Bren MkI: The Best Light Machine Gun of World War Two

In the years after World War One, the British military wanted a new machine gun, and they wanted it to replace both the Lewis and the Vickers. Through the 1920s the British would tinker with most of the light machine guns that became available, but it was not until the early 1930s that a serious formal trial was conducted. The initial trials found three particularly encouraging guns; the ZB-26, Madsen, and Vickers-Berthier. Over a series of followup testing, the Madsen and Vickers-Berthier were both eliminated, leaving the Czechoslovakian ZB as the final choice.

The British were extremely enthusiastic about the qualities of the ZB, and it is understandable why. The final .303 British version, the Bren, is widely regarded as the best magazine-fed light machine gun ever made. In its final preproduction trial, one of the prototype guns endured a 150,000-round trial without any real problems.

The design was licensed for British production as well as in the Dominions, and would be put into production at both Enfield in England and the John Inglis company in Canada. About 30,000 were produced before the Dunkirk disaster, which would lead to simplification of the design. But those changes are a subject for another video later…


      • Nope, Paddy Mayne was already a Captain when he joined the original SAS/SRS unit under David Stirling.

        He was a complete nutter, too. I am reading a biography of him.

        Yes, the Bren LMG was his favourite. But he did come to accept the Sten Gun. IIRC from my reading so far, I think he preferred the Thompson SMG.

  1. Excellent coverage. I also think the spring loaded butt plate of the MkI was a cool feature, absorbing a small amount of recoil, as well as the recoil buffer built into the back of the trigger frame. Very nice design features.

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Ian. As always woderful coverage. Just to discuss, as you descripe also in earlier videos about zb26 and BREN:
    “The Best Light Machine Gun of World War Two”.
    That might be true for the BREN when you consider the large number manufactured. But when we go to your description of a LMG – magazine fed, bipod, tirpod possible – then my conclusion come to the Rheinmetall MG30 / Steyr Solothurn S2-200. I know it is very very hard to find one (only about 3000 made before Germany occupied Austria plus an unknown number for Hungary) but you should try to find one and test then maybe your final decision about the “best” will change – lighter, higher rate of fire, fewer parts. By the way the Luftwaffe version MG15 was already tested by you. Greetings from Germany.

    • My thoughts on the matter are fairly simple; the BREN was a wonderful MG, but… It wasn’t the gun they really needed, either.

      The British suffered from a failure of imagination and understanding, when it came to what they wanted in an MG system. And, note that well: SYSTEM. When they went for the BREN, what they decided that they wanted was a refined and perfected Lewis Gun–A magazine-fed weapon with limited “expansion” into the heavy fire role.

      The Germans, on the other hand, went for what they believed was what was necessary, a perfected MG08-15. Their brief and limited forays into the LMG world, with its limited-capacity magazines, did not last for very long. They wanted firepower above all.

      Combined with the mortar, I think that the Germans got it “more right” with the MG34/42 family of weapons. The British choice was driven by the understanding they had of “how war worked”, and I think that they got significant elements of it all quite wrong. Just as the American military did, what with the emphasis on the Garand and the neglect of the LMG role with the BAR, which was only ever a tarted-up Automatic Rifle.

      If you’re fighting as pure infantry, with no real support, and only organic arms you can carry yourself, then the Germans got it right. If your infantry is going to be part of a combined arms team, with copious amounts of support provided in terms of firepower and armor, then it really doesn’t matter until you are in a position where you can’t use any of that. Which was where the Allies ran into problems around the world–The jungles of East Asia were not places where you could effectively use your supporting arms, and it came down to the grit and guts of your infantry alone. One wonders what the Japanese would have made of a British force using German-style doctrine and German-style MG weaponry at Imphal or Kohima; one rather suspects that the first few Banzai! charges they made would have been seen off with rather more effect than historically. Mass “human wave” attacks don’t do well against well-trained MG crews armed with belt-fed weapons capable of 1000 or more rounds per minute…

      In terms of “Best LMG”, I think you have to first recognize that that is a booby-prize, and the fact that you’re looking for one is an indicator that you fundamentally do not understand the nature of war in that era, and you haven’t taken the right lessons from the maelstrom of WWI.

      You get down to it, and it’s all about the volume of fire you can deliver. If you want to off-load that to your supporting arms, that’s great. It’s a solution; it does, however, mean that you’d best ensure that you always have that support available, and that’s just not going to be the case, now is it? Mainly because the enemy always gets a vote, and they’re hardly going to be nice and cooperative, playing to your strengths.

      • “(…)British suffered from a failure of imagination and understanding(…)”
        How long was Vickers machine gun in production?

      • Respectfully, I would refer you to Bloke on the Range’s videos on the Bren and British squad doctrine — which he claims to be not so different from the German doctrine, both armies fielding squaddies with bolt-action rifles, supporting a portable full-auto-capable heavier weapon. The main difference being that the German full-auto was belt-fed and the British one magazine-fed (each member of the rifle squad carrying a spare Bren magazine, by the way). I seem to have read the British had mortars of their own — if their mortar doctrine was different or weaker than the Wehrmacht’s I defer to your knowledge. Are you sure you’re not saying the Germans had a superior “idea” in inventing a GPMG, as it’s arguable that the individual weapons were inferior to the Bren? I refer you to other videos on the faults of the MG34 and 42 (expensive and not that reliable, and not that accurate or efficient, respectively).

        I agree that the US Army, as far as I can tell, got their LMG idea wrong, but the Garand somewhat made up for it. If the only “organic arms you can carry yourself” is a Garand, well, you’re pretty well off.

        • The root problem with most of the UK commentators, which Bloke on the Range is included in is that they never wrapped their heads around the whole “Germanic School” of machinegunnery. The BREN is a fire support weapon; the MG34/42 are not “support” weapons; they’re THE weapon for the element. Conceptually, that sounds very similar to anyone who isn’t familiar with the tactical use of the MG, but it really is not. British and American practice was that the squad MG supported the maneuver of the element; German was that the element supported the maneuver of the guns. The Allied tactical mentality was that the rifleman was supposed to assault the objective with the MG team providing cover. The Germans didn’t have the trained manpower they thought necessary, so the MG34/42 concept was an economy-of-force initiative in order to make the most use of what trained manpower they had; the guns were what you used instead of frontal assault fire-and-movement technique. The British and American practice was that you sent men; the Germans sent bullets. And, mortar rounds…

          The effects gained speak for themselves, when you look at the differences in casualties produced by pure infantry combat sans supporting arms. On the Western fronts, the Germans typically wrought havoc every time they had to deal with Allied troops who were unable to deploy supporting artillery fires, aviation, and armor. The sheer volume of fire produced by the MG34/42 was meant to substitute for the lack of supporting arms.

          Notably, during the course of the war, the Germans upped the rate of fire on their guns. The British actually decreased theirs, from 4 magazines per minute max to 3.

          The point of all this is that the two sides used their guns very differently; the concepts behind them were nearly diametrically opposed. The German technique was based on volume of fire delivered at the longest range possible, in order to generate casualties before the enemy could close with them. The idea was to maneuver firepower, rather than men or units.

          As to which MG doctrine was superior, in isolation from other supporting arms? I hold out, as a soldier, that the Germans had a better grasp on the realities of it all. Every time I hear some numbnuts tell me that I need to economize on ammo, what I really hear is that they’re telling me to treat my men as expendable. The Germans, believe it or not, had a bit more concern for the lives of their soldiers than the Allies, at least in this regard. Bullets, not men.

          • The problem with people who write this sort of thing Kirk, is that they never managed to wrap their heads around the “British School” of machine gunnery.

            The British were more dedicated to the idea of the section machine gun being the primary fire weapon of the section than the Germans were. Unlike the Germans, all members of a British section were trained in the use of their machine gun and expected to be proficient in it.

            British web kit was designed entirely around providing ammunition for the Bren. There was no provision for carrying the rifleman’s own ammunition. The Germans were the reverse. Each German rifleman’s web kit was for his own ammunition, there was no provision in its design to carry machine gun ammunition.

            Unlike the Germans, the British had a complete system for bringing the Bren into action, supplying it with ammunition, and making it the primary weapon of the section.

            This focus on the machine gun is why the British prioritized a new LMG over a new rifle in the 1920s and 30s.

            If you want to argue that the *American* view of things was to make the rifle the primary section weapon and the LMG the secondary one, that’s fine, go ahead. It’s not what the British (and Commonwealth) did however. The British training manuals were very clear about it.

          • I beg to differ with you, in that regard.

            The British were nowhere near German practice, despite what you say. To repeat: The Germans maneuvered their guns; the British used their guns to maneuver. That’s the key and essential difference–Where there was an objective to assault, the British used the BREN to support the assault, while the ideal of the German school was to get the guns into a position where they’d make the objective untenable through fire, force a withdrawal, and then fire on the withdrawing enemy. They emphatically did not want their troops wasted in a direct frontal assault; infiltrate, seize positions from which to bring strongpoints under fire, fire on them, force their withdrawal, and then occupy the empty positions, if necessary.

            That’s the difference. The Allies were focused on the terrain; the Germans focused on dislocating the enemy from his positions, and minimizing their own losses. Similarly, on the defense, they worked it in reverse.

            The British and American practices relied on a manpower-centric bludgeon. The German bludgeon was firepower-based, and a lot more economical on manpower over the long run.

            The choices made in what sort of MG to adopt are quite clear in this regard–The British thought they needed something drastically portable, and limited the amount of fire it could deliver deliberately and with malice aforethought. They traded men for fire, and the results by the end of the war are brutally apparent–By the time of the D-Day landings, they were forced to cannibalize existing divisions for personnel, having expended so many elsewhere in the war. No small part of that is due to the sheer waste of human life represented by their inferior MG doctrine.

            The LMG/Automatic Rifle approach taken by the US and the British Commonwealth forces was and is a sad joke, one that becomes brutally apparent whenever it goes up against superior technique and equipment in the absence of copious supporting weapons. There are reasons why so many Allied infantrymen died, and the MG issue is a huge part of it all. I would guess that the over-emphasis on the Garand and the BREN probably cost more lives than they ever saved, in terms of men dying in combat trying to make inferior doctrine work.

            Which isn’t to say that the Germans had it all their way, either–They were trying to make war on the cheap, without the resources they really needed. Their superior MG weaponry and doctrine were crutches substituting for things like motor vehicles, oil to fuel them, and all the rest of the things they lacked. The amazing thing isn’t that they lost, it’s how far they got with what they had, and how much damage they did before going down. In a world with rational enemies that paid better attention to the ongoing developments of warfare, the German house of cards would have collapsed about 1942-43, and the Allies would have saved millions of lives, particularly on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, we were led by men who really were not serious about war, and who took no lessons whatsoever from WWI. Not to mention, the politicians of the 1930s were utter naifs with no real appreciation for what a nutter like Hitler could do with the limited resources he did have on hand.

          • As regards: “…the ideal of the German school was to get the guns into a position where they’d make the objective untenable through fire, force a withdrawal, and then fire on the withdrawing enemy.”:

            That seems like an ideal that’s hard to achieve: a machine gun against someone in, say, a foxhole keeps his head down quite effectively, but doesn’t flush him out of it. Rommel describes (in his WW1 memoirs) doing exactly that sort of ideal attack on occasion, on an enemy whose trenches were laid out exceedingly poorly, but as a rare opportunity, not something he could pull off on demand.

          • dear Kirk<

            Ever been in battle?!

            I'm betting not. The MG34 was easily suppressed at Tobruk in the 8 months siege in 1941, by the Bren gun, because it's density and accuracy of fire was greater then the MG34.

