Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
Moonraker

Handheld WWI machine gun

Recommended Posts

Moonraker

I watched the last of "March or Die" on ITV4 last night (having seen all of it before), which climaxes with a very bloody battle with hundreds of Arabs obligingly charging into massed rifle and machine-gun fire from the French Foreign Legion. The hero, Terence Hill, picks up a machine gun with a circular drum on top (the sort of thing that's normally mounted on a stand) and wields it like a rifle. (The film is set just after WWI, so I'm squeezing this topic in here on the grounds that the gun was of WWI vintage.)

Would this have been feasible? Would a soldier in real life have been able to control it? What about recoil?

(The film ended with Hill apparently promoted from the ranks and giving a "don't think of deserting" speech to new recruits. I couldn't work out whether he was now a non-commissioned or commissioned officer.)

Moonraker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
yellow

Its a Lewis gun as shown on the film posters.

Steve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Landsturm

Answer to question; haven`t seen the film, but I believe it`s possible...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark Hone

You do read accounts of soldiers firing Lewis guns from the hip, and it was advocated in the 1918 training manual (Paddy Griffith 'Battle Tactics of Western Front p.134 goes into this and provides examples). There are scenes in 'Anzacs' (generally pretty accurate on small unit tactics) of lewis guns being fired on the move. As someone who's stood next to a bren gunner firing from the hip in section attacks, thankfully armed only with blanks, I must say I'd find this a bit alarming if I was in the immediate vicinity!

Incidentally I also saw 'March or Die' last night and thought it was completely bonkers. It was only worth watching for the beautiful Catherine Deneuve and Ian Holm chewing the desert scenery.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Joe Sweeney

Having fired a Lewis, once, for fun and fired an M60 as part of my job (long ago) I can say that yes you can fire machineguns from the hip without much difficulty. One good thing about living in the US is that it is not too difficult finding real live Machineguns to fire and Lewis guns are pretty common.

There is more of a problem trying to keep your fire on target with the tendency of the gun to rise, at least with the 60, when firing than by any problem with recoil. The problem was less with the Lewis as the Lewis has more weight up front.

Joe Sweeney

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Robert Dunlop

Spears described a French firing exercise in 1916 designed to test tracer bullets. Poilus were being trained to advance firing Chauchats from the hip. It was a night exercise. The ricocheting rounds looked impressive - 'The tracer bullets, showing up pink against the snow, made the most beautiful curves and arabesques as they rose high or ricocheted at incredible and fantastic speeds like fireflies in an eastern night'.

Robert

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mr_Sunray
Would this have been feasible? Would a soldier in real life have been able to control it? What about recoil?

Recoil is less of an issue with automatic firing weapons as the energy expended by the recoil is used to eject the cartridge and reload. Don't forget Johnny Rambo took out half the Viet Cong and a Spetznaz platoon firing from the hip! :P

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moonraker

Interesting, apologies to the makers of the film for my scepticism.

The evening after "March or Die" was screened, another WWI-era machine-gun featured in "Hannay" on ITV3. In the weakest episode yet of this repeated series set c1913, the British Government seeks to impress Italy with a new belt-fed machine-gun which has been developed over several years in a small workshop run by an inventor-type. There's a throwaway reference to it being a Vickers, though I would have thought this mighty company would have had its own workshops. Because of the need for secrecy, Hannay's Secret Service chum leaves it in our hero's bedroom at his club (!); Hannay is off fishing, only to break off from landing a prize catch to rescue from drowning a British politician's debt-laden wife who just happens to be being blackmailed by his German arch-enemy.

The gun is then taken to the estate where Hannay also just happens to be staying and demonstrated to the Italians (who are suitably impressed). The demo (with pickelhaubed cutouts as targets) takes place with a village in the background, just the sort of setting for testing a secret weapon. Why not use a military range, where the noise of a machine-gun would be unremarkable?

(TV's Hannay is based on John Buchan's character in "The Thirty-Nine Steps", which includes an even more unbelievable coincidence; when Hannay has to flee London he decides to lie low in Scotland because the terrain is similar to that in Africa, where he has lived for years. Once there, he is pursued by the bad guys and seeks refuge in a house, which just happens to be the home of the bad guys' boss.)

