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Vickers-Armstrongs Limited
Fate Assets split and majority nationalised
Successor Vickers plc
British Aircraft Corporation (est.1960)
British Shipbuilders
British Steel
Founded 1927
Defunct 1977
Headquarters Vickers House, Westminster, London
Parent Vickers Limited
Armstrong Whitworth
Subsidiaries Metropolitan-Vickers
Canadian Vickers
Whitehead & Company
John Brown & Company
Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval
Supermarine Aviation Works (est.1928)

Vickers-Armstrongs Limited was a British engineering conglomerate formed by the merger of the assets of Vickers Limited and Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Company in 1927. The majority of the company was nationalised in the 1960s and 1970s, with the remainder being divested as Vickers plc in 1977.

Contents

History

Vickers merged with the Tyneside based engineering company Armstrong Whitworth, founded by W. G. Armstrong, to become Vickers-Armstrongs, Ltd. Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers had developed along similar lines, expanding into various military sectors and produced a whole suite of military products. Armstrong Whitworth were notable for their artillery manufacture at Elswick and shipbuilding at a yard at High Walker on the River Tyne.

1929 saw the merger of the acquired railway business with those of Cammell Laird to form Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon (MCCW); Metro Cammell.

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Break-up

In 1960 the aircraft interests were merged with those of Bristol, English Electric and Hunting Aircraft to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). This was owned by Vickers, English Electric and Bristol (holding 40%, 40% and 20% respectively). BAC in turn owned 70% of Hunting. The Supermarine operation was closed in 1963 and the Vickers brand name for aircraft was dropped by BAC in 1965. Under the terms of the 1977 Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act BAC was nationalised to become part of British Aerospace (later BAE Systems).

The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act also led to the nationalisation of Vickers' shipbuilding division as part of British Shipbuilders. This division was privatised as Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in 1986, later passing to the GEC group as part of Marconi Marine and survives to this day as part of BAE Systems; BAE Systems Submarines.

Vickers Container and Packaging Machinery Division, including the Vickers Stitcher and Vickers Hardness Machine business, was bought by Fords Industrial Products, part of Barry Wehmiller in 1986. In 1991 the Vickers Hardness Machinery business was bought by the then field engineers, and continues today as UK Calibrations Limited based in Kidderminster. The Vickers Stitcher was still being manufactured in India as recently as 2005.

The steelmaking division became part of British Steel and the remaining interests were divested as the public company Vickers plc, whose various components were later split. The Vickers name ceased to exist in 2003 when Rolls-Royce renamed its acquisitions Vinters plc.

Businesses

Armaments

Vickers-Armstrongs inherited the Vickers machine gun of 1912 used in World War I from Vickers Limited. There were other Vickers machine guns aside from the regular water-cooled model (known universally as the "Vickers"): the Vickers-Berthier (VB) machine gun used by the Indian Army, the Vickers "K" 7.7 mm aircraft machine gun developed from it, and the Vickers "S" 40 mm aircraft gun.

Vickers produced larger weapons such as the Ordnance QF 2 pounder gun used on tanks. In 1948 Vickers bought the Australian business of Charles Ruwolt Ltd for 750,000 pounds following Ruwolt's death in 1946. During WW2 Ruwolt's firm produced armaments for the Australian Government, including field artillery such as mortars and howitzer cannon.[1]

Shipbuilding

After the 1927 merger, the company possessed a major yard on each coast of Britain; the Naval Construction Yard of Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and the Naval Yard of Armstrong Whitworth at High Walker on the River Tyne. Vickers-Armstrongs was one of the most important warship manufacturers in the world. These interests were renamed as Vickers-Armstrongs Shipbuilders in 1955, changing again to Vickers Limited Shipbuilding Group in 1968. The Barrow yard was nationalised and became part of British Shipbuilders in 1977, was privatised as VSEL in 1986 and remains in operation to this day as BAE Systems Submarines. Meanwhile the Naval Yard at High Walker on the River Tyne passed to Swan Hunter in 1968,[2] was nationalised and became part of British Shipbuilders in 1977, was privatised still as Swan Hunter in 1986 but closed down during the 1980s.[3]

Military vehicles

The company was also known for its tank designs, starting with the widely used Vickers 6-Ton. It also produced the influential, if never actually produced, Independent A1E1 tank. One of the company's most important designs was the Valentine Infantry Tank, produced in the thousands in World War II. The military vehicle manufacturing interests were divested into Vickers plc, and would later pass to Alvis Vickers, now part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments.

Notable Vickers-Armstrongs military vehicles include;

Aviation

Vickers formed their Aviation Department in 1911. The aircraft interests of Armstrong Whitworth were not acquired in the merger and later passed to the Hawker Aircraft group. In 1928 the Aviation Department became Vickers (Aviation) Ltd and soon after acquired Supermarine Aviation Works, which became the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd. In 1938, both companies were re-organised as Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd, although the former Supermarine and Vickers works continued to brand their products under their former names. In 1960 the aircraft interests were one of the founding companies merged to form BAC.

Military Aircraft

Vickers became renowned as a manufacturer of large aircraft. In the inter-war years the company produced the Wellesley using the geodesic airframe principle of structural engineer Barnes Wallis. This would later evolve into the famous Wellington bomber, a mainstay of RAF Bomber Command and RAF Coastal Command during World War II. The cold war-era Valiant V bomber was another Vickers product.

Among the Vickers-Armstrongs military aircraft are:

Vickers also competed for work with designs such as:

Missiles and other weapons

Civilian aircraft

Vickers was a pioneer in producing airliners, early examples being converted from Vimy bombers. Post-WWII, Vickers went on to manufacture the piston-engined Vickers VC.1 Viking airliner, the Viscount and Vanguard turboprop airliners and (as part of BAC) the VC10 jet airliner, which remains in RAF service as an aerial refuelling tanker.

Marine engines

Vickers-Armstrongs was one of the few British manufacturers of marine diesel engines, notably for Royal Navy S, T-class and Estonian Kalev class submarines during World War II.

In fiction

The role of Vickers-Armstrongs in the Chaco War is parodied as Viking Arms Co. Limited in Tintin's comic-book The Broken Ear.

References

  • Andrews, C F Vickers Aircraft since 1908Putnam. 1969
  • Scott, J.D. (1962), Vickers: A History, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London

External links


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