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Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Weapons, Contents
Topic: Wp - Weapons

Weapons used by the Light Horse

1899 to 1920




The Machine Gun

Machine Gun Tactics, Applin Account


Hotchkiss Portable Machine Gun Handbook

Hotchkiss Portable Machine Gun Handbook


Hotchkiss Machine Gun Pack for Cavalry

Hotchkiss Machine Gun Pack for Cavalry


Further Reading:


The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920


Citation: Weapons, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Wednesday, 17 February 2010 9:51 AM EAST
Friday, 6 March 2009
Great War Weapons, Machine Gun Tactics, Applin Account
Topic: Wp - Weapons

Great War Weapons

Machine Gun Tactics

Applin Account


A German Machine Gunner demonstrating the firing position for a Maxim, 1905.

[From: Braun, Das Maxim Maschinengewehr, Berlin, 1905, p. 83.]


The following article written by Captain R. V. K. Applin called "Machine Gun Tactics in Own and Other Armies", appeared in the Military Journal, June, 1911.

Captain R. V. K. Applin, D.S.O., 14TH (King’s) Hussars, late Instructor School Of Musketry, South Africa, and late D.A.A.G. (Musketry), Malta.

Applin, RVK, "Machine Gun Tactics in Own and Other Armies", Military Journal, June, 1911, pp. 247 - 266.


Machine Gun Tactics in Own and Other Armies

The Russo-Japanese war has given us many striking lessons, and perhaps not the least important is the new light it has thrown on machine guns, their value on the battlefield, and their extraordinary power for decisive action whey properly organized and handled. Their success in Manchuria - one of the features of the campaign - proves them to be a most important reinforcement to cavalry and infantry.

That this lesson has been accepted by the, European Powers is shown by the almost universal re-organization and increase of this arm, Japan and Russia leading the way.

I shall endeavour to deal with the use of machine guns in war, their place in the battlefield, and the general principles that should govern their tactical employment; and I only venture to express the opinions and make the suggestions that follow, on the understanding that I am to raise points for discussion at the end of the lecture, and the more debatable my hypothesis, the greater the opportunity for instructive criticism.

In the first place it is necessary to clearly understand the nature and potentiality of the arm with which we are dealing, in order to fix its value as a fighting weapon, and I shall therefore say a few words on machine guns themselves.

The modern machine gun is essentially an automatic weapon of small arm calibre, capable of firing from 100 to 600 shots a minute from a light mounting of extreme mobility, and should fulfil the following qualifications:-

1. It should be able to deliver about 400 shots a minute without loss of accuracy, even with prolonged “continuous" firing.

2. It should be capable of accompanying cavalry and infantry wherever these arms can go, occupy the smallest space, and be able to go into action quickly at rifle range.

3. It should have a firm mounting, upon which the gun is steady, and from which it can be aimed rapidly and fired while kneeling, sitting, or lying.

4. The gun and its mounting must present a small target, and be light enough for each, and, if possible, both, to be carried by one man for a considerable distance, and should admit of being dragged by a man crawling or crouching for short distances.

5. It should be in constant readiness for action and able to fire when limbered up if on wheeled carriage.

6. It should be simple, strong, and durable. Mobility and constant readiness for action are indispensable with cavalry, while lightness and smallness of target are essential factors.

There are seven main types of machine gun at present in use in the armies the world, viz:


Gun. In use in.
Maxim Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, and U.S.A.
HotchkissFrance, Japan, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal.
Perino Italy.
Puteaux France.
Schwarzlose Austria.
Skoda Japan and China.
Madsen Russia, Denmark (Rekyl pattern), and China (for Cavalry).


The principal differences between these guns are –

(a) The automatic mechanism.

(b) Method of loading.

(a) may be divided into two classes

1. Recoil action-the Maxim, Perino, and the Nladsell.

2. Gas pressure action-the Schwarzlose, Hotchkiss, Skoda, and Colt. (b) consists of three classes

1. Bell loaders-the Maxim, Schwarzlose, and Colt.

2. Metal clip loaders---Hotchkiss, Madsen, Perino, and Puteaux.

3. Hopper loaders-the Skoda.

Several of the above countries, notably Russia, Japan, France, and Austria, have more than one pattern of gun in their service. and it is difficult to say which they intend finally to adopt, but Russia, since the war, has ordered several thousand Madsen guns, and Japan is said to be trying this gun, one of which during the war fired 25,000 shots in a single day.

I have purposely omitted the Rexar gun, which only weighs 17½ lbs., but is fired from the shoulder, and is therefore more of the nature of all automatic rifle than a machine gun.

It would take too long to deal with each of these weapons separately. I shall therefore select the Maxim as the type with which to discuss the question of tactics, but it will first be necessary to demonstrate its capabilities and fire value as compared with other arms.


Rate of Fire.

Machine guns of this class are capable of discharging 600 shots a minute, but this very high rate of fire is obviously undesirable for several reasons, the principal being that, however skilfully a gun is handled, a great waste of ammunition must ensue, for a single man would be struck with 8 or To bullets and hundreds of bullets would be wasted in space. These guns are therefore regulated to fire at a maximum rate of 450 rounds a minute. The extreme range of this type of gun is, for practical purposes, the same as the infantry rifle, viz., 3,500 yards, though it is more effective at the extreme ranges than an equal intensity of rifle fire, owing to the stability in mounting, which causes it to have a beaten zone of only half the depth, and nearly half the width, of rifles firing the same number of rounds.


