Rifle calibre Maxim machine guns are described in this article, particularly the light variant, and methods of transporting over difficult terrain. This is the third of a 4-part article on Maxim machine guns, published in Engineering, March 18 1898. Figures have been interspersed within the text to improve clarity.
World Standard 1887
THE MAXIM GUN. - No. III.
(Engineering, March 18, 1898)
The Rifle-Calibre Gun, - (continued)
In Figs. 33, 34, and 35 is shown a complete mule equipment for a rifle-calibre gun. Fig. 33 illustrates the gun with the combined field carriage and tripod on their pack-saddle. Another mule carries the wheels, as shown in Fig. 34, whilst a third mule carries the ammunition. The load for one animal is 2000 rounds; and, of course, the number of rounds that accompany a gun is dictated by strategical or tactical considerations.
The mule service is, naturally, for mountain warfare, but the end of the pole or back leg of the tripod can be hooked on to a limber, and thus form an infantry carriage for horse traction. Illustrations of carriages made by the Maxim Company will be given later.
Another method of mounting the gun is shown in Fig. 36. This is an ingenious parapet-mounting, which would be exceedingly useful for fortifications or provisional entrenchments. It is shown on a wall, but can be used in connection with sandbags or earth embankments equally well. There are two claws, one only of which is shown in the engraving. These grasp the wall, while the bottom of the rack is held to the ground by the weight of the gun, the latter being worked up by means of a pinion which gears with the teeth of the rack. When in firing position the gun can be secured by a locking device, and, of course, it can be easily lowered when not in use, so as to act as a disappearing gun.
The facility with which the gun can be transported is an admirable feature in this design. As will be seen, there is a pair of wheels, and when the gun is run down to the bottom of the rack the wheels are on the ground, and support the whole weight. The carnage is then locked to the rack by a suitable device, the rack becomes a pole, and the securing arms are handles, between which a man can stand and push the gun in front of him. Military authorities attach considerable value to ready means of changing gun positions.
The standard R.C. gun is also intended to be used to accompany cavalry, and really becomes very light horse artillery of a very effective character. In Fig. 37 is shown what is known as the galloping carriage with gun and ammunition boxes. Here, again, the gun is almost hidden, not only by the shield, but by the seats of the carriage. The breech end is, however, shown projecting from between the seats. This, of course, is the travelling position, but in Fig. 38 the galloping carriage is shown in the firing position. The seats are turned over and form shields, being plated with steel for the purpose. The belt of cartridges is also here seen emerging from one of the ammunition boxes and passing into the gun. Twelve boxes of cartridges are carried on this carriage, the total number of rounds being 3000. This galloping carriage is quite a new feature, but several have already been supplied for abroad. The carriage has been pretty severely tested by the military authorities, in being taken at galloping pace over ditches, banks, &c. and it is considered that it would be able to go anywhere that cavalry would be able to act. The galloping or cavalry carriage may be contrasted with the infantry carriage illustrated in Fig. 26.
Turning to the Naval service, we find various mountings for the R.C. Maxim gun. In Fig. 39, (page 330), is shown a cone mounting which is much used, it being adapted for ordinary broadside and other positions. The shield is generally used, as the gun is often placed in exposed positions. There is also a bulwark mounting for this class of gun, it being placed on the ship's rail, and can be clamped in any position. The bulwark is strong enough to well stand the comparatively small stress of firing. The same mounting is also used for military tops when there are gun positions on the mast.
The Maxim gun, as will be seen from what has appeared, is entirely automatic, and will continue firing so long as the firing button remains pressed forward. Single shots can be fired by releasing the button immediately after a discharge. In that case the gun will be loaded, and firing can be continued by again pressing the firing button. To commence firing with a new belt of cartridges, it is necessary to turn the crank handle until it touches the buffer spring. This draws the lock back, and allows the carrier to drop into its lowest position. The end of the cartridge belt is then inserted through the feed block from the right, and pulled through to the left as far as it will go and the crank handle released, when it will be carried back, thus throwing forward the lock; the carrier now rises and seizes the base of the cartridge in the feed block. The crank handle is again turned forward, and the lock goes back, the carrier pulling the cartridge out of its belt, and afterwards placing it in a line with the barrel. The belt is then pulled again to the left as far as it will go, and the second cartridge comes into place over the chamber of the barrel. On letting go the handle once more, the lock goes forward, inserts the cartridge in the barrel, and the carrier, in rising, seizes the base of the next cartridge in the belt. The gun is then ready to commence firing.
We have on previous occasions commented on the remarkable performances of the Maxim gun, which will discharge from a single barrel from 600 to 700 rounds per minute.
