The US entered the Great War with no tanks of their own – by the end of the war they had designed and built their first tank, collaborated on a leviathan heavy tank with Britain and built their own copy of the French FT. In this video we look at how the US Army hit the ground running and formed two tank corps and built their first tanks.
In recent videos we’ve looked at all of the US Army’s early tanks, here’s a round up:
The tinny 3-ton Ford was the first American designed and built tank. Aiming to use readily available parts and materials it took inspiration from the French Renault FT but was smaller and lacked the FT’s revolutionary turret. The Ford was only lightly armoured and did have the best cross country handling. Check out our full article on the Ford here.
The MkVIII was a truly ‘international’ effort with the US, UK and France all working on the project. The US and UK provided the mechanical components while France provided a factory to assemble the formidable vehicles. The MkVIII wasn’t ready in time to see action during the war but remained in US service into the 1930s. Check out our full article on the MkVIII here.
The US also sought to produce their own licensed version of the French Renault FT, making some slight changes the tank was adopted as the M1917 but despite production being well underway by late 1918, none of the M1917s reached the front. Instead they became the backbone of the US Army’s interwar tank force. One even climbed a mountain!Check out our full article on the M1917 here.
This is the last of our series of videos/articles on the US Tanks of WWI, you can find all episodes here.
The MkVIII Heavy Tank holds the distinction of being the result of the first successful international co-operative tank project. Developed with input from British and American designers and engineers, intended to be equipped with British weapons and an American engine, with parts made in the US and Britain and to be assembled in France – a truly international undertaking. The MkVIII, sometimes referred to as ‘The International’ or ‘Liberty Tank’, owed its basic design to earlier British heavy tanks but a number of important changes were made.
Intended for introduction in 1919, the war ended before the MkVIII could enter service and even before its French factory had been completed. It did, however, see some production and inter-war service providing the heavy tank backbone of the US’ tank force for many years.
The design evolved from work by British Lieutenant G.J Rackham with later input from American engineer Major Herbert Alden. The MkVIII heavy was very much an evolution of the earlier British rhomboid heavy tanks but Rackham and Alden made some important improvements. Chiefly the redesigning of the tank’s sponsons which housed a pair of British 6pdr guns. While the tank was a foot narrower than its predecessors, the new folding sponsons could enabled the tank to be transported more easily by rail and to also, in theory, navigate narrow spaces. Alden patented this feature in December 1918 (US #1366550). Additionally, the commander’s ‘outlook turret’ positioned on top of the tank’s turret, which had vision slits on all four sides, was also retractable. Alden’s sponsons were hinged at the front and mounted on rolling bearings so they could pivot inwards.
The MkVIII directly addressed several shortcomings of earlier British heavy tanks, firstly the engine was insulated in its own compartment to prevent exhaust fumes overwhelming the crew. A new ventilation system was also added with a fan keeping fumes out of the fighting compartment. Secondly, overall visibility was improved with protected vision and revolver slits and the addition of the tank’s commander’s turret.
Another important design change was the move to longer tracks, about 5 inches in length, which required a dozen less links than the MkV. Each of the links was shallowly stamped to increase its strength. In terms of armament the MkVIII was designed as solely ‘male’ – with guns in its sponsons, not machine guns – however, with a raised tower on the tanks roof this provided positions for five machine guns in hemispherical ball mounts. Two more machine guns could be mounted in the tank’s hull doors located behind the sponsons. The ammunition for the 6pdr guns was held in a central ammunition storage box but the sponsons also had shell storage space surrounding the guns themselves.
The 37 ton tank was to be powered by an American V12 aircraft petrol engine manufactured by the Liberty company. Although a cheaper, water-cooled Liberty was eventually used in the American tanks. The British developed a similar 12 cylinder engine from Ricardo. This, in theory, produced 300 horsepower with a top speed of just over 6mph and a range of just under 40 miles. The MkVIII’s engine was moved from the centre of the tank to a separate engine compartment at the rear of the tank. This not only reduced engine heat and fumes in the fighting compartment but also made communication easier. Some sources also suggest that the MkVIII was the first tank to have an electronic intercom system.
The American Preliminary Handbook for the MkVIII listed the tanks as being equipped with 7 ‘Hotchkiss .303-inch machine guns’, these are likely to be Hotchkiss Portative MkI*s popular in British service. In US service, however, the tanks were likely later equipped with the new Browning M1919 Tank Machine Guns. The tank carried 182 rounds of 6pdr ammunition and an additional 26 smoke rounds as well as 21,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition to keep the 7 machine guns fed.The tank’s armour was also increased lightly from the previous MkV, with 16mm of frontal armour and between 10 and 12mm at the sides. Less vulnerable areas had armour 6mm thick.
The American MkVIIIs were initially planned to be manned by an eleven-man crew made up of a driver, commander, two gunners and two loaders to man 6pdrs, four machine gunners and a mechanic. Later crew complements probably dispensed with two of the machine gunners as the US MkVIIIs operated during the inter-war period dispensed with two of the midships machine guns. The British crew was planned to be smaller with 8-men fighting the tank, made up of a driver, commander a pair of gunners and loaders for the main guns and two machine gunners who were tasked with manning the tank’s various machine guns. Impressively the 34 feet long tank also had room for as many as 22 infantry to be transported.
As an allied collaborative project the production of parts was to be a collaborative effort. Britain was to contribute armour plate, structural frame work and armament. The American contribution was to include the automotive parts including the engine, brakes, drive sprockets, gears and transmission.
