.


  1. One big advantage of shipboard usage is that there are no issues of portability and water supply, so you can have the best of both worlds — really sustained fire from a water-cooled gun and an ample supply of ammunition to back it up.

  2. By the way, the photograph appears to have been taken during the First World War, possibly during deployment of a German Torpedo Boat ( i.e., Destroyer ) Flotilla in support of the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet in the North Sea. If so, this would have been an exceptionally calm day by North Sea standards.

    • No, certainly not from WWI. This is an upgrade MG08. Most of these upgrades were done around 1936. The WWI MG08 did not have a rear AA sight like that…etc. Plus the Torpedo Boat in the background is clearly WWII vintage.

      • Ah, good catch — I missed that completely the first time around. Thanks for letting us know!

  3. Turk,

    The Russian Quad was actually a Maxim design that was offered to other countries, too. I think the Royal Navy used it too, (maybe in the .5″ version) until they replaced it with Oerlikons.

    There is an excellent book on German WWII naval guns & mounts, called German Naval Guns 1939-45, by Miroslav Skiwot. However, it only covers from 400mm down to 20mm, and doesn’t address rifle-caliber AA guns. (The big 400 can be seen by arrangement in Harstad, Norway, where a battery were emplaced by the Germans and after the war repaired and operated for a time by the Home Guard. One turret has been restored).

        • While the 40,6 cam was designed as a naval gun the ships it was meant to go on were never built. As such they only saw service as coastal artillery. The biggest naval guns used were the 38 cm guns of the Bismark class.

          • I think you are referring specifically to the largest caliber main guns in shipboard operation with the Kreigsmarine in World War Two. The largest modern guns ever to have seen actual seagoing service were the 20-inch ( 508mm ) guns on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s super battleships “Yamato” and “Musashi”.

          • Sorry, I meant to say that the “Yamato” and “Musashi” actually had 18.1″ ( 460mm ) main guns. Please see my post below in reply to Gary L. Larson for further details.

          • I was referring to the German Naval Guns book mentioned above, finding it odd at first glance that there was a 40.6 cm German naval gun listed as largest caliber.

    • A heavy phosphate-based finish (such as the one used on today’s Czechoslovakian vz.58 assault rifle) is quite good at preventing long-term salt-water corrosion. Guns of any caliber in naval service would typically also be subject to more frequent preventive nmaintenance and cleaning intervals, as well as external coating with a salt-resistant compound such as cosmoline. In addition, the muzzles on the gun barrels are capped with tampons (gun tampons, not the other kind 🙂 ) to prevent internal corrosion, and they are covered with waterproof shrouds where possible if they are not in an enclosed turret. The shrouds and tampons would be removed and the cosmoline wiped off to bring the guns to a ready state when action is anticipated.

      • Phosphate based finishes did not come into use until the end of the war. You can see it mainly on late MP44s. The MG08s would have had a blued finish.

        I imagine it would have taken constant cleaning.

        • Thanks for the update! I guess there was simply no substitute for elbow grease and constant attention to detail for the poor gunners.

  4. Ships have a large number of “idle” hands. If officers want the gun to be spotless and rust free, it will be…

  5. <<>>

    Everything I have read states they had 18″ guns. Is this another myth that has been accepted or is it a difference in how they are measured?

    • Sorry, the “Yamato” and “Musashi” had 18.1′ ( 460mm ) main guns. I had meant to add an additional paragraph covering the Japanese 1942 naval capital shipbuilding programme, which had envisaged two hulls, Numbers 798 and 799 — sometimes referred to as “Super-Yamatos” — which were to be armed with six 20″ ( 508mm ) guns apiece. When I decided to delete the paragraph and save it for further discussion, I inadvertantly left the 20″ ( 508mm ) part in. The actual hull designs for Numbers 798 and 799 were based on an enlarged B-64 / B-65 battlecruiser or pocket battleship design, which was itself partially derived from a modified Yamato hull plan. The B-64 was to be armed with nine 12.2″ ( 310mm ) guns, and the upgraded B-65 was designed to carry nine 14.2″ ( 360mm ) guns.

      The B-64 / B-65 concept never evolved beyond the design stage when it was realized that Japan’s scarce resources were better devoted to the construction of more aircraft carriers instead. An interesting irony of history centers around the fact that the B-64 / B-65 was supposed to be a direct response to the U.S. Navy’s newly-ommissioned “Alaska”-class fast battlecruisers of 1944, which had themselves been built as an answer to convincing reports of non-existent Japanese “pocket battleships”!

      • The third line from the bottom should read “newly-commissioned” — apologies for the typographical error.

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