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Organization And Tactical Employment

ORGANIZATION AND TACTICAL EMPLOYMENT ! Although machine-gun tactics are still somewhat indefinite, at least there are well-marked tendencies which have a close relation to the general tactical scheme or doctrine adopted by each of the various armies as suited to its own purposes and conditions. For many years before the South African and Manchurian wars, the machine-gun had been freely spoken of as "a diabolical weapon before which nothing could live," but this did not contribute much to the science of handling it. Most military powers, indeed, distrusted it actuated perhaps by the remembrance of the vain hopes excited by the canon d balles. It was not until the second half of the war of 1904-05 that the Japanese, taught by the effective handling of the Russian machine-guns at Liao-Yang, introduced it into their field armies, and although Great Britain had provided every regular battalion with a Maxim-gun section some years before the Boer War, and a Volunteer corps, the Central London Rangers (now izth bn. London Regiment) had maintained a (Nordenfeldt) gun section since 1882, instruction in the tactics of the weapon was confined practically to the simple phrase " the machine-gun is a weapon of opportunity." More than this, at any rate, is attempted in the drill-books of to-day.

One important point is that, whether the guns are used as an arm, in numbers, or as auxiliaries, in sections, they should be free to move without having to maintain their exact position relatively to some other unit. It was in following the infantry firing lines of their own battalion over the open that the British Maxims suffered most heavily in South Africa. Another of equal importance is that the machine guns must co-operate with other troops of their side in the closest possible way; more, in this regard, is demanded of them than of artillery, owing to their mobility and the relative ease of obtaining cover. A third factor, which has been the subject of numerous experiments, is the precise value of a machine-gun, stated in terms of infantry, i.e. how many rifles would be required to produce the fire-effect of a machine-gun. A fourth and on this the teaching of military history is quite definite is the need of concealment and of evading the enemy's shrapnel. These points, once the datum of efficiency of fire has been settled, resolve themselves into two conclusions the necessity for combining independence and co-operation, and the desirability of Mercury's winged feet and cap of darkness for the weapon itself. It is on the former that opinions in Europe vary most. Some armies ensure co-operation by making the machine-gun section an integral part of the infantry regimental organization, but in this case the officer commanding it must be taught and allowed to shake himself free from his comrades and immediate superiors when necessary. Others ensure co-operation of the machineguns as an arm by using them, absolutely free of infantry control, on batteries; but this brings them face to- face with the risks of showing, not one or two low-lying gun-barrels, but a number of carriages, limbers and gun teams, within range of the enemy's artillery.

1 At San-de-pu 1905 the Japanese machine-guns (Hotcrikiss)

sustained damage averaging, I extractor broken per gun, I jam in every 300 rounds. It should be mentioned, however, that the machine-gun companies were only formed shortly before the battle.

In field operations only. For siege warfare see FORTIFICATION AND SIEGECRAFT.

French experiments are said to show that the fire-power of a machine-gun is equal to that of 150-200 rifles at exactly known range, and to 60-80 rifles at ranges judged by the French " instantaneous range-finder." The German drill-book gives it as equal approximately to that of 80 rifles on an average. The distinction of known and unknown ranges is due to the fact that the " cone of dispersion " of a large number of bullets in collective infantry fire is deeper than that of machine-gun fire. The latter therefore groups its bullets much more closely about the target if the latter is in the centre of the cone viz. at known ranges but if the distance be misjudged not only the close central group of 50% of the shots, but even the outlying rounds may fall well away from the target. At 1500 yards range the " 50 per cent, zone " with the Maxim gun is only 34 yards deep as compared with the 60 yards of a half-company of rifles.* The accuracy of the gun is more marked when the breadth of the cone of dispersion is taken into account. The " 75 per cent." zone is in the case of the machine-gun about as broad at 2000 yards as that of collective rifle fire at 500. At the School of Musketry, South Africa, a trial between 42 picked marksmen and a Maxim at an unknown range at service targets resulted in 408 rounds from the rifles inflicting a loss of 54% on the enemy's firing line represented by the targets, and 228 rounds from the Maxim inflicting one of 64%. Another factor is rapidity of fire. It is doubtful if infantry can keep up a rate of 12 rounds a minute for more than two or three minutes at a time without exhaustion and consequent wild shooting. The machine-gun, with all its limitations in this respect, can probably, taking a period of twenty or thirty minutes, deliver a greater volume of fire than fifty rifles, and assuming that, by one device or another (ranging by observing the strike of the bullets, the use of a telemeter, or the employment of "combined sights") the 75% cone of bullets has been brought on to the target, that fire will be more effective. The serious limiting condition is the need of accurate ranging. If this is unsatisfactory the whole (and not, as with infantry, a part) of the fire effect may be lost, and if the safe expedient of " combined sights " 4 be too freely resorted to, the consumption of ammunition may be out of all proportion.

