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Indirect Fire: A Primer

First shared on twitter.

Indirect fire with the #VickersMG (principles apply elsewhere though): First need to understand that in #VickersMG parlance: DIRECT fire is targets that can be seen from the gun position; INDIRECT fire is for targets that are obscured. Direct fire photos using tangent sight:

A target could be obscured by the terrain (such as a hill, ridge or woodland); smoke or fog (possibly intentional) or the darkness of the night. The #VickersMG is laid on an ‘aiming mark’ and then that becomes its zero line. (Aussie aiming lamp vid)

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The instruments vary over time but the principles are the same: direction dial and elevating wheel; clinometer and bar foresight; dial sight. Only other change is the ammunition used (maybe another thread one day – Mk 7 v Mk 8z).

So, how does it work by #WW2: ammunition trajectory is relatively flat but does lift until the culminating point where it drops again. This results in curved path of bullet which helps increase the range and crest clearance.

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A burst of ammunition creates a cone of fire because the vibration of the gun and miniscule differences in ammunition propellant means all rounds won’t hit the same exact spot. This exaggerates over distance, creating a beaten zone.

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A beaten zone starts as a long-narrow shape, but then gets shorter as the bullet slope is steeper, then longer again as variations become more apparent. The beaten zone makes the #VickersMG (and MMGs in general) area weapons.

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Ranges for the #VickersMG with Mark 8z ammunition (1938 onwards) were considered close if <800yds, effective 800-2000yds, long from 2000 to 4,500yds. Significant reach.

Because of the fire effect needed though, for indirect fire general principle is to have a minimum of four guns and ensure their beaten zones overlap. This creates an effective killing zone that can’t be observed by the enemy.

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This also means that it can’t be observed by your own troops, hence the need for accurate calculations and ranges, so the rangefinder and large-scale maps become important in the planning stages. 

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Setting up four guns means you have a zero line and a pivot gun. All angles and fire control orders are then laid off of the zero line. It can be set up for many more guns, as long as they know their angle of switch. 

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To lay the guns in the first place, they need to be ‘paralleled’. This means they are all pointing in the same direction and the distance between the guns will be the breadth of the gun frontage and lines of fire whatever the range. 

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When paralleling the guns, the dial sight of No. 1 gun is pointed to look at the other guns and they set the lensatic sights on each other. Once aligned, the drums are all set to zero again. Any adjustment from zero will now be the same on each gun. 

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This is why you often see dial sights on guns at very weird angles and in no way pointing towards the target. They’re either pointing at the No. 1 gun or the aiming post.

For targets with a greater width than the gun frontage, you have to allow for a number of ‘taps’ of the gun crosspiece right or left (“2-inch tap”) to distribute fire. You have to use the slide rule or range tables to calculate this.

If the target is narrower, then you adjust the angle of switch for the necessary guns so they fire converges on the target. 

If the target is longer than the beaten zone, you can raise and lower the elevation on the drum of the sight and relay the gun using the spirit level on the dial sight. 

All of this was not taken lightly and was pre-planned using indirect fire charts (sometimes found in war diaries). It was complicated and the officers and NCOs of an MG unit had to be quite adept at completing these schemes quickly.

By the end of the #GreatWar and during the #SecondWorldWar there were mass concentrated barrages with up to 128 guns (Australians!) laid on the same targets or using the same fire control plan. With the correct zero lines and planning, all could switch with ease.

In 1945, a practice of ‘pepperpots’ became a feature of large scale attacks in NW Europe with multiple divisional MG Bns coordinating fire with mortars and artillery to lay down different barrages with different effects. Clever stuff!

We’re planning on recreating the training for this in the next few months so it will all be on youtube.com/VickersMGColle… but I’ll do a quick section during the next Q&A video too. 

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Plenty more on the website, with most of this taken from the 1951 manual which captured all of the wartime learning. vickersmg.blog/manual/1951-ma…

That’ll do for now and hopefully it helps explain the process and the complexity of it for people who are interested. Support us at patreon.com/vickersmg 22/22 (long one! – well done if you made it this far!)

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Painting the Vickers MG

In the absence of another place to put this information on the website, this is being written as a blog post rather than a specific webpage. It is cross-cutting so there isn’t a specific category to place it in.

It will be written as a collection of information and references as we come across them, rather than a single coherent article. It should help restorers, living historians and collectors alike.

An overview video of the colour of the Vickers machine gun and tripod for living history purposes is available.