Rifles and Machine Guns.

Careful experiments carried out at Hythe between 50 infantry and a machine gun, each firing the same number of rounds at ranges from 500 to 2,000 yards, proved this conclusively. The diagram on page a49 gives the result of the test at 1,500 yards, showing the depth of ground beaten by 50 per cent. shots.



Another experiment carried out at the School of Musketry, South Africa, between 42 rifles, all marksmen or first-class shots, and a Maxim, at an unknown range (about 1,000 yards); time allowed, 1 minute; ammunition, unlimited; targets, a line of 50 head and shoulder figures at one pace interval, resulted as follows:


Rounds Fired. Hits. Per cent. Figs. hit. Per cent, of loss
Rifles4086215.127 54


The rates of rifle fire are "slow” - 3 rounds a minute-and "rapid” - 15 rounds a minute. Slow fire is the normal rate, and "rapid'' fire can only be used for a short time when a sudden burst of powerful fire is required at a critical moment, and it can only be kept up for about three minutes, at the end of which period the firer is exhausted, the rifle too hot to handle, and the aim consequently erratic. This is when the men are fresh, and they would probably be unable to keep up effective rapid fire for more than a minute and a half, after being in action for several hours. It is here that the machine gun is so greatly superior to rifle fire - it is never exhausted, and it never loses its accuracy through the firer becoming tired.

A similar experiment carried out between 42 "sharpshooters" and a Maxim, during the annual training for 1908 in the U.S.A., at 600, 800, and 1,000 yards, at the "L" target, each firing 750 rounds, resulted in 22.45 per cent. in favour of the Maxim. The Maxim fired "rapid - continuous," and the men slow individual, the latter using the new S bullet. - U.S. Cavalry Association Journal, July, 1009.


Fire Power.

To compare the power of this gun with rifle fire: We may safely say it is equal, if not superior, in fire effect to a half company of infantry, while it has the enormous advantage over infantry of occupying only 5 feet of ground instead of 50 yards. In other words, fire equal to that of a battalion of infantry can be delivered from a frontage of only 60 yards. Its vulnerability depends entirely on its mounting, which should be as near the ground and as inconspicuous as possible, and as it requires but two men to work it, it presents a very small and difficult target.



The last consideration is its mobility, and even here it is so vastly superior to infantry as to be beyond comparison. The gun now only weighs 36 lbs., while it can be used with effect from a mounting of 40 lbs. weight; therefore, on a suitable carriage, it should be capable of moving with the rapidity of cavalry.


Fire effect.

Napoleon's maxim that: "Fire is everything, the rest of small account," is only applicable to the machine gun when the fire is effective; nothing is so useless and wasteful as ineffective machine gun fire, and the careful study of fire effect is imperative with this weapon, and the beaten zone is, perhaps, the most important factor in obtaining effective fire.


Beaten Zone.

We have already seen that the range of the machine gun is practically the same as that of the rifle, but that the beaten zone is only half the depth and about half the width of the collective fire of infantry, partly owing to the rigidity of the mounting and partly to the fact that the human error is greatly reduced by being concentrated in the person of a single individual, instead of being spread over some 5o men of different temperament, nerves, and aiming power.

The depth of the zone beaten by 75 per cent. of bullets - which is the effective zone - is, at 500 yards, only 125 yards, against 220 yards for rifle fire; at 1,000 yards it is 70, as against 130; and at 1,500 yards it is 60, as against 100 yards. Therefore the extreme permissible error in estimating range is:

at 500 yards, about 60 yards;

at 1,000 yards, 35; and,

at 1,500 yards, 30.

[Lieut-Colonel W, D. Bird, DSO, in lecture before the Aldershot Military Society.]

In addition to these factors, the fire from machine guns is always collective and concentrated, unless deliberately dispersed by the firer, while rifle fire is always individual and dispersed, unless specially controlled by fire discipline under a leader. Fire discipline and fire control are in the hands of one man; there is no need to point out the target to a scattered firing line; there is no delay in passing orders down the line, in the setting of 50 different sights for the correct elevation, and for ensuring that the rate of fire and expenditure of ammunition are regulated by the effect produced. Thus fire can be opened far more rapidly aril accurately than with rifles, and can he at once directed on a fresh target without ceasing fire, while the effect can be seen by the firer who can instantly change the rate or cease fire altogether.


Cone of Fire.

For ranges over 500 yards it is absolutely necessary to know the range accurately or to find some other method of bringing the "effective zone" on the target. The machine gunner may be likened to the fireman with his hose-pipe, whose object is to bring the base of his jet of water to play on a certain spot some distance away from the nozzle of his pipe. He does not trouble about the distance; he does not require to know the range; but, pointing the nozzle in the direction he desires to strike, he elevates or depresses it until he observes the base of the cone of water falling on the right spot, and then he holds his pipe so that it continues to fall where he desires. He does not trouble about the smaller streams and drops of water that fall short or go beyond, but devotes his whole attention to keeping the nucleus of the stream-the 75 per cent. or 50 per cent. falling on his "target." In precisely the same way the machine gunner must look upon his stream of bullets as a stream of water from a hosepipe, and his object must be to cause the centre of that stream to play on the target; this can best be done by "observing" the strike of the nucleus of the shots and altering the elevation accordingly. This observation of fire is the best method of obtaining the correct elevation at "effective ranges" (i.e., 600 to 1,400 yards), if the ground is suitable.


