The German Machine Gun Badge
by Chris William
One of the more significant evolutions in warfare that caused major havoc — on both sides — during the Great War of 1914-1918 was the introduction of the heavy machine gun.
Early automatic-type weapons, such as the Gatling Gun, were used in various conflicts as early as the 1860s. The improvements in speed, operation, mobility and manufacture made the advanced, fully automatic weapons of WWI more numerous and devastating then their predecessors.
The Maschinengewehr 08 (“MG 08”— adopted in 1908) was the standard weapon used by the German Army during WWI. This version traced its roots to Hiram Maxim’s 1884 Maxim gun, first introduced to the German armed forces in 1887 and later modified and produced at the German armory in Spandau.
At 400 to 600 rounds per minute, the water-cooled MG 08 could spread an intense layer of carnage over the battlefield, stopping dead the advances of most enemy troops. But, with overheating, mechanical wear, and a 250-round belt, the conservation of ammunition (German commanders estimated that 90% of their small arms ammunition was consumed by machine gun units during battle) made accuracy an important factor rather than laying down a random blanket of fire.
Hand-picked German soldiers were formed into elite machine gun units that were trained in precision firing of the heavy guns from strategic battlefield locations. Members of the MG-Scharfschuetzen (machine gun sharpshooters) who mastered these techniques were awarded a proficiency badge, first authorized in January 1916. The badges were produced in either an embroidered cloth version or a metal one with cloth backing.
Either version was to be worn on the upper left sleeves of NCOs or officers. Both versions took the form of a 70 mm x 45 mm oval circle of machine gun cartridges surrounding the profile of an MG 08 mounted on a Schlittenlafette (sled mount). The stamped metal pieces were produced in a cut out design mounted to a swatch of field gray material.
On the reverse was an oval mounting plate secured with 6 heavy folded pins. The mounting plate often contained the manufacture’s name and city location stamped into its center. The wool material overlapped the outer metal ring, allowing the badge to be sewn securely to the uniform sleeve.
Though the German armed forces up until used the MG 08 through the end of WWII, the Machine Gunner’s Badge disappeared from use after WWI. Examples of these somewhat rare badges are becoming difficult to find in today’s’ market, with pricing ranging from $275 to $450 for original examples.