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House of Commons Hansard
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20 June 1918
Volume 107
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I meant, at a later stage of these proceedings, to raise a question of which I had given notice to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War, namely, the inquiry which was recently held into the merits or the demerits of what is known as the Madsen gun, and to make some further inquiry as to the conditions under which the trial took place, and the reasons for the adverse reports which were issued. I wish, in the first place, to make it quite clear that any arguments I may address to the House are not intended to have the effect that has been suggested, that the present Lewis gun is not a good gun. From such information as reaches me from those I know in the Army I can state the opinion that the gun is a good gun, and that the warning which was conveyed at the end of my right hon. Friend's answer yesterday was really not in point. Because, however, a weapon is a good weapon, it by no means follows that it is the best one, and, indeed, there was a hint, I believe, in the statement made by Lord Elphinstone in another place, that part of the official reluctance to accept the Madsen gun and to cease or to slow down the manufacture of the Lewis gun was due to the fact that they themselves had something better in mind. However that may be, I desire to ask for the conditions under which this particular gun was tried the other day. There are certain attributes, if I may use that word, which I imagine every mechanical gun should possess. I want to draw a very clear distinction between a machine gun and a mechanical gun, which is the kind of gun used by the Infantry or the Cavalry from the shoulder. The Madsen gun is used almost, if not absolutely, entirely for the purposes of defence. The two weapons are designed for different purposes, and do not enter into competition with each other.

There are certain attributes which every mechanical gun ought to possess. They are rapidity of fire, reliability, freedom from jamming, accuracy of range, invisibility of discharge, lightness or small weight, the capability of being handled by a small crew, and simplicity of mechanism. From the information which reaches me it is possible to demonstrate that this particular Madsen gun is superior in all these respects, except one perhaps, and in a minor point, to all other mechanical guns with which it has been put in contrast. Take the question of weight. Weight at a time when man-power is short is of extraordinary importance. The Lewis gun in use at the present moment weighs 28lbs., and requires two men to transport it and two men to work it. The Hotchkiss gun again weighs 28lbs., and requires, I am told, two men to transport it and two men to work it. On the other hand, the Madsen gun, with its spare barrel—and I might remind the right hon. Gentleman that the spare barrel of the Lewis gun is not brought into action at first, but is carried on transport—the Madsen gun with its barrel weighs only 20 lbs., which is a clear gain on every gun, a point of considerable importance when large numbers are in use in the Army. When you come to the question of the magazine of the respective guns there is a clear gain of 80 lbs., showing a superiority in a matter of transport of the Madsen gun over the Lewis and Hotchkiss guns. That saving of 80 lbs. per gun is of enormous importance to an army where the transport is one of first importance. I come to the question of reliability. I am sorry the Under-Secretary is not here because these are questions on which I should like answers from the War Office, and the War Office for the technical purpose of answering is—I believe I am right in saying—not here. I hope, however, I may take it that the Financial Secretary will reply?

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Oh, yes!

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I know the difficulty. The Debate has come on quite suddenly, but I trust, nevertheless, I may get an answer upon the points I put because they are of first importance. Take the matter of reliability. It is well known to everyone in this House that one of the greatest difficulties of the war in Flanders has been the extraordinary conditions—the mud and the water. Therefore, at this trial on Friday, there was a trial made as between five different guns, the Madsen gun, the Lewis, the two Hotchkiss guns (light and heavy), and the Berthier. There was a trial of reliability. All these guns were immersed in an equal mixture of mud and water—that is to say an attempt had been made to reproduce the trench conditions of warfare. In what degree of efficiency did these guns respectively come out of this test? I am told—and I believe my information to be absolutely correct—that at the end of the trial the condition of the guns was this: that the light Hotchkiss gun, namely, that which is now used by the Cavalry, would not fire at all; that the Lewis gun, which is of a quick-firing character, would only fire single shots—that is to say, would only fire when the trigger was pressed by the finger and would not lire continuously at all; and that the Madsen gun fired continuously—as it normally does—without any hitch of any sort or kind. If that statement, which was made to me, is an accurate account of what took place upon this, which is a vital point in the use of these guns, namely, successfully repulsing an attack of the enemy, the Madsen gun had an enormous advantage over its competitors, and the reasons for this advantage is that the mechanism of discharge in the Madsen gun is by recoil and not by the operation of gas. The consequence is that there is nothing to clog, there is no particular need of cleaning, and this is not an incidental but an inherent superiority of the one method of construction over the other. That is the explanation given to me upon this point.

