Sunday, July 3, 2011

The good and the bad

The Italian Fiat-Revelli M1914 must have been a gunner's nightmare, with a complex mechanism that was prone to jamming. The unreliable French Chauchat LMG was designed by three men - Chauchat, Suterre and Riberolle - and as such has been called a gun designed by committee. The American-designed British-built Lewis gun, however, would be one of World War I's success stories.

The Fiat-Revelli M1914
This was Italy's first mass-produced machine gun. It was designed in 1908 and bought for use by the Italian Army in 1914, as Army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna prepared the Italian Army for its 1915 entry into World War I.
The Italian fiat-Revelli had a complex mechanism, which included a feed system that consisted of a magazine with ten compartments.

The 6.5mm calibre Fiat-Revelli was water cooled and fired from a 50-round (later 100-round) magazine composed of ten columns of five rounds feeding from the left. Unsurprisingly, given such a loading method, it jammed frequently, but despite this it remained in service for the duration of the war.

It bore a superficial resemblance to both the Maxim and Vickers machine guns but had an entirely different mechanism. Using a delayed blowback mechanism, the barrel and bolt recoiled a short distance, held in place by a swinging wedge. As the latter opened, the bolt was released so that it could be blown back by the spent case's recoil. The overly complex design of this mechanism led to cartridge extraction difficulties; consequently, an oil reservoir was used to lubricate cartridges before they were loaded into the gun. However, oil attracts dirt and dirt can jam mechanisms.

The Fiat-Revelli was theoretically capable of firing 400-500 rpm out to 1,500m/1,640yd, but in practice it fired approximately 150-200 rpm. It was modified for use in aircraft in 1915 before British-supplied Vickers and Lewis guns were fitted to Italian aircraft in 1917. The Fiat-Revelli nevertheless held a place within the Italian Army's armoury, albeit with modifications including a 300-round belt feed, until the end of World War II.

The Chauchat LMG
The Chauchat was the light machine gun used principally by the French Army and also by seven other nations, including the USA, during and after World War I. Its formal designation in the French Army was Fusil-Mitrailleur Mle 1915 CSRG. It was also known as the CSRG or Gladiator. More than 260,000 were produced, making it the most widely manufactured automatic weapon of World War I. It was among the first light machine-gun designs of the early 1900s, with novel features, such as a pistol grip, an in-line stock and select fire lever, that are now standard in modern assault rifles. To speed production it was made from stampings and tubular and lathe-turned components. It fired from a 20-round magazine at 250 rpm and had a rather complex long barrel recoil and gas-assisted mechanism. The Chauchat was designed and built in a hurry during World War I and had numerous faults, and it is recognized today as one of the least reliable automatic weapons ever issued to armed services.
The French Chauchat LMG is probably the world's worst automatic weapon. For lack of available weapons it was issued to unfortunate US Doughboys who had arrived in France in 1918.

The Lewis LMG
In 1911, Colonel Isaac Lewis of the US Army adapted the complex light machine-gun design of another American engineer, Samuel McLean, and produced the Lewis gun. This early light machine gun was widely adopted by the military forces of Britain and its empire from 1915 onwards. The M1914 air-cooled Lewis gun had a 47-cartridge circular magazine, or a 97-round cartridge for aircraft. The adjustable clockwork recoil spring allowed the gunner to adjust his rate of fire between 500 and 600 rpm, although most gunners preferred to fire short bursts. The gun had adjustable sights and a bipod for firing from the prone position. This gave it an effective range of 600m/655yd.
Although the Lewis LMG was designed by an American, during the two world wars it became a truly international weapon. Lewis guns accounted for 20 per cent of the Luftwaffe aircraft shot down around London in 1940.

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