War Machine, Volume 9

Machine-Guns of World War I Above: Any enemy aircraft flying within range of this array of Lewis Guns would have been in for a nasty shock. These Indian Army guns are shown somewhere in Mesopotamia and are fitted with 47-round magazines. Some have slings for ease in carrying their 11.8 kg (26 lb )bulk. Above: A section of the Gordon Highlanders is seen inaction during March 1918neartheSom m withe their Lewis Gun being used in the classic supporting fire role. The figure in the tree is probably spotting for targets for the Lewis team and shouting down fire corrections. The British were reluctant to assume this form of tactics mainly becaus^of the overall poor standard of training they were able to provide for their mass armies, but gradually the soldiers themselves devised methods for the mutual support of sections by other sections. It was here that the Lewis Gun came into its own, for the firepower potential of the weapon was such that a single Lewis Gun could assume the support role of a whole section of riflemen. Thus infantry sections reached the point where a single Lewis Gun team of tw omen could cover the forward progress of almost an entire platoon. As ever by this time the Germans were already one stage ahead. They had seen the requirements for a portable machine-gun as early as 1915 and had devised the MG 08/15 Maxim gun for anew array of infantry tactics. Using experience gained on the Eastern Front the Germans had already designed anew system of infantry warfare employing the same balanced mutual fire support role that had been tentatively evolved by the Allies. However the Germans took it one stage further. Realizing that infantry alone could not hope to take control of a Western Front trench system they did not even attempt to take a trench by storm. Instead the German infantry were divided ufc into small assault teams that were trained simply to pass around any strongpoints they might encounter: so rather than attempting to attack any defensive emplace­ments that might be in their path they moved away to the flanks and filtered round into the rear areas. Once there they could disrupt the movement of men and supplies to the forward trenches attack command posts and generally disrupt the enemy's rear areas. If necessary troublesome strongpoints could be attacked from the rear. In this type of combat the light machine-gun had many roles to play. The most important was still that of providing supporting or covering fire while the other sections moved but the Germans activities were hampered by(a shortage of MG 08/15s. Supply of this weapon could not meet demand so captured Lewis Guns were pressed into German use. Stretcher bearers became involved in this process of obtaining enemy weapons some units ordering their stretcher bearers to carry back to the rear as many Lewis Guns as they could find on the battlefield each one carried on a stretcher along with a casualty. By 1918 light machine-guns were being used in defence as well as attack. As the German army fell back during the later months of 1918 it outworked a method whereby small light machine-gun teams were used to cover the with­drawal of much larger bodies of men. At times a single MG 08/15 would be used to holdup a whole battalion advancing across open ground the gun team simply packing up and carrying its gun away to the rear ready for another holding action as soon as the Allied assault forces came uncomfortably close to their position. Above: TheM G 08/15 was converted from its aircraft role for the ground role during World War II again a carry-over from World War I when many weapons were similarly converted. This conversion involved the fitting of alight b ip o d and a rudimentary butt but the end result was not very successful. ARight: Schutztruppen NCO holds an ammunition box for his M G 08. A critical shortage of artillery made the machine-guns of the German army in East Africa doubly important.
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