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BRITAIN AND THE MADSEN MACHINE GUN 1914-1918 Introduction Depending on which histories of the machine gun you choose to ‘consult, the story of the invention and development of what is generally known as the Madsen machine gun ranges from the ‘merely complex to the inextricably tangled. For the purposes ofthis small contribution tothe history of the ‘Madsen its sufficient to know that for some years prior to 1914 the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat (Danish Recoil Rifle Syndicate/D.R.R.S.) of Copenhagen, had developed and ‘manufactured a light machine gun under the name Madsen. By form of licensing agreement the gun had also been manufactured in Switzerland and England under the name Rexer and as such it had been tested and rejected by the British army in 190d, ‘The mechanism of the Madsen was one where the force of the recoil (rather tham the force of the compressed gasses generated by the explosion of the charge) made the weapen automatically fed, fire, extract and eject. It has been described as emplaying: “the basic system, first manually used in the lever-operated Peabody and Martini rifles, whereby a pinned breechblock rises ‘during the forward lever stroke to uncover the base of the fired cartridge case, thus allowing its extraction and ejection, Then by its first rearward action, the bolt or breechblock falls below the barrel opening to permit chambering of the incoming rourk, The final movement forces the bot to rise again to give support behind the loaded cartridge These actions... are governed by a circular stud on the recoiling barrel extension working in grooves on a switch plate fastened to the receiver. The bot is locked in the up-position forthe First half inch of recoil and so held util the bullet has tavelled Uhrough the bore and the powder pressure has dropped to a point where i is considered safe 10 star the cycle of operation” By 1912 the mechanism had been improved in a number of ways, ‘but most importantly so that when the trigger was released a live round was not left in a heated chamber. Extrsction and ejection was made more certain, but rimmed cartridges (such as the 303-inch British service round) always tended to distort more and ‘caused more jams than rimless cartridges. Furthermore, the barrel ‘now came complete with the casing coniaining the breech block ‘mechanism, thus making the replacing of a hot barrel by a cool ‘one a much simpler operation What is assumed to be a 1912 model suitable for field service ‘was tested by the Chief Inspector of Small Arms in 1913 and consideration of an aircraft pattern gun was suspended at the ‘outbreak of war ‘The Guns Manufactured in Denmark The Admiralty and War Office Contracts On Sth April 1915, Lieutenant L.C.BS. With-Seidelin, the representative of the D.R.R.S. in London, sent the War Office a {description ofthe Madsen gun. He promised delivery of 200 guns between 15th June and 15h August 1915, $0 a month in the following three months, with a gradual increase to 150 a month. ‘The price per gun, with spare parts, was £140 Is, and equipment for cavalry, infuntsy, or air service was extra, He also offered t0 arrange for the training of British officers in the use of the gun in either England or Copenhagen, PAGE 116 THE GREAT WARIVol. 3, No. 4 ‘The attitude of the War Office was no different from what it hhad been ten years before when they rejected the Rexer With- Seidelin saw the secretaries ofthe Master-General ofthe Ordnance and the Director of Artillery without success. Then, as a rest of @ conversation with Major H.J.A. Banks, the Deputy Assistant Director heading the Small Arms subdivision of the M.G.Qs Department, he was informed om 6th Muy that the War Office did ‘hot require any machine guns of the Madsen type. Meanwhile, on Tih April,» similar account of the gun, with the same promise of deliveries, had been sent to the Admiralty. With-Seidetin afterwards claimed thatthe Hon. Neil Primrose had imerested himself in the weapon at this time. A 1912 model was tested at Whale Islnd on 25th April 1915, and the Director of Naval Ordnance received a favourable report from H.M.S. Excellent: “Iti recommended for use in conjunction with infantry and ean probably be satisfactorily adapted for use in aircraft On 4th May the Foreign Office enquired of the D.R.R.S. by telegram through the British embassy in Copenhagen when 200 {guns with spare parts and infantry equipment could be delivered, and what would be the time of delivery of every 100 guns thereafter Sit Henry Lowther, the British