The Madsen Machinegun. The First Light Machinegun Still Lives. Designed in 1896 in Denmark, the Madsen Light Machinegun has served dozens of countries in more than a hundred years of warfare from 1904 to the present day.
The Madsen Light Machinegun was developed in Denmark by Captain W. O. Madsen of the Danish artillery from an automatic rifle invented by Jens Schouboe and adopted by the Danish Naval Marines in 1896. Originally a sort of assault rifle, Schouboe’s rifle, the RekylkarbinenM/1896, was perfected into the final design as a light machine gun in 1902. It served with the Danish military for more than fifty years, only retiring in 1955. When Hitler’s Germany invaded the country on April 9, 1940 they fired to preserve Denmark’s honor in the Danish military’s hopeless one-day defense of their country. Ordered turned over to the Nazis these same weapons served Hitler throughout the Second World War. The odyssey of the Madsen Light Machine Gun however, is even more complex that this one chapter.
The Madsen Company early on won a large foreign contract to Denmark’s Baltic neighbor, Russia. Imperial Russia, rich with gold due to being a huge exporter of grain, but poor in industry, was forced to buy many of its most sophisticated weapons overseas. The Tsar, Nicholas II, was a son of a Danish princess, bought several items, including naval vessels and small arms from non-aligned Denmark. Bought in numbers by the Tsar for the military buildup in the Russian Far East, Madsen machineguns were used in 7.62x54r caliber by Russian Cossack light cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Russian madsens continued in active service and were seen often in World War One and in the subsequent Russian Civil War by dozens of end users. The new countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Poland, and Estonia, who emerged from the wreckage of that war, used captured stocks of those old Tsarist weapons into the opening stages of World War Two against both German and Soviet invaders.
Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Germany also bought a number of Madsens from Denmark, chambered in 8mm Mauser. These weapons served alongside overly complicated Mexican Monodragon rifles in early German scout planes and balloons in the aerial war in World War One. The airborne madsens were fitted to fire from belts instead of magazines. Germany also created the first light machine gun units, called Musketen Battalions, based on the Madsen in 1915. The Musketen Battalions carried as many as 150 of the weapons which provided an amazing suppressive fire capability. Latin America was a huge customer of the Madsen. Countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Ecuador bought the light machinegun in a multitude of calibers. They saw combat in the Chaco War (1932-1935) between Paraguay and Bolivia, and untold coups, insurgent operations and civil wars. Portugal used the weapon in their wars in their African colonies of Mozambique and Angola and left enough behind there to ensure that they pop up all over the continent. These Portugese weapons are also encountered in East Timor in use by insurgents.
When Denmark was liberated after World War II they began exporting the Madsen again and continued production of the slightly modified fifty year old weapon as late as 1957. The weapon was reborn briefly as the belt fed Madsen -Saetter in 1960 but had few customers due to its cost. The parent company, Dansk Industri Syndikat A.S. produced other weapons as late as the 1970s. There wares included the ubiquitous Madsen Light Machine gun, the Madsen model 50 submachine gun which was also very popular in Latin America and Africa, and a number of bolt action rifles that also saw service in such countries as Colombia and Bolivia. They are still to be encountered in trouble spots around the world. The fact that no spare parts have been made for these weapons in over fifty years attests to the machinegun’s reliability. The Madsen was recently pictured in use with the Brazilian military police during battles with drug gangs in 2007. This means in one form or another, this weapon has been used in the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries.