By Dean Roxby
Connections in History: Osprey Publishing’s Weapon Series
I have chosen to review these four books together, as the guns themselves are connected by history. The glorious old Vickers served Britain and other Commonwealth countries for over half a century until being replaced by the FN MAG. Likewise, the Maxim MG 08 and MG 08/15 served Germany through World War I and beyond, until the MG 34 and MG 42 introduced the General Purpose MG concept to modern warfare.
Each of these books is complete on its own; they certainly do not need to be purchased as a set. As is generally the way, each of these titles begins with a look back at the development of firearms for war. The book, German Machine Guns of World War I by Stephen Bull starts with a brief look at Sir Hiram S. Maxim, while the Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun title by Martin Pegler goes farther back in time, mentioning the Gatling, Agar, Nordenfelt and Gardner designs and even the goofy Puckle revolving gun (round shot for use against Christians, square bullets for others). These guns all had one thing in common; they were hand cranked.
The Maxim design was the first to harness some of the energy of the round firing to cycle the gun continuously. Maxim the man was a most interesting fellow. He patented many electrical products prior to starting on the gun he is best known for. Maxim was born in Maine, later moved to England, became a British citizen and began work on his machine gun. Most of the 1880s was spent on its design. Later, he was knighted (Sir Hiram) in recognition of the contribution his gun made to the British Empire.
Not only was he a genius at inventing a wide range of items, he was also wildly successful at marketing. Once the design was perfected, he traveled the world selling guns or license agreements to many countries, including Germany. It is interesting to note the short time between the adoption (1908) and the outbreak of WWI in 1914. With his adopted country using an improved version of his weapon, both sides faced off with very similar machine guns.
German Machine Guns of World War I
MG 08 AND MG 08/15
©2016 Osprey Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 978 1 4728 1516 3
German Machine Guns of World War I studies the development of the original MG 08 and the later attempt to make a lighter, portable version known as the MG 08/15. Although the idea was sound, the result was not so successful.
The MG 08/15 did away with the cumbersome sled mount, instead using a bipod. It was also reworked to move the trigger from the rear of the receiver box to the underneath. A pistol grip was added to the underneath as well, and a buttstock was attached to the rear of the receiver, thus allowing it to be fired like any other bipod mounted gun. However, it still remained a heavy, awkward, water-cooled gun. Having said that, I was surprised to learn that the MG 08/15 was made in much greater numbers than the MG 08 was—roughly 130,000 versus 72,000, according to the figures given.
The author, Dr. Stephen Bull, is Curator of Military History and Archaeology for the Museum of Lancashire. He credits belt-fed expert and author Dolf Goldsmith with sparking his interest in Maxim guns. Bull often quotes from Goldsmith’s book The Grand Old Lady of No Man’s Land. He also quotes heavily from both German and British manuals and reports from WWI. This gives this particular volume of the series a different “feel,” getting into gun placement technique, etc., during the war. There are also several old-style engravings from an early manual. A modern cutaway section view drawing by Alan Gilliland shows the inner workings of an MG 08/15. Two two-page battlescene paintings by Johnny Shumate are also featured. Many black and white photos from WWI are included, as well as a three-view (left, right and rear view) full-color studio photo with various parts labelled.
The Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun
©2013 Osprey Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 978 1 78096 382 2
The Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun, by Martin Pegler, covers the development of the British version of Maxim’s gun, the Vickers, Mk 1. After a brief look at the hand-cranked Gatling, and so on, Maxim’s early prototypes are discussed. A brief look at the company history is also covered. The Maxim Gun Company was formed in London, England in November 1884. In 1888, Maxim merged with Nordenfelt to create the Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company. One of the early investors in the original Maxim firm was Albert Vickers, co-owner of Vickers, Sons & Co. In 1896, the Vickers firm bought Maxim-Nordenfelt, which then became Vickers, Sons and Maxim, Ltd. During the 1880s and 1890s, the gun was continually improved upon, including making it suitable for use with the new smokeless powder becoming popular at the time. After a major upgrade in 1908, Britain officially adopted the Gun, Machine, Mark I, Vickers .303 inch in November 1912. Just in time for the Great War.
