In the deadlock of trench warfare that epitomised the Western Front in Europe, all sides tried their hardest to develop a tactic or weapon that would allow them to break the stalemate.
The British developed the most successful weapon, the tank. This mobile fortress allowed men to push forward under solid cover which could also lay down suppressing fire. The Germans didn’t really catch on to the tank until later on (Blitzkrieg, anyone?) but they did appreciate the value of lightweight, well-equipped shock troops.
The trouble was that the weapons of the era were not well suited to this sort of combat: small units attacking well-defended, confined spaces. Rifles were too long, swords and bayonets unwieldy, handguns had a limited magazine capacity and range. What their Stormtroops needed was something to suppress enemy positions and quickly re-enforce their footholds.
The ideal would be to have a machine-gun that could be moved forward with the first wave of soldiers, but at the time even the lightest of machine-guns such as the British Lewis Gun was too heavy for long walks across no-man’s land. The Germans found their answer in the Maxim gun that they already used as their standard machine gun.
The Germans took the Maxim MG08 and effectively cut off everything they could. Gone was the empty space in the receiver, the water jacket was made smaller and most importantly, the spade grips and thumb trigger were taken off and replaced with a buttstock, the trigger being moved down to a pistol grip at the bottom of the receiver.
The result of this was a machine gun that could be advanced with the front line of troops, indeed it was supposed to be fired from the hip in a tactic known as ‘walking fire’ (the BAR was designed on similar grounds). This is the singularly worst tactic ever invented-I recommend you do not try this at home-if you are being shot at.
The Germans also added a 100 round belt magazine that slid onto a carrier on the right side of the gun, though the gun could also be operated from the 250round boxes used for the standard MG08.
The shortage of machine-guns in the lead-up to WWII meant that the MG08/15 saw active service right up to 1945, meaning that it is a perfectly legitimate weapon for many WWII scenarios. In the coming weeks I will be posting regular updates on the progress of an Airsoft MG08/15 for a client in South Africa.