Vickers Gun

British flagBritish Vickers machine-gun from both World Wars.
History, development, service, specifications and pictures.

Vickers Gun

Vickers Gun

Vickers Gun
Type: heavy machine-gun.


Great Britain was among the first countries where the Maxim machine-gun was introduced after a demonstration in 1887. The construction was carried out by the Maxim Gun Company, of which Albert Vickers was chairman of the board.
Later the company became Vickers’ Sons & Maxim Limited and a production line for various models was set up in Crayford in Kent and Maxim machine-guns from the factory were delivered to many other customers in addition to the British Army.

Although the Vickers engineers were aware of the advantages of the Maxim machine gun, they considered whether a new design could save some weight. Through careful load studies, a good part of the mechanism was gradually made lighter and the basic function reversed, so that the toggle lock invented by Maxim also became lighter. The parts originally made of bronze were also replaced by quality steel.

This can be better understood by looking at the sequence of functions that occur in the Vickers’ short recoil mechanism.

 ammunition supply for the Vickers gun

Details of the ammunition supply for the Vickers gun.

At the moment the cartridge was fired, the toggle switch mechanism, which consists of two levers, was in line with the center hinge line with both levers. This gave the mechanism a very positive and strong lock and the only way to open the toggle joint was to move upwards. This was not carried out at the moment of the shot, as the recoil forces tended to push the breech block backwards in a straight line. When the cartridge left the barrel, the gases escaped into a small muzzle chamber and pushed back the barrel, which in turn exerted more force on the breech block. Together they moved backwards and the two toggle levers hit a fixed point, the lever being set up so that it was pushed upwards. This ended the positive locking and the barrel could now move further back independently, taking the used cartridge case out of the chamber.
At the same moment, reloading could take place, in which the locking breech block moved backwards and placed a charge on a spring, the so-called fuzee spring. This caused the breech block to return to its original position.
This operation was performed as long as the trigger was pressed in front of the gunner’s handle.

The resulting weapon became the Vickers Gun. It wasn’t much lighter than a comparable Maxim machine-gun, but it was much more efficient and easier to make.
It was taken over for service in the British Army on 26 November 1912 as Gun Machine Vickers 0.303-in Mk I and the entire production was initially taken over. Ten more Mark model numbers should follow.

US-built Vickers Gun

A Vickers gun with British Mk IVB tripod built in the USA during the First World War.

The Vickers Group later built the machine-gun in London for the armies of Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and other countries of the British Dominions. The American company Colt also built it during the First World War for the American and Russian armies and specimens built in Great Britain also went to Italy.

At that time, however, the British Army still regarded the machine-gun with such suspicion that it was only introduced at a rate of two per infantry battalion.

With the outbreak of the First World War, however, the allocation changed drastically. New production centres were soon established, some in the Royal Ordnance Factory’s state-owned factories, but the basic design remained untouched throughout the long construction period. The last built Vickers machine-gun was still like the first and changes concerned only details.

The mechanism of the Vickers Gun reflects the era in which it was designed. It was a complicated construction to solve a demanding task, which involved the supply of ammunition of rim cartridges from a fabric belt.
As a result, it was a hard way to build it, which required expensive machines and accurately fitting components made of critical materials. Despite or precisely because of this, the Vickers Gun has become synonymous with reliability.

Like most machine-guns of that time, the Vickers Gun was affected by mechanical jamming, most of which was caused by the ammunition. Other mechanical failures in use, however, were rare.

Therefore, a series of exercises were performed to quickly get the weapon ready to fire again. Thus, 25 possible different types of jamming were listed in the drill book, together with the associated symptoms. It was mentioned that when the weapon stopped firing with the handle in one position or another, this or that was the cause and how it could be fixed. This required a good memory and a cool head from the gunner in the heat of the battle.

Vickers Gun Mark I with dial sight

Vickers Gun Mark I with dial sight.

Therefore, this drill required some practice, so that over time the special Machine Gun Corps was formed within the British Army, so that the experience and skills were limited to a relatively small group and did not have to be distributed across all regiments of the expanding army.
The Machine Gun Corps also developed its own corps spirit, which led the machine-gunners to use their weapons with a little more temperament. Their cap badge showed two crossed Vickers machine-guns.

