The Madsen was a light machine gun (at the time often referred to as an automatic musket or machine rifle) designed in the period from 1883 to 1901 by Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schoubue, and named after Colonel Vilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen, the Danish Minister of War. It was the first light machine gun adopted in any meaningful quality, being adopted by the Danish Army in 1902. It was ultimately sold in 12 different calibres to 34 different countries worldwide, and served for over 100 years. 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).

Overview[edit | edit source]

Work on the design dates to the 1880s with the Danish Forsøgsrekylgevær (Self Loading rifle M.1888) being a precursor design. In 1883 Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schoubue began working on a machine gun derived from the rifle design. The name comes from Colonel Vilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen, the Danish Minister for War at the time, who had worked on the Forsøgsrekylgevær prior to accepting that position.

The Dansk Rekyl Riffel Syndikat, already selling the older Forsøgsrekylgevær rifle, took up production of the new machine gun. In 1899 Lieutenant Jens Schouboe became the manager for the DRS, and a number of subsequent patents bear his name. In 1901 he patented the design for the Madsen machine gun. The original Madsen machine guns used black-powder cartridges, resulting in a rapid buildup of propellant residue that would quickly foul and jam the action. However, once the design was tried with 6.5mm smokeless powder rounds it worked well.

Unlike most overhead-loading guns, the Madsen sights along its centerline, with the magazine well offset to the left. The magazine is a gravity-assisted type and has no feed lips, instead using a tensioned steel band with a hooked end which functions as a cartridge retainer when the magazine is detached and a magazine catch when it is inserted.

The Madsen has one of the most complicated actions ever used in an automatic weapon, and a 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: unlike most automatic weapon designs, the block performs none of the actions of extracting or loading. The recoil operation is part short and part long recoil. After firing a round, 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 switch 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.

The result is an incredibly compact action, capable of cycling a 3-inch long cartridge with only 1.3 inches of travel. In addition, the mechanism physically prevents double-feeding, a major issue with the contemporary Lewis gun. Due to the design of the magazine well, the weapon can be fired at a rate of around 60 rounds per minute just by dropping loose rounds into the gun, with the well functioning as a four-round hopper feed. This was seen as an advantage in instances where the magazine was lost or damaged, a situation where most period machine guns would be rendered inoperable.

The Madsen's barrel is easily removed by pulling out a single pin which allowed the trigger group to hinge down and the barrel to be pulled out through the rear of the weapon. Evaluations found a complete barrel change could be achieved by one man without tools in twelve to fifteen seconds, which compared very favorably to other period firearms such as the Hotchkiss which required two men, the Vickers where refilling the water jacket took three minutes, and the Lewis where changing the barrel was a major operation taking about 20 minutes.[1]

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