In 1884 Hiram Maxim invented the world's first automatic portable machine-gun. Maxim used the energy of each bullet's recoil force to eject the spent cartridge, insert the next and fire it. The machine-gun would therefore fire until the entire belt of bullets was used up.
The Maxim Gun was adopted by the British Army in 1889. It was first used by Britain`s colonial forces in the Matabele war in 1893-94. In one engagement, fifty police of the Rhodesian character company fought off 5,000 Matabele warriors with just four Maxim guns. The design was taken over by the Vickers Company and was used by the army for over seventy years.
The Maxim Gun could fire 400-600 rounds of small-calibre ammunition per minute. Each gun had the firepower of about 100 rifles. The German Army's Maschinengewehr and the Russian Pulemyot Maxima were both based on the same design. The American Army tended to use the Browning Machine-Gun whereas the French Army preferred the Hotchkiss.
Machine-guns were positioned all along the Western Front. The machine-guns in use in 1914 required a crew of three to six men and were positioned on a flat trajectory tripod. For added protection, German machine-guns were often housed inside concrete blockhouses.
Both sides also used smaller machine-gun posts. Germans built them in large numbers all along the line at Ypres and Messines. Machine-gunners were deeply hated by the infantry and they were more likely to be killed when captured than other soldiers.