Observation of Fire.

If the target is only visible for a short time, groups or “gusts" of rapid fire may be fired; but, as a rule, "deliberate" fire at the quickest rate should be employed, and "rapid" only used when the range has been found. If the ground is not favourable for the observation of fire, or the range is too great, this method cannot be used, and it will be necessary to obtain the range by instruments; but it will not always be possible to do so, and it is necessary to find some other reliable way of ensuring that the target is within the effective zone.


Combined Sights.

Supposing the range to be estimated at 1,000 yards, the effective zone is about 70 yards in depth; therefore, an error of only 50 yards in estimating the range will render fire ineffective. There is but one way to overcome the difficulty, and that is by increasing the effective beaten zone, and this can be done by using "combined sights," and thus making two or more beaten zones which touch each other and overlap where the effective 75 per cent. of shots of each ends.

There are two ways of using combined sights:-

a. The "single gun" method.

b. The "battery" method.

In (a), with an estimated range of 1,400 yards, the sights will be set for 1,300, and aim taken; then the sights will be again set for 1,500 yards, but without altering the original aim, and "rapid" fire opened and the elevating wheel slowly turned to elevate the gun until the 1,500 sighting is aligned on the target. The result of this operation is to sweep the whole ground from 1,275 to 1,525 yards with effective fire, and if an error of 125 yards over or under the correct range has been made, the target is, nevertheless, brought within the effective zone by the combined elevations used.

The second method (b) is only used where at least four guns are available. The range is estimated as before, and then each gun uses an elevation differing by 25 yards from the next; thus, taking 1,400 yards again as an example of the estimated distance, No. 1 will use 1,325; No. 2, 1,350; No. 3 1,375; and so on, No. 6 using 1,450 yards. In this way the effective zone of No. 1 gun will just overlap the effective zone of No. 2, and so on right up to No. 6 gun. Thus, instead of one small zone of 50 yards of effective fire, we have six guns joining to make one big effective zone 175 yards deep.

We have now examined its principle and characteristics and find:

1. Fire effect - 50 rifles.

2. Vulnerability - A "file'' (two men).

3. Mobility - Cavalry.

We are now able to decide its place in battle, and can discuss its tactical use; before doing so, however, let us see what has been done in this matter by other armies.



Germany was the first great Power to adopt modern machine guns in her army, and before doing so she appointed a Committee of the Great General Staff to experiment with the guns, and to report on the best method of employing them. The result of these experiments was that the gun was mounted on a sleigh, capable of being dragged by hand into almost any position, and which can be adjusted to fire 1 ft. 6 in., 2 ft. 6 in., and 3 ft. 6 in. above the ground. This sleigh is mounted on a galloping gun-carriage with limber, by a single clamp acting on the runners, and the gun can be fired from this carriage as well as from the sleigh if so desired. Each gun has four horses, and the whole detachment are mounted or carried on the guns. The guns are organized in batteries of six, called "sections," which are again sub-divided into "divisions" of two guns. To each "section" (i.e., six guns) is allotted three ammunition wagons, and one battery wagon, with 87,000 rounds. In order to avoid confusion, I shall use the English words "battery" and "section" to express six and two guns respectively. There are sixteen of these independent batteries, which in war would be attached to cavalry divisions.

In addition to these, each regiment is to have one company, "the 13th," consisting of six machine guns, each drawn by two horses, with three ammunition wagons and one reserve wagon, carrying 72,000 rounds, viz.:

With the guns18,000
With the wagons42,000
In the reserve wagon12,000

The staff of the machine gun company will consist of –

1 lieutenant commanding,

9 NCO’s

74 men,

28 horses (7 saddled, 18 draught, and 3 spare).

The officers and three warrant officers are mounted, the men are; armed with automatic pistols, and the infantry pattern range-under is used.

Guns are never used singly. The general principles governing their use are:

1. A powerful reserve capable of rapidly bringing an intense and overwhelming infantry fire to bear on any desired spot at the critical moment of the fire fight, with a minimum of front and vulnerability.

2. With independent cavalry to enable them to retain their mobility and functions as cavalry by doing away with the necessity for dismounted action.

Batteries of machine guns are under the immediate command of the G.O.C. in the field, except when attached to the independent cavalry. Their regulations and directions for tactical handling are very thorough and complete, there being no less than 261 paragraphs in their Official Text Book.

"The fire of a machine gun is approximately equivalent to that of 80 infantry; the dispersion of fire is considerably less; therefore, while the effect is greater with an accurate sight, it is less if the range is not accurately known. The most suitable targets are those of some size and depth, e.g., infantry columns, cavalry in all formations, and artillery when limbered up. At moderate ranges extended firing lines may be fired upon, but little effect can be produced upon men lying down, even at the, shortest ranges, though the moral effect may be considerable; short bursts are more effective than long continuous fire."

[Captain von Beckman in Jahrbücher für die Deutsche Armee und Marine, June 1]



Russia had 8o machine guns at Liao-Yang (September, 1904). The mountings were found unsatisfactory, and new wheeled and pack transport was adopted. Six-gun batteries were attached to the cavalry divisions, but since the war each cavalry regiment has had two guns permanently allotted to it.

