How was the submachinegun utilized in WW1?

May 2019
385
Earth
I believe I'm right in saying that frontline assault/infiltration units like the Sturmtruppen were among the first to be issued with MP18s; I'm not as sure about the Italians and their Villar-Perosa 1915s (aside from the fact that they originally started as aircraft weapons). Does anyone have info on how submachineguns were normally issued within the units that had them (e.g. one per squad leader? one per 10 men?) and what roles submachinegunners were normally put in to (e.g. first-in trench clearing, squad support gunner, etc.)?

And before anyone says it, yes, I'm under no delusion that submachineguns were anywhere close to being mass-issue weapons during WW1. Nevertheless they were used within select units, and I'd like to know a bit more about how it was done back then.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,983
I believe I'm right in saying that frontline assault/infiltration units like the Sturmtruppen were among the first to be issued with MP18s; I'm not as sure about the Italians and their Villar-Perosa 1915s (aside from the fact that they originally started as aircraft weapons). Does anyone have info on how submachineguns were normally issued within the units that had them (e.g. one per squad leader? one per 10 men?) and what roles submachinegunners were normally put in to (e.g. first-in trench clearing, squad support gunner, etc.)?

And before anyone says it, yes, I'm under no delusion that submachineguns were anywhere close to being mass-issue weapons during WW1. Nevertheless they were used within select units, and I'd like to know a bit more about how it was done back then.
The Germans deployed in teams of 12 (6 smg armed troops and 6 ammo carriers with rfiles.) 1 team per company (ideally)

Source is the Video posted Above, I really enjoy the C&R Arsenal youtube channel. Not a Gun enthusiast but the engineering development and adaption process, various militaries different requirements and view on their weapons that shape why they adopt a given gun is fascinating.
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,107
And before anyone says it, yes, I'm under no delusion that submachineguns were anywhere close to being mass-issue weapons during WW1. Nevertheless they were used within select units, and I'd like to know a bit more about how it was done back then.
As you say, it wasn't. This was otoh, but is an assault rifle. Like the German smg tactics, the "fusil mitrailleur" was deployed in fire teams, with ammo carriers. They ended up the most decorated units in the French army in WWI.
 
May 2019
385
Earth
Enjoy


Deployment info starts at around 31:30

Also covers some use of the Villar-Perosa in the early section on development
Great video, thanks for sharing. Would be neat if someone did a similarly detailed one on the Italian subguns of the era. I think the fellow's description of the Villar Perosa 1915 as a "poor man's light machinegun" is fairly accurate; from the little bit of info I found on those guns, they seem to have been mainly equipped with bipods and used as support guns in the infantry role, rather than the more mobile close-range assault role of the MP18...

The Germans deployed in teams of 12 (6 smg armed troops and 6 ammo carriers with rfiles.) 1 team per company (ideally)
Interesting crossover with lmg deployment, and not how we'd think of subguns in more modern times. I can totally see the reasons for working in pairs with ammo carriers though. Those drum mags don't look very convenient to transport in quantity on your own, although it was interesting to see in that video some of the ways it was done...

As you say, it wasn't. This was otoh, but is an assault rifle. Like the German smg tactics, the "fusil mitrailleur" was deployed in fire teams, with ammo carriers. They ended up the most decorated units in the French army in WWI.
Thanks, I'm familiar with the Chauchat. Definitely wouldn't include it in the smg category though, for obvious reasons. I'm trying to focus here on the implementation of man-portable, full-auto, pistol-caliber subguns during the conflict, which were really an entirely new concept at the time. As far as I know, the Germans and Italians were really the only two armies who managed to get that idea into the field during the conflict, although unless I'm mistaken only the Germans seem to have used it in a manner familiar to how we'd come to see subguns in the post-1918 period...
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,107
Thanks, I'm familiar with the Chauchat. Definitely wouldn't include it in the smg category though, for obvious reasons. I'm trying to focus here on the implementation of man-portable, full-auto, pistol-caliber subguns during the conflict, which were really an entirely new concept at the time. As far as I know, the Germans and Italians were really the only two armies who managed to get that idea into the field during the conflict, although unless I'm mistaken only the Germans seem to have used it in a manner familiar to how we'd come to see subguns in the post-1918 period...
Yes I fully get that. Does that however mean you DO NOT consider the implementation of a man-portable, full-auto, rifle-calibre assault rifle equally new?
 
May 2019
385
Earth
Yes I fully get that. Does that however mean you DO NOT consider the implementation of a man-portable, full-auto, rifle-calibre assault rifle equally new?
It's just not what I'm interested in for this thread.
 
May 2019
385
Earth
There is also the US pederson device.
I've heard of it, but as far as I know it was never implemented in the field, so not what I'm looking for here. I'm trying to get a sense of how smgs were deployed/utilized during WW1, so prototypes or weapons that were developed too late, like the Pedersen device or Standschütze Hellriegel M1915, are out of my focus. Also, the Pedersen device was for semi-auto fire, not fully automatic, so not even within smg territory.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,667
Sydney
Machine pistols were very rare until mid 1918 ,
storm-troopers had no table of equipment and carried pretty much anything they could get their hands on
such as extra bags of grenades , pistols of various type , and the odd "machine rifle" taken from the allies usually a Chauchat but a Lewis for a few lucky ones
the opponent would matter since they would have to re-supply from their stock
fighting the British means there would be no French ammo for refill , if having a Lewis and fighting the French , only Lebel would be found and the Lewis would run out of ammo pretty fast

there were less than 20.000 MP18 made , as production ramped up by mid 1918 , a lot of the early one would have been lost in combat
during the spring offensive storm-troopers suffered the most , their units being shredded
while Germany was pushed on the defensive , MP18 would be found very occasionally in the hands of some troopers ,
again , field losses would make this weapon so rare as not to be significant , in fact rarely mentioned by the allied troops


their doctrine of employment was linked to the Storm-troopers doctrine , this was seems as a failure and a bad idea
allied much preferred to keep their units homogeneous ,
it was claimed that to segregate units for assault use deprived standard units of their best elements thus weakening the whole army to reinforce the few
in the inter-war manufacturers had a lot of trouble interesting Armies to their use
machine rifle were quickly issued to troops on a formal basis while Machine pistol were seen mainly as a police weapon ,
it's not until the early 1930ies that headquarters seriously considered machine-pistols issue to normal front troops as opposed to specialized units