            In 1976 I did the Marksmanship and Coaching course at what is now the Australian armies School of Infantry. The Royal Australian Regiment was just about to shift to the L4 / 7.62 Nato version of the Bren, but not de-accurised like the Brits had stupidly done with their L4s. Most of these Cpls were veterans.

            Like me they were OVER the M60 GPMG, and delighted to have a section gun that worked and kept on working, was very accurate and reliable.

            The M60 GPMG was a classic example of how to design a bad GPMG. Violent action even though it was gas-operated and need not have had a violent action. Difficult, if not dangerous to field-strip and clean at night, in the dark.

            The only good feature was the MG34/42 belt-feed mechanism.

            It was hard to hold one even a group target. On a recoiling tripod it was a lot better, but did still manage to make an FN MG58 GPMG look like it was perfect.

            I was there while our top Infantry people were coming to that conclusion.

            It's not ammo sprayed around that matters it is ammo right AT the enemy that works.

            Tim Bailey

          • @Norman Yarvin,

            Note that I said “Ideal”, not “They pulled it off every time, and wouldn’t fight unless they could…”.

            Read and compare the manuals, along with the after-action reports. They’re replete with examples and make it pretty clear what the various parties meant to do with their guns, and what they actually did do with them.

            There’s a certain bloody-minded wastefulness of human life that permeates British and US intent and actual use; you don’t see emphasis on minimizing loss through indirect tactics; it’s all “attack, attack, attack”, and the most sophisticated thing they lay out is the “holding attack” while another element tries to flank. The Germans, on the other hand? It’s all Flaechen
            und Luekentaktik
            , the tactics of surfaces and gaps: Find the way through the enemy positions, avoid the strong points, and dislocate, disturb, and only make frontal attacks on strongly held positions when there is no other choice or the potential gain is high enough.

            The point of it all is not that the Germans lost the war due to other factors, but just how badly the Allies did against them and how far they managed to get with the extremely limited resource base and laughable strategy they implemented. At the tactical and operational level, they did far more damage to us than they should have, and that’s a fact we should have studied in depth, internalized, and then adopted their methodologies rather than going “Rah, rah us! We won! We better!!!”. Actual point of fact, the casualty ratios alone point to inferior tactics and inept leadership, up and down the line. The WWII German company-grade officers I’ve spoken to over the years were all pretty much dismissive of Allied infantry tactics in general, one of them commenting that if he’d survived what the usual American lieutenant did in combat, his superiors would have court martialed and shot him for wasting lives. His other comment was that if he’d had the torrent of Allied “other arms” like aviation, artillery, and armor available to him, he’d have been sitting in Vladivostok by about ’44, drinking sake with the Japanese. Arrogant bastard might have been right…

            @Timothy Bailey,

            I’m rather curious where you and the Australians got all this experience with the MG34; why were they testing the MG34 in the mid-1970s, and where the hell did they get even the ammo to do that, let alone the rest of the German toolkit to evaluate?

            As well… Inaccurate MG34/42? WTF? Exactly where the hell does that come from? Or, is that little mechanism they built into the Lafette 34 a figment of my imagination, whose sole function was to elongate the beaten zone at range?

            As for Tobruk and the “failure” of the MG34 against the defenders, I’m not sure you make the case. Tobruk, like Stalingrad, was another case where the Germans eschewed maneuver and paid the price for it. Not to mention, a lot of the engaged troops were Italian, whose MG support wasn’t going to be coming from MG34s. I’d have to question the anecdotal descriptions and attributions there, simply because of that. Plus, Tobruk was a situation where the besieging Axis forces were at the end of a logistical rope that meant they weren’t doing things the way they’d have preferred to be doing them. I’d appreciate the cites for your sources on this, because I simply haven’t seen anything indicating that “BRENs were suppressing MG34s” anywhere before.

            Most of the Commonwealth and American types that discuss this issue are blinded by their own modes of thought; of course the BREN is superior–We procured it and used it. Of course the Garand, the BAR and the M1919A6 are better–Those are ours, and we wouldn’t have sent our boys up against the filthy Germans with anything but the best. You look at all the training films and the intelligence reports, and they’re all the same: Germans bad, we’re good, and my, aren’t those MG34s and MG42s wasteful of ammo…? The point of which is always missed, and never discussed, which is that all that expended ammo substituted for the expended men the Germans didn’t have.

            With a fraction of Allied manpower and resources, the Germans managed to stretch out and capture a swath of the world that spread from the Urals to the Atlantic; how the hell they managed that with a military that they themselves acknowledged wasn’t ready to go to war is something we should have been examining in depth, with an eye towards figuring out how to bottle that lightning for ourselves. The fact that we won and that the Germans were genuinely nasty and outright evil bastards doesn’t enter into it; all those Allied troops that died to put them down like the mad dogs that they were should be remembered and honored by analyzing where the hell we went wrong to necessitate that, and figuring out how to prevent it by being better at making war the next time around.

            Something we signally haven’t managed, looking at current US and NATO MG doctrine. The Germans themselves seem to have forgotten what the hell being a German MG leader means, given what they’re replacing the MG3 with in the MG5.

            I don’t want to get personal, but the obtuse nature of people’s outlook on this issue makes it difficult; you talk to the average American officer or Very Senior NCO, and try to make a case for getting even miniature binoculars with proper reticles for the gun teams, rangefinders, and a tripod that works outside of a prepared defense, and what you get is a stunning lack of comprehension and concern. They simply don’t get the implications of all those casualty numbers, or see the potentials for doing things in a manner other than what was passed down from the incompetents of yore.

            Sweet babbling baby Jesus, but the USMC’s friggin’ current MG manual includes illustrations and instructions dating back to WWII M1919 crap that hasn’t been on issue since the late 1940s–And, when that fact is pointed out to them, they’re deliciously unconcerned about it all. That’s how little emphasis this stuff actually gets, because they are all convinced that the MG is a weapon from another age, one we’ve left behind us and will never go through again.

            Which is painfully ironic considering the current mismatch of things in Afghanistan.

          • @Kirk

            The MG5 still has an 800 rounds per minute maximum rate of fire, which is probably sufficient for tactics similar to the MG42/MG3. We also have to remember that the current German Heer is a professional army, which expects its infantry to ride into battle in IFVs with their relatively heavy armament for supporting infantry. This is different from WW2 and cold war infantry, which either walked, rode in trucks or at best rode in lightly armed half-tracks or APCs, with the exception of relatively small numbers of armored infantry with IFVs during the cold war. The adoption of the 5.56mm MG4 also reflects that change in doctrine from the cold war Heer. In my opinion the MG5 can be seen as a kind of compromise between the “old” German and post cold war professional army small unit tactics.

          • @Euroweasel,

            Chesterton’s Fence: If you can’t explain why something exists as a practice or an object, then you shouldn’t simply throw it out because all the cool kids are.

            The Germans went from the MG08 that was quoted as being around 450-500 rpm to the MG34 that had rate of around 900 rpm, and from there to the MG42 that had an rpm of around 1200. There are records saying they wanted to go to a weapon that fired at 1500rpm, and tested same. In the middle of WWII. Obviously, none of this was accidental or at all unplanned; they wanted this feature, and thought it was important enough that they were willing to pay the logistical price in ammunition.


            If the staff officers of today’s German Heer can’t tell us that, then they’ve no business writing half-ass specifications for HK based off of American/NATO opinion and doctrine. This is the same set of rocket scientists that wrote the specification for the G36, don’t forget, and hand-waved away the issues of overheating when the weapons were used in exigency.

            It’s more of the same idiocy that we’ve seen in the US; nobody came back from Vietnam saying “Yeah, the M16 is great, but could we maybe make it a bit heavier and longer? Oh, and the sight is way too simple; let’s put something on there that’s exquisitely refined and that only one out of a hundred men will ever actually use in combat…”.

            They got the M16A2 so right that when the Army Infantry saw the M4 carbine showing up for the support troops, they glommed onto it with both hands, turning an afterthought of a carbine that was intended as a PDW for the guys not going into direct combat into the basic infantry weapon for the entire Army. Now, also the Marines…

            The fact that some idiot staff officer thinks something is a good idea does not necessarily make it one. I’d put the MG5 into that category, mainly because I understand and appreciate the German “Way of the Machinegun”, which I strongly suspect that the likely American-influenced staff officer who wrote the spec does not.

            Germany’s membership in NATO and the malign influence of American staff mentality has not been to the overall benefit of German war-making potential. I rather suspect that that may be by design, but I don’t think it is beneficial to German martial interests. Drowning in paperwork and fuzzy thinking is no way to fight a war…

          • Kirk, which manuals are you referencing? There seem to be various ones out there. And, I’m sure, a gazillion after-action reports, mostly buried in archives somewhere — but you must have something particular in mind.

            As regards Allied tactics manuals, there’s an old line from a German officer, something like “US tactics manuals are horrible. Unfortunately for us, US troops don’t follow their manuals.” And indeed I have yet to run across any expression of respect for those manuals from former US servicemen: respect for what experienced soldiers taught them about tactics, yes; respect for military books, sometimes; respect for the official tactics manuals, no.

            The German manuals are of more interest. But which one(s) cover this sort of machine gun tactics?

          • @Norman Yarvin,

            What I have access to today is the translated Truppenfuhrung edited by Bruce Condell and David Zabecki, the Collector’s Grade books on the MG34/42 by Folke Myrvang, and John A. English’s A Perspective on Infantry. Those are mostly oblique; the Myrvang books are more attentive to the mechanics of the guns than the “software”, if you will.

            What I once had access to, however? When I was younger, a lot stupider, and not as interested in the issue? Lost treasure, my friend, lost treasure.

            Circa 1990-ish, I was a recruiter stationed outside Chicago. At a local gun show I ran into an older gentleman who had set up a historical display of German MG “stuff” that boggled the mind. He was a former American soldier who’d gone on to spend a career as a Department of the Army civilian in Germany for his entire career, and he’d amassed a collection of material that probably could have filled a decent-sized home office. He was going to write a book, you see, about all the “software” side of the German MG development, and what he had was amazing–Manuals, which he’d translated himself, papers from German soldiers, films, you name it. There were a number of privately published books that were made available to the troops, and official government reports, all of which he graciously let me leaf through. I wish I’d taken the time to get copies of it all, but… There were shelves and filing cabinets full of it, along with the tool kits and stuff like the rangefinders and binoculars, web gear, tripods, you name it. Visited him a couple of times at the gun show, went to his house once or twice, and when I was reassigned to Korea, I just left–See, he was going to write a book, and was well on the way to doing so. Labor of love, you see.

            While I was in Korea, he died or otherwise went off the radar. I wrote him, asked how the book was coming, and the letter got returned. I went digging a few years later, wanting to dig up some references he’d had for an argument I was in with some superiors in the Army, and discovered that he’d gone into care not long after I’d left the area, and then died in a rest home. My suspicion is that those years of smoking like a chimney and general ill-health caught up to him, and he never finished his book. Likely, his family liquidated his collection and I’d wager the majority went into some landfill in Illinois, because I’ve never seen any of the stuff he’d shown me anywhere–And, there were films that I think would have made it onto YouTube if they were still available.

            I also got to talk to six or so German veterans who’d been through the full mill as gunners and MG unit leaders over the course of things, who also provided a lot of background/insight into it all. There’s nothing quite like sitting across from a guy you grew up around who’s found out you’re heading to Germany to help defend the Fatherland (as he saw it, kinda…) and having him talk about his war as a gunner on the Eastern Front (for the first time, ever, according to his wife), talking about how you “…must keep the barrels ready, for when the Russians come across the fields…”, and giving you fatherly advice about how important your machineguns are to survival… It was, to say the least, surreal. Also, in diametric opposition to a lot of what the US Army had trained me.

