The Guns of Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front: How it Compares to Past Versions

The First World War has never gotten nearly the attention in movies as those depicting World War II. Yet, last month a remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front” was released on Netflix, following a brief theatrical run, and it has already been earning considerable Oscar buzz. Despite being vastly different from the original source material, Erich Maria Remarque’s book, the film has been a hit with many viewers.

In the first month of its release on Netflix, it already has a 92% score on the review website, along with a 90% audience score. It also received a Google Audience rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, and an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) score of 7.9/10, while even on Metacritic—which tends to have far lower scores for almost all movies and TV shows—it still had a rating of 75%. The overall perception of the film is even higher than that of “1917” which was liked by 90% of Google users and had an 8.2/10 rating on IMDb, along with an 89% score on RottenTomatoes.

scene from the Netflix movie All Quiet on the Western Front
Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front has been a hit with audiences, but not with history buffs.

Yet, it should be noted that history buffs, and especially those with an interest in the First World War and the small arms used in the conflict, have been far more critical. In fact, among the military collectible community, the film has been widely panned. It differs greatly from the original source material, skips a crucial training sequence and with it any crucial character development, and offers fairly inaccurate depictions of the German military at that stage of the conflict.

In fact, the only thing that most firearms collectors and history buffs can generally agree upon is that the depiction of the small arms used in the war is quite good. It still remains impossible not to compare the Netflix version to the 2 prior attempts to bring Remarque’s book to life, and more importantly to determine how the firearms on the Western Front stack up to those films.

It should be noted that there are really only 2 categories to consider, rifles and machine guns, as handguns are only briefly seen and hand grenades seem generally the same.

Zeroing on the German Rifles

Even as the First World War saw the use of a variety of small arms, most soldiers—especially those serving in the trenches at the frontlines—would have been issued with a bolt-action rifle. The standard infantry rifle of the German Army was the Mauser Gewehr 1898 (Gew 98).

The 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” accurately shows most of the characters with this rifle, while some in the background can also be seen with the Mauser 98AZ artillery carbine. Others are seen with the anachronistic Karabiner 98Ks, likely standing in for the artillery carbine.

German soldiers with Gew 98
The Mauser Gewehr 1898 is correctly seen in the Netflix version of the film.

The original 1930 version of the film, which starred Lew Ayres, was noted for using surplus German equipment from the actual conflict. The film also correctly depicts most German soldiers with the Gew 98. By contrast, however, the 1979 TV version, starring Richard Thomas, was forced to have the Turkish Model 1903 Mauser stand in for the German rifle. The main difference is the lack of Langes Visier rear sight finger groves, a feature that most viewers wouldn’t catch—but it was among a number of other inaccuracies with the uniforms and equipment in this remake.

1930 version of All Quiet, soldier carrying Gew 98 bolt-action rifle
This still image from the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front could be easily mistaken for a photo from the actual conflict. The soldier is correctly equipped and armed with the Gew 98 bolt-action rifle.
soldier carryinig a Turkish Model 1903 Mauser in All Quiet on the Western Front
Most viewers likely didn’t know this was a Turkish Model 1903 Mauser carried in the TV movie version.

Impressive French Rifles

The French Army appears in all 3 versions of the film, but the choice of rifle carried by the extras on screen differs somewhat. The original 1930s version saw the French soldiers armed with the Berthier Mle 1907/15, which was designed prior to the war to replace the aging Model 1886 Lebel rifle. Interestingly, the French sought to improve the slow reloading of the Lebel by introducing an en bloc magazine system. However, as originally designed it held just 3 rounds, which resulted in nearly constant reloading during most firefights. It was only improved with a version that could hold 5 rounds at the end of the war. The same basic Berthier can also be seen carried by a number of French soldiers in the most recent version of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Berthier Mle 1907/15 in movie
The French soldiers carried the Berthier Mle 1907/15 in the original 1930 film version. It also appears the French soldier has his helmet on backward!

