More machine guns…

The gun in this video, a Vickers, operates on a different principle than the M1917, but its layout and employment are very similar.


The video mentions using short bursts to avoid overheating, but the whole point of using a water-cooled gun was that you DIDN’T have to fire short bursts. With water on board, you could fire to your hearts content.

Going great guns…

For an army that has used machine guns for a hundred years or so, we have had remarkably few weapons serve as a standard machine gun. When I talk about machine guns, I mean what the Army calls a machine gun, not Hollywood or the press. A machine gun is a weapon that is primarily designed to provide automatic fire, not just one that can. For instance, the M-16 is an automatic weapon. You can set the selector switch to automatic and pull the trigger. The weapon will fire automatically until the magazine is empty. But it was designed to be used mostly as a semiautomatic weapon, where one pull of the trigger fires one round. Machine guns, which are usually belt fed, almost always fire full auto. Many don’t have any provision for semiautomatic fire.

We aren’t going to go back to the Gatling gun and its counterparts. In many ways, they were considered artillery, and treated as such.

The first really successful machine gun in the US Army was the Browning M1917. This gun fired the same .30-06 rifle cartridge as the standard US rifle, but fired it from a cloth belt holding hundreds of rounds. The big fat thing on the barrel is a water jacket. The water in the jacket cooled the barrel when firing long bursts. How long? Well, when Browning was trying to sell the gun to the Army, he fired two bursts, of 20,000 rounds each.  Right now the Army says that an M-4 carbine is ready for replacement after firing 7,000 rounds over the course of its life.

This ability to place huge amounts of automatic fire on target was very much appreciated by  the infantry during the trench warfare of WWI. And it still had a place long after that. With a range of well over 1000 yards, the M1917 could be used to support our troops during an assault. The M1917 remained in service throughout WWII and the Korean War. The Weapons Company of each infantry battalion had a platoon of them.

The only real problem with the M1917 was that it weighed so much. The gun itself was heavy, then there was the sturdy tripod, water in the jacket and a spare water can, and then enormous amounts of ammunition. It was almost a given that a vehicle would be needed to transport the gun team. As the Army tried to get away from static trench warfare, something lighter was needed that could accompany troops on the move. Since most of the Army moved by foot, this would have to be light enough for a team to carry long distances.

Browning had the answer there as well. By removing the water jacket and placing a perforated cooling jacket around the barrel (to allow cooling air to circulate) Browning considerably lightened the gun. Coupled with a new, lightweight tripod, the new gun was adopted as the M1919. While it could not sustain nearly as high a volume of fire as the heavy, water-cooled guns, it could be quickly and easily moved by a three man team , allowing it to follow troops almost anywhere on the battlefield. The three man team consisted of the gunner, who carried and emplaced the tripod (and then fired the weapon when emplaced), the assistant gunner, who carried the gun (and then assisted with loading the gun when in operation) and the ammunition bearer, who carried additional ammunition, and was armed with a rifle to provide local security while the gun was being emplaced.

While the 1919 couldn’t provide the same volume of fire as the 1917, the gun was still incredibly reliable and capable of laying large volumes of fire upon the enemy. It’s vastly superior portability also meant that it would be up front where the fight was. Normally, each infantry platoon had to machine guns assigned. The M1919 was such a solid design, it remained in service from 1919 up until the early 1960’s.

During WWII, the Wehrmacht (the German Army) was mostly equipped with bolt action rifles. To make up for this lack of firepower, each squad was centered around the excellent MG42 light machine gun. This provided the bulk of the squad’s firepower. The Americans were greatly impressed with this gun. After the war, the Army looked to find a gun that would be lighter than the M1919 and more portable. They wanted a gun much like the MG42, firing from either a tripod or, usually, a bipod, using a buttstock.

After years of development, the Army adopted the M-60 machine gun as its standard medium machine gun. It had a number of “improvements” over the MG-42. It was chambered in the NATO standard 7.62mm x 51 cartridge. It deliberately had a lower rate of fire, to reduce the ammo needed and diminish the need to constantly change barrels.

