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HMGs and Poor Visibility


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Bear in mind I've never served in the military and haven't read any books devoted specifically to small unit tactics. My question relates to a deficiency in the CM game engine and I am wondering just how much it effects the realism of Combat Mission.

It's my understanding that if the crew a Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) had the time and visibility, then they would establish a "Beaten Zone" (not sure if that's the correct term) in key areas that were likely avenues of approach for the enemy.

In other words, they could pre-register the HMG for low visibilty/night conditions.

I have read several accounts of HMGs being used to good effect (as far as suppression) at night or in fog/smoke.

As it stands now, HMGs (in CM) are very much reduced in long-range suppressive ability in Low-Vis conditions, because they lack the ability to employ "Beaten Zones".

Can any Grogs or military/servicemen give their thoughts on this as far as realism?

To my mind, this is something that could be addressed in the new game engine as far as realism.

[Edited for: Heavy Machine Gun = HMG]

Thanks in advance,

Ken

[ January 12, 2004, 10:54 AM: Message edited by: kenfedoroff ]

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Originally posted by Andreas:

ISTR that the restriction is there in order to avoid the abuse of borg spotting. Same for not allowing HMGs to fire into smoke.

Ok. Thanks Andreas. It looks like they have to tackle the Borg Bugger in the next game engine before they can move on to greater realism as far as HMGs and "Beaten Zones".

Sincerely,

Ken

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Ken, I think you are right except that I believe the procedure has a different name, something like "bore-sighted lines of fire (LOF)". A beaten zone, if I understand it correctly, is sort of like indirect fire. It's where a direct line of fire is not possible due to an intervening obstacle, such as a crest, and the fire is aimed to plunge down the other side.

Michael

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Guys,

Can't help with TRP's and bad visibility but can give you a "quick intro to MG fire 101"

A rifle is designed to put successive rounds through the same (or very nearby) spot round after round (assuming no change in grip, etc.).

A MG is designed to spread the rounds across an area (due to differences in individual rounds, vibration and other factors) - the notable exception being the Bren. The area that these rounds occupy when they hit something is called the beaten zone.

A garden hose with an adjustable nozzle is a good analogy. With the nozzle tight you get a concentrated jet of water in a tight stream (similar to the rifle or Bren - except the tap would need to be turned on and off the represent the individual rifle rounds). With the nozzle loosened the spray opens out and covers a wider area (the MG).

Now when you water your lawn, the spray travels for a distance through the air and then hits the lawn in a elliptical pattern (with the oval being narrowest near you, then broadening, then narrowing again at the farthest point). This is a good representation of a beaten zone.

Once you have done this once, you could rig a clamp for the hose so that all you need do is turn on the tap to water this preselected area. This is the same as firing fixed lines. The MG is anchored in place and all you need do is pull the trigger (similar to boresighting for larger direct fire weapons). This is also done at night so that the poor sod on picquet at 0300 (usually not the dedicated machine gunner) can just pull the trigger if the word comes, rather than try and remember where the friendly pits end and the enemy positions start.

To almost exhaust the hose analogy, if you have a row of shrubs bordering the lawn and want to water them, you can stand in front of them and move the hose from left to right and back again - frontal fire (where each target is only in the beaten zone for a short period) - Hollywood's favourite way of showing MG's in action, or you can stand off to one side and direct the spray down the row of shrubs without moving it - enfilade fire (where a given round has the chance to hit a further target if it misses the closest one) - this is the preferred employment.

This is why MGs are normally deployed off to a flank rather than in the middle of a position.

The Bren is a little different in that was designed to have a small beaten zone and to be fired in smaller bursts (like the current F-89 Minimi) than the "normal" MG (Vickers or MG42) which had a larger beaten zone and was belt fed.

Hope that makes things a little clearer?

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Originally posted by gibsonm:

...Once you have done this once, you could rig a clamp for the hose so that all you need do is turn on the tap to water this preselected area. This is the same as firing fixed lines. The MG is anchored in place and all you need do is pull the trigger (similar to boresighting for larger direct fire weapons). This is also done at night so that the poor sod on picquet at 0300 (usually not the dedicated machine gunner) can just pull the trigger if the word comes, rather than try and remember where the friendly pits end and the enemy positions start....

