Madsen machine gun

The Madsen is a light machine gun that Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schoubue designed and proposed for adoption by Colonel Vilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen, the Danish Minister of War, and that the Danish Army adopted in 1902. It was the world's first true light machine gun produced in quantity and Madsen was able to sell it in 12 calibres to over 34 countries. The gun saw extensive combat for over 100 years.[3][4] The Madsen was produced by Compagnie Madsen A/S (later operating as Dansk Rekyl Riffel Syndikat A/S and then Dansk Industri Syndikat A/S).

Madsen machine gun
A Madsen light machine gun with spare magazine.
TypeLight machine gun
Place of originDenmark
Service history
In service1902–1996
Used bySee Users
WarsRusso-Japanese War
World War I
Russian Civil War
Mexican Revolution
Rif War
Chaco War
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Portuguese Colonial War
various other worldwide conflicts
Production history
ManufacturerDansk Rekyl Riffel Syndikat A/S
Mass9.07 kg (20.00 lb)
Length1,143 mm (45.0 in)
Barrel length584 mm (23.0 in)

Cartridge8×58mmR Danish Krag[1]
7×57mm Mauser
6.5×52mm Carcano
7.92×57mm Mauser
7.65×53mm Argentine
8×50mmR Lebel
8×50mmR Mannlicher
.303 British[2]
7.62×51mm NATO
ActionLong recoil-operated
Rate of fire450 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity870 m/s (2,854 ft/s) (6.5×55mm)
Feed system25, 30, and 40-round detachable box magazine
SightsRear V-notch and front post

Design details

The design dates to 1880s with the Danish Forsøgsrekylgevær (Self Loading rifle M.1888), meaning "trial recoil rifle", being a precursor design. In 1883 Captain Vilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen (a Danish artillery officer), and Rustmester Rasmussen (a weapons technician at the Danish Arsenal), began working on a recoil-operated self-loading rifle; Madsen developed the idea and Rasmussen fabricated the actual weapons. The rifle used a non-removable stripper clip that used gravity to feed rounds to the action; when the gun was not in use one could fold the clip down to cover the opening. The rifle used the 8×58RD cartridge, first in black-powder and then in a much more powerful smokeless powder version. The design was not successful. An improved design in 1896 gave the rifle an enclosed, but still gravity-fed, magazine. This version saw some 50–60 rifles being produced, but they were only issued to the Danish navy for use by coastal fortifications troops.

Investors formed a company (the Dansk Riffel Syndikat; DRS), in 1898 to commercialise the rifle, and bought the patent rights from Madsen and Rasmussen in exchange for royalties on future production. By this time Madsen had left the project to become Minister of Defence in Denmark. In 1899 Lieutenant Jens Schouboe became the manager for the DRS, and a number of subsequent patents bear his name. Consequently, the Madsen rifle is sometimes referred to as the Schouboe rifle. In 1901 he patented the design for the Madsen machine gun. The original Madsen machine guns used black-powder cartridges that quickly jammed the action. However, once the design was tried with 6.5mm smokeless powder rounds it worked well.

The Madsen has a rather sophisticated and unique operating cycle. The machine gun uses a mixed recoil-operated locking system with a hinged bolt that is patterned after the lever-action Peabody Martini breechblock.[3] The recoil operation is part short and part long recoil. After firing a round to start the open bolt firing cycle, the initial recoil impulse drives the barrel, barrel extension, and bolt to the rear. A pin on the right side of the bolt moves backward in grooves in an operating cam plate mounted to the right side of the receiver. After 12.7 mm (0.5 in) of travel, the bolt is cammed upward, away from the breech (the "short" portion of the recoil system). The barrel and barrel extension continue to move rearward to a point slightly exceeding the combined overall length of the cartridge case and projectile (the long portion of the recoil system, responsible for the weapon's low rate of fire).

After the breech is exposed, an odd lever-type extractor/ejector, mounted under the barrel, pivots to the rear, extracts the empty case, and ejects it through the bottom of the receiver. The bolt's operating cam then forces the bolt face to pivot downward, aligning a cartridge feed groove in the left side of the bolt with the chamber. While the bolt and barrel are returning forward, a cartridge-rammer lever, mounted on the barrel extension, pivots forward, loading a fresh cartridge.

Operational use

Up to and including World War I

The Madsen was considered expensive to produce, but was known for its reliability. Thirty-four countries bought the gun, in a dozen different calibres,[5] before and after World War I. They were used by all sides in the Mexican Revolution.[6]

In Britain, the Rexer Arms Company manufactured the Madsen without license from 1905.[7] The guns were known as the Rexer or DDRS[8] and exported worldwide.