While the M60 was issued in the same two guns per platoon manner as the M1919, it was often used in the role of a squad automatic weapon, much like the MG42. The M60 became iconic, seen almost every night on the evening news during the Vietnam war. But the M60 wasn’t without its own problems. It was somewhat fragile. When I was an M60 gunner, one of the real issues with the weapon was the various leaf springs on the gun. Many would fall off, even when properly installed. For instance, it wasn’t unusual to lose the leafspring that held the trigger group onto the gun. Soon thereafter, the trigger group would try to get away. We had to lace the guns together with parachute cord or safetywire. This made it almost impossible to disassemble the gun for clearing jams. The feed tray was made of stamped metal and was vulnerable to being damaged from relatively slight impacts. If that happened, the gun wouldn’t feed at all. And the gas piston could be inserted backwards during assembly after cleaning, leading to a gun that wouldn’t fire on full auto.

After trying several modifications to the weapon, the Army finally adopted a new medium machine gun, the M240. This is the American name for the Belgian MAG58, which, ironically, lost the original competition to the M60. The M240 has been in use as a vehicle mounted weapon in the US for about 30 years, but it was only in the mid-1990’s that the services started using it as a standard infantry weapon.

The 240 is a solid, well designed gun. It weighs just a little more than the M60, but is very resistant to damage and very easy to maintain. It is incredibly reliable. If your gun is jamming, UR DOIN IT RONG!

It is ironic that after the development and use of machine guns for 100 years, the Army is using a gun first designed over 50 years ago, one that initially wasn’t adopted largely because of the “Not Invented Here” syndrome.

Part 2 will cover some of the other Great Guns of the US Army.

Too True

From Jonah, over at the Corner:

Victor – I predicted this from the moment Palin was picked. As I wrote a couple weeks ago:

And let’s not forget Biden, whose gaffes are the unavoidable byproduct of his limitless gasbaggery. Biden could shout on Meet the Press, “Get these squirrels off of me!” and the collective response would be, “There goes Joe again.” But if Palin flubs the name of the deputy agriculture minister of Kyrgyzstan, the media will blow their whistles saying she’s unprepared for the job.

Combat Lifesaver

It is a sad fact that people in war will be wounded or injured. If you have been watching the news at all the last few years, you know that the Army goes to great expense and trouble to provide emergency care and evacuation to its casulties. One program that hasn’t made the news is one of the most important, and ironically, just about the cheapest one.

Anyone who has seen a war movie has watched a scene where a soldier is wounded and the cry goes out, “MEDIC!” And of course, the medic comes to treat the fallen warrior. But there’s only one medic per platoon. If a Humvee with four people in it is hit with an IED, who treats the other three? Do we just wait? In a trauma situation, time is priceless. Anyone who has studied trauma has heard of “The Golden Hour.” If you can get someone treated within the first 60 minutes, their chances of survival skyrocket. But even more precious is the first 10 minutes. So what do we do with the three wounded soldiers while our medic concentrates on one? We use the Combat Lifesaver.

Every soldier receives training on first aid (self aid/buddy aid) in basic training. This training usually focuses on bandaging gunshot wounds and such. But there is a wide gap between this training and the specialized trauma training a medic receives. The Combat Lifesaver is the bridge between these two skillsets.

The goal is for every squad or vehicle crew to have one of its members qualified as a combat lifesaver. This is a soldier, who, in addition to his regular duties, has trained to give additional aid to the wounded when a medic is not available. The skills trained include:

Basic casualty evaluation

Airway management

Chest injury and tension pnuemothorax management

Controlling bleeding

Preventing and treating shock

Administering an IV

Requesting Medical Evacuation/Casualty Evacuation*

To help the CLS perform these duties, each squad or vehicle carries a small but carefully equipped aid bag, designed to fit the skills and likely scenarios that a CLS will encounter.

I was first trained as a CLS in 1990. By the time my unit left for Desert Storm, every member of the company had gone through the training. Most of the training was fairly basic and not that difficult to grasp. The only part that most folks had never encountered before was starting IV’s. And there’s really only one way to learn. You have to poke someone in the arm. Sure, you get to practice on a plastic arm first, but sooner or later, you have to stick a needle in flesh to learn how it is done. This is done in buddy teams. You stick me, I stick you. I always made sure the other guy stuck me first, because if I was having a bad day and using him like a pin-cushion, I didn’t want him to have a chance at revenge. To stay current, our instructors reminded us that an IV was a good cure for a hangover. Come Saturday moring in the barracks, it looked like a hospital ward with half the people stuck with an IV drip. We carried our CLS bags in our cars when off duty. I personally know of two people saved at auto accidents by CLS. And I know people that were saved in training accidents the same way.