...This is why MGs are normally deployed off to a flank rather than in the middle of a position...

Hope that makes things a little clearer?

Thanks Gibsonm,

I got an e-mail from an ex-Marine that parallels your explanation (Thanks Bob).

So... It was very realistic to be able to lay down suppressive (area) fire with HMGs at night or under low visibility conditions into locations that could not be witnessed by the gunner. Yet, we're not able to do this with the current game engine. I've often wondered why the CM model of fighting under low-vis conditions doesn't seem to match what I read about in books dealing with combat in WW2. Your explanation of HMG use confirms what I suspected.

Thanks,

Ken

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From experience, I can tell you that the HMG would be the last weapon to open up in a prepared defense line, at night or in poor visibility.

The HMGs ability to "reach out" and put fire on an enemy at great distances is well known. However most infantry are taught to save the fire of the MGs until the enemy is close to the line and visible, probably at ranges of 200m or less.

I dont remember 'pre registering" MGs, we did however clear fields of fire that would allow us to cover a wide area of the perimeter.

If we were firing the MGs at night, we tried to keep them to short bursts of three of four rounds at a time. The MGs were prime targets, and you did not want to give away their positions too early in a fight. I would imaging the doctrine on WWII was similar. The only time the MGs let loose was during the "final protective fire" stage, when the enemy was close in, and in a position to dominate the action.

The M-60 MG circa 1960's was a deadly weapon out to ranges of 600-800 meters. Especially when mounted on a tripod. However in Vietnam most actions took place at ranges of less than 200 meters, sometimes less than 50 meters, and the weapon was only used with the bi-pod, the tr-pod was too heavy to carry around.

I recently read a book about the move up to Baghdad last April. Most Iraqi infantry causualties were caused by the 50cal MGs mounted on Tanks and AFVs and the chain guns on Bradleys. By the time the infantry had deployed, the Iraqis were in flight from these weapons.

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Gibsonm,

Thanks for the great explanation. Can you answer one more question?

Assume you know there is an enemy squad deployed in a building about 200 yards away. Which is more effective (assuming you couldn't employ both of these) – using a heavy MG against the building or having the 10 men in your squad fire away with rifles?

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Originally posted by Nidan1:

The HMGs ability to "reach out" and put fire on an enemy at great distances is well known. However most infantry are taught to save the fire of the MGs until the enemy is close to the line and visible, probably at ranges of 200m or less.

In CM you have night fights with visibility less than 100 metres, less when it's bad weather. But night fighting in CM is overall undermodelled, as there is no illumination caused by flares, burning terrain, gunfire or explosions. It simply doesn't feel like real night combat. It's unfortunate, as there were many important night battles out there.
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Originally posted by Nidan1:

...The MGs were prime targets, and you did not want to give away their positions too early in a fight. I would imaging the doctrine on WWII was similar. The only time the MGs let loose was during the "final protective fire" stage, when the enemy was close in, and in a position to dominate the action.

Thanks Nidan1,

I have also read books about WW2 that recount exactly what you experienced.

I don't remember the title or exact specifics, but the book was about British units in Burma(?) fighting the Japanese Army. (I think they used gliders to drop a brigade in the middle of nowhere, build an airfield for re-supply and attack the enemy supply lines. It was a great story all-around).

But anyways... I think it was in this book where they described how the soldiers went to great effort to fight off enemy probes without exposing (through premature use) the position of their HMGs.

I don't have a single book on the Italian Campaign, but I seem to recall reading (Monte Cassino?) about many night attacks by the Allies that were greatly frustrated by HMG fire that seemed to be pre-registered on avenues of approach.

I guess BTS would have to create a separate TRP for HMGs, that could be placed where LOS (with good visibility) would allow. Then, (no matter what the environmental visibility) HMGs could lay area fire on these selected areas now out of LOS.

I imagine that experience and leadership would be a factor in this as well.

Here's to the new game engine (raises cup),

Ken

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They can certainly fire on preselected targets. But they can't keep it up without burning all of their ammo in just a few minutes. All MGs must fire short bursts for ammo reasons, not continuous streams (most would also overheat). The problem with blind fire at an area in poor visibility then becomes, you don't know when there is anyone there.