ambassador, did not approach the DR.R'S. Instead he replied to the Foreign Office the following day thatthe export of all sorts of guns was prohibited, that a special dispensation to supply Great Britain would involve very serious ‘danger to Denmark, and that the idea of asking for one seemed to be precluded, as the Danish Government, after representation from His Majesty's Legation, had taken steps o prevent arms from reaching Germany on S.S. Blenda. Smuggling, “the other alternative which the Admiralty is presumably unaware that it would be compelled to have recourse to, would appear wo have equally grave objections, apart from is illegitimate nature, since His Majesty's Legation has more than once made earnest representations on the subject to the Danish Government, which have cesulted in greater vigilance”. Any attempe would be discovered, and British prestige and popularity would suffer. ‘The Foreign Office answered on Tih May that they approved ‘of Lowther’s delay in approaching the Syndicate, asthe telegram ‘ofthe 4 had been dispatched through an oversight! Nevertheless, three days later the Admiralty ordered by telegram to With-Seidelin 400 gus (with equipment ata cost of £95,477 7s and comprising 250 guns for marine infantry and 150 guns for aircraft serviee, ‘The Direetor of Naval Contracts confirmed the order on 15th May, and set forth the terms on which it was placed. Fifty [per ceat of the cost was to be paid when the contract was made, 25 per cent on receipt of bills of lading, and the balance when the guns arrived in England and were found satisfactory. Two hhundred guns were to be delivered between Sth June and 1Sth ‘August 2915, and $0 a month thereafter. The Admiralty could eancel ‘any guns undelivered on 3Ist December 1915. The difficulty of ‘export was recognised in a clause which ran; “Detailed arrangements as reganis delivery will be communicated later" ‘The War Office then reconsidered its rejection, The 1912 model was sent to the Machine Gun School of the BLE.F. at Wisques ‘where trials took place on the 18th and 20th May. The muzzle flash was reported to be considerable, but in all other respects the gun was praised. “I recommend this... (gun] strongly to your wrote Major C.D. Baker-Carr, Commandant of the School, ‘and suggest that @ number of them be ordered for issue to units”! In transmitting this report to the War Office Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief of the BLE.F., pointed out thatthe number ‘of machine guns in his possession was still much below requirements, and that they were necessary “in order successfully to engage the enemy who is particularly well supplied with this ‘weapon’. He requested that the Army Couneil would consider the possibility of obtaining = supply of the Madsen gun, and recommended that two should be issued 10 each cavalry regiment and to each infantry battalion in addition to any other machine suns. [Editors italics). ‘This letter had immediate results. On 2nd June the Director of Anillery ordered 500 guns, 475 with infantry equipment, and 25 with cavalry equipment. The price and the conditions of the contract were to be the same as those arranged by the Admiralty. At least 100 guns were to be packed for transport every month from August 1915. On the completion ofthe order the War Office ‘was to have the option of taking the Syndicate’ Fall output of guns. ‘The 900 guns now under Admiralty and War Office contracts were to cost a total of £230783 4s Ki, and according to a ‘memorandum of 3rd July they were to be delivered as follows: Air Infanary Cavatry 100 guns & equipments at or before end of August 1915 50 150 guns & equipments at or before end of Sept. 1915 0 = 150 guns & equipments at or before end of Oct. 1915, 50 150 guns & equipments at or before end of Nov. 1915 - 150 guns & equipments at or before end of Dec. 1915 L 150 guns & equipments at oF before end of Jan. 1916 - 50 guns & equipments at or before ced of Feb, 1916 - 150, so 5 Bs lide 3 3 8 ' Deliveries after February 1916 were not to be paid for under this order. ‘On 22nd June With-Seidelin stated that the Syndicate had not recognised as binding the provisions concerning an option on future ‘output, but he assured Ernest Moir of the Ministry of Munitions that the D.R.R.S. would accept no foreign order until a ruling was ‘obtained. Moir replied that the option need not be declared until 250 guns had been received and tried for a month. (i.e. till the ‘end of November). The Difficulties of Delivery By lth June 1915 Eric Geddes, the Deputy Director-General of Munitions Supply at the Ministry of