Vickers Heavy Machine Gun

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.

100 thoughts to “Vickers Heavy Machine Gun”

  1. Great video, most of WW2 used as long range suppression, like a mortar. So a lot of film of that era will show high elevation to lob rounds into target area. Hence it being replaced by mortars.

  2. 10:31 Vickers was actually threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the high price, forcing them to drop the price considerably.

  3. the amount youd have to stick your head up to use the top of that sight considering how keeping ones head down was important for ww1 survival means id rather spray most of the time

  4. A hole in the belt "ups" hahaha that would've killed you in an actual war man hahaha 😂 😂 😂

  5. I had a conversation with Ian in 2018 and he said that he had owned a Vickers but had sold it.  He stated it was a really great gun so I had to ask 'why did you sell it?'  Ian said he seldom shot it because of all the work involved.  Loading the material in the car, the drive, unloading, set up, shooting, and then prior steps in reverse.

  6. Brilliant fascinating video and very informative, but just think of the poor souls on the receiving end of those Vickers gun.

  7. Ian, we have all heard the story that the Germans encountered such heavy rifle fire at the Battle of Mons that they believed they were being engaged by machine guns. However, as far as I'm aware, there is no evidence, at all, in the form of unit records to back this up. And of course, if you think about it, rifle fire, no matter how heavy, doesn't sound anything like machine gun fire, which is somewhat rhythmic in nature. The rapid British rifle fire story, as appealing as it, was in all probability just propaganda. Another ripping yarn from the front about how British forces were once again giving the Hun a bloody-nose. A lot of people seem to get angry about this but at the end of the day, the truth is the truth.

  8. Worth noting the action by 100th company if the MGC at High Wood in 1916. 10 Vickers guns, 100 barrels, 1,000,000 rounds in an indirect bombardment lasting 12 hours to prevent a German counter attack.
    The Vickers delivered firing range performance in the field.

  9. I once watched a documentary film where a Vickers MG was used to chop down a tree by literally sawing through it with streams of bullets. I forget how many rounds they needed to fire to saw down that tree, but it was a pretty darned awesome exercise to witness.

  10. I heard in the Somme. 12 of these guns fired quater of a million bullets with no recorded failures or malfunctions.

  11. I didn’t know the vickers stayed in service that long. That’s one of the things I always loved about the 50 cal cause it went into service in the early 19 hundreds and is still in service and kicking ass to this day

  12. Australian parts kit……. glad it made its way to the USA so our disgusting politicians couldn’t melt it down.

  13. Weapon of war that caused the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of men. And light hearted jazz. Yeah, uh Ian, your taste in music needs serious reconsideration dude.

  14. I don’t care how many times u say it’s cool or how many cool attributes u describe, I think that gun is just absolutely, totally & completely HOT!… even pretty darn warm, if I dare say so…& I do!

  15. Actually a few were still in use much later than '64 at least in Australia. They were they only gun that was trusted to fire live rounds over the heads of troops in assault course training (the barbed wire crawl) right up until that practice stopped with the end of the Vietnam war.

  16. 75,000 Vickers at a cost of $10,000 would be $750,000,000 (all in today's dollars of course). Holy smokin' Toledo, that is a lot of cash for your machine guns!

  17. Well made gun but very heavy cumbersome, hard to mover around and a slow rate if fire. The British were so out classed by the German machine guns.

  18. The 3 inch mortar thing is a myth I feel, the GPMG was put into SF role on a tripod for long range indirect fire the same as the Vickers was used, and probably better as the FN MAG has a higher rate of fire and quick change barrels. Mortars would be used in addition to the SF role MG in an infantry battalion, not in place of.

  19. G'day from Australia. My Uncle was an Australian machine gunner. He explained to me the overlapping fields of fire and cones of fire of this gun. It was an area denial weapon. The gunner never saw where his bullets fell. They always worked in groups of guns to cover an area.

  20. Ian: Turn your volume down now..
    Me: No.
    Also me: awwwnnn the beautiful sound of a Vickers making my ears bleed

  21. After it kills you it pisses on the grave. Nice.
    Looks like an amazing weapon and I have never seen how belts were loaded until today. I went back and watched that several times. I'm surprised it wasn't nicknamed the knucklebuster. That handle MOVES and it's way close to the hand.

