In Action: Lewis Gun & Magazine Lee-Enfield
The photograph above shows a landing party of Royal Navy sailors from HMS Wheatland learning how to use natural cover while training to fight on land. Sadly, while its known the photograph was taken during the Second World War, it is undated. The original caption notes the men are training on Scapa Flow’s Northern Range, probably sometime in 1941, when Wheatland was stationed at Scapa Flow prior to assisting in the landing of Commandos in Norway.
HMS Wheatland was a Type 2 Hunt-class destroyer with a relatively small crew complement of just over 160. This meant that the vessel would have only had a small party of Royal Marines aboard. As such sailors would have had to make up the bulk of any landing party put ashore. This made it imperative that sailors had some basic ‘infantry’ training.
HMS Wheatland (source)
The photograph was taken at Scapa Flow’s Northern Range where sailors would train with rifles, automatic weapons and anti-aircraft guns to gain familiarity. What is most interesting about the photograph is what the men are training with. The rifles appear to be older Magazine Lee-Enfields, these rifles had been replaced by the Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield (SMLE) MkIII before the beginning of the First World War. The MLE had officially been made obsolete in 1926, but the need to equip troops during World War Two saw them re-issue to free up rifles for front-line units.
Similarly, the naval section appears to have one, perhaps two, Lewis Guns without barrel shrouds. These could be MkI Lewis Guns with their shrouds removed or aerial Lewis Guns outfitted for land use, a common stopgap measure reusing many of the obsolete Lewis Guns still in store. There was a great deal of variation within the modifications done to enable ground use of the Aerial Lewis Guns. The one in the foreground of the featured photograph appears to have a standard wooden stock and an added fore-grip with no flash hider. The gunner doesn’t appear to have any webbing or a bag to carry additional drums. The Royal Navy continued to use Lewis Guns of various Mks throughout the war.
My thanks to Rob of BritishMuzzleLoaders for confirming my suspicion that the rifles are MLEs.