The vulnerability of machine-guns is quite as important as is their accuracy. At a minimum, that is when painted a " service " colour, manoeuvred with skill, and mounted on a low tripod in several armies even the shield has been rejected as tending to make guns more conspicuous the vulnerability of one gun should be that of one skirmisher lying down. At a maximum, vulnerability is that of a small battery of guns and wagons limbered up.

Mobility comes next. The older patterns of hand-operated guns weighed about 90 Ib at least, without carriage, the earlier patterns of Maxims (such as that described in detail above) about 60 Ib. But the most modern Maxims Mobtut y- weigh no more than 35 Ib. Now, such weapons with tripods can be easily carried to and fro by one or two men over ground that is impracticable for wheeled carriages. Nevertheless, 1 * For practical purposes in the field, the " effective " beaten zone, containing 75 % of the bullets, is the basis of fire direction both for the machine-gun and the rifle. The depths of these " effective " zones are on an average:

500 yds.

1,000 yds.


2, ooo yds.

S.L.E. Rifle 220 yds.

1 2O yds.

100 yds.

Maxim Gun 150 yds.

70 yds.

60 yds.

50 yds.

" Combined sights " implies firing with the sights set for two different ranges, the usual difference being 50 yds. With grouped machine guns, " progressive fire " with elevations increasing by 25 yds. is used. This artificially disperses the fire, and therefore lessens the chance of losing the target through ranging errors. One ingenious inventor has produced a two-barrelled automatic, in which the barrels are permanently set to give combined elevations. The British memorandum of August 1909 seems to regard the facility of employing combined sights as the principal advantage of the battery over the section.

wheeled carriages are often used for the ordinary transport of the gun and its equipment, especially with the heavier models. The simplest machine-gun has a number of accessories tools, spare parts, etc. that must be conveyed with it, and at the least a pack-animal is indispensable.

Reducing these conditions to a phrase the fire effect that can be reasonably expected of machine-guns is that of fifty or sixty rifles, the space it takes up in the line can be made to equal that occupied by two men, and it possesses by turns the speed of a mounted man and the freedom of movement of an infantryman.

The use of the machine-gun (apart from savage warfare) that first commended itself in Europe was its use as a mobile reserve Machine- f fi re - Now, the greatest difficulty attending the duns as a employment of a reserve of any sort is the selection Reserve of o f the right moment for its intervention in the struggle, and experience of manceuvres of all arms in Germany, where " machine-gun detachments " began to be formed in 1902, appears to have been that the machine-guns always came into action too late. On the other hand, the conditions of the cavalry versus cavalry combat were more favourable. Here there was every inducement to augment firepower without dismounting whole regiments for the purpose. Moreover, vulnerability was not a fatal defect as against a battery or two of the enemy's horse artillery, whose main task is to fire with effect into the closed squadrons of mounted men on the verge of their charge, and above all to avoid a meaningless duel of projectiles. The use of wheeled carriages was therefore quite admissible (although in fact the equipment was detachable from the carriage) and, given the rapidity and sudden changes of cavalry fighting, both desirable and necessary. Thus, thanks Machine- to the machine-gun, the eternal problem of increasing duos with the fire-power of mounted troops is at last partially Cavalry. so i vec j ) anc } th e solution has appealed strongly both to armies exceptionally strong in cavalry, as for example the German, and to those exceptionally weak in that arm Denmark, for instance, having two or three light machine-guns per squadron. The object of the weaker cavalry may be to cause the onset of the stronger to dwindle away into a dismounted skirmish, and this is most effectually brought about by a fire concentrated enough and heavy enough to discourage mounted manoeuvres; on the other hand, the stronger party desires to avoid dismounting a single squadron that can be kept mounted; and this too may be effected by the machine-guns. What the result of such a policy on both sides may be, it would be hard to prophesy, but it is clear at any rate that, whether on the offensive or on the defensive, skilfully handled machine-guns may enable a cavalry commander to achieve the difficult and longed-for result to give the law to his opponent. The principal difference between the tactics of the stronger and those of the weaker cavalry in this matter is, that it is generally advantageous for the former to act by batteries and for the latter to disperse his machine guns irregularly in pairs.

