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Maschinengewehr 08
German MG08 Machine Gun.jpg
MG 08
Type Heavy machine gun
Place of origin  German Empire
Service history
In service 1908–1945
Used by See Users
Wars World War I, World War II
Production history
Manufacturer Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken,Spandau and Erfurt Arsenals.
Number built 23,000 (air-cooled version)
Variants MG 08/15, lMG 08, LMG 08/15
Weight 62 kg (136.7 lb)

Cartridge 7.92x57mm Mauser, 13mm(TuF Variant)
Action closed bolt
Rate of fire 400 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity 900 m/s (2953 ft/s)
Effective range 2,200 yards (2,012 meters)
Maximum range 4,000 yards (3,658 meters)
Feed system 250-round fabric belt

The Maschinengewehr 08, or MG08, was the German Army's standard machine gun in World War I and is an almost direct copy of Hiram S. Maxim's original 1884 Maxim Gun. It was produced in a number of variants during the war. The MG 08 remained in service until the outbreak of World War II due to a shortage of its successor, the MG34. It was retired from front-line service by 1942.

The Maschinengewehr 08 (or MG08)—so-named after 1908, its year of adoption—was a development of the license made Maschinengewehr 01. It could reach a firing rate of up to 400 rounds per minute using 250-round fabric belts of 7.92 mm ammunition, although sustained firing would lead to over-heating; it was water-cooled using a jacket around the barrel that held approximately one gallon. Using a separate attachment sight with range calculator for indirect fire, the MG08 could be operated from cover. Additional telescopic sights were also developed and used in quantity during the war.

The MG08, like the Maxim Gun, operated on the basis of short barrel recoil and a toggle lock; once cocked and fired the MG08 would continue firing rounds until the trigger was released (or until all available ammunition was expended). Its practical range was estimated at some 2,000 meters (2,200 yards) up to an extreme range of 3,600 meters (4,000 yards). The MG08 was mounted on a sled mount (Schlitten) that was ferried between locations either on carts or else carried above men's shoulders in the manner of a stretcher.

Pre-war production was by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) in Berlin and the government arsenal at Spandau (so that the gun was often referred to as a Spandau MG08). When the war began in August 1914, approximately 12,000 MG08s were available to battlefield units; production, at numerous factories, was however markedly ramped up during wartime. In 1914 some 200 MG08s were produced each month; by 1916—once the weapon had established itself as the pre-eminent defensive battlefield weapon—the number had increased to 3,000; and a year later to 14,400 per month.



A lightened and thus more portable version of the MG08 was tested as a prototype in 1915 by a team of weapon designers under the direction of a Colonel Friedrich von Merkatz—the MG08/15. The MG08/15 had been designed to be manned by four trained infantrymen spread on the ground around the gun and in the prone position. To accomplish that purpose the MG08/15 featured a short bipod rather than a heavy sled mount, plus a wooden gunstock and a pistol grip. At 18 kg, the MG08/15 was lighter and less cumbersome than the standard MG08 since the MG08/15 had been designed to provide increased mobility of infantry automatic fire. It nevertheless remained a bulky water-cooled weapon which was quite demanding on the quality and training of its crews. Accurate fire was difficult to achieve and usually in short bursts only. It was first introduced in battle during the French "Chemin des Dames" offensive in April 1917 where it contributed to the very high casualty count among the French assailants. Its deployment in increasingly large numbers with all front line infantry regiments continued in 1917 and during the German offensives of the spring and summer of 1918. The MG08/15 became, by far, the most common German machine gun deployed in WWI (Dolf Goldsmith, 1989) since it reached a full allocation of six guns per company or 72 guns per regiment in 1918. By that time, there were four times as many MG08/15 light machine guns than heavy MG08 machine guns in each infantry regiment. To attain this goal, about 130,000 MG08/15 had to be manufactured during WWI, most of them by the Spandau and Erfurt government arsenals.