If you have visibility, you fire a burst when you see someone in the zone. If you don't, you either give away your position and burn lots of ammo to deny the area for a very brief span of time, or fire only occasionally, also giving away your position and having little chance of catching anyone in the zone, or you wait until you have other means of knowing someone is there. You hear them, typically, and aren't sure where they are but fire several to keep them out.

It is not going to effective compared to seeing someone moving, aiming the gun exactly where he was seen, and firing a short burst at the right time and location. Sure registration can get the right location. It can't get you the right time. And unlike the garden hose with endless water to throw, an MG can't just be "left on". Not all night, not for an hour, not for half an hour.

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Originally posted by Nidan1:

From experience, I can tell you that the HMG would be the last weapon to open up in a prepared defense line, at night or in poor visibility.

The HMGs ability to "reach out" and put fire on an enemy at great distances is well known. However most infantry are taught to save the fire of the MGs until the enemy is close to the line and visible, probably at ranges of 200m or less.

I dont remember 'pre registering" MGs, we did however clear fields of fire that would allow us to cover a wide area of the perimeter.

If we were firing the MGs at night, we tried to keep them to short bursts of three of four rounds at a time. The MGs were prime targets, and you did not want to give away their positions too early in a fight. I would imaging the doctrine on WWII was similar. The only time the MGs let loose was during the "final protective fire" stage, when the enemy was close in, and in a position to dominate the action.

The M-60 MG circa 1960's was a deadly weapon out to ranges of 600-800 meters. Especially when mounted on a tripod. However in Vietnam most actions took place at ranges of less than 200 meters, sometimes less than 50 meters, and the weapon was only used with the bi-pod, the tr-pod was too heavy to carry around.

I recently read a book about the move up to Baghdad last April. Most Iraqi infantry causualties were caused by the 50cal MGs mounted on Tanks and AFVs and the chain guns on Bradleys. By the time the infantry had deployed, the Iraqis were in flight from these weapons.

Perhaps the disagreement here lies with changes in tatics and doctrine over time. The M60, even tripod mounted, is not the best subsititute for the M1917 which was the system developed for the type of defensive employment that grew out of the experience of WW1.

My impression is that the "beaten-zone" of a static defensive perimitter maintained by US forces during the Vietnam-era was actually the responsibility of the artillery fire plan. Also there was more reliance on Claymore mines.

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A claymore can tell when somebody is there - it gets tripped or it doesn't. Arty concentrations will hit a whole area when called, so when under heavy attack that works fine without knowing exactly who is where. But MGs fired blind involve enourmous ammo expenditure for coverage of small arms, only when firing. It is a poor use of their available ammo.

In WW I, unit densities were so high - on the western front only - that it was probably somewhat more effective. In layered defense schemes the number of MGs employed regularly reached 20 per mile of front. Attackers sometimes put a regiment on a single kilometer of front. But mostly they were fired at visible targets, and did their damage that way. They were probably fired "statically" and indirectly on inactive fronts, but can't have done much that way. Losses on inactive fronts were low per unit time, despite close promixity and regular shellfire.

Personally I consider it one of those things that is physically possible but tactically useless, continually dreamed up by officers of a particular arm looking for some way to use "their" asset outside its normal combined arms role.

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I think Jason's post gives some hint of why 'pre-registered' MG fire probably shouldn't be included in the current CM engine - it would be way too easy to use a forward infantry scout as a 'spotter' for the MG TRP, and then turn on and off the MG 'hose' based on what this spotter saw. It's not that this didn't happen IRL, it's just that it's a lot more complicated than simply throwing out any old infantry unit in front of the MG and assuming that they will have a some sort of way of quickly communicating to the MG team when to open fire. Perhaps eventually in a new engine with relative spotting and some sort of communications net modeling this kind of thing might be possible.

