K.J. Bunting Capt.
Issued down to Divisions
(for distribution down to Battalions)
NOTES ON RECENT FIGHTING – No. 9
TACTICAL HANDLING OF MACHINE GUNS IN DEFENSIVE OPERATIONS.
(Issued by the General Staff)
These Notes refer to defensive operations only, and do not, therefore, necessarily alter our offensive tactics.
- Direct fire over the sights is the most effective type of machine gun fire, and all guns must be sited with this end in view. Indirect fire is subsidiary. It may, however, always be employed to harass and inflict damage on the enemy, provided that a sufficient reserve of S.A.A. is kept in filled belts at the gun for direct fire.
- During a prolonged bombardment prior to attack, cases have occurred where guns have maintained a useless barrage for several hours. The S.O.S. barrage, co-ordinated with the artillery and put down at the right time, serves a useful purpose. The justification for opening fire on S.O.S. lines depends on:- (b). the imminence of the hostile infantry attack.
- As regards (a) rear guns should have a larger reserve of S.A.A. rounds than forward guns, as they have more opportunity of expending it; but a minimum of 4,000 rounds filled in belts must be kept intact at all gun positions and reserved for direct fire. (b) Every possible arrangement must be made beforehand for the communication of this to the batteries.
- (a). The ammunition supply.
- Barrage fire cannot be initiated at short notice from a new position. It cannot be carried out with a map of less than 1/20,000 scale. It should not be attempted unless there has been thorough preparation; unless effective communications exist; and unless it is clear that the enemy is actually advancing over the area covered by the fire.
- The positions of machine guns should be chosen with a view to all round defence. Instances have recently occurred where guns have been put out of action by a few of the enemy’s bombers, who have worked up close to them without being observed. If there is any dead ground or concealed approach in the neighbourhood of a gun position, it must be kept under continuous observation by sentries, or frequently patrolled. If the machine gun commander is unable to provide for his own protection, an escort should be furnished by the nearest infantry commander. It is the duty of the machine gun commander in such cases to ask for an escort if it is not provided.
- The employment of machine guns singly should be avoided, as reliance cannot be placed upon a single isolated gun unless it is in charge of an officer or NC.O. Guns sited in pairs facilitate control and inspire mutual confidence between the teams. Groups of four guns are generally more efficient, but are difficult to conceal. They have frequently been located and shelled out by the enemy before the completion of their tasks. They should not be employed unless efficiently camouflaged.
- Instances have occurred, however, of the successful control of a group of 4 guns, with the guns sited in pairs some distance apart.
- Care should always be taken to prevent the position of machine guns being disclosed by the movement of the gun detachment in its neighbourhood. When siting a gun position on a forward slope, some covered route (e.g., a hedge or ditch) should, if possible, be selected by which communication can be maintained with the gun.
- There should be no sniping by machine guns, as this gives away the position of the gun.
- Machine guns which are placed to cover ground by direct fire under normal conditions must also be able to carry out their tasks by indirect means in case of smoke, fog etc. at night and in misty weather, guns should always be mounted so that fire can be opened at once. During a hostile attack in fog or darkness, a sentry should be posted under cover in front of the gun position to give ample warning of the enemy’s approach.
- The question of reserving machine gun fire for short ranges depends on the nature of the target, but fire should be opened in sufficient time to prevent the guns being rushed by the enemy.
- Every machine gun team should have with it the means of destroying the gun. A bomb on the breech casing is an efficient means.
- When in action machine guns should invariably have condenser tubes attached. Cases have occurred in which hostile machine guns have been put out of action owing to the discovery of their positions by the escape of steam.
- Empty belts must be refilled at the first opportunity; when possible a special party should be detailed for belt filling at battalion H.Q. to assist companies. The importance of taking care of belts must be impressed on all ranks, and every effort must be made to salve belts when changing positions. The issue of machine gun ammunition ready filled in expendable belts is being expedited to the utmost.
- Co-operation between the infantry and Lewis guns and machine guns is essential, particularly in open warfare, and must be practiced during training. Instances have been reported during the recent fighting when orders to withdraw were given to the infantry which were not communicated to the machine gunners. This omission resulted either in the guns being withdrawn without orders, or in their being left in their old position until it was impossible to withdraw them owing to lack of any covering fire. The Lewis guns, as they are more mobile, should cover the withdrawal of the machine guns.
- As soon as the infantry has withdrawn and reorganized on its new position, a proportion of the machine guns which had covered the withdrawal should be released to take up fresh dispositions in depth.
- It is of the greatest assistance to the infantry commander in obtaining a quick grasp of the position if the machine gun officer can prepare a sketch map, however rough, shewing the situation of his guns.
- A definite system of communication must be laid down, and employed at all times between the machine gun company and its transport. This system must apply not only to the conditions of trench warfare; but also to the new conditions which will arise in the event of open warfare. The fighting limbers should be part of the company and controlled as such. They should not be grouped together under the battalion transport officer.
- The training of machine gun sections with their transport must be practiced on all possible occasions. The proper use of limbers and pack animals appears to have been somewhat lost sight of during recent operations.
- During a battle the machine gun battalion commander should establish his advanced headquarters near the advanced divisional headquarters, where he will be in touch with the divisional staff and have access to all the divisional means of communication.
- The machine gun defensive organization must make full use of the existing communications within the divisional areas. machine gun commanders, therefore, must keep in close touch with the headquarters of the infantry and artillery units in their vicinity. In this way they will be able, if necessary, to make use of the infantry and artillery signalling system.
- Special attention must be paid during training to:-
- Selection, both deliberate and rapid, of gun positions.
- Approach to a position and coming into action.
- Protection of flanks.
- Training of sections with their fighting limbers.
- Training of officers in rapid preparation of sketch maps.
- Co-operation with infantry in open warfare schemes.
- Notes on equipment:-
- On one occasion during the battle. Lewis guns were issued to units in mistake for Vickers. Chests for Vickers guns will in future be marked “Chests, Vickers .303” Gun,” and not “Chests, Vickers or Lewis .303” Gun,” as in the past.
- It is a matter for consideration whether the first aid case ought not to be strapped to the gun when in action, to prevent loss.
- It is considered advisable to retain the issue of auxiliary mountings on the scale of one per gun, and guns should invariably have the auxiliary mountings attached when out of the gun chests. Where a shortage exists, the forward guns should have preference.
- All reports show that guns and equipment worked well. Lock springs and the auxiliary mounting attachment band are the only breakages reported.
- One instance is reported of the belt filling machine proving of use.
3rd of May, 1918.
Printed in France by Army Printing and Stationary Services. PRESS A-5/18-6237S-3500