I was told yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War (Mr. Macpherson), who has just come in, that one of the tests was what he called, I think, the 1,200-rounds test. This test, so I am informed, was made not in respect of the rapidity of the time occupied in the discharge of the shots. The various guns got off their 1,200 shots as leisurely as the persons working the guns chose to discharge them. Each gun, at the end of that test, was to emerge in the best and most efficient condition. That is what I am informed took place. It is represented to me that the Lewis gun fired its first 900 shots quite easily and then jammed, and fired its last 300 shots with considerable difficulty. They were fired in batches of fifty apiece, and it took from fifteen to eighteen minutes to discharge these shots in the Lewis gun, whereas the Madsen gun fired the whole of 1,200 shots without any hitch or difficulty in a period of from eight to ten minutes. If that is accurate it shows, so far as these particular trials were concerned, the superiority of the Madsen gun over the Lewis gun.

Another important attribute of this mechanical contrivance is accuracy. Upon what conditions were these tests decided? I understand that in the case of the Madsen gun it was put into the hands of a musketry instructor who had certainly not more than once handled the gun, and that the ordinary Lewis gun was put into the hands of a crew, I do not know of how many, brought over from headquarters who had been accustomed to handle the gun, and had fired many hundreds of thousands of shots from it. If those were the conditions they were not fair as between the two guns, and I daresay my right hon. Friend opposite will either be able to confirm or deny the accuracy of the statement I have made, which is what actually was reported to me. I understand that under these conditions the accuracy of the Lewis gun was found to be much greater than the Madsen gun. If the conditions were uniform and the accuracy of one was greater than the other, that would make all the difference, but if the conditions were not uniform then that superiority in accuracy ought not to count for very much.

Now I come to a very important point upon which, I believe, there is in the minds of those who actually handle constantly the Madsen gun no doubt whatever. I pointed out before that the Madsen gun is carried by one man, while the Lewis gun and the Hotchkiss gun require two men, and this one man also carries the spare barrel which is to be used when the Madsen gets too hot by continuous firing, when you have to change the barrel before you can bring the gun into action again. Now, because it is carried by one man, and because it is easily and conveniently carried by Cavalry and by Infantry, because it comes into action sooner than any other mechanical gun, and because to change the barrel of the Madsen gun takes only fifteen seconds, whereas to change the barrel of the Lewis gun takes twenty minutes, there is an enormous difference between the value of the two guns when repulsing attacking Infantry. I am told, but of course I cannot vouch for it because I have no personal experience, that when the German Infantry advance they come forward in successive waves, but they so time their action that the first two waves follow closely after each other, and the time occupied in repulsing those two waves occupies three or four minutes of intense rapid mechanical gun firing. The Lewis gun goes out of action because it gets so hot and it takes twenty minutes to cool, and a fresh barrel has to be got, and that takes something like fifteen to twenty minutes to change. If that statement is true, and that is what is represented to me, the use of a gun with a barrel which can be changed in fifteen seconds, and which can be brought into action again at the end of fifteen seconds, must be an immense advantage to the troops using it in preference to the one that takes so long to change and so long to cool. I am told that it takes not more than two days to learn the use of and to take to pieces the parts of the Madsen gun. Therefore, if you begin absolutely de novo with both guns simultaneously you can learn the use of the Madsen gun in a couple of days, whereas to learn the use and the piecing together and taking apart of a Lewis gun takes at least a fortnight. I do not know if these figures are inaccurate, but I daresay my right hon. Friend opposite will put me right if I am wrong.

