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To be an expert machinegunner, as any combat gunner will tell you, requires far more than being able to align the sights, traverse, elevate and the many more basic principles taught in the training schools and on machinegun ranges. (However) All this training is essential and should be carried out every time the situation could possibly demand.

In fact, to fail to master the art of machinegunning in every prescribed phase of training, could cause an otherwise good gunner to let his entire combat unit down.

For instance, the gunner's ability to lay on an auxilliary aiming point with accuracy, possibly might never arise. It could be important frequently, or it might possibly be required in a decisive showdown only once. But it, like all other principles, should be mastered, and in combat, it should constantly be remembered. Therefore, a mental analysis of the terrain must be made from every position, the range, the outstanding features of the terrain, blind spots, etc. Because, if a hidden machinegun suddenly opens up, there may be no time for this. Just a fraction of a second can mean the difference between life and death.

When engaged with a modern and well trained enemy, the (expression) 'mow them down', is mostly talk. If the enemy presents this type of target, most any machinegunner can pull the trigger and align the sights. But a well trained enemy knows the rate of traverse of a machinegun, and the attack is paced accordingly. Mostly, the gunner will have one clear target only at a time, and that for only a few seconds. He may see many, but because of the wide traverse required to fire on the target, for all practical purposes, they are not there.

When the gunner has to traverse five or six mills, this cuts his time to practically zero. For this reason, we readily see that the necessity for traverse should be cut to the minimum. The degree of effective firepower will correspond to the number of good targets that can be brought into the 2 and 3 mill traverse. I am not going to describe 'firing an area', as this procedure is pretty well established, and should be carried-out as often as the occasion demands. Of course on the attack, it is more frequently used, when there are no priority targets.

The fastest way to decrease the necessary traverse of a machinegun in correspondence to good targets, is the angle of fire. A gun pointed straight into a attacking line has the greatest disadvantage, because of the traverse required to bring it onto various targets. And for another very important reason, it increases the number of times the traverse will be made to catch a target. This is considerable and sometimes fatal. Naturally, the position of the defense line will do much to increase the efficient firepower of a machinegun, and if the enemy's attack is coming from an angle, in relation to the position of the gun, the degree of traverse is automatically lessened. THEN, the gunner, by using all the angle the range will permit, can fire directly at a clear target almost continuously. For this reason, as well as safety of defensive gun position, it should be chosen with care. Where time permits, 2 or 3 positions should be prepared for each gun. Remember, a machinegunner is a priority target in ground operations.

Perhaps the second best way to decrease the traverse is in selecting field of fire, assuming this does not conflict with the small defense set up of the unit. This is so lengthy a subject, I will only point to one or two examples. This again will depend to some extent on the first mentioned, because to have a good field of fire, you must have targets. In forest, this can be small lanes through the trees, at an angle. Other guns should be coordinated so that no section of the enemy line can sweep forward without being challenged with machinegun fire.

There is one thing a machinegunner cannot do and (still)use the full efficiency of his firepower in a large scale attack: that is protect himself. The closer the attacking force gets to the defense line, the more efficient the firepower of the machinegun becomes, and the less he is protecting himself. (This is) because the angle of fire is more parallel, more enfilade, and the gun is moving toward the final protective position. If all the defensive machineguns have followed the attack in, that other few inches that you have to push the traversing mechanism over to lock on the final protective line will never be used. But the enemy will be pouring into foxholes around the machinegunner's area that kept firing straight ahead.

Why was it, that identically trained units, units containing the same T.O.'s, varied so much in combat effectiveness? Morale? Training? Bravery? Perhaps all of these, to a small degree, but when it comes to the showdown, it is the unit that combines all this and gets the maximum, efficient use of its firepower. A unit can have many anti tank weapons figured into its overall strength, but these weapons are of little use, if they are not in the proper place, at the proper time.

The same is true of all weapons. Therefore, a machinegunner that has arranged to place his gun in the correct position...

that has figured-out the proper angle of fire to obtain the most targets that a given type of action permits...

a machinegunner that has estimated the range...

that can slap his gun in a second, to fire on the enemy's new phase line...these things and many more, are the final key.

