The first centralised Machine Gun training was carried out as a course for Junior Officers at the School of Musketry, Hythe. Those Officers that attended the Maxim gun courses between 1890 and 1914 were often those who went onto command the Machine Gun Battalions of the Great War. The Royal Garrison Artillery had their own training courses at their own artillery coastal defence schools.
The first specific Vickers gun course mentioned in the Registers of the School of Musketry took place between 25 October and 15 November 1913 at Aldershot. Four members of the course attended the full course and qualified on termination.
- Ainsworth, JS, Lieutenant, 11th Hussars.
- Lamb, AJR, Lieutenant, 2nd Dragoon Guards.
- Osborne, B, Lieutenant, 15th Hussars.
- Slaughter, GD, 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
The majority of the course was made up of officers who had previously qualified for the Maxim gun and this was a refresher course. This meant they only had to have an oral exam rather than the full written examination. Their results are written after their regiment.
- Brodie, WL, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry. Qualified.
- Bullock Marsham, FW, Lieutenant, 19th Hussars. Qualified.
- Dashwood, VEC, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. Distinguished.
- Dickson, BB, Captain, 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. Qualified.
- Melville, GD, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment. Distinguished.
- Pringle, RS, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Royal West Surrey Regiment. Qualified.
- Smith, GKF, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. Distinguished.
- Spread, EJW, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Qualified.
- Tennant, JE, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Scots Guards. Qualified.
- Terry, WEC, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Qualified.
- Yeatman, ME, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion South Wales Borderers. Qualified.
On the 53rd Qualifying Machine Gun course held at Hythe between 29 January and 20 February 1914, the Vickers Light Gun qualification was considered separate to the Maxim Machine Gun qualification. Those who qualified on the Vickers with a Distinguished result were:
- Legge-Bourke, NWH, Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards.
- Iremonger, HE, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Royal West Surrey Regiment.
- Lyttleton, AG, Captain, 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment.
Those who qualified at the ordinary level were:
- Murray-Smith, AG, Lieutenant, 2nd Life Guards.
- Gallaher, A, Lieutenant, 4th Dragoon Guards.
- North, KC, Lieutenant, 4th Hussars.
- White, The Honourable LH, Lieutenant, 11th Hussars.
- Nicholas, BG, Lieutenant, 12th Lancers.
- Beech, WCM, Lieutenant, 20th Hussars.
- Macindoe, JD, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Scots Guards.
- Duncan, W, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.
- Southey, JA, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
- Brocklehurst, AH, Lieutenant, 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
That small course of instruction, based on the use of two guns as part of a pre-War Infantry Battalion seems somewhat irrelevant when compared to the organisation of those Machine Gun Battalions with 64 guns each and using barrage fire on regular occasions. It was here though, that those ideas of concentrated machine gun fire and machine gun tactics were first explored and the potential acknowledged but not, until much later, realised. Many of the early manuals on the Vickers were written by those Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers who were instructors at the School of Musketry. These became the staple reading for all course attendees.
At the start of 1914, there was a full schedule of courses planned at the School of Musketry, as well as the other Army schools of instruction. There were two types of courses offered: Qualifying and Refresher. These then were separated by the different subjects: Rifle; Machine Gun; Range-Taking; Senior Officers’ Course and a Special Course. To attend the machine gun course, the officer or non-commissioned officer must have qualified with a rifle course or attended a refresher within the last two years, as well as being a member, or supernumerary to, the machine gun section of their battalion. Officers had the additional option of being, or about to be appointed as, the brigade machine gun officer. There were two types of range-taking course: the “one-man” range-finder of the Mandarin or Barr & Stroud type; and the Mekometer course. Only those who were from battalions equipped with the “one-man” range-finder were allowed to attend those courses. For a refresher course, the man must have qualified in the previous three years.
Mobilization for War in August, 1914, meant that courses at the School of Musketry was unable to cope with demand and its instructors sent to different establishments around the United Kingdom to train the large numbers of soldiers and oversee the preparations for War.