In December, 1906, four-gun companies were allotted to each infantry regiment, and by November, 1907, 115 companies of 896 guns had been formed. These companies consist of four guns each, but are to be raised to eight as soon as possible-practically the whole of the infantry have now got them.

The company at war strength consists of 2 officers, 50 NCO's and men, 35 horses with wheeled transport, and 36 with pack; the gun is sighted to 2,000 yards, weighs 68 lbs., the total weight, with tripod, &c., being 198 lbs.; 5,850 rounds are carried per gun. The Souchier range-finder is used.



Before the war Japan had no machine gun organization, but six-gun batteries were hastily formed and attached to the cavalry. The importance of these weapons at once appeared, and Hotchkiss guns were manufactured at Tokio, and, with Maxims purchased in Germany and America, were formed into six-gun batteries, and attached to each infantry division. At Mukden each regiment had three guns attached, and by the end of the war 320 machine guns were available.

The Hotchkiss pattern has now been adopted, and is mounted on a tripod weighing 40 lbs., the weight of gun and tripod together being 110 lbs. The gun has an all-round traverse, it is carried on pack animals and organized in six-gun batteries, one battery being allotted to each regiment; the battery is commanded by a captain or lieutenant, with a warrant officer, 6 NCO's, and 36 men, 30 horses (6 for guns and tripods, 24 for ammunition). One ammunition horse follows each gun, and 18 under a warrant officer form a battery ammunition column; each horse accompanying the guns carries 1,500 rounds in two boxes, and 2,160 in four boxes are carried by each horse with the column. Each cavalry brigade has an eight-gun battery divided into half batteries of four guns; the staff consists of 3 officers and 87 rank and file, all mounted. There are 32 ammunition horses, each carrying 2,400 rounds. [Von Lobell's Annual Report, 1908.]

Tactical.-The guns are organized as a battery, but may be broken up into sections, or even single guns. The most useful range is 800 yards; it is thought wrong to employ slow fire. Well hidden skirmishing lines or machine guns are considered unsuitable targets. They are never used to replace artillery or to fire at artillery at long range. Concealed positions and use of flanks and rear advocated; alternative position, great intervals between guns and measured ranges essential to success. Their tactics are undergoing modification, and there are likely to be many changes.

The Japanese may claim to have invented the first machine gun, if the following extract from a lecture lately delivered by Lieutenant Imari is correct:

"In 1704 a Japanese (one Moue Geki) invented a 20 -barrel Mitrailleuse; but a certain Sofu Ichimu, thinking the invention of such a weapon was a proof of seditious intentions, invited the inventor to his house, and killed him."

"After which," as the, lecturer naively remarks, “there was no inducement for men to invent such weapons."



France has both the Puteaux and the Hotchkiss. Each infantry and cavalry brigade has a two-gun section attached, but it is intended that every regiment shall ultimately have a two-gun section. The question of mounting has not yet been definitely settled, but experiments are being carried out with wheeled carriages, similar to our own, but drawn by four horses. [Von Lobell's Annual Report, 1908.] They have also tripods for use with infantry, which can he adjusted from 1 ft. 3 in. for lying to 2 ft. 6 in. The weight of the gun is 50 lbs., and of the tripod 70 lbs. The detachment of one lieutenant, one under-officer, and 23 rank and file, are armed with rifles; the whole detachment, with cavalry, are mounted; no shields are used. The detachments have a Souchier telemeter, which is carried on a man's back, and has an error of about 1 per cent. Ammunition is carried in boxes, three on each side and one on top of a pack saddle; 8, 700 rounds are carried with the pack transport, 16,500 with the cavalry ammunition carts. During the last year 4,000 machine guns have been issued.



Austria experimented in 1906 with the Schwarzlose. Last year three army corps received three-gun sections, and two cavalry divisions have been provided. It is intended to give each infantry regiment two guns, and each cavalry regiment four guns; pack transport is used, but has not yet been permanently adopted.



Italy has adopted the Perino, which has a water-cooled barrel and fires 425 shots a minute. It is loaded by a magazine containing 10 metal clips, each holding 25 cartridges. The gun weighs 27 kilograms, and is mounted on a tripod which weighs 20 kilograms, and can be adjusted to fire from any height by moving the legs.

The Commission appointed to test the gun recommended that 4 guns should be attached to each regiment of cavalry and infantry, with the following detachments:

For cavalry, 1 N.C.O. and 5 men, with 2 horses per gun.

For infantry, 1 N.C.O. and 4 men, with 2 mules per gun.

No details as to ammunition, method of carrying, or tactics have been settled yet.


United States, America.

The United States of America, after prolonged trials, have adopted Maxims with tripod mountings, carried on pack animals. Every cavalry and infantry regiment is to have a section of two guns.

First-Lieutenant A. E. Phillips, of the 10th Cavalry, gives some interesting notes on "Machine Guns with Cavalry," in the Journal of the U.S.A. Cavalry Association for July, 1909. A test between 41 "sharpshooters" and a machine gun, each firing 750 shots at 600, 800, and 1,000 yards, resulted in 57 hits for the rifles, and 97 hits for the machine gun, the percentage in favour of the gun being 22. The men used pointed bullets and the machine gun the old bullets; the men fired slow-aimed fire and the machine gun rapid continuous.

The 10th Cavalry machine gun detachment, at the divisional meeting for 1908, from the halt in line moved forward in section column at a gallop for 200 yards, and went into action and fired a blank shot in 31 seconds, Speaking of the Maxim, he says: "No one without hard study and patient experiment can effectively handle the weapon."



