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Elephant-mounted machine-gun, 1914


An American corporal aims a Colt M1895 at a Sri Lankan elephant. Why the corporal over the elephant is a mystery but elephants were never a weapon platform adopted by the US military. I

This is probably a propaganda picture, not something the military would actually try to employ. The elephant did not respond well to the sound of the machine gun a few inches away from its ears.

The gun is John Moses Browning's M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun, nicknamed "Potato Digger". The M1895 was a belt-fed, air-cooled, gas-fired machine gun with a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute, developed by John Browning during the 1890s.

Since the weapon was air-cooled, it did not require a water cooling system, as a result, it was much lighter weighing just 17 kg (35 lb). The gas pressure generated by ignited cartridges can be carried through a small opening from the barrel into a cylinder.

This force can provide an "automatic" mechanical action that drives a lever-action type arm. The arm motion requires about eight inches of clearance under the weapon, lest the gun dig itself into the dirt.

It was this action that gave rise to the weapon's popular nickname "potato digger". The gun was moderately successful, but not excellent.

Elephants were used in warfare since ancient times, but with the advent of gunpowder in the 15th century, the benefits for war elephants on the battlefield began to change.

War elephants were usually positioned in the center of the line, where they could be useful for intercepting a charge or for conducting their own. Their enormous size and their formidable appearance gave them the importance of heavy cavalry.

Off the battlefield, they could carry heavy materials and provided a useful means of transportation before much of mechanized vehicles became obsolete.

In the 20th century, non-combat-trained elephants were used for other military purposes at the end of World War II, especially because the animals could function in areas that were problematic for modern vehicles.

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