            So, yeah… I wish I could provide you with all the cites for what I’m saying, but I can’t. Should I win the lottery, I promise you I’ll finance someone to go through the German archives and try to reconstruct what my informant in Illinois had going, and maybe write his book for him, but… Yeah. There’s a vast fund of lost knowledge out there that I’ve seen, no longer have access to, and really wish I’d taken the time to copy for myself. I had no idea that the guy was going to drop dead on me.

            There’s probably a lot of information that’s simply died off, retained only in the heads of the now-shamed German veterans who lived through it all, and I suspect that there’s a lot which didn’t make it into the post-WWII German Heer manuals and records. Some of the information you have to infer from the hardware, particularly with regards to the full gun kit they issued.

            From a standpoint of pure gunnery, I think the Germans had something going that’s a lot different than what’s conceived in the minds of their opponents. You can read the American and British after-actions reports, and see the outlines of it all, but what’s really frustrating is that they attribute things to random “bad luck” rather than German preparation and planning, a lot of the time. It’s like the Germans were painting in color, and the Allies were seeing it as men who were color-blind and entirely unaware that there were such things as colors…

          • Kirk, have you read Rommel’s WW1 memoirs? It sounds like those are the sort of tactics you’re talking about: lots of sneaking around and getting into position to launch an unexpected, dominating attack and then chaining that into follow-on attacks. He did like his machine guns, and for instance made it a rule to carry them up front when advancing so as to give a, uh, prompt greeting to any enemy encountered. The machine guns of WW1 were heavier, but he still climbed mountains with them.

            Of course it’s a memoir, not a tactics manual, but giving examples of how to adapt to different enemies and different terrain might actually be more instructive than trying to lay out general rules for it: the latter can easily end up being too vague and hard to interpret. He includes the sorts of details (e.g. distances in hundreds of meters, re-measured during a postwar trip as a “tourist”) that are required to make sense of the operations.

            Anyway, it looks like that Truppenführung manual can be found for free here (in English translation):


        • The Marines in the Pacific found a good balance by 12-13 man Squads and three Fireteams, each with a BAR to support the Garands. No LMGs, just good use of Automatic Rifle for maneuver rather than depend on one LMG per squad.

          • As they drilled into us at Sapper School: “It’s a technique…”.

            That line usually emanated from an instructor who was dubious of your plans, and wanted to draw your attention to the fact that they felt that way.

            Marine infantry doctrine is a creature unto itself. Personally, I like it–The three-fireteam approach strikes me as having a lot of potential, and when I was able to implement something similar due to a manpower/leader shortage in our platoon, it worked and worked well. Army two-fireteam doctrine is nowhere near as flexible, and leaves you without many options, particularly once you’re dealing with the usual attrition of combat.

            The thing I don’t particularly care for is the Marine attitude towards emphasizing fire and movement over sheer firepower. To my way of thinking, if you’re moving too fast for your M249 gunner to keep up, you’re probably moving too fast, period. You can do that sort of thing up against lightly-equipped guerrillas, but I somehow suspect that coming up against the modern-day equivalent of the Imperial Japanese Army is not going to be a lot of fun.

            But, that’s the Marine Corps choice, not mine. If they can make it work, great–I’ll be sitting here going “Good on you, Marines! Didn’t think that’d work… I’m taking notes, here…”.

            Being the cynical bastard that I am, and also being a big fan of belt-fed firepower, I kinda suspect it ain’t going to work out too well, once they’re up against the “peer competitor” we should be planning and training for. That’s just my opinion, though–Time will tell. If I were a Marine infantry leader, which I am not, I’d be keeping a careful eye on where all my belt-feds were at, and making plans to ensure they were with me under fire, regardless of who they belong to or work for…

      • “The Brits suffered form failure of imagination…..”
        Man, so true, I love it 🙂

        What I take as a “best” light machine gun of WWII is Pulemyot Degtaryova known as DP-27. Simple, reliable, reasonably light and with volume of fire on tap. Nine kg empty with 47 rounds mag to boot, perfect tool in my books.

        • I’d disagree, TBH. The Soviets had lousy MG doctrine, and wasted far too many men with it. There are reasons they were dissatisfied with it all, and eventually went to the PK/PKM guns in the post-WWII era–Which were GPMG weapons, just like the Germans had had.

          The LMG is really a lot like the Automatic Rifle, a failed concept that did not take the realities of combat into account. As a part of a well-equipped combined arms team, you can make them work effectively, but when it is just down to the guns and men, I find that the magazine-fed, mostly bipod-mounted weapon system is a sad joke. You can make it work, but it’s going to cost you a lot of blood.

          Boils down to the question of this: What do you value? Men, or the money for your weapons system’s consumables? As a soldier, my money’s going to get plumped down on “Spend the money on cartridges, and let me minimize the letters home I have to write…”.

          • I hate to sound stupid, but the only use I can see for a magazine-fed light machine gun today is patrolling the Californian border (from the Nevada side), where the toughest possible opponent is probably some nitwit with an empty toy Desert Eagle. Yes, this is just a joke and I could be wrong.

          • “(…)Soviets had lousy MG doctrine(…)”
            Workers Peasants Red Army recognized need for lighter replacement of Maxim 1910 in interwar years, after long years of development DS-39 was finally adopted:
            it was not single gun for bi-pod and tri-pod like Madsen, however it was related to DP, thus making work of armourers easier as they would not have to support vastly different DP and Maxim.
            However DS-39 failed to work well with all 7,62×54 R used and as such dropped from production. SG would finally be able to replace Maxim 1910.

        • “(…)DP-27(…)perfect(…)in my books(…)”
          But it was not deemed so by Workers Peasant Red Army. Competition was run in 1943, see photos of contenders:
          neither was placed into production, but nonetheless DP was replaced by reworked version of self, namely DPM, most notable change being relocating of spring (in original it did heat).
          It must be noted that DP was designed only few years after civil war which was fought vastly different that Great Patriotic War, so it evolved according to needs of last.

        • “…Pulemyot Degtaryova known as DP-27…”(С)

          DP-27, this may not be quite complete trash, but very close.
          Poor ergonomics, poor reliability, insufficient stability.
          They worked more or less reliably, only in the hands of a well-trained operator, and then while they were new.
          And in order to get at least somehow acceptable accuracy, the machine gunner had to put on a special “horse harness” made of belts and chains, with which the machine gun was tied to the shooter.
          Turning the operator into a sitting duck.
          Add to this the practical impossibility of changing the barrel in battle. And the fact that if BREN’s magazines “gave a headache”, then for DP it was just a disaster.

          Definitely the penultimate machine gun I would like to get in the armory.

          • Your opinion about the DP-27 seems to be exceptionally low compared to its users, and I don’t mean just the Red Army, but also the Finnish Army which used thousands of captured ones and even kept them warehoused for possible wartime use until early 2000’s!

            The shortcomings of the DP-27 are well documented and undeniable, but poor reliability was not one of them as long as you didn’t overheat the spring by overly long sustained fire. You also seem to confuse the rig for hip firing, which you call “horse harness”, with normal use on the bipod. In the latter case the gun was sufficiently accurate for an LMG. Less so than the for example the Finnish Lahti-Saloranta LMG (or the Bren for sure), but like the Bren the Lahti-Saloranta was sometimes considered “too accurate”, if such a thing exist.

            In any case the DP-27 was generally considered the best LMG in Finnish service, and while it didn’t include the ZB-26 or the Bren, it did include two different variants of the B.A.R. (Finnish Army made no difference between an automatic rifle and an LMG; they were all just called Light Machine Guns).

          • @Euroweasel,

            The Finns are ‘effing weird with their machineguns, from my point of view. We had a Finnish exchange officer show up one time to our unit, and since I was the only guy who (apparently…) knew where Finland was on a map, he and I got along great. Didn’t hurt that I was reading “The Winter War” at the time, either…

            In any event, he and I got to talking machineguns. He’d been a gunner at some point in his career, and I specifically asked him what Finnish practices looked like, with regards to using the things in the forest. My description of how my Vietnam-era trainers had taught us to use the tripod/T&E during withdrawal and breaking contact left him seriously confused; per what he was telling me, the Finns never issued tripods or used them at all for light infantry operations; they were strictly for use on the defense, from prepared positions. Everything else? Bipods only, and they didn’t do the locked-down “fire overhead of friendlies” we trained on, at all.

            I found this really puzzling, about like talking to the Brits about digging in–We adopted the oblique-fire spiderhole techniques after encountering them in the Pacific, but the Brits apparently (per their Engineers and pamphlets…) flatly refused to consider defense planning that did not allow a position to fire to its direct front…

            Cultural idiosyncracies abound, and you’re gonna find ’em in the oddest places.

          • @Kirk

            Yes, the Finnish disregard for tripods is still true. The last machine guns routinely issued with tripods were Maxims, and while some of them remained in service until the end of the Cold War, they were purely defensive weapons at that point, to be used from prepared defensive positions. The current primary machine gun of the Finnish Army is currently the PKM, with the Kvkk-62 still warehoused for second line troops, and they are used without the tripods. Conscripts are not even taught the use of the tripod.

            Since I’m not professional military the actual reason for the aversion of tripods has been and still is a little bit of a mystery to me. The Kvkk-62 of course did not have a tripod at all. I can only surmise it is derived from WW2 and specifically summer of 1944 experience with the Maxim, which was often too heavy with the tripod to be evacuated rapidly from a delay position or carried on long retreats on foot. Therefore a good number of the tripods ended up in bogs or otherwise abandoned. However, the PKM’s tripod is of course much lighter than the Maxim’s tripod, and long marches on foot are no longer something envisaged to happen very often (for obvious tactical reasons against a mechanized enemy). So perhaps it’s just institutional inertia…

          • @Euroweasel,

            I take it that you’re Finnish, then? It is interesting to hear that they’re still operating like that, since it’s been what, twenty-plus years since I spoke with that Major?

            The tripod thing still creates a distinct feeling of “WTF?” in my mind; there’s so much you can do with the damn things, and the guns are so limited without them. It’s like blithely taking a rowboat out, and leaving the oars behind. Sure, you’re floating, but… Man, you could be doing so much more if you had the ability to, y’know… Row.

            But, to each their own. What I’d like to understand is the “Why” behind it all–Is it the forest? The mobility requirements? How far back does it go, and who made the decisions about all that?

            Just goes to show you… A huge component of how we go about making war is purely cultural, and everybody does it a little bit differently. The weapons choices made should reflect how people are actually going to fight, not some generalized ideal that the rest of the world agrees upon.

            Still leaves me shaking my head, though… Of course, you go look at Afghanistan, and you’re gonna find that the US Army ain’t exactly behaving any differently, operating as though a bipod and a shoulder are the ultimate tools for controlling and directing MG fire from. Which they ain’t.

          • @Kirk

            From 1962 until about 2004 the Kvkk-62 was the only modern machine gun of the Finnish Army, and since it’s chambered for 7.62×39mm, there was little reason to even consider a tripod. The defense budgets were very small for most of that period and the existing WW2 relics (Maxim and DP-27) were considered ‘good enough’ for any purchase of a modern GPMG to go through. After all, until 1990 the Finnish Army still had a lot of second line troops which would have been armed with M39 Mosin rifles and Suomi SMGs in case of total mobilization. Part of the reason was also that there were no domestic GPMG designs available. So it could be said that the Finnish Army pretty much missed the whole GPMG idea during the Cold War.