An interesting development of the rifle-calibre gun is that known as the "extra light." Of this we publish several illustrations. Fig. 40 shows the gun in firing position mounted on a tripod; Fig. 41 as packed and carried by infantry; Fig. 42 illustrates the manner in which it is carried in a cavalry boot; Fig. 43 shows the extra light gun mounted on a tricycle; whilst Fig. 44 gives a view of the same gun being fired. All these views have been prepared from photographs taken from the gun itself.
The extra light gun is not intended to take the place of the standard rifle-calibre guns just described, as certain desirable features have to be sacrificed in order to save weight. It has, however, the advantage that it can be transported to positions that might not be attainable by the standard gun within the space of time that would be available under certain conditions of warfare that might easily occur. It would be useful to stop a cavalry charge in an emergency, to check the sudden rush of a savage horde, or perhaps to cover a retreat; but it is not well adapted for an attack on a position, and is, in fact, a weapon of defence which might prove of incalculable value, but is not to be relied on in the same way as the standard gun. It would be also useful for police work in new countries, and, in fact, wherever a small disciplined force had to deal with much larger numbers of un-drilled men who would become demoralised if their first rush were stopped.
It is deficient in comparison with the standard gun inasmuch as having, in its lightest phase, no water jacket, it cannot be fired continuously for an indefinite number of rounds, as the barrel would naturally get too hot and it would be necessary to allow it time to cool. Although the mechanism is, in its general features, practically identical with that of the standard gun there are one or two trifling exceptions; for instance, the spring for absorbing a portion of the recoil energy, and for returning the recoiling parts to their filing position after each discharge, is placed within the casing in place of being outside. This change is made in order to get the gun into a narrow leather case. This gun, however, is now occasionally made with a small water jacket, by means of which the number of rounds that may be continuously fired is increased; but, as already stated, the standard gun with its full supply of water is always preferable when it can be transported, and it may be said that for regular operations of warfare the standard weapon is itself sufficiently light to enable it to be, as a rule, transported as rapidly as any considerable body of troops can be moved. The question of ammunition has also to be taken into consideration, and it is little use having a very rapid-firing gun unless it can be kept supplied with ammunition; excepting, as already stated, for purposes of dealing with a sudden rush.
Referring to Fig. 40, the tripod mounting is made of thin tubular steel, the hind leg or trail being hinged midway of its length, so that it can be folded for transport. The front legs are provided with projecting legs at their upper ends, and these bear against the upper part of the tripod. The front legs can be housed along the hind leg. The gun is supported by a crosshead pivoted to the upper part of the tripod. The crosshead is provided with an arm which has its bearing on an arc or segmental piece fixed to the hind leg of the tripod, as shown, and which carries the elevating gear. This arm can be clamped to the arc in any desired position by means of an eccentric clamp. The transverse movement of the gun is limited by two spring catches mounted on the ends of the arc. The weight of the gun is 27 lb., and that of the tripod 17 1/2 lb. Referring to Fig. 41 the weights additional to those of the gun and tripod are 1 lb. 14 oz. for spare parts, and 11 lb. 2 oz. for the knapsack. This would make a total weight of 57 1/2 lb., or just over 1/2 cwt. Another man would carry the ammunition in much the same manner. Five hundred rounds of .303 smokeless ammunition would weigh just on 44 lb., whilst the knapsack would weigh 4 lb.
The cavalry gun and tripod is the same as the infantry gun and tripod, but is packed differently. Our illustration, Fig. 42, shows the off side with the gun itself in its case on boot. The tripod is carried on the near side in another case, and is naturally not shown in the engraving. The weight of the boot of the gun is 6 lb., and that of the tripod boot 8 lb.
The tricycle gun is a very interesting feature, but it is needless to say that it would only be available in districts where there were fairly good roads, and this discounts at once the great advantage this nature of weapon possesses in being transported with ease over difficult country. It may be, however, that the improvement in the motor car, for which we are still waiting, will some day enable guns of various natures to be transported with greater facility; but in that case an " extra light" gun would be likely to have its sphere of usefulness curtailed instead of extended, for the saving in weight gained with the extra light weapon would not be so important a factor if mechanical means were utilised for transport. As seen by Fig. 44, two guns are mounted on the tricycle. The weight of the cycle is 121 lb., that of the two guns 54 lb., of the tripod 17 1/2 lb., and of the spare parts 8 lb. A thousand rounds of ammunition carried in the boxes would weigh 87 1/2 lb.
This is in all a good weight to propel, but we have seen the two riders drive the machine at a very smart pace on the level. Hill work would naturally be done on foot, the tricycle becoming a hand-carriage.