Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Recommended: The Complete Lewis Gunner

From: The Complete Lewis Gunner 
by an Instructor


The sequence of instruction set out in this book has been found by experience to be very practical and to give good results. The author claims that it is natural and rational, and the methods followed are the crystallized results of some ten years' experience as an instructor.

The book opens with a General Introduction to the gun. A man's interest is aroused, he is taught the immense possibilities of the weapon, and is straightway shown how the gun is loaded, fed, fired, cooled, and operated. With his attention thus riveted by a good general knowledge, he is now keen and ready to go into technical details. A book which commences with a catalogued description of the parts misses the mark, and resembles too much the old history primer, which at the outset handed out that long list of dates, which was the bane of our schooldays.

With a sincere desire to help instructors, the author, with all humility, wishes to offer a few suggestions. He strongly recommends the method of "Mutual Instruction." The last ten minutes of each hour might well be set apart for this purpose. A man's knowledge is tested, any misconceptions he may have are cleared up, and he gains confidence. The instructor should frequently question his men, and "make haste slowly."

He should not talk too much, but try and make them think. Men love to find out things for themselves; they should always be encouraged to do this, and to ask questions ....

It is hoped that this book will be found useful in all branches of the Service where the Lewis Gun is used. The author's purpose will then be amply justified and his labours rewarded.

British Lewis Gunners Drilling at Aldershot

General Introduction to the Lewis Gun:

Its Advantages and Characteristics

  • It enables you to bring a large volume of fire to bear on any target, with no loss of time.
  • Rate of fire, 600 - 700 rounds per minute.
  • Time taken to load the gun is a matter of a few seconds (four seconds - compare with rifle). Also compare with the fire orders, etc., that would have to be given to a platoon, necessarily spread out.
  • A Lewis Gun in the hands of good gunners will work as much destruction as fifty average riflemen.

Its Great "Moral" Effect.

  • The "rat - tat - tat" of a Lewis Gun has a great "moral" effect. Against a machine gun a man stands little chance, and human flesh will not face it.
  • A machine gun has terrible "killing" powers.

Reduces the "Human" Element.

  • Out of fifty riflemen, owing to awful din of guns, etc., probably a good number might misunderstand a fire order; also a number might quite conceivably miss the target, besides having too many bullets on one spot, leaving others neglected.
  • With the Lewis Gun fire control is very easy.
  • A machine is always more accurate than a man (" to err is human "), and the machine gun being so perfect, and operated by one man only, the "human" element is thus reduced to one-fiftieth, and is practically negligible.

Its Invisibility and Invulnerability.

  • I.e., hard to "pick up" and knock out.
  • The Lewis Gun occupies a frontage of about 3 feet, and a depth of about 9 feet, i.e., it occupies space equivalent to that of two men. Compare with space occupied by fifty men.
  • Thus the Lewis Gun offers a very small target, and at 400 yards, specially if concealed in grass or shrubs, or on uneven ground, it is practically invisible. Hence it is very hard to pick up and knock out.
  • A Lewis Gun gives a maximum volume of fire from a minimum of front.

Its Mobility.

  • Its weight is 26 to 28 pounds, and it can easily be manoeuvred by one man - hence change of position is very easy.
  • Changing Direction of Fire. - Compared with fifty men - they would have to swing right round, and so are unwieldy, besides offering a good target; whilst the Lewis gunner has nothing to do but turn his gun in the required direction.

Its Great Simplicity.

  • Consists of only sixty-two parts. The gun can be stripped (with the exception of two parts) with the nose of a bullet.
  • Each part has only one position, and cannot be put together wrongly.
  • Its cooling system is very simple, and requires no attention or water.
  • It is well protected, very strong, and is not likely to be damaged in moving.
  • The gun can be "fed" in any position, and has hardly any "kick" or recoil, etc., and is easy to handle.
  • The blast of gas tends to make the gun go forward - hence easy to mount.

The Lewis Gun is essentially a weapon of opportunity.

The position of a Lewis Gun is not advertised, but is kept dark - a sort of "trump card up the sleeve."