It’s a common misconception that Hythe was closed during the Great War. One course run in October 1914 was specifically to accommodate units receiving the Vickers machine gun as opposed to the Maxim. It also included men intended for mobilisation as part of the Motor Machine Gun Service then being formed.
36. Vickers Machine Gun Course at Hythe.
In confirmation of W.O. telegrams 239 and 240 (M.T. 2), of 4th Oct., 1914, it is notified that a Vickers Machine Gun course will be held at the School of Musketry, Hythe, commencing Thursday, 8th Oct., and ending Thursday, 29th Oct., 1914. The following officers, N.C.Os. and men will attend the course and will report themselves at Hythe by 7p.m. on 7th Oct., 1914.
(a) One officer and one N.C.O. from each of the Reserve Cavalry Regiments. These officers and N.C.Os. should belong to the units machine-gun section. One officer and one N.C.O. from each of the following Reserve Battns.:-
2nd Guards Reserve Battn.
3rd Guards Reserve Battn.
3rd Battalion Royal Highlanders.
3rd Battalion Royal Munster Fus.
3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regt.
3rd Battalion North Lancashire Regt.
3rd Battalion Northamptonshire Regt.
6th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
3rd Battalion Royal West Surrey Regt.
3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers.
3rd Battalion Gloucestershire Regt.
3rd Battalion Welsh Regt.
These officers and N.C.Os. should not belong to the units machine-gun section, and after training must be allowed as part of the provision made for supplying drafts for the 1st division.
(b) Two officers, two N.C.Os. and 24 men from the Reserve Cavalry Regts., in the Aldershot command. Two officers, two N.C.Os., and 18 men from the Reserve Cavalry Regts. in the Irish command. One officer, one N.C.O. and 18 men from the Reserve Cavalry Regts. in the Southern command. One officer, one N.C.O. and 18 men from the Reserve Cavalry Regts. in the Eastern command; and one N.C.O. and 6 men from the Reserve Cavalry Regt. in the Northern command.
These officers and soldiers will be required to form the personnel of motor-bicycle machine-gun detachments, which it is proposed to form in the near future for service on the Continent. Officers and soldiers selected for this course should, if possible, have a knowledge of motor-cycle work, as it is intended the personnel of these detachments should be competent both to drive the motor-cycle and to work the gun.
The officers elected for the motor-cyclists machine-gun detachments should, as a rule, not be above the rank of lieutenant.
(c) One machine-gun officer from each of the 18 Brigades of the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th divisions.
(L. 104/Gen. No./3592, M.T. 2.)Army Council Instruction 36, 5th October 1914.
This course was recorded as the 55th Qualifying Machine Gun (Vickers) course and there were 53 officers who joined. A copy of their attendance, unit and results are shown in the Register of the School of Musketry.
The men of the Reserve Cavalry Regiments who were intended for the Motor Machine Gun Service were, partway through the course, informed they wouldn’t be needed for that role and made available for their regiment’s machine gun detachments when they returned (Army Council Instruction 112, 11th October 1914).
To support the expansion of musketry training throughout the Army, civilian instructors of the National Rifle Association, based at Bisley (also to become the Motor Machine Gun Service Training Centre and Depot), the N.R.A. School of Musketry was formed. An account of their service during the War can be found in the N.R.A’s. 1918 Journal, currently available on our Patreon pages.
Following the high-level of casualties during the first months of War, and the recognition of the skill with which German machine gunners were being trained, it was decided to form a small machine gun school as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. This was formed on 2nd December, 1914, at Caserne d’Abret, St. Omer. The school was opened under the command of Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Baker-Carr, who had previously served as an Assistant Instructor at the School of Musketry. The initial cadre of troops were from the 28th (County of London) Bn, The London Regiment (The Artists’ Rifles). These then went on to serve as Instructors at the school and elsewhere. Initially, training equipment had to be borrowed from Service Battalion.
With its success, the course numbers grew to the extent that, by April, 1915, the school was moved to the Benedictine Convent at Wisques, four miles from St. Omer.