I come now to the mechanism. The simplicity of a gun of this sort must be of the first importance in considering its use in the field. I am told that the Madsen consists of forty-one component parts. The Lewis guns consist of 114 to 125 component parts, but when you come to the working of the parts I am told that the Madsen gun consists of sixteen, only nine of which need to be taken to pieces when dismantled, and only nine are required to be put together again to put the gun into working order, whereas the Lewis gun has eleven working parts. I am not a mechanic, and I have no practical knowledge of the working of either of these guns, and I cannot say what the balance of advantages is on figures like those I have given, but I cannot imagine that there is any disadvantage in them against the Madsen and in favour of the Lewis gun in a statement of that sort. I am told that at this trial, when certain points were allotted to these two guns, one against the other, fault was found with a number of component parts in the Madsen gun, but I may point out that while the Madsen gun was entirely stripped of all its parts and taken to pieces, the Lewis gun was only partially stripped. If that is so, I think there ought to be reconsideration of the question from that point of view alone.

I come next to what are made distinct and admitted drawbacks of the Madsen gun. I may say that I have no interest whatever in this matter except to see that this gun has a fair trial. There are two admitted drawbacks to the gun, and one is the visibility of the drum, which projects 8 ins. or 9 ins. above the level of the gun, whereas all these other mechanical guns have nothing projecting above the surface. The other drawback is the flash. I understand that it would be most difficult to make any change in the visibility of the drum. I cannot imagine that the visibility of an object 9 ins. high, which has certain very valuable qualities, would necessarily so attract the eye at a distance of some hundreds of yards as to make that gun for that reason not a desirable one to use. When you come to the flash, I know that that has been held to be almost a fatal objection. But the flash of the Madsen gun is no greater than that of the Hotchkiss gun. Other things being equal, it is quite fair to say that the gun which has a great flash visibility is not so good as one with a low flash visibility. I understand you can, by a simple contrivance, reduce this great visibility of the flash to an almost negligible quantity; indeed, that was admitted by the spokesman of the Government when this matter was discussed in another place a month or two ago.

My right hon. Friend opposite laid great stress, in his answer to me the other day, on the fact that the competitors had expressed themselves satisfied with the conditions laid down. I dare say they were satisfied with the way in which the conditions were carried out, but the right hon. Gentleman said they were satisfied with the conditions laid down. I am told that there was one condition laid down which was never carried out, and this condition, I am informed, was that there was to be, at the end of all the other trials, a trial of a continuous discharge of 5,000 rounds. That test was never carried out, and I do not know why. I think it ought to have been carried out if it was one of the conditions laid down. The suggestion made by the friends of the Madsen gun is that 1,200 rounds disposes of the ability of the Lewis gun to fire a greater number continuously and rapidly, and they put that forward as a reason why the authorities were not disposed to put the Lewis gun to the test, which they knew it would not stand. That may be an exaggerated statement, and there may be something of that sort underlying what was in the minds of the Artillery authorities. At any rate, that was the suggestion made to me.

8.0 P.M.

I am also told that the corps commander who came to superintend these trials laid it down that no mechanical gun would be expected to fire more than fifty rounds per second. I can hardly believe that such a statement was made, but I am told that that is the fact. That may be prejudice, and, if so, that would dispose of it, but I hope that that is not the reason why the 5,000-rounds test was dispensed with. One of the reasons why I brought this matter again before the House was that every previous trial which had been made with this gun had resulted in a favourable report being given of it. It was tried first on His Majesty's ship "Excellent." It was then tried at Hythe at the beginning of this year by the Small Arms Committee, and again a favourable report was made. It was tried, I think, somewhere in this country in May, 1918, by a body of machine-gun experts, who reported favourably upon it. I understand that the Ministry of Munitions also reported favourably upon it. The chief opponent, if I may use that word—the chief critic; I will not put it stronger than that—is the Ordnance Department of the War Office. The Ordnance Department of the War Office during the course of this War have opposed the introduction of several weapons which have been of the highest importance. They opposed the introduction of the high explosive shell, and they opposed the introduction of the Stokes gun, both of which have been found absolutely essential for the successful prosecution of the War. Do not let that Department prevent the War Office taking advantage of another invention, which, if all the accounts which reach one are sound, may really have a determining effect in one or other of these battles which are still in front of us. It has also been suggested to me that one of the reasons why the War Office may be loth to embark upon the manufacture of this gun is the question of price, because the patentee is over-greedy, and, to use a colloquialism, "opens his mouth too wide." I do not desire that any person should be overpaid, but, after all, within limits, we ought not to stint expenditure in a matter of this kind. Therefore, I hope that one reason may not be the cause why this weapon has been rejected.