As far as night fighting goes, I always liked the idea that heavy weapons teams should be able to area fire out to a greater distance than they can direct fire. This would be a rough way of simulating the kind of 'spray and pray' fire that often happens in a night engagement. For example, if nighttime LOS were 200m under a given set of conditions, heavy weapons would be able to area fire out to, say, 400m. Since area fire only happens through player issued orders, this would roughly simulate the delay inherent MG team or whatever getting orders to put fire onto a location where they cannot see enemy themselves, but another relatively nearby friendly unit has spotted enemy activity. In general, you can see a terrain features like treelines and buildings at a much greater distance at night than you can make out a human figure, so it's completely plausible to me that an MG team could execute an order "hit that large building by the river" or whatever. Putting a distance limit on this "Area Fire LOS extension" would tend to prevent wildly unrealisitic things like MGs putting area fire onto the location of an enemy unit 1000m away spotted by a distant friendly. And since the "LOS extension" would allow only area fire, it would be less effective. The engine would have to be able to do calculate 'hypothetical' LOS if visibility conditions were better - heavy weapons still shouldn't be able to put area fire into places where there is a bona fide LOS block created by a terrain feature or building. IMHO, some sort of system like this would improve the night combat modeling without requiring large rewrites to the model, but perhaps such a feature would be harder to implement than it at first seems.

Eventually, in the new-and-improved-gee-whiz CMX2 engine, it would be great if the game could somehow model the fact that HMG teams really function as as three closely related teams: (1) a 'gun team', composed of the gunner and asst. gunner who operate the gun, (2) a 'spotter team', likely just one guy with binoculars who spots for targets and calls in targetting corrections based on fall of shot, and (3) the 'ammo team', composed of the rest of the HMG squad, who mostly just carry ammo, but also provide a degree of close-in protection for the gun team with their small arms if the position is in danger of being overrun.

The fact that HMG teams usually have their own, integral spotter means that in a typical 'fighing crest' deployment, an HMG team has the option of positioning the gun so that it is just behind a small crest - i.e., out of LOS to the front. So long as the MG isn't too far behind the crest, it can still fire on targets to the front - bullets that just skim the crest will follow a parabolic trajectory and eventually create a beaten zone somewhere downrange, even though this beaten zone can't be seen through sights. In order to do this, the MG squad needs to deploy the spotter slightly more forward on the crest and have him call in fire by fall of shot. So long as the spotter remains close enough to the MG team to communicate corrections by voice and/or hand signal, response will be reasonably quick, and no wire or radio network will be necessary. This technique is especially effective in a defensive deployment where the HMG team can 'register' targets in its field of fire ahead of time.

This kind of deployment has advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that, since the MG is completely out of direct LOS to the targets it is firing upon, it will be very hard for the enemy to pin down the MG's exact location. Tracers and sound contacts will give them a general idea of where it is, but that's it. Direct fire weapons will be mostly unable to return fire, though the enemy can put fire onto the ridge crest in the hopes of supressing the MG team spotter. High-trajectory weapons (i.e., mortars) are another story, but more on that later.

There are also distinct disadvantages. First and foremost, since the gunner can't actually see the target through the sights, fire will be less accurate and timely. In CM terms, such fire will behave more like "Area Fire" and less like direct fire - it will be fairly good at suppressing enemy known to be stationary in a certain area of cover, or perhaps something like laying fire across a road to interdict unarmored vehicle traffic, but it won't be very effective at stopping a disciplined infantry advance by decently trained and led troops.

The other major disadvantage of this type of MG deployment is that there will be a 'Shadow' underneath the crest behind which the MG is deployed. Since the MG needs to elevate to a degree in order for its fire to clear the crest, once enemy infantry gets to within a certain range (exactly how close will depend on the details of position and elevation), the MG fire will be going over their heads. This obviously puts the MG in a bad position.

Probably the most effective counter to this kind of MG deployment (short of actually getting over or around the crest and spotting the MG) is mortar fire. Once the MG's position is approximately known, mortars can target in on the ridge crest just in front of the MG, and then just walk their fire over the ridge into the area where the MG is deployed.

I also don't know how often this kind of deployment was used by MG teams of the various combatants in WWII - I have certainly read about it in training manuals, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was used a lot, or even at all.

