Research Paper One
October 11, 2012
Hiram Stevens Maxim, a famed inventor, later to emigrate to, and become a citizen of, the British Empire, was born a United States citizen in Sangerville, Maine, on February 5, 1840, and died a subject of the United Kingdom, in London, England, on November 24, 1916. He spent much of his life in pursuit of various inventions, with varying degrees of success. Along the way, though, he created a weapon that literally changed the course of warfare—and thus changed the course of World History. Maxim secured the patent for his machine gun in 1883, and introduced the first rudimentary example of his new intervention the following year.
Maxim’s eponymous weapon gained acclaim during the 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s. The British quickly realized the power of the Maxim, employing it during their African colonial campaigns and conquests during the 1890s. In the next decade, another European colonial power, the Russian Empire, made use of the Maxim machine gun during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Thus, the first trial runs of the weapon that would gain fame as the “Maxim Machine Gun” and would play an integral role in the First World War—specifically, in the bloody stalemate of trench warfare that chewed up the lives and bodies of millions of men (and horses) along the Western Front from 1914 to 1918.
While the use of machine guns in warfare was not quite a new concept when Maxim debuted the machine gun that came to bear his name, Maxim did hatch a new concept: water-cooled and belt-fed, his machine gun was capable of firing between a continuous rate between 300 to 600 rounds per minute. Practically speaking, the Maxim impeded rapid offensive movement by the enemy. The British and French Armies were led by Generals who began their military careers in the 1880s and 1890s were simply too set in their ways to fully comprehend the sea-change in warfare wrought by the machine gun, and specifically the Maxim. These were militaries that saw war as a grand, glorious adventure; masses of men marching into combat, much as they did in medieval times, and even before.
Steeped in military tactics stemming from Napoleonic times, the British and French armies marched at slow rates of speed, clustered together during the initial phases of the Great War—literally fodder to be decimated and chewed up by well-placed machine gun encampments. For a particularly moving depiction of trench warfare, see 2012’s “Warhorse,” which depicts the lugubrious British Infantry heading “over the top” into “Mo-Man’s Land, and decimated mercilessly by perfectly-placed German machine gun encampments, enjoying the high ground. Yet, despite the aforementioned success of the machine, specifically, the Maxim, in the European colonial campaigns in Africa, few of the combatant countries seemed to predict the awesome killing efficiency and defensive capabilities of the machine gun when the Guns of August, 1914, first roared “Machine guns were used with terrible effectiveness in many colonial wars, especially by the British, Germans, and Americans, yet their effect on massed infantry still came as a horrible surprise to Europeans in the first year of World War I.” ("http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/.html." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.).
Maxim’s genius was to design a machine gun with a recoil effect that basically allowed continuous operation of the machine gun. The Maxim machine gun employed one of the earliest recoil operated firing systems in the history of weapons. The functional beauty of the Maxim is that it uses energy from the recoil instead of a locked bolt or a lever mechanism, ejecting each spent cartridge and instantly inserting the next following. This simple but brutally effective design vaulted the Maxim past such competitors as the Gatling, and a host of other machine guns that relied upon on a solider actually physically cranking the machine gun to maintain operations.