Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Machineguns: they finally got it

We all have seen those pictures of Royal Enfields with a machine gun mounted on the sidecar. But here is the secret story. The ones who started it were the South Africans. Check this picture from Oct 2nd 1914, the motorcycle press baffled as to why the British forces didn't have them,
Then check this picture from December 31st 1914, I guess they got the message fast!


  1. Great find! It would be interesting to know what, if any, use these were put to on the battlefield. The weight of the gun and ammunition would have kept these rigs out of the muddy fields of Flanders, I would think. The gun has no more range than a rifle, and the contraption is a huge target and can't take cover, so I can't imagine it would seriously be employed against enemy infantry even on dry ground. The only use I can think of is crowd control: intimidating civilians in a city. Thus, good roads and unarmed opponents. Might not even have to fire a shot, once they got a look at it. Was it really just for show? The gunner's posture in the photo is absurd. A human couldn't maintain that crouch for 60 seconds.

  2. I'd be curious to know what use they saw, as well.

    I do disagree with Mr Blasco, though, about the weight and range of the machine guns in question. The one in the top photo is a Maxim, and even if it's one of the HEAVY ones with the brass water jacket, we're looking at about 150-170 lbs for gun, mount, coolant, and ammunition. Such a minimalist sidecar design would save some weight, too. I can't tell if the rig is intended to carry both crewmen for the machine gun - that might be an issue, and I really don't know how well those sidecar rigs would handle muddy terrain with just a passenger, or even empty.

    As for range, though, you'd half-right. While they fire the same cartridge as rifles, thus launch projectiles of comparable weight at comparable velocities, they're deployed differently. A rifle is used for aimed fire, while a machine gun would be used for raking fire or volley fire. The effective ranged for an aimed rifle shot is probably around 800 meters (for a good marksman), but volley fire from a machine gun can suppress enemy forces at up to 2000 meters - ranges where being able to take cover is less an issue.

    They probably wouldn't be handy in the wreckage of no-man's-land, but for skirmishes along the flanks, being able to haul a machine gun in quickly would be a massive advantage. You could also use them to quickly deploy machine guns to rake the enemy flanks and suppress their forces while your infantry advances.

    I agree about the crouch, though, but I'm guessing that's a photo staged for the press, rather than indicating anything about how these rigs might be used.

  3. David and David: thanks for your comments!

    This is what the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull claims about the usage of motorcycle mounted machineguns. The brand they discuss is not Royal Enfield, but I imagine the comment is still relevant.

    "Aggressive looking as it is, you may imagine this machine roaring into action with its machine gun blazing, but in actual service in World War 1, it was not quite like that.

    A sidecar outfit was not a stable platform for a machine gun and in use it was lifted from the sidecar chassis and set up on its own tripod mount hopefully behind some natural cover. In battle conditions this outfit would have been accompanied by two similar combo’s without machine guns, to provide a spare if the lead machine was put out of action and to carry reserves of ammunition, fuel, oil and water for the water cooled Vickers Maxim machine gun. The crew of each comprised rider and gunner who rode on a saddle mounted in the sidecar which allowed more freedom of movement than a normal seat. >

  4. Ah, now that makes sense. Rather than some kind of miniature assault vehicle, simply a method to rapidly deploy and redeploy machine guns in strategic locations.

    The mention of additional rigs to serve as tenders also makes good sense. Very cool find, Jorge!

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