The French were largely uninterested in British heavy tanks and their primary contribution to the MkVIII project was a factory site near the village of Neuvy-Pailloux, 165 miles south of Paris, in central France. Critically located well away from the fighting on a main rail route north, through Issoudun. Construction of the impressive factory appears to have begun in early 1918, with the framework of seven long production halls and the installation of a powerplant and generators and the building of railway sidings completed before the armistice in November 1918. Production barely got underway in Britain, let alone in France. Contemporary photographs taken in January 1919, by the US Army Signal Corps show the factory with its roof in various stages of completion, its shop floors unfinished and empty and open to the elements. The factory would eventually be completed and used by the French army as an artillery park and later a maintenance depot.
The oringal plan was for the tank parts to be shipped across the channel and the atlantic through France’s western coastal ports to be shipped by rail to Neuvy-Pailloux where they would be assembled into working tanks. It was envisaged that the workforce would be made up of Chinese labourers with British and American foremen and managers.
As many as 3,000 tanks were planned for 1919. The British intended to build 1,450 MkVIIIs of their own use in addition to the 1,550 to be produced for general allied use. The British tank parts were to be manufactured in Manchester, by the various workshops of the Manchester Tanks Association, and in Glasgow, by the North British Locomotive Company. Mass production in Manchester never got underway and the initial British MkVIIIs were built in Glasgow – just 24 are believed to have been built, all but six of these were scrapped almost immediately. The first American tanks were assembled by the Locomobile Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The American-assembled MkVIII completed acceptance trials in the spring of 1919. With the end of the war the US order was reduced from 1,500 to 100. 100 sets of hull components were bought from Britain and assembled with corresponding American parts at the Rock Island Arsenal.
The MkVIII was the last of the British rhomboid heavy tanks. The handful of British MkVIIIs built never entered service but the 100 American tanks along with American built M1917s, MkV Heavies and Renault FTs brought back from France, formed the backbone of the US Tank Corps throughout the early inter-war period. The US MkVIIIs remained in use as training tanks until 1932. Today, just three are believed to survive; two in the US and one in Britain.
In April 1919, a lone US-built M1917 light tank climbed over 11,000 feet up a mountain in Colorado. We are lucky enough to have some original photos and footage of the tank’s climb up Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains.
The tank with ‘Pikes Peak or Bust’ painted on its hull (US National Archive)
Why was a tank driving up a mountain?
Simply put the expedition was a publicity stunt to help raise cash to pay off America’s war debt. By 1919 the cost of US involvement in World War One had reached $32 billion – that’s around $547 billion today.
The purpose of the stunt was to encourage Americans to purchase ‘Victory Liberty’ War Bonds which would help pay off some of the debt accrued by the war. This was the fifth, and final, round of Liberty Bond sales. The drive began in mid-April 1919, and aimed to sell $4.5 billion of government bonds.
The tank arrived in Colorado Springs at the beginning of April and on the 14th a crowd of nearly 1,000 people watched Mrs W.H.R. Stote, the chairwoman of Colorado Springs’ Victory Liberty loan committee, christened the tank ‘Little Zeb’ – after explorer Brigadier Zebulon Pike – who led an expedition that attempted to climb the mountain in 1806)
Mrs Stote reportedly declared “I charge you with making the trip to the summit. As the Victory Loan shall not fail, you must make it to the top!” The tank’s commander Sgt. A.H. Worrell, told The Colorado Springs Gazette that he had “driven tanks over trees and trenches on the western front and I am betting we get to the top.”
The road up to the summit of Pikes Peak, photographed in 1934 (US National Archive)
At the time the 19 mile road up to Pikes Peak was said to be the ‘World’s Highest Motor Drive’ with the summit at 14,115 feet (or 4,302m). Cpl. Howard Brewer, the tank’s driver told reporters “I know we can climb it. Given time, the tank could go to the top of the world.” In terms of publicity having the tank make it up the mountain would certainly have been quite a feat.
On the front of the tank’s hull the words ‘Pike’s Peak or bust’ were painted in white – this is a reference to a phrase coined by prospector’s during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the 1860s.
The tank on the road up Pikes Peak (Pikes Peak District Library)
The tank was driven by Corporal Howard Brewer and tended by a crew of mechanics and support vehicles. The road which climbed the mountain was unsurfaced and had only been completed in 1916. The tank’s ascent began on April 15, and incredibly over the next two days the tank climbed to 11,440 feet, 13 miles along the road and through several deep snow drifts, reportedly up to 20-feet tall, before a track plate snapped. After repairs the tank and support convoy pressed on – but the tank never made it to the summit. Not because of mechanical failure but unbelievably because it was needed to appear in other Colorado towns as part of the Victory Loan drive.
While the tank may not have reached the very top of the mountain, it unsurprisingly became a record breaker – setting the first elevation record for tanks. Western Union claimed that it also set a distance record for continuous distance travelled and penetrated the farthest into the snow than any other vehicle had ever done at that time of year – battling snow drifts up to 20 feet tall. While the US-built M1917 was never tested in battle the drive up the mountain proved it was a capable, hardy vehicle – demonstrating the tank’s abilities.