To estimate, to anticipate, and to be prepared.

Machineguners, if you want to give your unit the maximum benefit of your gun, use what time you have between attacks, pauses in actions, to figure ahead. Remember, the machinegunner's life, as well as his unit's, can't wait to learn the little things the hard way.

The subject of combat machinegunning is so lengthy, that only a few points have been discussed. In many cases, offense and defense are similar, with small variations.

Melton McMorries ex-501st Parachute Infantry

101st Airborne Division


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By the way, the 1919a4 was a squad LMG in para terms. There were supposed to be no BAR.

"What was the size and organization of a rifle company in a WW2 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)?"

A typical PIR rifle company at the time of Normandy, had 130 EM and 8 Officers. The Company HQ group was not a platoon, not even a squad. It consisted of ten men and was more of a Co. HQ 'Section'. Each rifle platoon had 40 men. Three rifle squads of 12 men each and a 4 man mortar squad (60mm mortar).

"Who carried which weapons and why didn't all paratroopers carry the folding stock carbines, which were especially designed for them?"

Most members of a rifle squad were armed with 30-06 caliber M-1 Garand rifles, which were a much more potent weapon than the carbine, which lacked range and knockdown power. The M1-A1 carbine with a folding stock, was issued to officers, also to some members of crew-served weapons (i.e. 60mm mortar squad), while non coms(sergeants) carried the M1-A1 or M1928A1 Thompson submachine-gun. This included Staff Sgts (platoon Sgts) and 3 stripe Buck Sgts (squad leaders). These weapons were prescribed by the TO&E (Table of Organization & Equipment), but individuals frequently opted for-and usually got, whatever they wanted. This switching was done on the battlefield, if not accomplished prior to a mission. Since the M-1 Garand was the best all-around weapon, many officers also used it, instead of the carbine, and some noncoms swapped their TSMG for an M-1. Some members of crew-served weapons also preferred the M-1 over the carbine, despite it's extra weight, when they were also carrying such items as MG ammo, tripods, baseplates, mortar tubes, 40lb A-4 machineguns, etc. If all the paratroopers had been equipped with carbines instead of M-1 rifles, it would have been a lot more difficult for the 101st Airborne to win any battles.

Each rifle squad contained a LMG crew, (instead of the B.A.R. found in regular infantry companies) and the PIR squad tactics were built around the LMG laying a base of fire.

The officer breakdown was as follows: Company Commander was a 1st Lt or Captain, with a 1st Lt. as company XO(Executive Officer, meaning 2d in command). Each platoon had two Lts, (a 1st Lt plt leader and a 2d Lt asst. platoon ldr). Each platoon also had 1 staff sgt, who was the platoon sgt (in a regular infantry platoon, this job was performed by a Tech Sgt), and four buck sgts, who served as the squad leaders. Each squad also had a corporal, who served as assistant squad leader.

Each battalion had 1 Headquarters company and 3 rifle companies. The Bn HQ Co. was a bit larger, numerically, than a rifle company (closer to 150 personnel) and had a 81mm mortar platoon, a LMG platoon and a communications platoon, also a bn. Mess Section.

HQ Co. 1st Bn supported A,B, and C companies.

HQ Co 2d Bn supported D,E, and F companies.

HQ Co 3rd Bn supported G, H, and I companies.

note: The Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R.) was not issued to WW2 paratroopers because it was considered too awkward to jump with. It was not listed on the TO&E for Parachute Infantry rifle companies. The weapon weighs about 20 lb and is four feet long and cannot be broken down for jumping purposes. This is why squad tactics centered around the LMG (dropped in bundles) instead. The B.A.R. was an effective and devastating weapon and immediately after WW2, the 82nd and 11th Airborne Divisions incorporated them into their TO&Es and devised a method of jumping with them fully-assembled, and strapped alongside the parachutist's leg, muzzle down.

[ June 08, 2005, 09:40 AM: Message edited by: Wartgamer ]

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