However, these interruptions during firing were rare and did not affect reliability over a longer period of time. In use, the Vickers machine-gun could shoot as long as ammunition was available.
Vickers Guns fired fantastic amounts of ammunition during fire support tasks, especially during the First World War. A weapon shot 10,000 rounds per hour over a period of 12 hours, a reliability which could hardly be halved by modern designs made of pressed steel and supposedly wondrous spring constructions.

 Vickers Gun shows its treacherous smoke

Here a Vickers Gun shows its treacherous smoke from the water condenser.

The water in the cooling jacket had to be filled up and after first experiences, when evaporating water from the cooling jacket revealed the position of the weapon, a special condenser system was introduced to hide the steam. A water canister was connected to the gun via a hose and after some time the water in the cooling jacket could be replaced with it.

The Vickers machine-gun was usually mounted on a heavy tripod. But there were variations of the basic design, including air-cooled versions for use in aircraft, which were usually fixed and rigid.

The Vickers Gun in World War II

The Vickers Machine-Gun Mk 1 had performed well during the First World War and surpassed almost all of its contemporaries in many respects. Consequently, the Vickers Gun remained the standard weapon in the British Army and many Commonwealth forces even after 1918.
Many were also exported all over the world, most of which were stored weapons, as production at Vickers main production site in Crayford, Kent, continued at a low level after the end of the war.

Many other variations were built between the two World Wars and the Vickers machine-gun is still used by some armed forces today. Despite its outdated design, it was reliable and popular with the soldiers.

Some innovations were nevertheless introduced before 1939, the outbreak of the Second World War. The widespread introduction of tanks and other combat vehicles had led to a reconstruction of the Vickers Gun as part of their armament. From 1939, Vickers produced two special types of machine guns for installation in tanks.
These were available in two calibres: the Vickers-MG Mk IVB, VI; VI* and VII in calibre 0.303in (7.7mm) and the Vickers-MG Mk IV and V, which fired a special 0.5in (12.7mm) cartridge.
Both were initially built for all tank types, but the introduction of the air-cooled Besa machine-gun for the mass of larger tanks meant that most Vickers models were only used in light tanks or infantry tanks such as the Matilda tank.

The 0.5in (12.7mm) machine-guns were also built in a number of variations for the Royal Navy as the Vickers Mk 3 machine gun, with all possible air defence mounts on ships or naval bases.
The installations in ships contained quadruple mounts, but the cartridges which were manufactured for it were not successful and turned out to be too powerless. Nevertheless, due to a lack of alternatives, the weapons were built in several quantities and later replaced by 20mm-cannons and similar weapons.

The Vickers machine-gun was also used in some numbers in 1939 and by 1940 all old stored weapons had been retrieved to replace the material lost in Dunkirk, to equip the Home Guard and to have more air defence weapons available to defend the British Isles.
Also the production was increased again strongly and the need was so large that even losses were accepted with the equipment of the weapons. The most striking feature was the replacement of the corrugated cooling jacket with a simple, smooth one.
Later a new muzzle brake was designed and until 1943 the new Mark 8Z tail bullet was widely used, which had an effective range of no less than 4,500 yards (4,100 metres).

Only on 24 April 1968 was it declared obsolete by the British armed forces and the last disappeared only in the 1970s in the Royal Marines. Thus the weapon had survived all the others of its contemporaries for a considerable period of time. The Vickers machine-gun is still used by the armies of India and Pakistan.
According to many experts, the Vickers machine-gun was one of the best machine guns of the First World War and is still a useful weapon today.

Users: Great Britain, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and other countries of the British Dominions, Italy, USA, Russia.

Specifications Vickers Gun Mark I

Vickers Mark I specification
Typ heavy machine-gun
Caliber 0.303in (7.7mm)
Length 45.5in (115.60cm)
Weight 40lb with water (18.4kg); tripod 48.5lb (22kg)
Barrel 28.5in (72.1cm) long, 4 grooves, right hand twist
Feed system 250-round fabric belt
System of operation Recoil; Maxim toggle lock
Muzzle velocity 2,440 ft/sec (774 m/sec)
Cyclic rate of fire 450-500 rpm
Effective Range with Mark 8Z boat-tail bullet (1943) 4,500 yards (4,100 metres)
Fire-mode Full-auto
Service statistics
Vickers Mark I Data
Manufactures Vickers Son&Maxim (Crayford, Kent), Royal Ordnance Factories
Production delivery 1912
Service delivery November 26, 1912
Final delivery ?
Production figure ?
Price per unit ? (expensive hand-made construction)

Today’s War Diary and Report Feeds

Today 75 and 100 years ago and daily World War Report:

20 mm Flak 38

German Nazi flagGerman light anti-aircraft guns 20 mm one barrel and Flakvierling.