            Even the PKMs were purchased as replacement for tbe Kvkk-62, so as far as I know not much thought to their tactical use on a tripod was given. The forests certainly have something to do witb that, because in large parts of the country 800 meters effective range is plenty. A
            The about 400 meters effective range of the Kvkk-62 was also considered sufficient for much of the Cold War. In addition, traditionally (since WW2) Finnish infantry has had quite a lot of 81mm mortars, which would have partially compensated for the short effective range of small arms fire.

            But still, as to the actual specifics of the tripod matter especially concerning the PKM, I don’t know. Finnish Army has a long tradition of operating on a need to know basis and even stuff that isn’t strictly confidential is not discussed much publicly. The materials available to reservist and the public at large do not often discuss rationales. Something would probably be available in various archives, especially older stuff from the early Cold War era, but getting to it would require serious research.

        • Yes by far. Successfully filled the same role, but was many time easy to make. So much so that one doesn’t even have to fully count the number of machining operations to understand this.

          Plus the savings in the amount of steel needed alone for a DP-27 would tip scale in the favor of it over the BREN.

          The ZB family was a good design for someone to make to compete in the then world market of arming a small country with whatever it’s cartridge choice is, like the Madsen was, that isn’t actually producing them. But certainly not something for a major country who wants to manufacture their guns.

          • “The ZB family was a good design for someone to make to compete in the then world market of arming a small country with whatever it’s cartridge choice is, like the Madsen was, that isn’t actually producing them. But certainly not something for a major country who wants to manufacture their guns.”

            Very good point. Fully agree. This is especially true in the Madsen’s case.

          • 2Euroweasel

            You answered yourself.
            A small, poor country.
            The army of which, at all times, was content with “what is available” instead of “what we would like.”
            The Finns gladly (or desperately) used any captured equipment, because at that time, there was nowhere else to take.

          • @Stiven

            While it’s certainly true that the Finnish Army used captured equipment gladly, that does not mean that they would have been completely unable to evaluate the pros and cons of said equipment. Perhaps not completely objectively, but the fact is that such evaluations are colored by national pride and other prejudice no matter where they are conducted.

            The fact remains that the DP-27 was found to be superior to the domestic Lahti-Saloranta LMG in almost all other respects except accuracy. The shortcomings of the DP-27 were still recognized (poor ergonomics especially with the magazine, no QCB, prone to overheating with prolonged fire and difficulty to be fired from the hip). The overall impression, especially concerning reliability (other than the overheating issue) and stability when fired on a bipod was still positive.

            The case of the DP-27 can be compared to another captured Soviet weapon, the DS-39 medium machine gun. The latter was considered very unreliable with brass cased ammunition (prone to case head separation) and Aimo Lahti tried to design a fix for it, but his ultimate opinion was that with brass cases the gun was fundamentally broken. The DS-39 was still used precisely because the lack of modern weapons, but the good old Maxims were greatly favored. This shows the Finnish Army was perfectly capable of recognizing poor captured Soviet equipment when it came to that. Furthermore, even the Mosin-Nagant rifles were kept and further developed after WW1 culminating in the M39, because there was no money to replace them with anything better; the fundamental problems with the Mosin system were well recognized. The army would have wanted Mausers if it had a larger budget.

        • And regarding the USSR (as Popenker correctly said), they probably developed dozens of samples, of which the only machine gun that was suitable for something was Goryunov’s machine gun, which began to work more or less normally only after modernization in 1943. However, even after that, its reliability left much to be desired much better.
          So, the first really normal machine gun is the PK.

    • Availability, reliability, and accuracy do make the Bren the best LMG of WWII. Neither of your candidates match it for availability, or accuracy, or reliability.

      One could also ask why did the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht choose the MG34 version of the 30 and then the MG42?

      IME as a marksman soldier in the Australian Army, accuracy beats ROF every time.

      Browning up the greenery never works well.

      During the siege of Tobruk in 1941, Australian soldiers found they could easily suppress German MG34 teams because of the tight beaten zone of the slower firing Bren guns.

      More rounds near your head is very effective.

      • Cites, Mr. Bailey, cites. You provide none, merely the assertion that “Australian soldiers found they could easily suppress German MG34 teams”.

        Which ain’t supported in the German records, nor in practice anywhere else in the European theater. If the Aussies “broke the code” at Tobruk, why weren’t they able to transmit that essential skill and knowledge to anyone else on the Allied side, and why weren’t there records of the Germans going “Wow, those Australian supermen completely blew our MG doctrine out of the water at Tobruk… We need to change what we’re doing…”.

        I’m unaware of there being any such “transmission of successful technique” anywhere else where the Allies were confronting the Germans, and I’m also unaware of any German reaction or commentary about having had issues with Allied suppression of German MG teams at Tobruk via the good offices of the BREN.

        That being the case, you need to either put up, or shut up. If, as you say, the Australians came up with a successful counter to the MG34/42 gun team, then the question that is left begging for an answer is “Why the hell did they keep it a secret…?”.

        My Occam’s Razor interpretation of this claim of yours is that it’s either entirely specious and based on the wishful thinking of Australian veterans who were looking back on it all, or that they were, charitably, mis-interpreting things in the heat of battle. Given that German doctrine called for the simple expedient of moving the gun once it had been ranged, I would suggest that the Australians were likely seeing the effect of this, rather than them actually having successfully suppressed or taken out the MG34 positions they’d managed to identify.

        Your continuous assertion that the MG34/42 guns were inaccurate is also so much specious bullshit. Again, they had to install specific devices on the tripods in order to ensure proper dispersion of the bursts into the beaten zones, which ain’t exactly testimony in favor of your assertion. Additionally, the point you continue to miss is that the entire point of that high rate of fire was to enable the saturation of the beaten zone at full range such that there was limited to no chance of the targeted element being able to make it to ground or effective cover before the rest of the burst arrived to kill everyone. The fact that you continuously evade that understanding, falling back on the consistently wrong Allied canard that “the rate was too high” demonstrates that you simply do not comprehend why the Germans set that rate, and continuously raised it throughout the war. If they weren’t getting the effects they wanted, and given the drastically reduced material circumstances they were undergoing, why do you suppose they did that? What’s your explanation for that set of choices, which were carefully and thoughtfully reasoned-out? Which is more than I can say for anything on the Allied side with regards to machinegun operations.

  3. It is refreshing that Britain did not have the firearms nationalism of France, and so was able to use the best designs available for small arms. It was ironic, however, that Czechoslovakia produced the design for the Bren just in time for Britain and France to sell it down the river to Hitler. If they had had a bit more backbone in 1938, World War II need never have happened.

    • The British had only just started production of the Bren in 1938. They were also just starting production of their new fighters, and were still building their radar equipped integrated air defence system, something that was to prove critical in short order.

      The Germans had gotten a jump on re-armament over everyone else, and the British were barely ready for war in 1940, and arguably not then either.

      • MG:

        The fact is that Germany was not really ready for war in 1938. The bulk of its tank force was MkI and MkII panzers. Gaining control of the industries of Czechoslovakia was a huge boon for Germany. A quarter of the tanks which invaded France in 1940 were Czech Type 38s.

        We know now that Hitler took a huge risk in threatening Czechoslovakia in 1938. His general staff knew they were not ready for a war with Britain and France, and if these two countries had stood up to him with military force, they planned to overthrow him and seek peace. The Czechs had an excellent line of defence around their border with Germany, and if their “allies” Britain and France had stood by them, Hitler would have been gone in 1938, and there would have been no WWII.

        • Yeah, but nobody was brave enough to call the bluff. The French were fooled by a “force multiplier” trick done by the Luftwaffe. Basically, have ALL German warplanes occupy a single airfield and claim that the lot comprises only a single wing of the Luftwaffe. Distract foreign dignitary with wine, women, and song (played VERY LOUDLY), and have all the planes fly to the next airbase on the tour (and change the unit markings on all the planes). Repeat trick of “this is just one wing.” Guess what the dignitary will think of your air force?

  4. A friend who spent WWII on the Eastern Front in the 20th SS Estonian Division told me that they frequently had to get out of their trenches to clear away the piles of Russian bodies that were blocking their field of fire.

    • Which was the point of it all, when you look at the MG34/42…

      I’d lay you long odds that were one able to actually document and count the number of dead soldiers each MG system accrued in WWII, the MG34/42 was probably the most lethal by orders of magnitude. That all flows from the tactics and operational use thereof, which I have seen absolutely nothing to refute over the years I’ve studied the damn things. It’s not even close–The BREN is a lovely little weapon, but it’s nowhere near the killing machine that the Germans deployed. Those are just brutal, pure firepower.

      By contrast, the BREN is a weapon for the dilettante, someone who is not really serious about killing the enemy. German MGs and doctrine are sheer, bloody butchery by comparison. Which would I prefer to be fighting against? The BREN, hands down.

      Tell me I’m going up against trained men with the MG42, who have plenty of ammo? LOL… Homie will be calling for fire and doing his best to erase the grid square before he has to leave the start line.

    • I once ran across an account by someone who had set up a Gatling gun in Vietnam to defend a base. It was a repurposed aircraft gun, capable of pumping out something like 3000 rounds/minute, which is to an MG42 what an MG42 is to a Bren. When they were attacked, it cut the attackers down “like mowing grass”.

      • According to an uncle of mine who was a Marine in Korea, the primary weapon against Chinese “human wave” attacks there wasn’t the rifleman with an M1 Garand, it was the M16.

        No, not that M16, this M16;

        Originally designed and deployed as a light multiple gun motor carriage for anti-aircraft protection of convoys, in most theatres in WW2 and in Korea it became mainly an anti-personnel weapon.

        An M16 deployed as perimeter support fire could quickly destroy an infantry wave assault, with roughly (4 x 750)3,000 rounds per minute of .50 caliber goodness.

        Pretty much the same principle as the redeployed Minigun but with considerably more emphasis.



  5. The lower dust cover does not need to be opened before firing. If closed the breech block moving forward when firing the first round will open this cover and it then stays open and has to be manually closed using the middle finger of the right hand which frequently caused an obscene comment.
    I asked the late Bert Woodend at the Enfield Pattern Room if he had a Bren bracket for the No.32 telescopic sight, he told me that he had never seen one but he did have the drawings for it!

  6. “(…)design was licensed for British production as well as in the Dominions(…)”
    Wait. Did British and Dominions have to buy license for it separately or it was single license for all? Could license sold back then be limited to Britain only?

    • If I understood Mr. M. correctly, I presume it was a single license to build anywhere in the Dominions, but pay on a per gun basis wherever built, at the rates quoted, contract good until 1949.

    • Defence production was coordinated on an Empire/Commonwealth wide basis. This started *before* the war, it wasn’t something extemporized after the war started.

      As said in the video, the license allowed Britain to produce the gun in any part of the British Empire (plus Sudan, which although part of the Empire in practice had a special status in theory).

      If I recall correctly, the Canadian plant provided 60 per cent of Commonwealth requirements for Bren Guns, plus part of the UK demand as well.

      Canada produced a lot of rifles, machine guns, aircraft, tanks, motor vehicles, ships, artillery, ammunition, and many, many other things as well for the war effort of the Empire as a whole, and paid for it as well.

      • MG:

        The Sudan was at this time an Anglo-Egyptian condominium. Not an apartment, but a country administered equally by Britain and Egypt. Since Egypt was de facto under British control, Sudan was in reality also under British control, but was not technically a British territory, hence it was mentioned specifically in the agreement. A beautiful piece of legal drafting.

    • Reworked and reissued them as Buetewaffen. While the British troops no doubt did their best to render them unserviceable, there were enough that the Germans designated them Leichte MG 138(e), and had manuals printed for them.

  7. Btw. does anyone know where ZB26 went… places like Yugoslavia, Iran and who knows where else. Personally, I see that 20rds mag sticking on top as a weak point and for that alone I would not call it “best”. I know that J.Inglis tried to make it into belt fed, but it was not implemented.

