When Allied armies clamoured for more machine guns, a blacksmith devised an automatic rifle that cost 20 times less than the Lewis gun. John Ash profiles a novel conversion that could have transformed the Western Front
Set among sweeping reforms of doctrine, training and tactics, the initial stalemate of 1914, at the outset of World War One, also forced armies to better equip infantry to enable them to break the ever-evolving deadlock.
The same grenades, mortars and machine guns used to facilitate successful advances were equally useful in urban areas or on the defence.
It has been said that while the soldier of 1914 would not recognise the battle implements and tactics of a 21st century infantry platoon, the 1918 infantryman could. In 1914 most soldiers carried only a bolt-action rifle, but just a few years on, they’d rely on a diverse array of firepower at individual, section and platoon levels.
The increased flexibility and firepower provided by improved individual weaponry, combined with myriad factors including devolved leadership, developing communications, motor transport and better use and organisation of the artillery, all lent themselves to battle beyond the trenches.