Various photos and contemporary footage taken from the US National Archives (source)
Additional photos held by the The Manitou Springs Historical Society (source)
‘Army’s Tank Assault on Pikes Peak Was About More Than Being Macho’, The Gazette, M.L. Cavanaugh, (source)
U.S. Economy in World War I, Economic History Association, (source)
Today, we’re going to take a look at a little known type of weapon which rose to prominence in around the time of the First World War with a number of examples being developed and some even tested. As you can see from this footage it’s something pretty unconventional, seen here mounted on the back of a truck – is a centrifugal machine gun.
I found this short footage while doing some digging through the online catalogue of the US National Archives. The centrifugal machine gun was not a new concept by the time this footage was filmed in the early 1920s, sadly the footage notes done give an exact date.
A still from footage of the demonstration (US National Archives)
While the technology had risen to a new prominence what was the allure of centrifugal machine guns? The principle of centrifugal force – an inertial force which appears to act on objects moving in a circular path, directs them away from the axis of rotation. As a result a centrifugal machine gun required no propellant powder to propel the projectile, or a case to contain it, nor a conventional rifled barrel to stabilise the projectile. Once released from the axis of rotation the projectile travels on a linear trajectory until it expends its energy. It works along the same principle as a primitive sling. The primary issue is providing power to exert the centrifugal force and a means of accurately firing the projectiles.
Some of the earliest work on centrifugal guns was done in the late 1850s in the US. The hand-crank or steam powered guns patented by William Joslin (US #24,031), C.B. Thayer patent for a ‘machine gun’ in August 1858 (US #21,109) and Charles S. Dickinson (US# 24,997) in 1859. Dickinson went on to secure financial backing from a wealthy Maryland industrialist Ross Winans and developed a steam powered version of his gun. Despite gaining much press attention Dickinson’s centrifugal gun saw no action during the US Civil War. In 1862 G.C. Eaton and S.W. Turner also patented a ‘machine gun’ (US #37,159).
An illustration of the Winans Steam Gun, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 1861
It wasn’t until World War One that the concept began to be considered again. In June 1918, Major Edward T. Moore and Saul Singer filed a patent for a centrifugal machine gun powered by an electrical motor (US #1,332,992). The motor spooled up the centrifugal barrel assembly to rotate extremely quickly and impart centrifugal force on projectiles. According to Julian Hatcher the gun could fire steel ball bearing projectiles at approximately 1,200 feet per second. Fire was controlled by a stop pin in the ammunition feed tube. Moore claimed the weapon could fire a projectile 1.5 miles with enough force to kill a man. He also suggested the weapon’s rate of fire approached 2,000 rounds per minute. It appears that Moore’s gun may have been tested in 1918 but Hatcher described its accuracy as ‘extremely poor’.
Photograph of Moore’s gun during testing (Hatcher)
Another centrifugal design developed during World War One was E.L. Rice’s half-inch centrifugal gun, sadly I’ve been unable to find any photographs or drawings of Rice’s design but the weapon was submitted to the US National Research Council in 1917. The NRC’s 1919 report states that the gun had been further developed by the NRC’s Physics Division in Pittsburgh but work had been slowed by “a common defect which has been difficult to eliminate”. Despite what the report described as ‘considerable headway’ the weapon was subsequently abandoned amid some controversy about credit for the design.
There seems to have been something of a centrifugal machine gun craze with several more patents filed between 1917 and 1926. A Scientific American article from March 1918, even noted that “every so often the daily press becomes enthused over a new centrifugal gun.”
One of the earliest patents granted appear to have been for a design by E.E. Porter, granted in January 1917. This was followed in July 1919 by inventor, Herbert A. Bullard being granted a patent (US #1,311,492) on a design which fired a disc rather than a ball. At the same time T.A. Gannoe was granted a patent (US #1,309,129) for a large, complex looking gun shown mounted on a pedestal.
In 1920, F.R. Barnes (US #1,327,518) and W.W. Case (US #1,357,028) were also granted patents which had been filed in 1917. In late 1921, Levi Lombard was granted a patent he had filed in March 1918, his gun even appeared in Scientific American. It appears to be notably smaller than Moore’s gun and has a spade grip for aiming. This was followed in 1923, by an interesting patent from Joseph T. McNaier for a centrifugal gun that could be powered by an electric or petrol engine, some of the patent diagrams show how the gun might be placed in an armoured car or aeroplane (US #1,472,080). Intriguingly, McNaier and Moore appear to have known each other quite well and were partners in a law firm together.
Here’s a gallery of some of the various patents mentioned above, not all are as detailed or as advanced as others:
The question is which of these guns is featured in the footage. The most likely bets are the Moore or the Czegka. Sadly, with only a side view and just 18 seconds of footage we don’t have much to go on. The accompanying reel notes, describing what is seen in each section of the film, describes the gun as being in the “experimental stages only” and that the prototype seen here “is intended for use as aircraft armament, for tanks and for landing parties of the Front line trenches.”
Sadly, we don’t get to see how the gun works but we can see the operator feeding the ball bearing projectiles into the hopper which has a powered feed system – he empties two cylindrical containers of balls into it one after another. It is unclear how many rounds might be in the containers, perhaps 50 each. The gun and its motor are mounted on a truck bed with a soldier in uniform, possibly aiming the weapon via a tiller.
Another of the later designs dating from the period came from Victor Czegka, a US Marine Corps Technical Sergeant, who is perhaps best known as the supply officer of Admiral Richard Byrd’s first two expeditions to the Antarctic. Czegka was granted a patent for a centrifugal machine gun in January 1922 (US #1,404,378).
