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The Madsen: The world’s first true light machine gun produced in quantity

Ian Harvey

The Madsen is a light machine gun adopted by the Danish military and was used in combat in various countries for over one hundred years

Captain Vilhelm Madsen, who was a Danish artillery officer, and Rustmester Rasmussen, a weapons technician from the Danish Arsenal, worked together to create a semi-automatic, recoil-operated rifle. Madsen developed the idea, and Rasmussen made the actual weapons. It was the start of a new and more efficient fully automatic weapon.

Madsen machine gun with a spare magazine on display at the Armory museum in the Archbishop’s Palace in Trondheim, Norway. Photo Credit

Madsen machine gun with a spare magazine on display at the Armory museum in the Archbishop’s Palace in Trondheim, Norway. Photo Credit

The Dansk Rekkyl Riffel Syndikat (DRRS) was created in 1898 by investors so that the rifle could be made commercially.

Lieutenant Jens Schouboe became the manager of DRRS in 1899, and many later patents bear his name – this is why sometimes the Madsen rifle is referred to as the Schouboe rifle. In 1901 they finally patented the design for the Madsen machine gun and the name Madsen became a trademark.

Norwegian soldiers in 1928, one carrying a Madsen machine gun.

Norwegian soldiers in 1928, one carrying a Madsen machine gun.

The machine gun used a recoil-operated locking system with a hinged bolt, so it was part long recoil and part short recoil – a unique operating system. Compared to other fully-automatic machine guns, it had a low firing rate. Over the fifty years, it was in production; the Madsen light machine gun was manufactured in many different calibers. The ammunition feed in this weapon is from the top, with a mounted box magazine that is offset so that sight down the barrel is not obscured. Depending on the version of the light machine gun, the magazine could hold 25-40 rounds.

Even though it was an expensive gun to make, thirty-four countries bought the Madsen in different calibers before and after World War I. From 1905 and for another 45 years, large numbers of the Madsen light machine gun were made and exported to many European countries. The mass production of the light machine gun stopped in about 1950, but the gun was available by special order till the 1960s. After World War I, the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia used them for fighting the Bolsheviks in Siberia.

Operating cycle of the Madsen Photo Credit

Operating cycle of the Madsen Photo Credit

Madsen machine guns were used on both sides in the Chaco War when Paraguay fought against Bolivia, and they were used in World War II by the Norwegians. The Danish Army retired their last Madsen machine guns in 1955.

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In some countries, the Madsen light machine gun was still used for military training purposes until the 1980s, and some countries are still using them today. Officially, however, the Madsen machine gun was retired back in 1996, having been replaced by more modern weaponry.