Object Title

Maxim MG 08/15 light machine gun

Maxim MG 08/15 light machine gun


By 1915 all nations had recognised the power of the machine gun, and the fact that they had fought each other to a trench-based stalemate. To overcome this, they would need the right blend of tactical innovation and new or improved technology. Heavy, mounted machine guns could produce devastating sustained fire but could not easily react to changing battlefield conditions or be carried forward by attacking infantry. To remedy this each nation attempted to produce automatic rifles to be fired on the move, or true light machine guns. The latter could be quickly deployed using a bipod for a stable firing platform, but easily picked up and moved as necessary. Being less bulky and closer to the ground, they would also present a smaller target to the enemy. Some nations invested time in new designs like the French Chauchat, or looked at pre-existing solutions as in the case of the British Lewis gun. The German approach was to commission the state arsenal at Spandau to modify the standard heavy MG 08 machine gun. The big, boxy receiver was reduced in size and slightly lightened, and the weapon was fitted with a shoulder stock and pistol grip. For stability, a bipod and sling were provided. Unlike a brand-new design, the gun was quick and easy to manufacture due to its familiar design and shared parts. As a result, it was put into service in good time, and met the immediate needs of the German army.

Use and effect

Though on hand when Germany needed it, the MG 08/15 was inherently a compromised design. Its immediate Maxim heritage left it with the same belt-feed and water-cooling systems of its bigger brother. These gave it the ability to give greater volumes of fire when required, but seriously compromised its ability to function as a light machine gun. The weight of the weapon, together with several litres of water moving around inside the water jacket would have made for a unwieldy package for a gunner sprinting forward to a new firing position. Retaining the complexity of the MG 08 also required a very large support team even though only one man was allocated to actually carry and fire the weapon. The overall result was an extremely heavy 'light machine gun' that was regarded as adequate by soldiers, but not outstanding in any way. An improved version, the MG 08/18 was designed with the water jacket replaced by a slotted jacket, converting the weapon to air-cooling. This limited its ability to fire large volumes of ammunition, but reduced its weight by around 3 kilograms and better suited its intended role. A carrying handle, today standard on light and general purpose machine guns, made it possible for the gunner to carry the weapon with one hand. This new weapon came late in the war and very few were actually produced. As a result the MG 08/15 remained the primary German light machine gun until the end of the war. Perceptions of the 08/15 as a decidedly average weapon actually gave rise to the German phrase 'Null-acht-fünfzehn', still in use today to mean 'average' or 'bog standard'.


Action / Operating system Recoil
Barrel length 72 cm (28 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.92x57mm (.31 in)
Capacity (rounds) 100 or 200
Country of manufacture Germany
Crew 1 gunner plus 8 crew
Date entered service 1915
Effective range 800 m (875 yd)
Feed Belt
Manufacturer Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken
Manufacturer Erfurt arsenal
Manufacturer Spandau arsenal
Muzzle velocity 900 m/s (2953 fps)
Overall length 1.45 m (57 in)
Primary operator Germany
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 450
Weight 20.8 kg (46 lb) (with water)


Jonathan Ferguson