In recent post entitled Letter Home: “…the poor Germans run like a lot of mice.” the end note [ii] surmised ‘This reference is obscure but taken in context with the rest of the sentence it appears that Sergeant Mowatt is referring to a Lewis Gun crew. Usually of 2 men.’ in reference to “I went up to the big drive on Lens on the 15th of August and got a dandy till we entered a stree[t] [sic] and reached our objective, but it was alright, till we went out with the gun…” in which I indicated that the “gun” being referred to by Sergeant William Mowatt was a Lewis Gun. The reference to “we” indicated to me that the gun being referred to was crew served (i.e. a machine gun, as opposed to a rifle which is an weapon used by and individual soldier). Later on in the paragraph Sgt. Mowatt describes moving around the gun and loosing his gunner.
I believe there is a good chance that this letter is describing a Lewis Gun crew except my supposition that a Lewis Gun crew comprised 2 soldiers as outlined in end note [ii] is incorrect. This aspect of the post was brought to the attention of the author in a note:
“Believe that a Lewis Gun crew was made up of five men (not two): the primary gunner – Number One; his back-up Number Two; and three ammunition carriers.”
This is a valid point and part of this journey is to understand what is being written about. The technical details matter and it needs to be a right as can be.
Revisiting this multiple manuals regarding the operation and deployment of the Lewis Gun were referenced and a very interesting document was found with a diagram that may illustrate the tactical employment of this weapon more accurately.
The document is a series of JPG images found, almost by accident, here. It is called “Van Nostrand’s Machine Gun Manual” and this firm, D. Van Nostrand Company, specialized in “Military, Naval, and Marine Books” encompassing a broad range of technical subjects.
The image in the manual shows in the advance on the left and right flank two soldiers responsible for range finding for the weapon with a sergeant, an officer, and orderly aligned in the front line. Following is another orderly, another sergeant and then the Lewis Gun crew. Five soldiers comprise the crew in this diagram and as it states number 1 carries the tripod; number 2 the gun, and soldiers 3, 4, and 5 each carrying a case of nine magazines. A standard infantry magazine held 47 rounds (with a larger capacity drum magazine of 97 rounds for aircraft applications). As the manual states the crew was responsible for the deployment of the weapon and replenishing it with ammunition and for replacing each other in the various roles as casualties were sustained.
As the introduction states that this manual is derived “closely” from the experience of various machine gun schools and camps in England and France. Though not definitive in regards to how the C.E.F. implemented its Lewis Guns it is indicative that this was deployed offensively with a crew greater than two men as stipulated in the previous post regarding Sgt. Mowatt’s letter.
As always, any opportunity to learn is most appreciated and the blog is richer for it.