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Crunchy

Use of Indirect Machine Gun Fire

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Crunchy

Does anyone have any sources as to when the BEF first used machine guns in the indirect fire role, and sources that show who actually developed the technique.?

Cheers

Chris

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Crunchy

Thank you for the link ForiegnGong. Some good information there on the the techniques associated with indirect fire

My interest lies more in when it was first employed using machine guns. An article written by Paul Cornish states say it was being employed 1915 by the CEF and BEF. I am looking for sources to confirm when this occurred and who first employed it - probably looking for a needle in a haystack.

Thanks again.

Best wishes

Chris

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WhiteStarLine

Post #15 of http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=179507&hl=+machine%20+gun%20+indirect%20+fire#entry1745886 says "The first recorded use of a machine gun barrage (indirect fire) in WW1 is by the guns of the 33rd division on 24th August 1916 at High Wood. On that occasion the range was estimated as 2,000 yards. However Sir Ian Hamilton reported the same techniques being used by both Russian and Japanese machine gunners in Manchuria in 1904."

Australia's Sapper Dadswell wrote about being caught in one of these barrages in October 1917, with rounds landing vertically. Lying down made him a bigger target. Diary of a Sapper, Chapter 7 page 3. Sapper Henry Dadswell, published by the family in August 2010. I'm sure someone will come up shortly with an earlier cited reference.

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Crunchy

Hi WhiteStarLine,

Many thanks for your reply. Much appreciated.

Best wishes

Chris

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Staffsyeoman

I would question that the first barrage was on the Somme at that date, as one of the source is Graham Seton-Hutchison, then OC 100 Coy MGC later CO 33rd Bn MGC in the same division. And he was wont to make such claims for his unit (he also stated after the war that 'his' machine gunners were the most highly decorated unit in the MGC. They weren't. Not by much, but they weren't. He did have some justification for his claim that they fired the first 'million round shoot' - again on the Somme at High Wood.

There was an ill-tempered argument between Raymond Brutinel and the British authorities (there was a tense correspondence with Lindsay) as Brutinel felt that he - having raised an MG unit at his own expense in Canada at the war's outbreak and was later the Canadian Corps Machine Gun Officer - was the true innovator. There is much on this in Paddy Griffiths' 'Battle Tactics of the Western Front' - Griffiths says there were 'near-barrages' in 1916.

Also see John English's 'The Canadian Army in the Normandy Campaign' with his chapter 'The Canadian Army and the British mold [sic]' . (p.33. Fn 21]

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MikeMeech

There was an ill-tempered argument between Raymond Brutinel and the British authorities (there was a tense correspondence with Lindsay) as Brutinel felt that he - having raised an MG unit at his own expense in Canada at the war's outbreak and was later the Canadian Corps Machine Gun Officer - was the true innovator. There is much on this in Paddy Griffiths' 'Battle Tactics of the Western Front' - Griffiths says there were 'near-barrages' in 1916.

Hi All

Interestingly Paddy Griffith on page 53 of 'Battle Tactics of the Western Front' also states that:

"The first creeping barrage and the first machine gun barrage were fired" in 1915, he appears to be indicating it was at Loos. So confirmation is needed on that.

Mike

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centurion

Prideaux (my source for the first MG barrage on 24 Aug 1916 at High Wood) states that the technique as used by the British Army was developed by the Machine Gun Corps and, if I interpret what he is saying correctly, at Grantham in early 1916. He mentions the use of the machine gun at Loos but not an Mg barrage. In fact he is very critical of the poor use of Mg fire to support the British attack at Loos and a failure to clear the rear area where the German Mgs were located. He describes how a barrage was later used in other battles to do just this. He was a serving machine gun officer in WW1.

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Staffsyeoman

Well, that was the source of the tension between Lindsay and Brutinel - the originators. I no longer have access to the Lindsay papers but the debate was quite ill-tempered. For my money it could have been a splitting of hairs on terminology, such as a mass shoot not quite being a barrage, but it seems to have been resolved in some way as there were demonstrations of co-ordinated barrages at the Machine Gun School in France to senior officers in spring 1917.

