This week’s photograph comes from between the wars and depicts a small group of Royal Marines under instruction on a beach:The men can easily be identified as marines by their cap badges:In front of them is a Lewis gun with a number of spare magazines:And an ammunition box tucked underneath the bench:They are clearly in the tropics as they are wearing KD shirts and shorts:In the background can be seen a group of sailors wearing tropical whites, milling about on the shore:A set of Lee Enfield rifles can be seen stacked up in a rifle ‘tepee’ on the sand:This all suggest the marines are part of a detachment on board a ship who have taken the opportunity to come ashore to get in a bit of weapons practice where they have more space. It was rare for a ship smaller than a cruiser to have a marine detachment so they have probably come off of a cruiser or a battleship. The islands look Mediterranean so it seems likely that they were part of one of the cruiser squadrons that made cruises of the islands in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Lewis gun was ideal for the Royal Marines at this period in history. They were often deployed in small groups ashore as landing parties; rifles were portable but had a limited rate of fire whilst the Vickers although offering high rates of fire was far too big and bulky to deploy quickly and easily from a boat. The Lewis was man portable but could lay down far higher rates of fire than a traditional rifle allowing a small party to have a disproportionate effect in a skirmish. It was also used as a close in anti-aircraft gun, with ten being the standard issue to capital ships in 1933. They were fixed to special mountings that allowed them to be fired into the air and traversed quickly to follow the biplanes of the era.