Machine Guns

By Carin Nantkes

The Origin/History of the Machine Gun

Machine guns caused many casualties on both war fronts in World War One. Men who went over-the-top in trenches stood little chance when the enemy opened up with their machine guns. Machine guns were one of the main killers in the war and accounted for many thousands of deaths. Crude machine guns had first been used in the American Civil War. However, tactics from this war to 1914 had not changed with this new weapon. Machine guns could shoot hundreds of rounds of ammunition a minute and the standard military tactic of WWI was the infantry charge. The number of casualties were huge. Many soldiers barely got out of their trench before they were cut down.
WWI Machine Gun History

What is a Machine Gun and How Does it Function?

A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm. It is usually designed to fire bullets in a quick succession from an ammunition belt or magazine, typically ay a rate if three to eighteen hundred rounds per minute. Unlike semi-automatic firearms, which requires one trigger pull per round fired, a machine gun is designed to fire as long as the trigger is held down. Machine guns are normally used against unprotected or lightly protected personnel, or to provide suppressive fire.

How did machine guns give the various militaries an advantage?

Machine guns would often be grouped together to maintain a constant defensive position. Estimates of their equivalent, accurate, rifle firepower varied, with some estimating a single machine gun to be worth as many as 60100 rifles. A more consensual figure is around eighty, still an impressively high figure.

What problems were their with this weapon?

The problem with these machine guns was how many deaths they caused in the war. They caused over 23 million deaths in WWI. Machine guns also overheat very rapidly and become inoperative without the aid of cooling mechanisms. They were consequently fired in short rather than sustained bursts. Cooling generally took one of two forms: water cooled and, increasingly as the war developed, air cooled. Water jackets also provided for the former and air vents would be built into the machine gune for the latter. Even when the machine gun was water cooled the gun would still overheat relativiely quickly, sometimes within two minutes. Large amounts of water needed to be on hand in the heat of a battle and when these ran out it was not uncommone for a machine gun crew to urinate into the jacket to solve the problem. Whether water or air cooled, the guns still seemed to jam frequently, especially in hot conditions or when used by inexperienced operators.
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