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Crunchy

Use of Indirect Machine Gun Fire

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Jack Sheldon

Chris

If I send you scans of some pages in German concering their pre-war thoughts on MGs, would it be useful and could you get someone to assist with the translation? Cron's book Imperial German Army: Organisation, Structure, Orders of Battle contains an accurate breakdown of which regiments had what MGs in 1914. There are also some useful comments in the regimental history of the Lehr-Infanterie-Regiment which I can also pass on to you.

Jack

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Crunchy

Jack,

That would be marvellous. Many thanks. I think you have my email address.

Best wishes

Chris

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green_acorn

Chris,

I have had a look at the 1911 War Office translation of the Austrian trials "Tactical Employment of MG Sections" conducted by the Austro-Hungarian School of Musketry and appearing in "Streffleur's Militarische Zeitschrift" in Jul, Aug and Sep 1910, there is no menition of Indirect Fire. The Austro-Hungarian's seemed to be more concerned about thickening up the fire volume, though they do write about the benefit of overhead fire. I will bring it down with me early Feb.

Cheers,

Hendo

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OutsinceMons

Hi,

Just a few more points to add to any confusion :-))

'Dropping fire' as a British technique at least dates from the introduction of 'smokeless' .303 ammunition (MkII+ introduced from 1891). Churchill refers to 'dropping fire' in his description of the Malakand field campaign (1897). The long range sights on the side of CMLEs and SMLEs Mks 1-3 were designed to exploit this technique.

AFAIK, the sights on the Vickers were calibrated for MkVI (round nosed) ammunition (?), which was not brought into service (?) and never changed until the end of its career (1964, Radfan campaign, later in SA (32 Batt used them in Angola)) as the gun was not used for direct fire after brigading under the MGC (factoids which probably fit where they touch). The Vickers was normally used with Mk VII (spitzer) ammo (introduced 1910) as for SMLE Mk III.

Was there a dial sight for the Vickers before 1940? If not, McBride (A Rifleman went to war) describes setting pickets out on bearings IN FRONT of the position and using a gunner's quadrant to set the elevation. The GPMG had a beta light on a short picket for indirect fire with a dial sight. Having set the initial bearing and elevation, the Vickers was then 'tapped' sideways against the resistance of the clamp, effectively forming a 'barrage line' of beaten zones. How close those beaten zones overlapped was down to the skill of the gunner. In any event, the practice of 'tapping' the Vickers, versus the Colt's 'holding an elevation well' (McBride) is a reminder that the tripod (sled for a MG08) is an essential part of indirect fire.

Harassing fire is 'interdiction fire', occasional bursts, mainly at night, on crossroads and other places likely to have folks clustered around out of sight. In Korea, the practice was to hang a wet blanket in front of the gun to minimise the visibility of the flash. I once spent an evening listening to two old Vickers gunners, one from Korea, the other from the Radfan, strafing down memory lane :-))

A barrage is a transverse strip of beaten zones. A Vickers unit could 'fill in the gaps' out to 4000 yards (allegedly) in an artillery barrage with indirect fire. At these elevations, the beaten zone would be quite short due to trajectory but the spread due to ammunition vagaries would presumably compensate, also making the beaten zone more circular than sausage shaped. I have no idea of the minimum range necessary for firing over the heads of own troops.

For what it's worth.

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Crunchy

Thanks Hendo. That would be great.

Thank you for your contribution OutsinceMons - it all adds to our knowledge.

Best wishes

Chris

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OutsinceMons

Hi,

You're welcome.

I looked at the 1914 MG handbook link above and was interested to see the references to standard semaphore signals used where the fall of shot was not visible from the gun position. Likewise the use of 'double-sighting' (using both Bn MGs) to extend the beaten zones indicates to me that indirect fire with MGs was understood and practised pre-war. The sections on overhead, indirect and night fire, however, only show the use of bearing pickets for these purposes. Not so clever.

Taking a different tack, I see that .303 Mk1 tracer ammunition was not introduced until some point in 1915. This would be essential for effective indirect (DF/SF) fires, IMO, and if it was requested, they must have had the wish to use it earlier, I guess. Trying to spot falling rounds in mud or grass is a heck of a job, especially over 500m.

Best of luck.

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Marilyne

Hi Crunchy,

Maybe you should check out the book "Fire power - The British army - weapons and theories of war" by Bidwell and Graham.

also, Paddy Griffith, author already mentionned, had edited a book titled "British fighting methods in the Great War". I seem to remember that there are some articles about it on artillery tactics. I don't recall going into detail in them because artillery is not my thing - had a ballistics professor at military academy that was a bit nuts - but you schould check it out.