Czegka’s 1922 patent (US Patent Office)
With some further digging I managed to find several articles referring to the gun in the US Army Ordnance Journal. Interestingly, a photo from the same demonstration is printed in one article, from late October 1920, with the caption confirming the man loading the weapon is the inventor, however, he isn’t named. The footage was filmed during the Second Annual Meeting of the US Army Ordnance Association. Another article dating from May 1921, also notes that the tests took place at Aberdeen Proving Ground, with the gun firing at 16,000 revolutions per minute which required 98 horsepower from the engine powering it. The gun apparently needed a “very rapid increase in power required for operation” when the speed of its revolutions was increased incrementally from 12,000 to 16,000 rpm. The article concluded that “a horsepower above 100 would have no material effect in increasing the speed” suggesting that a much more powerful, and therefore larger, engine would be needed to increase the revolution rate.
While researching I came across this set of images from a March 1922 edition of Popular Mechanics showing an unnamed centrifugal gun set up on a truck, powered by an engine on the truck bed. From the images it appears to be a gun similar to Moore’s with a single rotating ‘barrel’. The captions also note that the photographs were taken in New Jersey and Moore was a Major with the New Jersey National Guard, which may also indicate the gun is Moore’s.
Despite various designs seeing some US military testing none were ever adopted and relatively little information on them is available. It seems that they were relatively cumbersome weapons with extremely varying accuracy but this footage at least proves the concept. A short report in a may 1921 edition of Scientific American may shed some light, stating an unnamed gun was rejected “because of its great weight and its inability to obtain high initial velocity” concluding that “no centrifugal gun can have military value”. It appears that the range of the centrifugal guns was limited to the speed of their revolution, which in turn was limited by the power of the engine and motor that powered them. The larger the motor, the more cumbersome the weapon system was.
There are very few photos of centrifugal machine guns so stumbling across actual footage of one guns actually operating is very exciting. They are a fascinating tangent to the history of the machine gun – one that occasionally still garners interest.
A viewer shared a Pathe Newsreel with us which included more footage from the same demonstration. The footage title suggests it dates from 1938, however, I believe this to be incorrect.
Despite the incorrect date the footage shows us the internals of the centrifugal gun and its aiming mechanism!
This weekend I visited the Hack Green nuclear bunker in Cheshire, UK. They have a bi-annual Cold War history event called Soviet Threat where reenactors and collectors are invited down to display their kit. I had the pleasure of meeting to some really interesting people and seeing some cool vehicles and kit.
I spoke to Lucy, the Hack Green Bunker museum’s curator but sadly had some sound problems. Hopefully, we’ll get to speak to Lucy about the museum in more depth in the future! I also spoke to a number of the groups and individuals attending and we’ll have a couple more videos coming up.
While doing some research in the US National Archives’ online catalogue I came across a very interesting video composed of footage from a couple of US Army Ordnance demonstrations so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some very big guns.
Railway guns emerged during the late 19th century as a way of moving massive, large calibre guns which had a reach far beyond that of field artillery. Before aircraft were able to effectively attack behind enemy lines railways allowed armies to bring huge guns within range and harass their enemies lines of communication and supply.
This footage comes from Ordnance demonstrations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the early 1920s.
First up we have a US-built copy of the French 305mm Canon de 305 modèle 1893/96 à glissement, which according the original footage notes, was a 10in sliding mount for a gun firing a 150lb projectile. I also found some contemporary images of the gun being built at the US Watertown Arsenal, in Massachusetts, which describes it as the Model 1919. It may be the only example built by the US, Schneider built 8 of these guns for France during the war. When the gun fires we can see the whole gun and carriage recoil back a meter or so. Guns on sliding mounts cant be traversed and have to be aimed with specially laid track.
Next we have a 12 inch M1895 gun, mounted on a M1918 railway carriage which was based on the French Batignolles mount, with 360-degree traverse. Originally designed as a coastal defence gun, here’s a photograph taken in 1918 of the gun firing from a disappearing mount.
The M1895 had long been used as a coastal defence gun, and with US entry into the war surplus or unnecessary coastal guns were remounted as railway guns. The railway mounted M1895s had a large recuperator to mitigate the gun’s recoil. 12 were mounted, however, none reached France before the end of the war. We also get a nice shot of the shell hitting its target in the distance.
The 14 inch railway guns were the only big US guns to see action during WW1. Taking spare US Navy 14in naval guns, the 14″/50 caliber Mk 4 gun, which had been mounted in the New Mexico and Tennessee-class battleships, and mounting them in a carriage built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Once in position the guns had to have a recoil pit dug out beneath the carriage to allow space for the gun to recoil when it was at high elevation. They had a range of up to 25 miles.
Five Mk1 guns made it to France operating as single gun batteries manned by US Navy Sailors. The guns fired a total of 782 shells during the war, with Battery 4 firing its last shell at 10:57:30 a.m. on 11 November 1918.
Unlike the MkI guns that made it to France in this footage we see the gun without an armoured gun house, with the gunners working the gun in the open.
Finally, we have the truly massive 16 inch M1919 coastal gun . Designed for the Army Coast Artillery Corps to defend the US’ major coastal ports the 16-inch gun could throw a 2,340 lb shell up to 28 miles. In this footage we can see the gun mounted on an M1919 barbette carriage which could be elevated up to 65-degrees.
This second piece of footage dates from between 1929 and 1931, with dozens of West Point cadets gathered eagerly to see the gun in action.