It is not merely in cavalry tactics that the question of " section or battery " arises. It deeply affects the machine-gun tactics in the battle of all arms, and it is therefore decided in each service by the use to which the guns are intended to be put. One powerful current of opinion is in favour of employing them as a mobile reserve of fire. This opinion was responsible for the creation of the German machine-gun batteries or " detachments"; and in the drill regulations issued in 1902 for their guidance it was stated that the, proper use of machine-guns required a comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the general situation, and that therefore only the superior leaders could employ them to advantage. Manoeuvre experience, as mentioned above, has caused considerable modification in this matter, and while the large machine-gun " detachments " are now definitely told off to the cavalry, new and smaller units have been formed, with the title " companies " to indicate their attachment to the infantry arm. A recent official pronouncement as to the role of the " companies " (Amendments to Exerzierreglement fiir die Infanterie, 1909) is to the effect that the companies are an integral part of the infantry, that their mission is to augment directly the fire of the infantry, and that their employment is in the hands of the infantry regimental commander, who keeps the guns at his own disposition or distributes them to the battalions as he sees fit. It must be remembered that the regiment is a large unit, 30x30 strong, and the idea of a " mobile reserve of fire " is tacitly maintained, although it has been found necessary to depart from the extreme measure of massing the guns and holding them at the disposal of a general officer. The Japanese regulations state that in principle the machine-gun battery fights as a unit ; that although it may be advantageously employed with the ad- Machinevanced guard to assure the possession of support- duns in ing points, its true function is to intervene with full effect in the decisive attack, its use in the delaying action being " a serious error." In France, on the other hand, the system of independent sections is most rigidly maintained; when in barracks, the three sections belonging to an infantry regiment are combined for drill, but in the field they seem to be used exclusively as sections. They are not, however, restricted to the positions of their own battalions; taught probably by the experiences of the British in South Africa, they co-operate with instead of following the infantry. In Great Britain, Field Service Regulations, part i., 1909, lay down that " machineguns are best used in pairs 1 in support of the particular body of troops to which they belong " (i.e. battalions). " The guns of two or more units may, if required, 2 be placed under a specially selected officer and employed as a special reserve of fire in the hands of a brigade commander " (corresponding to German regimental commander), but "if an overwhelming fire on a particular point is required, it can be obtained by concentrating the fire of dispersed pairs of guns." More explicitly still, " the movements and fire action of these weapons should be regulated so as to enable them to open fire immediately a favourable opportunity arises."

Contrasting the German system with the French and English, we may observe that it is German tactics as a whole that impose a method of using machine-guns which the Germans themselves recognize as being in many respects disadvantageous. A German force in action possesses little depth, i.e. reserves, except on the flanks where the enveloping attack is intended to be made. Consequently, a German commander needs a reserve of fire in a mechanical, concentrated form more than a British or a French commander, and, further, as regards the decisive attack on the flanks, it is intended not merely to be sudden but even more to be powerful and overwhelming. These considerations tend to impose both the massing and the holding in reserve of machine-guns. The French and British doctrine (see TACTICS) is fundamentally different. Here, whether the guns be massed or not, there is rarely any question of using the machine-guns as a special reserve. In the decisive attack, and especially at the culmination of the decisive attack, when concealment has ceased and power is everything, the machine-guns can render the greatest services when grouped and boldly handled. Above all, they must reach the captured crest in a few minutes, so as to crush the inevitable offensive return of the enemy's reserves. The decisive attack, moreover, is not a prearranged affair, as in Germany, but the culmination, " at a selected point, of gradually increasing pressure relentlessly applied to the enemy at all points " (F. S. Regulations). The holding attack, as this " pressure " is called, is not a mere feint. It is launched and developed as a decisive attack, though not completed as such, as it lacks the necessary reserve strength. Here, then, the machine- 1 The use of single guns facilitates concealment, but this is outweighed by the objection that when a jam or other breakdown occurs the fire ceases altogether. The use of guns in pairs not only obviates this, but admits of each gun in turn ceasing fire to economize ammunition, to cool down, etc. This is the old artillery principle one gun is no gun."