With the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in October, 1915, a training centre was required within the United Kingdom. This was formed at Belton Park, near Grantham. This land had been acquired in August 1914 for the infantry of the 11th (Northern) Division (Army Council Instruction 138, 18th August 1914).
The School at Grantham was formed by a nucleus of instructors sent from the Machine Gun School at Wisques.
“Almost at once thousands of men began to pour into the wooden huts which rapidly spread themselves over Lord Brownlow’s parklands at Belton Park. Thousands of horses, mules, and vehicles appeared; and, within two weeks of wintry rain, the park was submerged beneath a sea of mud. The task of sorting and re-equipping all conditions of men, in every kind of uniform, some holding the rank of sergeant and corporal, from the various New (Kitchener) Army battalions from which they had been drafted, other regulars and special reserve soldiers from regimental depots with much machine gun experience, would have tried the patience of a Job.”Hutchinson, 1937
As well as producing whole Machine Gun Companies for attachment to new Infantry Divisions, it also provided training for reinforcements that were then sent to the Machine Gun Corps Reinforcement Base Depot, established at Camiers in March, 1916. Starting with drafts of 500 per week, the depot establishment increased to 1,800 by June, 1916. The Machine Gun School, in France, was moved from Wisques to St. Cecile Plage, near Camiers, in June, 1916.
On 31st May, 1917, the Machine Gun School in France had its name changed to the ‘G.H.Q. Small Arms School’. The staff of the school, and the Training Centre, were responsible for developing many different items of equipment and paperwork that became synonymous with the work of the Machine Gun Officer. The change of name to ‘Small Arms School’ reduces the duplication as, by this time, the Machine Gun Training Centre, Grantham, also incorporated a Machine Gun School.
The number of students at the Machine Gun Branch of the G.H.Q. Small Arms School was 77 Officers and 260 N.C.Os. The duration of the course was 23 working days.
Syllabus for Officers
(a) Esprit de Corps, discipline and the offensive spirit in Machine Gunnery.
(b) The general study of Machine Gunnery, including the tactical aspects, and the place occupied by the Machine Gun in modern war. S.S. 192, Part I.
(c) The theoretical considerations regarding Machine Gun fire, and the various methods of applying that fire. S.S. 192, Part II.
(d) Instruction in maps and in the instruments and appliances used in Machine Gunnery.
(e) Practical training in how to apply Machine Gun fire, whether direct or indirect, to meet all tactical situations.
(f) Machine Gunner’s mathematics.
(g) The working out of fire problems from trench maps.
(h) Revolver shooting.
(i) (i.) Gun drill, (ii.) Barrage drill.
(j) Training of Machine Gun Companies.
(k) Reconnaissance and reports.
(l) Organisation and administration of Machine Gun Companies.
(m) Night firing.
(o) Fitting of pack-saddlery and the packing of limbered wagons.
(p) Lectures and demonstrations on the use of Machine Guns in:- (i.) Warfare of highly organised defences; (ii.) Warfare of improvised defences; and, (iii.) Open warfare.
(q) Outdoor tactical exercises, bringing out Infantry tactics and the employment of Machine Guns in co-operation with Infantry Battalions and with other arms in:- (i.) Advanced and rear guards; (ii.) Attach and defence of villages and other defended localities; and, (iii.) Attack and defence in open and semi-open warfare.
(r) Machine Gun communications in battle.
(s) The co-operation of all arms.
(t) Organisation of groups and “batteries” of Machine Guns for barrage work.
Syllabus for N.C.Os.
The syllabus for N.C.Os. includes most of the above subjects in a slightly less advanced form. Particular attention is paid to map work.
In addition, instruction is given in the following subjects:-
(a) Characteristics of the Machine Gun.
(b) Care and cleaning.
(c) Points before, during and after firing.
(d) Stoppages and immediate action.
(f) Indication and recognition of targets.
(g) Fire orders.
(h) Preparation of range cards. Use of ground and cover.
(i) Night marching by compass.
(j) Physical training.
(k) The tactical exercises for N.C.Os. include Infantry tactics, the actual selection of gun positions, and exercises in bringing the guns into action in support of Infantry Battalions.
