Vickers Heavy Machine Gun

Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another video on ForgottenWeapons.com I’m Ian, and today we’re taking a look at the Vickers heavy machine gun This is really the Queen of the infantry battlefield, or at least it was while it was in service, which was almost 60 years Now the Vickers here is really the final highest evolution of the Maxim machine gun The Maxim of course was the first practical and successful heavy machine gun (Finnish Maxim belt loader) (Czech 7.62x54R light ball) (Soviet steel Maxim belt) Now when I call this a heavy machine gun, that’s a designation that dates back to World War One, when it was considered heavy because it wasn’t really portable One guy can’t just pick this up and run around with it like they could a light machine gun What defined a heavy was typically a tripod mounted, belt-fed machine gun In World War Two, with the common introduction of 50 calibre machine guns, .50s became the heavies Guns like this were called medium machine guns, and that’s indicated by the fact that they’re not really portable, but they’re also in a .30 or .32 calibre So typically .303, .30-06, 8mm Those calibres, belt-fed, water-cooled gives you in World War Two a medium machine gun Today these are pretty much obsolete, nobody uses water-cooled guns any more In fact what’s interesting is when the Vickers was taken out of British military service, it was actually replaced in its tactical role by the three-inch mortar, because at that point that’s what they were using this weapon for was interdiction, long range area denial, that sort of thing And it was actually effectively replaced by a medium or large mortar, pretty cool At any rate a little bit of background This is called a Vickers gun, but it’s mechanically very similar to the Maxim gun. The reason for that is Well, let’s start with the Vickers company. Vickers basically came into being in the 1820s, and it was a steel … working company. They got into shipbuilding and just the steel industry in general in England And by the 1880s, separately, Hiram Maxim is inventing the Maxim machine gun, and he knew the father and the two sons who were Vickers and Sons And they collaborated a bit, and when Maxim formed the Maxim Gun Company the three Vickers men were actually all initial shareholders in his company In fact, one of them was Chairman of the Board, I believe So, they were closely related, and so it’s not really that surprising that in 1897 the Vickers company is looking to expand more into armaments (it’s becoming this huge industrial conglomerate in Britain), wanted to get more into the armaments business, and it decided to buy up the Maxim company So this was really cool for Hiram Maxim because the company became called Vickers Sons and Maxim Which is kind of like, you know, if I got bought out by GM, it became like General Motors and McCollum Industries That’s really cool for me because, holy cow, they’re putting my name on a huge company like that That’s kind of what it was like for Maxim at the time, Vickers was this huge overarching company, really cool to be that associated. And for the Vickers company it was kind of the same thing, the Maxim gun was the revolutionary new military weapon, and for them to have Maxim in their company title really told everyone, “Hey, we’re a serious armaments company, we mean business, we have the Maxim gun” A couple other interesting things. When Vickers bought out the Maxim company, one of the board members at that point of Maxim was a guy named Sigmund Loewe If you look at it as an American would pronounce it ‘Low’ He was the brother of Ludwig Loewe who formed basically DWM

You know, a lot of the movers and shakers in the arms industry were closely associated with the Maxim gun (Turn your volume down now…) So to get back on track, Vickers buys the Maxim in 1897 Hiram Maxim basically retires from gun design work in 1901. He’s pretty much deaf, he’s not that interested. Honestly, he’s gotten kind of bored with guns, because he did that really well, and he went on to dabble in aircraft and play with that instead So the Vickers company on its own introduced a number of follow up patents, improvements, mainly lightening the Maxim gun So they had a 1901 model, they had the 1906 model, and then in 1907 they started working on what would become the Vickers Mark 1 And what they did here, the main difference between the Vickers and the Maxim is they flipped it upside down So on the Maxim gun there’s a toggle lock in here, and it breaks downward when the action cycles This is a recoil operated gun, the barrel and the action arms come backward, and then this toggle lock is broken downward, kind of like a Luger, except down What they did with the Vickers they flipped that over, so the toggle breaks upward And by doing that they were able to reduce the height of this receiver by about 30% It became a much more compact gun, they made some changes to the lockwork, made it a little more reliable Ultimately … the pre-production Mark 1 Vickers gun was only 28 pounds, so literally half of the original 56 pound Maxims. Now, once they got into serious mass production, they had to make some changes for production efficiency and a production-line Vickers weighs about 33 pounds But still, this is way better than close to 60 So that’s the primary advantage of the Vickers gun, they took the Maxim, they made it lighter At this point, well, Maxim himself dies in 1916 The British Government had adopted a number of different iterations of Maxim, and they tested this new Vickers pattern And they ended up adopting this in 1912 What’s really cool is they basically didn’t change it until 1968, when it finally was declared completely obsolete and removed from all the British military roles. So, unlike most guns where we see a lot of iterative development, in this case all the iterative development took place on the Maxim gun Once they got to this point, the Vickers, this was pretty much perfect, and it just stayed the way it was That’s great news for those of us who shoot them today, because it means all the parts are pretty much the same. They made them in World War One, they made them in World War Two, there are lots of parts out there. Nearly a 100,000 of these guns were made just in the UK, so makes it a good gun for shooters today. Now, originally, this would have been in .303 British calibre, that’s the only calibre the British used in the Vickers (they experimented actually with .280, but didn’t end up building any). I currently have this gun set up in 7.62×54 rimmed, which is a pretty easy conversion. I also actually have an 8mm Mauser conversion kit for this gun, but we don’t have it in there at the moment 54 rimmed … it’s cheap, easy to use ammunition Interestingly, we actually have a .303 barrel that has just been chamber reamed out for 54 rimmed, so it gets this double shoulder on the cases when they’re fired, but it’s steel-cased, steel cased brass? It’s steel cased ammunition I’m not going to be reloading it anyway, I don’t care if I deform the cases So a little bit of interesting background on the Vickers gun When the British went into World War One in August of 1914, they had 1,846 Maxim guns of a couple different versions that they had purchased and adopted over the previous 20-some years And they had a grand total of 111 Vickers guns, 109 in the Army and 2 in the Navy Now, by the time World War One really got going, of course you needed a lot more machine guns to equip a vastly enlarged army, and you’re going to be losing these guns in the field By the mid-point of World War One the British estimated they were losing 530 Vickers guns every single month Production had to be 530 of these each month just to maintain the same level in the army, without trying to increase the … number of divisions that you had, or increase the number of guns going to each division In total they would make just over 75,000 of these guns during World War One alone Really an Incredible number. And to really put a point on that, at the time one of these guns