Today’s episode is the last video of 2018, so we thought we’d end the year with a bang, literally. Earlier this year Matt had the chance to get behind an original Browning M1919A4 so we’ve put together a video showing the classic belt-fed machine gun in action with some slow motion footage thrown in!
This M1919A4 was built in 1944 at GM’s Saginaw Steering Division plant, in Saginaw Michigan. It was one of nearly half a million M1919A4s built during World War Two. In the video Matt explains a little of the gun’s history and how it worked.
This M1919 has been rechambered from the original .30-06 to 7.62x51mm NATO and uses M13 disintegrating links rather than a cloth belt or M1 disintegrating links. My thanks to Chuck and his buddy over at GunLab for letting me put several belts through his gun, it was a lot of fun.
We’ll have a full, in-depth, episode on the Browning M1919 in the future.
Thanks to everyone for watching, liking, subscribing and commenting on our videos this year, we can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the support we have received. I’m very pleased to say we reached 3,000 subscribers before the end of the year, very pleased that our community is growing! We have much more to come in 2019, and we’ll be back with regular videos in January.
The first viable firearm suppressors appeared just after the turn of the 20th century with a series of patents being granted on various designs between 1909 and 1920. In 1895 Hiram Percy Maxim, son of Sir Hiram S. Maxim – inventor of the machine gun, established his own engineering company. Initially this company focused on the burgeoning automobile market. But in 1906, Maxim began developing a series of designs to moderate sound. Initially, he experimented with valves,vents and bypass devices, however, he eventually finalised his basic idea based on baffles and developed a series of practical suppressors; which were sold through the Maxim Silent Firearms Company (later renamed the Maxim Silencer Company.) He filed his first patent on 26th June, 1908, which was granted in March the following year (US 916,885).
The US military first took interest in silencers in 1908. The 1909 annual report of the Chief of Ordnance notes that:
“The reports of tests so far received recommend that the silencer be not adopted for use in the service in its present form. On damp, cloudy days the slow escape of gas from the silencer might assist an enemy in locating the position of a firing line; it is also difficult to handle the silencer when it becomes heated, and additional manipulation is required when it becomes necessary to fix the bayonet.”
The following year the Annual Report from Chief of Ordnance describes the Model 1910 silencer, which overcame “most of the defects found in the original”, the report then describes the Model 1910’s mounting method:
“The rear of the silencer is extended to fit over the end of the barrel and takes the place of the front sight fixed stud. The silencer is prevented from turning by means of a spline on the barre, and is held from moving longitudinally by means of a pin. The front sight movable stud is mounted on the silencer.
Intriguingly, the report confirms that “five hundred of the silencers are now being procured with a view to the issue of one or more to each organisation for instruction of recruits in target practice, and for issue to the militia, on requisition.”
In 1910, Springfield Armory tested Maxim silencers fitted to both a M1903 and an older .45-70 trapdoor Springfield. Colonel S.E. Blunt, the Armory’s commanding officer, reported in January 1909 that the Maxim silencer reduced report at the muzzle and felt recoil by around a third with no loss of accuracy. The initial tests put 400 rounds through one silencer before it failed, noting that the silencer could “withstand any rapid fire to which they could be exposed in service under ordinary conditions.”
The US School of Musketry also tested the Maxim silencer. Twenty four soldiers were issued silenced M1903s for the test. The School of Musketry’s testing found that the report at the muzzle and the recoil felt by the rifleman was reduced when compared to a normal, unsuppressed, M1903. The School of Musketry’s report noted that:
“It greatly facilitated instruction of recruits in rifle firing. It materially lessened the fatigue of the soldier in prolonged firing, such as would occur in modern battle, which is a distinct military advantage.
The muffling of the sound of discharge and the great reduction in the total volume of sound which permits the voice to be heard at the firing point about the sound of a number of rifles in action, greatly facilitate the control of the firing line.”
They also reported that “the silencer annuls the flash” a quality that they felt was a “positive military advantage in view of the extent to which night operations may be employed in future wars.”
They also felt that the silencers would help “conceal positions of sentinels and to deceive the enemy as to the position of the firing line” especially at night. As the silencer was used with standard ammunition it could do nothing to reduce the crack the round made as it travelled down range, without subsonic ammunition the silencers were only able to moderate the report of the rifle firing.
Maxim did his best to develop a robust silencer that would meet the military’s needs. He incorporated a mounting point for a bayonet on the military variant of the Model 1910. The model 1910 silencer for the Springfield M1903, however, required the removal of the rifle’s front sight. This attachment method was felt to be the Model 1910’s weakest point and something Maxim himself actively looked to address.
The Maxim Silencer Company subsequently developed the Model 1912 and subsequently the further improved Model 15, which Maxim christened the ‘Government Silencer’. Encouraged by this early military interest Maxim envisioned a military silencer being useful in roles such as sniping, guard harassment and marksmanship training. He believed that the increasing number of American men joining the military from cities who lacked experience in shooting were struggling to master the .30-06 M1903 because of its loud report and stout recoil. Maxim felt that using a silencer would prevent recruits being intimidated by their rifle and help them to learn the fundamentals of marksmanship faster. This was an issue that was subsequently resolved by the use of .22 calibre training rifles.
Maxim was not the only designer working in the field and Robert A. Moore, his most competent competitor, also submitted a design for military testing. The Moore Silencer Company secured a number of patents protecting designs for both civilian and military rifles (US 956,717 & US 1,021,742). Moore’s designs used large gas expansion chambers which sat beneath the rifle’s muzzle as well as a series of vortex chambers ahead of the muzzle. The muzzle gases were supposed to be deflected by concave surfaces down into the silencer which had a number of partitioned chambers. The sides of Moore’s first silencer were ported with vents to allow cool air to rush into the casing theoretically cooling the gases, but this was abandoned by his second 1911 design (seen below).
