One of the key pieces of equipment in the machine gun section was the range-finder. This required particular expertise and skill to operate it and they were trained in additional to their machine gun course.

Soldiers identified from machine gun units as suitable to become a range-taker were trained machine gunners, or mortarmen, that were selected for specialist training. They were identified as requiring:

  • Good and normal eyesight; and,
  • An elementary knowledge of mathematics.

Although it was noted that they may still not become good rangetakers.

As well as the machine gun units, a rangetaker featured as part of the war establishments in infantry companies and mortar organisations.


Qualification

When the range-taker successfully passed the course, he was awarded a qualification badge and specialist pay. As of January 1914, these were issued alongside the range takers in the Royal Artillery units as well as the infantry.


Development of training

Great War

When the ‘one-man’ range-finder was being introduced, there weren’t enough to distribute to the whole of the Army at the start of the Great War. The Army was expanding too quickly and the troops already at the front were the priority. This impacted on training, as did a shortage of instructors. The range-finder is identified as one of the priorities of musketry staff then working in the army Commands.

When the Commands received their own Musketry Staff, their duties were quite clearly defined to avoid them being used for other tasks, this included detailing who (including machine gunners) should be trained by who.

147. Employment of the Musketry Staff in Commands.

Ref. L.* [ACI 150] 104/Gen. No.]3586 (M.T. 2), of 13th Nov., 1914, it is notified that, in organizing any scheme for the employment of musketry staff allotted to commands, it is desirable that the following considerations should be kept in view:-

(1) The first consideration must be the maintenance of the standard of musketry and machine-gun training in those units which are, or are likely to be shortly, called upon to furnish drafts; and the necessity for ensuring that a sufficiency of trained machine-gun personnel is available in those units to meet draft requirements.

(2) There should be in all units (reserve units, and T.F>, and New Armies) one officer and two N.C.Os. who are competent musketry instructors, i.e., capable of training other instructors in their units.

(3) Arrangements should, if possible, be made to ensure that all officers and platoon serjeants should have the opportunity of receiving some instruction in the handling and control of fire directly from the musketry staff, before they are required for service overseas.

(4) One officer and one serjeant per section of machine guns should, if possible, receive instruction directly from the musketry staff. In the case of units and formations not yet armed with machine guns, notification of the probable date of issue will, if possible, be given in time to enable arrangements for training to be made in good time before receipt of the the guns.

(5) As soon as one-man range finders are available for issue, one officer per regiment or battalion and one N.C.O. per range finder should be trained in the use of this instrument.

Subject to the above considerations, it is important that the musketry staff allotted to commands should be kept as free as possible from administrative duties, and that any system established should aim at reducing the clerical work to a minimum. In view of the large numbers of troops to be trained and the limited instructional staff available, any office work thrown on to the latter which is not absolutely unavoidable should be considered a waste of their time, which should be devoted as completely as possible to actual instruction.

(L. 104/Gen. No./3586, M.T. 2.)

Army Council Instruction 147, 16th December 1914.

Second World War

During the Second World War, there were two manuals issued for the Range-finder training, in 1937 and 1942. The training programme consisted of five stages, with a total of 24 days of work.

Rangetakers for the machine gun battalions were trained at the Machine Gun Training Centres, with their instructors having (normally) been to the Small Arms School at Netheravon.

The five stages were, broadly, as shown in the table below, with the slight variation in times between the 1937 and 1942 manuals.

Stage19371942
Introduction to the instrument and how to take ranges.3 days4 days
Practice in taking ranges to easy objects.6 days5 days
Taking ranges to more difficult objects.3 days4 days
Adjustment of the instrument to suit weather conditions.6 days6 days
Use of cover and field duties.6 days5 days

As part of our research, the Association is attempting to recreate the manual lessons of the 1942 scheme. We are filming these and they are available on our YouTube channel, as well as being embedded below.

Stage 1

Introductory Lecture
Lesson 1: General description, packing and unpacking
Lesson 2: Care & Cleaning
Lesson 3: Setting up Instrument and Focussing
Lesson 4: Making Coincidence
Lesson 5: Halving Adjustment
Calculating accuracy. Figure and coincidence. Adjusting scale setting (Less 6 & Appendix V)

We will continue to add more lessons as they are produced.

Post-Second World War

Training took place over either a three- or four-week period, covering four stages of training as shown below. It is based on periods of approximately 45-minutes each.

SubjectPeriods
1st Stage. About four days.
General description: Packing and unpacking (Lesson 1 to 3)2
Elementary theory – Lecture (Lesson 2)1
Care and cleaning (Lesson 4)1
Setting up and focussing (Lesson 5)1
Coincidence and scale reading (Lesson 6)2
Halving adjustment (Lesson 7)1
Accuracy calculation (Lesson 8) – Lecture and Practical3
CA scale adjustment (Lesson 9)1
Accuracy charts (Lesson 14) – Lecture1
Consistency (Lesson 10) – Lecture and practical2
Range-cards (Lesson 16) – Lecture and practical4
Revision and charting progress4
Range-taking in 1st stage5
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2nd Stage. About three days.
Difficult targets and conditions (Lesson 17).3
Range-takers note-book (Lesson 15) – Lecture and practical1
Known range-adjustment (Lesson 11) – Lecture and practical2
Natural infinity adjustment (Lesson 12) – Lecture and practical3 (1 by day; 2 by night)
Artificial infinity (Lesson 13) – Lecture and practical2
Revision and charting progress4
Range-taking in 2nd stage6
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3rd Stage. About three days
Field duties (Lesson 19) – Lecture and practice4
Concealment and camouflage with field duties2
Observation of fire – Lecture and practice3
Instrument tests (Appendix A)3
Test of elementary training (Section 3)3
Range-taking in 3rd stage6
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4th Stage. About four days
Field duties (Lesson 19) – Further practice2
Range-takers classification test – Practice (Section 3)3
Taking ranges – Moving targets2
Natural and artifical infinity – Further practice4 (2 by night)
Range-takers classification test (Section 3)3
Use of cover and positions2
Taking ranges to complete 4th stage10
Examination and test of instrument (Appendix B)2
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Sources

  • The National Archives, WO 123/56, Army Orders 1914.
  • The National Archives, WO 293/1, Army Council Instructions 1914.
  • War Office (1942) Small Arms Training, Volume I, Pamphlet No. 10, Range-finder No. 12, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
  • War Office, 1949b