without the tripod, without ammo, without accessories, just the gun itself cost the British government the equivalent today of approximately 10,000 dollars These are extremely expensive guns, they are extremely finely made, they’re finely fitted and they’re just unbelievably reliable and durable guns. And that’s why they stayed in British inventory for so long There’s an interesting anecdote from right at the end of the Vickers’ service life. Basically it was 1963, the guns were of very limited use at that point, they weren’t being used in the front-line army any more, and the ammunition – they were changing over to 7.62 NATO, so they had these huge stockpiles of .303 ammunition that they didn’t really need any more – do something with them And so one of the armourer training depots decided to take one of its Vickers guns, they gauged [it] out, they made sure everything was working just like a brand new gun, and then they put 5,000,000 rounds of ammunition through it in seven days without stopping the gun, except to change barrels. They would have two man teams that would switch out every half hour And the barrels on these, … the combat rating is about 15,000 rounds per barrel You have a water jacket that keeps the gun cool, but friction from the bullet and just wear and tear will wear out the barrels. So these two man crews of trainee armourers would swap out They had a guy, they’d shovel away brass with literal snow shovels And they put 5,000,000 rounds through this single gun in just … belt dumps, 250 round belt dumps, endlessly for seven days and nights And when they finished they pulled the gun apart, gauged it all out, and it was still entirely within working parameters. That’s the efficiency and the durability of the Vickers gun One other interesting anecdote here. Everyone’s heard of the mad minute from the British army and this incredibly rapid fire Enfield rifle thing, you’ll made the enemy think they were machine guns What’s interesting is it’s the Vickers gun that inspired that to actually happen So a British major named R.H. McMahon recognised the importance of machine guns, and he … saw that World War One was coming, that war was coming. This was about 1907, and he was in charge of training for the British military, and he knew they needed machine guns But he also knew they weren’t going to get them, bureaucratic inertia prevented most of Europe from actually trying to exploit the machine gun before World War One He looked at this and he knew: war is coming, our role in it as the British is going to be largely defensive at first, we’re going to want machine guns, the next best thing is to have extremely well-trained riflemen And it’s then, and for that reason, that he devised the mad minute, which was a training standard for the British military. And it was originally 15 aimed shots in 60 seconds And if I remember correctly, it was I believe a 36 inch bull (round target) at 300 yards So, this isn’t insurmountable Usually when you hear mad minute, it’s like 38 rounds or something, you know, the most any one British soldier was ever able to do But what you’re actually expected – the British standard of training was 15 rounds in a minute with your Lee-Enfield And lo and behold, that that rifle skill really did save the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of World War One. It wasn’t enough, it allowed them to survive the beginning of the war Although most of those expert riflemen would be casualties long before the end of the war But inspired by the Vickers gun So throughout World War One the British learned how to use these machine guns really well They started out just as, you know, you pull the triggers and a lot of bullets go downrange But by the end of World War One they had figured out a lot of ways to use this as a very versatile and effective weapon. One of those methods is called the tap. Now the idea was you would have often pairs of guns trying to control a piece of territory 500, 600, 700 metres away and what you wanted to do was just maintain a general spread of fire on this territory so that enemy troops couldn’t move on it or advance across it And what they developed as a technique for doing this was the tap. The idea would be you’d fire a burst of about 25 ro unds, that’s 3 to 4 seconds, and then you would gently whack one of the grip handles like this So you’d have the tension set to a kind of a standard known value on the pintle here, and with … a lot of practice and a calibrated tap, you would adjust the angle of fire about a quarter of a degree, … which is 15 minutes of angle. That gives you, at the ranges we’re talking about, a couple feet of change of impact area. And that allowed the gunners to maintain this very easy, steady, controlled, dissipated fire on a large area. So if you had an area 50 yards wide, you could have two guns. One would start at the left and one would start at the right, and they would just tap their way back and forth across this piece of ground to maintain a steady fire on it. Let’s take a look at that:

