Weapons of the British Army

Vickers Machine Gun

The Vickers Machine Gun was a major armament of the British Army from 1912 through to 1968. It was heavily modelled on the Maxim gun. The Mk1 was introduced on 26/11/1912, and was declared obsolete on 07/03/1968.

In a test a Vickers was fired continuously for over 7 days without failure. As a measure of the effectiveness and reliability of the weapon, during the British attack upon High Wood (Somme) on 24 August 1916 it is estimated that ten Vickers fired in excess of one million rounds over a twelve hour period.

The gun fired .303 rounds.  These were carried on a fabric belt, fed from the right hand side.  Each belt was made of canvas with brass separating strips, and held a total of 250 rounds.  The range was approximately 4500 yards (2.55 miles or 4.1km).

The gun was water-cooled, with the water being contained in a water jacket surrounding the barrel and connected to a condenser tank.

The gun was not really portable, weighing in at 30lbs (13.5kg) when empty and approximately 40lbs (18kg) with water.  The tripod mount weighed another 40-50lb (18 to 22.5kg) and each ammo box weighed 22lbs (10kg).  The gun was 3ft 7.5in (1.1m) long overall, with a barrel length of 28.4in (0.72m).

The rate of fire was 450 to 600 rounds per minute, using a gas-assisted recoil system.  With continuous firing the gun would boil the approx. 7 pints (3.3 litres) of water in the jacket after 600 to 1000 rounds, and the evaporation rate was 1.5 pints(0.7 litres) per 1000 rounds. In practice it was expected that the gun would fire around 10,000 rounds per hour and the barrel would be changed every hour (taking an experienced crew less than 2 minutes).

The Vickers Machine Gun I use as a part of my displays and re-enactments is a gas-powered replica, built and sold by "I Fire Blanks.Com"

The gun uses two compressed gas cylinders - a butane/propane gas mixture and oxygen. These provide many thousands of "shots" from each set.  The system is powered by a 12V sealed lead-acid battery.

 

There were usually six men in a Vickers gun team. Number One was leader and fired the gun, while Number Two controlled the entry of ammo belts into the feed-block. Number Three maintained a supply of ammo to Number Two, and Numbers Four to Six were reserves and carriers, but all the members of the team were fully trained in handling the gun.

In the trenches the Vickers were primarily used for defence, but it was also effectively used to assist an attack, by indirect or barrage fire, and to restrict and harass enemy movement behind their lines.

The gun was used throughout both World Wars.  In The First World War steps were taken to decrease the weight, including milling out areas where the metal was thicker than needed - even to the extent of making pins hollow.  This increased both the cost and the production time.  In 1917 it was decided that smooth barrel jackets would be quicker and cheaper to produce than the earlier fluted jackets, so from late 1917 some of the Vickers were produced with smooth jackets.