It is sad to have to say that throughout the long history of machine guns in the British service there has never been one of British design actually adopted.
The development of the Vickers MG was a long, drawn-out process that started with the designs by Sir Hiram Maxim in the 19th Century and the Maxim Machine Gun.
The advent of the development of the Maxim gun and the formation of the Maxim Gun Company in 1884 with Albert Vickers as Chairman, introduced the first true machine gun to the British service.
The Maxim MG was first purchased in 1887 and one instructional gun was issued, per Battalion, from 1890; however, the training courses for the obsolete Gardner and Nordenfelt Machine Guns continued until 1894. Even so, it was still the case that not all Infantry Battalions had received their Maxim MG by 1897.
Hobart (1971) identifies that, in 1909, the scale of issue was increased to two guns per Battalion. The Regular Battalions were provided with Mk. IV Tripods, while Territorial Force Battalions were issued with the Infantry Carriage, Mk. III.
An alternative to the Maxim was proposed by Vickers, Sons, and Maxim, (VSM) in the form of the 1906 Light Pattern. This used a corrugated jacket instead of the smooth jacket for water cooling. This meant that the strength required could be obtained but was lighter. It also redesigned some of the smaller components of the gun that reduced weight significantly.
The Light Pattern gun was submitted to the Small Arms Committee for consideration. It was recorded on 27th August 1906 as follows:
142. Maxim Guns.
*Light pattern of .303-inch Maxim Gun and Tripod proposed by Messrs. Vickers, Sons, and Maxim.
On 20.3.1906, Messrs. Vickers, Sons, and Maxim, submitted for consideration drawing, photographs and complete description of a new and improved light pattern Maxim automatic gun and tripod.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF GUN AND MOUNTING
The gun is in principle of the same construction as the Service gun, with all the latest improvements embodied. High-class steel and aluminium are used in the construction of certain parts, instead of gunmetal, whereby a reduction of 33 per cent. in weight has been obtained. The gun is fitted with a new pattern muzzle attachment by means of which the accumulation of fouling is practically eliminated, which enables the gun to be fired continuously without losing time in clearing out the muzzle attachment as is necessary in the old pattern gun.
The gun is entirely automatic in its action, being fed with cartridges automatically from a belt, and the firing is controlled at will by pressure applied to the trigger lever in the rear.
The gun consists of two portions, the recoiling and the non-recoiling.
The recoiling portion includes the barrel and the firing mechanism, which moves to and fro upon guides attached to the frame, the requisite motion being imparted by the recoil, the energy of which is stored up and regulated by means of a spring.
The non-recoiling portion consists of the frame and outer casing, including the water jacket which surrounds the barrel. The jacket is filled with water to cool barrel during firing, and is fitted with a valve to allow steam created during firing to escape.
By simply pressing the trigger the gun will fire as long as any cartridges are left in the belt.
Weight of the gun is 40.5 lbs.
The tripod has been designed to suit the new light gun and the weights of all the components have been kept as low as possible consistent with stability during firing.
The steadiness of the mounting has been well demonstrated during extensive trials, and very satisfactory results have been obtained.
The tripod consists of crosshead, elevating gear, pivot, front legs, read leg, and seat.
Total weight of the mounting is 28.5 lbs.
There appears little doubt but that this design of gun is a considerable improvement on previous patterns. The exact extent of the improvement can only be fully ascertained by actual trial and detailed examination.
As regards the carriage, a new Mark IV. tripod was only introduced some few months ago, and he does not consider this new Vickers tripod as good as the Mark IV.
The saving of weight is appreciable (18 1/2 lbs.), but the design is substantially the same as the Mark III., which the School of Musketry do not consider as meeting modern conditions.
The legs are non-telescopic, and the gun can only be fired from one height, 28.6 inches, and on broken ground it would not have the adaptability demanded by the School of Musketry, Hythe.
It does not fulfil conditions laid down in Minute dated 28.12.1904, 71/1/3271, chief of which were that all legs should be adjustable, all-round fire should be obtainable, and the height of axis should be variable at will.
Judging from weight the material used in the legs must be so thin that there will be considerable chance of the legs becoming dented and buckled.
The mechanism of the gun is practically the same as that of the Mark II. Maxim which was purchased for trial and reported on in 84/V/631. The design is an improvement on that of the Service Maxim; but it is not possible to say (without a thorough trial) whether lightening the gun has weakened it. If gun proved satisfactory its lightness would be very advantageous when carried on pack transport.
He saw tripod at Erith, it seems well designed and constructed, but is, of course not so strong as the Service tripod, but where lightness might be considered (such as man transport, bush work, &c.), it undoubtedly possesses important advantages.
It will assume a prone position but the legs are not telescopic.
He advised an official trial before reporting more closely.
Messrs. Vickers, 26.5.1906, were asked if they would lend a gun and mounting of type under discussion for trial purposes, and they replied 9.6.1906 that they would be pleased to do so.
