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Musketen Battalions (Part I)
The German Army of the First World War
This post is the third part of a series of articles on the subject of units armed with Madsen guns. The other posts in this series can be found below, in the section marked “for further reading.”
The German ground forces of the First World War acquired their first light machine guns by means of a round-about route. In the decade prior to 1914, the Russian Army had bought more than a thousand Danish-made Madsen machine guns for issue to cavalry units. Over the course of first year of the war, hundreds of these weapons fell into German hands, whether by salvage on the field of battle or the capture of Russian arsenals.1
The bipod-mounted Madsen fed from a magazine and cooled its barrel with air. It thus lacked the capacity for sustained fire that defined the belt-fed, sled-mounted, water-cooled Maxim guns of the armies of the German Empire. At the same time, the Madsen gun, which weighed but 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds), was much more portable than the German version of Sir Hiram’s machine gun, which tilted the scales at more than 60 kilograms (132 pounds.)2
The use of this weapon by German forces in the field began, somewhat modestly, in September of 1915, when the Prussian War Ministry sent two Madsen guns to the Ersatz Battalion of the Hessian Life Guards (Infantry Regiment 117.)3 Early in November, the War Ministry provided eight more weapons of that type, along with instructions to form an Ersatz company to train infantrymen in the art of wielding them. (As the German arsenals had yet to complete the task of modifying the Russian Madsen guns to fire the standard German rifle cartridge, the company trained with Russian ammunition.)4
For Further Reading:
Some of the German Madsen guns may have come from a shipment of refurbished weapons, previously owned by Brazil, that was hijacked by German agents, while en route from Denmark to Bulgaria. For a short account of this affair, see The Strange Case of the Bulgarian Madsen on the (reliably splendid) Bulgarian Artillery website.
Strange to say, while all of the visible shoulder straps in this photo are those of the Hessian Life Guards, the one man with a regimental number on his helmet cover wears that of Füsilier-Regiment von Gersdorff (Kurhessisches) Nr. 80.