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Machine Gun

One of the most significant revolutions in the nature of twentieth century warfare was the rapid-firing machine gun. A machine gun is a weapon designed to deliver a large number of bullets or small shells, either by volleysi or in very quick succession, at a high rate of fire. The idea of a gun that would keep up a continuous stream of fire attracted inventors early in the development of firearms. The idea of the machinegun appeared in the 16th century. The weapons were called organs (orgues), from the number of pipes or tubes that they contained. At first used defensively as an effective addition to the military equipment of a war-cart, they were developed, in the early part of the 16th century, into a really formidable weapon for breaking the masses of the enemy, not by scythes and spikes but by fire. But its fatal defect was that it was neither powerful enough to engage nor mobile enough to evade the hostile artillery.

In 1718, James Puckle of London, England, demonstrated his new invention, the "Puckle Gun," a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock gun fitted with a multishot revolving cylinder. The French mitrailleuse was also a multibarreled weapon, but it used a loading plate that contained a cartridge for each of its 25 barrels. The barrels and the loading plate remained fixed, and a mechanism (operated by a crank) struck individual firing pins simultaneously or in succession.

The manually operated machine gun - the Gatling gun - which the Army had adopted in 1866, was employed successfully in the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War. At the start of the Civil War, Gatling thought the invention of a high rate of fire automatic gun would reduce the number of soldiers required to man the battlefield, reducing their exposure to disease and other hazards of war. In 1862, at the age of 44, Richard Gatling had demonstrated his first working model of the Gatling gun in Indianapolis, Indiana. With a advent of the automatic machine gun, the U.S. Army declared their Gatling gun obsolete in 1911, after 45 years of service to the US Army.

American inventors, including Hiram Maxim, John Browning, and Isaac N. Lewis, the last an officer in the Army's coast artillery, took a leading part in developing automatic machine guns in the years between the Civil War and World War I. Weapons based on their designs were adopted by many of the armies of the world.

Although machine-gun tactics were somewhat indefinite, there were well-marked tendencies which had 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.

Sir Hiram Maxim (1840-1916) was an American who subsequently took British citizenship. He was best known for his invention of the rapid-firing machine gun, a staple of Victorian-era imperial armies, which he patented in 1883. Maxim was the first to produce a finished automatic gun of practical value. In the modern automatic machine-gun the loading, firing, extracting and ejecting are all performed automatically by the gun itself, either by the recoil of its barrel, or by a small portion of the gases of expIosi~n being allowed to escape through a minute hole in the barrel near the muzzle. By 1890 Hiram Maxim's portable machine gun was capable of firing 600 rds/min. The machine gun, along with the steamboat, enabled the imperialistic drive in which Europe conquered Africa in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Lt Col Isaac Newton Lewis, US Army, first demonstrated the use of his lightweight machine gun from an American aircraft in 1912. Actually, Lewis had envisioned his weapon for use by soldiers on the move-not as an aircraft weapon-because the Maxim gun had proved too heavy for mobile infantry. The Marine Corps adopted Lewis's gun before the outbreak of World War I.

John Moses Browning (1855-1926) of Ogden, Utah, is considered by many to be the greatest firearms designer ever to live. The M1917 water-cooled .30 cal. machine gun was developed by John Browning. The M1971A1 was the Army's standard battalion level machine gun until the mid-1950s. The M1917 was tripod mounted, but was also used as an aircraft gun. The M1917 had a rate of fire of 450 spm. Browning began work on the .50-caliber machine gun in July 1917 and it was introduced in 1918. Of the .50-caliber machine gun, German Field Marshal Herman Gring said, "If the German Air Force had had the Browning .50-caliber, the Battle of Britain would have turned out differently."

But not until fighting began in World War I would it be generally realized what an important role the machine gun was to have in modern tactics. Thus, in the years between 1898 and 1916, Congress appropriated only an average of $150,000 annually for procurement of machine guns, barely enough to provide four weapons for each regular regiment and a few for the National Guard. Finally in 1916 Congress voted $12 million for machine-gun procurement, but the War Department held up its expenditure until 1917 while a board tried to decide which type of weapon was best suited to the needs of the Army.

Today, the seven-man weapons squad consists of a squad leader and two 3-man machine gun teams. The weapons squad provides the primary base of fire for the maneuver of the platoon's rifle squads with highly accurate short- and long-range, direct, and small-arms fires against enemy personnel and equipment. The two machine gun teams consist of the gunner, assistant gunner, and ammunition bearer.

