27 Aug 22
“If, after establishing The League (League of Nations), we are so stupid as to allow Germany to train and arm a large army and again become a menace to the world, we would deserve the fate such folly would surely bring upon us”
Strangely prophetic comments by American Col Edward M House, Presidential Security Adviser (to then
President Wilson), 1919
Gas and delayed-blowback operating systems are the only ones suitable to autoloading military rifles.
Recoil-operated rifles, with their moving barrels and required bearing surfaces, don’t work as well under field conditions.
In any case, extraction is always going to be an issue with autoloading rifles and machine guns, and particularly with those that don’t feature a rotating bolt. Hence with non-rotating bolts, cartridges must be lubricated in some way, or the chamber must be oversized, or the chamber must be internally scored. Big, robust extractors are necessary in any event
The Maxim and Vickers heavy (water-cooled) machineguns (toggle-jointed, but with no rotating bolt) ran well, but recoil operation ultimately proved inferior to gas operation, particularly in light machineguns.
Maxim’s toggle-lock would later influence George Luger when he designed his famous Luger pistol, also John Pederson when he developed his Pederson Rifle (which ultimately lost-out to the Garand in 1936).
The Vickers machinegun was generally considered superior to the Maxim, although both saw extensive service during WWI. Vickers engineers would later candidly admit that the British Vickers HMG was little more than a Maxim, flipped upside-down!
Most Maxim and Vickers heavy machineguns were also “gas-assisted” via a funnel-shaped muzzle device that generated a degree back-pressure that contributed to driving the bolt backward and thus reliably completing the gun’s cycle of operation.
“Water-cooled” machine guns are more correctly described as “steam-cooled,” as water used for cooling is quickly super-heated as the gun fires. There is no “active circulation” of water. Water is simply collected in a separate condensation tank and then subsequently poured back into the gun’s water-cooling jacket. The condensation tank quickly re-condenses the steam, so that a plume of steam does not rise up and reveal the location of the gun.
One exception is the Italian Fiat/Revelli water-cooled machinegun (1914), which actually featured a hand-pump on the collection tank, so that water could circulate through the water-cooling jacket continuously.
Finnish versions of the Maxim featured a large screw-cap on the top of the water-cooling jacket, which allowed crews to fill the jacket with snow when liquid water was unavailable. Russians later copied this feature on their version.
Water-cooled machineguns were pretty-much considered obsolete by the end of WWI. Too heavy and ponderous, and they required large crews to emplace them keep them running. Efforts to lighten and make them more portable (MG08-15) were only partially successful.
Germany lead the way to the next generation of machineguns with their highly-portable, belt-fed MG34 and later MG42, for former being developed (and quietly deployed) during the “Inter-war Years.” These guns were relatively light and could be moved and set-up quickly. Quick-change barrels replaced water-cooling to address the issue of overheating. A two-man crew sufficed!
As WWII progressed, the Allies belatedly (and embarrassingly) took notice!
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”
Antoine De Saint-Exupery