The Vickers machine gun is a water-cooled .303 British 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 fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, tripod, its ammunition, and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft. The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. In one action that took place in August 1916, during which the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure.
The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, inverting the mechanism as well as reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and using high strength alloys for certain components. 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was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps. 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, however, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Its last operational use was in the Aden Emergency.
The number of parts to this weapon, along with all the spare parts, tripod, special mounts, aiming gear…..the list goes on, means that there are plenty of opportunities to find parts of the weapon, if you know where to look. The British army dump permission of mine has yielded a great many Vickers MG parts over the years, some immediately identifiable, others needed a bit more digging, (pardon the pun!). It is also quite easy to overlook a small piece of rusty metal, thinking it is just rubbish, when in actual fact it is an integral part to the Vickers mechanism.
I have recovered and preserved numerous pieces from the weapon and tripod, as well as other ancillary items. When I display at military shows, I can devote a whole table just to the Vickers MG.
Many of the parts above were found in areas of the dump that hadn’t been burnt. However, the majority of the dump was burnt, over and over again, and the fuel for these fires, (set to try and render the stuff in the dump unusable), was invriably the equipment itself.
One prime example of this is the cloth belts from the Vickers MG. It is quite common to find a ‘seam’ of cloth belt metal parts, in among and area that has obviously been burnt. The cloth itself was used as the fuel, with the metal parts left behind to be recovered and preserved!
Other items burnt in these fires had wooden parts, again to act as the fuel. One example is shown below.
The last part of this mini series of blogs will cover lots of different weapons, including German ones, found in the UK!