Munitions, had already formed the opinion that it was “unlikely we will be able to get any Madsen ‘guns out of Denmark at all”, Nevertheless, the Admiralty was ‘making its “special "for the transport of the guns. With-Seidlin said that the Danish Government would allow ‘export provided (V) the contract was made by a neutral government and endorsed by its representatives atthe Danish Court; (2) the ‘guns were shipped to a neutral port. The Admiralty had information that the French Government had arranged for such a contract to be made by the Portuguese Government, and that Denmark had consented to the export of machine guns to Lisbon. ‘The Foreign Office therefore instructed the Hon. Lancelot Carnegie, the British Ambassador in Lisbon, to approach the Portuguese authorities, and to state thatthe 900 guns were most urgently needed; the Portuguese “will be well aware of necesary procedure” and on hearing that the Portuguese Government agreed, the Syndicate representative would arrange shipment. But before the guns were ready for export Portugal had become a belligerent, and it was necessary to find another friendly neutral Deliveries ofthe guns did not begin by the date appointed, nor by Sth November 1915, when new conditions were agreed upon. ‘The schedule of delivery dates was revised, each consignment being postponed by three months. In view of the difficulty of export the following clause was added to the contract (and it is important to note that here, as in other contemporary documents, the Madsen suns were referred to as rifles): () Incase the rifles may not be exported during the War. (@) 450 rifles with equipments etc. to be delivered in Copenhagen as soon as they are ready, and shipment to take place immediately after the war. As regards the 200 rifles etc. for the Navy, the balance of '50% to be paid when the rifles ete. are delivered in Copenhagen on the guarantee ofthe Syndicate as o quality As regards the 250 rifles cc. for the Army, half the balance to be paid when the rifles ete, are delivered in Copenhagen, and half when the rifles etc. have been received in this country, tested and found satisfactory. (©) The remaining 450 rifles etc. to be delivered in this country at ‘tae of delivery satisfictory to the Admiralty, The Syndicate wo have the option of manufacturing either in Great Britain or elsewhere. In respect of these rifles etc, half the balance to be paid on delivery, tnd half when the rifles etc. have been teste and found satisfactory Its understood that all the equipments may be made in Denmark by the Syndicate, if they so prefer, and provided such equipments can be exported during the War. @) Should the Danish Government be compelled, as a result of Portugal becoming a beligerent, oF by other circumstances beyond the control of the Syndicate, o withdraw the permission to export daring the War. Delivery of all 900 rifles ete to be taken in Copenhagen and the balance of 50% paid as follows Half when these are deivered in Copenhagen, and half when they are received in England, tested, and found satisfactory”: Subject to these clauses The Government might cancel the order for any guns undelivered by the end of May 1916, Half the cos of the guns, £115,391 12s, was paid by the Admiralty ‘on 23rd October 91S. The separate Admiralty and War Office contracts were taken over and combined by the Ministry of ‘Munitions on 28th May 1916 and the Ministry refunded the ‘Admiralty the amount which had been paid on account to the ‘Syndicate. Oddly, With-Seidelin told Lieut Colonel S.C. Halse ‘on I4th November 1917 that he had no official knowledge of this ‘transaction, and he was acordingly informed. On the 23rd February 1916, Arthur McDougall Duckham, in ‘4 minute to the Minister of Munitions, wrote: “Icis practically impossible obtain deliveries of any of the 900 guns ordered from the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat. Lieut. With-Seidelin {intimates that a considerable numberof these guns are manufactured and ready for delivery, but isnot disposed to give definite numbers 1 do not think the suggestion mace by Lieut. WithSeidelin to move the whole works and staff o England or America should be considered. [New factories for machine guns ere not required as ean be seen from the tables showing machine gun surplus over requirements inthe latter half of 1916 from present factories Liew. With-Seidelin hints that if we are not disposed 1 take the plant they must dispose of it elsewhere, presumably to the Central Powers. Decisions are required on the following points: (0) Towhom will the Madsen guns be made