    • The ZB26 (or later variants) were also sold to China.

      When Czech supplies were cut off the Chinese had Canada produce Brens for them in 8mm Mauser. There may be an FW video on this.

  8. Kirk is mostly right, but MG is not wrong. The different emphases and uses of the light-role MG have been over-simplified over the years. At least by 1944, British tactical doctrine had evolved to something very like the classically-understood German “MG does the killing, rifles protect and enable the MG” approach, and away from the stereotyped British “MG protects and enables the rifles” idea.

    We could spend weeks pointlessly debating the lethality of rival sections. Do M1s compensate for the BARs weaknesses and make the US section come out on top? As the Lee-Enfield is a far better fighting weapon than a Kar98K, does the British LE + Bren section beat the typical German 34/42 plus 98s one? Is the late-war mostly Eastern front German section with a 42 and MP43/44s deadlier than anything else fielded at the time? (Yes. Obviously).

    It risks being a kid’s Top Trumps game. Even before you factor in the macro (air superiority, artillery, AFV capability and availability, logistics,) and the micro factors of small arms, doctrine, tactics and training.

    Let alone the moral/morale factor. The Waffen SS were notoriously hard to fight against. Not because they were Ayran supermen, or had the best weapons (though they sometimes did), but because they believed they were, were indoctrinated to believe that they were the thing stopping their mothers and sisters being raped to death, and had the maniacal determination of today’s suicide bombers. Organised psychopathy meets US/U.K. controlled aggression.

    And ignore the wider military issues. If you are the US or U.K. in WW2, do you prioritise small arms technology and tactics? Or air power, artillery, tank numbers, logistics, medical, and nuclear? Could you have won the war with those with your infantry armed only with Stens and M1 carbines, mopping up after the real wholesale killing was done by the other arms? Answer is yes.

    Park all that.

    Whatever you think, the Bren is a brilliant thing. Forget that it’s iconic and served with no serious complaints for longer than most of us have been alive. It is easy to teach and learn. It is reliable and easy to clear when stoppages occur. It handles well and an average non-man (me) can shoot it like a rifle from the shoulder. It is highly controllable, accurate, arguably a bit too accurate. It is staggeringly robust and, well-maintained, just goes on working almost for ever.

    It is brilliant, and if you want/need a fairly light, light-role, full-power, LMG/SAW/LSW/TLT (Thing Like That) with a lowish cyclic rate, then the Bren was and remains a very, very, good option.

    • To comment on your first paragraph, which is entirely accurate in saying that there had been a convergence in doctrine forced by experience by the end of WWII in Europe. The US, in particular (though it did not get documented properly, or make it into the manuals…) went from “Garand and the cult of the individual rifleman uber alles” to “Yeah, we need belt-feds down in the squads to provide more firepower”. By this period, as well, the Germans had recognized that while the MG did what they wanted to, there were virtues to having more individual firepower than they’d planned for.

      What screwed the Allies over was their pre-WWII decisions in small arms development; the BREN and the M1919A6 were never, ever going to do for them what the MG34/42 did for the Germans, and no amount of reality-based work-arounds were going to help make up for that firepower deficiency.

      The first few seconds of a firefight are what make or break you; dump enough rounds into the killzone of an ambush, and you’re not getting out of it no matter how good you are, or how amateurish and unfit the guys doing the shooting are. If you’ve got something like the BREN in a sister element outside the killzone, you’re probably not going to have a lot of success breaking the ambush successfully in time to extricate most of the ambushed personnel out of the killzone. If, however, your supporting element coming up behind you has an MG42…? Baby, that’s about like having a man-portable long-range Claymore mine dumping hatred on the ambush party. You’re going to have a much better day of it than the poor bastards trying to dominate the firefight with the BREN.

      It’s not artistic, it sure as hell isn’t elegant, but when you need volume of firepower in a tactical setting, you’re not ever going to be able to do with an LMG what you can do with something like the MG42. There’s a huge amount of sheer psychological effect derived from that hail of fire coming down on you, or going out–The little tack-tack-tack of the BREN or some other lightweight mag-fed weapon is simply not in the same class.

      Which is not to run down the BREN. It’s an amazing, outstanding weapon, but… The whole class of LMG was simply delusionally lightweight thinking for the era, and to a degree, still is.

      I’d refer one to Paul Fussell’s essay “From Light to Heavy Duty” for an oblique approach to this issue; pre-WWII thought was that you could do things on the cheap, and that elegance could substitute for power. In some regards, this is so, but the price can come awfully high. The Germans thought to substitute elegant tactics and brute firepower deployed elegantly for mass of industry and manpower; they proved that didn’t work. Likewise, at another level, the Allies thought to substitute elegant fire for brute firepower, and that proved equally fallacious.

      Me? I’d prefer a mixed approach–There are times and places that the elegant can substitute for the brutish, but I’d just as soon keep “brutish” in my kit bag to pull out as necessary. I rather suspect that the US Marine Corps is going to come to the same ugly realization the next time they try taking on a peer competitor with the M27, having eschewed belt-fed brute force for elegance and speed. I appreciate elegance, I appreciate beauty, but I’m not taking an Aston-Martin out mudding or rock-crawling, either.

      • The massively produced (6 total weapons!) .30 M1919 AN/M2 Stinger weighing about 25 pounds and firing at 1200 rpm or so would have been a better choice for the US forces. They did well enough in their single battle, but I suspect the barrel wouldn’t last that long since they didn’t have a quick change one.

        The late war German infantry in the Battle of the Bulge didn’t really fare all that well. That was likely because they were untrained in their own doctrine. Still, the US choice of allowing platoon commanders to call in copious amounts of artillery compares favorably on the defense to the German choice of massive amounts of bullets.

      • @Duncan,

        The thing is that while the Allies won the war with their supporting arms, which I think is pretty much inarguable, the deleterious effect of failing to wrap their heads around the reasons for German infantry lethality has rung down the decades since–Particularly when we’ve wandered into situations where those supporting arms are either unavailable or deliberately not used due to ROE.

        Straight-up infantry fight, no supporting arms? The Germans did it better than we did. Infiltration and dislocation, rather than “Hey diddle-diddle, straight down the middle…”. The doctrine of surfaces and gaps held that the superior approach was to hold surfaces, explore, find the gaps, infiltrate and then render the positions making up those surfaces untenable with fires. A German officer who wasted men with a frontal assault could find himself up for court martial.

        You can see the long-term results of this with the current NGSW madness–The US Army is attributing their problems in Afghanistan to their weapons lacking the range to answer Taliban long-range fires from the PKM. The fail to recognize that they’re taking bipod-mounted (maximum effective range of around 800m) M240 guns up against tripod-mounted (maximum effective range of 1500m+) and carefully sited PKM positions. The US M240 tripod and supporting tools are a sad joke; oftentimes, you talk to the gun crews, and they’re going to look at you as though you were mad: Binoculars? Those are for the LT… Rangefinder? No such animal; the usual issue laser model is strictly for artillery FO use. Tripod? Useless off of a deliberately dug-in firing table.

        A early-WWII German Alpenjager unit would likely laugh heartily at US troops up in the mountains, and then put their “archaic and obsolete” guns to work, off of their “too heavy and unwieldy” tripods, reducing any Taliban MG positions to non-issues through suppression, if not outright destruction. We can’t hit them with small arms fire, because everything we have is predicated as being for close-in defense in an environment saturated with supporting arms–Supporting arms that we’ve put off-limits to ourselves via restrictive ROE.

        Overall Allied technique was superior; when it was just what the infantry could carry and had on MTOE, the Germans generally dominated. These are lessons we should have learned from and emulated. Still haven’t, which is why we’re doing stupidity like re-capitulating the whole 7.62 debacle with NGSW.

    • Slightly off-topic, but why do you believe the Lee-Enfield was a “far better fighting weapon” than a Kar98k? Lee-Enfields did have certain advantages over the Mauser (e.g. better sights and larger magazine), but the advantages seem to have been rather slight in practice and not amount to any kind of big overall advantage for the Lee-Enfield. Both were fairly handy and generally reliable short rifles, and even their practical rates of fire were broadly similar despite the theoretical advantage for the Lee-Enfield.

      • The Smellie-vs-Mauser debate is unending.

        Generally, the idea is that the Mauser is a Germanic precision shooting machine that is inherently more accurate than the Enfield, but slower-shooting.

        The SMLE and No.4, by comparison, are supposedly “soldiers’ rifles” intended to deliver maximum lethal firepower at normal combat ranges as fast as possible (for a manually-operated repeating weapon), and not worry about whether or not every bullet goes through the same hole every time on a nice, quiet peacetime target range.

        The facts are somewhere in-between. Yes, the Mauser with its front-locking bolt is inherently more consistent than the Remington/Lee-type rear-locking bolt. (No, the SMLE is not an “original”; Remington in the U.S. built essentially the same rifle in .45-70 and other calibers years before the first “Long Lee” came along.)

        In terms of practical combat accuracy, there is little or no difference between the two. Out to 250 meters, about the longest practical range for individual rifle marksmanship under combat conditions, either one will put all its bullets into a man’s torso, assuming he’s still standing after the first one or two. Which is all the mission requires.

        In terms of rate of fire, the Enfield action “with a drop of oil and a bit of practice” can purportedly be rapid-fired much more easily than the Mauser. Well, I suppose so, if you’re doing the old Territorials’ show-off trick of firing from the hip with the forefinger and thumb curled around the bolt-handle and tripping the trigger with your middle finger each time. In terms of aimed rapid fire, from the shoulder, doing it by the book, there’s not much actual difference between an SMLE and a Kar98K.

        In terms of reloading, the SMLE/No.4 does hold ten rounds in the magazine to the Mauser’s five, but since each one is reloaded with five-round stripper-clips, the difference is largely at the beginning of a fight. There, the Tommy would reload after ten while the Good Soldier Schweik would have to reload after five.

        It’s a moot point, really, as most “firefights” starting from “mutual surprise” tend to be over in the first five to ten seconds anyway, even with AKs and M4s today. What you have in the magazine is what you fight with, and if you’re shooting is up to par, you probably won’t need to reload. Or if it isn’t, you’re wounded or dead, so you almost certainly won’t be reloading.

        It’s interesting to examine automatic rifle designs of the pre-WW2 era in light of this debate. The U.S. M1 Garand was clearly designed along SMLE lines; relatively high capacity and a one-stroke reload, meaning firepower was preferred over pinpoint accuracy.

        The German G41M was essentially a “Lange” Gewehr 98 redesigned to be self-loading. And it even had a bolt handle and could be manually operated like a Kar98K.

        The G41W, by comparison, was designed from the start as a self-loading rifle and nothing else. About the only odd thing about it was its concentric piston system surrounding the barrel. The flap-locking system was borrowed, not from existing rifles, but from machine-gun design.

        The G43/K43 family was not, as some have claimed, a German copy of the Garand. It was actually a German analogue of the Russian Tokarev and Simonov rifles, from its ten-shot box magazine to its flap-locking action “inherited” from the G41W. The 43 model was the result of practical experience on the Eastern Front, where the Tokarev and Simonov rifles were found to be better man-killers in actual combat than the manually-operated Mauser. It had the additional advantage of using the rimless 7.9 x 57 round, which like the .30-06 is much easier to work through a repeating action from a box magazine than any rimmed cartridge- including the 0.303in, which let’s face it was the Bren’s and Enfield’s Achilles’ heel. (If the British Army had just gone to 7.9 x 57 or even the 0.303in Magnum in the interwar period…)

        The bottom line is, the “Best” WW2 fighting rifle was the one you had, provided you knew its strengths and limitations.