Switzerland has just adopted the Maxim of 1908 pattern. Each of the four army corps has one mounted machine gun company of eight guns divided into four sections of two guns each. These companies are also attached to cavalry. The guns are carried on pack horses. The whole detachment is mounted, and they use their guns in the place of horse artillery, which arm does not exist in their service.



Denmark has the Rekyl gun (Madsen pattern), and each squadron has a section of three guns carried on pack horses, 300 rounds with each gun, and one led horse with each gun with spare ammunition.


General Principles.

I now come to the general principles governing their tactical employment in modern war. Machine guns enable commanders to develop at fixed points the maximum volume of rifle fire from the smallest possible front. Machine guns can be employed over any country that is practicable for infantry, and when once they are unlimbered they must be able to surmount considerable obstacles. In action they offer no greater target than riflemen fighting under like conditions, and they can, in proportion to their fire value, support far greater losses than infantry. When movement over the battlefield is contemplated, and the machine guns are unlimbered, they must be pulled or carried forward by hand. They can utilize all cover which infantrymen are able to use; cover which is barely sufficient for a section of infantry can protect an entire machine gun detachment. An engagement with a line of skirmishers under good coyer should be avoided. It demands a heavy expenditure of ammunition, which is not commensurate with the result obtained. During a lengthy rifle action, the detachments with their guns should be withdrawn temporarily from their position, so as to save their effect for the decisive moment.

Machine guns should be employed in pairs and in mutual support.

The whole detachment must not only be trained to work the guns, but must be also trained scouts and range-takers. Nos. 3 and 4 must carry range-finders. When moving alone on the march, or advancing into a position, scouts working in pairs must be pushed out ahead and on the exposed flank or flanks, and they should be taught to use a system of signals to indicate the following:

1. All clear.

2. Enemy in sight.

3. A good target in sight.

4. Cavalry (prepare for).

5. Artillery within range.

6. A good gun position.

Six simple and unmistakable signals can be easily learned during peace training, and might prove invaluable on service, for opportunity is everything to the machine gunner, and is usually so fleeting as to demand instant action.


Taking up a Position.

On moving to occupy a position, the guns will usually be in line at from 10 to 100 yards interval, with the sectional commanders leading their sections, and the scouts well ahead; the flank guns must arrange for the protection of the flank by scouts in the same manner.

The Germans consider that ground scouts should never go into the position, as they are so liable to expose themselves, and thus "give the position away"; and, as I have already pointed out, "surprise" is the essence of success. They say that the commander of the battery or section, whichever the unit may be, should alone examine the position and select the place for his guns to come into action, and I am quite sure this is the right method as a general principle. But broken and hilly country, where cover is abundant and the position extensive, a battery commander can do no more than indicate generally the positions to he occupied by the sections, and it will be then advisable for the section commanders to select the gun positions. If the cover is good, the range-finders may next occupy the gun positions and proceed to take ranges. In open country, where there is no good cover in the position, the scouts will only approach it sufficiently to ensure that it is not occupied by the enemy, and will then halt and find a good position for the guns to unlimber. The commander, passing through the scouts, will then reconnoitre the position himself and select the place for moving into action.

There are two methods of taking up a position, which depend for their choice upon the proximity of the enemy and the time at which the fire is to be opened. The first is the "deliberate" method, in which the guns are brought up and the ranges taken before the target appears. Cover is essential to success, and the guns must be most carefully concealed, the whole object being to surprise the enemy when the moment arrives, and, therefore, concealment is the first object in view. For this purpose artificial cover may be made by erecting screens of boughs, &c., in front of the guns, which are thrown down the moment before opening fire.

The second method is used when the enemy is in the immediate vicinity, when the country is open, and the position is without cover, or when within the artillery range of the enemy. The guns unlimber and prepare for action immediately in rear of the gun positions, and as close to them as possible, but completely out of sight of the enemy. The commander alone goes into the position, and having selected approximately where each gun is to go, he stations them immediately in rear of their intended fire positions. He then creeps forward alone and watches for the opportune moment. When this arrives, a blast of his whistle brings the guns up with a rush - no concealment is attempted, but, fully exposed, each gun opens fire on the nearest target. If the moment has been rightly judged, and the range properly estimated, 60 or 90 seconds is sufficient time to obtain the desired effect, and before the enemy's artillery can get the range, a second signal from the commander sends the guns out of action as rapidly as they appeared.

This is one of the most successful methods of employing machine guns. There is no risk of being discovered before the target appears; there is no “giving away" the position by careless scouts, and there is no chance that a powerful pair of field glasses will discover the guns in position before they open fire, and turn the tables by surprising them. On the other hand, it requires a very highly-trained detachment, and a vast amount of practice, to insure its success.


Alternative Positions.

Alternative positions are always necessary when the deliberate method is used, and must be carefully practised in peace, the principal points being

1. That the second position is suitable for bringing effective fire to bear on the enemy.

2. That the gun is able to gain the position without exposure.

Scouts so often forget that they can work with ease where it is impossible to carry a gun, and unless the foregoing conditions are fulfilled, the positions may be useless.


Mutual Support.