over when completed?” (This point should be settled in order to arrange for equipment (2) Are we to endeavour to make use of the Danish company in any way? (3) Could not these guns be made over absolutely to some neutral country requiring machine guns in certain eventuaites?” In March 1916 With-Seidelin reported that 200 guns were complete, 125 more would be ready by Ist May and another 125 by Ist June. ‘The Rumanian Government, wrote Duckham to Colonel Sir Arthur Lee on 20th June 1916, was very anxious to have the guns, the remaining 450 guns, and to order 1590 more guns. The Ministry right therefore give the Syndicate permission to negotiate the sale, ‘and .303-inch ammunition could be suppllied to Rumania through Russia. Lee informed the Minister that it would be advantageous to be 1rd of the contract as the guns could not be delivered, and as the PAGE 117 ‘War Office had definitely stated that Madsen guns were not required for equipment. It was, however, for the Foreign Office and the War Council to decide whether it was desirable to supply Rumania. The War Committee on 23rd June 1916, approved of the sale to Rumania on condition that the guns were not transported through the territory of the enemy, and a letter was sent to the ‘Syndicate on the same day, stating that the Minister was willing to consider proposals forthe sale f the guns toa neutral country. ‘A-copy was sent 0 the Rumanian Minister in London; but what, happened to Portugal happened to Rumania: its Government ceased, to be neutral before the transaction was effected. ‘But the idea of securing the guns through a neutral state was ‘not yet given up. Ina telegram of 29th September 1916 Sir Ralph Paget, who had replaced Sir Henry Lowther as the ambassador in Copenhagen in August 96, reported that a Mr. Jensen and With- Scidelin had visited the egation and suggested that the guns could possibly be exported via Norway, as it would not be necessary 'o obtain a safe conduct from Germany. ‘Sir Mansfeldt Findlay, the British ambassador to Norway, was informed that he might discuss the matter with With-Seidelin. At the insistence of the Ministry of Munitions the importance of securing the guns was impressed on Findlay by a second telegram, ‘on Ih October. He replied that, asthe Danish Government insisted ‘thatthe guns should be consigned o the Norwegian Government, Ihe could not hold out the least hope of success. “I am informed by the Naval Attaché,” he added, “that the directors have hopes ‘of being able to manage the business through the Brazilian Chargé Affaires in Copenhagen, and I suggest you should try this way” In reply to request for details Paget sent word that With-Seidelin was to discuss the matter with the Naval Attaché at Christiana, With-Seidelin afterwards stated that on 2nd January 1917 he had offered to go to Rio de Janeiro to arrange with the Brazilian Government. He thought that the chance of success was Considerable, because (I) it was known that Brazil had ordered 700 guns and a request for export would therefore be justified; @) the persons then in office had released guns belonging to Brazil in order that they might be handed to France. ‘The Ministry did not take up this plan, and at an interview with LLieutColonel Halse on Ist June 1917 With-Seidelin could only ‘suggest thatthe guns might be despatched from Denmark “if they were packed up and called something else" So, after more than ‘wo years they were back with the notion of smuggling. The Delay in Manufacture ‘The 900 guns promised for completion by May 1916 were not actually completed until Mth November 1917, With Seidelin blaming the British blockade and the Ministry of Munitions for the delay. Firstly, he claimed that the finishing ofthe second 450 guns Jad been postponed atthe Minstry's request in 1916, until it was known whether they should be converted to Rumanian calibre In fact, the Ministry, in giving permission to the Syndicate on 23rd June 1916 to negotiate with Rumania, had expressly stated thatthe Ministry would consider proposals provided that al 900 guns were of 303sinch calibre. Secondly, he claimed that in 1917 the Syndicate could procure neither materials or oil for their engines. The Ministry, having ceased to repard the fulfilment of the contract as 2 practical question, stacy refused to assist the Syndicate. For his part, With- Scidelin was indefatigable in approaching one department after another. When E.M.I. refused on Ist June to help him obtain 250 barrels of diesel oil he aid his case before the Priority Department of the Ministry, and the War Orfice, but with no better