Project Lightening: The World’s Best Collaboration

You have asked for it for years, so we made it happen. The two hardest-working gun channels on the ‘net have joined forces in the best collaboration in all history. Coming February 14th (because we love you all so much)…Project Lightening!


    • Dear Mr. van dear Molen,
      I have read with great interest your paper on Mashin Khana.
      Very well researched.
      Are you a professional weapon historian?
      Any more of your papers on the weapons of Afghanistan?
      With best wishes,
      Ariel Barkan

  1. It seem to make sense as long as cooperation is be creative and beneficial for all involved. Both channels are slightly different and that may be of use. Good luck in the project!

    • “Lightning”
      Why it would be second? After all FW is not about Cold War RAF aeroplanes where English Electric Lightning would fit.

  2. Oh, goodie! A survey of First World War machine rifles and light machine guns! Or so it seems.

    The First World War on the Western Front was the birth of the modern infantry “rifle” squad, and the French did it first. By 1916 the French rifle squad had a fire base (a machine rifle team) and a maneuver element (riflemen) led by a corporal. Prior to the war, a platoon was half a company and a section/squad was half a platoon with rifles and bayonets as the only company weapons. Officers carried sidearms, but those were for the officer’s personal protection and were badges of rank rather than fighting weapons. The company was the smallest maneuver element on the pre-Great War battlefield even though half a company or even half a platoon might be used for screening and scouting or to form outposts. In the colonial wars, an entire rifle company was usually more than the natives could fight. For big European conflicts, maneuver was by battalion and battalions and regiments had organic artillery. Machine guns were regimental “artillery” assets or a pair of machine guns might have replaced a pair of field guns in direct support of a battalion.

    The Great War artillery park melted away concentrated formations and forced siege warfare on the Western Front from the English Channel to the Swiss border. Suddenly, dispersed operations were the order of the day. Very quickly the ancient siege war weapons of hand and rifle grenade were re-invented, along with the old mortars and the modern “trench” mortars. Machine guns became INFANTRY weapons while retaining some of their artillery branch trappings (such as indirect fire techniques) and dispersed operations were forced on the infantry as a matter of survival. Advancing as skirmishers, moving from cover to cover, the French infantry developed infiltration tactics before the German infantry did. Infiltration tactics required the smaller units to have their own “artillery” support–this meant each small element had to have its own “cannon” in the form of a rifle grenade launcher and its own “machine gun.”

    The light machine guns and machine rifles and automatic rifles in the short 85 second teaser video show a number of solutions. Not shown are submachine guns, full-auto pistols with shoulder stocks, and rifle grenades–and that’s okay. At the lighter end of the scale are weapons that a single soldier can carry (with an adequate ammunition supply) and operate. At the heavier end of the scale the German “light” machine gun still has a water jacket and needs a minimum crew of two to operate in static mode, but may require a full squad of six if it is to move with enough ammunition (and water) to make it cost-effective. During the Great War the traditional half-platoon of around 15 men was too unweildy for infiltration operations and was a worthwhile target for cannon fire or machine guns–and was almost small enough for rifle fire to annihilate. When the half-platoon shrunk, there weren’t enough bullets being launched from the few riflemen to make this tiny unit combat effective. Adding hand and rifle grenades (about 25 meters for hand grenades and 200 meters for rifle grenades) allowed the half-platoon to reach into enemy field fortifications, but there was still the problem of too many people and not enough flying bullets.

    The heavy machine gun had evolved as a specialized artillery weapon. Making these weapons man-portable cut their fire volume and effective range–even though the machine rifle/automatic rifle/light machine gun had superior maneuverability and was easier to infiltrate over broken terrain. A heavy machine gun squad could have been a dozen guys–much like the crews of the famous French 75mm field gun (the firing crew was six or so, but there were support gun crew members to take care of the horses and limbers and cassions)–but putting an expensive heavy machine gun in a half-platoon would eat up half of that element and wasn’t as maneuverable as the riflemen. Two schools of thought were making the machine gun the focus and main killing system of the squad, and using the machine gun to support the maneuver element’s closing with the enemy for destruction by rifle fire and hand grenade and bayonet.

