Formation and development
Motor cycle despatch riders and armoured cars were used from the earliest days of the war, most notably by Commander Samson’s marauding cars that swept through Flanders in late 1914. Army Order 480, dated 12 November 1914 and sanctioned in February 1915, approved the addition to each Division of a unit known as a Motor Machine Gun Battery. They were designated to be units of the Royal Field Artillery and were collectively known as the Motor Machine Gun Service. Men were found from volunteers or by special enlistment of men known to be actively interested in motorcycles (such as cycle club members). The Coventry offices of the enthusiasts’ magazine “Motor Cycle” was listed as a recruiting office for the MMGS.
Once the fighting on the Western Front had settled down (by the end of 1914) the opportunities for motor machine gun units to operate as a mobile force were limited indeed. In many cases they had to operate as conventional machine-gun sections. They came into their own once again during the great advances of 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August. Elsewhere, and most particularly in Egypt, Palestine, East Africa and Mesopotamia, the mobility of the units was of great value and they saw considerable action in these theatres.
A MMG Squadron joined the Royal Naval Division on 17 March 1915 and served with it at Gallipoli in April and May 1915. By the opening of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915, there were 18 MMG Batteries with the British Expeditionary Force in France, of which two were Canadian. Five of them were engaged at Loos.
A battery included 18 cycle/sidecar combinations, carrying 6 Vickers machine guns with ammunition and spare equipment; 8 motorcycles without sidecars; 2 or 3 wagons or cars; and a sidecar combination for the officer commanding.
The creation of the MGC in October 1915 incorporated the Motor Machine Gun Service, which now became known as the Machine Gun Corps (Motors). At this time the MGC(M) had around 3000 men.
By May 1916, most of the batteries had been withdrawn from Divisional command and were under orders of the Corps (the organisational level, not the MGC. Confusing, eh?).
From late 1916, many men of the MGC(M) transferred to the Heavy Section, MGC (later to be known as the Tank Corps). In 1922, the Tank Corps absorbed the MGC(M) completely and the Motor Machine guns units disappeared from the British army’s order of battle.
Motor cycles, equipment and uniform
Earliest models used by the MMGS were Scotts, with Matchless, Premier, Zenith, Enfield and Clyno machines entering service after the Scotts were shown to be insufficiently robust for active service.. Men of the MMGS and MGC(M) wore an unusual uniform with leather gaiters in place of puttees, and with goggles, gauntlets and weatherproof garments for use while riding (but no crash helmet). Cap badges were similar to the MGC, but with MMG lettering. The shoulder title was a brass MGC with the letter M beneath. A khaki arm patch with the words Motor Machine Gun picked out in red was also worn on the tunic.
Motor Machine Gun units
|Motor Machine Gun Brigades|
|1||Formed in early November 1918, absorbing 1, 4, 6 and 11 MMG Batteries. Attached as Army Troops to Second Army.|
|Motor Machine Gun Batteries|
|1||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Absorbed into 1 MMG Brigade, 7 November 1918.|
|2||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Disbanded October 1916.|
|3||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Attached to 24th Division between 30 October and 23 November 1915. Moved to Italy October 1917. Transferred to 16th Indian Division in India, January 1918.|
|4||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Absorbed into 1 MMG Brigade, 7 November 1918.|
|5 (Coventry)||Landed at Le Havre 9 March 1915. Operated in the Lestrem area. Disbanded October 1915.|
|6||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Absorbed into 1 MMG Brigade, 7 November 1918.|
|7||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1915. Joined 3rd Cavalry Division 30 March 1916, became GHQ Troops 18 July 1917. Attached to 9th Division between 7 October and 8 November 1918.|
|8||Attached to 14th Division in England, moving with the Division to the Western Front, and left 5 November 1916. Joined 1st Cavalry Division 18 March 1916, became GHQ Troops 23 October 1917.|
|9||Attached to 12th Division in England, moving with the Division to the Western Front, and left 20 June 1915, to join II ANZAC Corps.|
|10 (Scotch Battery)||Attached to 9th Division between 3 April 1915 and 11 June 1916. Disbanded October 1916.|
|11||Attached to 11th Division in England, but did not embark with the Division for Gallipoli. Joined 15th Division and moved to the Western Front. Left to join I Corps on 22 July 1916. Joined 1st Division between 19 July and 17 October 1917, then moved to Italy. Returned to Western Front December 1917. Attached to 9th Division between 7 October and 8 November 1918. Absorbed into 1 MMG Brigade, 7 November 1918.|
|12||Attached to 17th Division in England on 10 July 1915, and moved to the Western Front. Left to join X Corps on 7 May 1916. Joined 1st Division between 19 July and 17 October 1917, then moved to Italy. Returned to Western Front December 1917.|
|13||Attached to 10th Division in England from 4 May 1915, but did not embark with the Division for Gallipoli. Joined 19th Division and moved to the Western Front. Left on 7 March 1916 to join 33rd Division; left on 9 May 1916 to join VIII Corps. Disbanded November 1916.|
|14||Attached to 20th Division in England, moving with the Division to the Western Front, and left 22 April 1916. Joined I ANZAC Corps. Attached to 1st Division between 19 July and 17 October 1917. By January 1918, was with 5th (Mhow) Division of Indian Army at Jubbulpore.|
|15||Attached to 18th Division in England, moving with the Division to the Western Front, and left 9 May 1916. Joined VII Corps. By January 1918, was with 1st (Peshawar) Division of Indian Army in India.|
|16||Attached to 37th Division in England, moving with the Division to the Western Front, and left 9 May 1916. Joined VII Corps. Disbanded October 1917.|
|17||Moved to Egypt in January 1917. Was equipped with 5 Studebaker armoured cars, moving into Palestine April 1917. Redesignated 15 Light Armoured Motor Battery in June 1917.|
|18||In France by February 1916, but transferred to IX Corps in Mediterranean theatre in March 1916. Returned to the Western Front by end of that year, but disbanded around September 1917.|
|19||Attached to 33rd Division from 9 November 1915, but moved independently to the Western Front. Joined 30th Division 10 February 1916, and moved to 18th Division 6 June 1916. By January 1918, was with 4th (Quetta) Division in India.|
|20||Became 13 Light Armoured Motor Battery in England in June 1916.|
|21||Moved to IX Corps in Mediterranean theatre in March 1916.|
|22||Formed April 1916 in India and attached to 4th (Rawalpindi) Brigade in 2nd (Rawalpindi) Division|
|23||Formed in India|
|24||Operating on the Western Front by Spring 1916. Disbanded November 1916.|
|25||Established in India, in May 1917. Moved to Egypt July 1917. Disbanded January 1918.|