        That said, all things being equal, I’d have to choose…the FG42. That open-bolt full-auto/closed-bolt semi-auto fire mode, plus 20 rounds of 7.9 x 57 and the ability to fire prone without digging a foxhole for the magazine (as on the MP43), is what does it for me.



  9. Final thought.

    Before the 1895 Madsen, 1909 Hotchkiss Portative/Benet-Mercie, Lewis (1916 in British service), how did the section fight across different armies? To what extent was the LMG made to fit to existing tactics, or tactics changed to reflect the arrival of the LMG?

    Huot’s book on the Chauchat is the best printed reference I can think of that makes technology meet tactics.

    Does anyone now really understand the tactical theories forced by the arrival of the early LMG? Why was the US B-M marked as an “Automatic Machine Rifle”? Why was the BAR originally the Browning Machine Rifle, but redesignated as an automatic rifle? Why did the Brits (MGC Vickers guys?) debate whether the Lewis was an MG or an automatic rifle? And why did that matter?

    • If you can find a copy of it, I’d refer you to the original version of John A. English’s A Perspective on Infantry. Not the later bitched-up version rewritten by Gudmundsson, either.

      A solid part of the problem is that there weren’t tactical theories for a lot of this sort of thing until the necessity for it became brutally obvious during WWI. The smallest unit they envisioned operating independently back then was the platoon, and had you suggested that a machinegun and all that firepower would ever be under command of a mere section or squad leader, they’d have termed you “mad”.

      There used to be a bunch of French tactical handbooks translated into English from about the turn of the 19th Century that were up on Google. You read through those, and you get this delicate frisson of horror, recognizing what was coming for those poor bastards. When I was researching all that sort of thing, it wasn’t easy to find the corresponding British or German manuals, but I imagine that they really weren’t all that much better.

      Most of the pre-WWI “thinking” on this issue might better be described as “an absence of thought”. Nobody really recognized the potential, the necessities, or the full horror of what was coming until they were deep into the tar-baby that was the war.

      What I’d love to know, merely for morbid curiosity’s sake, is what things would have looked like had all that technological innovation and change taken place during an era of relative peace; say that WWI didn’t happen… What then, for MG doctrine development, along with all the other weapons and operational art? Would the same sort of trends have shown up, over a drastically elongated period of time, or would it all have been like a rubber band, building up the lethality and contradictions all to be unleashed in some far worse Gotterdammerung when war finally did come?

      No matter how you look at it, WWI came at precisely the right (or, wrong…) moment in terms of technology and development. A few years earlier, and without a working Haber-Bosch process, the Germans would have had to sue for peace in short order, because they’d failed to think through the necessity for stockpiling nitrates, and had no real sources of their own. A few years later, and the effects of motorization and radio would have been there to counteract the forces that created the trench stalemate, and the war would not have played out at all the way it did. Imagine von Kluck’s men mounted on trucks for most of their trip through Belgium and France; what then?

      No matter how you cut it, they weren’t ready mentally for WWI, and they remained effectively blind to most of the implications stemming from the war, and how the battlefield had changed.

      • Respectfully, the European powers were entirely cognizant and aware that modern chemistry, metallurgy, applied technology and rapid-fire and ultimately fully automatic true machine guns could annihilate peoples without a kindred technological base and organization. Witness the quote attributed to Hillaire Belloc: “Whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim gun; and they have not/naught.”

        So here is what is crazy: Brave men are no match for brave men with superior weaponry (and, as you point out, doctrine). Omdurman 1898. None of the millenialist al-Ansar Mahdiyah made it near the British lines. So in an age of technified mass slaughter, the Europeans–particularly the French and the Japanese–decide that the only thing that can grant an army victory is guts and bravery and esprit de corps and a “hinge factor” or “je ne sais quoi” of grim determination and a high level of ferocious desire to close with the enemy. So here is the French army preparing for revenge for 1870 building super-forts to defend its remaining real estate, and fielding the super-weapon Soixante-quinze artillery that will just annihilate the Boche, but doubling down on trying to pull off an Isandhlwana in each and every infantry battle of “Plan XVII.” War cries and epee bayonet “Rosalie” meticulously designed not to get hung up on soldat Fritz’s wool uniform and leather Y-straps, and red hammer pants. Berber tribal Zouave warriors versus the plodding German conscript… Even after they’d literally annihilated those warrior tribes with, you know, machine guns and magazine rifles and modern artillery.

        Each and every European power, great and small, had sent military observers to any number of conflicts, particularly the Russo-Japanese War… Saw trenches, barbed wire, mass-casualty frontal charges, machine guns, and hand grenades… And wrote it all off as some kind of weird primitive and Exotic “one off” between barbarous, quasi-Asiatic Russians and Central Asians versus Asian Japanese….?

        Germany: Each and every battle must be Hannibal’s Cannae… Schliefen Plan.
        France: Plan XVI… On les aura! Charge!
        UK: We’ll use our second-to-none Royal Navy to blockade and prevent commerce, and ally with a continental power like we always do… A nice “blue water” strategy, and we’ll avoid sending the flower of our youth into a mass-casualty blood bath and keep the small, compact, highly-disciplined professional army of Old Contemptibles…

        And as the saying goes: “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

        • Aware, yes. Cognizant? Evidence says otherwise.

          WWI was what it was due to an awful lot of wishful thinking on the part of men who were paid to stay on top of this stuff, and defend their nations. You can excuse it, but… It isn’t like they didn’t go into it all willingly and with malice aforethought. The British were reluctant, true, but even they were completely blind to what they were getting into.

          Whole thing should have been foreseeable. It’s not like Bloch was the only guy writing about the issue, or that the evidence was hidden away. The worst of the lot were the French, and the amount of their nation’s blood that they shed trying to prove out their fantasies of furia francese should have ended with the lot of them being shot out of hand at the end of the war for perpetrating self-genocide.

          I remain dubious of the entire enterprise, to be quite honest. As a professional soldier reading the history of WWI, all I can do is look at it as essentially martial incompetence and vainglory, that broke faith with the men they conscripted and led to their deaths.

          Of course, you can look around you today and see the outlines of similar issues. I’m not really all that happy with the idiocy I see taking place in the American military, with regards to the whole NGSW “solution” to what are really problems stemming from training, tactics, and equipment–Emphatically not the on-issue weapons.

          Then, there’s that whole “drone warfare” thing that’s been going on in Ukraine, Syria, and now Armenia/Azerbaijan. I don’t think they’re going to be ready when it’s our turn, and the effects ain’t going to be pretty.

          I mean, for the love of God, the knuckleheads were looking at containers full of washing machine timers in Iraq and going “WTF? Oh, well… Must be a lot of broken washers up north…”, and then letting them in. Wasn’t until EOD started running into those things in IEDs they were finding until someone connected the dots, which does not bode well for how effectively they’re gonna deal with weaponized civilian drones when they have to.

    • I really should have answered this directly, but breezed over it and failed to do so:

      “Does anyone now really understand the tactical theories forced by the arrival of the early LMG? Why was the US B-M marked as an “Automatic Machine Rifle”? Why was the BAR originally the Browning Machine Rifle, but redesignated as an automatic rifle? Why did the Brits (MGC Vickers guys?) debate whether the Lewis was an MG or an automatic rifle? And why did that matter?”

      The “tactical theories forced by the arrival of the LMG” weren’t really any such thing; the issue was that they’d no clue how to address the arrival of the machinegun at all, and the LMG itself was partially in answer to the tactical problem posed by the tripod-mounted heavies. The flow was “There’s this neato-keeno new Maxim gun they’re using out in the colonies… Such things are irrelevant to we advanced Europeans, because European…”, followed by “Ohshitohshitohshit… Those damned Germans are treating us like we’re Herero or something…”. This then led to the painful realization that all the finely tuned Hythe musketry and cran didn’t substitute for volume of bullets hosing you down as you advanced in open order across equally open terrain.

      Which led to “We need something to keep their heads down, and artillery ain’t doing the job… How about some lighter machineguns, or some rifles that fire automatically…?”. This is where the LMG and Machine/Automatic Rifle come in, along with the evolving doctrine to support it all. The French were of a mind that continued standing up and charging the German machineguns would work well, and that’s why they came up with the Automatic Rifle concept of “marching fire”. Which, if you’ve ever actually tried hitting anything as you move, firing from the hip…? Yeah. Did. Not. Work. Not sure why they ever thought it would–After all, if you’re firing up into the sky as you move in on that German machinegun nest, why ever would that do a thing to even distract the Germans firing the gun, let alone suppress them?

      The LMG idea was a lot more like “movement and fire from hasty position”, and that’s the one that the British and Stosstruppen eventually worked out–Which was the “why” of the Lewis Gun and the MG08-15. Not coincidentally, in terms of evolution, that’s why the BREN looks a lot like a perfected Lewis, and the MG34/42 looks a lot like a perfected MG08-15.

      When it comes to the terminology of it all, about all I can tell you is “Good luck making sense of that all, across national boundaries of the mind and tactics…”. The general American understanding of what makes for an Automatic Rifle vs. an LMG is not quite the same as British, which isn’t the same as the German, which is also not at all congruent with the French, in the details of it all. An American would say that an Automatic Rifle is a one-man, magazine-fed, shoulder- or bipod-fired weapon, capable of effective fully-automatic fire. An LMG would be a gun that is capable of being fired off a tripod, has a crew, quick-change barrels, and can provide more fire than than the AR can. Medium machine guns aren’t discussed as such, any more–Those are really described as General-purpose Machineguns or GPMG. In the old days, a medium was an air-cooled heavy, which was water-cooled and capable of really sustained fire. Today, you say “heavy machinegun”, and everyone will think you’re talking about the .50 caliber M2, which was a different order of thing, back in the day.

      The terminology is maddeningly imprecise and inconsistent, which is an outgrowth of the really sloppy thinking and practices that go into all this. Machineguns haven’t really “mattered” to a lot of people for a long, long time–The neglect shows in ohsoverymany ways. Should it be that way? No; I would say not. However, I’m in the friggin’ minority on this one, so here we are, surrounded by the effects of decades of halfwittery and sheer neglect.

      • I might add that almost all of the powers in WWI learned in their own ways and against the numbskullery and hidebound traditionalism to re-invent fire and movement.

        Walking fire is admittedly rather crazy, but the idea is that if one or another person is putting out fire, it would be useful compared to no fire at all. In French tactical doctrine, the infantry poilu would not be allowed to fire his rifle–what with a 3-round magazine, or a tube-fed eigh-shot?–until he reached the enemy trenches… But the CSRG Mle. 1915 “fusil mitrailleur” could and would… With ammo bearers running alongside with bags and packs full of crummy 16 to 20 shot magazines and .32 pistols. Meanwhile, the VB rifle grenadiers were also on hand, which gave the French an ability to try to take on the pillboxes and “resistance nests” that Fritz was moving towards–a “defense in depth.” And while they were mostly crummy, apart from the FT17, the French did a lot of pioneering work on tanks, apparently entirely without consultation with the UK.

        After Italy’s army practically collapsed after Caporetto, she rebuilt her army born-again-hard with the Arditi storm troops. Admittedly, there were a lot of zany and crazy ideas here too. But petards and bangalore torpedoes to blast wire, and fire and movement…

        The Germans under Oskar Hutier on the eastern Front, and with dismounted cavalry and pioneer/combat engineers have received much attention. The crummy MG 1915 neuer Art Bergmann was tested out, as was the cavalry “Musquete” Madsen, and the Boche avidly stole or retrofitted and repaired each and every Lewis gun that fell into his hands… Belatedly the “short rifle” is adopted, at least for the storm troopers, and the infiltration tactic is born…. Ignore the pillboxes and bunkers for now… Leave that to the engineers with the flamethrowers. Get to the command and control centers of the enemy and take them under fire and destroy them.

