The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of the ‘Emma Gees’

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Back in in 1981, Major K.A. Nette of the Canadian Army wrote about The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of the ‘Emma Gees’ — machine-gunners — using a Ghost of Combat Yet to Come, a spectral World War I veteran known as the Old One, to explain proper tactics to a modern officer who hasn’t yet faced the “Fantasians” (Soviets):

Suddenly, we were standing in the middle of 1 Platoon’s position, deserted except for the two sentries manning the HMG. The Old One walked over to the edge of the trench and gestured for me to join him. “Don’t worry about them,” he said pointing to the two soldiers. They can neither see nor hear us. Now, tell me exactly why is this gun here?”


For what seemed an eternity, the old man just stood and looked at me. When he finally spoke, his words cut through me like a knife. “An off the cuff answer like that one might get you through staff college but in a real war it will just get you and your men killed,” he said. “What good is a 180 degree arc to a weapon with only 800 mils on its traversing bar? Why does the gunner have to see for miles when he will only be engaging targets out to about 1000 metres?”


“What would you do if you were responsible for this gun?” I asked.

“Well,” he began, “the first thing I would do is remind myself of the primary role of the HMG: to destroy enemy APCs. Once I was satisfied that this gun could, in fact, be employed in its primary role, I would then determine a specific target area where enemy APCs were likely to appear. Only then would I look for a place to put the gun. In selecting this site, I would review the six characteristics of machine gun fire and attempt to take maximum advantage of each one. Let’s look at these characteristics in relation to this gun here.”

“First we must consider Range. The HMG is accurate to 1850 metres. It is only effective at this range, however, against soft targets. In computing the maximum distance that this gun can be from its target area we must consider Penetration. Your C44 AP/T ammunition can penetrate the front of most Fantasian APCs out to 550 metres. You notice I said most. There is a problem with the front of the BMP but don’t worry about it for the moment. I will explain how to get around it later. They are all vulnerable from the side out to 725 and maybe a good bit beyond depending where you hit. (See Figure 1A.) To get this penetration you need an angle of attack between 30 and 90 degrees. Just hitting an APC once will not necessarily stop it. To assure a kill you will probably have to hit it several times. That is where VOLUME OF FIRE comes in. TRAJECTORY is another important characteristic. This gun’s trajectory is very flat. So flat that on level ground you can get grazing fire out to 1000 metres.”

Noting the puzzled look on my face, he elaborated. “That just means that at no point from the muzzle to the target will the rounds rise higher than the height of a standing man. You will notice that because this gun is sitting on top of a hill it does not take advantage of this characteristic. There must be at least 300 metres between the muzzle and the target area where an APC could drive underneath the cone of fire of fire without being hit. That cone of fire leads us into the next characteristic. When fired in bursts, all machine guns vibrate; therefore, each bullet follows a slightly different path. These different trajectories lead to different points of impact on the ground in the target area. We call the pattern these rounds make on the ground the BEATEN ZONE. The size and shape of this beaten zone varies with the gun, mount and range. The HMG is famous for it’s long, narrow zone. To take full advantage of it, you have to first anticipate the formation that the enemy will adopt in the target area then site the gun so the beaten zone will catch as many of them as possible.”

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