  • The Lewis Gun resembles a submarine. It does its best work by popping up when and where it is least expected and delivering a smashing blow in a trice. Before the enemy has time to recover from its surprise it escapes, by reason of its mobility and invisibility, to some other spot, from which it can repeat the dose.
  • "Cross Fire" or Oblique Fire. - Two guns can be arranged to set up a "belt of fire," through which nothing can pass, and in which life is an impossibility.
  • "The Layer System" (see diagram) enables you to sweep a large stretch of ground by over-lapping cones, and the enemy does not know where he will next be fired upon.

The Layer System

The Lewis Gun can be used with great effect in the attack and in open fighting. In this respect some of its uses are: 

  • To knock out enemy machine guns - a very important function.
  • To give "covering fire" to their own infantry when advancing.
  • To cover the forced retirement of their own men.

Elementary Drill

Magazine Carrier (#2) containing magazines on left of gun (#!=1) at two paces interval. All "drill" with the gun must be done smartly. To meet the exigencies of present-day warfare, it is advisable that some of the following movements be done with box respirator, etc. 

Command - "Fall In"

Section falls in, in single rank, in rear of gun.

Command -"Number"

As usual.

Command - "Take Post"

No. 1 :

Lies down behind gun.

Examines gun.

Takes the magazine from No. 2 and places it on gun.

Reports "Gun ready."

No. 2 :

Takes up position 2 yards to the left of gun

Examines all magazines, and holdall.

Reports correct, or otherwise, to No. 1 and passes him loaded magazine.

On the Command - "Action"

No. 1 :

Runs forward (about 5 yards) and gets into firing position on target indicated, and loads.

No. 2 :

Runs forward carrying magazines and holdall, and lies down on the left of No. 1. Takes out a magazine from magazine carrier.

On the Command - "Range" - "Aiming Mark"

No. 1 :

Raises leaf, adjusts sights, rotates magazine, pulls back cocking-handle, and lays on the target.

No. 2 :

When No. 1 is ready to fire, No. 2 holds out his right hand just above No. 1's back, and looks for signals from Section Commander.

Command - "Fire"

No. 2 repeats section commander's order.

No. 1 then presses the trigger, and fires in bursts of about one second, stopping to notice fire and aim between bursts. He will continue to fire at the rate of 5 bursts a minute.

Command - "Change"

No. 1 grips magazine with right hand, pressing back the catch with thumb.

No. 2 presses up the centre block with the tips of fingers of the left hand.

No. 1 takes off empty magazine and passes it upside down under the gun to No. 2.

No. 2 places it inside magazine carrier.

No. 2 takes full magazine in his right hand, and, holding it with the white portion to rear, places it on the magazine post and eases it down.

No. 1 rotates magazine (with right hand) as far as it will go, pulls back cocking-handle, relays, and carries on.

Command - "Stop"

No. 1 :

Helped by No. 2 will change magazines, place butt of gun on ground, and wait further orders.

Command - "Cease Firing"

No. 1 :

Takes off magazine. ( i )

Presses trigger. ( ii )

Unloads the gun, leaving cocking-handle forward.

Lowers leaf of backsight.

Carries gun to "Cease Firing" position, 5 paces to rear.

No. 2 :-

Helps No. 1 with ( i ) and ( ii ).

Places new magazine on gun.

Replaces magazines in carrier, and goes to "Cease Firing" position.


 Signals Used in Drill, etc.

"Stand By, Ready to Fire."

Hand raised.


Hand brought smartly to side.


Hand waved across body three or four times.

"Cease Firing."

Arm waved in circular motion from shoulder three or four times.


Both arms raised and lowered in line with the shoulder three or four times.

Source: Printed in Great Britain by Gale & Polden Ltd., 1941 (First Published 1918); Originally presented online at:


  1. So was the very same gun used in both wars?

  2. Yes although the Bren Gun largely replaced the Lewis after 1938.

  3. Thank you, James.

  4. Great motivational piece. After reading I have decided I must have one. Going to search online!