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seb phillips

Are machine guns 'artillery'?

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seb phillips

Thought I'd get opinions on this:

 

A recent A level question asked students to discuss changes in the effectiveness of British artillery. A lot of students talked about machine guns.

 

I know that there are similarities (machine guns in WW1 often fired indirectly to rain down fire on particular German positions) but it's not clear whether these students could be judged as talking about support weapons like trench mortars, or something heavier. I suppose it depends on whether the Machine Gun Corp was part of the RA?

 

Input very welcome!

 

Seb

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alastaircox

A big fat no from me. Artillery by definition is large calibre land-based guns.  It would be acceptable to talk about the use of machine gun fire alongside artillery but not as one of the same.

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Maureene

The Motor Machine Gun Service when first formed in 1914 was part of the Royal Field Artillery.

 

This situation continued until October 1915, when the Motor Machine Gun Service was incorporated in the Machine Gun Corps, which was a separate Corps, not part of the Royal Artillery.

 

Cheers

Maureen

 

 

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Michael Haselgrove

Seb,

The Collins Concise English Dictionary (2012) gives the definition of artillery as 1. guns, cannon, howitzers, mortars, etc. of greater calibre than 20mm. 2. troops or military units specializing in using such guns.  3. the science dealing with the use of guns.  4.  devices for discharging heavy missiles, such as catapults or slings. 

Thus, the larger calibre machine guns fall within the ambit of the question whereas those firing, for instance, a standard rifle sized cartridge do not.  I can't see that the distance at which a machine gun is firing changes anything.  Equally, I don't think the fact that a machine gun of greater calibre than 20mm is mounted on an aircraft or ship means it ceases to be artillery.  

Regards,

Michael. 

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MikB

It was said that part of the reason for the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 -1 was that they handled their mitrailleuses as artillery rather than small arms.

So no.

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Chasemuseum

This is a “how long is a piece of string ?” type question, which can be argued indefinitely. By classical military definition; machine guns firing infantry pistol, rifle or over-sized rifle armour piercing cartridges (13mm T-gewher & 0.50cal) are not artillery. Small arms like pistols and rifles are direct fire point-shoot type weapons to engage a specific target. Machine guns however are area weapons, to engage a “beaten zone” and cause casualties to any targets in that zone.

 

However a key factor in the history of the development of artillery during WW1 was most artillery moving to indirect fire control and using sighting equipment designed for indirect fire operation. ie the combined use of prismatic sights and clinometers.

 

The sustained fire versions of Maxim and Vickers machine guns could be, and were used as indirect fire weapons, to cover remote area targets with a beaten zone of plunging fire, with the sighting systems managed using prismatic sights in a similar manner to the modern artillery of WW1.

 

In this limited application, the use of machine guns could be described as artillery, in that they were functioning as an artillery like weapon, rather than just being a machinegun firing at long distance.

 

In my opinion, I would consider this as a very thin argument. Only a limited selection of machine guns were capable of this roll. Of those guns, only a small proportion were ever issued with the necessary sighting instruments. Of all accounts of the use of machineguns in combat, references to their being used in this manner are extremely infrequent. This is not an argument I would want to defend in a public examination.

 

In a more modern context in an infantry regiment in the 1970s, my unit had for a short period, a small number of tripods and C2 prismatic sights for our M60 machineguns on issue to our rifle companies. However they never had the aiming posts, aiming post lights, range tables and plotting boards to effectively use them. I was glad to see this excess kit go.

 

Cheers

Ross

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RobertBr

 Indirect "artillery" fire by machine guns is addressed on the Long Long Trail's section on the Machine Gun Corps.

 

Two specific uses of the use and effectivness of indirect fire by the 56th Div are:

 

"The attack of 1 July (1916) displayed that the use of infantry support weapons was still in the experimental phase: the roles of machine guns, Lewis guns and trench mortars were not yet fully defined. It was found that machine guns were highly valuable when used for overhead, indirect barrage fire." (The Tactical Development of the 56th (London) Division on the Western Front, 1916-18)

28th March 1918. "The Germans advancing almost shoulder to shoulder entered Gavrelle.  There were no living souls to oppose them.  However 14 machine guns had the place under indirect fire an enemy losses was severe." (The Fifty Sixth Division 1914-1918 by Major C.H. Dudley Ward.)

Similarly on 28th March 1918 the 4th Divisions defence of the actual valley of the River Scarpe was based on pre-planned machine gun barrages. The only problem was that the enemy did not attack down the valley but to either side.

As the war progressed the Lewis Gun took over as the favoured infantry support weapon, the Maxims were replaced by the Vickers and handed to specialised companies. Indirect machine gun fire was particulaly useful in defensive battles, but in attacks moving the guns forward with the infantry was an issue.

It took time and trial and error to work out how best to use them, like artillery, small arms or otherwise.

 

 

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