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Remembered Today:

Death from burns in Salonika (was death from burns involving Lewis Gun)


rolt968

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A soldier I am working on died in Salonika as a result of severe burns to his face/head, trunk and arms.

Some of his record survives but many of the pages are fire and water damaged and torn. There is one page of which a very torn piece survives. It seems to be a report on some kind of event. It may be a report into the cause of his death. It contains the phrase "Lewis Gun", but unfortunately all the rest of the page around it is unreadable or torn away.

Has anyone ever come across an accident involving a Lewis Gun which resulted in serious burns?

R.

Edited by rolt968
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Tank crews on the Lewis gun fitted Mk IVs were unhappy with the gun because the temperature differential between the inside and outside meant that the airflow through the cooling jacket was sometimes reversed so that the gunner got hot air blasted in his face. This does not seem to have caused actual fatalities but it does suggest that there could be situations where the gun's cooling system could blow flames over the gunner

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I thought the airflow problem with Lewis guns in tanks was that cordite fumes could get drawn back into the user's face. This could be pretty unpleasant in several ways, but I wouldn't've thought there's be flames, since there's little if any flash from a Mk.VII round in a normal-length barrel. Perhaps a more serious problem was the reduction in the field of fire close to the tank sides due to the large diameter jacket in the ball mounting.

But, in any case, I hadn't heard of tanks being in Salonika...

I wonder if firing the Lewis could start a grass/brush fire in front of the gun ?

Regards,

MikB

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I thought the airflow problem with Lewis guns in tanks was that cordite fumes could get drawn back into the user's face. This could be pretty unpleasant in several ways, but I wouldn't've thought there's be flames, since there's little if any flash from a Mk.VII round in a normal-length barrel. Perhaps a more serious problem was the reduction in the field of fire close to the tank sides due to the large diameter jacket in the ball mounting.

But, in any case, I hadn't heard of tanks being in Salonika...

I wonder if firing the Lewis could start a grass/brush fire in front of the gun ?

Regards,

MikB

It blew hot air and dust (from outside) over the users face but you entirely mistake my point. If there are circumstances in conditions of heat when the air flow in the Lewis jacket could be reversed then if this happened and there was flame in front of the gunner the gun could suck it back and blow it over the head and shoulders of the gunner. It got pretty hot in Salonioka and small brush fires did happen. The muzzle flash itsef could ignite sun dried grass and foliage.and if the air flow was reversed then the flame could be sucked in to the jacket and blown back on the gunner.

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Did not Lewis Guns have that water cooling tank jacket thingy mentioned elsewhere on the forum? (there's a picture if i recall).

Might it possibly be burns received from having boiling water spilt all over him?

Regards

Ian

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Did not Lewis Guns have that water cooling tank jacket thingy mentioned elsewhere on the forum? (there's a picture if i recall).

Might it possibly be burns received from having boiling water spilt all over him?

Regards

Ian

No a Lewis gun was air cooled. A shroud enclosed the barrel and the cylinder with fins at either end and this was designed to draw air from the rear of the weapon forward. As I've pointed out certain conditions could cause the airflow to be reversed. I'd love to see that picture of a water cooled Lewis!

post-9885-0-78486900-1403872058_thumb.jp

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In the book "The Grand Old lady of No Man's Land" by Dolf Goldsmith at page 495 there is a photograph of men of the machine gun section of the XI Hussars cleaning a Vickers in a trench at Zillebeke in 1915. The author comments:

"Note the "stovepipe" flash hider lying against the trench next to the wooden box periscope just above the gun. This was a device developed by Major Baker-Carr. Its concept seemed sound enough, but one eyewitness averred that unburned powder gases would collect in the tube and explode from time to time with an enormous flash that could be seen for miles around.........The "stovepipe" flash hider was not popular and did not last long in service."

I wonder if it is possible that, in the circumstances mentioned above where the airflow in a Lewis is reversed, unburned powder gases could be drawn backwards and explode?

Regards,

Michael.

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In the book "The Grand Old lady of No Man's Land" by Dolf Goldsmith at page 495 there is a photograph of men of the machine gun section of the XI Hussars cleaning a Vickers in a trench at Zillebeke in 1915. The author comments:

"Note the "stovepipe" flash hider lying against the trench next to the wooden box periscope just above the gun. This was a device developed by Major Baker-Carr. Its concept seemed sound enough, but one eyewitness averred that unburned powder gases would collect in the tube and explode from time to time with an enormous flash that could be seen for miles around.........The "stovepipe" flash hider was not popular and did not last long in service."

I wonder if it is possible that, in the circumstances mentioned above where the airflow in a Lewis is reversed, unburned powder gases could be drawn backwards and explode?

Regards,

Michael.

The Lewis didn't have a flash hider like this

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Centurian,

I know that, but if the gun is drawing air from the muzzle may it not draw in unburned powder gases as well?

Regards,

Michael.

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Centurian,

I know that, but if the gun is drawing air from the muzzle may it not draw in unburned powder gases as well?

Regards,

Michael.

But if there is no flash hider where are these gases stored? All gases from firing would tend to exit from the muzzle at some velocity, however given that the Lewis was a gas operated gun I don't think there would be any.

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I wonder if such fatal burns could have come from a Lewis Gun being hot? Maybe if for some reason bullets in the pan cooked off & exploded. Maybe he was doing something involving a LG but the actual burns came from some other source. Maybe a case of very lights caught fire & burned him, they'd sure be hot enough to inflict massive burns. A bad way to go in any case.

