If you do an Internet search for “chattering Spandaus,” you only get 89 hits, but that stock phrase has become synonymous with World War I aviation. Generations of moviegoers have seen the image: the leering Teutonic ace, hard eyes gleaming behind squared-off goggles above the blazing muzzles.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a Spandau machine gun (or Maschinengewehr in German). Nearly all German fighters of the Great War were armed with Maxim designs, and the fact that some were produced in the armory at Spandau led to the misnomer.
Of even greater import is that the weapon was designed by an American-turned-Briton, Sir Hiram Maxim. Maxim was a passionate inventor, best known for his electric lights (as a rival to those of Thomas Edison). Maxim’s business took him from Massachusetts to London so often that he settled there in 1900, becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom. He was knighted the following year.
By then, the former Yankee had revolutionized warfare. In the Victorian era of hand-cranked Gatling guns, the recoil-operated, belt-fed Maxim machine gun represented a huge technological advance. The basic Maxim gun, patented in 1883, was demonstrated in Maxim’s garden the next year, churning out 500 rounds of .303 ammunition per minute. The heat produced by the high rate of sustained fire was dissipated by a water jacket surrounding the barrel.
Read the article from December 2015 issue of Flight Journal, click here.