Military Gear & Army Surplus Gear Blog

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.


Reader Comments

  1. merci beaucoup(quantitรฉ),pour cette demonstration de manufacture anscienne et toujour actuel

  2. 05:16 You can see how these poor sods were slaughtered in WW1 (German, British, French, eveyone…) ๐Ÿ˜ข

  3. You didnt do it correctly … You didnt make a cup of Tea with the hot water, at the end. You heathen.
    The storys told about there guns in active service, are legendary !!!

  4. Cool that you got to fire a ww1 machine gun in the desert but why only one target. For a machine gun I would have shown off how many targets it could easily shoot down by collecting a shit ton of soda cans and bottles and lining them up in a row. Sad you only used one thou

  5. Good to see McMahon remembered; if I recall aright, he already had his eye on the Lewis as the main source of infantry firepower, according to Pridham's "Superiority of Fire". I was intrigued by the word "riflery"; McMahon, was, of course, head of the Hythe School of Musketry, as we Brits kept on calling it musketry long after muskets had gone the way of the Dodo.
    That backsight goes a fair way, but with the introduction of the Mk VIII and Mk VIIIZ boat-tails, the Vickers could, and did, shoot out to 4,500 yards. Other contributors here have mentioned indirect fire with the Vickers. A couple of years back I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the South Lancashires who had served in Korea, and he recalled the intricate calculations required to match the shape of the trajectory to the contours on the reverse slope of the Chinese-occupied hill you proposed to annoy. At night the enemy might suddenly find his carrying parties being skittled down on what was supposed to be the safe side of the hill. Having travelled so far, the bullets were subsonic, but that didn't help much in terms of giving warning, as didn't the habit of using all ball and no tracer.

  6. Does anyone else dabble in prospecting? I am always seeing something off in the background in these desert shots , that makes me want to check it for precious metals. There looks to be an old dried out stream bed with quartz scattered around….dirt looks pretty dark there too.

  7. Very enjoyable video. Brought back many memories. In 1958, I was 16 years old and a qualified sergeant Vickers instructor in my high school military cadet unit in Sydney, Australia. We would get to fire the Vickers at the annual camp. Still remember the order, "Two taps, left and right, fire when ready!". Our ammunition belts at the time were canvas rather than the chain linked style used here. I also remember in preparing the weapon for the range having to make the barrel seals watertight by packing it with asbestos fibre. Health and safety was not an issue barely a dozen years after the end of WWII.

  8. I realise this is an old video, but what was in their minds firing millions of cartridges away instead of dismantling them and re use the materials ?

  9. Fun Fact: They used to use asbestos blankets to pick the gun up to move if a position was about to be overrun.

  10. I joined the Australian Army Reserve in 1986, enlisting into the 25th Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment.
    We had a Vickers in our museum and would take it out on range days. It was always a bit of a reward to be allowed to fire the vickers and a big contrast to fire the GPMG M-60 and then the Vickers. It was kept in working condition until 1996 when the government orders that it be rendered innocuous after the Port Arthur massacre.
    I still remember that sound though.

  11. What amazes me is that the Vickers doesn't have any descendants using modern materials, like the MG42 or Browning M2 and M1919 do.

  12. Always educational. Came here because of a novel that described this in detail…as being, essentially, a gun with Infrastructure leading to Durability and Reliability.

  13. My Dad was in the MG Coy, 60th Rifles pre war. During training they went into a bunker to experience the effects of 2 Vickers in elevated distant fire on tiles, 'the beaten zone", apparently it was an awesome experience.

    They modified a Vickers, for a service competition, polished the lock, adjusted everything up, got 1,000 rpm out of it (and a rocket when the OC heard it firing).

    I srill have his sets of armourers drawings for these guns, in their blue issue box.

  14. so was this thing more mechanically durable and reliable than the browning 1917? it fired 5 million .303 rounds.

  15. i was WTF when he said that the navy have 2 machinegun
    i mean were the British have 2 ship back then?

  16. Excellent review. How does the water cooling system work to prevent the gun from overheating? Thanks for sharing!

  17. I enjoy the technical side of your vids, but in the end they are all used to kill humans. Show some film or pictures of the results from their use. Humanity is Fucked! Bring back the Aoemba!

  18. British troops where taught to fire this in 4 second burst slap the handle on the right giving an arch of fire.

  19. NICE ONE! Believe it or not, we still had Vickers guns in the SA Army in the 1970s! The guys said if you ran out of water in the desert, you could always drink jacket cooler water. Not sure I'd like to!

  20. Finnish loader, Czech ammo and a Russian belt? ๐Ÿ˜€
    From the side it sounds like a diesel-engine, just happily chugging along ๐Ÿ˜€

  21. As cool and informative as this video was, I had a momentary bit of sadness, thinking of the poor Landsers up against such unstoppable beasts.

  22. honestly i love shooting this gun reloading the steel belt not so fun. it is surprisingly accurate considering its age mine is setup for the 8mm unfortunately i was at a vintage HMG get together while i was setting up and my friend knocked it over and the water jacket got punctured sourcing out a new one was very easy and it was very inexpensive at only 150$ thanks for making this video.

  23. No doubt fantastic gun, but at the last it's urinating was more fantastic when emptying it water jacket ๐Ÿ˜‚

  24. My great grandfather was a British machine gunner at the Somme (he survived) … in one night his unit war dairy says they fired 140,000+ rounds

  25. In a documentary on World War One that I saw this past year told of another use of the Vickers machine gun: the British soldiers utilized the machine gun, with firing off many rounds, to heat up water so they could brew tea.

  26. The bronze Vickers on the Machine gun Corps memorial at Hyde Park are supposed to be real ones, encased in bronze. Apparently?

  27. Click 21:39.5 to watch a Machine Gun take a nice long piss after a hard day's work…. #EvenMGsGoToTheBathroomSometimesToo #PrivacyForMGsPissing #AllThatWaterHasToGoSomewhere

  28. am i the only one that can totally see the content creator being a british soldier in WW1/WW2? (du to his beard and so on :P)

  29. I would not want to be anywhere at the a business into that thing I just one beautiful piece of machinery and the work of art whoever disliked this video should not be allowed to watch any more of your videos

  30. 0:38 That background piano…

    HELLO! Chef Ian from Forgooootten weapons dot coommmmm with… Vickers Heavy Machinegun! That's right!

  31. 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.

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