Army Council Instruction 96 of January 1939

This Army Council Instruction notified that “all vehicles (other than limousine staff cars) and all tanks, guns and supporting weapons which are at present painted with service paint shall in future be painted with a standard basic camouflage paint, Khaki Green, No. 3.” It wasn’t to apply to units in Egypt and Palestine. This instruction was amended in December 1939 to show that “unit arrangements” merely meant “unit labour“.

Army Council Instruction 386 of April 1940

To provide additional detail, ACI 386 was issued that set out the requirements for painting specific small arms in camouflage paint khaki green No. 3. For the Vickers MG it included the barrel casing and the exposed surfaces of the feedblock if the feedblock is in gunmetal. The tripod was painted all over except the gun and joint pin bearing surfaces, screw threads of elevating gear and stems of joint pins, and direction dials.

Army Council Instruction 465 of May 1940

This introduced the requirement for disruptive camouflage on vehicles, etc. It’s unclear as to whether it includes small arms but it’s likely that it wasn’t intended to.

Army Council Instruction 1147 of September 1940.

This ACI detailed that machine guns, except Bren guns, were to painted with the Paint, P.F.U. [prepared for use], khaki green, No. 3, heat resisting, special. This was as opposed to the non-heat resistant paint used on mountings and magazines.

Sources

  • The National Archives, WO 293/24, Army Council Instructions 1939.
  • The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.
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How much does collecting machine guns cost?

Well, more to the point: how much does it cost to run the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association (VMGCRA)?

About £2,000 ($3,000) a year before you even start to buy anything!

At the end of November, we had the Annual General Meeting of the VMGCRA. Whilst we discussed activities of the last year and those planned for 2020, as well as a little beyond, one of the main points of the conversation is finance. As you will know from reading the vickersmg.blog website and following the various social media feeds, the Association builds on Richard Fisher’s personal collection of Vickers MGs that he gifted to the Association in 2011. Since then, it has been run as an extension of a personal hobby with the aim of making it independent and self-sustaining for the future.

As part of this conversation, we discussed the costs of running the collection and it’s interesting to explain them here. Quite simply, before you even buy anything to expand and enhance the collection, you need to secure what’s there and ensure it’s safe for the future. This requires insurance, security and licensing fees (as it’s a Registered Firearms Dealer and Section 5 Authority). Then there’s the website costs as the outreach for sharing information, both hosting and domain fees.

ItemFrequency Amount Monthly equivalent
Section 5 authorisation renewalEvery three years £  747.00 £                           20.75
Registered Firearms Dealer renewalEvery three years £  200.00 £                             5.56
Website – WordPressMonthly £       7.00 £                             7.00
Website – domain namesAnnually £    40.00 £                             3.33
InsuranceMonthly £    88.11 £                           88.11
Security feesAnnually £  571.07 £                           47.59
Companies House registrationAnnually£12.00£1.00
 £                        173.34
Monthly costs of the Association (2019/20)

Then there are the costs of accommodation, electricity and lighting that aren’t currently included in the Association’s expenditure but will be in the next few years.

To be able to offset these costs, the Association relies on visits, minor manual DVD and poster sales and well as general donations through PayPal and, more recently, Patreon. To enable the Association to become sustainable beyond Richard Fisher’s support, it’s the £172 that needs to be covered monthly. Hopefully we’ll see Patreon support take us near this figure in 2020 and then be able to move forward with the plans for videos, writing, website expansion, as well as the high-resolution manual archiving that we’ve already started through archive.org.

As a registered not-for-profit, nobody draws any money from the Association and there aren’t employees. All of those who physically support events and conservation, restoration or archival work are volunteers, including the Directors.

A sustainable base will then mean that all funds over and above can go into expanding and enhancing the collection, the visitors’ experience and sharing more and more of the valuable information that we learn about the Vickers machine gun and those who used it.

So, what can you do?

  • Consider becoming a regular Patron, which has its own benefits for individuals: www.patreon.com/vickersmg
  • Make a one-off donation through PayPal
  • Purchase something through our sales page
  • Arrange for a group to come and visit the Association
  • If you work for an organisation that would like to support and event or some aspect of the Association, please contact us to discuss.

Of course, please join us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all active and regularly updated.

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One million rounds fired in 12 hours?

