The fight for Bakhmut in east Ukraine continues as Russian forces close in and Ukrainian soldiers repel them. In one fortified gun position, Bakhmut’s defenders are using a machine gun first invented almost 140 years ago. The Maxim gun, a belt fed machine gun, has become one of the reliable iconic weapons of the war.
“It only works when there is a massive attack going on…then it really works,” Borys, a soldier fighting for Ukraine, told the BBC. “So we use it every week”.
Ukraine has become a battlefield where advanced weaponry such as the IRIS-T air defense system and hypersonic missiles are being used for the first time. It’s a place where drones dominate the airspace and social media pages fill up with footage of every success and failure. But it’s also shown that older tactics and proven weapons can still be useful in a conflict as brutal and protracted as the war in Ukraine.
First invented in 1884, the Maxim Machine gun was the first fully automatic machine gun. The gatling gun predates it, but required someone to turn a crank to fire. The version of the Maxim that’s become popular in Ukraine is the M1910 model.
Maxims have been used in the Russo-Ukraine war nearly since the conflict began. Russia first invaded Ukraine with proxy forces in 2014 and the earliest footage of the weapon comes from a Ukrainian news network in 2016.
The M1910 Maxim was mass produced in Tsarist Russia. Its use has now outlived both the Tsar and Soviet communism. The antique weapon design is still popular because it’s easy to use, easily modified, and fires a standard 7.62x54mm cartridge that’s been used in Russia since 1891. It’s belt fed and water-cooled. A well-serviced Maxim can, theoretically, fire indefinitely without overheating so long as it’s fed both ammo and water.
That kind of reliability makes it a boon when a soldier is holding an entrenched position and fending off a heavy assault from infantry. That’s the position some of the Ukrainian defenders of Bakhmut currently find themselves in.
Soldiers in Ukraine are also heavily modifying the Maxim gun, making the 1910 model look and fire like a more modern weapon. The arms researcher Calibre Obscura surfaced a video of Ukrainian soldiers using a Maxim gun outfitted with modern optics, basic camouflage, a stock, and a suppressor. This is a weapon that typically sets in an entrenched position mounted on a heavy piece of steel. This modified version is a quieter, but not silent, burst fire weapon.
In another pair of videos pulled from TikTok, soldiers in Ukraine have attached four Maxim guns to a remote controlled rig that can spin 360 degrees. A video of a test fire showed a soldier aiming all four Maxim guns at once, each belt fed from ammunition canisters strapped to the rig.