Vickers machine gun: Wikis


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Vickers Medium Machine Gun
Vickers IWW.jpg
A typical Vickers machine gun crew in action
Type Medium machine gun
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1912–1968
Used by See Users
Wars World War I, World War II, Indo-Pakistan War of 1947, 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Korean War, Chinese Civil War
Production history
Designed 1912
Manufacturer Vickers
Produced 1912–1968
Weight 15 kg (33.07 lb) to 23 kg (50.71 lb) all-up
Length 1,100 mm (43.31 in.)
Barrel length 720 mm (28.35 in.)

Cartridge .303 British
Action recoil with gas boost
Rate of fire 450 to 600 round/min
Effective range 810 yd (740 m)
Maximum range 4,500 yd (4,100 m) indirect fire
Feed system 250-round canvas belt

The Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 inch (7.7 mm) machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six- to eight-man team to operate: one to fire, one to feed the ammunition, and the rest to help carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It served from before the First World War until after the end of the Second World War.

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. They fired a million rounds between them, using 100 new barrels, without a single breakdown. "It was this absolute foolproof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one."[1]



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 taking out all unnecessary parts, and adding a muzzle booster.

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.


Use in aircraft

The Vickers gun became a standard weapon on British and French military aircraft, especially after 1916. Although heavier than the Lewis, and using a belt feed which proved problematic in the air, its closed bolt firing cycle made it much easier to synchronize it to allow it to fire through aircraft propellers. The famous Sopwith Camel and the SPAD XIII types used twin synchronised Vickers, as did most British and French fighters between 1918 and the mid 1930s. In the air, the heavy water cooling system was redundant, but because the weapon relied on barrel recoil, the (empty) water-holding barrel jacket or casing needed to be retained. Slots were cut into the barrel jacket to aid air cooling.

As the machine gun armament of fighter aircraft moved from the fuselage to the wings in the years before the Second World War, the Vickers, with its fabric belts was generally replaced by the faster-firing Browning Model 1919 using metal-linked cartridges. Several British bombers and attack aircraft of the Second World War mounted the Vickers K machine gun or VGO, a completely different design.


The larger calibre (half-inch) version of the Vickers was used for armoured fighting vehicles and naval use.

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.[2] 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 (1,300 m). 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 LRDG in the North Africa Campaign[3]

Foreign service

The Vickers was widely sold commercially and saw service with many nations and their own particular ammunition. It was also modified for each company and served as a base for many other weapons. For example:

The Vickers MG remains in service with the Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese armed forces, albeit as a reserve weapon, intended for emergency use in the event of a major conflict.


The weight of the gun itself varied based on the gear attached, but was generally 25-30 lb (11-13 kg), with a 40-50 lb (18-23 kg) tripod. The ammunition boxes for the 250-round ammunition belts weighed 22 lb (10 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 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.

Rimmed, centrefire Mk 7 .303 inch (7.7 mm) cartridge from World War II.

In British service, the Vickers gun fired the standard .303 inch (7.7  mm) 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 (12.7 mm) calibre version used as an anti-aircraft weapon and various other calibres produced for foreign buyers. Some British tanks of the early Second World War were equipped with the 0.5 in (12.7 mm) Vickers.

The gun was 3 ft 8 in (1.1 m) 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. Firing the Mark 8 cartridge, which had a streamlined bullet, it could be used against targets at a range of approximately 4,500 yd (4.1 km).


The gun and its tripod were carried separately and were both heavy. The original design did not anticipate its being carried up jungle-covered mountains on men's backs, but such was the weapon's popularity that men were generally content to man-pack it to all manner of difficult locations. The tripod would be set up to make a firm base, often dug into the ground a little and perhaps with the feet weighted down with sandbags. The water jacket would be filled with water around the barrel. The firing of the gun would make the barrel heat up, and conducted heat would then boil the water in the jacket, and steam would be carried away down a rubber pipe, to condense in a metal can. The condensed water could then be poured back into the jacket to top it up, but another function of the condenser tin was to hide the emissions of steam, that might give away the gun's position. This cooling system, though heavy, was very effective, and enabled the gun to keep firing far longer than air-cooled rival weapons.

The loader sat to the gunner's right, and fed in belts of cloth, into which had been placed the rounds. The weapon would draw in the belt, push each round out of the belt and into the breech, fire it, and then drop the brass cartridge out of the bottom, to gather in a pile of spent brass underneath the weapon, while the cloth belt would continue through to the left side and wind up on the ground.

Clinometer for Vickers .303 machine gun

The Vickers was used for indirect fire against enemy positions at ranges up to 4,500 yards. This plunging fire was used to great effect against road junctions, trench systems, forming up points, and other locations that might be observed by a forward observer, or zeroed in at one time for future attacks, or guessed at by men using maps and experience. Sometimes a location might be zeroed in during the day, and then attacked at night, much to the surprise and confusion of the enemy. New Zealand units were especially fond of this use. A white disc would be set up on a pole near the MMG, and the gunner would aim at a mark on it, knowing that this corresponded to aiming at the distant target. There was a special back-sight with a tall extension on it for this purpose. The only similar weapon of the time to use indirect fire was the German MG 08, which had a separate attachment sight with range calculator.

A British World War Two Vickers MMG platoon typically had one officer in command of four guns, in two sections of two, each with a crew and a small team of riflemen whose job was to protect the gun, and keep it supplied with ammunition.


Gallery of images

See also


  1. ^ Hogg, Ian V.; Batchelor, John (1976). Weapons & War Machines. London: Phoebus. pp. 62. ISBN 0-7026-0008-3. 
    "The Vickers gun accompanied the BEF to France in 1914, and in the years that followed, proved itself to be the most reliable weapon on the battlefield, some of its feats of endurance entering military mythology. Perhaps the most incredible was the action by the 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps at High Wood on 24 August 1916. This company had ten Vickers guns, and it was ordered to give sustained covering fire for 12 hours onto a selected area 2,000 yards away in order to prevent German troops forming up there for a counter-attack while a British attack was in progress. Two whole companies of infantrymen were allocated as carriers of ammunition, rations and water for the machine-gunners. Two men worked a belt-filling machine non-stop for 12 hours keeping up a supply of 250-round belts. One hundred new barrels were used up, and every drop of water in the neighbourhood, including the men’s drinking water and contents of the latrine buckets, went up in steam to keep the guns cool. And in that 12-hour period the ten guns fired a million rounds between them. One team fired 120,000 from one gun to win a five-franc prize offered to the highest-scoring gun. And at the end of that 12 hours, every gun was working perfectly and not one gun had broken down during the whole period. It was this absolute foolproof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one. It never broke down; it just kept on firing and came back for more. And that was why the Mark 1 Vickers gun was to remain the standard medium machine-gun from 1912 to 1968."
  2. ^
  3. ^

Further reading

  • Anon, Vickers, Sons and Maxim Limited: Their Works and Manufactures. (Reprinted from 'Engineering') London (1898).
Plates showing the mechanism of the forerunner of the Vickers gun, the Vickers Maxim gun as well as numerous plates of the factories in which they and other arms were made.

External links


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