It has also been said that to set up a factory for the manufacture of the gun would be difficult, and that the output at first would be small; but I understand that it would not be very difficult to use the machinery and factory now being employed in the manufacture of the Lewis gun, with certain adaptations, which would not take a very long time. I will not dwell upon the possibility of bringing machinery to this country, but that is a course which I fancy the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Kellaway), responsible for the Munitions Department, knows it is not impossible to pursue and it has been suggested. I do say, even if it is not possible to put up factories and machinery sufficient to manufacture the Madsen gun for the Infantry, that it would be possible to do so for the Cavalry, who, it has been represented to me, having tried the gun, ardently desire to use it, because it is convenient and they can come into action with it quicker than with the gun which they at present use, and because it would give the soldiers—I will not say that confidence is or ought to be lacking in their present weapon—something in which they had greater confidence. For these reasons, I desire to press upon my right hon. Friend a reconsideration of this matter, to which many of us attach very great importance.

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The history of the Madsen gun is a very remarkable one. When the present Minister of Munitions was First Lord of the Admiralty he ordered a large number of these guns for the Admiralty, but they were unable to be delivered, because under Danish law it was impossible to export them from that country. When the present Prime Minister was Minister of Munitions, he placed a large order for these guns, and arrangements were made to manufacture them in this country, a well-known engineering firm being commissioned to carry out the work. The factory, I believe, was nearly completed—this was in 1915—when the more urgent demands for aircraft engines decided the Government, and I have not the slightest doubt very properly decided them, to transfer this factory into an aircraft factory, and nothing more seems to have been done about this gun. It was, dropped from that time. There was one rather unfortunate condition which resulted from the dropping of the gun. Those people who had taken a good deal of trouble to introduce it to the Government, and who to a considerable degree had helped in starting this factory, were never able to get any compensation for the work that they had done. The Government refused to accept any liability for the work, and said it was part of the business of the firm concerned. The firm denied any liability, because they said they had undertaken it on behalf of the Government. From that moment the Madsen gun was dropped. There were still many people, however, who believed that it was the finest machine- gun in the world, and recently it has come prominently before the public of this country.

There is no doubt that the Government have had it before them too, because there are various letters in existence showing that negotiations from time to time have been going on between the owners of the rights of this gun and the Government Departments concerned. The last letter that I have seen on this subject was dated 8th April this year, when the Government were so far satisfied as to the merits of this weapon that they made a definite offer to the owners to purchase the rights. Therefore, a little over two months ago, the Government had decided to purchase this gun. I did not know that this offer had been made by the Government, and unfortunately I raised the question in this House and was told by the Minister of Munitions that the Government did not intend to do anything in the matter, although at that time the offer of the Government was actually still in existence. That offer was withdrawn two days after I raised the question in this House. A few days after I raised the question in this House and received the reply from the Minister of Munitions that nothing was to be done, the question was raised by a Noble Lord in another place. He was told that a further trial would be given, and I welcomed that reply of the Government because I thought that at last there would be a real trial and that we should know whether this gun really was the satisfactory weapon that we who had supported this latest introduction believed. I may say at once that if I and those hon. Members who have been working with me in this matter thought that this was not as good a gun as the present gun with which the troops are armed we should at once withdraw any pressure on the Government to introduce it. The trial took place, and I am satisfied, from all that I have heard, that it was in every respect a very unsatisfactory trial. There are many points on which faults may be found with it, but the chief fault is a matter of great principle. The Madsen gun was asked to show how it would compare with the Lewis gun. The Lewis gun was given the lead and the Madsen gun had to follow. If you really want to find out what the new gun can do, you ought to let the Madsen gun set the pace and let the Lewis gun follow it. That was not done.

