The Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army.
History and DesignEdit
The machine gun typically required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled synchronized versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft.
The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in Weapons & War Machines, describes an action that took place in August 1916, during which the British Army's 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 new barrels, they fired a million rounds without a single failure. "It was this absolute foolproof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one."
The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun of the late 19th century. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and substituting components made with high strength alloys. A muzzle booster was also added.
The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their Maxims. There were still great shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914. Vickers was, in fact, threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the exorbitant price it was demanding for each gun. As a result, the price was slashed. As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army's primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps (when heavier 0.5 in/12.7 mm calibre machine guns appeared, the tripod-mounted, rifle-calibre machine guns like the Vickers became medium machine guns). After the First World War, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was disbanded and the Vickers returned to infantry units. Before the Second World War, there were plans to replace the Vickers gun; one of the contenders was the 7.92 mm (.312 in) Besa machine gun (a Czech design), which eventually became the British Army's standard tank-mounted machine gun. However, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Its last operational use was in the Radfan during the Aden Emergency. Its successor in UK service is the L7 GPMG.
The weight of the gun itself varied based on the gear attached, but was generally 25 to 30 pounds (11 to 14 kg) with a 40-to-50-pound (18 to 23 kg) tripod. The ammunition boxes for the 250-round ammunition belts weighed 22 pounds (10.0 kg) each. In addition, it required about 7.5 imperial pints (4.3 l) of water in its evaporative cooling system to prevent overheating. The heat of the barrel boiled the water in the jacket surrounding it. The resulting steam was taken off by a flexible tube to a condenser container—this had the dual benefits of avoiding giving away the gun's location, and also enabling re-use of the water, which was very important in arid environments.
In British service, the Vickers gun fired the standard .303 inch cartridges used in the Lee Enfield rifle, which generally had to be hand-loaded into the cloth ammunition belts. There was also a 0.5 in calibre version used as an anti-aircraft weapon and various other calibres produced for foreign buyers.
The gun was 3 feet 8 inches (112 cm) long and its cyclic rate of fire was between 450 and 600 rounds per minute. In practice, it was expected that 10,000 rounds would be fired per hour, and that the barrel would be changed every hour—a two-minute job for a trained team. The Mark 8 cartridge, which had a boat tailed bullet, could be used against targets at a range of approximately 4,500 yards (4,100 m).
The larger calibre (half-inch) version of the Vickers was used on armoured fighting vehicles and naval vessels.
The Gun, Machine, Vickers, .5-inch, Mk. II was used in tanks, the earlier Mark I having been the development model. This entered service in 1933 and was obsolete in 1944. Firing either single shot or automatic it had a pistol type trigger grip rather than the spades of the 0.303 in (7.7 mm) cartridge.
The Gun, Machine, Vickers, .5-inch, Mk. III was used as an anti-aircraft gun on British ships. This variation was typically four guns mounted on a 360° rotating and (+80° to −10°) elevating housing. The belts were rolled into a spiral and placed in hoppers beside each gun. The heavy plain bullet weighed 1.3 oz (37 g) and was good for 1,500 yd (1,400 m) range. Maximum rate of fire for the Mark III was about 700 rpm from a 200-round belt carried in a drum. They were fitted from the 1920s onwards, but in practical terms, proved of little use. During the Second World War, the naval 0.5 in (12.7 mm) version was also mounted on power-operated turrets in smaller watercraft, such as Motor Gun Boats and Motor Torpedo Boats.
The Mark IV and V guns were improvements on the Mark II. Intended for British light tanks, some were used during the war on mounts on trucks by the Long Range Desert Group in the North Africa Campaign.
The Vickers was widely sold commercially and saw service with many nations and their own particular ammunition. It was also modified for each country and served as a base for many other weapons. For example:
- 6.5×52mm Mannlicher-Carcano
- 6.5×50mmSR Arisaka
- 6.5×53.5mm R Dutch
- 7×57mm Mauser
- 7.5×55mm Swiss
- 7.62×51mm NATO
- .30-06 Springfield
- 7.65×53mm Argentine
- 8mm Lebel
The Vickers MG remains in service with the Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese armed forces, as a reserve weapon, intended for emergency use in the event of a major conflict.
By the early 1900s, the U.S. military had a mixed collection of automatic machine guns in use that included M1895 "potato diggers", 287 M1904 Maxims, 670 M1909 Benét-Mercié guns, and 353 Lewis machine guns. In 1913, the U.S. began to search for a superior automatic weapon. One of the weapons considered was the British Vickers machine gun.