    Sound insane yet?

    Reducing the squad size so that one leader could control it and reducing the squad’s signature (and tendency to attract artillery fire) while increasing its combat power led to adopting a more portable machine gun. There were also incentives to simply equip as many riflemen as possible with semi-automatic rifles, and in the early days of the 20th Century it was thought that a rifleman equipped with a self-loading rifle was the equal of a machine gun crew, but at bargain bin prices and with the mobility of the old-school rifleman.

    This new squad weapon–crew served or individual weapon? Crew-served permitted more ammunition to be carried per gun, the gun could be kept in action even if the primary gunner became a casualty, reduced the cost because even light machine guns were more expensive than rifles, and a crew of two to four machine gunners might possibly remain as mobile as riflemen. Individual automatic weapons offered the possibility of a three-soldier maneuver element with its own machine gun, and keeping the small squad as mobile and as able to exploit micro terrain as the individual riflemen.

    Looking at the squad this way explains why every nation since 1900 lusted after semiautomatic service rifles–just these rifles were not really practical until 1950 (ignore the Soviet semi-automatic rifles and the American Garand–most nations until 1950 didn’t have the industrial base or finances to field standard-issue semiautomatic rifles, and even then as late as the 1970’s many nations soldiered on with bolt action magazine rifles). Looking at the technology also explains why most nations developed competent light machine guns first (the US put more of its resources into the self-loading rifle and didn’t develope a competent light machine gun)–it’s easier to make a 20 to 30 pound automatic weapon with a two-man crew work on the battlefield than to make an 8 pound semiautomatic weapon firing the same cartridge work. Even then the Garand ballooned to 11 pounds.

    Even the Browning Automatic Rifle was used as a crew-served weapon (John Moses Browning designed it as an individual weapon–but then the MP-18 was employed as a crew-served weapon, too). The American employment of the shotgun has been exaggerated, but shotguns were used to increase short-range fire volume in an individual weapon format.

    Examining the light machine gun without looking at the way it was used–and why it was used–misses the point of the light machine gun. The purpose of the light machine gun was to give a group of 8 to 12 men enough firepower to fight as a combat element on a battlefield where larger elements were too clumsy to survive. The light machine gun was teamed up with hand and rifle grenades in siege warfare conditions.

    By 1944 (well outside of the new video) the US Marines had a three-element squad, three balanced teams capable of both fire and maneuver. The US Army used a 12-soldier squad on the French pattern using the Browning Automatic Rifle as the squad support weapon for riflemen equipped with semi-automatic rifles. Combat experience forced the Army to go from the French model of a fire base team and a maneuver/shock action team to a pair of balanced teams, each with its own automatic rifle. The BAR was an INDIVIDUAL weapon–the British BREN and German MG-34 were CREW SERVED weapons. For a squad size of three to six, individual automatic weapons were the way to go. When the squad was seven to fifteen, crew served weapons were better because of greater fire volume concentrated in one place–easier to control.

    I’m looking forward to what Ian and Mae come up with in a month! What are you two going to treat us to?

  3. Something we do not see….
    and that is intense preparation Ian has to do before his new gig. No wonder he cannot pay attention to our yapping. When I follow on his presentations, I wonder how is it possible to retain all the data with such clarity and accuracy; day after day – always new stuff. So, it only makes sense to seek assistance by someone as dedicated as Othais & Mae.
    We shall see the fruit of this cooperation soon!

  4. I notice the comment is made that the combat test was not run. Looking at pictures of these weapons in service it seems that they are never shot on flat ground with no cover supported position. How do you think the bad bipods, tripod, or lack all together, would compare to the good bipod weapons in an actual fighting position? Is bunker, parapet, sandbag..etc

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