Argentina’s “World Standard” Maxim Machine Gun

By Robert G. Segel

Argentina was an early user of the Maxim water-cooled machine gun, ultimately purchasing English and German made Maxims under three separate contracts. The first order was placed by Argentina’s Navy Purchasing Commission in 1895 for 50 World Standard Maxims manufactured by the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company Limited (MNG&ACL) in England. These first 50 guns were given Argentine serial numbers 1-50 and chambered in the 7.65x53 Belgium Mauser caliber. The nomenclature information on the fusee spring cover included the MNG&ACL information and the 1895 year of manufacture. In 1898 a second contract for the World Standard Maxim was placed, this time with Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), a licensed Maxim manufacturer in Germany, from the Argentine Army Purchasing Commission for 130 guns still chambered for the Belgium Mauser 7.65x53 caliber. These guns were serially numbered 51-180. The DWM nomenclature information on the fusee spring cover included the 1898 year of manufacture. The third and final contract signed in 1900 brought in another 20 World Standard Maxims from DWM and were serial numbered 181-200. All of these World Standard Maxims had brass water jackets and brass fusee spring covers except for the last twenty DWM guns, which were fitted with steel water jackets and fusee spring covers. Interestingly, most South American countries adopted the French Hotchkiss machine gun, yet Argentina had 200 of these early Maxims in their inventory.

Beautifully made with its water jacket, feed block, fusee spring cover, receiver floor plate and rear grip plate made of brass, the World Standard Maxim Models, often just called “Brass Maxims,” were a stunning, and lethal, piece of the firearm maker’s craft that was also esthetically pleasing to the eye. These guns had the early straight style of crank handle, an 1889 style lock and wooden roller belt assist located within the brass feed block. The gun is mounted on an Acland tripod that can be mounted on a wheeled field carriage.

All 200 of Argentina’s Maxims were originally chambered in the 7.65x53mm 1891 Belgium Mauser caliber and the long sight bar affixed to the upper receiver was calibrated for this heavy, round-nosed, high trajectory bullet. Each gun was fitted with a brass data plate on the top cover over the feed block reading, “Cartucho Mauser Argentino 1891” indicating the use of the 1891 Mauser cartridge. In 1909, Argentina adopted the new 7.65x53mm Spitzer round with the pointed bullet and flatter trajectory. All of Argentina’s Maxims were then sent back to DWM to be rebarreled for the new cartridge, have the long rear sight bar shortened to match the high-speed, flatter trajectory of the new cartridge, an optical sight bracket was attached to the left side of the receiver for attaching a commercially made 2x12 optical sight made by Carl Zeiss of Jena, Germany (that also fit the Swiss Maxim MG11), and provision was made also on the left side of the receiver for a removable shoulder brace made of steel and wood. The original brass cartridge data plate riveted to the top cover over the feed block had the “1891” milled out and “1909” engraved in its place to reflect the updates and change in cartridge use.

Though well equipped, Argentina did not participate in any major conflicts during the period that the Maxims were in their military inventory up to 1929. After that, they were given over to the police where they remained until 1959 when they were declared obsolete and sold.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that Maxim water jackets were made of steel rather than brass. While there were many brass-jacketed Maxims made and sold around the world in the 1880s and 1890s, very few made it into the U.S. at the time and of course can’t be imported in now. Thus, these early brass Maxims of any vintage or type are rare in the U.S. and highly desired by collectors. To our good fortune, Sam Cummings of Interarmco in Alexandria, Virginia was able to import 91 of the guns into the United States in 1960. Those that remained in Argentina were used to decorate various officers’ clubs, donated to museums or sold to Argentine collectors. Of the 91 guns imported into the U.S., 8 were exported, 28 ended up in government custody for museums, storage or destruction, and the remaining 55 are now mostly owned by collectors.

Maxim Operating System

The Maxim operating system used in the World Standard is the basic operating principle employed in all Maxim guns. The gunner inserts the tab of a loaded cartridge belt into the feed block from the right, pulling it to the left, until it is secured by the belt holding feed pawls. The gunner then manually pushes the crank handle forward and holds it there while pulling on the protruding end of the belt, then releases the crank handle to return to the rear under spring tension. This allows the extractor on the T-slot to grip the first round in the belt. The gun is now in the “half load” position. Rotating the crank handle forward again, pull the cartridge belt tab once more to the left and let the crank handle fly back under its spring tension. The gun in now loaded with a cartridge in the chamber and is ready to fire.

