Every Englishman had a machine gun

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Do not laugh at anything the British do or did concerning military rifles since the Boer War, Dunlap advises, because they very carefully studied and experimented and trained harder with rifles than any other nation in the world:

By 1914 the regular British infantry were the hottest riflemen in any army, constantly practicing and competing. The regulation course of rapid fire called for 15 shots per minute on a camouflaged target, but the higher ranking shots qualified at 25 shots a minute and could keep most of them where they aimed them. That is bolt handling.


What the British regular army did to the Kaiser’s boys in World War I is history. The Germans tried to go through the “Contemptibles” just once, and then reported to headquarters that every Englishman had a machine gun.

The English had developed a better cartridge by then:

Before that war England went accuracy-happy and designed their 1914 rifle, a true Mauser type, for a magnum 7mm or .276 caliber, to reach the then-high velocity of 2,900 FPS, evidently being influenced by the success of the .280 Ross cartridge which held all long-range records of the time. The war started while the new rifle was under field test, and of course they did not want to change calibers with the pressure of a war on, and the rifles were made in both England and the U. S. in .303 caliber Mk VII, and later, for the U. S. in .30-06, as our Model 1917. The development of the machine gun for infantry firepower in France reduced the rifle to a less important role, and the fast 10-shot Lee-Enfield was found completely adequate for trench warfare so the .276 caliber was shelved permanently and no more Pattern ‘14 rifles made after 1918 in either England or the U. S.


  1. Kirk says:

    I’m not sure that the “facts” Dunlap is repeating here were actually true–There’s been a bunch of research showing that the “every man had a machinegun” thing was basically British propaganda, and it wasn’t true. The Germans did suffer heavily from rifle fire delivered by the “Old Contemptibles”, but the amount of effect that had in reality…? Questionable. I’m sure that Dunlap believed what he was writing, it’s just that it wasn’t actually true.

    The whole thing fed into American prejudices, as well; “Every man a rifleman”, and the cult of precision individually aimed rifle fire that grew out of that obsession. Accuracy is important, aimed fire just as much–But, the raw fact of the situation is that the actual combat situation was not what we were replicating on the ranges–The usual enemy target on the range is a big ol’ paper square, or maybe a bit more realistic silhouette, but in reality…? You’re getting little fleeting glimpses of field gray, against a background of other things that made making out the enemy very, very difficult. Which is why 9 guys firing at nine different “fleeting glimpses” in semi-auto or bolt-action rifle mode aren’t anywhere near as effective as one guy with an MG34/42 dumping a burst into that same area. Odds are, the individual rifleman is going to achieve no hits, while that MG gunner is going to hit something… Or, at least, scare the ever-loving hell out of it with multiple near-misses on that “fleeting glimpse” and his buddies.

    Individual rifleman? MG team? I’ll plump my money down on the MG team, every time. The individual rifleman is an important ancillary to the MG team, but that’s it. He’s not the ne plus ultra of the combined arms team down at the squad/fire team level. The MG, the mortar, and the dude with the grenade launcher are more important, and it’s unfortunate that the people running things in the US/UK back before WWII and during the war did not recognize this fact.

  2. Adar says:

    Fifteen hits on the target in a minute. Target as defined best to my knowledge as a four foot square target with a twelve inch bullseye.

  3. Kirk says:

    Adar, what am talking about being BS are the supposed reports by the Germans about every man having an MG. That was apparently so much bumf, because the actual German intelligence estimates said no such thing. If I remember what I recall reading, the German estimates were that the Brits had as many MGs on issue as their own units did, which was slightly more than the Brits actually had. Myth turned that into what Dunlap reports here…

  4. Alistair says:


    British rifle work was excellent.

    Unfortunately, it (and the myths it spawned) led British tactical doctrine into an accuracy-and-range cul-de-sac for most of the rest of the century. Emphasis was placed on accurate, sustained, individual fire. Suppression, snap-shots, and section firepower was neglected. It also tended to de-emphasise manoeuvre.

    The SA80 was the final failure of this doctrine. It took 25 years to fix in a farrago that makes the problems with the early M16 look slight.

  5. I Was There Too says:

    An anecdote.

    When I was a little chap in England (late 60s, early 70s) the neighbour had a whinge to my father about me and my air rifle. Said I was sniping him. My dad replied, ‘if he was shooting at you, he’d be hitting you’.

    That was the end of the argument.

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