On 24th of August, it will be 103 years since the 100th Machine Gun Company of the Machine Gun Corps supported the attack on High Wood on the Somme. The story of them firing one million rounds from six guns in 12 hours has appeared throughout written and oral history since then. Did it happen?
It certainly intrigued Rich Willis enough to get in touch with Rich Fisher in Winter 2017/18 and start asking the technical questions about the capabilities of the Vickers, how much water would have been necessary, how quickly did the belt filling machine work and several others. It certainly warranted further investigation as one million rounds is a substantial feat. Rich W sent a draft of an idea for a magazine article to Rich F in February 2018. He’d written it during lunchtimes at work in about a week but it covered many of the pertinent points as he’d gone through the War Diary of 100 MG Company and read Hutchison’s account of the action in his book ‘Machine Guns’ (originally published in 1938 but reprinted in 2004 by Naval & Military Press).
Rich F knew that it had been cited in a lot of books in the Association’s library and found it in Hutchison’s 1919 unit memoir as well. By trawling through a wider range of material it was obvious that this might be suitable for a wider audience and, as it went against a lot of material written by well-established authors, it needed to be published with some credibility.
We investigated it together and did a bit of practical experimentation with the belt filling machine in the #VickersMG collection as well. We soon realised that something wasn’t quite right about the story and looked at it from several angles. Rich F spent some time writing it to fit an academic journal and originally intended to use the British Journal of Military History but that took a hiatus shortly after submission so delayed everything and an alternative outlet had to be found.
This has culminated in an academic article published in the First World War Studies journal of the International Society for First World War Studies. The article investigates the account from the records of the Company, the literature it which it has been cited and from the practical requirements – the logistics – for enabling such an action to take place. It also goes a little further as an example of the challenges when corroborating the accounts of veterans of conflict.
The abstract is:
 
The Great War saw machine gunnery develop from a direct fire weapon through to mass indirect fire barrages. There is an account from High Wood in August 1916 that represents the pinnacle of these developments – firing one million rounds from ten guns in 12 hours. This research examines that account to determine what happened and the technical and logistical requirements of such a feat. By examining the war diaries and characteristics of the Vickers machine gun, it has been possible to identify what actually took place, what would have been necessary for one million rounds to be fired, the potential of Great War machine gunnery and challenge posed when citing first-hand accounts from veterans.
 
If you have academic access then this can be found on the Journal Website.
A copy of the ‘pre-print’ has also been placed on Rich Fisher’s ResearchGate page which includes other examples of work in the same area that he has completed, including a recent conference paper on the logistics of machine gunnery.
A copy of the ‘post-print’ document is also available here for download here.
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We’ll continue to add information about this fascinating account over the next few weeks. Rich Willis has become a Member of the Vickers MG Collection & Research Association and is working on his own research projects as well.
 

UPDATE 21 September 2020:

Rich Willis and Rich Fisher recorded a podcast for the Western Front Association. We talk through the background to the research, what caught our interest and what we found. It’s available here.

UPDATE July 2021:

It is now possible to purchase a revised edition of the 1919 History and Memoir of the 33rd Battalion Machine Gun Corps, including a full copy of the paper that challenges this account.

UPDATE 24 August 2021:

For more information and to view the ground discussed, we had the opportunity to visit the site of SAVOY TRENCH in August 2021.

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Specialised armour of the 79th Division

Given the heightened interest in the specialised armour of the 79th Armoured Division, often referred to as ‘Hobart’s funnies’, around the time of Operation OVERLORD, I thought I’d share one of the non-Vickers items in the collection. It doesn’t fit anywhere else on the website, so it warrants its own blog post.

This is the British Army’s manual on ‘The Characteristics and Tactical Employment of Specialised Armour’ that includes all of the technical and tactical aspects of the different equipment that was used.

1945-UK-79thArmdCover

It appears to have been a provisional manual produced in 1945 but then amendment in 1947 with handwritten updates.

The contents covers all of the variants employed.

  • Tank Flamethrowers
  • Flails
  • Assault Vehicles Royal Engineers (AVRE’s) (characteristics and organisation only)
  • Specialised Armour in the Assault
  • DD Tanks
  • Landing Vehicles Tracked (LVTs)

It’s 166 pages of really in-depth information on all aspects of their use and isn’t something that is readily available elsewhere.

I hope it’s of interest to others; the specialised armour has held my interest since I was at school and wrote about it for my GCSE English Coursework – I didn’t do as well as I should have done as I got more interested in the subject than I did in the writing.

Those who want to download and read it, I’ve produced a low-resolution PDF that’s available here or by clicking on the image below. It’s still 18MB so a large file but definitely worth the download time.

1945-UK-79thArmdCover

If you would like the high-resolution version (62MB) without water-mark then please click on the shop link below.

The Vickers MG Collection & Research Association is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and registered in England. All net monies received contribute to the running of the Association.