Encyclopedia - Maxim Machine Gun

Sir Hiram Maxim Invented by Hiram S. Maxim in the U.S. in 1884, the Maxim Gun comprised the world's first automatic machine gun.

When war in Europe broke out in the summer of 1914 the major armies (bar France and Austria) largely made use of machine guns based upon Maxim's original design (click here to read an overview of machine gun development and use during wartime).

The Maxim Gun was water-cooled (via a jacket around the barrel which held approximately one gallon) and fed from fabric belts; the German version of the gun, the Maschinengewehr, utilised 250-round belts.  The whole was mounted on a sledge which, although heavy - 1914 machine guns weighed from 40-60kg - did enable the gun to be carried in the manner of a stretcher.  The Maxim was usually operator by a four to six man team.

In designing his machine gun, Hiram Maxim utilised a simple if ingenious concept.  The gas produced by the explosion of the powder in each cartridge itself generated a recoil which served to continuously operate the gun's mechanism.  No external power was needed.  His initial design allowed for a theoretical rate of fire of up to 600 rounds per minute (half that number in practice).

Maxim triumphantly demonstrated his new invention to, firstly, the British Army - he had moved to London shortly before developing the machine gun - in 1885.  Two years later the British government placed an initial order for three of the devices for testing purposes.  Although his invention passed all stipulated tests it was nevertheless not picked up the British; the military high command envisaged limited infantry use of the weapon.

Later the same year, 1887, Maxim's gun was demonstrated to the German Army.  Kaiser Wilhelm II personally attended trials and, duly impressed, authorised its use.  Thus the Maschinengewehr was born - a more or less direct copy of Maxim's invention; similarly the British Vickers and the Russian Pulemyot Maxima were also based upon the Maxim Gun.

Ack Ack was a term used to describe anti-aircraft fire.

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