Guns must always work in pairs for mutual support - one gun firing while the other remains concealed. When it is necessary for the gun firing to move to a new position, the supporting gun will open fire and cover its retirement. It will always be advisable, and generally necessary, for a gun to move to an alternative position directly it has fired, and not wait until compelled to go; every gun and rifle within range will be turned on a machine gun when discovered, but if it is cleverly concealed and quickly withdrawn, it may draw fire to its late position while it moves out of sight to a new, and, possibly, an enfilading one.


Method of Firing.

The peculiar noise made by the Maxim firing "continuous" attracts attention at once; but if teams are trained to use "deliberate fire," a rate of 70 to 120 rounds a minute may be easily attained, and if the double button is struck irregularly to imitate rifle fire, considerable effect may be obtained on a target which would not justify "continuous" fire, while the gun's presence is not disclosed at all.

The place for unlimbering must always be as close to the position as possible without exposing the teams to fire or view, and the reserve ammunition must be brought up to this spot. Precautions must always be taken to prevent the teams being surprised from the flanks or rear if exposed.


With Infantry.

Machine guns with infantry should be used as a mobile reserve, and held back until the decisive moment of the fire fight. They should he under the immediate orders of the G.O.C., and must, therefore, be organized in batteries under a responsible officer. They should never engage a line of skirmishers, and must be used to bring an overwhelming fire to bear on the point selected for assault after the last reserve has been thrown in. Owing to their narrow beaten zone and great accuracy, they can be used to fire over the heads of attacking infantry within a hundred yards of the position.

"An officer who commanded one of these batteries at the battle of Mukden, and who, later, was detailed to lecture to the attaches with the first army (Japanese), said that on one occasion there he continued this fire until their advancing infantry had arrived within 3o metres of the enemy's position."

[United States Official Report on the Russo-Japanese War.]


Covering Fire.

They are also valuable in the first deployment as covering fire, owing to the rapid and concentrated fire they can deliver, and the ease with which they can sweep ground, change the target, and open and cease fire. When used for this purpose they should be concealed as much as possible, and where the ground is suitable, the fire should be indirect from the reverse slopes of a hill, so as not to attract artillery.

They may also be used to reinforce threatened points, when their mobility will enable them to arrive at a distant part of the battle-field with the rapidity of cavalry; they must rarely be used in the firing line, where their fire, being dispersed, is less effective than an equal volume of rifle fire, and where they are at once the target of every rifle. Machine guns can never engage artillery, and should avoid engaging other machine guns.


Use in Recent Campaigns with Infantry in the Attack.

The following examples from recent campaigns will illustrate their proper and improper use under these conditions:

At Mukden, on the 1st March, all the machine guns of a whole Japanese division were brought into action upon a Russian point d'appui. The Russian fire was silenced, but burst out again whenever the machine gun fire slackened. The Japanese used these pauses in the enemy's fire to press forward to close range, under cover of their own machine gun fire. On 2nd March, three machine guns of the 10th Japanese Infantry Regiment acted in the same way against the Russian field work. ["The Great Siege" by Norregaard.] This method of employing machine guns demands the closest possible co operation with the infantry from the commencement of the fight.


Improper use in Firing Line.

At Paardeberg the machine guns of the infantry attacking across the open, upon the left bank, were used in the firing line, and when e advance was checked, their guns could not he withdrawn, and were left standing upon the open plain. I believe the detachment suffered terrible losses. [Times History of South African War.] At Reitfontein a detachment of the Gloucester's Maxim was almost annihilated when following the regiment in the firing line. Again, at Modder River, the Scots Guards' Maxim detachments were annihilated by pom-pom fire, while advancing with the firing line, and the gun was left on the plain all day.


At Skirmishers.

At Hei-kou-tai, on 27th January, on the left flank of the Japanese army attacking Sha-shan, four Russian machine guns, at a range of only 1,000 yards, swept the widely extended skirmishing line of the attack. Captain Takenouchi, who was present commanding the company, says -

"It had no effect whatever on our advance, and the enemy eventually evacuated the position."


In the Defense.

In the defence they should be concealed and held back in reserve until the moment of assault, then their great fire power may be utilized with decisive results.

They are particularly useful at night with the outposts, as they can be trained by day to sweep roads, defiles, or bridges, and can thus be used in the dark to sweep the approaches with accurate fire.

At Mukden, on 1st March, the left of a Japanese division, being within 300 yards of the enemy's position, and about to assault, the Russians suddenly opened a very heavy machine gun fire from cleverly concealed positions, causing such loss that the Japanese attack was temporarily suspended.

On 10th August, 1904, the Japanese captured a Lunette near Shuishi, after severe fighting, and the Russians made a counter attack with three machine guns, and drove the Japanese out again with a loss of over 300. The three machine guns retired from the Lunette before the attackers got home, and, taking up a position behind an open gorge of the work, showered such a hail of bullets on the victorious Japanese that they were compelled to retire.

On the attack on 203 Metre Hill, machine guns on Akasakayama flanked the position and enfiladed the attackers. Four hundred Japanese were sheltered together in a parallel, where they were completely screened from fire from any part of 203 Metre Hill. Suddenly machine guns, which had been concealed on Akasakayama, where they could fire directly into the parallel, opened fire. Within a few seconds it was turned into a veritable pandemonium, a seething mass of humanity, where men were fighting wildly to get away, climbing over piles of corpses which blocked the entrance, and trying to escape down the coverless hillside. Within a few minutes practically the whole force was wiped out. It took the Japanese days to extricate and carry away the fearfully intermingled corpses. ["The Great Siege," by Norregaard.]

