The Maschinengewehr 08, or MG08, was the German Army's standard machine gun in World War I and is an almost direct copy of Hiram S. Maxim's original 1884 Maxim Gun. It was produced in a number of variants during the war. The MG 08 remained in service until the outbreak of World War II due to a shortage of its successor, the MG34. It was retired from front-line service by 1942.
The Maschinengewehr 08 (or MG08)—so-named after 1908, its year of adoption—was a development of the license made Maschinengewehr 01. It could reach a firing rate of up to 400 rounds per minute using 250-round fabric belts of 7.92 mm ammunition, although sustained firing would lead to over-heating; it was water-cooled using a jacket around the barrel that held approximately one gallon. Using a separate attachment sight with range calculator for indirect fire, the MG08 could be operated from cover. Additional telescopic sights were also developed and used in quantity during the war.
The MG08, like the Maxim Gun, operated on the basis of short barrel recoil and a toggle lock; once cocked and fired the MG08 would continue firing rounds until the trigger was released (or until all available ammunition was expended). Its practical range was estimated at some 2,000 meters (2,200 yards) up to an extreme range of 3,600 meters (4,000 yards). The MG08 was mounted on a sled mount (Schlitten) that was ferried between locations either on carts or else carried above men's shoulders in the manner of a stretcher.
Pre-war production was by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) in Berlin and the government arsenal at Spandau (so that the gun was often referred to as a Spandau MG08). When the war began in August 1914, approximately 12,000 MG08s were available to battlefield units; production, at numerous factories, was however markedly ramped up during wartime. In 1914 some 200 MG08s were produced each month; by 1916—once the weapon had established itself as the pre-eminent defensive battlefield weapon—the number had increased to 3,000; and a year later to 14,400 per month.