Anyway, at present CM obviously doesn't model this kind of 'near indirect' fire. But in order to model this kind of fire realistically, the new engine will have to track all sorts of things that it doesn't currently deal with. For example, the game would have to in some way calculate the trajectory of small arms fire in order to establish where "near indirect" fire was and was not possible. It will also have to model the deployment and actions of individual soldiers on an infantry team in greater detail - for example, where exactly is the spotter in relation to the MG team? What can he see through his binoculars? What can the MG team see through the gun sights? What if the spotter gets supressed or killed? Personally, I would rather NOT have to issue orders to every sub-team in my infantry units to get a good deployment (this would double or triple the numbers of orders you'd have to issue to properly control infantry units!), but it's expecting a lot of the TacAI to 'know' how exactly where to deploy the spotter in relation to an HMG etc. Perhaps there is some sort of abstraction that could be used; I don't know.

All in all, it's a pretty tall order. I am very hopeful that the new engine will make advances in these areas, but I'm also realistic about my expectations.

Here's to hoping that BFC surprises us yet again with even more amazing stuff. . .

Cheers,

YD

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Originally posted by gibsonm:

A MG is designed to spread the rounds across an area (due to differences in individual rounds, vibration and other factors) - the notable exception being the Bren. The area that these rounds occupy when they hit something is called the beaten zone.

I'm not a gun designer, or even a veteran of service, but this strikes me as somewhat wrong. A water-cooled, belt feld HMG doesn't disperse bullets in this manner. You want good stability in the mount and accuracy from the gun so as to be able to engage point targets at longer range when required. The angular dispersion for area fire was achieved by a fellow giving the butt-end a healthy slap after a short burst was fired.
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Originally posted by Shosties4th:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by gibsonm:

A MG is designed to spread the rounds across an area (due to differences in individual rounds, vibration and other factors) - the notable exception being the Bren. The area that these rounds occupy when they hit something is called the beaten zone.

I'm not a gun designer, or even a veteran of service, but this strikes me as somewhat wrong. A water-cooled, belt feld HMG doesn't disperse bullets in this manner.</font>
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Originally posted by kenfedoroff:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by gibsonm:

...Once you have done this once, you could rig a clamp for the hose so that all you need do is turn on the tap to water this preselected area. This is the same as firing fixed lines. The MG is anchored in place and all you need do is pull the trigger (similar to boresighting for larger direct fire weapons). This is also done at night so that the poor sod on picquet at 0300 (usually not the dedicated machine gunner) can just pull the trigger if the word comes, rather than try and remember where the friendly pits end and the enemy positions start....

...This is why MGs are normally deployed off to a flank rather than in the middle of a position...

Hope that makes things a little clearer?

Thanks Gibsonm,

I got an e-mail from an ex-Marine that parallels your explanation (Thanks Bob).

So... It was very realistic to be able to lay down suppressive (area) fire with HMGs at night or under low visibility conditions into locations that could not be witnessed by the gunner. Yet, we're not able to do this with the current game engine. I've often wondered why the CM model of fighting under low-vis conditions doesn't seem to match what I read about in books dealing with combat in WW2. Your explanation of HMG use confirms what I suspected.

Thanks,

Ken </font>

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To give you an idea of the dimensions of a beaten zone, here are some specs for a particular weapon system:

at 500m 1m wide x 87m long

at 1000m 2m x 79m

at 1500m 3m x 71m

at 2000m 4m x 62m

at 2500m 5m x 54m

at 3000m 6m x 46m

This is for only one weapon and different weapons have different beaten zones.

So you can see one MG is not going to deny a large area, hence the need for mutual support, interlocking arcs, etc.

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Originally posted by Ace Pilot:

Gibsonm,

Thanks for the great explanation. Can you answer one more question?

Assume you know there is an enemy squad deployed in a building about 200 yards away. Which is more effective (assuming you couldn't employ both of these) – using a heavy MG against the building or having the 10 men in your squad fire away with rifles?

Personally I'd put a HE round through the window and move on (but thats the tankie in me).

If you are talking "now" a M-79 or M-203 would do the same thing with a 40mm grenade. Second World War? I'd use rifle grenades.

If you are attacking / advancing and don't have access to anything else I'd probably give the riflemen the task with a "watch and shoot" fire order.

You aren't carrying enough ammo (assuming your orders are more than "seize the building") for the MG to blaze away and actually start to destroy the building structurally (which you can do against masonary with 7.62mm ammo) and the beaten zone is somewhat wasted by aiming at things like specific windows or doorways.