        The British also had to contemplate a way forward and this has been covered by the likes of the late Paddy Griffith in his very excellent books on the subject of how the British finally created a recipe for handing Ludendorff his “black day of the German army” and the “100 days” offensive… Some Brit historians seem to imagine even now that it was all about the tank.

      • Kirk:

        You are taking a chance criticizing the Bren gun, but I will defer to your superior knowledge!

        To be fair to Britain, the infantry squad was built round the Bren. Even the 1937 pattern equipment was designed so that every soldier in the rifle team carried two Bren magazines, as well as 50 rounds of rifle ammo. In the three man Bren team, the Bren captain and Bren gunner carried four Bren mags, and the assistant gunner had five mags. So you are looking at 27 Bren mags for a section. Clearly, that’s the main weapon of the section.

        The idea that the Bren might replace the Vickers seems odd, I can’t see how a gun with a 30 (or 28) round mag could replace one with a 250 round belt. Maybe the idea was to give the rifle company an option of a tripod mounted gun in the Bren, to supplement the Vickers in the support company? It didn’t happen so who knows?

        Obviously, a belt fed LMG is a good thing to have, and I expect this is why the US developed the Browning M1919A6. How was that issued out? It did not replace the BAR did it? It seems like a heavy and awkward clunker to me.

        One anomaly of the US system to me has always been the M1919A4. It is not a light machine gun, because it is tripod mounted. But it is not really a medium machine gun, because it is neither water cooled nor equipped with a quick change barrel. The M1917 was the MMG, akin to a Vickers, so how were M1919A4s used?

        Anyway, it’s all moot for Britain now, when the Minimi has been deleted, and apparently a rifle squad equipped with the wonderful L85A2 does not need an LMG at all. After going through WWI with the Lewis and WWII with the Bren, not to mention our recent adventures with the Minimi, I call bullshit on that one. But nobody asked me, so what do I know?

        • @JohnK,

          I guess I need to clarify… I’m emphatically not criticizing the BREN gun itself–Force me to make a choice of magazine-fed LMG or AR options, and I’ll happily grab one with both freakin’ hands and buttstroke anyone that tries to stop me.

          The thing I’m critical of is the doctrine and the tactical mentality behind it all. The magazine-fed LMG approach was a dreadful answer to the mid-century question of “How best to fight as infantry”.

          I’ve done AR work with the M16A1 back when that was what was on offer in the US Army; I’ve done the same job with the M60–When they went to the M249, I did that, too. Having gone through interminable tactical iterations with the damn things in training, I’m of the opinion that the entire approach is flawed, fundamentally flawed.

          You can do the “dance of fire” all you bloody well like, trying to get yourself onto the objective. Fire and maneuver sucks ass, and bleeds men all over the “maneuver” bits, and you can walk back over the terrain in training and count all the nice little beeping MILES harnesses of you and your buddies to have that fact made apparent. Then, you go back and study, study, study, looking at where that bit of idiocy came from, and how well it worked, only to realize that a.) the men who came up with most of it are the same ones that should have been charged with self-inflicted genocide on the flower of their nation’s youth back in the WWI era, and they didn’t do all that much better in WWII.

          As one of my “urban youth” troops once put it, “Shit don’ work, yo…”. He recognized it, I recognized it, so why don’t the bright lights of the Western armies recognize it?

          The classic solution to an enemy strongpoint in American practice, and what the British Army also does, is to engage and assault the damn thing. If you’re lucky, they do it from a flank while distracting on another aspect of it. They’re still doing the assault, though–Which is where all the dying happens. Sure, the MGs are suppressing and distracting, but the reality is you’re still taking your guys up onto the objective and getting them killed doing it.

          You only have to spend a day or two in the field running those drills before you start going “There’s got to be a better way…”, and looking for one. I found my solution in the German system, and I’m a big believer in it because I’ve been able to make it work without bleeding out my unit. Same as the Germans did.

          The trick is to use the firepower, not the manpower. Scout, infiltrate, and find the holes in the defensive structure you’re dealing with–Nobody can fortify everywhere. Once you’ve found your gaps, then you get your tools into them and pry the whole bloody thing apart, without having your men go running up the hills into massed fires from prepared troops in positions they’ve dug in for God knows how long. Once you’ve rendered those positions moot by being behind them or above them, then you let them figure that out and decide to get out before you pick them off. Once they’re moving, you’re on a much more even and dynamic level, and you can either tackle them on equal terms or (hopefully…) have figured out their withdrawal options and made that path a nightmare death gauntlet.

          The “fire-and-movement” thing should be “movement, then fire…”, not “fire to make movement marginally more possible”. Down that path lies an awful lot of letters home.

          So, yeah… I’m critical of the ideas wherein you’ve got these precious little LMG or AR teams and a bunch of riflemen using them to distract whilst they run around under fire, getting shot up. Screw that for a game of soldiers; I’m the guy who’s going to do his best to avoid the exposure and expenditure of his men. I’d rather soak the taxpayers for all the ammo rather than send one of their kids to do a job that a bullet or mortar round can do.

          Part of what led me down this avenue was standing around during After-Action Reviews in training, and counting up the number of guys that we lost, then realizing that if we were doing it for “realsies”, most of my friends and subordinates were gonna be going into body bags instead of standing around talking trash about they’d gotten some sleep after the buzzers went off.

          There is a better way, and it means you need belt-feds and copious amounts of firepower to use instead of human lives.

          The other thing is this: I loathe the mag-fed LMGs because of the issues with your ability to maintain situational awareness and being able to hit your targets. You have a one- or two-hundred round belt to work with, and you’re going to have fewer chances of missing the opportune enemy exposure as they move. With the damn mag-fed guns, you’re constantly having to remove your attention from what you’re shooting at to feed the guns, or you’re getting distracted by your AG swapping mags across your line of sight. Either way, the superior solution is “Belt feed and long belts”, along with setting yourself up for success by being in a decent position you don’t have to move from because you did all your movement part of “fire and movement” by getting into that position without being observed and/or under fire yourself. It’s way, way better to be the guy raining death and destruction down on the enemy than giving them a “fair chance” by running at them and firing from hastily located positions that half the time don’t look anywhere near as good from inside as you thought they were jumping into them. Sucks to throw yourself down into what you think is good cover and concealment, only to discover that “Hey, I can’t see or hit shit from here, gotta get up or roll out to where they can hit me…”. Ideally, I want the time to be set up silently on that adjacent hilltop, and worked into a position I can commit large-scale and entirely unfair murder from without them being able to fire back.

          The usual “fire-and-movement” crap looks to me like some idiots wanting to give the enemy a “sporting chance”. Again, screw that for a game of soldiers; I’m all about the unfair advantage and killing anyone not my friends. British and American small tactics from the mid-20th look an awful lot like planning to commit self-murder on myself and my men. I’m only ever going to do stupid shiite like that willingly if I have been so foolish and unobservant as to wander into an ambush situation, and there’s really no other bloody choice.

          • Kirk,

            I take your point about tactics. German small unit infantry tactics were notoriously better than ours.

            But Britain did at least understand the need for having automatic firepower at the squad level, with each man carrying magazines for the Bren gun. The squad was built around the Bren, even if the tactics were awry.

            The American response was more puzzling. Having made the BAR into an unsatisfactory LMG, they then seem to have seen the need for a belt fed LMG, and come up with the M1919A6, which would only be an LMG if you had absolutely no other option.

            The M1919A4 again puzzles me. How was it used? The MMG role was taken by the M1917, the LMG role by the BAR and M1919A6, albeit badly. Why did the US decide to use a machine gun which was too heavy to be an LMG and too light to be a MMG?

            I can see why the M60 at first must have seemed like a welcome relief from such confusion. If only it had worked.

          • @JohnK,

            My read on it all is that after WWI, the three parties looked at things and chose among three different paths: One, the one we Americans took, focused on the cult of the individual rifleman–And, it is a f**king cult, one that operates in total disregard of combat reality. The British path looked at the WWI experience and said “We want more of that Lewis Gun thing…”, and the BREN resulted. The Germans looked at it all, and with what I think was a more realistic view, said “Yeah. Firepower. More dakka, period. Forget everything else–Firepower is where it’s at.”.

            So, you can sort of sum it up as “Individual rifleman”, “Individual rifleman plus LMG”, and “Belt-fed machinegun uber alles“. I’d put the British concept kinda midway between the American and the German schools, but there’s still that emphasis on the “fire and maneuver” thing which they really implemented as “maneuver enabled by fire”. The Germans wanted to do more “maneuver, then fire” as their basic approach, and tried to eschew those costly direct assaults that the American and British techniques called for.

            WWII experience led to a grand convergence of the approaches; the Germans found they needed to implement more individual firepower, and the Americans figured they needed more belt-fed firepower in the squads. The “desire path”, if you will, approach to determining what you need in combat. I think that the original ideas were essentially too extreme, and that you needed to have both. This is why the post-WWII American and Soviet experiences both gravitated towards the two-caliber solution in the squads, with an assault rifle individual weapon and a GPMG. The American idea of a belt-fed AR-roled weapon is a variation on it all, and many elements still maintain a 7.62 MG in the squad plus the AR-roled M-249s. Which translates into “Dear God, but that’s a lot of dakka…” when you compare it to equivalent units around the world. Personally, I rather like the concept–Although, I’d prefer a three-fireteam approach with one carrying the 7.62 and the other two the M249. That’s just me–I’m of the opinion that the lighter-faster-quicker mentality is all well and good, but it’s a damn good way to get into a lot of trouble that you then won’t have the tools to shoot your way out of. Slow is smooth; smooth is fast. Take your time, find the gaps in the enemy’s situation, exploit them, and then once you’re ready, unleash hell at your leisure and destroy them. The “dance of fires” bullshit is just not the game I want to play, because that means my guys and I are out there getting exposed and shot at. Better we take the time to recon, then sneak, then murder from behind. If you’re in a fair fight, I think you’ve fundamentally screwed up. Ideally, I’m not going to be leading a direct assault on someone’s dug-in position, I’m going to be forcing them to withdraw, and then I’m going to make their remaining lives a living hell as they try to escape down routes I’ve already ranged and prepared by mining and pre-registering indirect fire on.

            There’s a massively different mindset between the Allied and German paths, one that I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate. Despite the fact that I was “brought up” in the American tactical school, I really don’t like it one damn bit. The whole thing just strikes me as being incredibly wasteful of lives, and then there’s that whole “psychology” thing to consider–Crew-served firepower is more effective because “crew”. One lone guy with a rifle, even moving as a buddy pair or as part of a fireteam, simply is not as effective or motivated as someone who is part of a gun crew, where you’re moving and working the gun together. For one thing, the fact they’re together prevents anyone from slacking off, and there is an NCO right there with you to ensure you do what you’re supposed to be doing. Also, it’s better for morale and makes it way more likely you’re going to fire and participate in the firefight when there is someone there to observe what you’re doing. Lone riflemen have a tendency to slack off and seek cover, while firing ineffectively at the enemy.

            No, I’m not a fan of what you could term the “Allied technique”. The Germans were far more savvy about human psychology under fire, and a lot less cavalier about wasting the lives of their soldiers to no effect. At least, at that level… At the strategic level, they were incredibly callous about it all, and that’s one reason why the demographics in Germany are still off-balance somewhat to this day.

          • Kirk:

            I am sure you are right about the American approach being rifle centric. How else to explain the beautiful sights of the M1903?