20mm Flak and its crew

A 20mm Flak and its crew, in a typical emplacement.

20 mm Flak 38, Flakvierling
light anti-aircraft gun


By 1940 it was already appreciated that the low rate of fire of the 20 mm (0.787-in) Flak 30 was too low for future target speeds, so it was decided to increase the rate of fire in order to increase the possible numbers of projectiles hitting the target.
It was also decided to redesign the gun to get rid of the inherent jamming problem. Rheinmetall-Borsig was not given the contract for this project. It went instead to Mauser, who came up with a new gun that was outwardly similar to the Flak 30 but internally much was changed to provide a cyclic rate of fire of 420 to 480 rounds per minute. The ammunition, feed system and most of the carriage remained much the same as before. So did the complicated sights which were later simplified, as on the Flak 30.

The 20 mm Flak 38, as the Mauser, design was known, entered service in late 1940 and eventually replaced the Flak 30 on the production lines. It served alongside the Flak 30 and was also used by the Luftwaffe and the German navy. There was even a special version for use by the German army’s mountain units that could be broken down into pack loads. This used the same gun as the Flak 38, but the carriage was much smaller and lighter: it was known as the 2-cm Gebirgsflak 38 and was intended to be a dual-purpose weapon for use against ground targets as well as against aircraft.

By 1940 it was appreciated that aircraft targets were not only getting faster but also heavier and better protected against ground and air fire. Undertaken with typical German thoroughness, operational analysis revealed that although the high rate of fire of the Flak 38 was more likely to ensure a target hit, the low explosive payload of the projectile was unlikely to inflict enough damage to ensure a ‘kill’.

The only easy and immediate way to remedy this was to increase the number of barrels firing from one mounting, and thus the 20mm Flakvierling 38 was developed. This was simply a single Flak 38 carriage modified to accommodate four barrels capable of firing at once. This combination became a dreaded aircraft-killer that constantly drew a toll of low-flying Allied aircraft right until the end of the war.

The first Flakvierling entered service in late 1940 and there were never enough of them. They were used by the German army, the Luftwaffe and the navy, and many self-propelled mountings, like the SdKfz 7-1 , were improvised or produced to make them more mobile.
There was a special version for use on armoured trains and at one point there was even a radar-controlled version under development. The Flakvierling required a greater number of men to serve it in action (usually six or seven).

For the Germans there were never enough of them and throughout the Reich many production facilities were devoted to manufacture of the guns, their carriages and ammunition. This last was produced in several forms including high explosive (HE), high explosive with tracer and various forms of armour-piercing.

Pictures 20 mm Flak 38

Data for 20 mm Flakvierling 38

Technical data
20 mm Flakvierling 38 data
Type light anti-aircraft gun
Crew 6-7
Length 88.7 in
Weight 3,338 lb
Calibre 20 mm (0.79in)
Elevation -10° to +100°
Muzzle velocity anti-aircraft shell: 2,953 ft / sec; anti-tank shell: 2,572 ft / sec; PzGr40 anti-tank shell: 3,402 ft / sec
Fire range 7,218 ft
Shell weight anti-aircraft shell: 0.262 lb ; anti-tank shell: 0.326 lb , PrGr40 anti-tank shell: 0.204 lb
Cyclic rate of fire 1800 rounds / min.
Penetration mm at 30° armour plates
Range Pzgr Pzgr40 (just limited numbers)
Penetration 100 meters 20 mm 49 mm
Penetration 500 meters 14 mm 20 mm
Penetration 1,000 meters 9 mm
all 20 mm Flak 38 data
Production (Flakvierling) from late 1940 until May 1945
Price per unit (Flak 38 with one barrel) c. RM 4,000 = $ 1,800 $ = £ 380
Total production figure (all) c. 40,000 only from January 1942 to February 1945
Production 1942 c. 11,600
Production 1943 c. 14,700
Production 1944 c. 12,600
Production 1945 c. 1,300

Animated 3D model of 20 mm Flakvierling 38

Diary September 18, 1943

88 guns during the heavy fighting at Salerno

88mm guns during the heavy fighting at Salerno, Southern Italy. 44 rings on this barrel denote the number of ‘tank kills’.