I feel very acutely that this matter has not been treated in a proper manner by the Government Departments concerned. I must say, however, that I and those who are working with me have been received in a most courteous manner by the Minister of Munitions, who entered into a long discussion on the weapon. Yesterday also we were privileged to have a long conversation on the matter with the Prime Minister, and the reply he gave to us, though not, of course, all that we could have wished, was something gained. We were told that if certain objections to the gun could be remedied, then there would be another trial. That is satisfactory as far as it goes, and therefore I, for one, do not wish to press my right hon. Friend to-day. We are satisfied with the way in which the Prime Minister has met us, and we hope to have those objections which were raised at the last trial remedied very shortly. Then we shall look forward with confidence to a further trial. We appreciate the way in which we have been met in the matter, and nothing further is to be said except to prepare for that further trial. I feel, after the question has been raised, that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Macpherson) will do everything possible to make that trial a really effective one. The matter has aroused a great deal of interest throughout the country. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, the whole House, and the country, are determined that nothing shall be put in the way of supplying our troops with the very finest machine gun that can be made. This War has shown itself throughout to be a machine-gun war. In the early days it was the German machine guns, carried in any kind of motor car, taxi-cabs taken from the streets of Brussels and motor cycles, which drove our troops through the plains of Flanders and France back to the Marne. Again to-day we hear that it is the skilful use of the machine guns by the Germans that has had such serious effect on our line in France. Anything that we can do in improving the present machine-guns and making them even still more effective than they are—though I do not say a word against the Lewis gun, because we all know its great capacities and the great benefit the Army has received from its introduction—if we can get a better gun I am sure the whole country will welcome this movement on our part. I have nothing more to say except to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy with which all members of the Government have received the hon. Members who are working with me in this matter.

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I would like, first of all, to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Sir C. Hobhouse) for not being in my place when he introduced the discussion. The course of public business altered during the evening, and I understood this particular point was not to be raised until after the discussion on recruiting. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southampton (General Sir I. Philipps) have quite properly, I think, raised this very vexed question on this occasion, and I think the House must think, as I think, that there is nothing in their minds other than this, that they are supremely anxious in this great crisis in the nation's history that our men should have the satisfaction of knowing that they have, and of having, the very best available gun that this country can produce. I am able to state that meanwhile, in any case, our gallant troops at the front have had the advantage of the best available gun, the Lewis gun. The one great remarkable thing about that gun is this, that nobody who has criticised other guns has ever criticised that gun as a defective weapon, and there is this additional advantage—and this is a matter of great comfort to the people of this country—that everyone who has used it at the front still believes in it. But it does not follow that though this may be so we should remain content with any gun we have, if at any moment we are convinced that there is a better gun on the market. I can reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol that the question of price has not affected us in the very slightest. The lives of our men are priceless, and I am quite convinced of this—that the spirit of this country would not tolerate anything that discarded the best weapon available merely because it was expensive. As a matter of fact, every patent has a certain condition attaching to it. The War Office have the power, without mentioning terms or price at all to the patentee, to use the invention of any patentee without first of all waiting for any terms. I would like also to reassure the House that the Master-General of Ordnance, General Sir William Furse, has not really been the severe critic of this weapon that the public has been led to believe he has been. I know as a fact that General Sir William Furse was prejudiced in favour of this particular gun, and it was only a question of the difficulty of securing labour, and another consideration of that sort, that persuaded him to go no further in his attempts to procure this gun for the nation. It was found impracticable to have an output in the near future of Madsen guns equal to the output at the present time of the Lewis gun. But that difficulty is got over by the broad-minded view of my hon. and gallant Friend. If I understand his contention aright, it is that he does not wish us for a single moment to hesitate in producing Lewis guns. Let us go on producing Lewis guns—

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indicated assent.