US Ordnance tests with Moore silencers began in 1910. When the two silencers were compared the US Army found that there was little difference between the two rival designs with regards to the reduction of sound, recoil and flash. Colonel S.E. Blunt later reported:
“the opinion that there is but little difference between the Moore and Maxim silencers as regards, reduction of sound, recoil and flash; that the method of attachment of the Moore silencer to the service rifle is superior to the attachment provided with the Maxim silencer, model 15; that while the Moore silencer gives higher velocity and does not deflect shot group as much as the Maxim silencer; yet the endurance of the Moore silencer indicate that it has not yet been sufficiently perfected to withstand rapid fire and is therefore inferior to the Maxim silencer.”
The Springfield Armory’s report in July 1912, found that the Moore silencer was more accurate and had a better attachment system. The Maxim silencer, however, was more durable and could withstand more prolonged rapid fire. Moore’s silencer attached by latches behind the front sight post and at the bayonet lug and required no tools to fit. It could mount a standard M1905 bayonet while Maxim’s design required a specially adapted proprietary bayonet. While the Maxim required some minor modifications to the front sight to enable it to be mounted to the M1903. The US Army subsequently purchasing 100 Moore silencers for a full trial (this was confirmed by the 1911/12 Annual Report of the Chief of Ordnance) – these were still in inventory in 1918, but no evidence of their use in service has been found.
With field trials planned, there appears to have been discussion of equipping two rifles per company with silencers for use by sharpshooters in conjunction with two star-gauge (accurate barrelled) rifles and the M1908 or M1913 Musket Sights. This was not the large-scale contract that Maxim had hoped for believing silencers might become standard issue, however, the funding was not available and the idea behind the silencer’s use was not fully embraced by the military.
Between 1912 and 1915 Maxim improved his silencer offering the military Model 14 and Model 15. The US Army appears to have only purchased the Model 15 for testing, although secondary sources suggest the purchase and testing of some Model 1912 silencer. In his February 1913 patent (US 1,054,434), filed in April 1910, protecting his new attachment system Maxim explains how it worked:
“The improved coupling comprises a sleeve adapted to fit upon the barrel, a split grip-v sping ring to encircle the barrel and a nut or internally threaded sleeve adapted to engage the threaded portion of the coupling sleeve and at the same time to clamp the gripping ring tightly about the barrel.”
This patent appears to protect the later Model 15 or ‘Government Model’ silencer’s attachment method which required no removal of parts from the rifle. While the Model 14 could mount a standard M1905 sword bayonet with no modification to the bayonet the Model 15 did not have an attachment point for a bayonet.
In August 1915, the commanding officer of Rock Island Arsenal requested permission to transfer “20 rifles fitted with maxim silencers, 20 bayonets for same turned in from field” to Springfield Armory. This tantalising primary document fragment confirms that further testing occurred during 1915.
In terms of primary source information about testing and deployment of silencers by the Army before the First World War there isn’t a great deal available. Secondary sources, including William Brophy and David Truby, note that the US military’s first deployment of silencers came in 1916, when General John Pershing’s Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa included a squad of snipers apparently armed with silenced M1903s, however, little is known about their use in the field.
In addition to the military’s continued testing, the Maxim silencers had gained some public notoriety and President Woodrow Wilson was familiar enough with them to raise concerns about public ownership of the devices on the eve of America’s entry into the war. On the 30th March 1917, just three days before the US entered the war, President Wilson had his personal secretary, Joseph Tumulty, write to the Department of Justice requesting that they look into the threat German Fifth Columnists might pose if they used Maxim Silencers to attack key infrastructure. His letter stated that the sale of Maxim Silencers “should be prohibited and all outstanding weapons collected by the police.” The President was concerned that sentries guarding isolated posts such as bridges and munitions factories might become targets of opportunity for assassins with silenced weapons. His memorandum said “great damage could be done before main guard… discovered sentry’s death.” On the 3rd of April, the Department of Justice in turn wrote to the Secretary of War and asked for his comment on the issue.
Brigadier General William Crozier, Chief of US Army Ordnance, was consulted by the Adjutant General. Crozier responded on the 7th April, saying that the use of a Maxim Silencer by ‘unauthorised persons’ was not considered sufficiently important to require special action by the War Department. He continued saying it should be noted that: “a silencer reduces the intensity of the report at discharge, but does not entirely eliminate it.” Despite the War Department’s lack of concern about silencers the Maxim silencer has the distinction of being mentioned in the US declaration of war on Germany. Presidential Proclamation #1364, published on 6th April, 1917, stated:
“An alien enemy shall not have in his possession, at any time or place, any firearm, weapon or implement of war, or component part thereof, ammunition, maxim or other silence, bomb or explosive material used in the manufacture of explosives.”
I’ve been unable to find any mention of silencers being used by ‘alien enemies’. Maxim’s military silencers, however, reportedly shipped around the world with orders from Mexico, South America, China, Japan, Britain, France, Belgium, Russia and Germany. One pre-war Maxim advert boasted that the design had been approved by the German military. During the First World War both the British and Germans reportedly deployed snipers equipped with Maxim silencers in small numbers. In February 1916, the Greek government wrote to the US War Department enquiring about obtaining the Army’s test results for what they called ‘Maxime Silencers’. The Ordnance Office provided the requested report in March but it is unknown if it was forwarded on.