2 In the instructions issued in August 1909 one of the principal advantages of grouped sections is stated to be the neutralization of ranging errors at ranges over TOOO yards. At a less range, it is laid down, grouped guns form too visible a target, unless the ground is very favourable.

gun is best employed in enabling relatively small forces to advance not to assault without undue loss, that is, in economizing rifles along the non-decisive front. 1 Withal, there are certain principles, or rather details of principle, that find general acceptance. One of these is the employment of machine-guns with the advanced guard. In this case the value of the weapon lies in its enabling the advanced guard both to seize favourable ground and points of support without undue effort and to hold the positions gained against the enemy's counter-attack. This applies, further, to the preliminary stages of an action. 2 Another point is that as a rule the most favourable range for the machine-gun is " effective infantry," i.e. 600-1400 yards (which is, mutatis mutandis, the principle of Reffye's mitrailleuse). Its employment at close infantry range depends entirely on conditions of ground and circumstances even supposing that the handiest and most inconspicuous type of weapon is employed. Thirdly and this has a considerable bearing on the other points the machine-gun both concentrates many rifles on a narrow front, and concentrates the bullets of many rifles on a narrow front. The first clause implies that it can be used where there is no room (physically or tactically) for the fifty or eighty riflemen it represents (as, for instance, in some slight patch of cover whence the gun can give effective cross-fire in support of the infantry attack, or in front of an advanced post, or can watch an exposed flank), and, further, that it can be swung round laterally on to a fresh target far more easily than a line of excited and extended infantry can be made to change front. The second means that the exit of a defile, an exposed turn in a lane or on a bridge, can be beaten by closely grouped fire at greater distances and with greater accuracy than is attainable with riflemen.

Further, the waste of ammunition and the strain on the weapon caused by unnecessarily prolonged firing at the rate for which its mechanism is set varying between 350 and 700 rounds a minute have caused it to be laid down as an axiom in all armies that machine-guns shall deliver their fire by " bursts " and only on favourable targets.

Lastly, the reports, both of observers and combatants, are unanimous as to the immense moral effect produced on the combatants by the unmistakable drumming sound of the machine-guns, an effect comparable even at certain stages of the fight to the boom of the artillery itself.

Equipments in Use. Practically all nations have abandoned the simple wheeled carriage for machine-guns, or rather have adopted the tripod or table mounting, reserving the wheeled vehicle for the mere transport of the equipment. Since the Russo-Japanese War the tendency has been to sacrifice the slight protection afforded by the shield in order to reduce visibility. The Japanese, who had unprotected field guns and protected machine-guns in the war, found it advisable to reverse this procedure, for reasons that can easily be guessed in the cases of both weapons.

Great Britain. The service machine-gun is the Maxim -303 in., adjusted to a rate of 450 rounds per minute and sighted (except in a few weapons) to 2900 yards. The original patterns weighed 60 lb, and were mounted on wheeled carriages. In the latest pattern, however, the weight of the gun has been reduced to 36 lb. The old Mark I. cavalry Maxim carriage, complete with gun, ammunition, etc., weighed 13 cwt. behind the traces, and the gun was 5 ft. above the ground. It had no limber. The Mark III. cavalry carriage is much lower (3' 6* from the ground to the gun), and the gun carriage and limber together only weigh 13 cwt. Of infantry carriages there were various marks, one of which is shown in fig. 6. Now, however, all mountings for infantry are of the tripod type, transported on wheels or on pack animals, but entirely detachable from the travelling mounting, and in action practically never used except on the tripod. The Mark IV. tripod mounting, of which a 1 The British instructions of August 1909 direct the grouping of guns in the decisive attack (if circumstances and ground favour this course) and their use by sections " if the brigade is deployed on a wide front," i.e. on the non-decisive front; further, that it is often advisable to disperse the sections of the leading battalions and to group those of units in reserve. In any case, while the 2, 4 or 8 guns must be ready to act independently as a special " arm," their normal work is to give the closest support to the neighbouring infantry (battalion in the holding, brigade in the decisive, attack).