The following is only one of the many instances in this war where machine guns have been able to repel a sudden night attack, when no other arm could have succeeded:

During the storming of Ehrlung, at midnight, on the 26th November, the Japanese made a desperate attempt to storm the upper battery, but the assailants were mown down by the machine- guns as soon as they appeared on the parapet.


Against Artillery.

The result of not concealing them in the defence, and the necessity for alternative positions, is well illustrated by the following examples, which will also show their impotence against artillery:

At Kensan, on 26th June, 1905, when the Japanese were attacking the position, the Russians brought up two machine guns against the 43rd Regiment and a mountain battery at 3 p.m. The battery at once silenced the machine guns, and by 5.30 p.m. the hill was in the hands of the Japanese.

During the attack on North Kikuan Fort, on 19th December, by the 38th Regiment, the Russian machine guns took an important part in the defence, their galling fire making fearful ravages among the attacking party. The Japanese, therefore, got a couple of mountain guns hauled up on to the parapet, and with these succeeded in silencing the Maxims.


With Cavalry.

The machine gun is essentially a cavalry weapon, and although this fact is fully recognised by the great Powers, as I have shown, I am afraid it is hardly admitted as such in our own service, and I do not think that I shall be contradicted if I assert that many of our cavalry officers look upon it as a rather unnecessary encumbrance.

The cavalry role is undoubtedly to fight mounted, and the object of the enemy should be to compel them to dismount. Dismounted cavalry are, for the time being, infantry, and no longer mobile or dangerous in their own rifle. It would be sound tactics, therefore, for the side which is weak in this arm, to endeavour to hold up the enemy's cavalry by rifle fire and then compel them to dismount and join issue in a protracted fire fight, just as the Japanese did with the Russians. The possession of machine guns by the independent cavalry will enable theta to do this without sacrificing their own mobility in the process, and as we are terribly weak in cavalry, surely we, of all nations, can least afford try neglect anything that will enable us to keep even a single squadron mounted.

Horse artillery requires an escort, and thus more men are taken from the precious squadrons for a service for which machine guns are admirably suited indeed, it is a recognised principle that machine guns can confidently await the attack of cavalry under any circumstances.

The side weakest in cavalry will also find himself opposed to superior numbers in the cavalry collision, and can scarcely expect much assistance from his artillery to equalize: matters, as they will probably be dominated by the superior artillery of the enemy; but the divisional commander, who has the four batteries of machine guns of his four brigades, is in a very different position, and, skilfully handled, he may be able to completely surprise the enemy from positions on the flanks, preventing the out-flanking movement which must inevitably follow superiority in numbers, while the fire effect of 24 guns on closed masses of cavalry preparing for the "charge," should be so decisive and overwhelming as to render it possible for a much smaller force to snatch a victory in the face of great odds.

The Germans say in their Official Text Book -

"Horse artillery and machine guns, by reason of their fire, enhance the offensive and defensive powers of cavalry. In defence and against unexpected opening of fire, they form the most effective portion of the force. In the advance of cavalry against cavalry, the machine gun detachments must take up their positions as soon as possible, so as to support the first deployment, and then the attack of the cavalry."

"A position will be selected most advantageously well to a flank of the advancing cavalry, since from there a continuation of fire is rendered possible up to the moment of the 'charge.'"

In reconnaissance they are hardly less valuable, and are used to break down resistance at small posts, defiles, &c., which are occupied, or vice versa, to stiffen the opposition made by the cavalry at such points, and do away with the necessity of dismounted action as far as possible.

In pursuit their utility is obvious, and while they pound the enemy on the flanks, and press him into making a stand, the cavalry are free to cut his line of retreat.

In covering the retirement of cavalry in face of a superior force, or after a repulse, they are invaluable, as they can completely stop pursuing cavalry, and hold on to a position until the last moment, and then retire with the rapidity of cavalry itself, only to stand again at the next opportunity.

Owing to the weakness in numbers of the Japanese cavalry, and the preference shown by the Russian cavalry for fighting on foot, the examples of the use of machine guns as an aid to mounted action in the recent campaign are very few; but the lesson of the war is summed up by Colonel Zaleski in the following words:-

"The adoption of machine guns-even their addition to squadrons, cannot be carried out too rapidly, and this weapon would now appear to be indispensable to cavalry.”

[Internationale Revue Armie et Flotte.]

On the 8th June, 1905, at Nauching, General Samsonov had two cavalry regiments and one machine gun battery. During dismounted action these machine guns were placed in the firing line, two in the centre about too yards apart, and one on each flank, some 400 yards away. The firing line fell back, leaving the machine guns to bald the line alone. The Japs advanced to within 300 yards, and heavy artillery fire was directed against the machine guns; but as the latter were well posted, and their positions could not be accurately ascertained, they continued to hold their ground for nearly three hours, when the Japanese abandoned the attack and fell back. [Captain Von Beckman.]

The 3rd Cavalry Regiment, covering the right flank of the Japanese army during the battle of Wa-fang-kow, was seriously pressed by three Russian battalions and one battery. General Akizma's cavalry brigade came up, and it was chiefly owing to the excellent work of the machine guns that the Russian force was brought to a standstill.