and so on. You have a couple guys running ammo for you, and you can do that for a long time, and nobody is going to want to be down there moving around outside of cover So, of course, this was the standard British heavy machine gun in World War One. Like I said, about 75,000 of them were made during World War One, with production of course picking up as the war went on It continued in British service, and it was the British standard [medium] machine gun in World War Two Although not nearly as many of them were used there, World War Two had a lot more fire and movement, they were mounting these things on vehicles more often, they didn’t go through them as quickly And … the British only made about 10,000 or 11,000 of these during World War Two Now the Australians also made about 10,000 of their own. This one is in fact an Australian parts kit Smooth jacket here, the early British guns have a fluted jacket which allowed them to be a little bit lighter, but more expensive This one is … an Australian parts kit, it’s actually built on a Colt produced aircraft Vickers side plate So, during World War One these things were also heavily used as aircraft armament, and the Colt company in the United States manufactured them as well as Vickers in England And it’s interesting, a weird quirk of the US machine gun registry, a lot of Colt side plates got registered And so there’s not a whole lot you can do with an aircraft gun. It’s got a ventilated, air-cooled shroud, and it’s chambered for an 11mm aircraft round that’s really not available anymore So most of them get rebuilt, like this one, into a World War One or a World War Two ground gun pattern The original crew for this would have been four to six men Typically you have a gunner and an assistant gunner, and the assistant gunner’s job is kind of to take over as gunner when the gunner gets killed But the assistant gunner also does the loading and then the remainder of the team is pretty much there to transport ammunition If you have a fire mission that you’ve been tasked with, you need guys shuttling ammunition from the depots or, you know, the storage areas in the trenches up to the gun itself, you have a couple crewmen to do that And then you have a guy who helps the gunner load, change barrels. If it’s extended fire you will need to pull the barrel and change it, not because they overheat, but because they actually literally wear out after about 15,000 rounds And despite that it can of course be fired by one person doing all of the jobs, and that’s what we’re doing today So the Vickers gun has a set of spade grips It has a grip safety here and it has the central trigger If I push the trigger without lifting the grip safety, nothing happens Now most people are going to grab the gun like this, use your index fingers on the grip safety and your thumbs on the trigger The official method however, what was taught to all the Vickers gunners, was to put your index finger over the top of the grip, use your middle fingers there, and you fire with a grip position like this Now, to be perfectly honest, I always prefer to put my fingers underneath because up here, every once in a while, I get knocked on the knuckle by the crank handle But official method, up here So the sights on the Vickers gun have this big battle sight right here, which is for 400 yards That’s your main aperture. However for precision fire you’ve got this incredibly tall ladder Again, we have an aperture sight right here. It’s offset just slightly, and the front sight is offset to match it This allows me to loosen the sight and then I can adjust this elevation from a minimum of 100 yards (in this case), all the way up to 2,900. So if I were going to be shooting like that, I would elevate the gun quite a lot and I use the aperture sight just like it would normally be used at close range I hope you guys enjoyed this These are amazing weapons really The level of durability and what they can do. It’s a gun with infrastructure, and that’s not something that you really find any more The need for just literally continuous fire has kind of been obviated by advances in military technology and a lot more movement in combat, compared to the static trench lines of World War One So you don’t see guns with this kind of infrastructure on them any more And you know what, this thing, this gun, this one right here, is 98 years old as of the time of this filming And it is running like an absolute champ, we have not had a single malfunction with it yet, and I think we’re going to go ahead and close with a 250 round belt dump I got one target out there, a bad guy, and we’re going to see how well we can ventilate that target with an entire non-stop 250 round belt

Now I’m going to fire a couple of singles first to make sure I’m on target That looked pretty much there. Alright, here we go (had an empty space in the belt – oops) There you go guys, 250 rounds Hang the lock, and we’ll go take a look at the target Our terrorist buddy here, I’m not sure … the British ever used a Vickers on a guy like this But he has approximately 40 bullet holes in him, which is not bad considering I did not have the gun sandbagged down, so it was bouncing around quite a lot This guy got turned into terrorist Swiss cheese, and that’s what the Vickers does