Moonraker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Staffsyeoman

Well, in 'Gunga Din', Victor McLaglen picks up and fires a VICKERS from the hip with Cary Grant feeding the belt.

I should have thought this to be an impossibility - however strong Mr McLaglen was - and owes more to effects technicians than armourers!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Devils Own

As a matter of logistics, is there any evidence for Lewis and Vickers gunners and teams being 'big fellas'?

In both cases, that's quite a lot of machine gun to hump around on extended marches. My GD was a Lewis gunner and was quite big but was this the general rule?

Also, were there any other requirements needed?

I suspect that, even with the cooling system, you would risk burning hands in extended firing from the hip. Unless, of course, you were a real super hero and could also pee on the barrel at the same time. Not an easily achievable feat.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ian turner

Steve,

My grandad was a number 1 on the Lewis - he was only about 5ft 9ins, was fairly strong, but by no means a big-un! I don't remember him complaining about lugging it around.

A work-colleague of mine was in the RF's for national service - he was fairly burly, and said they always chose him to run around with the Bren!

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Devils Own

Hi Ian

Good to converse with another pal decended from a number one.

On reflection, I suppose it may be possible that the number one didn't do much of the carrying. They could have been like a golfer with 5 caddies. What made a number one and why were they chosen? How much turn taking was there? It seems like a team within a team...a bit like the rugby front row.

Are there any decent books about Lewis gun teams?

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bob lembke

Guys;

My father was in Garde=Reserve=Pionier=Regiment (Flammenwerfer). In his first tour at the front, the second half of 1916 at Verdun (a wound in December 1916 kept him in and out of hospital and in Germany for a year and a half), each flame company wanted to have two MG per Zug (platoon), but the allocation from the army was two per company; the good but 65 pound MG 08/15. No shooting from the hip here. So the men were paid a bonus for every one of a certain French MG that they brought in, paid into the company welfare fund. My father said that they fired them from the hip on the advance, slung from the shoulder with two rifle slings clipped together and clipped to the barrel and the receiver.

I had wondered which machine gun, Pop did not say, and I have discussed this with some pals who are especially knowledgeable about French MGs, and have decided that the gun was almost certainly the Chauchat, which has been described as the worst MG ever made. (I had considered the Hochkiss w/o a tripod, which might have been managable.) If they got a selection of Chauchats and tested them, they probably could come up with some that would fire with some reliability, and keep them and the ammo quite clean, as they stayed in barracks about 20 miles from the front and rode in their own company trucks to any place that they had to pull off a flame attack. (As he described to his father in a Feldpost, "you could 'work' in the morning in the trenches, and in the afternoon wash up; you could keep as clean as in garrison. And in the evening you could see a film, for five phennig, and the selection of films was even good." The cleaning up was important, we all know how disgusting and unhealthy the conditions in the trenches were.)

Of course the flame thrower was an effective storm weapon, such a miserable defensive weapon once one took a position. Using a French MG meant that there probably was a lot of ammo in the position you took, even if you had to re-load your magazines. The men were picked, young men (my father was 6' tall, big for those days, 19 years old, and an athlete), and carrying a Chauchat was a picnic compared to a loaded Flammenwerfer.

I have fired a BAR (A WW I-type light MG) on the 1000 inch range (83' 4") at a target about 2 1/2 inches high, and 1 1/2 inches wide (Is this correct? Any one know?), and I got 18 hits from a 20 round magazine, on automatic fire. It was the best shooting I ever did, any weapon. (Many centuries ago, of course.) I could get off three- or even two-round bursts, and the heavy gun kept it on target for such a short burst. This was firing from the prone, using the bi-pod, of course. The gun was 20 lbs, I believe, and certainly could be fired from the hip, or even the shoulder.

Bob Lembke

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ian turner

There was quite a lot of 'official' equipment to go with the Lewis - spares, hyposcope (I think for firing from an entrenched position) and gloves for firing when hot. They were supposed to be taken around in a cart, together with the Lewis itself. Of course carts were pretty useless in the usual churned up wastelands, and I wonder how much of the fancy add-ons were taken into the line. But gloves for firing when hot is interesting, when considering the 'firing from the hip' question. I've seen Bn orders, stating 'Lewis guns will be carried into the line tonight' (which I assume means that they were not to be taken by cart).