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centurion

A Machine gun barrage seems to be used to mean groups of Mg engaging in indirect fire (individual guns could also be sighted for indirect fire especially at night to provide emergence cover but this wasn't a barrage) It does not appear to have simply meant a lot of guns all firing together.

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Richard Fisher

I've been through a number of manuals relating to the Vickers (and some covering the Maxim as well) and the earliest I can find is the Machine Gunners' Handbook (5th Edition) which does cover the use of indirect fire by Machine Guns. This was published in 1914 so pre-dating the above information. It does not cover 'barrage' fire which I interpret as the cumulative use of indirect fire, but I will continue to search references for that.

The 8th Edition (Nov, 1915) includes specific calculations and formulae for the management of overhead fire.

Regards

Richard

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Richard Fisher

The first use of the term 'barrage fire' in commercial manuals is the 11th Edition of the Machine Gunners' Handbook series (January, 1917). It appears, in a lot of detail, in later manuals, both official and commercial.

Richard

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centurion

These instructions for an Mg barrage indicate the degree of planning, cooperation and preparation needed.

"A machine gun barrage requires much pre-arrangement. It must be made to conform with the artillery barrage, to cover ground unswept by shell fire. The ground must be surveyed. Air photographs must be studied. The barrage line must then be plotted on the map. Gun positions must be sited on the map, from which objectives can be mathematically obtained. The ground must be reconnoitred to find gun positions corresponding with those plotted on the map, with the necessary concealment, fields of fire etc. Barrage lines have to be worked out for each group of guns and for each gun in detail. Aiming marks have to be provided both for day and night firing. These are fixed in the ground a few yards in front of the gun position, and marked with luminous paint. Ammunition has to be transported to gun positions. Tracks to and from must then be obliterated to avoid aerial observation. Water supply for cooling purposes has to be provided. In addition to all this, the guns must be prepared to engage and throw back the enemy by direct fire in the case of a strong counter attack or to move forward when the assault has proved successful."

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Crunchy

Thank you to all who have replied to my query. It is very much appreciated.

To put my request in perspective, I am doing some research on the development of machine gun tactics, and believe, contrary to popular opinion, the British, among others, were leaders in the use of machine guns, and in the development of machine gun tactics, rather than playing catch up. My research to date indicates they purchased the Maxim gun in 1889, and first used it in the Matabele War of 1893, the Chitral expedition (1895) and the Sudan War and were discussing and developing machine gun tactics before 1900. The real spurt on developing doctrine prior to the Great War came after the Russo-Japanese War.

The issue of who first introduced indirect fire has been raised in another discussion - the claim being it was the Canadians which Staffsyeoman refers to - although that discussion is related to the Great War. It seems to me that the dvelopment of machine gun tactics was an evolutionary process with a good deal of cross pollination of ideas from all forces, and that the British contributed to this.

Interestingly according to Eric Dorn Brose The Kaiser's Army the German's, by contrast, reluctantly purchased the Maxim at the Kaiser's insistence in 1895 for testing, but they "gathered dust" until given to the Jager battalions in 1898. By the Russo-Japanese War there were only 16 machine gun detachments in the German Army. It was this conflict that changed German attitudes and they then began introducing the machine gun company into their infantry regiments around 1908-09. They did, however, start producing machine doctrine in 1901 and Balk's Taktics 1904 edition discusses the use of machine guns. Antulio J. Echevarria II After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers Before the Great War states the Germans became interested in machine guns in 1899 and created 16 machine gun detachments by 1904. He is vague on when machine gun companies were introduced as a standard component of all infantry regiments. He does mention that in Britain " Using machine guns in an indirect-fire mode to cover the infantry's advance was also encouraged after its successful execution in the Russo-Japanese War."

Richard - I will PM you regarding the Machine Gunners Handbook (5th Edition).