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—but at the same time we ought, so far as our labour allows us to do so, to supplement the output of the Lewis gun by the Madsen gun if it attains the perfection which we trust it will attain. That, to my mind, is a very sensible conclusion. There is no doubt about it that the Madsen gun at the present time is not up to the standard of perfection that we should like it to be. It is certainly not the best available gun at the present moment, and I say that for two distinct reasons. First of all, the object, the first object, of the best gun is to be accurate, and at the present moment the Madsen gun has not attained the standard of accuracy of the Lewis gun.

Sir I. PHILIPPS rose—

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I know what the point is. The point which was put with regard to this particular test of accuracy by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol is this: that the men who fired the Lewis gun were the best men you could produce in France. It is true, we took from France a first class team, men who have fired that gun in season and out of season, in mud and on dry land, men who know the weapon through and through; and the extremely fine marksmanship of those men showed that they knew their weapon through and through. What happened with the Madsen? My right hon. Friend's contention is this: that the Madsen gun had not the same type of expert to fire it. My information may be wrong, but it is this: that the Danish officer who took charge of that gun has fired that gun in various parts of London, and it was left to him to choose the men he would like to fire that gun at the trial at Bisley. He got experts from the Guards' machine gun corps of his own choosing. I do not think my right hon. Friend would suggest that we could go any further. We allowed him to choose his own experts from the men who had fired that gun when it gave such excellent exhibitions throughout the City of London.

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The information which has reached me was this. It is quite definite information; I could give the name and rank and so on of the man who fired the gun. The information was that that man had not fired that particular gun more than once previous to the trial. That is the definite information that reaches me.

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I was not aware of that. Of course, it that is true, it does alter my contention a little, but I will make inquiries into that particular point, and I will let my right hon. Friend know, because I should not like to make a point on a matter of that sort unless I had been assured beforehand that what I said was strictly accurate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol made a further point of the fact that there was a condition that it was necessary to fire 5,000 rounds at the end. I believe there was such a condition in the fact that I saw the conditions of the trial, and one of the conditions was that if there were time at the end, or if it were possible at the end, they would fire at a distance of 400 yards some 5,000 rounds. The Committee was presided over by a very distinguished corps commander who has seen as much fighting as, I should think, any other corps commander in the field. He is appointed now Inspector-General of Training, so that from our point of view we could not possibly have got a better man for these trials. He was assisted by a very brilliant Staff officer who has seen the machine-gun in every kind of action, who has seen it in the battalion, in the brigade, in the division, and in the Army, and has seen it under every kind of condition. The third member of the Committee was a brilliant officer who had been before the War the chief inspector of machine-gun training in the Army. I think he was known to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southampton. I am sorry it should be thought that the trials were unsatisfactory. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend does not impute that these distinguished and gallant members of the Committee intended to make the trials unsatisfactory. I gathered from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bristol that he has come to his view that the trials were unsatisfactory because the condition was not fulfilled that the Madsen gun should fire 5,000 rounds.

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Not only that. I am not quite sure that my right hon. Friend was in the House when I alluded to what I called the mud-and-water test. It was reported to me that in that particular test the Madsen gun gave a better result, and that one particular test—the 5,000-round test—in which it expected to come out far better than any other, was not applied. That is the position that was presented to me.

