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

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Master of Musketry: Brigadier Norman Reginald McMahon (1866–1914)


 Norman Reginald McMahon

Remember the accounts you've read of the Battle of Mons that stated the British rifle fire that day was so rapid the German soldiers thought they were facing machine guns?  Well, here's the man behind that legend. Norman McMahon was born in London on 24 Jan 1866, the son of Sir Thomas Westropp McMahon and Sir Thomas's second wife, Frances. Known as the Musketry Maniac, Norman McMahon, commanded the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers at Nimy, where his men put down a rapid rate of fire that decimated the German 84th Infantry Regiment. Soon after Mons he was promoted to brigadier-general and was to be put in command of the 10th Infantry Brigade. But he was killed in action on 11 Nov 1914 during the first battle of Ypres.

The standard of 15 aimed shots per minute is credited to Major Norman Reginald McMahon, Chief Instructor of the British Small Arms School at Hythe from 1905 to 1914. Some attribute the creation of this standard to McMahon's Boer War experience, while others point to McMahon's early advocacy of machine gun usage. In either case, the standard was formalized in the Musketry Regulations of 1909 and earned McMahon the nickname "Musketry Maniac." To support the standard, 15-shot exercises were conducted. These eventually became known as the "Mad Minute." By 1912, failure in the exercise could be sufficient for a discharge due to "inefficiency." By 1914, it was reportedly not uncommon for many troopers to exceed 20 hits per minute.

British Riflemen at the Mons-Conde Canal, 23 August 1914

With the British entry in the First World War, McMahon, now a lieutenant-colonel, took command of 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. His unit took part in the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914, attempting to hold a pair of bridges at Nimy. During the battle, German forces first mistook the accurate, rapid fire of British troops as the work of machine guns. (The first two Victoria Crosses of the war were awarded as result of the Nimy bridge action but, ironically, to a pair of machine gunners. The 4th Battalion's defense of the bridges didn't fail until after the unit's machine guns were permanently knocked out of action.)

Sources:; IWM

1 comment:

  1. In the qualification exercise the rifleman was required to start with only five rounds in the box magazine (which holds ten). This meant that in order to achieve 20 hits on 300 yd targets the rifleman had to reload three times (stripper clips held five rounds each). It is truly amazing that this could be accomplished in one minute.