Again, many thanks to all who have replied to date

Best wishes

Chris

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bill24chev

I've been through a number of manuals relating to the Vickers (and some covering the Maxim as well) and the earliest I can find is the Machine Gunners' Handbook (5th Edition) which does cover the use of indirect fire by Machine Guns. This was published in 1914 so pre-dating the above information. It does not cover 'barrage' fire which I interpret as the cumulative use of indirect fire, but I will continue to search references for that.

The 8th Edition (Nov, 1915) includes specific calculations and formulae for the management of overhead fire.

Regards

Richard

In 1914 the machine gun was used in a section of two guns within a infantry battalion. A barrage would as Centurion stated require co-ordination of a number of guns and their logistics and positioning.

As i understand it in 1914 the guns remained under battalion control but could and would be used by battalions in a supporting position to support the forward battalions of a brigade as for example occurred on the extreme right flank of II Corps at Mons.

On the other hand the two Mons VC's gained by Lt, Dease and Pte. Godley involved a single gun covering a bridge.

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green_acorn

Chris,

The British also translated a report on Austro-Hungarian MG trials pre-war, N&MP do a reprint of it. I haven't yet unpacked all my books as I don't have more bookcases, but will have a look for you. There was also a NZ'er who was in-charge of a MG detachment with the NZ&A Division who employed Indirect Fire on Gallipoli, the need for a defilade position being the obvious impetus. One of our Aussie GWF Pals was writing something on it, I believe for Sabretache. But as we know the BEF and MEF often came up with things about the same time, but communication and cross-pollination wasn't strong, understandable given the circumstances and communications systems of the time.

Cheers,

Hendo

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Richard Fisher

In 1914 the machine gun was used in a section of two guns within a infantry battalion. A barrage would as Centurion stated require co-ordination of a number of guns and their logistics and positioning.

As i understand it in 1914 the guns remained under battalion control but could and would be used by battalions in a supporting position to support the forward battalions of a brigade as for example occurred on the extreme right flank of II Corps at Mons.

On the other hand the two Mons VC's gained by Lt, Dease and Pte. Godley involved a single gun covering a bridge.

The introduction of the discussion of barrage and indirect fire does also include the introduction of the Brigade Machine Gun Officer to co-ordinate the drawing together of Machine Gun resources from across the Brigade to provide centralised support to Brigade tasks. This was prior to the formal brigading within Machine Gun Companies and the introduction of the Machine Gun Corps. Some Divisions went a step further and formally created Brigade Machine Gun Companies and these then developed into the transfer of the personnel into the Machine Gun Corps (albeit not all).

A further point to note is that the establishment of Machine Guns within an Infantry Battalion increased to four in February, 1915, and this provided greater opportunity for indirect fire to be effective.

Regards

Richard

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MikeMeech

Chris,

The British also translated a report on Austro-Hungarian MG trials pre-war, N&MP do a reprint of it. I haven't yet unpacked all my books as I don't have more bookcases, but will have a look for you. There was also a NZ'er who was in-charge of a MG detachment with the NZ&A Division who employed Indirect Fire on Gallipoli, the need for a defilade position being the obvious impetus. One of our Aussie GWF Pals was writing something on it, I believe for Sabretache. But as we know the BEF and MEF often came up with things about the same time, but communication and cross-pollination wasn't strong, understandable given the circumstances and communications systems of the time.

Cheers,

Hendo

Hi All

A bit 'off topic' but relating to the comment on 'communication and cross-pollination' between Theatres as 'wasn't strong'. Personnally documents I have worked on in the National Archives doesn't show this, I know I am working on a small sample but they are no way exceptional so I do not see why other correspondence should be any different. The work I have done is on the 'message pick-up hook' that was developed in the Middle-East

In the 1916 documentation there is a letter from HQ RFC in France to its Brigades dated 27/10/16. This contains a letter from the Egypt to London on the pick-up hook, in this it mentions a cablegram sent to London on 23/10/16. So inbetween the 23rd and the 27th of that month the letter had arrived in London, had been copied and sent to HQ RFC in France and then sent to the Brigades, I don't think that is very slow.