            I think the Americans got very lucky by having the M1 rifle in WWII. The extra firepower of having a squad armed with semi-automatic rifles must have helped to make up for the lack of a proper LMG.

            The British squad was built round the Bren, and every man carried ammunition for it. A rifleman had 50 rounds for his rifle plus 2 Bren mags, so actually carried more ammunition for the Bren than his own rifle. Am I right in thinking the BAR user was on his own in this respect? The Bren had a 3 man team to serve it, so it was central to the squad’s firepower. The BAR was more of an afterthought.

            I suppose that the adoption of the M1919A6 showed that the BAR concept was lacking, but it was highly unsatisfactory if you compared it to an MG42. Did the US army change the format of the rifle squad if an M1919A6 was included? If a Bren had a 3 man team, the M1919A6 surely needed as many.

            The current British army seem to be making a bad choice to me. They have decided to do away with the Minimi, and go for a squad armed only with L85A2 rifles, plus one 7.62mm DMR. That might have worked in Afghanistan, but unless all future war is against tribesman, I think we will end up learning costly lessons yet again.

          • @JohnK,

            The Garand wasn’t accidental. That focus came about because that’s where they plumped down the money. There were no attempts at a proper LMG or GPMG in American circles until the sad fact of failure was rubbed in our faces, and then the solution was to churn out the MG08-15 in American guise, some twenty years after the Germans went over the same ground. And, what the hell is the M1919A6 but an MG08-15ized Browning .30?

            Failure to comprehend the nature of war, in the mid-20th Century. That’s what that is a sign of, and the failures of our infantry when put up against the Germans are a clear indicator that we got it wrong.

            The British were somewhat better, in that they spent their money looking for a better LMG than the Lewis, similarly the French with the idea that they had for getting a better Chauchat. Both picked decent LMGs, but again, they got the whole set of lessons from WWI fundamentally wrong. Mag-fed isn’t what was needed–What was necessary was that “distilled essence of infantryman”, the belt-fed MG in an easily portable and handy package. The Germans alone plumped down the money, effort, and time to develop their MGs, and it’s notable that the solution that they came up with is still more than viable to this day. The MG3 just works. You can’t say that about the BAR, the Garand, the BREN, or the Chatellerault–All of which have been superseded by weapons in the same class and type as the MG34/42.

            That’s what they call a “clue”.

            Mag-fed can work, for a given value of “work”, but the issues I laid out about being able to keep track of the battlefield and deliver fire as necessary keep them from being more than peripheral tools. With a belt-fed, the gunner is only required to pay attention to the targets presented by fate and circumstance, while his AG keeps the gun fed and the barrels changed. The mag-fed weapons, while they’re a bit more portable and easier to operate on the move, the root problem is that you’ve only got 20-30 rounds and it’s time to change the mag, which is when the gunner will almost inevitably lose the plot. Plus that, the enemy is going to be moving, and if you’ve got to wait on a fresh magazine to fire at them, well… Lots more opportunities for the enemy to survive while you’re dealing with the mechanics. Even with an AG, the mag changes are going to be distracting, obstructing your view of the battlefield in front of you.

            No, I’m sorry–The British got it “less wrong” than we Americans did, but they still got it wrong. And, the American approach to war was purely delusional, what with the fantastic idea that you’d have all these poorly-trained and half-ass riflemen providing precision aimed semi-automatic fires to obviate the need for a good LMG, which the BAR most manifestly was not. In real terms, the BAR was only a slightly better bit of firepower kit than the Garand, and you really didn’t gain all that much with it, especially the M1918A2 WWII version. It sure as hell didn’t come up to BREN standards, that’s for sure.

            The magazine-fed LMG wasn’t what they needed. They needed something in the class of the MG34/42, and a better set of tactics than “run screaming at the enemy while a couple of guys try to keep them suppressed with magazine-fed MGs that really aren’t that much better than the standard individual weapon…”. The comparative casualty stats tell the tale.

            With regards to the modern needs and necessities? I think the British Army and the US Marines had better keep a very careful eye on where those 7.62 MG systems are at, and ensure they’re easily available to be plugging into the squads again, because I’m pretty sure that the idea of a pure-fleet assault rifle concept is going to prove to be a really sucky situation to be in when and if either force is set up with a decent “peer-competitor” enemy. The “dance of fires” and the lightweight “Maneuver uber alles” thing sounds good on paper, but when you’re suddenly going up against people with actual access to a decent supply system and the willingness to stand and fight…? Yeah; all the flyweight “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” mentality is going to get you is dead, dead, dead when those guys blast your agile little fire teams to bits with coordinated heavy firepower.

            The thing about “maneuver” that everyone forgets is that there has to be a point to it; it does you no good whatsoever to maneuver your little HMMWV- or Land Rover-mounted light infantry element into the center of an armored task force unless they’ve got the ability to actually take out that armored task force with something. And, frankly, even if you’ve got guys who’re motivated enough to be willing to waltz into a situation like that on the theory that someone else is going to be raining down death and destruction while they lase everything in view (or, that they’re willing to do the hand-emplaced nuke thing…), the whole effort fails on the fact that your flyweight force is essentially so much road kill if that armored task force manages to find and fix them in place long enough for the armor to do its thing.

            There is no substitute for firepower, and there is no substitute for armor when you need it. Like we Engineers used to say, the only thing that substitutes for a D7 bulldozer in constructing field fortifications is a D8 or a D9… Ain’t nothing else gonna do it.

          • Kirk:

            Now you say it, the idea that the M1919A6 was a modern MG08/15 makes sense, and it is a sad indictment of US machine gun procurement in WWII.

            I fully take your point about the utility of a belt fed LMG, the problem, perhaps, is what we got is a belt fed GPMG.

            After WWII, Britain adopted the MAG and used it as a GPMG. This meant it was used as an LMG, and it was just too big and heavy. Not an M1919A6, nothing’s that bad, but it still wasn’t good. So we went back to the Bren in 7.62mm, and used it until the 1990s.

            We then went backwards with the “light support weapon” version of the SA80, the L86A1, which was just awful, a kind of mini-BAR, until we struck lucky with the Minimi. I think it is only with a 5.56mm weapon that a belt fed LMG makes sense. A belt fed 7.62mm LMG is really an MMG on a bipod.

            Anyway, having finally got a perfectly decent 5.56mm belt fed LMG, we have ditched it, and now the squad’s “heavy weapon” is a 7.62mm semi-auto rifle from Lewis Machine Tool. We finally adopted the AR10!

            A few years back the entire squad had 7.62mm semi-auto rifles, plus either a MAG or a Bren. Now one 7.62mm rifle is meant to be able to take out a machine gun nest with its accuracy. This is a recipe for chaos.

            Britain has a very bad policy of scrapping weapons as soon as they are no longer in use. I can only hope that for once, we decide to keep the Minimis in reserve stocks, because they surely will be needed.

          • @JohnK,

            In my mind, there’s a clear difference between the belt-fed 5.56 and the belt-fed 7.62–They are interchangeable. You shoot at someone with a 5.56, and if they’re out in the open, they’re probably going down. You shoot at someone with a 7.62, and even if they make it to something that qualifies as “cover” in front of a 5.56 weapon, odds are a lot better that you’re going to achieve some level of death and destruction wrought upon their persons.

            It takes a hell of a lot of 5.56 to chew through the things that a single burst of 7.62 will. One thing that comes to mind is the usual run of vehicle-borne IED–If you’ve nothing heavier, a 7.62 and a belt or two of ammo will stop most of those that aren’t actually up-armored. 5.56, on the other hand…? Not. Quite.

            My choice, were I running the British Army, would be for something in the class of the Negev in 7.62, the SS-77, or one of the various flavors of NATO-ized PKMs out there. In other words, a real GPMG, which the MAG58 is actually “not quite”, being a bit too heavy in the role of LMG/squad support weapon.

            You get down to it, the only thing that substitutes for a true 7.62 belt-fed is something like a .50 caliber M2. The smaller calibers make nice little noises and can be very deadly in the right hands and circumstances, but at the end of the day, if I have to make a choice between two fire teams with the Minimi in 5.56 and one fire team with a 7.62 belt-fed (other with rifles, or, ideally, a light mortar…), my money is going down on the 7.62 solution. Only thing that would change my mind is something a little bigger, like the old Swedish heavy MG cartridge. I’m not entirely enthusiastic about the various .338 options out there, but I’m willing to entertain the idea and give it a try…

            Dual-caliber solution in the squads is where I think our desire path has taken us. I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future, either–Especially with the proliferation of body armor and drones changing the face of things.

          • The first paragraph above ought to contain the word “not” in italics before the word “interchangeable” in plaintext. Don’t know what happened–Must have fat-fingered that one.

          • Kirk:

            Agreed that a modern light 7.62mm LMG would be a good thing, so long as it is not meant to do duty as an MMG as well. I think it is the concept of the GPMG which is dodgy. If you have a light and handy 7.62mm LMG, it is not going to make it as a serious MMG. In the case of the MAG, they made a good MMG into a heavy and clunky LMG, which is why the Bren made a comeback.

            Sadly, given that the British army has just deleted its perfectly good 5.56mm LMG, it will absolutely not be adopting a 7.62mm LMG, not until the next war, at any rate. It’s like watching a slow motion car crash, and you can’t do a thing about it.

  10. The Marines in the Pacific found a good balance by 12-13 man Squads and three Fireteams, each with a BAR to support the Garands. No LMGs, just good use of Automatic Rifle for maneuver rather than depend on one LMG per squad.

  11. In addition to problems with the magazines, BREN users “complained” about excessive accuracy. Perhaps this is from a kind of tales, but the fact that BESAL refused to move the upper body with a barrel when shooting, as it were, confirms this.
    Although, perhaps, this “excessive accuracy” allowed BREN to remain effective at distances when, for example, the BAR became useless. That significantly expanded the unit’s firepower capabilities even without the tripod.

    Despite all the shortcomings, a very good LMG.

    Those ZB26 that remained alive after the war were used until they were completely worn out. Those of them that turned out to be trophies for the USSR, most of them, were transferred to all kinds of “revolutionaries” in Indochina.
    Those that remained were cut in 1990-2000 for secured models.

    • The ex-Chinese KMT and Chinese PLA 7.92x57mm ZB26 and copies were one of the principal automatic weapons of the Viet Minh in the war against France, which ended after Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

  12. When Ian dropped the gas regulator, I suffered a vivid fantasy of doing it myself — in a collapsing sandy foxhole with the air full of dust and smoke and German shells. And my eyes burning with muddy sweat. And my fine motor control gone AWOL. Designers: keep those essential thingummies large and visible.

    • Better yet, keep them attached to something large and impossible to install bass-ackwards. Which was probably the one thing Ordnance ever got right on the M60 GPMG, specifically the gas cylinder assembly firmly attached to the receiver rather than the QC barrel on the A1 version.

      That doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the gun still sucks the proverbial big hairy thing of the donkey.



  13. When I trained on the Bren in the CCF during the 1960’s (in .303) we were told that the barrel was chrome lined. As the gun got hot the barrel could be replaced and the hot one dropped into water without fear of rusting. A folding water tub was supposedly part of the kit, though by then they all seemed to have disappeared.

    • Pellatonian:

      I do not think .303 Bren barrels were chrome lined. Two of the 7.62mm Bren types did have chromed barrels, the L4A4 and L4A6, which were both examples of rebuilt Mk3 Brens.

  14. Many years ago whilst visiting the Pattern Room, then at Nottingham I saw a Bren gun in 7.62. From memory it had been converted to belt feed, had Vickers style spade grips and a neat tripod. Altogether a useful looking bit of kit.

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