success. On 15th August he submited to the Admiralty a list of materials required, complaining that the blockade was ruining the Syndicate’ business, as they could not complete their conders forthe Admiralty, or for neutral states. The atitade of the British Government he attributed to false rumours that the Syndicate had busines with Germany; to destroy this suspicion he submited 4 declaration, and offered to confirm it on oath PAGE 118 THE GREAT WAR/VoI, 3, No.4 ‘The declaration set out the friendliness of the Syndicate for the Allies; neither guns nor materials had been supplied to Germany ‘or Austria: Six guns it was true, had been sold to Turkey some years before the War, and before Bulgaria became a belligerent she had purchased 660. This latter transaction the ‘Syndicate regreved profoundly, but it was understood, before the war broke ‘Out, that Bulgaria would adopt the Madsen, as a result of trials in the Balkans in 1914; when the order was given early in 1915, it was executed in good faith. The Syndicate did not expect that ‘any ofthe 660 guns would be handed to the Turkish of the Austrian ‘oF the German army. In this they were to be disappointed. (See Appendix A). If the British Government adopted the gun as a service weapon, the Syndicate would undertake not to allow manuficture for the benefit of Germany. The Ministry of Munitions, to which the matter ofthe required ‘materials was referred, refused help unless delivery in the United Kingdom could be assured. With-Seidlin spoke to Captain G. Westover of E.M.1. on 30th August 1917, and declared that it was impossible to finish manufacture in a British or Allied country as the guns were 5/7ths completed. Appealing again to the Admiralty on 20th September, he referred to the alternative of delivery at Copenhagen as provided for in the contract. Nine days later he reported that materials had at last been secured from ‘Scandinavia, and no licence for the export of materials from England would be necessary. Although the arrangements to take delivery in Copenhagen were intimately connected with the scheme to transfer the entire D.R.R'S factory to England they are best described in detail here. The Delivery of the Guns in Copenhagen On Mth November 1917 With-Seidetin unofficially informed Lieut - Colonel Halse that 900 guns would be delivered on 22nd December, a date confirmed officially on 22nd November. In a Jeter received on 29th December formal delivery was made and ‘With-Seidelin pointed out that £57695 lbs, being twenty-five per ent ofthe cost, became due tothe Syndicate. He enclosed @ Power ‘of Attorney authorising him to receive payment on behalf of the D.R.RSS. It was pointed out to him by the Ministry on 9th January that since his powers were for 1916 and 1917 only, the document was valueless. Lieut Colonel Halse had indicated to Mr. Burrage ofthe P.M.3 branch of the Contracts Department that it would be desirable to ‘make the payment as soon as it was proved to be due, because financial relief would lessen the chances of the Syndicate falling under German control at a time when the Ministry was considering the purchase of the factory. The Centra Stores Department (C.S.D.) Proposed to accept a holding certificate from With-Seidelin 2s soon, as his Power of Attorney was renewed, and 10 pass bills for ‘payment. Liewt-Colonel Halse protested that this guarantee would be insufficient (On 8th February 1918 Mr. Reavill, Assistant Manager of the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, was instructed to proceed 10 Copenhagen to ascertain thatthe 900 guns had been manufactured suitably for British standard ammunition, and to store them for His Majesty's Government. On Ist March Reavil telegraphed 10 the Ministry that he had seen the 900 guns, but that he had not ‘opened the associated equipment. On the 10th he added that Packing in a suitable store would take three weeks. With-Seidelin pressed for immediate payment, but Sir James ‘Stevenson, the Member ofthe Munitions Council “O" with overall responsiblity forall gun and ammunition production, agreed with Lieut -Colonel Halse that Reavi's brief reports would not justify such a step. After all, packing too might fairly be considered a part ofthe contrat. Nevertheless, at Stevenson's suggestion the ‘Contracts Department was informed that a request for payment ‘would be made as soon as the Ambassador in Copenhagen had taken over the guns. Hugh Gurney, Chargé @Affiires at the British embassy in ‘reported on 30th March thatthe guns had been stored in security inthe Free Harbour and that, on Mr. Reavill’s assurance