MM.

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Crunchy

Hi Marilyne,

Many thanks for the references. Have read Bidwell's book, and will look at it again.

Cheers

Chris

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TonyE

AFAIK, the sights on the Vickers were calibrated for MkVI (round nosed) ammunition (?), which was not brought into service (?) and never changed until the end of its career (1964, Radfan campaign, later in SA (32 Batt used them in Angola)) as the gun was not used for direct fire after brigading under the MGC (factoids which probably fit where they touch). The Vickers was normally used with Mk VII (spitzer) ammo (introduced 1910) as for SMLE Mk III.

Was there a dial sight for the Vickers before 1940? lane :-))

I am not sure where that story comes from. The Vickers was introduced in 1912, two years after the introduction of the Ball Mark VII spitzer round so was only ever calibrated for Mark VII ammunition in WWI. Of course, Maxims had been calibrated for the earlier 215 grain rounds. The Mark VI round certainly was introduced for service and served from its introduction in January 1904 until well into the Great War. Australia did not switch to Mark VII production at home until January 1918. (incidentally, the latest round nosed Mark VI round I have is from a Kynoch contract for the Rhodesian Territorial Forces in 1956!)

The clinometer sight for the Vickers was introduced in May 1918, but the dial sight was not introduced until May 1939.

Regards

TonyE

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mctaz

Chris,

The French reference to the British usage is translated here:

"This method brings together a large number of guns that maintain constant fire, (at the time of an assault, for example).

This method was developed by the British army and was used for the first time during the offensive of August 20, 1917 at Verdun. (I take this as meaning the first French use?)

In this case, the barrage is carried out over friendly troops and requires precise safety margins, it is usually an adjunct to an artillery barrage.

In 1917-1918, complex firing-tables were provided to companies whose machine-gunners were trained in specialist gunnery schools, where they learned the intricacies of various types of machine gun fire and also how to use enemy weapons.".....

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Crunchy

mctaz,

Many thanks for the translation. I appreciate it.

Cheers

Chris

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green_acorn

Crunchy,

I forgot to point you towards this document at the AWM : SS 432. Methods of laying Machine Guns in the direction of Invisible Targets by means of Map, Compass, and Traversing Dial - Issued 1916. AWM - 623.4424 M149m. Hopefully you had already found it!

Cheers,

Hendo

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Crunchy

Many thanks Hendo. Much appreciated. I hadn't seen it.

Best wishes

Chris

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dycer

The 8th Royal Scots took two Maxim Guns to France in 1914.

From their War Diary.

18th December 1914-Attack on German trenches in subsection on our right by 2nd R.W.Regiment supported by 2nd Queens and with 1st R.W.Fusiliers in reserve.Attack timed to start at 4.30 pm..The orders to this Battalion were to open fire at the above hour on trenches opposite to prevent enemy withdrawing and also indicate there was no thinning from our line.Fire opened at 4.30 pm. and vigorous response immediately from German lines.At 5.30 pm. a shell landed landed on the thatched roof of one of the buildings occupied by the Dressing Station and Battalion Headquarters which was burned to the ground.Enemy's guns ceased after the buildings went on fire,but musketry duel continued for some time.

George

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dansparky
On 20/01/2013 at 04:35, Crunchy said:

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

3

Hi Crunchy, where did you manage to track down Applin book?

 

Many thanks 

dansparky

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MKC

Not sure the Mk1 tracer would have been much use in long range indirect fire, as, according to B A Temple (1987), the white trace element, when it did ignite, only lasted for about 100 yards or so, and the projectile was found to be 'wildly inaccurate anyway'.

 

I also wonder if the reducing bullet weight would induce a different fall of shot at longer ranges. The Mk1 tracer started out at 173 grains weight, virtually the same as the Ball round, but the tracer element was 18 grains, so by the time the tracer burned out after a 100 yards or so, the bullet weight was reduced to around 155 grains. 

 

Mike  

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)
On 18/01/2013 at 06:46, Staffsyeoman said:

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]

 

That is interesting as unless he did so in the French Army before emigrating to Canada, Brutinel had AFAIK, no opportunity for actual experimentation with machine guns before the formation of the Canadian batteries in 1914.  His taped recollections, which I have linked to in another thread, show that he was well informed as to machine guns and their employment and in particular their employment in the Russo-Japanese War. 