In the 1918 documentation on this subject (the improved message hook) a letter was sent direct to HQ RAF in France from Egypt (Salmond to Salmond) dated 8/5/18 and referred to experiments and use of the hook between March and May 1918. On the 5/6/18 HQ RAF sent a letter to 6 Sqn, with all the documents sent by the Middle East attached, to enable them to carry out experiments in French conditions. Again I do not see this as very slow.

Also we can also see in the documentation reference Contact Patrol instructions in the Middle East in 1917 that it follows current practice in many ways to that on the Western Front, including using the same wording in the instructions. So it appears from this that there was no hindrance to cross-pollination of ideas from different Theatres and I am not sure why there should have been on machine-gun use. So I am not convinced there was until I see some explanation of it, communication does not appear to be a problem in this case.

Mike

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green_acorn

MikeMeech,

I acknowledge that cross-pollination and communications became better by the time of the EEF, I was more referring to the period in 1915, when there was much turmoil, and the circumstances of the MEF Gallipoli.

Cheers,

Hendo

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green_acorn

Bill24chev,

Without dragging Crunchy's thread too far of track. I think you will find the term in 1914/15 was "Harassing Fire" rather than "Barrage Fire", partly for the reasons you and Centurion have mentioned. I don't know but I would also suspect that the concept and mechanics of MG's barrages probably developed in parallel to artillery barrages.

Cheers,

Hendo

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centurion

Chris,

The British also translated a report on Austro-Hungarian MG trials pre-war, N&MP do a reprint of it. I haven't yet unpacked all my books as I don't have more bookcases, but will have a look for you. There was also a NZ'er who was in-charge of a MG detachment with the NZ&A Division who employed Indirect Fire on Gallipoli, the need for a defilade position being the obvious impetus. One of our Aussie GWF Pals was writing something on it, I believe for Sabretache. But as we know the BEF and MEF often came up with things about the same time, but communication and cross-pollination wasn't strong, understandable given the circumstances and communications systems of the time.

Cheers,

Hendo

I think you are confusing barrage and indirect fire. Indirect fire by one or a few guns was well known before WW1 having been employed by both Russians and Japanese in 1904/5 and extensively reported on by various foreign observers (including Sir Ian Hamilton). These were not machine gun barrages.

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Crunchy

Hi Everyone,

Thank you for contributing to this topic. All good stuff and providing a much better understanding of the issues involved, especially the difference between indirect fire and barrages, which I think is an important distinction.

Mike, Thank you for your contribution on the pollination between theatres - I had had a similar view as Hendo.

Best wishes

Chris

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green_acorn

I think you are confusing barrage and indirect fire. Indirect fire by one or a few guns was well known before WW1 having been employed by both Russians and Japanese in 1904/5 and extensively reported on by various foreign observers (including Sir Ian Hamilton). These were not machine gun barrages.

Sorry Centurion,

But no, I have a very good understanding of the difference between Indirect (Harassing) Fire (I believe the point of the thread) by individual guns or gun sections and Barrage Fire by coordinated and controlled MG's in battery. I acknowledged your point about Barrage Fire at post #20. Your point about the Russo-Japanese War is very good, that war was the catalyst for so many changes and advances that have not been properly acknowledged, and as you allude to, claimed by so many other Army's and Navies .

Cheers,

Hendo

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SteveMarsdin

There are a couple of threads on the francophone forum that, whilst not specifically on indirect machine-gun fire, do discuss it. This is one:

http://pages14-18.mesdiscussions.net/pages1418/Pages-d-Histoire-Artillerie/Artillerie-de-tranchee/mitrailleuse-portee-sujet_99_1.htm

They acknowledge that the French adoption of this tactic was based on the British usage.

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Crunchy

Thank you Steve.

Unfortunately I am unable to read French, but I can get the gist of some discussions referring to Overhead Indirect Fire.

I have tracked down the book Machine Gun Tactics by Captain RVK Applin written in 1909 (published 1910) where he discusses both covering fire and indirect fire (p46 -54) and the means by which to lay down and direct indirect fire to cover the advance of an infantry attack.

Best wishes

Chris

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