Did the US Army Use the Maxim Silencer During WWI?
The extent of the use of silencers by the US Army during World War One is unknown but recently uncovered Ordnance Office documents show that silencers did reach France but the desire for them was mixed.
Both William Tantum and Clark Campbell suggest that an order for 9,100 silencers was placed. This is said to have been part of a plan to deploy silencers with rifles with accurate star-gauged barrels fitted with M1913 Warner & Swasey Musket Sights for sniper use. Alex MacKenzie, Curator of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, notes that reports from the Armory show that 1,041 “U.S. Rifles, Cal. .30, Model of 1903, Fitted for Tel. Musket Sight” were assembled but with no mention of the rifles being mounted with a Model 1910 or a Model 15 silencer. He also notes that Springfield Armory produced 3,100 “Knife Bayonets, Model of 1905, for Use with Maxim Silencer” during the fiscal year of 1918. The production of these bayonets would suggest the use of the Model 1910, as the Model 15 could not fix a bayonet.
The documents recently found by researcher Andrew Stolinski, of Archival Research Group, suggest that Maxim silencers did indeed reach American Expeditionary Force (AEF) stores in France.
In June 1918, the Chief Inspector Machine Guns and Small Arms at the GHQ of the AEF suggested the supplying of “Maxim silencers for use with Springfield rifles”, this suggestion, however was rejected by General Pershing himself, replying that “Maxim Silencers not desired in Europe. Recommend that they be left out of equipment tables.” It seems that the Chief Inspector of Machine Guns and Small Arms may have made the suggestion at the behest of Major T.J. Hayes, Division Ordnance Officer for the US 5th Division, who wrote to the Chief Inspector again on August 17th to make the case for silencer use saying:
“I wish to make the recommendation that 15 of these be issued to each infantry regiment, to be used by the Scout platoons of each battalion. Their use would tend to increase the efficency [sic] of these Scout platoons and allow them to perform their work with less chance of detection… I urgently recommend that they be issued and given a thorough trial. I am convinced that some sort of flash arrester [sic] or Silencer is needed for dangerous night patrolling. The Shotguns [likely Winchester Model 1897s] have given most excellent results but the silencers should be provided in addition.”
On the 27th August, Lt.Colonel H.K. Hathaway, an Ordnance officer with the supply division, circulated a memorandum stating that Maxim silencers “are no longer an article of issue” but that “there are in stock at Intermediate Ordnance Depot No 2[in Gievres], 200 of these Silencers and from 100 to 150 Springfield Rifles fitted with these silencers.” While at “Advance Ordnance Depot No 1 [in Is-Sur-Tille], there are 20 Springfield rifles so fitted.” This confirms that silencers both individually (likely Model 15s) and mounted to rifles (probably earlier Model 1910s) were sent to France for use by the AEF. It seems, however, that very few of them left the Ordnance stores.
On the 30th August, a Major Herbert O’Leary, of the Ordnance Department, wrote to the Supply Division on behalf of the AEF’s Chief Ordnance Officer, to inform that “if Maxim Silencers are fitted to rifles, it precludes the use of bayonets as an essential weapon for raid purposes. It is the opinion of this Division that Silencers should not be issued.”
On the 7th September the matter appears to have been settled by a letter from Brigadier C.B. Wheeler, the Chief Ordnance Officer, to the Chief Inspector Machine Guns and Small Arms in response to his suggestion in June. Wheeler quotes General Pershing’s earlier rejection and states that “it is not considered desirable to issue them”. From these documents it appears to suggest that the silencers saw little to no use in France with the AEF, despite the enthusiasm for them among some more junior Ordnance officers like Major Hayes.
The 1918 Ordnance Storage Catalogue, Vol. V, listed the ‘SILENCERS, Maxim, M1910 for U.S. rifles, M1903’, ‘SILENCERS, Maxim, Model 15 for U.S. rifles, M1903’, and the ‘SILENCERS, Moore, for U.S. rifles, M1903’. Although no numbers are given.
After the war the silencer’s remained in US Army inventory well into the 1920s. In March 1922, Rock Island Arsenal requested spare parts to repair some Model 1915 silencers from the Chief of Ordnance’s office only to be told that “there are no repair parts for the Maxim silencers available. It is not believed necessary to repair the Maxim Silencer as they are more or less obsolescent.”
Campbell states that after the war some of the rifles fitted with Model 1910 silencers were offered for sale through the Civilian Marksmanship programme in 1920. Archival research has found later enquiries from the head of the programme requesting silencers to mount on Krag rifles. In May 1923, the Director of Civilian Marksmanship wrote to the Rock Island Arsenal enquiring if the Model 1915 silencer would fit the M1892 Krag and if they were available for sale. Rock Island Arsenal’s commanding officer Colonel D.M. King replied advising that only a small number were available. As a result the Ordnance Office refused to sell a substantial number of the Model 1915’s for fear of depleting “the small stock” still remaining.
In his 2016 Small Arms Review article on the Maxim silencers Frank Iannamico suggests that a small number were given to National Guard units for training purposes. A 1916 Maxim sales brochure mentions that it was sold “to individual members of the National Guard” but makes no mention of larger sales. Hiram P. Maxim himself also appeared on the front cover of the February 1910 edition of the National Guard Magazine, demonstrating his device fitted to a M1903 (see photo above).
