Ukrainian troops use 19th century machine gun to repel Russians in Bakhmut

A Maxim machine gun at a Ukrainian firing point - BBC Screengrab
A Maxim machine gun at a Ukrainian firing point - BBC Screengrab

Ukrainian troops are using a machine gun first deployed in the 19th century as they fight back “human waves” of Russian troops on the front lines of Bakhmut.

Soldiers in bunkers are firing Maxim machine guns, more usually associated with the colonial era and the First World War, amid shortages of modern weaponry.

The Maxim has “120 years of history killing Russians,” a soldier manning a firing position told the BBC, adding: “It’s a weapon from the First World War being used in the Third World War.”

The Maxim, a recoil-operated machine gun, was invented in 1884 by Hiram Stevens Maxim. It is credited as being the first fully automatic machine gun in the world.

Firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute, it has to be water-cooled, adding considerable weight. It is, however, able to sustain its rate of fire far longer than air-cooled guns.

Vladislav, 27, told The Telegraph: “I have seen Maxim machine guns in stationary positions many times.  Despite their age, it is a rather formidable weapon, the main thing is not to forget to add some water.

“The only drawback is its weight, but it shows itself stoically in constant firing. The Maxim is a fairly effective weapon in capable hands. It needs care so that it does not wedge, and works as smoothly as a clock.”

On Friday, the British Defence Intelligence department of the Ministry of Defence, said that in recent days Russian troops and fighters with the Wagner mercenary group have obtained footholds west of the Bakhmutka River in the centre of Bakhmut.

In recent weeks, the river has marked the front line as Russian and Ukrainian forces clash over the Donbas city, with Ukrainian forces continuing to defend its west.

Russian sources say the fighting in Bakhmut has reached an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city, close to the final supply route for Ukrainian troops.

“Wagner fighters are pushing the enemy simultaneously in the northern and southern parts of the city,” Rybar, an authoritative Russian military blogger, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Street battles are taking place in the industrial zone and near the industrial college.”

The industrial college sits close to the highway between Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar, considered the last Ukrainian-held road in and out of the besieged city.

If Russian forces seize control of the road, the remaining Ukrainian troops inside Bakhmut could become encircled and cut off from crucial supplies or an escape route. The Telegraph could not immediately verify the claims.

More broadly across the front line, Russian attacks have slowed to their lowest levels for weeks, likely to be because of shortages of ammunition, manpower and equipment.

On Wednesday Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian forces in the south of the country around Kherson, said daily Russian ground attacks had decreased from around 100 to around 30. In the Bakhmut region, Ukraine estimates that for every soldier it loses the Russians have seven killed.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, met top military advisers this week and decided to continue supporting the defence of the city, despite the high casualty rate.

Kyiv is seeking to buy time to build up a “combined arms” force of tanks, infantry and other military capabilities, so as to be better able to conduct a counter-offensive once the ground dries out.

Nazar, 29, a soldier in the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, told The Telegraph: “I am still fighting where I was weeks ago. There are dead and wounded, and everything is as usual. Nothing changes. They attack, we defend ourselves. We are trapped in swamps, shelling, death.

“The fact is that everywhere everything is according to the book, there are no such heroic feats as there were before. We are on the defensive while people are dying.”