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Indirect Machine Gun Fire - Effective?

Discussion in 'Small Arms and Edged Weapons' started by superbee, Jun 5, 2011.

  1. superbee

    superbee Member

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    I have read several accounts on this forum of indirect machine gun being employed - firing a machine gun at a target that it did not have a direct line of sight to. I have no doubt that this could be done, and that troops could be trained to do this.

    But how effective was this technique in actual combat? I mean, did it really cause a significant amount of casualties, deny the enemy a location, or keep units pinned down for significant lengths of time? I don't recall reading any accounts that described being under indirect machine gun fire. I wonder if anyone could direct me to such an account in a book or other publication.

    Was the average machine gunner / crew really capable of performing this? I would think the calculations would be mathematically complex; involving velocity, ballistic coefficients of the projectiles, distance, wind speed / direction, gravity, etc.

    I kind of get the feeling that this might look good in theory but was perhaps lacking in practicality.

    Any insights would be welcome. Thanks!
     
    Otto likes this.
  2. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    This isn't as detailed a reply as you're looking for, but I thought I'd throw in a couple of thoughts...

    In the British Army in both World Wars, the Vickers .303 heavy machine gun was frequently used in the indirect role. In WW1, where of course the forces were generally immobile and defensive lines fixed, it was used to deny ground to the enemy and also to 'keep Fritz's head down'. I have never read any estimates as to actual casualties, and of course, ammunition supply on the Western Front wasn't a problem.

    The Vickers was used in the indirect role by the Airborne troops at Arnhem 1944 ; I have read accounts of Vickers firing along fixed lines down streets in Oosterbeek to prevent enemy forces infiltrating from street to street. Again, I doubt that many actual casualties resulted.
     
  3. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    There is actually a pretty good accout of it in "Band of Brothers" when Winters leads the company against the machinegun, at the ferry crossing, when the Germans are shooting down the road towards regimental headquarters.

    In short: Yes they would. although not as comon with the medium machineguns it was , and is still, very comon for the .50 cals to be employed in this manner. And this technique would have been taught and practiced during training. It is a very complicated process and is usually employed when there are large areas of exposed approach.

    Not every situation on the battlefield lends it's self to indirect machinegun fire. However when you have a small force on raised ground with good observation it can be very effective. In it's basic form "indirect fire" just means that the person/ crew firing the machine gun does not have direct observation of the target.

    Here are a couple of terms you might want to be on the lookout for:
    Plunging Fire
    Defelade
    Reverse Slope Defense
    Defensive employment of machineguns
    Avenues of approach

    If you "google" those terms and sift through some material you'll find references to indirect fire. There is one instance where, on Vimey Ridge, indirect fire was used very effectively.

    Here are some references for further reading:
    Vickers machine gun - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2007smallarms/5_9_07/Brus_400pm.pdf

    151st Line Infantry Regiment

    Machine Gun

    I hope this helps. USMC Price was a machinegunner and he will undoubtedly have more insight to the subject than me.
     
  4. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Having served a number of years as a machinegunner (0331), my answer would be yes it is taught and it is effective. It is not a major casualty producing technique. It is however useful when either the gun or the target are in full or partial defilade. It is also more an area denial, suppressive fire technique.

    Heres a link if you want to read up more on machine gunnery techniques:
    FM23-22.68 Chapter 5 Combat Techniques of Fire
     
  5. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Dude, I must have been typing my reply at the same time you were typing yours. You did a very good job of explaining it. Just goes to prove that Jughead was proficient and well trained in all his infantry skills. :salute:
     
  6. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
     
  7. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Alright, go ahead and do the whole humble routine. I stick firmly to my assesment, you must have been a damned fine Marine.
     
  8. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    I can only say the same like the other guys said. It is very helpful and can save your butt, like it did with mine!
     
  9. Owen

    Owen O

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    I've read this before but here's it is quoted from wiki, gives an idea of the amount of ammo & barrels that you can use up.

    Vickers machine gun - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I too trained as an SF gunner & gun commander , alot of what we did was for supressive fire.
    Although I fired several hundred thousand rounds through the GPMG that was all in training & never in action.
     
  10. superbee

    superbee Member

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    Thank you for the input men!

    To be honest, some of the examples seem to me more like what I would call area fire, rather than indirect fire - firing into an area with no specific enemy target to actually aim at. To me, indirect fire would be where you are unable to see what you are firing at because terrain and obstacles prevent a direct line of sight. .

    But I will defer to those who actually have real life experience. And thanks again for your informative posts!
     