On March 23rd 1925, the rifles mounted with silencers listed as ‘Maxim Silencer & U.S. Rifles Cal .30 fitted for same’ were declared obsolete. While the First World War offered a brief boom in sales of silencers this did not last and Maxim’s company continued to diversify after the war. The Maxim Silencer Company manufactured not only firearm silencers but also sound moderating devices for everything from automobiles to naval engines; from plant machinery to building silencers which were fitted to heating and air conditioning systems. Similarly Moore, like Maxim, also later developed silencers for automobiles filling a patent for an Exhaust Muffler in 1930.
A Closer Look at the Maxim Silencer
The Model 1910 silencer is 7.3 inches (18.5cm) long which when fitted gave the M1903 an overall length of 50.5 inches (128cm). Despite the attachment of the silencer this was still around an inch shorter than the French Lebel Mle 1886.
To fit the Model 1910 silencer to the rifle a coupling piece was used. First the front sight was removed, then the coupling piece slipped onto the barrel and was secured against rotation by the barrel’s front sight spline (a rib on the top of the barrel which the front sight sat upon). A pin was then passed through the standard front sight stud hole to secure the silencer to the muzzle. The front sight, which had a dovetailed base, was then fitted to the top of the coupling piece.
The Model 1910 had 18 baffles inside a steel outer casing with a blued finish. Unlike earlier Maxim silencers that had a central channel, down which the bullet travelled, the Model 1910 had a channel off set to the top the silencer, so as not to interfere with sight picture. Maxim’s silencer has a female dovetail on its underside, into which a specially adapted proprietary M1905 bayonet with a male dovetail was fixed. This mounting system rendered about half the bayonet’s length useless as the silencer projected out above it. While not a serious issue, when compared to the Moore’s attachment method, it did hamper the bayonet somewhat.
The Model 1910 silencer was sealed an could not be easily cleaned, the Maxim Silent Firearms Co.’s literature advised running warm water through the silencer and letting it soak overnight before drying it on a hot surface to evaporate the water inside and oil it thoroughly. Not the most practical method of cleaning.
A Maxim Silent Firearms Company brochure dating from 1916 priced the Model 15 at $8.50. Seven years later, in 1923, the Ordnance Office noted that the Model 15 was valued at $5.34.
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Specifications (taken from 1910 US Army Annual Report)
Weight: 11 ounces or 312g
Length: 5.9 inches or 15cm
Diameter: 1.3 inches or 3.3cm
Baffle Bore Diameter: .341 inches or 8.7mm
Special thanks to both the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for allowing us to examine and film their rifle and to Andrew Stolinski for his archival research into the US Army’s use of the Maxim Silencer. Check out his website, Archival Research Group, here.
Presidential Proclamation #1364, 6th April, 1917, US National Archives, (source)
Various War and Ordnance Department files at The National Archives in Washington, DC (Archive 1) and The National Archives at College Park, Maryland (Archives II) courtesy of Andrew Stolinski at Archival Research Group
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1909, Vol.6 (source)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1910, Vol.1 (source)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1913, Vol.1 (source)
M1903 Springfield with Maxim Silencer, Cody Firearms Museum, online catalogue entry (source)
M1903 Springfield with Maxim Silencer, Springfield Armory, online catalogue entry (source)
Moore Silencer, Springfield Armory, online catalogue entry (source)
The Springfield 1903 Rifles: The Illustrated, Documented Story of the Design, Development and Production of All the Models of Appendages and Accessories, W.S. Brophy (1987)
The ’03 Era: When Smokeless Powder Revolutionised US Riflery, C.S. Campbell (1994)
Silencers, Snipers & Assassins: An Overview of Whispering Death, J.D. Truby (1972)
Firearm Silencers, N. Wilson (1983)
Hatcher’s Notebook, J.S. Hatcher (1947)
History of the Maxim Silencer Company, Small Arms Review, F. Iannamico (source)
Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit with some very rare and extremely interesting weapons on display.
The M45 Quadmount was developed by the W.L. Maxson Corporation for the US Army. It mounted four .50 calibre M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns on a lightweight, rotating powered mount. I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at an M45 while visiting the Menorcan Military Museum.
Introduced in 1943, the M45 was capable of 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of elevation. It was manned by a three man crew: two loaders, who loaded the M2 Browning’s 200-round belt drums, and a gunner.
The M45 was extremely versatile and could be mounted on a number of trailers and vehicles including the M20 and M17 trailers and the M16, M17 and M51 half-tracks.
The gunner sat on a canvas seat inside the M45, between the two pairs of guns. He controlled the aiming of the guns with two control handles and aimed the M45 through a reflex sight which was mounted to a sight bar.
The M45 was powered by two 6-volt batteries and weighed approximately 2,400lb (1,090kg). The gunner was protected by an armoured plate at the front with two hinged armour plates either side of the M1X reflex sight. The M45 mounted four M2 TT (Turret Type) varriant machine guns – these were fired by solenoids. All four of the guns could be fired at once but gunners normally alternated between the upper and lower pairs in order to allow the guns to cool and loaders to replenish the drums.
When all the guns were fired together the M45 had an impressive rate of fire of approximately 2,300 rounds per minute. The Quadmount saw action throughout World War Two, the Korean War and in Vietnam. However, with the beginning of the jet age the M45 became increasingly obsolete in the anti-aircraft role. It continued to be used against ground targets with many mounted on vehicles to create ‘gun trucks’.
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