D. of A., 13.6.1906:-
Asked S.A.C. to say what trials they would propose and cost. He also asked if the present guns could be converted.
The Committee recommend Programme of Trials as under.
PROGRAMME OF TRIALS FOR MACHINE GUNS.
1. Fire 3 diagrams for accuracy at 600 yards (2 sighters and 10 each) … 36 rounds at target.
2. Fire 50 rounds for size of rectangle at 600 yards … 50 rounds at target.
3. Fire 50 rounds into ditch at a depression of about 60 [degrees] … 50 rounds at sand butt.
4. Fire 200 rounds. Note rate of fire … 200 rounds at sand butt.
5. Fire 200 rounds. Note rate of fire … 200 rounds at sand butt.
6. Fire 200 rounds. Note rate of fire … 200 rounds at sand butt.
7. Take the temperature of the barrel.
Total … 736 rounds.
8. Clean the gun without stripping, and note if this can be easily done.
1. Report breakages, stoppages, &c.
2. General description of the gun, weight, length, method of feeding and action, &c.
3. Ease of stripping and tools required.
4. Strength and workmanship of parts.
5. Diary of tests.
6. General conclusions.Minute No 965, Proceedings of the Small Arms Committee, 27th August 1906.
A major development took place with the 1908 Light Pattern Vickers. This inverted the toggle mechanism of the lock which reduced the depth of the breech casing. This resulted in a physically smaller and much lighter weapon. This was adopted by the British Army for trials. It was referred to as the Class ‘C’.
It became the Mk. I when it was adopted for British Service. This took place on 26th November 1912 by List of Changes 16217.
Once adopted by the British Government, there was continued development of both the Commercial and War Office products. The changes in these can be seen on the guns pages. The design control of these was both commercial and military. Some examples of the patents lodged are listed below. These controlled the commercial exploitation by other manufacturers.
Military design and configuration was approved through the Small Arms Committee and, later, the Ordnance Board. Where changes relate to particular items or components, the information on those changes can be found on the relevant parts or guns pages.
Whilst known as a weapons manufacture, shipbuilder, aeroplane producer and many other armaments, the Vickers companies (Vickers, Sons and Maxim; Vickers Limited; Vickers Armstrongs) were such producers of steel that they developed their own types, which were subsequently adopted as British Standards.
The standards used for the various components of the gun were as follows:
STA3 (Spring steel)
- Spring, fusee (heat treatment – low temperature treatment as required)
|0.15 to 0.25||0.05 to 0.35||0.40 to 1.00||0.06 Max||0.06 Max|
|0.35 to 0.45||0.10 to 0.35||0.60 to 1.00||0.06 Max||0.06 Max|
- Block, trunnion, Mk. I
- Cap, end, barrel casing
|0.45 to 0.55||0.10 to 0.35||0.70 to 1.00||0.06 Max||0.06 Max|
- Bar, trigger
- Cam, left hand
- Cam, right hand
- Casing, lock
- Front portion, fusee spring box
- Handle, crank
- Lever, bottom, feed block
- Lever, check
- Lever, extractor, left
- Lever, extractor, right
- Lever, firing
- Lever, side
- Lever, top, RH feed block
- Lever, trigger bar
- Lock, cover, rear
- Plate, side, left, No. 1
- Plate, side, right, No. 1
- Rod, connecting
- Slide, feedblock
- Stem, tangent sight
- Casing, outer, muzzle attachment
- Catch, safety
- Cover, front
- Cover, rear, Mk. I
- Gland, muzzle attachment
- Plate, bottom, Mk. I
- Body, rear crosspiece
|0.50 to 0.60||0.10 to 0.35||0.50 to 0.80||0.06 Max||0.06 Max|
|0.65 to 0.85||0.10 to 0.35||0.35 to 0.70||0.05 Max||0.05 Max|
- Plate, outside, breech casing, LH (to be heat treated to give 30 tons/sq in. Min yield 50 tons/sq in. Min Ult 15% Min Elongation)
- Plate, outside, breech casing, RH (to be heat treated to give 30 tons/sq in. Min yield 50 tons/sq in. Min Ult 15% Min Elongation)
- Spring, lock
- Spring, rear cover lock
- Spring, sear
- Washer, adjusting, No. 1
- Washer, adjusting, No. 2
Throughout the life of the Vickers, there continued to be developments patented. Some of these were incorporated into production, while many were not.
- 173,883 – 11 October 1920. Improvements in or relating to Machine Guns – a device to slow the rate of fire.
- 173,885 – 11 October 1920. Improvements in or relating to Machine Guns – a device submitted alongside 173,883 for reducing the rate of fire.
- 603,750 – 29 October 1945. Improvements in Machine Gun Locks – an alternative type of lock.
- AWM, 1900
- Goldsmith, 1994
- Hobart, 1971
- Small Arms Committee (1906) ‘142. Maxim Guns’ in Proceedings of Small Arms Committee, 31st October 1906.