The war diary of his unit may have a mention of such an event.

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There is nothing in a rifle-calibre small arm that can cause life-threatening burns.

You can fire any machine gun until the barrel glows red, but there is no way that heat gets transmitted to the firer, excepting when he puts a hand on the barrel or similar.

Likewise with a case separation or blown primer, when hot gases vent backwards. Even with an exposed breech weapon such as a rifle, the gas (and oil from inside the bolt body!) is barely felt on the face. Catastrophic failures of weapons can cause shrapnel injury, but burns are not a significant effect. With an encased mechanism such as a machine gun, there is even less chance of being exposed to propellant gas.

As has been shown on several videos, including Mythbusters and the US SAAMI demonstrations, burning small arms ammunition does not explode violently. If the round is not in a weapon chamber, then the bullet is popped out and the propellant flares off. Unless someone happens to be unconscious and lying in a fire, burning small arms ammunition is easily evaded.

The wounds described in the OP sound more like an exploding petrol cooker or similar (sadly, one of my soldiers died in exactly that manner).

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There is nothing in a rifle-calibre small arm that can cause life-threatening burns.

You can fire any machine gun until the barrel glows red, but there is no way that heat gets transmitted to the firer, excepting when he puts a hand on the barrel or similar.

Likewise with a case separation or blown primer, when hot gases vent backwards. Even with an exposed breech weapon such as a rifle, the gas (and oil from inside the bolt body!) is barely felt on the face. Catastrophic failures of weapons can cause shrapnel injury, but burns are not a significant effect. With an encased mechanism such as a machine gun, there is even less chance of being exposed to propellant gas.

As has been shown on several videos, including Mythbusters and the US SAAMI demonstrations, burning small arms ammunition does not explode violently. If the round is not in a weapon chamber, then the bullet is popped out and the propellant flares off. Unless someone happens to be unconscious and lying in a fire, burning small arms ammunition is easily evaded.

The wounds described in the OP sound more like an exploding petrol cooker or similar (sadly, one of my soldiers died in exactly that manner).

My point was that if the airflow through the cooling shroud was reversed was this could suck in any flame external to the gun and blow it back over the gunner. Nothing whatsoever to do with gases from the ammunition

AFAIK the Lewis was the only machine gun in service with such a shroud.

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My point was that if the airflow through the cooling shroud was reversed was this could suck in any flame external to the gun and blow it back over the gunner. Nothing whatsoever to do with gases from the ammunition

AFAIK the Lewis was the only machine gun in service with such a shroud.

Sounds very unlikely.

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Please elucidate

I can't see under what circumstances a tank would be engulfed in flame on the outside but not inside.

If firing a gun did cause flame to leap back at the firer, surely the instinct would be to immediately stop firing?

Any documented instances of serious burns being suffered in the way you describe?

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I can't see under what circumstances a tank would be engulfed in flame on the outside but not inside.

If firing a gun did cause flame to leap back at the firer, surely the instinct would be to immediately stop firing?

Any documented instances of serious burns being suffered in the way you describe?

We're not talking about tanks - see post 4. The incident was in Salonika

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In the book "The Grand Old lady of No Man's Land" by Dolf Goldsmith at page 495 there is a photograph of men of the machine gun section of the XI Hussars cleaning a Vickers in a trench at Zillebeke in 1915.

Probably taken from the collection of photographs made by Lt Col T T Pitman of the 11th.

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No a Lewis gun was air cooled. A shroud enclosed the barrel and the cylinder with fins at either end and this was designed to draw air from the rear of the weapon forward. As I've pointed out certain conditions could cause the airflow to be reversed. I'd love to see that picture of a water cooled Lewis!

attachicon.gifLewisCollage.jpg

Although never issued, there was a water cooled version of the Lewis gun developed by the Americans in WWI.

I have seen one in the reserve collection of the U.S. Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Va,

Regards

TonyE

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I think that contributors to this thread have been going down a blind alley, and in some cases coming up with fanciful notions. There is nothing in the opening post to suggest that anybody suffered serious burns from a Lewis gun.

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Any chance of a steer to the records described?

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My uncle was a Lewis Gunner, and although he mentioned frequent 'jamming' he never mentioned anything about possible burns.

khaki

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We're not talking about tanks - see post 4. The incident was in Salonika

Even more unlikely then

And I was referring to post #2, where you mentioned flames sucked back on machine gunners in tanks?

If we're not talking about tanks, then why would the cooling flow be reversed?

So the Lewis gunner in Salonika is positioned so close to a bush fire that the flames can be sucked back via the gun jacket?

Any reports of this happening?

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rolt968,

If you were looking at the torn page which mentions the "incident" and "lewis gun" on Ancestry can I suggest you look at the soldier's record on Findmypast as the copies on there tend to be far clearer and therefore much easier to read.

CGM

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Thank you to everyone so far. I have found all the possibilities very interesting!

I will have look at the findmypast version. However the problem is really that there is so much of the page missing.

There is so much missing from the page that reconstructing it may be a bit like the reconstructions of Greek statues from tiny remaining fragments in Sellar & Yeatman's "And Now All This"! (If anyone else has read that!)

It may well not relate to the incident which caused his death as I have deciphered enough of another page to see that he was in hospital twice earlier in the year he was killed.

I'll do a bit more work and report back.

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