Eighty years ago, Europe was in the midst of the Great War. World War I, this "war to end all wars" only succeeded in burying the flower of French, German, British, and American youth in the fields of Flanders, Ypres, the Somme, and Verdun, to name but a few. The humiliation of the Germans at Versailles, in large part, set the stage for the appearance of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists in the 1930's and for World War II in the 1940's.

In the trench warfare of World War I, the machine gun came into its own as a reliable weapon of war. The museum has a representative example on display. It is a German Maxim MG 08/15, manufactured in Berlin in 1918. Measuring almost four feet overall, it weighs in at around fifty pounds. Much of its weight is due to a large metal water jacket that surrounds the barrel and cools it. Crew-serviced heavy machine guns of this type were intended to be used in fixed emplacements and on vehicles, where their bulk was not a disadvantage in tactical operations. Typically, a gunner actually fired the weapon while an assistant gunner changed ammunition belts and fed them into the mechanism, insuring that there was no jamming.

As impressive as a fusillade of 7.62mm rounds was to those on the receiving end, bulky weapons such as this were still vulnerable to determined attacks. Sergeant York, hero of the American 82nd Division, attacked such an entrenched position from the flanks using only a bolt-action rifle! He killed or captured an entire German battalion before they could bring their heavy machine guns to bear on him. He emphasizes what bravery and clever tactics can accomplish, even in the face of massed firepower.

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #16

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998