The tactical concept of the Beaten Zone was formalized by the Germans prior to World War I. It was the method of employment of the M-1908 Maxim Water Cooled Machine Gun. This concept has been utilized by intelligent armies ever since.
Every shotgun shooter knows what this concept is. A shotgun is designed to put 99% of the pellets into a 30 inch diameter, circular, pattern. The shotgun shooter then aims the gun such that the target is within the pattern. The odds are then very high that one or more individual pellets will hit the target, breaking it (clay birds) or bringing it down (live birds).
A beaten zone is nothing more, or less, than a pattern of small arms bullets, instead of shotgun pellets. In the M-1908 Maxim, the natural flex or movement of the gun means that the stream of bullets is not all going into the exact same place. At, say, 2,000 meters, the pattern on the ground from an 80, or 100, round burst (each “round” of small arms ammunition launches a single bullet, or projectile) is about the size of a two car garage. If a soldier is standing in the area of a garage floor (call it 20 by 24 feet) and 100 bullets are randomly distributed within that area, he is going to get hit.
In order to get this beaten zone, the machine gun must be equipped with a mount or tripod, a T&E (Traversing and Elevating Mechanism, which holds the gun rigid but can move the barrel left-and-right and up-and-down) and a crew, wherein the crew chief has a pair of binoculars. The chief spots the target and shouts the instructions to the crew.
The chief shouts additional instructions to the machine gun crew such that the gunner adjusts the T&E and the beaten zone falls where the chief wants it to. And when the beaten zone falls upon the enemy soldiers, that is where the Ballet comes from.
At those long ranges, the target soldier does not hear the muzzle blast. And the bullet is now sub-sonic so it does not make the super-sonic “crack”. The target soldier does not know he is being shot at, the bullet just silently goes through him. His brain is telling his body to go forward, but his body begins to fail. He gets into a herky-jerky motion, which a disco dancer would call “doing the funky chicken”.
The main factory for the M-1908 Maxim was in Spandau, Germany, so the gun was frequently called the Spandau. As the target soldiers in the beaten zone began the motions, and then fell to the earth and died, the gun chief would shout to the crew that they were “dancing the Spandau Ballet”. The crew would know that they had done their deadly duty.
Since then, every army worth a whoop has formed a crew around their fully automatic weapons (one reason they are called “crewserved”) and employed the Beaten Zone. The Germans used the Lafette tripod with their MG-34’s and MG-42’s in World War II, the Brits with a tripod under their Bren gun, the Czechs with a tripod under their ZB-28’s, and the Americans with the M-2 tripod (and pintle and T&E) under their M-1919 Browning machine guns.
Then the US Army adopted the M-60 machine gun in the 1960’s. The M-60 has a shoulder fired type stock. Even though there were adapters to put the M-60 on the M-2 tripod, the ICB’s (Idiot Civilian Bureaucrats) changed the doctrine. Doctrine now said that the maximum effective range of the M-60 was 1100 meters, the same as the tracer burn-out range (leave aside the truism that “tracers work both ways”). The ICB’s “saved” slots by eliminating the crew chief and expecting the gunner to adjust his own fires by watching the fall of his own tracers. And, of course, the ICB’s “saved” money by eliminating the binoculars. Impossible !! A gunner cannot spot his own tracers, because he is worried about his sights, his T&E, and the function of his weapon. Plus time of flight issues (well over a second at 1,000 meters) complicates the spotting job. And without the binoculars, how can anybody see it at 1,000 meters!!
Today, the situation is very dramatically worse, in the US Army. Soldiers with machine guns are intermixed with soldiers carrying rifles, and there are no crew chiefs and still no binoculars. And gone is the training in fire commands (what the crew chief shouts to his crew) and in adjustment of fires. The overloaded, and under trained, squad leader is left to shout things like “Light up the tree line”. What good is that fire command to a soldier who wants to place effective fires upon the enemy. Answer – it is not.
So, in the wide open spaces of Iraq and Afghanistan, US soldiers are running across open ground with zero overhead covering fire from machine guns (see the essay “Piet” and read Rommel’s book, Infantry Attacks). Now you understand my contempt for the ICB’s who have put the US Army in this pickle.
And the ICB’s have also destroyed the field artillery of the US Army (leave aside the issue of towed versus self-propelled, another essay). For reasons which I cannot say in the open, we emphasized the 155mm Howitzer and Gun during the Cold War. But, the 155 mm has a separate projectile and propellant charge. This is “unfixed” ammunition and limits the 155mm to a shot every 15 seconds, at best. And the ICB’s are trying to make the 155mm a point target weapon. They have created this fantastical system of satellites, and radio guidance, so a 155mm projectile can be radio guided (after it is first fired) so as to hit a pick up truck with a single shot. But field artillery was never intended to work that way, it should also use the Beaten Zone.
The 155mm fires a 96 pound projectile, while the 105mm fires a 33 pound projectile. But the 105mm has “fixed” ammunition (a cartridge case holds the projectile and propellant in one piece) and, consequently, can fire a shot every 4 seconds. So, in terms of pounds of explosives on the ground, the 105mm is superior.
Any battery of field artillery can keep all their rounds on a football field at ranges up to 20,000 to 30,000 meters. A battery of 105’s can put 90 high explosive shells into that football field, in one minute. No fuzzy wuzzy (Brit colonial term for the robe wearing, fanatical, muslim fighters of the late 1800’s) in the Beaten Zone will get off that football field alive.
That is the explanation of the Beaten Zone, an incredibly effective concept in employing both direct and indirect (field artillery) fires. A concept that we have utterly lost.