Before the War
Before the war began in 1914, the machine gun existed, but it was not used very often. This was because they weighed between 66 and 132 pounds without any additional supplies or equipment. At that time, they were quite ineffective against rapidly advancing soldiers. Machine guns required four to six operators, and they fired somewhere between 400 and 600 rounds per minute. They overheated frequently, so there needed to be very large amounts of air or water to cool them. Despite this, machine guns still overheated. Hiram Maxim invented the machine gun in 1884, and then he presented it to the British army, where it was rejected. However, the Germans liked the idea, and they created the Maschinengewehr 08. By the time war started, the Germans had 12,000 of these, while the British and the French only had a few hundred equivalents.
Machine Guns' Uses During the War
The machine gun was effective for both offensive and defensive uses. On the defensive side, machine guns shot down advancing enemy troops, as imaginable. During the first offensive day of the Battle of the Somme, the British had a record 60,000 casualties off of machine guns alone. Even though the defensive uses were much more historically significant, there were still attempts for offensive use, as I mentioned earlier. Efforts were made to produce a machine gun that could be used by a single man, such as the Lewis Light Machine Gun. This gun was lighter (around 26 pounds), but it was still difficult to carry, especially when the enemy's infantrymen were rapidly advancing. In 1918, the Bergmann MP18 was invented, but the weight was about the same as the Lewis Light Machine Gun, and it was difficult to carry a large enough amount of ammunition. As the war progressed, machine guns were also added to vehicles, tanks, airplanes, and battleships.
Machine Guns Used During the War
In this section, I will name and describe a few examples of machine guns used during the war, although there were several. I will start with the British, as they invented the machine gun. I will then name a German and an American gun; there are too many to name examples from other countries.
Hiram Maxim used a simple design in his machine gun, which was one of the models used by the British. It required no external power; the gunpowder that was fired created enough energy to run the gun. It also fired at 600 rounds per minute, but it was heavy; weighing at 136 pounds.
The first machine gun, invented by (and called) Hiram Maxim (above).
The Bergmann MP18 was the only widely used sub-machine gun, meaning it was smaller than a usual machine gun. It was also the model for later sub-machine gun developments. This gun used common 9 millimeter bullets, and it had a 32 round magazine. The MP18 had a similar fire rate to heavy machine guns. Since Germany was losing the war in 1918, when it was put into widespread use, it was mainly used as a defensive weapon. At the end of the war, German possession of the gun was banned by the Treaty of Versailles.
The Bergmann MP18 (left).
The Lewis machine gun was designed in 1911 in the U.S. by Army Colonel Issac Newton Lewis. The gun was an early light machine gun, and it weighed 26 pounds. The Lewis contained 47 round circular magazine, and it could be adjusted between 500 and 600 rounds per minute. It was the standard-issue British machine gun from late 1915. Since it was the most reliable automatic machine gun at the time, it was adopted for use in aircraft, vehicles, and the Royal Navy. In 1917, it was adopted by the U.S. Army, using 0.30 inch rounds. Even though the U.S. Army eventually replaced these guns with the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Lewis remained in use, because so many were manufactured.
The Lewis light machine gun (left).