Posted: 18 April 2009 21:34
I've been out and about the past few weeks looking at potential Vickers machine gun posts up on the Downs.
Back in December 2008 I included a photo of an earthwork I believed to have been a Vickers gun. Lately I've been re-evaluating this assertion in the light of various diagrams I've found in Field Engineering (All Arms) seen at right.
Noting what I'd written about the Shape-changing trench that turned out to be L-shaped, I wondered if it was in fact an MMG trench as illustrated in the bottom image (Fig.12).
A quick trip up into Downsforce territory soon debunked this as there was no evidence of the gun platform visible.
I then turned my focus back to the large earthworks that I originally believed to be MMG (Medium Machine Gun) posts; one is seen below, along with the flanking position that I thought might be an observation post for the gun commander.
I've come across eight or ten of these positions (some are indistinct and only the spacing between angle pickets indicates the size and shape) but I've always wondered about them being too big, even for a Vickers gun and two-three man crew.
Measuring up a few of these pits, I found variations in size ranging from 9ft (2m 70) square to 9ft x 5ft (2m70 x 1m 50).
Taking these dimensions and marking them out on my garden lawn, I decided to see how much space a vickers gun and crew actually takes up. This was based on the actual position photographed above; 9x5 feet with flanking position out to the left.
The first issue is that of the tripod's 'footprint'; the lower the gun, the more the legs are splayed outwards. I was guessing that the gun would need to clear a parapet of about 70-80cm, which is the height of a standard sheet of corrugated iron used to revet the walls of the pit.
Next I wanted to assess how much space the crew needed; for this I needed the timer on my camera and some Photoshop trickery to produce a gun crew so ugly that the enemy would be more scared of them than of the gun...
The upshot of this was that I was able to conclude that a 9x5ft pit was able to accomodate a 3-man Vickers gun crew.
The manual advises an allowance of 3ft (91cm) per man for a slit trench (those I've been finding are 6ft long, making them two-man trenches), and using this figure, a pit 9ft wide would allow for three men.
The manual also talks of pits being dug for two men (note the 6ft dimensions of Fig 11 above) and the nos. 3, 4 and 5 of each crew in nearby slit trenches with the gun commander and range finder in another.
What of the flanking position? My experiment showed that a fourth man could occupy it, but I think it was nothing more than an entrance to the position. These pits were dug in on a steep slope with some form of camouflage netting overhead, making entry from the side (and lower down the slope) more practical.
Iron stake made in several lengths used for construction of barbed wire obstacles or to hold trench revetment in place.
Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.
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Hibbs, Peter Getting my Vickers in a twist (2020) Available at: http://wwww.pillbox.org.uk/blog/216622/ Accessed: 10 July 2020
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