My grandad said that they used to leave a round out of the magazine every now and then, so as to stop the gun firing, and necessitating re-cocking - this was for care during action, when the excited gunner would keep his anxious finger on the trigger, and thus risk overheating the weapon.

Ian

++

Ref Bob's experiences with the BAR - I don't know about the accuracy of the Lewis, but I think a Bren was designed to produce a 'cone of fire' rather than each shot landing around the same place on a target.

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
squirrel

One old soldier told me that the Lewis was pretty accurate but the Bren was very accurate. In his words, too accurate for an automatic weapon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moonraker
As a matter of logistics, is there any evidence for Lewis and Vickers gunners and teams being 'big fellas'?

In both cases, that's quite a lot of machine gun to hump around on extended marches. My GD was a Lewis gunner and was quite big but was this the general rule?

Steve

Best job in my college Combined Cadet Force was that of machine-gunner; all he had to tote around was a football supporter's rattle, which he twirled around his head to simulate machine-gun fire.

Moonraker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Devils Own
Best job in my college Combined Cadet Force was that of machine-gunner; all he had to tote around was a football supporter's rattle, which he twirled around his head to simulate machine-gun fire.

Moonraker

How did they simulate a 25 pounder?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
truthergw
I suspect that, even with the cooling system, you would risk burning hands in extended firing from the hip. Unless, of course, you were a real super hero and could also pee on the barrel at the same time. Not an easily achievable feat.

Steve

We super heroes can do all that and whistle Dixie at the same time. ( On one leg)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bob lembke
Best job in my college Combined Cadet Force was that of machine-gunner; all he had to tote around was a football supporter's rattle, which he twirled around his head to simulate machine-gun fire.

Moonraker

Ha! When I was out in the field as a cadet we had a 3 1/2 day march, with no particular time scheduled for sleep, to not only teach us about tactical matters but also fatigue. I had a MG section one day, but I don't remember carrying much, except for a can of ammo, and my supposedly 65 pound pack, and my M1. But in the last stretch, a march from about mid-night to 6 AM, one machine gunner broke down physically, and I had to carry his receiver group (we had M1919A4's, 34 lb receiver group, 34 lb tripod, each a man carry) for this last stretch; someone kindly carried my M1.

I probably would rather have carried a rattle, but then I would not have old-**** "war-stories" to belabor people with in my declining years.

Bob Lembke

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Malcolm
Hi Ian

Good to converse with another pal decended from a number one.

On reflection, I suppose it may be possible that the number one didn't do much of the carrying. They could have been like a golfer with 5 caddies. What made a number one and why were they chosen? How much turn taking was there? It seems like a team within a team...a bit like the rugby front row.

Are there any decent books about Lewis gun teams?

Steve

...and I'm another one descended from a No1 Lewis Gunner.

Aye

Malcolm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Robert Dunlop
... the Bren was very accurate.

That was my grandfather's comment too. No comparison to the cone of fire produced by the Vickers, which was the weapon he used in WW1. His experience with Brens came in WW2 when he was an instructor. He never used a Bren in anger, at least not on the battlefield.

Robert

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Devils Own
...and I'm another one descended from a No1 Lewis Gunner.

Aye

Malcolm

Good on yer Malcolm,

We could get a mini forum together at this rate.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DCLI
Good on yer Malcolm,

We could get a mini forum together at this rate.

Steve

And here's another one. My grandfather was a Lewis Gunner (DCLI) sadly long gone. he told me of resting it on one of his team's backs as he mowed down the advancing enemy (my words not his), quite matter of fact really. The things he saw and did as a 19-year old soldier. They got him in the end though, but not fatally, thank goodness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Devils Own

Harry Patch was also a gunner in the DCLI wasn't he?

Which Bn was he in? I think he was No.2.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
yellow

Just a thought.....shouldnt the Legion of been using the Hotchkiss in this film?

My great uncle was more of Hotchkiss automatic rifle man than a Lewis.

Steve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...