A Russian infantry battalion, retreating across the Taitsi River; was almost annihilated, being overtaken by a Japanese cavalry regiment, accompanied by machine guns, which swept the bridge from end to end, and for the first time in this war machine guns were used with decisive effect. [Standard Correspondent.]

The golden rule for machine gun tactics is: Conceal your guns, utilize cover, and operate by surprise, for surprise is the essence of tactical success.

In conclusion, let us see how our own organization and training can be improved to meet modern requirements. For what purpose do we require machine guns? I think the answer is twofold -

1. For savage warfare and small expeditions.

2. For a great war against a civilized enemy.

The question is, therefore, what organization will suit these two different conditions best? By our present organization two guns are attached to each regiment of cavalry and battalion of infantry, and I trust I shall be able to show the necessity for organizing machine guns in batteries for the purpose of training, and to enable them to be used as a great reserve by the G.O.C. The late Colonel Henderson said of the volunteers in Mexico:

"The ideal of the battle is a combined effort directed by a well-trained leader; as individuals they fought well, as organized bodies capable of manoeuvring under fire and of combined effort they proved to be comparatively worthless."

We may say the same of our machine guns. We can scarcely expect to obtain a high- standard of tactical training or organized bodies capable of manoeuvring under fire and combined effort, from the regimental subaltern and his two guns left absolutely to his own resources. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that the machine gun section commander should be a subaltern of not less than three years' service, especially selected for his keenness and efficiency and self-reliance, who has passed the examination "C" for promotion, and who holds the special machine gun certificate from a School of Musketry. A "destroyer'' in the Royal Navy is commanded by a very junior officer, but he is most carefully selected for similar qualities to those I have just mentioned, and is, in addition, required to possess the necessary professional qualifications: consequently, it is a command much sought after, and competition enables the authorities to appoint the pick of the service, and thus obtain efficiency where efficiency is the essence of successful employment in war. The best, and nothing but the best. is essential to the successful employment of machine guns in war, and the necessity for obtaining the very best officers as section commanders is so great that I am inclined to doubt the utility of having machine guns at all if they are not commanded and handled by those who are in every way expert in their use.

It is further necessary that machine guns should be organized in batteries in peace time, and trained under a senior officer for combined effort in war; and I think it will be admitted that such organization and training would vastly increase the efficiency of machine guns, while it would in no way prevent the two-gun section from being employed, as at present, as a separate unit when advisable. My suggestion is this: When a regiment or battalion is brigaded with others, either for administration or training, the six or eight guns should be formed into a battery under the command of a selected field officer, who would be solely responsible for their peace training and efficiency, and who would command them on manoeuvres and on service; there would be little or no innovation in this, as signallers are now trained and commanded on similar lines under a divisional signalling officer.



Given a suitable mounting, capable of great mobility, of a pattern that can be used lying behind cover, and organized and trained as above, the G.O.C. will have a splendid reserve in his hands for use at the critical moment of a fight, as mobile as cavalry, in fire action more powerful than infantry, having the enormous advantage of occupying in action the smallest possible front, yet capable of hailing a storm of some 10,000 bullets a minute with a maximum of accuracy and concentration. With our small Army based on the system of voluntary service, we, of all nations, can least afford to neglect an arm which gives such enormous fire power in proportion to numbers.



Experiment in Indirect Fire.

The following is an extract from an article by First-Lieutenant A. E. Phillips, of the 10th Cavalry, from the journal of the United States Cavalry Association for July, 1909:

"To determine how many, if any, of the bullets from the machine gun would strike troops in front of an assumed 'hill.' over which the gun was to fire, canvas frames were used to represent such objects, the targets being concealed from view.

"The target consisted of a strip of target cloth 6 feet high and 15 yards wide, along the bottom edge of which is pasted a. row of 15 kneeling figures with an interval of r yard from centre to centre. Across the target, and parallel to its top edge, is drawn a narrow black line tangent to the tops of the heads of the figures. Value of hits on any figure = 5; value of hits on the cloth below the line= 3; value of hits on the cloth above the line = 1. Canvas frame, 8 feet high, placed 200 yards in front of the gun. Rapid fire:



Range 800 Yards.

No. of Shots. Figs. 5'9. 3's. Total per cent. of figs. hit Remarks.
30 5 10 12 22 Line of sight was 5 feet below obstruction. All shots over.
30 8 10 9 16 



Range 1,000 Yards.

No. of Shots. Figs. 5'9. 3's. Total per cent. of figs. hit Remarks.
30 9 11 4 60 Line of sight was 3 feet below obstruction. All shots over.
30 12 17 7 80 



Range 1,200 Yards.

No. of Shots. Figs. 5'9. 3's. Total per cent. of figs. hit Remarks.
30 2 2 5 13 Line of sight was 7 feet below top of obstruction. All shots over.
30 4 5 13 27 
30 8 11 9 53 


"It will be noticed that no '1's' were made. Assuming the height above the ground of the average mounted soldier as 8 feet, had a troop of cavalry mounted been 200 yards in front of the machine guns in the third experiment, the line of sight would have struck about the backs of their horses, and all bullets would have gone over the riders with at least 4 feet to spare, as proved by the experiment. The troop mounted could have moved forward to within 100 yards of the target, and would not have been struck by the bullets."


Further Reading: 


The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920


Citation: Great War Weapons, Machine Gun Tactics, Applin Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Wednesday, 17 February 2010 10:09 AM EAST

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