  22. My Great Uncle invented the valve that reduced the overheating. He was posted to Russia to teach “musketry” to the Tsarist army, skills they later used to murder the Tsar! He got a gold cigarette box from the Tsar but sadly it was probably sold in the 1920s

  23. Ian's videos are so addictive, never seen one that wasn't a pleasure to watch. About GB only using .303, I feel sure I recall there being a 0.5 version, used by the Royal Navy for anti-aircraft and on Motor Launches/Motor Torpedo Boats? Stacked in vertical groups of four barrels on large vessels and single or twin on the small craft? Don't know much about them, I wouldn't be surprisedif they used Browning M2 ammo? By the way, the slo-mo filming really shows that the usual helper holding the belt towards the gun was needed! Thanks again Ian (the Puckle was a real surprise…)

  24. I heard that the expression, “the whole nine yards” came from British Vickers gunners during WW1 as they unloaded a 9 yard long canvas belt of ammunition on the enemy. Not sure about the veracity of such a claim but having never been within a country mile of a machine gun I’m guessing an ammunition can would hold a belt 27 feet long, no?

  25. I didn't realize that the Swiss had terrorists……
    Are you sure it wasn't a Gerunta or maybe a goat cheese….😋❓

  26. (Turn sound down now) looks at sleeping cat on floor, slowly turns speakers and subwoofer up to max. 😉 Cat is now not a fan of Vickers.

  27. I was hoping that you would have explained how the water was drawn up into the water jacket from the can.
    Fun video, very nice 👍

  28. Burt Gummers survival school…. he just got 1000% cooler than he already was with was 500000% awesomeness

  29. Is that bolt mashing his knuckle @07:00 every few seconds?

    Ah, the crank handle rather. Ian explains all. What a great episode, the history and delivery is so satisfying.

  30. Obsolete or not, there was strong attachment to the Vickers. Many felt, why get rid of something so good? As if to prove a point (and also to use up the Mk VII ammunition still in the inventory, which was no longer approved for Service use), the most exhaustive trial probably ever fired from a Vickers took place in 1963 at Strensall Barracks in Yorkshire, England. Five million rounds were fired from a single Vickers which was kept in constant use for seven days and seven nights.

    British Army Sergeant T.R. Ashley was one of nine armourers involved. At the time he was in an 18-day Vickers course at Strensall Barracks. As related by Sgt Ashley to Warren Wheatfield of Sudbury, Ontario.

    .. First day, gauging limits and setting the gun up. (We spent two days hand filing feathers [the square projection] on cross pins to close tolerances so guns and tripods could be assembled without play!) at the end of the day, the instructor told us to draw out one of the guns that we had been working on, [and] one of the lads pulled a gun out of the rack. We were told that this gun was to be fired for the remainder of the course, day and night.

    The gun, stores spares, etc, were put onto an Austin Champ and driven onto the range. We mounted the gun onto a tripod in a gun pit. A 4-ton Bedford had been unloaded with ammo. There were stacks of ammo, after cans and barrels. (We had to pack all the rear groove with asbestos oiled string!) The 2 man crew was relieved every thirty minutes. A third body shovelled empty cases from under the gun with a malt shovel and threw the empty belts clear of the pit. We never heard the gun not firing in anything but the shortest time while the barrel was replaced (every hour). The gun fired 250-round belts without stopping: not in 20, 50 or whatever bursts, but straight through: we could hear it rattling away from the lecture room/workshop, and went to see it between work.

    At the end the gunpit was surrounded by mountains of boxes, belts, cases, debris; a large cleft had appeared in the stop butts where the bullets had destroyed the butts. We took the gun off it's tripod and back to the workshop. We inspected and gauged. No measurable difference anywhere. It had eaten barrels, they were changed every hour to 1½ hours, but mechanically [the gun] was unchanged. It had consumed just under five million rounds of .303", non-stop (my notes were for Mk VII, not Mk VIIIz, so I presume zones etc were for Mk VII).

    That episode was to show nine armourers the ability of the hallowed Vickers. Only after an excellent course result did my Staff Sergeant boss let me work on our battalion guns, which had smooth waterjackets..

    Quoted verbatim from the first edition of "The Grand Old Lady of No Man's Land" by Dolph L. Goldsmith (Part III, Chapter Seven, pp 188)

  31. the limitation on the 5 million rounds was 'how many barrels can we supply'? why is this not still a legitimate area denial weapon?

  32. In the British Army these days kit like this is described as 'man-portable'; when you hear that description you know it's going to bloomin' heavy. I have had the privilege to fire this weapon (not withstanding my age) and it was a pleasure; thud, thud, thud!

  33. As a National Service in the early 1950’s I served in an Infantry battalion which within Support Company had 6 Vickers Medium machine guns. These were carried together with its crew in the tracked Oxford Carrier a larger version of the Universal Carrier, used mounted or dismounted. As I recall their preferred use was at long range making use of the length and width of the Beaten Zone to give covering fire, suppressing fire and areas where counter attacks could be mounted. They were for sure much respected! The Support Company at the time as I recall also had 6 x 17 pdr anti tank guns, 6 x 3 inch Mortars and 6 x Wasp flame throwers.

  34. It's really cool listening to that tat tat tat tat tat tat tat.
    However if you actually think about it that's an old gun and probably mowed down a lot of people.

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