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Let me take the 5,000-rounds test first. The answer, and I understand it is the only answer, to that is that these guns were to be fired under service conditions, and those distinguished members of the Committee came to the conclusion that it was not humanly posible for any machine gun to have an opportunity of firing 5,000 rounds in a day in any part of the battlefield, but that it was quite a common thing for the Lewis gun to go forward with 1,200 rounds, which was the normal amount of ammunition expended so far as that particular gun was concerned on any one day. That is my information. As to the further point that my right hon. Friend made, namely, that the Lewis gun could not fire consecutively the same number of rounds as the Madsen gun because of the heat engendered in its barrel, I think that point has come to his mind because he thinks that the Lewis gun fires without any interruption 1,080 rounds. It does not. The idea that any machine gun fires consecutively at any given moment, without any interruption, that number of rounds is not correct. There is no such interruption in the attack by the Germans as my right hon. Friend suggests. They do not know whether our machine guns are going to desist for three, twelve, or twenty minutes, or at what range. As a matter of fact they do not know where the machine guns are situated. They do not know where the shots come from, because there are machine guns all along the line. My right hon. Friend must be misinformed about this point.

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Is it not a fact that the barrel gets hot after firing 500 rounds? Does not that occur with nearly all these guns?

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I believe it would get pretty hot if you fired those 500 rounds consecutively without interruption, but I am told that it is not done. It takes a good long while for the barrel to get heated if the shots are fired intermittently. Another point raised by my right hon. Friend before I came in was—if I am wrong he will correct me—that there was no comparison between the guns in the mud test. I am quite willing to admit that the best gun so far as the mud test is concerned was the Madsen gun. But there is a story going about that when the Lewis gun was about to be tried an attempt was made to thrust a piece of rag into the gun to keep out the mud. I need hardly tell my hon. and gallant Friend, who knows the conditions under which that gun may at any time have to be fired, that it is the custom for the skilled firer of the Lewis gun to have in his pocket the moment the gun is going through mud or water a piece of canvas, which he thrusts in to preserve in a dry state the part which contains the gas necessary to fire the gun.

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I believe the gun becomes wet.

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The experts with the gun came from France, and when the gun was about to be thrown into the mud they instinctively took this piece of canvas out of their pockets and began to put it in. The Inspector-General of Training instantly told them not to do it, and they did not. When the gun came out, it could not fire nearly as well as the Madsen gun. My authorities tell me that had the men been allowed to insert the piece of canvas the difference in excellence would not have been nearly so great. It is quite clear that no General Officer Commanding would allow his troops to go into action with the Madsen gun as it stands, because of the flash, even with the absorber on it. I saw it with and without the absorber, and I can assure the House and my right hon. Friend that you could see the flash hundreds of yards away. What would be the result if that gun were fired in the daylight, let alone at night-time? The machine gun and the gun team would have been wiped out in a quarter of an hour. One secret of the success of the machine gun is that it is quick, accurate, and able to be concealed. I am quite convinced that it would be sheer murder upon our part to ask our soldiers at the present moment to go into action with this gun as it is. But we are not deterred from going a step further because of this fault. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, the Prime Minister has given instructions that the barrel of the gun should be lengthened, because experts tell us that in proportion as the barrel is lengthened so the liability to flash decreases. If, however, the barrel is to be lengthened for the sake of the balance of the gun you have also to lengthen the support beneath it, and it may be a considerable time before this addition or attempt at perfection has been carried through. I can assure the House, on behalf of the Government, that we will see what the result of this addition to the gun will mean. I can go a step further. I will say that the moment this gun has had its barrel lengthened and its proper support placed there, with any new addition made to it that will make it more perfect, it will nave a trial under real service conditions. I myself believe that a trial on a range, such as we had the other day, is not a complete or adequate trial for a gun of this sort. The only people who can judge the value of a gun are the man who has to fire it and the man who has to face it. I hope that the question of this gun will not be raised in discussion for some time, at any rate until such time as we have been able to fulfil our part of the contract. I have no reason at all—far from it—to complain of the speeches which have been delivered to-night. I have endeavoured as well as I could, not being an expert, to meet the points that have been raised. May I also express the hope that we may live to see the day when, if this is the best gun in the market, it shall be a British gun, used for British troops and by, British troops.