Machine guns were responsible for horrendous injuries and countless casualties on both sides during World War One. Those who went over the top of the trenches stood little chance if machine guns were fired, making them one of the main reasons for death during the war; many hundreds of thousands were killed by machine guns.
Machine guns were first developed around the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, so by the time of the First World War they were stronger and more effective. However, war tactics had not altered to deal with this, and infantry charges were still considered one of the best forms of attack.
Sadly, this led to huge casualties, many of them barely even making out of the trenches before they were mown down by enemy machine gun fire.
At the beginning of the war, senior British army officers were unsure about how effective machine gun warfare would be and so most battalions were only issued with two. These were either the British Vickers machine gun or the Hotchkiss or Lewis guns. The Vickers was the most numerous and required two soldiers to be fired. It also came with a water cooling jacket to prevent overheating as well as an ammunition belt to feed it bullets as the soldiers fired, achieving a rate of around 450 per minute.
While the British Army were unsure of machine guns, the Germans were very keen to make them part of their strategy from the start. Each gun was carefully placed just in front of their line, allowing them a full view of the battlefield and the ability to quickly cut down any British or French advance.
Unfortunately for the Allies, this technique proved incredibly effective, as demonstrated at the Battle of the Somme. After British troops had gone over the top, they were instantly met with a barrage of machine gun bullets, leading to thousands of deaths within minutes.
Eventually, the British Army began to adopt similar tactics to the Germans, using machine guns to fire on advancing infantry and developing a dedicated Machine Gun Corps to ensure they were used as efficiently as possible for the remainder of the war.
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