  11. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Indirect fire by machineguns is an important technique for offensive operations. A machinegun so employed can fire over the heads of friendly troops on enemy positions to supress them while friendly infantry advanced. I wasn't used so much as a casuality agent as one of suppression. This is indirect fire because the gunner is not firing directly at the target but rather lobbing rounds into it. This technique could also lay blind fire on the back side of a slope or into uncovered entrenchments.
    The other thing most machineguns could employed in are pre-laid lines of fire. This is mostly a defensive measure. Say the enemy attacks at night or through smoke. A machinegun team could train their weapon using pre-sighted and measured lines of fire off the compass table on the mounting and the elevation wheel at the rear. This allowed them to accurately engage targets they could not see.
     
  12. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    That's exactly what it is with the added benefit of being able to exploit the terrain and obstacles as cover for your machinegun. If you have a machinegun firing from the reverse slope onto an avenue of approach it's not going to take much accuracy for the assaulting force to rethink their actions while enroute to the objective. All you have to do is slow them down for air and/or arty to get on station and your golden; especially if you can do that in excess of a couple thousand meters or use the inderect fire to channel the attackers into a minefield or other obstacle.

    At 3,000 meters you are not even going to hear a .50 cal firing; especially if it is concealed by terrain, and if you do, it would be very difficult to determine it's range and location. At 3,000 meters at a a near terminal trajectory the bullets will make a sound like rain drops when they hit the ground (Very big and heavy raindrops). The dust signature can be used to walk the beaten zone in to the movement of troops or if the beaten zone is part of a pre registered fire support plan this effect can be devastating.
     
  13. fredleander

    fredleander Member

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    This is my impression, too. Problem with MG indirect fire, as a lobbing fire, is that the projectile trajectory is fixed and cannot be adjusted like a mortar. Hence, you need very accurate range estimates as well as space to place your weapon which can be difficult to obtain during field conditions. The best equipment I have used for such a purpose is the MG34 with its original tripod. It had a clockwork which spread both in height and width. The Browning 1919 A4 was not usable for such a purpose due its cumbersome barrel change system and primitive tripod.

    I think we can agree on one thing, direct fire is more effective than indirect. Never place your weapon in an obvious position (the "best" position), prepare several alternative positions. If you can see the enemy, he can see you.
     
  14. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper Patron  

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  15. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Actually, the T&E mechanism on the Browning M1919 was more than sufficient for this type fire. Granted the M1917 watercooled Browning would be the weapon of choice for this type fire because it could fire at the sustained fire rate for extended periods due to its water cooling. It also had a more elaborate tripod with finer adjustments but for indirect fire this is really overkill. In WWII the Marine Corps used the M1919 as the primary weapon of the machine gunners in the weapons platoon or machine gun platoon depending upon the TO&E in question. The company headquarters retained the M1917s and they could be swapped out to the gun teams as needed. Pinpoint accuracy is not needed because you use your beaten zone, an eliptical area where the rounds impact. Your fire would need to either be observed or pre-registered. Once the observer talks you onto target (observed) or you dial the dope from your range card into the gun, you're good to go. I'd then use my T&E mechanism to traverse and search the area, I can pretty much guarantee you it would supress and disrupt any soft target in the area.

    Heres the military definition from an FM:

    The beaten zone is the elliptical pattern formed by the rounds striking the ground or the target. The size and shape of the beaten zone changes when the range to the target changes or when the machine gun is fired on different types of terrain. On uniformly sloping or level terrain, the beaten zone is long and narrow. As the range to the target increases, the beaten zone becomes shorter and wider. When fire is delivered on terrain sloping down and away from the machine gun, the beaten zone becomes longer. When fire is delivered on rising terrain, the beaten zone becomes shorter. The terrain has little effect on the width of the beaten zone.

    [​IMG]

    superbee wrote:
    Area fire is a type of fire that can either be direct or indirect.

     
  16. fredleander

    fredleander Member

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  17. yan taylor

    yan taylor Member

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    I read a book about the Battle of the Bulge were the Americans used there .50 cals to spray a hedge line and the next day they found a line of dead German infantry maybe up to a 100.
     
  18. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I read somewhere that the French (perhaps during the Franco Prussian war) used indirect rifle fire (either company or battalion vollies) and on several occasions it apparently produced the intended effect. It's been a while since I read it so no source.
     
  19. yan taylor

    yan taylor Member

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    I am sure I read about American Company Tactics, were the Companys MGs and Mortars fired over the heads of the advancing infantry on known areas of the enemy positions and stopped when the infantry had allmost reached there target, then they dismantled there weapons on advanced to the enemy positions hopfully taken by then and set up for any counter attack.
     
  20. leccy1

    leccy1 Member

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    Indirect fire was widely used with machine guns, the British used it to fire from reverse slopes so the fire could not be observed and it was harder to retaliate. It was also used to fire onto reverse slopes occupied by the enemy during an attack. It was used in a very similar way to the more traditionally thought of Artillery indirect fire.

    Mention is made of indirect fire in chapter 17.
    Infantry in Battle

    British use in WW1
    The Machine Gun Corps of 1914-1918
     

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