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Remembered Today:

"Automatic Pistol"


NigelS

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I have posted on this in others threads, but so far haven't had any takers as to what an "automatic pistol" is in the context it's been used in in this December '14 extract from "The History of the London Rifle Brigade 1859 - 1919" when its 1st Battalion was at Ploegsteert:

"Anyhow the matter was essentially a question of paying proper respect to the dead, and not a shot was fired after Xmas Day until a message was received on New Years Eve, that "The automatic pistol would recommence firing at midnight." It did but the shots were purposely aimed high, and gossip said that the adjutant, who was going up through the wood, was very nearly hit.

I'd previously wondered if this was to do with an automatically triggered, fixed pistol but a letter, also from the ploegsteert area at around the same time (SUMMARY OF INFORMATION. dated 28th December, 1914.), that was posted on this thread by Pal RJP recently:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...t&p=1043739

also mentions the "automatic pistol" and indicates another possibility as to what the "automatic pistol" actually was:

The following message was sent by the Saxons to the Hampshire’s:-

"Gentlemen. Our automatic pistol has been ordered from the Colonel to begin the fire again at midnight, we

take it an honour to award you of this fact."

Both the LRB History and RJP's letter from WW Pitt-Taylor, are probably referring to the same communication from the "Saxons" with the latter possibly indicating that the "automatic pistol" might have been a signalling device (very pistol?) used to indicate the recommencement of hostilities, and that the use of "automatic" is an error in the Saxons' English used in the communication, or in the translation of it into English (depending, of course, in which language it was originally written!), with the LRB reference to "but the shots were purposely aimed high" meaning that individual German soldiers were deliberately aiming high rather than it being anything to do with shots from an "automatic pistol".

Any thoughts on this one gratfully received, as it has continued to puzzle me ever since I first read about it in the LRB History.

NigelS

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Isn't it more likely that its 'pistol' that has been mistranslated.

I have no idea how the Saxon or German (if there is any variations or difference) for machine gun translates but that makes more sense.

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Isn't it more likely that its 'pistol' that has been mistranslated.

Yes, I like that. Substituting "machine guns" (I think more than one weapon may have been involved, somehow!) would certainly make more sense. However, taking it a step further, maybe pistol was used (or translated) in error for a more general term such as weapons, ie what the Saxons were actually intending to say was possibly something along the lines of:

Gentlemen, our weapons will automatically recommence firing at midnight ....

Without a sight of the actual document sent (unlikely) - It may be mentioned in war diaries, but the text in those, I would suspect, is likely to be very similar to the examples already quoted - or other evidence to the contrary, that's possibly the best explanation.

NigelS

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It's not clear which side the translation as 'automatic pistol' came from, but it seems most likely from the context that it is a mis-translation of 'Maschinengewehr' = 'machine gun' – especially given the RH reference to 'the shots were purposely aimed high', which does not sound like any kind of artillery. The editor of the RH would have known that 'automatic pistol' was not correct, so I think he has probably quoted the message as received, written in a form of English, from the Saxons. As such, there probably never was an 'original document' in German. I'm slightly surprised that there was apparently a German unit that didn't know the English term 'machine gun', but can't think, off hand, of any other German word that could be massaged into 'automatic pistol'.

Mick

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Not sure about that plural. In the bit that Nigel quotes

December '14 extract from "The History of the London Rifle Brigade 1859 - 1919" when its 1st Battalion was at Ploegsteert:

"Anyhow the matter was essentially a question of paying proper respect to the dead, and not a shot was fired after Xmas Day until a message was received on New Years Eve, that "The automatic pistol would recommence firing at midnight." It did but the shots were purposely aimed high, and gossip said that the adjutant, who was going up through the wood, was very nearly hit.

You'll note it says It did not they did.

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I think the author of that passage is using 'It' simply to agree with the singular 'automatic pistol', which he knows full well is incorrect, certainly in translation and probably in number as well. He is 'playing along' with the wording of the Saxon message.

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I think the author of that passage is using 'It' simply to agree with the singular 'automatic pistol', which he knows full well is incorrect, certainly in translation and probably in number as well. He is 'playing along' with the wording of the Saxon message.

Why on earth would he want to do that?

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Here as so often, the simplest answer is the right one. Generally speaking I agree with Siege Gunner, but am not surprised nobody knew the English for MG because this was probably a communication by the ordinary ranks without the knowledge of officers. They probably didn't know the English for MG, but they knew it is an automatic weapon, and they knew the word pistol, which is similar to the German, but not the word gun, which is not, so they came up with the best approximation they could. They can't possibly have meant a pistol as nobody would have bothered sending a message about something as minor as that, ergo a machine gun was meant, and this was understood by our men.

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Thanks for the comments so far. My thinking was that, as both the Hampshires (RJPs letter of WW Pitt-Taylor) and the LRB (history of the LRB) mentioned the message, that it might have related to more than one battalion and to a wide area of the front at Ploegsteert; however, I've just looked at the History of the LRB again, and going back another page, realised that I'd forgotten that the LRB was not in line as a full battalion at that time:

On 23rd December each company was attached to one of the regular battalions, No. 1 to E. Lancs; No. 2 to the Somersets; No. 3 to the Hants, and No.4 to the Rifle Brigade. The system was to have two companies in the line; one in support just behind; one resting in billets in Ploegsteert; and one washing in Armentieres.

This perhaps clarifies the Saxons' warning in that it was most likely to have bee localised to the Hants battalion (with No. 3 Co. LRB attached) alone, and it is therefore far more likely that It,with just a single MG involved, is correct (assuming that "Automatic Pistol" did = MG) .

NigelS

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The Saxons appear to have been enthusiastic proponents of live and let live, in the book of the same title Ian Beth Hay (the playwright, producer and sometime co author with PG Wodehouse) is quoted on his arrival at the front "No one was hit, which is remarkable when you consider what an artist the German sniper is ...possibly there is some truth in the rumour that the Saxons who hold this part of the line conduct their offensive operations with a tactful blend of constant firing and bad shooting which whilst it satisfies the Prussian caused no inconvenience to Thomas Atkins." On another occasion a message was received from the Saxons to the effect that an inspection by the High Command was taking place the next day and so they would have to lay down a machine gun barrage but not to worry as it would be aimed high. The barrage duly took place aimed well over the top of the British line.

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On another occasion a message was received from the Saxons to the effect that an inspection by the High Command was taking place the next day and so they would have to lay down a machine gun barrage but not to worry as it would be aimed high. The barrage duly took place aimed well over the top of the British line.

The inspection wasn't by any chance on New Year's day 1915, was it? :rolleyes:

NigelS

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On another occasion a message was received from the Saxons to the effect that an inspection by the High Command was taking place the next day and so they would have to lay down a machine gun barrage but not to worry as it would be aimed high. The barrage duly took place aimed well over the top of the British line.

So nothing for men in the British rear area to worry about, then ...

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