Category: Shotguns and Smoothbores
The Maxim gun is a heavy machine gun that was first made and used in England in the 1880's. It is hailed as the first truly automatic machine gun, marking a new era of automatic weapons to follow.
How it Works
A revolutionary design for its time period, the Maxim gun makes use of the energy given off by the force of recoil and expulsion of the used shell to load and fire the next round. Essentially, it recycles energy rather than requiring the gunner to use its own strength to fire each shot. After the initial trigger pull, the Maxim gun will fire automatically until the trigger is released again or the gun is out of ammunition. This is different from the other machine guns of its time that all required some outside input of energy, such as a crank mechanism, in order to keep firing. The automatic effect is achieved by a lock mechanism in the gun. This lock mechanism works by continuously sliding each cartridge to its intended chamber. Initially the lock takes hold of the unfired bullet which must be loaded into the barrel of the gun. Once the trigger is pulled, the recoil from the fired bullet will push the lock back, sliding the empty cartridge out of the barrel and sliding another unfired bullet into the barrel in the same action.
Another useful outcome of this design is that the barrel does not heat up as quickly as in other early machine guns. Because of the lock system, gas is less able to build up in the barrel, allowing the gunner to fire more shots without overheating the gun. Although it is an efficient system, the gun still requires a water cooling system in the form of a jacket around the barrel. This jacket holds around a gallon of water that must be refreshed occasionally during use to keep it cool and effective.
In trials, the gun was able to fire as many as 600 rounds per minute, although in actual use it tends to be closer to 300 rounds per minute. To maintain the firing speed, cartridges are belt-fed into the gun.
The Maxim gun is less bulky than its age-mates but far more so than the modern machine gun. It can weigh between 90-130lbs (40-60kgs), so it is most easily carried by multiple people on a stretcher or by placing on a two-wheeled cart. When set up, it is mounted on a tripod for stabilization and improved accuracy.
The body of the gun has two distinct sides, the lock and the barrel. The barrel is about 1in in diameter on the early models, and ranges from 1 1/2 to 2 feet long depending on the country which produced it. The ammunition used also varies by country, as the earliest models of this weapon were not made consistently for each country that ordered them. The lock section of the gun has the appearance of an old camera, being large and rectangular. It is attached directly to the barrel on one side and the handle with the trigger on the other side. All in all the gun is less than 4 feet long, but it is bulky and heavy.
Operating the gun
This weapon only requires one man to fire it, but is most efficient with a team of 4-6 people. The other people will be useful for readying new cartridges and water, spotting targets, reloading, and movement of the weapon. Previously it has been highly utilized in infantry situations where the firing speed proves useful and effective.