This page provides some information on personal weapons used by, principally British and Commonwealth, Machine Gunners. It is not intended to provide technical information on the weapons but more how they were used by the MGers themselves.
Made as part of our ‘reenactorism‘ series, the following videos gives an idea of how personal weapons were carried with the Vickers machine gun.
Pistols and Revolvers
Pistols, Revolver, No. 1, Mk. VI – .455-in. Webley; with 6-in. barrel
This was the standard service revolver of the Great War period through to the 1930s, when it was replaced with the .38-in. revolvers. It was first issued to the Nos. 1 and Nos. 2 of the machine gun detachments of Machine Gun Squadrons and Cavalry Regiments in June 1916 (Army Council Instruction 1916/1265) and then to the Machine Gun Detachments of Machine Gun Companies in July 1916 (Army Council Instruction 1916/1382).
Revolver firing was part of the machine gunner training during the Great War, and is known to have required practice with either hand.
It’s thought that pistols remained in use with the Nos. 1 and Nos. 2 until the Machine Gun Corps was disbanded and the machine gun detachments returned to the infantry battalions as platoons.
During the period that the .38-inch revolver was used, the majority of units with machine guns, particularly the Divisional (Machine Gun) Battalions were equipping all of their machine gunners with rifles; however, certain units did vary this and include pistols for the their Nos. 1 and 2 in the detachments.
- The Frontier Battalions of the Sudan Defence Force.
- The Mechanized Regiment of the Arab Legion of Transjordan.
Pistols, Revolver, No. 2, Mk. I – .38-in., with 5-in. barrel
Pistols, Revolver, No. 2, Mk. I* – .38-in., with 5-in. barrel
Pistols, Revolver, No. 2, Mk. I** – .38-in., with 5-in. barrel
Colt M1911A1 .45-inch Automatic Pistol
The Airborne and Commando units used Colt Automatic Pistols and sidearms for Machine Gunners. Whilst the rest of the British Forces largely used rifles for Machine Gunners, those specific forces used pistols to save on weight and improve ease of movement.
Pistol, Browning, F.N. 9 mm. H.P., No. 2 Mark I*
The majority of men in machine gun organisations were armed with a rifle in the same manner as other infantry of the period.
The barrels of rifles were subject to rust and needed an annual application of mineral jelly. Army Council Instruction 1444 of November 1940 authorised the painting of the Rifles Nos. 1, 2 and 3 to provide this protection.
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 1, Mk. III
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 1, Mk. III*
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 4, Mk. I
Although the magazine of the rifle was intended to hold ten rounds, it was found that some early production examples had to be modified to enable this to happen. Army Council Instruction 808 of 1942 was issued to effect this.
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 4, Mk. I*
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 4, Mk. II
Rifle, .303-inch, No. 5, Mk. I
Rifle, 7.62-mm., L1A1
Carbines and Sub-Machine Guns
Carbines, Machine, Thompson, .45-inch, M1928A1
When in British service, the Thompson sub-machine gun – the Tommy gun – had the position of its sling changed, in accordance with Army Council Instruction 1111 of 1942. This made it possible to carry the weapon by its sling but at the ready. The diagram below is an extract from the ACI. It shows that it was suitable for use with either the forward pistol grip or the handguard.
Carbines, Machine, Sten, 9-mm., Mk. I
Carbines, Machine, Sten, 9-mm., Mk. I*
Carbines, Machine, Sten, 9-mm., Mk. II
Carbines, Machine, Sten, 9-mm., Mk. III
Carbines, Machine, Sten, 9-mm., Mk. V
US M1A1 .30-inch Carbine
Used by the Special Air Service, and other Special Forces units, such as the Raiding Support Regiment, as a light alternative to British machine carbines.
Gun, Sub-Machine, 9mm, L2A3
Knives and Bayonets
Bayonets, Patt. ’03
Bayonets, No. 1, Mk. I – Patt. ’07
Bayonets, No. 4, Mk. I – For Rifles, No. 4, Mk. I
Bayonets, No. 4, Mk. I – For Rifles, No. 4, Mk. II
Bayonets, No. 4, Mk. I – For Rifles, No. 4, Mk. II*
Bayonets, No. 5, Mk. I
Fairburn-Sykes Commando Knife
The Airborne and Commando units used these knives as a personal sidearm. They were also used by the Special Air Service, and other Special Forces units, such as the Raiding Support Regiment.
Swords, Cavalry, No. 1, Mk. I* – Service ’08; hilt painted or polished.
Section or Platoon Weapons
Also used within the British and Commonwealth MG Platoons and Companies were the following weapons. They were usually in addition to the personal weapons and would be allocated as required for the task. They were usually carried with the command or administration elements of the unit.
These are considered ‘Associated Weapons‘ and have their own webpage.
- The National Archives, WO 293/25 Army Council Instructions 1940.
- The National Archives, WO 293/27 Army Council Instructions 1942 Part I.