The machine gun is the infantry platoon's primary weapon against a dismounted enemy. It provides a high volume of lethal, accurate fire to break up an enemy assault; it has limited effects against lightly armored vehicles; and it may cause vehicle crews to button-up and operate with reduced effectiveness. The platoon leader employs his M240B machine guns with the dismounted element or with a rifle squad to provide long range, accurate, sustained fires under all visibility conditions against dismounted infantry, apertures in fortifications, buildings, and lightly armored vehicles and trucks. The M240B also provides a high volume of short-range fire in self-defense against enemy aircraft. Machine gunners use point, traversing, searching, or searching and traversing fire to kill or suppress targets.

In the offense the platoon leader has the option, based on his analysis of the factors of METT-TC, to establish his base of fire element with one or two machine guns, the SAW, or a combination of the two weapons. The platoon sergeant may position this element and control its fires when the platoon scheme of maneuver is to conduct the assault with the three dismounted squads. The machine gun, when placed on tripods, provides stability and accuracy at greater ranges than the bipod. The machine gunners target key enemy weapons until the assault element masks their fires. They also can suppress the enemy's ability to return accurate fire or to hamper the maneuver of the assault element. They fix the enemy in position and isolate him by cutting off his avenues of reinforcement. They then shift their fires to the flank opposite the one being assaulted and continue to target any enemy automatic weapons that provide mutual support to his position or engage any enemy counterattack. M240B fires also can be used to cover the gap created between the forward element of the assaulting force and terrain covered by indirect fires when the indirect fires are lifted and shifted. On signal, the machine gunners and the base-of-fire element displace to join the assault element on the objective.

In the defense, the machine gun provides sustained direct fires that cover the most likely or most dangerous dismounted avenues of approach and protect the unit against the enemy's dismounted close assault. The platoon leader positions his machine guns to concentrate fires in locations where he wants to do the most damage to the dismounted enemy and where they can take advantage of grazing enfilade fires, stand-off or maximum engagement range, and best observation of the target area. They provide overlapping and interlocking fires with adjacent units and cover tactical and protective obstacles with traversing or searching fires. When final protective fires are called for, machine guns (aided by SAW fires) place an effective barrier of fixed, direct fire across the platoon front.

Gunners use the direct-lay technique by aligning the sights of the weapon on the target. This is the easiest and quickest means of delivering fire.

Gunners can use overhead fire when there is sufficient low ground between the machine gun and the target area for the maneuver of friendly forces. Normally, overhead fires are conducted with the machine guns on tripods because they provide greater stability and accuracy and the vertical mil angles can be measured by using the elevating mechanism. Gunners must accurately estimate range to the target and establish a safety limit that is an imaginary line, parallel to the target, where fire would cause casualties to friendly soldiers. Gun crews and leaders must be aware of this safety limit. Leaders must designate signals for lifting or shifting fires. Gunners should not attempt overhead fires if the terrain is level or slopes uniformly, if the barrel is badly worn, or if visibility is poor.

Defilade positions protect gunners from frontal or enfilading fires. Cover and concealment may not provide the gunner a view of some or all of the target area. In this instance, some other member of the platoon must observe the impact of the rounds and communicate adjustments to the gunner. Gunners and leaders must consider the complexity of laying on the target, the gunner's inability to make rapid adjustments to engage moving targets, the ease with which targets are masked, and the difficulty in achieving grazing fires for a final protective line.

The primary consideration that impacts the employment of machine guns within urban areas is the limited availability of long-range fields of fire. Although machine guns should be emplaced at the lowest terrain level possible, grazing fire at ground level is often obstructed by rubble.

The caliber .50 machine gun is often employed on its vehicular mount during both offensive and defensive operations. If necessary, it can be mounted on the M3 tripod for use in the ground role or in the upper levels of buildings. When mounted on a tripod, the caliber .50 machine gun can be used as an accurate, long-range weapon and can supplement sniper fires.

Medium machine guns are cumbersome, making them difficult to use inside while clearing a building. They are useful outside to suppress and isolate enemy defenders. If the gunner is unable to engage targets from the prone position, he can fire the M240B and the M60 from either the shoulder or the hip to provide a high volume of assault and suppressive fires. The use of the long sling to support the weapon and ammunition is preferred.

Medium machine guns are less effective against masonry targets than caliber .50 machine guns because of their reduced penetration power. The gun's availability and its lighter weight make it well suited to augment heavy machine gun fire. They can be used in areas where the caliber .50 machine guns cannot be positioned, or they can be used as a substitute when heavy machine guns are not available. The M60/M240B machine gun can be employed on its tripod to deliver accurate fire along fixed lines and then can quickly be converted to bipod fire to cover alternate fields of fire.

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Page last modified: 25-04-2012 18:43:04 ZULU