2nd Machine Gun Battalion 2nd Division, AIF

Normal vickers machine gun  1  1

About This Unit

The 2nd Machine Gun Battalion was formed in March 1918 and consolidated the Machine Gun Companies of the three brigades within the Division; the 5th (NSW), 6th (Vic) and 7th (Outer States), and the 22nd Machine Gun Company (the latter being one of five numbered 21- 25 raised to give each Division an extra MG Company).

Each Infantry Brigade initially had a Machine Gun Company under command.  They were designated with the same number as the parent Brigade.  For example, the 5th Brigade thus had the 5th Machine Gun (MG) Company as part of "Brigade Troops" and the men in it were largely drawn from the Infantry Battalions in the Brigade, in this case, the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th battalions, all drawn from NSW.

From March 1918, like artillery units before them, the MG Companies were consolidated. In this case, into Battalions of four MG Companies, attached to each Division, again with the same numeric designation; ie 2nd MG Battalion was the 2nd Division's allocated MG Battalion. The 5th MG Company became part of the 2nd MG Battalion. They were allocated to sections of the line in detachments of varying sizes depending on the task, but generally as a minimum in pairs as a 'section'.   However their employment was still on the basis of providing the formidable fire support that massed machine guns were capable of.  The elements of the MG Battalions and Companies were allocated to sections of the line in detachments of varying sizes depending on the task, but generally as a minimum in pairs as a 'section'.

The elements of the MG Battalions and Companies were allocated to sections of the line in detachments of varying sizes depending on the task, but generally as a minimum in pairs as a 'section'.  A section would be two guns and their crews (generally three men per gun).

MG Companies and Battalions were equipped with the legendary Vickers Medium Machine Gun. This weapon was served by a crew of three and mounted on a tripod.  It was not easily portable and was generally sited in a prepared fixed position.  Its direct counterpart on the German side was the Maxim 'Spandau' MG08, a weapon of similar appearance and capability. 

Both the Vickers and MG08 had a distinctive appearance largely because of a cylindrical water jacket sleeve around the barrel which was designed to cool the barrel when firing at the rapid rate. The MG08 was mounted on a characteristic 'sled' rather than the tripod of the Vickers. They achieved continuous fire through the provision of ammunition in canvas belts (see photo).

The Vickers was renowned for its reliability and it could maintain blistering rates of fire for extended periods, thanks to its robust design and the fact that it was water-cooled. These weapons were capable of firing at extended ranges, out to 3,000 yards.

They would be sited to provide flanking fire across a defensive front, often covering belts of barbed wire or other obstacles forcing the enemy to attack through their line of fire with devastating results; a tactic known as "enfilade fire". 

It was largely the effect of well-sited German machine guns that caused such devastation among the attacking British and Dominion formations on the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916.  The British "Pals" Battalions at La Boiselle and the Newfoundland Battalion at Beaumont Hamel were cut to ribbons by machine guns over 2km to their flanks that they would not have been able to hear firing at them.

They were often the lynch-pin of defensive positions and thus the object of enemy attempts to neutralise them as a prelude to attack, by mortar, artillery fire or even raids by parties of grenadiers with hand and rifle grenades.

In attack they would be sited to provide indirect 'plunging fire' into enemy positions in depth at long range to prevent enemy reinforcements reaching the objective of the attack, or to disrupt attempts to withdraw, in a manner not dissimilar to artillery.

Some machine gun teams would also be assigned to follow the assaulting formations where they were to establish themselves in order to provide defensive fire across the front of the "limit of exploitation" of the attack as protection against counter attack by the enemy. 

Machine guns and artillery between them were the dominant influences on the battlefields of the Great War until late in the war when manoeuvre regained importance with the advent of armoured vehicles and ground attack aircraft that could suppress enemy defences.

Steve Larkins July 2013.

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