The Imperial Russian Army bought 1,250 Madsens for the cavalry and deployed them during the Russo-Japanese War. The Imperial Russian Air Service used Madsens to equip their Morane-Saulnier G and Morane-Saulnier L monoplanes, and as its open bolt firing cycle made it difficult to fire through a propeller, the Madsen's gun mounting had to fire over the propeller.[9] The German Army deployed the Madsen in 7.92 mm calibre in 1914, arming infantry companies, mountain troops and later storm troopers.

Inter-war era

Among the fighting forces with the Madsen in their arsenals in the immediate aftermath of World War I were the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia, fighting the Bolsheviks in Siberia.[10] The Madsen also saw service in China during the Warlord era.[11]

Paraguay bought the Madsen in the 1920s and early 1930s as that country quietly girded for war with Bolivia over mutual claims to the Gran Chaco region, and it served in the Paraguayan army in the Chaco War (1932–1935). Almost 400 were on hand when the war began, and the Paraguayans bought more as the war progressed.[12] Bolivia also fielded Madsens of the same calibre as Paraguay (7.65×53 Mauser) during the conflict.[4]

The Argentine Army detachment that protected neutrality along the border with Paraguay and Bolivia during the Chaco War used the Madsen in combat operations at least once in 1933 in the course of an engagement on the southern bank of the Pilcomayo river against members of the Maká tribe commanded by deserters who had looted a farm in Argentine soil, killing some of its inhabitants.[13]

When Brazil acquired some 23 CV-35 tankettes from Italy in the late 1930s, it armed a majority of the vehicles with twin-mounted 7 mm Madsens.[14]

It was standard equipment (in 6.5 mm) with the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) during the inter-war period until 1942.[15] The Imperial Japanese Army used some after capturing them during the Dutch East Indies Campaign.

World War II

Madsen machine guns were still in use in April–June 1940 as the Norwegian Army's standard light machine gun in the Norwegian Campaign, 3,500 M/22s in 6.5×55 Krag being available for the defence of Norway. By 1940 each Norwegian infantry squad had one Madsen machine gun, the Norwegians having previously grouped their Madsens in separate machine gun squads.[16][17] Each Norwegian infantry battalion had a standard complement of 36 Madsens, in addition to nine M/29 heavy machine guns. However, many Norwegian soldiers did not like the Madsen as it had a tendency to jam after only a few rounds in this calibre, leading to it gaining the nickname Jomfru Madsen (English: Virgin Madsen).[18] The Germans used captured Madsens for second line units throughout the war, and Danish production continued for the German armed forces in the 8×54mm Jørgensen calibre until 1942. The Danish Army did not retire their last Madsens until 1955.


Ireland had a total of 24 Madsen machine guns, all in .303 calibre. They armed the Irish army's Landsverk L60 light tanks, Leyland Armoured Cars, Landsverk L180 armoured cars, and Dodge Armoured Cars. In the 1950s .30 Browning machine guns replaced the Madsens still in Irish service.[2]

Portuguese Colonial War

The Portuguese Army used Madsen machine guns during the Portuguese Colonial War of the 1960s and 1970s. Madsens served as temporary armament for Auto-Metralhadora-Daimler 4 × 4 Mod.F/64 armoured cars, which were Daimler Dingos modified with the addition of a turret-like structure.[19]

Continued use in Brazil

The Brazilian Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State used Madsens into the 21st Century.[20] Although some of the Brazilian guns were captured from drug traffickers and pressed into service (mostly old weapons originating from the Argentine Army, as well as some stolen from museums),[21] the majority of the Brazilian police Madsens came from the Brazilian Army; in the 1930s they were commonly used in the wars against banditry in Northeast (bandit groups named cangaceiros); these guns were originally 7x57mm Spanish Mauser weapons re-chambered to fit 7.62 mm NATO. Official sources state that the Brazilian army retired the Madsen machine gun in 1996. It was reported that the last Madsen guns were finally retired in April 2008 as the police transitioned to more modern guns with faster rates of fire.[22][23]