 

Sir Charles Ross of Ross rifle fame sponsored his own (Colt) machine gun battery in the 2nd Boer War, and no doubt learned some useful lessons there, which may have been shared with others in Canada, but I suspect Brutinel having a keen and inquiring mind had probably read (then) Capt. R.V.K. Applin DSO's 1907/10 book Machine Gun Tactics and that this book was the source of some of his ideas.  Applin did extensive experimentation in Malta with (then Lt.) George Lindsay and in South Africa under Maj. Phillip Allen, the Chief Instructor at the School of Musketry, Tempe.  "Allen was not only a machine gun expert, but an enthusiast who inspired us all, and whose lectures...were a joy to hear."  Across the Seven Seas, Col. R.V.K. Applin DSO, London: Chapman & Hall, 1937, pps.223-4

 

If Brutinel was squabbling with Lindsay over the origination of tactical methods, Baker-Carr gives himself as the founder of the Machine Gun School and then of the Corps itself.  He says nice things about Lindsay, as he does about Brutinel, but quite clearly claims the laurel for himself.  Hard to see who should get the credit for what exactly.  It could be that Brutinel in fact had no knowledge of the work of Applin, Lindsay and Allen (see below), and therefore genuinely believed he was the pioneer.  Any officer of a curious and thoughtful mind  - always a minority of course - could have deduced much of the same ideas from the same sources that Applin used: principally the Russo-Japanese War.

 

Applin's book reprinted the German machine gun manual and detailed the machine gun establishments of the major powers of the time.  Germany having then six guns per battalion of infantry compared to the British two.

 

Quote

We had [at Tempe] unlimited ground round the school which we could fire over, and as the soil was soft and dusty and the strike of bullets could be observed in the clear atmosphere at all ranges, we were able to carry out some epoch-making experiments with machine guns.  Trenches were dug and bullet shelters made at the targets so that we could sit and actually watch from a few feet the beaten zone made by machine guns at all ranges, even up to three thousand yards.   We found it was safe to fire over the heads of advancing infantry two hundred yards in front of the gun when the range was 1200 yards and that this fire could be safely maintained until the infantry were within two hundred yards of the target [their objective].  We learned [implying that others originated?] indirect fire over a hill at invisible targets, using a map and compass for direction and a clinometer [presumably an artillery gunner's quadrant] to elevate the gun; in fact we found out in 1904 all that the Germans taught us at such a cost in human lives in 1914[-1917], and which culminated in 1917 at Messines, when our 280 machine-guns firing over the heads of our attacking infantry, rained one hundred thousand bullets a minute on the German trenches with terrible effect [Applin uses the figure of 50,000 per minute elsewhere]

op. cit. pp.223.

 

Quote

Early in April [1917] I had an interview with General Plumer and explained details of barrage fire with machine guns.  He at once grasped the importance of this new [!?] method and suggested I should go to Vimy and see how Colonel  Brutinel, the Canadian M.G. Corps Officer, arranged his barrage.  I went to Vimy and arrived the day after the Ridge had been captured, and was able to go over the battlefield and see what he had done.  A large ammunition dump had been blown up and the place was strewn with dead.  Shells kept exploding in a very alarming manner....As a consequence of what I learned from Brutinel I was determined to do a big barrage on a similar scale [at Messines], and began my preparations at once.

op. cit. pps.257-8.


 

Quote

 

As I had [in 1907] six months sick leave, I began a book on machine gun tactics.  When I returned from South Africa, I had given a lecture at the Royal United Services Institution on this subject and collected a great deal of information from foreign countries which were far ahead of us in machine gunnery, and I felt it was a pity to waste all this material, so I set to work and produced a book in 1907....Needless to say, it met with scant approval from the War Office, for I had appended a translation of the German organization and tactical instruction, which took up twenty-eight pages and clearly showed that they were far ahead of us in every detail and that they intended to use masses of machine guns in their next war and expected great results.

 

Years after I met a distinguished General who was then a Member of Parliament, who, on meeting me, said, "I was at the War Office in 1907 and was asked by the Chief of the General Staff to read your book and report on it.  I told him that it was before its time and should be put away for ten years."  That, apparently, is exactly what happened, but America adopted it as their text-book [during the war] and the first edition was largely bought up by them.  [Implying of course that it had sat largely unsold in the warehouses of Messrs. Hugh Rees until 1916-17]

 

op. cit. pp.227.

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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