5 In Germany, however, the tendency is not to make holding attacks but to keep the troops out of harm's way (i.e. too far away for the enemy to counter-attack) until they can strike effectively.

sketch is given in fig. 21, weighs 48 lb. The total weight of the fighting equipment is thus 84 lb only an important consideration now that in action the gun is man-carried. The gun can be adjusted to fire at heights varying from 2' 6* to i' 2 J* only from the ground ; in its lowest position, then, it is a little lower than the head of a man firing lying. All the later infantry machine-gun equipments are for pack transport and have no shields.

The organization of the machine-gun arm is regimental. Each cavalry regiment and each infantry battalion has a section of 2 guns under an officer.

France. The guns in use are the Puteaux and the Hotchkiss. The unit is the regimental 2-gun section. Four-horsed carriages with limbers are used with cavalry, tripods with the infantry sections. No shields. Weight of the Hotchkiss in use, 50 lb; of the tripod, 70 lb. The Puteaux was lightened and improved in 1909.

Germany. As already mentioned the German machine-gun units are classed as cavalry " detachments " and infantry " companies." The " detachment " or battery consists of 6 guns and 4 wagons, the vehicles being of a light artillery pattern and drawn by four horses. The gun (Maxim) weighs 61 lb, and its fighting carriage 1 10 lb. The " companies " have also 6 guns and 4 wagons, but the equipment is lighter (two-horse), and is not constructed on artillery principles, nor are the guns fired from their carriages as are those of the " detachments." The weight of the gun is 38 lb, and that of the fighting carriage 75 (some accounts give 53 for the latter), the difference between these weights and those of the mounted equipments, affording a good illustration of the difference in the tactical requirements of the cavalry and of the infantry types of gun. The fighting carriage is a sort of sledge, which is provided with four legs for fire in the highest position, but can of course be placed on the ground ; the height of the gun, therefore, can be variea from 3' 6* to l' 6*. The sledges can be dragged across country or carried by men stretcher fashion, and sometimes several sledges are coupled and drawn by a horse.

Japan. The Japanese Hotchkiss, as modified since the war with Russia, is said to weigh 70 lb, and its tripod mounting 40. Each regiment of infantry has a six-gun battery and each cavalry brigade one of eight guns. Pack transport is used.

Russia. Since the war eight-gun companies have been formed in the infantry regiments, and each cavalry regiment has been provided with two guns. The var organization is, however, unknown. Both wheel and pack transport are employed for travelling, but the guns are fought from tripods. Early and somewhat heavy patterns of Maxim (with shield) are chiefly used, but a great number of very light guns of the Madsen type have been issued.

The Austrian gun is the Schwarzlose, of which some details are given above. Pack transport is used, one mule taking the whole equipment with 1000 rounds. Weight of the gun 37-9 lb, of the tripod 41 lb. The height of the tripod can be varied from 9! in. to 2 ft. above the ground. It is proposed that each cavalry regiment should have four jjuns, and each infantry regiment two. Switzerland adopted the Maxim in 1902. It is used principally as a substitute for horse artillery. Denmark and other small states have adopted the Madsen or Rexer light-type guns in relatively large numbers, especially for cavalry. In the Untied States the British organization was after many trials adopted, and each infantry and cavalry regiment has a two-gun section of Maxims, with tripod mounting and pack transport.

See P. Azan, Les prem&res mitrailleuses (" Revue d' Histoire de 1'Armee," July 1907) ; Le Canon a balles, 1870-^1871 (" Revue d'Hist. de 1'Armee, 1909); Lieut-Colonel E. Rogers in " Journal R. United Service Institution " of 1905; Capt. R. V. K. Applin, Machine-gun Tactics (London, 1910) and paper in " J. R. United Service Inst." (1910); War Office Handbook to the Maxim gun (1007); Capt. Cesbron Lavau, Mitrailleuses de cavalerie; Lieut. Buttm, L'emploi des mitrailleuses d'infanterie; Major J. Goots, Les Mitrailleuses (Brussels, 1908); and Merkatz, Unterrichtsbuch fur die Masch.- Gewehrabteilungen (Berlin, 1906); Korzen & Kiihn, Waffenlehre, etc.

(C. F. A.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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