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THE MACHINE GUN CORPS

Machine Gun Corps badge with battle honours


The official documents of the history of the Machine Gun Corps have been ill-fated.  Most were lost, destroyed in fires or during the Blitz.  Most of the few histories of individual Companies and Battalions which survive are held at the Imperial War Museum.   Many personal diaries and papers have also been donated to the IWM.  However, much of course is still known.

Most of the Company and Battalion War Diaries survive at the Public Record Office, Kew.  Some MGC/OCA members are currently trying to write a history of the Corps. Information and help would be welcome.

How it began

At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the tactical use of machine guns was unappreciated by the British Military. Consequently, the Army went to war with its infantry battalions and cavalry regiments each having a machine gun section of only two guns each. This was added to in November by the forming of the Motor Machine Gun Service, administered by the Royal Artillery, consisting of motor cycle mounted machine gun batteries.  A machine gun school was also opened in France.

A year of warfare on the Western Front proved that to be fully effective, machine guns must be used in larger units and crewed by specially trained men. To fulfill this need, the formation of the Machine Gun Corps was authorized in October 1915 with infantry, cavalry, motor and in early 1916 a heavy branch. A depot and training centre was established at Belton Park in Grantham, Lincolnshire and a base depot at Camiers in France.

The Infantry Branch was by far the largest and initially formed by the battalion machine gun sections transferring to the MGC, and grouping into Brigade Machine Gun Companies. New companies were raised at Grantham. In 1917 a fourth company was added to each division. A further change in February and March 1918 saw the four companies of each division form battalions.

The Cavalry Branch consisted of Brigade Machine Gun Squadrons.

The Motors Branch after absorbing the MMGS. formed several types of units i.e. motor cycle batteries, light armoured motor batteries (LAMB) and light car patrols. As well as motor cycles other vehicles used included Rolls Royce and Model T Ford cars.

The Heavy Section was formed in March 1916, becoming the heavy branch in November of that year. Men of this branch crewed the first tanks in action at Flers, during the battle of the Somme in September 1916. In July 1917 the heavy branch separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps.

In its short history the MGC gained an enviable record as a front line fighting force, seeing action in all the main theatres of war. At the end of hostilities the MGC was again re-organised in a smaller form as many of its soldiers returned to civilian life. However, the Corps continued to see active service in the post war campaigns of Russia, India and Afghanistan until being disbanded in 1922 as a cost cutting measure.

Some 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC with 62,049 becoming casualties including 12,498 being killed.

A group of MGC/OCA members are currently researching with a view to writing a history of the Corps.  If you would like to help them or can loan original documents, do please contact the Honorary Secretary.



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Copyright Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades' Association.

Articles written by Judith Lappin and Keith Stephenson