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Post Info TOPIC: Lewis Gun, Belgian service 1914?


Major

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Lewis Gun, Belgian service 1914?
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"Nicknamed 'the Belgian rattlesnake' by German forces who came up against the weapon in 1914,"

Does anyone have any details on how many, what units, etc. about the Lewis gun in Belgian service in 1914?

Chris



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Legend

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Strangely, although it was the Belgians whom Col. Lewis first persuaded to manufacture it, I can't find any firm evidence that it was ever issued to the Belgian Army. It is also disputed that the Germans ever really gave it this nickname; it's more likely a bit of Allied propaganda deliberately ascribed to the Germans to give the impression that they were terrified of it. After all, soldierly slang tends to be pithy and economical. Die belgische Klapperschlange hardly answers that description. From what I've noticed, fearsome names are the official ones given to your own weapons, and the troops come up with alternatives (for friendly and enemy kit) that is dismissive, derogatory, and/or on the coarse side.

In 1914 the Belgians used tripod-mounted Maxims and smaller numbers of Short Hotchkisses. As discussed elsewhere, they also used some Madsens, and I have seen one pic of a Schwarzlose in Belgian use pre-1915. The Handbook of the Belgian Army 1914 makes no mention of the Lewis.

I've seen brief references to the Lewis being adopted by Belgium, but nothing to confirm it. This might tie in with the artllery problem; Belgium had a large armaments industry, but seems to have used it for exports rather than for supplying her own forces. She was quite capable of producing her own artillery but chose instead to buy weapons from Germany and Britain and make small adjustments in-house.

The Lewis was manufactured in Liège and also, under licence, in Birmingham (U.K.) from mid-1914, but none seems to have gone to the Belgian army, and it was improvements made in the UK that produced the definitive model in mid-1915.

Even after the refit of 1915, there don't seem to be any Lewises. For their part in the final offensives of 1918, they were equipped with captured MG08, Browning MG, Hotchkiss M1914, and Chauchat, but I've never seen a single positive i.d. of a Lewis in Belgian hands.

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Major

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James,
Thanks, I was hoping otherwise but your argument is very strong.

Chris

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Commander in Chief

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There's at least one photograph that shows a Belgian makeshift armoured car (not a Minerva, but a Benz IIRC) armed with a Lewis.

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MZ


Legend

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I wouldn't mind seeing that, but I suspect it's a d-i-y arrangement.

The Portuguese had some Lewises, and the Italians some Colt M1914s in addition to their own Revelli, etc.

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Commander in Chief

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Not a Benz but an Opel (at least a German car, so my memory isn't completely gone...)

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MZ


Legend

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That's nice. Have you got a definite date for it?

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Commander in Chief

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Very early Belgian AC, autumn 1914. But I'll have to look up the details, may take some while.

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MZ


Commander in Chief

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On August 8th, 1914, a Belgian procured 4 Lewis guns from England in order to arm Belgian aircraft. Subsequently, one of these guns was used to equip an "automitrailleuse" of the Belgian High Command "for anti-aircraft use" on August 15th, 1914.

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Legend

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mad zeppelin wrote:

On August 8th, 1914, a Belgian procured 4 Lewis guns from England in order to arm Belgian aircraft. Subsequently, one of these guns was used to equip an "automitrailleuse" of the Belgian High Command "for anti-aircraft use" on August 15th, 1914.



Well, that's interesting. If Belgium was manufacturing Lewises on that date, why buy them in from England; and if the Belgian Army had some, why not use those on an A/C? I'm wondering whether production in Belgium had stopped by then and all manufacturing switched to the UK.

Would you believe it? I wasn't far out. Read these:

http://www.zyworld.com/felbridge/handouts/rudds.htm

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9A06E3D71731EF33A25754C2A9619C946095D6CF

Lots of references have similar but slightly differing accounts about this gun. One says that the Belgians received them in large numbers, but that would have to have been post-1915. An order for UK-made guns never made it to Belgium because of the German invasion. And, most surprisingly, the Americans seem to have used them for a very short time before they were all withdrawn. from the Infantry. Reasons offered for this decision vary; it was "political"(?) or they were transferred to aircraft use. Some sources say the Lewis was never adopted by the US in WWI.

If the Belgians did have any in 1914, there must have been very, very few. How many were actually made in Liège and Antwerp? There can't have been many, or they wouldn't have had to buy from the UK.

This is puzzling. I can only repeat that I have never seen evidence of a Lewis in use by Belgian troops.

-- Edited by James H at 01:58, 2007-11-25

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Legend

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Hi James, heres a lewis in us service caption says ww1.....

Cheers

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Legend

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Fair enough; but the gunner is still wearing leggings, which suggests it was quite early, presumably before the Lewis was withdrawn as we're told it was.

According to WWI Sourcebook, the US received 34,000 Chauchats from the French, followed by 27,000 or 29,000 Browning Automatic Rifles shipped from America. The Maxim had been adopted in 1904, but it was replaced in 1909 by the Benèt-Mercié (yet another spelling), which we have discussed elsewhere, otherwise known as the Portable Hotchkiss. Yet we only see the B-M in pics with the early uniform, indicating that it might not have been taken to Europe. The US ordered Vickers and Lewis guns, but after tests in 1917, the Browning was adopted as "the principal machine-gun" of the US Army. It would seem that the assumption that use of the Lewis by the USA was widespread is wrong. I'm not saying that the HäT US Infantry shouldn't have a Lewis crew, but I suggest it was the exception rather than the rule.