By contrast, the 1979 film saw the French equipped with the aforementioned Lebel. Both rifles were used throughout the war so neither should be considered incorrect.

German MG08s in All 3 Takes

World War I is remembered for being the first conflict to see the widespread use of machine guns, which proved to be a key factor in the unbreakable trench lines as attackers had to cross across “no-man’s-land” while taking fire from these heavy weapons. The standard German machine gun of the First World War was the Maxim MG08, an improved version of the Maxim machine gun.

It was noted for being typically mounted on a heavy sled mount that required a crew of 4 to move.

The original 1930 version features a number of MG08 machine guns on screen, which likely had been used in the actual conflict. These are properly depicted as being serviced by a crew of at least 3 with a gunner, a loader, and another assistant helping maintain a steady rate of fire.

German MG08 crew
A crew of 3 German soldiers is seen firing an MG08 in the original “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

This was not actually the first depiction of the M08 however, as it had previously appeared in the films “Heart of the World,” “The Big Parade,” and “Four Sons.” What is also impressive with this film is that in 1 scene a German soldier was depicted carrying the more portable MG08/15. It was designed with a pistol grip and meant to offer more mobile fire for an assault: despite still weighing some 60 pounds!

While an MG08 is seen in the 1979 version of the film in an abandoned defensive position, when the gun was seen in a combat sequence it was believed to be a modified Czechoslovakian ZB-53/Vz. 37 heavy machine gun.

The correct MG08 is present in a number of scenes in the recent Netflix adaptation and seems to be used by the French Army in 1 scene near the end of the film. No explanation is given for why the French soldiers are using this weapon, and it is likely the same prop gun used in the German trenches. It would have been unlikely—but not impossible—that the French would have employed the weapon. It was far more common for Germany to rely on captured French small arms at that stage in the war.

Various French and One British MG

The French Army’s primary machine gun of the latter half of the war was the Hotchkiss M1914, replacing the unreliable St. Étienne Mle 1907. It was based on the gas-actuated Hotchkiss system that was first formulated in 1893 by Odkolek von Ujezda and improved into its final form by Hotchkiss armament engineers. The Hotchkiss M1914 correctly appears as the support weapon on the French Saint-Chamond tanks in the Netflix release. This marks the only time these tanks have appeared in a film—even as they aren’t present in the book or previous film versions. As only a single Saint-Chamond tank survives today and is on display in a French museum, the tanks were mock-ups built on surplus Russian BMP armored personnel carriers (APCs).

The Hotchkiss M1914 on Saint-Chamond Tank
The Hotchkiss M1914 is correctly depicted as the secondary armament on the French Saint-Chamond tanks in the recent” All Quiet on the Western Front.”

The 1979 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” depicts the French with a single Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun, 1 of the first successful light machine guns.  It is noteworthy that this is also 1 of the few appearances of this particular machine gun in a film.

Where the 1930 film comes up a bit short is in depicting the French with the British Vickers machine gun. Though not impossible given that the French and British were allies, it would have been highly unlikely that such a weapon would have been at the frontlines. An aircraft version of the Vickers was produced in 8mm Lebel, but few if any were manufactured for ground use in that caliber.

Vickers machine gun
The only inaccurate weapon in the 1930 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the British Vickers machine gun, which likely wouldn’t have been used by the French Army.


In terms of overall presentation, the 1930 film is still hard to beat. It may lack some of the modern production values of the Netflix version, but it has the most accurate equipment—again likely due to the fact that much of it was military surplus. It is also the account most faithful to the source material. Yet, all 3 films do offer some nice eye candy for military firearms enthusiasts.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based freelance writer who regularly covers firearms related topics and military history. As a reporter, his work has appeared in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and websites. Among those are The National Interest, Forbes, and many others. He has collected military small arms and military helmets most of his life, and just recently navigated his first NFA transfer to buy his first machine gun. He is co-author of the book A Gallery of Military Headdress, which was published in February 2019. It is his third book on the topic of military hats and helmets.

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