Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/8/2014):
Hiram Maxim demonstrated his machine gun in 1887 to which Germany tested out the concept thoroughly for years thereafter, culminating in a limited quantity Germany Army purchase in 1895 and an ensuing German Navy purchase by 1896. More field testing followed and the weapon system was officially introduced into the German Army in 1901 as the refined "Maschinengewehr 08". War would eventually come to Europe and the Maxim MG08 arrived just in time for it.
World War 1 was the proving ground for many-a-new war implement and the Maxim 08 was no exception. While biplanes wrote a new type of history in the sky and new-fangled tanks were fielded to combat the stagnate nature of trench warfare, the machine gun was utilized to create maximum amounts of carnage and at the same time could deliver such a psychological effect on enemy troops that its appearance in the conflict could never be understated. In an age prior, where cavalry was king of the battlefield, a horse-led charge could easily rout formations of foot soldiers. World War 1 changed the face of warfare by making such charges near suicide. The machine gun forced legions of soldiers to dig in and construct long networks of trenches in preparation for whatever offensive lay ahead. The area between the two trenches became known as "No Man's Land".
With war in full swing by 1915, the MG08 had a "muzzle booster" fitted to improve her cyclic rate-of-fire. The muzzle booster offered an improvement of up to 45% to the action as the weapon could now reconstitute some of the existing propellant gasses and force it onto the recoil barrel for a little added boost. These Maxims took on the technical designation of "Rilckstorsverstarker S".
At its core, the Maschinengewehr 08 offered up impressive performance statistics of 400 to 450 rounds-per-minute, firing off 7.92x57mm Mauser caliber via a revolutionary short-recoil system that featured an integrated toggle lock. Essentially, all the operator had to do was pull the trigger and each subsequent round was fired off by using the recoil action created by the preceding round's exit from the barrel. The ammunition was fed via a cloth-type fabric belt issued as a 250-round strip. The firing action would cancel when the operator depressed the trigger or the ammunition source ran out. The belt was fed from the right side of the body and exited as an empty belt along the left side. The operator maneuvered the barrel to aim via two handles at the body end. The weapon could be rotated and elevated for maximum effect and accuracy was really apparent in the use of short controlled bursts. Maximum range was approximated between 2,000 and 4,000 yards. The operator manned the weapon from behind in a seated position while his assistants could lay prone nearby.
Early MG08s were issued with a cumbersome and heavy "sledge" type mounting designated in the German literature as "Schlitten 08". Together with the near-sixty pound gun, the MG08 unit weighed in at nearly 140lbs. The weapon was also issued with two extra barrels, a water-cooling canister and applicable tubing. As such, a crew of four were required to port the weapon system about. This encompassed the gunner (carrying the gun), a soldier to carry the mount, another comrade to shuttle the ammunition to and fro and the final soldier to lug the water canister and tubing. If a cart was available, all the better. Despite it weight and number of parts, it was still deemed a portable system by 1915 standards.