There are still parts of this story that don't fit together, but I suspect that production of the Lewis in Liège and then Antwerp was very small scale, before it moved entirely to Birmingham. Not certain how many were made in Belgium or where exactly they got to. It looks as if the Lewis became an entirely British weapon by manufacture and almost entirely by use. (The Portuguese did have them, too; on the Western Front Portugal used all British weapons for ease of supply).

That's as far as I've got for the mo.

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Legend

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Hi James, its possible that the picture is staged and may of course not be at the front the No2 however has puttees although the gun doesnt have a magazine and no one seems to be in much of a hurry...could it be that this is a photo of a trial?

There does seem to be some confusion over what LMG's the US army actually used in action, The Chauchets supplied by the french initially were re-chambered to take US Ammo and not suprisingly this caused severe problems with jamming this was probarbly caused by an incompatability bettween the tolerances for the US imperial ammo and the metric machinery used by the french to produce the guns, what Ive read seems to suggest these guns were scrapped and were replaced with unaltered weapons using french ammo...in the mean time what did the US Army use... Lewises?

The problem might be with the Belgium Lewis is that the name may be different, just a thought ................

Cheers


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Legend

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This topic is now splitting onto two; the Belgian side, and the American.

There are many articles on the Lewis on the Net, but no two seem to be alike.

There's a book on the subject: The Belgian Rattlesnake by William M.P. Easterly. It's hideously expensive, and I don't think her indoors would be too pleased if I were to invest, tempting though it is. Fortunately, there's a précis here, from which one can make certain observations. The links aren't that good, but you'll get the idea:

http://thebelgianrattlesnake.dragonsoffire.com/

One thing it mentions is early trials with the Belgian Air Service. So maybe not the Army, then. The original company set up in Liège must have been a very small workshop; the early orders for Lewises were in single figures, and I can't see that they would have set up a large facility on that basis. The move to Antwerp was intended to increase capacity, but the invasion put a stop to that. They had already begun to manufacture Lewises at BSA, and the closing down of the Belgian side made it dei facto a British weapon. Easterly admits that it was BSA who perfected the gun.

I'm still convinced that the Belgians' Lewises can't even have been in double figures. Even after the adoption of the khaki uniform 1915-18 there are no pics of Belgian troops with Lewises. Where German troops would have encountered them in 1914 I can't say, and I suspect it was an isolated incident, maybe even the armoured car that mad zeppelin posted. I remain to be convinced about the nickname. Maybe Easterly explains it.

As for the Americans, claims for the number of Lewises used by the AEF range from very few to none at all. To make matters worse, contrary to The WWI Sourcebook's claim, another source says the BAR saw limited use because the Yanks didn't want examples to fall into German hands and didn't even want their allies to know too much about it. L&F Funcken, who are not infallible but are pretty good, don't show a Lewis or BAR, just the Chauchat.

I can't explain how they got out of the Chauchat fix, but I'm sure the answer is around somewhere. As for the pic, it could well be of a trial, and, as you know, an awful lot of WWI photos are posed anyway. And I'm sure it's not a names mix-up; it was manufactured as the Lewis from the off.

But all this goes to show that we shouldn't take any assumption for granted.

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Commander in Chief

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On the Belgian side it is rather unclear what calibre and what number of Lewis guns were made at Herstal near Liège, but the output must have been small.
It seems clear that some Lewis guns were used for experiments with arming aircraft. It also seems clear that the Belgian army had no Lewis in 1914 - and received Hotchkiss machine guns from France when in need of more.

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MZ


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Hi James, it appears that the US ordered 2 versions of the Chauchat LMG one using standard US ammo these had box magazines so would not have had the same problems as the french version.... unfortunatly it may appear that the more powerfull US round was at fault and caused recoil or breech damage to the weapon, the other was the french issue weapon  appox 15-19,000 of each type were supplied to the AEF, numbers vary.........

http://www.rememuseum.org.uk/arms/machguns/armmg1.htm

scroll down the page to find a US Chauchat......note the different names for this gun......

Cheers

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Legend

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That's weird. Col. Lewis's Christian names were Isaac Newton, and the REME Museum is on Isaac Newton Road.

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Private

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huhncc wrote:

 

"Nicknamed 'the Belgian rattlesnake' by German forces who came up against the weapon in 1914,"

Does anyone have any details on how many, what units, etc. about the Lewis gun in Belgian service in 1914?

Chris

 

british propaganda name

silverpaladin


 



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silverpaladin wrote:

 

huhncc wrote:

 

"Nicknamed 'the Belgian rattlesnake' by German forces who came up against the weapon in 1914,"

Does anyone have any details on how many, what units, etc. about the Lewis gun in Belgian service in 1914?

Chris

 

1 british propaganda name
2 adopted formaly in december 1913 in 7,65 mmbiggrin

silverpaladin


 

 




 



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Corporal

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Anyone know what the diameter of the cooling shroud was? I think it's 4.25" but not sure.

Someone has kindly given me plans for the Lewis, but it's the aero version and obviously missing the shroud.

I need to know for my 1:10 MkIV I'm scratch building.

Cheers in advance.

J

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Legend

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If you combine this:

Wylam_Lewis_Gun_zpsc4a93f93.jpg

With this:

8405961814_57e9171898_c.jpg

You should be good. Use the dimensions from the top left plan.



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Corporal

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That's great, thanks very much!

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