See also


  2. Karl Martin, Irish Army Vehicles, Transport & Armour Since 1922, Karl Martin 2002.
  3. Kokalis, Peter. Weapons Tests and Evaluations: The Best of Soldier Of Fortune. Paladin Press. 2001. pp. 15–16.
  4. de Quesada, Alejandro (2011). The Chaco War 1932–35 South America's greatest modern conflict. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-84908-416-1.
  5. Madsen machine gun
  6. Jowett, Philip (28 Jun 2018). Latin American Wars 1900–1941: "Banana Wars," Border Wars & Revolutions. Men-at-Arms 519. Osprey Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 9781472826282.
  7. Marley, David F. (2014). "Rexer light machine gun". Mexico at War: From the Struggle for Independence to the 21st-Century Drug Wars. ABC-CLIO. p. 332. ISBN 1610694287 via Google Books.
  8. Ballou, James L. (October 2008). "The Madsen Machine Gun Story". Small Arms Review. Vol. 12 no. 1.
  9. Kulikov, Victor (2013). Russian Aces of World War 1. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. pp. 13, 82. ISBN 978-1-78096-060-9.
  10. Bullock, David (2009) [First published 2007]. The Czech Legion 1914–1920. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-84603-236-3.
  11. Jowett, Philip (20 Nov 2013). China’s Wars: Rousing the Dragon 1894-1949. General Military. Osprey Publishing. pp. 128–129. ISBN 9781782004073.
  12. "An Outline History of the Paraguayan Army". Archived from the original on 11 February 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  13. Golpe, Néstor (1970). Calvario y muerte: revisión histórica militar; narraciones fortineras, 1917-1938. Artes Gráficas "Armada Argentina", pp. 186-190 (in Spanish)
  14. Kirk Jr., William A. (2003-03-12). "Brazil". Tanks! Armoured Warfare Prior to 1946. Florida State University. Archived from the original on 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
  15. Lohnstein, Marc (23 Aug 2018). Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936–42. Men-at-Arms 521. Osprey Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 9781472833754.
  16. Holm, Terje H. (1987). 1940 – igjen? (in Norwegian). Oslo: Norwegian Armed Forces Museum. p. 26. ISBN 82-991167-2-4.
  17. View from the trenches ASL journal Issue 31 May-Jun 2000
  18. Jaklin, Asbjørn (2006). Nordfronten - Hitlers skjebneområde (in Norwegian). Oslo: Gyldendal. p. 32. ISBN 978-82-05-34537-9.
  19. Abbott, Peter (2005). Modern African Wars (2): Angola and Mozambique 1961–1974. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-85045-843-5.
  20. "Madsen Light Machine Gun website". Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  21. News article about Argentine guns found with drug dealers (in Portuguese)
  22. Brazilian Air Force news about Madsen guns Archived 2007-07-17 at the Wayback Machine (in Portuguese)
  23. Strategy Page on Madsen guns.
  24. Smith 1969, p. 342.
  25. Gander, Terry J.; Hogg, Ian V. Jane's Infantry Weapons 1995/1996. Jane's Information Group; 21 edition (May 1995). ISBN 978-0-7106-1241-0.
  26. Willbanks H, James (2004). Weapons and warfare - an illustrated history of their impact. ISBN 1-85109-480-6
  27. "FINNISH ARMY 1918 - 1945: LIGHT MACHINEGUNS PART 2". Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  28. Vauvillier, François (July 2018). "Le nouvel armement en 7,5mm". Guerre, Blindés et Matériel. p. 32.
  29. Barbaize, Michel. "Les goums mixtes marocains et leurs armements. 1908-1956". Association La Koumia (in French). Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  30. Lugosi, József (2008). "Gyalogsági fegyverek 1868–2008". In Lugosi, József; Markó, György (eds.). Hazánk dicsőségére: 160 éves a Magyar Honvédség. Budapest: Zrínyi Kiadó. p. 382. ISBN 978-963-327-461-3.
  31. Lohnstein, Marc (23 Aug 2018). Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936–42. Men-at-Arms 521. p. 21. ISBN 9781472833754.
  32. de Quesada, Alejandro (20 Jan 2015). The Spanish Civil War 1936–39 (2): Republican Forces. Men-at-Arms 498. Osprey Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 9781782007852.
  33. Paterson, Hamish (June 2006). "The Natal Rebellion 1906: Some Military Perspectives". Military History Journal. 13 (5).

Further reading

  • Smith, Joseph E. (1969). Small Arms of the World (11 ed.). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Stackpole Company.
  • The Madsen Machine Rifle (PDF). Copenhagen, Denmark: Danish Recoil Rifle Syndicate.
  • (in Russian) Семён Федосеев, "Российская карьера ружья-пулемёта «Мадсен»", Мастерружьё, 2010 issue 2 pp. 48–57, issue 3 pp. 58–64, and issue 6 pp. 42–51 (No. 155, 156 & 159). HTML version of the article: part 1, part 2, part 3
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