Vickers Heavy Machine Gun
I may be a bit biased here, but I believe that the Vickers gun is one of the best all-around firearms ever made. It was designed during an era of experimentation and craftsmanship, with a quality and care that would make it today prohibitively expensive. It was exemplary in action, and served in every environment on earth through six decades and in the hands of 50 different nations. It was an infantry gun, an aircraft gun, an armored vehicle gun, and a shipboard gun.
Captain Graham Hutchison recorded this account of the Vickers in action during an attack on High Wood in August 1916 (exerpted from “The Grand old Lady of No Man’s Land by Dolf Goldsmith):
“For this attack, [ten] guns were grouped in the Savoy Trench, from which a magnificent view was obtained of the German line at a range of about 2000 yards. These guns were disposed for barrage. On August 23rd and the night of the 23rd/24th the whole Company was, in addition to the two Companies of Infantry lent for the purpose, employed in carrying water and ammunition to this point. Many factors in barrage work which are now common knowledge had not then been learned or considered. It is amusing today to note that in the orders for the 100th Machine Gun Company’s barrage of 10 guns, Captain Hutchison ordered that rapid fire should be maintained continuously for twelve hours, to cover the attack and consolidation. It is to the credit of the gunners and the Vickers gun itself that this was done! During the attack on the 24th, 250 rounds short of one million were fired by ten guns; at least four petrol tins of water besides all the water bottles of the Company and urine tins form the neighborhood were emptied into the guns for cooling purposes; and a continuous party was employed carrying ammunition. Private Robertshaw and Artificer H. Bartlett between them maintained a belt-filling machine in action without stopping for a single moment, for twelve hours. At the end of this time many of the NCOs and gunners were found asleep from exhaustion at their posts. A prize of five francs to the members of each gun team was offered and was secured by the gun team of Sgt. P. Dean, DCM, with a record of just over 120,000 rounds.”
The attack on the 24th of August was a brilliant success, the operation being difficult and all objectives being taken within a short time. Prisoner examined at Divisional and Corps Headquarters reported that the effect of the Machine Gun barrage was annihilating, and the counterattacks which had attempted to retake the ground lost were broken up wjilst being concentrated east of the Flers Ridge and of High Wood.
In 1963 in Yorkshire, a class of British Army armorers put one Vickers gun through probably the most strenuous test ever given to an individual gun. The base had a stockpile of approximately 5 million rounds of Mk VII ammunition which was no longer approved for military use. They took a newly rebuilt Vickers gun, and proceeded to fire the entire stock of ammo through it over the course of seven days. They worked in pairs, switching off at 30 minute intervals, with a third man shoveling away spent brass. The gun was fired in 250-round solid bursts, and the worn out barrels were changed every hour and a half. At the end of the five million rounds, the gun was taken back into the shop for inspection. It was found to be within service spec in every dimension.
During its service life, the Vickers was made in .303 British, .30-06, 0.50 Vickers, .50 High Velocity, 7×57 Mauser, 7.65×53, 8mm Mauser, 8mm Lebel, 7.7 Japanese, 6.5×54 Dutch, 7.9x57R Dutch, 7.62 NATO, 7.62x54R, 8x52R Siamese, 11mm Vickers, and three different 40mm cartridges.
The Vickers was retired from British military service in 1968, having finally become obsolete. Its GPMG role was taken over by the FN MAG, and its long range indirect fire role performed by 3″ mortars. The Vickers was a weapon which required training and dedication to master, but rewarded its users with phenomenal endurance and a wide range of capabilities. Among all contenders, only the Browning machine gun can attempt to compare to the outstanding qualities of the Vickers, and even the Browning fails to match the elegance of the stalwart Brit.