Following the “Development” chapter is “Use.” Surprisingly, the majority of this chapter is not centered on WWI. Rather, it mentions some of the colonial battles Great Britain fought throughout Africa. Early Maxims took part in horribly one-sided battles against poorly armed local tribes in places like the Sudan and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Of course, the updated Vickers gained its fame in the trenches of France in WWI, and many black and white photos from that period are shown. The Vickers continued to soldier on in WWII and finally into the Korean War.
The book has a wonderful set of three studio-quality photographs that feature a cutaway Vickers training gun. This allows a peek inside the guts of the thing. Artist Peter Dennis provided three color paintings of battlescenes. The first is of the First Matabele War in Rhodesia, October 1893. The British would have used early pattern Maxims then, and the illustration depicts four Maxims on wooden spoke-wheeled mounts.
As revolutionary as Sir Hiram’s device was at the time, the MG 08 and the Vickers were heavy, cumbersome guns. Against masses of troops running across a field, they were viciously effective. But with war becoming more mobile and fast-paced, something far lighter was needed. The German Army noticed the Lewis gun and tried to do similar with the MG 08/15. As noted above, it was still far too heavy to be truly portable. Enter the GPMG concept.
MG 34 and MG 42 Machine Guns
©2012 Osprey Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 978 1 78096 008 1
The MG 34, and later the MG 42, defined the General-Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). They were air-cooled, belt-fed and had quick-change barrels. They could be fired from an attached bipod or a separate tripod, were light enough to carry while sprinting, yet stable when fired full-auto from the tripod. This effectively replaced heavy, medium and light machine guns (HMG, MMG, LMG) with one gun, along with various mounts, feed systems and sight systems. This Einheitsmachinengewehr (standard machine gun) concept has since been adopted worldwide.
Following a brief “Introduction” section, Chris McNab’s book discusses the origins of the GPMG in the “Development” chapter. The MG 08 HMG and the not-so-light MG 08/15 LMG are discussed, along with a brief mention of some lesser known designs (MG 13, MG 30s and LMG 32) that led to the famous MG 34.
As successful as the MG 34 was, it was tremendously time consuming to manufacture. The book covers the path that led to the MG 42. It also details the post-war versions that are still in use today. Following West Germany joining NATO, production of guns resumed in 1959. These are known as the MG 1, or MG 42/59, which were chambered for the original 8x57mm cartridge. Germany now uses the MG 3 in 7.62 NATO. Aside from the change of cartridge, the MG 3 is remarkably similar to the MG 42, first seen almost 80 years ago.
The FN MAG Machine Gun
M240, L7, AND OTHER VARIANTS
©2018 Osprey Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 978 1 4728 1967 3
The FN MAG came far too late for WWII, so it did not face off against the German GPMGs. Instead, it was greatly influenced by them and followed the same design criteria. Fabrique Nationale (National Factory) of Belgium designed the Mitrailleuse d’Appui General (French for GPMG) in 1958, so it is also known as the MAG 58. The FN MAG Machine Gun book by Chris McNab describes the FN MAG 58, from design to global success story. Once again, in the “Development” chapter, a quick history lesson is given regarding early water-cooled HMGs, attempts to create a practical LMG and the MG 34 GPMG concept.
In the chapter “Impact,” it is noted that over 80 countries have now adopted the MAG, with more than 200,000 built. (It must be said that the author also notes that the Soviet PK and PKM family may exceed 1 million guns made.) Also of interest is that during the Falklands conflict, both UK and Argentina used variants of the MAG against each other, reminiscent of the Maxim designs facing off during WWI.
As with other titles from the Osprey Weapon Series, each book features many photographs, several well-done artwork battle scenes and usually a technical-style drawing cutaway of the gun’s internals. As is to be expected, the WWI books have mostly black and white photos, while the FN MAG title has mostly color photos.
All books in the Weapon series are:
Soft cover, 7 ¼” x 9 ¾”, 80 pages, many photographs, plus color battle scene art.
Available as paperback, eBook (ePub) or eBook (PDF) format.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N4 (April 2019)|