Monday, November 12, 2012

Silent Trophies of the Great War - German MG08 & MG08/15

I was on a conservator's course the other week and while on a tour of a local museum's artifact collection I came across these two rusting German machine guns from the Great War. The odd thing was that they were stored in amongst a bunch of antique toys, blacksmith tools, ancient washing machines and other weird brick-a-brac. The curators had very little information about them, saying simply that they were war trophies donated by an individual veteran from out in the country. I can only imagine that due to their weight and bulk it could have only been an officer who managed to transport them as part of their personal baggage from the front lines of France all the way to the sleepy Canadian prairies. I wonder what tales they could tell?

The one on the sledge mount is a MG08 which was the common heavy automatic weapon of the German army in the first few years of the war. With a full load of water in it's coolant jackets, the whole rig would weigh in at around 69  kg (152 lbs). A bit of a beast! The MG08 was typically crewed by four men and fired a 7.9mm cartridge at approximately 400 rounds per minute. 

The one to the left with the wooden stock is a MG08/15, a lighter, portable variant of the standard MG08 design. This was developed as a response to the British Lewis Gun, which was much envied by German troops for its tactical flexibility and firepower (a captured Lewis Gun was seen as quite the prize). 

While not perfect, and rather ugly, the MG08/15 became the most prevalent machine gun of the German army in World War One, with around 130,000 being mass produced. Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Apparently, the phrase '08/15' in German (pronounced Null-acht-fünfzehn, or Null-acht-fuffzehn) has been used to describe something that is completely ordinary, lacking any original inspiration or creative design.  

I'm going to continue to do a bit of nosing around to see if I can get any more background information on these two weapons. If I find anything more I'll post an update.