Whilst the riflemen are suppressing the target with aimed shots (again not just blazing away), the MG crew re-deploy to a flank. Once they are in position, you put in a section attack. The MG suppresses the whole side of the building (again using bursts) that you are approaching from, the riflemen "pepper pot" forward until they are close enough and then throw a couple of grenades through windows / doorways and then storm the building and sort out what's left.

Again this assumes an isolated building occupied by a similar or smaller sized group to you and you have nothing else.

If you are a section / squad and the building is multi storeyed or part of an urban area and is occupied by a platoon or company (more than one MG), then maintain observation and tell the Platton commander or send a runner to the Company commander - its not your fight anymore.

BTW: Your post mentions a HMG, remember normally you would only have MG's. HMG's are normally reserved for long range targets and are employed by the Bn CO or maybe Coy OC. If you happen to have one near you it maybe nearby but not available for you to task.

This I believe is something to be aware of while playing the CM series. Weapon systems get employed on all sorts of tasks that they normally wouldn't do unless (e.g. 20mm Flak used against infantry squads) it was some sort of crisis - all hands to the pumps situation.

If you did have a HMG in location, then I'd probably use it like the section / squad MG above. Move to a flank, give it a covered arc covering the side of the building and then assault with the Inf.

However, be aware that clearing structures soaks up men and be prepared to write letters home at the end of it. Better to bypass and outflank and make the position untenable.

[ January 13, 2004, 05:22 PM: Message edited by: gibsonm ]

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Originally posted by gibsonm:

So you can see one MG is not going to deny a large area, hence the need for mutual support, interlocking arcs, etc.

But of course, the bullets have a lethal area while they are still in flight, which extends back towards the gun from the BZ. Depending on the range, this may extend all the way back to the gun, or there may be a 'blank zone' where the rounds are too high.

The size of the blank zone will be affected by topography (dips, hollows, etc) and the height of the target (standing, walking, running, crouching, prone, etc).

Oh, BTW. I wonder if our current obsession with concealing the MGs in a position is a recent thing, and an outgrowth of 50+ years of small unit, independent, light-infantry patrolling in the jungles of Asia? In WWII, the core of firepower wasn't the section or platoon MGs - it was the divisional artillery. Also, unit densities were far higher than anything we can picture from personal experience. So perhaps MGs were, in fact, more prone to fire than we would expect based on current doctrine.

Regards

JonS

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Originally posted by JonS:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by gibsonm:

So you can see one MG is not going to deny a large area, hence the need for mutual support, interlocking arcs, etc.

But of course, the bullets have a lethal area while they are still in flight, which extends back towards the gun from the BZ. Depending on the range, this may extend all the way back to the gun, or there may be a 'blank zone' where the rounds are too high.

The size of the blank zone will be affected by topography (dips, hollows, etc) and the height of the target (standing, walking, running, crouching, prone, etc).

Oh, BTW. I wonder if our current obsession with concealing the MGs in a position is a recent thing, and an outgrowth of 50+ years of small unit, independent, light-infantry patrolling in the jungles of Asia? In WWII, the core of firepower wasn't the section or platoon MGs - it was the divisional artillery. Also, unit densities were far higher than anything we can picture from personal experience. So perhaps MGs were, in fact, more prone to fire than we would expect based on current doctrine.

Regards

JonS </font>

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Originally posted by JonS:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by gibsonm:

So you can see one MG is not going to deny a large area, hence the need for mutual support, interlocking arcs, etc.

Oh, BTW. I wonder if our current obsession with concealing the MGs in a position is a recent thing, and an outgrowth of 50+ years of small unit, independent, light-infantry patrolling in the jungles of Asia? In WWII, the core of firepower wasn't the section or platoon MGs - it was the divisional artillery. Also, unit densities were far higher than anything we can picture from personal experience. So perhaps MGs were, in fact, more prone to fire than we would expect based on current doctrine.

Regards

JonS </font>

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What is really interesting is that when you set in a position you spend a lot of time preparing to fire in limited visibility. Setting stops for predetermined targets and filling out range cards and other such activities. But as has already been stated you rarely actually fire at your preplanned targets.

During limited vis the MGs are largley static, waiting to put down that final protective fire. It just isn't very effective to fire on a clump of trees when you can't see if anyone is there and firing your big guns at a couple of guys will likely get them, the guns, killed before they are really needed.

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