The establishment of the School was a total of 59 men, comprising:
- 1 Chief Instructor (Lt. Colonel) – Graded as General Staff Officer, 2nd grade.
- 4 Instructors (Majors, Captains, or Lieutenants) – Graded as instructor, School of Musketry, Hythe
- 5 Assistant Instructors (Majors, Captains or Lieutenants) – Graded as assistant instructor, School of Musketry, Hythe
- 1 Adjutant and Quartermaster
- 1 Sergeant-Major
- 1 Quartermaster Sergeant
- 46 N.C.O. Instructors – Includes 15 per cent quartermaster-sergeant instructors and 15 per cent company sergeant-major instructors.
Officers who held staff positions relating to musketry wore distinguishing gorget patches in green cloth as well as a green band on their cap. As of March 1916 (Army Order 92), the posts included:
- Officers attached to the General Staff for Musketry duties at the Headquarters of Commands and Divisions;
- Officer attached to a Brigade for Musketry Duties; and,
- Staff Officer, Musketry Camp.
The Machine Gun School moved from Grantham to Seaford on 12th August, 1919. This was to enable the grounds at Belton Park to be returned to Lord Brownlow and reduce expenditure. At this time, the establishment of the School was 274 Officers and Other Ranks. Army Order 7 (1921) set out the object of the Machine Gun School as “to train officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers as instructors in the techniques and tactical employment of machine guns, and thus to ensure that a co-ordinated doctrine in regard to these matters shall be disseminated throughout the Army.” To enter the School there wasn’t an entry exam before January 1922; however, after this date, it was intended than elementary exam was taken prior to entry for the Qualifying Course (a course for corporals and above); despite this only being ordered in April 1921, it was announced in July 1921 that this would not be required from January 1922 and attendees would merely be expected to possess a fair knowledge of topography and map reading. The examination was eventually introduced in July 1922 and it included:
(i) A thorough knowledge of elementary topography, including the use of and testing of the service prismatic compass.
(ii) A good working knowledge of the subjects dealt with in Section I to X, “Handbook for the .303-inch Vickers Machine Gun” and addenda thereto.
(iii) A thorough knowledge of Sections 17, 18, 19 and 20, and of Chapter VIII, Machine Gun Training.Army Order 288 of July 1922
Other courses included a 14 day refresher course for those who had not had a qualifying course in the last two years; the 5 day Senior Officers’ Course for general and staff officers; and a course similar to the Qualifying Course but 28 working days and for Special Reserve and Territorial Force units. These last courses were held at the Machine Gun School itself and also at locations within the Commands around the country (and possibly overseas). Local Course in Commands were also held for Regular officers and this was a 14 day period when senior instructors from the Machine Gun School would go to a Command area. Given the limited time available, it was only intended to “raise the standard of fire direction and fire tactics, and to co-ordinate the system of training.”
As an example of the programme of training, the 1921-22 calendar included three Qualifying Courses of nine weeks each and taking 50 officers and 100 non-commissioned officers; three Senior Officers’ Courses for 15 officers; 1 local course for 20 Territorial Force officers or non-commissioned officers; 1 Territorial Force and Special Reserve course at the School for 20 officers and 40 other ranks; and one local course held in each of the eight Home Commands (Scottish, Northern, Western, Eastern, Southern, Aldershot, London and Irish). These details, and how to allocate vacancies, were all issued in Army Orders. Senior officers attending the Senior Officer Course were not allowed to take their own batmen as civilians were employed at the School as batmen for the commissioned students.
The civilians and other ranks at the school received a clothing allowance if they were in certain roles (Army Order 79, 22nd March 1922). These rates were as shown in the table below.
|Bath attendant||12s. 0d.|
|General duties||12s. 0d.|
|Serjeants’ mess||4s. 9d.|
|Sanitary squad||12s. 6d.|
|Range party||12s 6d.|
Whilst there, the Commandant – Colonel Renny – hosted dinners, including the one to which Miss Marsham, a local schoolmistress, was invited with the embossed invitation shown below.