An air-cooled and thus water-free and lighter version of the MG08/15, designated as the MG08/18, was battlefield tested in small numbers during the last months of the war. The MG08/18's barrel was heavier but it could not be quick-changed, thus overheating was inevitably a problem. It would take the much later MG34, yet to come, to achieve that indispensable flexibility. Finally, the word MG08/15 lives on as an idiom in colloquial German, 08/15 (pronounced Null-acht-fünfzehn ) being used as an adjective to denote something totally ordinary and lacking in originality or specialness.

Aircraft versions

Triple mount of initial production examples of the lMG 08 machine gun in Kurt Wintgens' Fokker E.IV, May 1916 - these guns have the "over-lightened" cooling jackets that caused fragility problems.

A lightened air-cooled version, the lMG (leichtes Maschinen Gewehr) 08, with a lower case letter "l" beginning the prefix, was developed by the Spandau arsenal as a rigidly mounted aircraft machine gun and went into production in 1915, in single-gun mounts, for use on the E.I through the E.III production versions of the Fokker Eindecker. The lMG 08s were later used in pairs by the time of the introduction of the Fokker D.III and Albatros D.I biplane fighters in 1916, as fixed and synchronized cowling guns firing through the propeller. The Parabellum MG14 built by DWM was a lighter (22lbs) and quite different Maxim system gun with a very high rate of fire (900 rounds/min). It was introduced in 1915, and was, but not without serious problems on occasion (as noted by Otto Parschau), first used as the synchronized forward-firing armament on the five examples of the Fokker M.5K/MG Eindecker production prototype aircraft, and soon afterwards served as a flexible aircraft observer's gun for rear defense. The initial model of the air-cooled "Spandau" lMG 08 front-firing cowling machine guns had lost the stocks, grips and bipods of the infantry MG08s, but the 103 mm diameter cylindrical sheet metal water jacket was initially over-lightened with cooling slots, and because the cooling jacket on the MG 08 series of guns was an important structural support for the barrel, the excessive slotting of the initial air-cooled lMG 08 rendered the gun as too fragile to the point of making it impossible to fit the muzzle booster that the water cooled infantry MG08 guns could be fitted with.[1] The later model of lMG 08 air-cooled machine gun had the slotting omitted at the extreme ends of the cooling jacket's cylindrical member, with a 13 cm wide area of solid sheet metal at the breech end, and a 5 cm wide solid area at the muzzle end, giving the resultant gun much more rigidity. Also, the lMG 08 retained unchanged the rectangular rear receiver and breech assembly of the water cooled MG 08 infantry weapon, which would be "stepped down" at its upper rear and lower forward corners as the more developed and lighter weight "LMG 08/15" version, always used for forward-aimed synchronized firing in dual mounts on German single-seat fighter aircraft, and singly on German armed two seat observation aircraft. The LMG 08/15 version debuted as a water-cooled "MG 08/15" version for infantry use, beginning at the Battle of Verdun in early 1917, and soon found its way into aircraft with a slightly smaller 92 mm diameter slotted cooling jacket as standard synchronized armament on all German single-seat fighters. A device, occasionally fitted to the rear surface of the LMG 08/15's backplate, told the pilot how much ammunition was left to fire, and later on a significant upgrade to the gun's aerial usability was the fitting of the Klingstrom device on the right side of the receiver, which allowed the gun to be cocked and loaded with one hand from the cockpit.

Some 23,000 examples of all models, of the air-cooled versions of the MG 08 were produced during World War I.

13mm variant

A variant chambered in the same round as the 13mm Mauser Anti Tank Rifle was introduced in 1918 for use against Tanks and Aircraft as the TuF (Tank und Flieger). It was issued in limited numbers as it was late for WW1.


An MG 08 at the Canadian War Museum.

See also


  1. ^ Woodman 1997, pg.2
  • Bruce, Robert (1997). Machine Guns of World War I. Windrow and Greene Ltd. ISBN 1859150780.  
  • Goldsmith, Dolf L. (1989). The Devil's Paintbrush: Sir Hiram Maxim's Gun. Collector Grade Publications. ISBN 0-88935-282-8.  
  • Woodman, Harry (1997). Spandau Guns, Windsock Mini-Datafile No.10. Albatros Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-948414-90-1..  

External links



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