Upon pressing the trigger, that actuates the trigger bar releasing the sear; the firing pin is released and goes forward igniting the cartridge driving the bullet down the barrel. The barrel and the bolt are securely locked at this point. After recoiling three-quarters of an inch, the bolt is unlocked and the crank engages the unlocking cam, breaking the toggle joint and freeing the bolt. The recoiling forces are now able to accelerate the bolt assembly to the rear and rotate the crank. This winds the actuating chain, loading the extension-type driving spring while the recoiling mechanism completes its rearward stroke.

After unlocking of the bolt from the barrel, the sliding boltface (T-slot) begins simultaneous extraction of the empty case from the chamber and withdrawal of a loaded round from the belt. Continued rearward movement engages cams in the receiver to force the sliding boltface downward, bringing the loaded round in line with the chamber and the empty case in position for the ejection tube.

Also during recoil, a cam lever action moves the entire feed block slide to the right. The top feed pawls move over to engage the incoming round in the belt, at the same time compressing the barrel return spring. After completing its full recoil stroke, the forward action of the barrel and barrel extension returns the feed block slide to the left, bringing the next live round in the belt into position against the cartridge stops for engagement by the sliding T-slot.

The complete force of recoil having expended itself, the extended driving spring starts the movement of counter recoil. As the bolt moves forward, the cartridge to be fired is positioned for chambering. When this happens, the T-slot rises, “wipes” itself clear of the spent case and slips over the rim of the incoming round in the belt.

When the bolt has reached its extreme travel forward, the toggle joint is forced slightly below the horizontal by the connecting rod. At this securely locked position the sear is depressed and disengaged from the firing pin, removing the safety feature, so that continued pressure on the trigger permits full automatic fire.

What’s in a Name?

Question: Which of the following is the proper name for the Argentine brass Maxim?
Model of 1895;
Model of 1898,
Model of 1909.

Answer: None of the above.

It is common and convenient among collectors and other interested parties to refer to Maxims as relating to a “model” number based upon the year of manufacture that is typically stamped on the fusee spring cover as part of the manufacturer’s nomenclature. While this is actually quite helpful, this is in fact, technically, incorrect. While the military may designate a model number (German MG 08, Swiss MG 11, U.S. Model of 1904, etc., usually based upon the year of adoption for service), Maxim in England, and all the other licensed Maxim manufacturers, did not use model numbers for their commercial sales.

Maxim’s first guns dating from 1884 to 1887 were really hand-made prototype affairs. As sales increased during this time period, so did the learning curve experience in manufacturing techniques and methods, operational efficiencies, weight and material used to make his product better. Outgrowing his little shop in London due to increasing sales, Maxim merged with the Nordenfelt Gun Company, which greatly expanded his production capabilities and Maxim was able to then incorporate his improvements on a production line scale. Every bit the salesman he was, Maxim named his guns the World Standard in 1888 as a marketing tool to imply the epitome of firearm development in his sales presentations and literature. (The name World Standard was never marked on the guns themselves.) Thus, a Maxim produced after 1888 is properly called a World Standard with the year of manufacture being noted as an aside. As years progressed and further improvements were made in the lock, feed block, crank handle, etc., these advancements can fortunately be tracked as the production or contract years are duly noted on the guns. So while a gun produced in 1898 may have certain features not present on guns produced in 1895, they are both correctly just called World Standard. The same holds true for the 1909 date as that appears on the top cover brass plate on the Argentine contract guns. The year designation helps determine what improvements can be expected to be found on the gun. The shorthand for this in the collector’s world is to call it as a model number. All these dates properly place the weapon in a linear time line, and are convenient in noting the introduction of certain product improvements.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N1 (January 2015)
and was posted online on November 21, 2014


12-25-2014 7:46 PM

One more try

While Maxim Nordenfelt and later DWM did not designate “model” numbers, preferring to call the gun the World Standard, the same cannot correctly be said of the Argentine Army.

The “1909” stamped on the top cover plate clearly refers in context to the “Cartucho Argentino Mauser” cartridge for which the sights and feed bloc have been adapted, not to the gun itself.  However, at the time of their disposal in 1959 the Argentine Maxim guns were designated by the Argentine Army as the Ametralladora Maxim Modello M1911. This designation appears on several official documents tendering for sale 95 of these guns.  Ultimately 90 (not 91 as erroneously reported by Goldsmith in The Devil’s Paintbrush) were purchased and shipped to the USA by Samuel Cummings of Interarmco.  That designation appears also in the formal contract of sale.  The year 1911 seems anachronistic because it does not relate to any known later modification.  It is possible that 1911 is the year in which these guns were actually modified for the M1909 cartridge, or there may be some other explanation.

The absence of an official designation stamped on the gun itself is not so unusual.  The German designation “MG34”, a standard weapon widely used in WWII, does not appear anywhere on that model, either.

Michael Parker


Reply to this comment