In October 1922, the Machine Gun School was moved again to Netheravon, Wiltshire, where it took over the premises of the Cavalry School. This was at a cost of £6,250 to do works to the accommodation and the construction of a new Machine Gun range.
The organisation that staffed both Schools was established as the Corps of Small Arms and Machine Gun Schools in 1923.
By 1926, is was officially described as the ‘Small Arms School – Netheravon Wing (Vickers Machine Gun).’ This was later changed to omit the reference to the Vickers MG.
From 1929, the staff of the Schools were formed into the Small Arms School Corps.
Second World War
During the Second World War, it was referred to as the ‘Small Arms School – Netheravon Wing (Netheravon)’. The organisation of the Schools at that time included the following, alongside the numbers of students under instruction at any one time:
- Hythe Wing – 96 officers and 424 non-commissioned officers;
- Netheravon Wing – 65 officers and 142 non-commissioned officers; and,
- National Rifle Association Wing, based at Bisley – 30 officers and 70 non-commissioned officers.
The Commandant of the Small Arms School was based at Hythe and Netheravon and the NRA Wing were commanded by Assistant Commandants. The address for Netheravon was simply ‘The Small Arms School (Netheravon Wing), NETHERAVON, SALISBURY’ and the telegraphic address – “Training Netheravon.” (Army Council Instruction 490, May 1940).
In August 1940, the Commandant moved to Bisley and covered all Infantry Schools. At Hythe and Netheravon, the senior officer was designated ‘The Colonel Commanding’ whilst at Bisley it was ‘The Major Commanding.’ (Army Council Instruction 862).
A full transcript of the war establishment for the Small Arms Schools as of 23 October 1940 is available:
The staff of Netheravon included 110 service personnel and 144 civilian staff. There were also horses for the Commandant and the Chief Instructors as rides to the training areas, as well as a General Service Wagon for administrative tasks.
In 1942, the war establishments of the Wings at Hythe and Netheravon were separated. Netheravon included the User Research Wing for development of equipment and ther associated manuals, hence why many of the Small Arms Training manuals include photos from Netheravon.
- V/382/2 17th August 1942 – Small Arms School, Hythe Wing.
- V/219A/2 17th August 1942 – Small Arms School, Netheravon Wing.
As well as the Small Arms Schools, there were Weapons Training Schools around the Commands of the United Kingdom; however, these didn’t include machine guns as part of their training. The Middle East Weapons Training School did include a machine gun wing.
By July 1945, it had become the ‘Infantry Heavy Weapons School (Netheravon).’
Post-Second World War
In 1948, the School became the Support Weapons Wing of the School of Infantry. It remained as such for the rest of the Vickers’ service.
Whilst it was at Netheravon, the instructors of the Small Arms School Corps who specialised in machine gun and mortar instruction, as opposed to the rifle and light machine gun that was taught at Hythe, were permitted to wear crossed machine guns as part of their rank insignia. This was instead of the crossed rifles worn by Hythe instructors.
The Support Weapons Wing taught their final Medium Machine Gun course in January to March 1961 with seven students.
- Anon. (n.d.) MMG Photo Album. Held in the Travers Library of the Small Arms School Corps Infantry Weapons Collection Trust.
- Fisher, R (2019) History of the Small Arms School Corps 1853-2017. Solihull: Helion and Company.
- General Staff, 1918
- Hansard, 1919; 1922
- Hutchison, 1937
- James, 1987
- School of Musketry, Register of the School of Musketry 1911 to 1924 (Hythe: Corps of Small Arms and Machine Gun Schools; 1924).
- The National Archives, WO 24/938, War Establishments July to December 1940.
- The National Archives, WO 24/944, War Establishments July to September 1942.
- The National Archives, WO 123/56, Army Orders 1914.
- The National Archives, WO 123/58, Army Orders 1916.
- The National Archives, WO 123/63, Army Orders 1921.
- The National Archives, WO 123/64, Army Orders 1922.
- The National Archives, WO 293/1, Army Council Instructions 1914.
- The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.
- War Office, 1922