Military and War Weapons the Machine Gun

About the military and war weapon the machine gun, origins and history, invention by Maxim, first widespread use in the Sudan, the machine gun today.



Description. The machine gun is a rifled gun that mechanically ejects empty shells, reloads, and fires itself when the operator presses a triggering mechanism. It fires a rapid, continuous stream of bullets, which are automatically fed into it by a belt, clip, or magazine.

Origin. In 1883, the first completely automatic machine gun was patented by Hiram S. Maxim in London, England. In 1881, Maxim, an American electrical engineer, attended the Paris Exposition, where an American friend told him, "If you wish to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with greater facility." Following this wise counsel, Maxim moved to London and began designing an automatic rapidfire gun.

Years before, after firing a rifle and receiving a severely bruised shoulder from the gun's recoil, Maxim had decided this energy could be used for better purposes than injuring the shooter's shoulder. In his London workshop, he devised a gun which used the recoil energy of each bullet fired to eject the empty cartridge, load a new bullet, and release the firing pin. Since the recoil from each shell loaded and discharged the next shell, the gun fired continuously and automatically while the operator pressed the trigger. To supply the gun with ammunition, Maxim constructed a mechanism which fed the gun a canvas belt loaded with 250 cartridges. Also, he invented a water jacket, holding seven pints of liquid, to cool the gun while firing. The first true machine gun, the Maxim gun weighed 40 lb. and fired 600 rounds a minute.

After Maxim gave a demonstration of his new weapon for the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), British army officers, and War Office officials, the British government purchased the Maxim gun, which was then manufactured by the Vickers factory and supplied to the army in 1888.

First Notable Use. At the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, in 1898, British Gen. Horatio Kitchener employed Maxim machine guns for the first time in a large-scale conflict. At Omdurman, Kitchener formed his battle line parallel to the nearby Nile River and stationed 20 Maxim guns in the front ranks.

On Sept. 2, 1898, tens of thousands of Sudanese dervish cavalrymen charged the British line, but in minutes the machine guns cut down the attacking men and their horses. The Sudanese launched repeated attacks, only to be slaughtered by the hail of bullets from the Maxim guns. The continuous use of the Maxim guns caused the water in their cooling systems to boil and evaporate, forcing the machine gunners to stop firing. Soldiers quickly ran down to the Nile and brought back fresh water. After pouring the cool water into the guns' water jackets, the machine gunners renewed their work.

At the end of the day, a young British lieutenant named Winston Churchill noted that in front of the Maxim machine guns there were "20,000 men, who strewed the ground in heaps and swathes. . . ."

Weapon Today. Since the Battle of Omdurman, the machine gun has been greatly improved. The supreme reign of the machine gun came during W.W. I, when its victims were counted in the millions. In W.W. II, the emergence of tanks and airplanes supplanted the singular importance of the machine gun. However, it was adapted for use in tanks and airplanes. Since W.W. II, the machine gun has lost its place in aerial combat to guided missiles, but in new lightweight form it remains an important weapon of the infantryman. Recently, it has gained popularity with terrorist groups involved in urban guerrilla warfare and hijacking.

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