At a very minor cost in equipment and training time, the Army has greatly raised the chances for wounded soldiers to not only survive, but fully recover.

The Great Blackout

For reasons unknown, we lost power yesterday. All day and most of the night. Now, I live in a heavily developed area, and our neighborhood was the only one without power, so it isn’t like being a hurricane victim. But I did notice that I am becoming entirely too attached to the luxuries of life. When I was a young soldier, spending days on end in the field, living out of a rucksack, with no computers or any electric devices at all was quite simple. Not an inconvienence at all.

I didn’t quite feel that way this time. While I felt some pangs of internet withdrawl, the worst was not having electric lights to read by.

But I did have a lifeboat as it were. I set up camp, in my garage.

That’s the kitchen of the camper. A nice little two burner stove, electric lights, some maple & brown sugar oatmeal (my favorite comfort food) and Michael Yon’s The Moment of Truth in Iraq.

After enjoying a liesurely dinner, it was time to retire for the evenings entertainment.

That’s the opening sequence from “A Bridge Too Far“, which loyal readers of my scribblings may recall made The Top Ten List. And yes, that is my poncho liner. Never leave home without it.

Here’s a few more pics of my setup.

If you are interested, the camper is made by company called Camp-Inn. – 2/6 Armored Bradley Mechanics

Here’s a look at the less glamorous side of the Army. All those Bradleys take an awful lot of work to keep up and running. The grease monkeys and wrenchbenders put in a ton of work for very little reward or regard.

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Warrant Officers

Frequent commenter Vmaximus noticed in the comments of this post that I was talking with/about warrant officers, and wanted to know where they fit into the scheme of things. My initial, snarky answer was that they tend to stand around and drink coffee. And while that is somewhat true, it isn’t the whole story.

Warrant Officers fill a niche between non-commissioned officers and regular, commissioned officers. They are technical specialists, imbued with the authority of an officer, but more keenly focused on a particular technical area than a regular officer. For instance, most of the Army’s watercraft have a Warrant Officer as the ships Master. Warrant officers hold a warrant from the Secretary of their service, rather than a commission from the President.

All branches of service are authorized Warrant Officers, in grades W-1 through W-5. Currently, the Air Force doesn’t have any warrant officers, and the Coast Guard has no W-5s.

Warrant officers are higher in rank than all enlisted personnel, as well as cadets and officer candidates, but below regular commisioned officers, such as a Second Lieutenant.

Now, here’s where it gets weird. In actuality, on warrant officers in the first grade, W-1, have warrants. When they are selected for promotion to Chief Warrant Officer (CWO-2) they receive a commission from the President and take the same oath of office as any other officer. This came about in the early 90’s as a means of allowing warrant officers to fulfill some duties that they previously couldn’t. For instance, without the commission, they could not assume command of a unit. In spite of holding a commission, they are still called warrant officers.

So what do warrant officers do and where to they come from? As I mentioned, they are technical specialists. For instance, each mechanized infantry battalion has a warrant officer assigned to its motor pool. He is the subject matter expert on the Army’s maintenance system. He knows which repairs should be performed at the battalion level, and which should be sent to a higher echelon for repair. He understands how the parts supply system is supposed to work (and how it really works!) and advises and assists the officers in making the battalion maintenance system work. He also leads, trains and advises the NCOs that work in the motor pool. While the NCOs know pretty much everything there is to know about how to perform the repairs done at their level, he can guide them on how to prioritze work, ensure they have the parts they need, and make arrangements to send vehicles and parts to other units for repair.

What makes this guy and expert? Well, he started out as an NCO. After years of service, he applied for and was accepted into the Warrant Officer program. He attended a school much like Officer Candidate School, was granted his warrant, went to the Warrant Officer Basic Course for his specialty, and put to work.

When you talk about warrant officers to the general public, however, the program that usually springs to  mind is Warrant Officer Flight Training. The Army has a heck of a lot of aircraft. The other services use commissioned officers to fly their aircraft. But the Army has a limit on how many regular officers it can have at one time. If all the aviators were regular officers, there wouldn’t be enough officers for the rest of the Army. Instead, the Army trains warrant officers to be aviators. And while many Warrant Officer Flight Training Candidates come from the ranks of the Army, it is in fact possible to enlist specifically for this program. It is sometimes called “High School to Flight School.”