WW2 War Diary for Saturday, September 18, 1943:


Italy: 5th Army captures Battipaglia. Germans retreat from Salerno bridgehead.

Sea War

Atlantic: RESUMPTION OF ‘WOLF-PACK’ OPERATIONS AGAINST CONVOYS following re-equipment of U-boats with electronic monitoring equipment, 8×20-mm anti-aircraft guns and acoustic torpedoes.
Pacific: US carrier strike on Tarawa.

Diary September 18, 1918

 Australian battery of 4,5-inch field howitzers

An Australian battery of 4,5-inch field howitzers. The high elevation of the short barrels enabled their shells to fall almost vertically into enemy earthworks.

World War One Diary for Wednesday, September 18, 1918:

Western Front

Germany: Ludendorff warns Admiral Scheer of plans for abandoning Flanders coast.
Somme Battle of Epehy: British Third and Fourth Armies (1,488 guns and 300 MGs) attack from 0700 hours in heavy rain with 21 tanks on 16-mile front northwest of St Quentin; 6,800 Australians (1,260 casualties) advance 5,000 yards; capture 4,243 PoWs; 76 guns and 330 MGs and mortars in total of 9,000 and 100 guns. British 12th and 58th Divisions capture Epehy.

Eastern Front

North Russia: Karelian troops beat German-led force at Ukhtinskaya and drive it back into Finland.
South Russia: Red Southern Front created with Stalin as Military Council Chairmen (first meets on September 28 and forms Eighth­ to Twelfth Armies).

Southern Fronts

Salonika – Anglo-Greek attack astride Lake Doiran with 231 guns: Battle of Doiran (until September 19) at 0508 hours vs Bulgar 9th Division with 122 guns, British enter Doiran town and take Petit Couronne with 777 PoWs but British 65th brigade (22nd Division) has only 200 survivors (30 poisoned by British gas) from attempt to storm Grand Couronne, (thrice­-wounded commander 7th South Wales Borderers Lieutenant-Colonel Burges awarded Victoria Cross). Greek losses 1,232 men, British failure east of lake (900 Anglo­-Greek casualties) due to grass wildfire started by Bulgar artillery. Bulgar Deputy C-in-C Todorov cables Hindenburg pleading for at least 6 German divisions. Serb cavalry reach Polosko.

Middle East

Trans-Jordan: Lawrence blows his 79th rail bridge north of Nisib Station south of Deraa as Arab Army turns east.
Palestine: On Allenby’s east flank 53rd Division storms across Wadi-es-Samieh and advances 7 miles (night September 18-19).

Air War

Salonika: RAF sends 372 calls for artillery fire until September 19, only 1 aircraft lost and shoots down 2 aircraft.
Western Front: Rain and clouds restrict flying over Somme (until September 19), both sides’ aircraft losses much lower (September 17­-20).

Wehrmacht vs US Army

Germany-flagFighting power of the Wehrmacht, Part II

back to Fighting power Wehrmacht Part I

Training of soldiers

Wehrmacht soldiers in training

Wehrmacht soldiers in training in 1940. A photo of the grandfather of the author of this website.

The duration of basic training in the Wehrmacht was different. In 1938 it took’s 16 weeks for infantrymen, 1940 only eight weeks, 16 weeks in 1943, and in 1944 from 12 to 14 weeks.
For the armored troops the basic training lasted 21 weeks during the entire war, although it occurred since 1944 that recruits had to be participate in combat units after 16 weeks if necessary.

For comparison, the basic training in the U.S. Army until 1943 was at just 13 weeks. This was later increased to 17 weeks, but by pressure for the preparations for the invasion in the Normandy again had to be reduced to 13 weeks.
Tank crews received a training from 17 weeks, but in January 1945 this had to be shortened to 15 weeks.

The average loss rate of a U.S. infantry regiment in World War II was 100 percent after three months of uninterrupted combat missions.

A more important difference is that German divisions were formed with personnel from the same part of the country (all replacements were provided by a certain military district) and replacements were sent by march battalions from already together trained recruits.
With the U.S. Army there were usually no ‘regional’ divisions and all new recruits were individually spread over various combat troops and not together with the comrades with whom they had made the training. In many cases the GI’s didn’t knew the other mens in their unit – with whom they have to fight and probably to die – not even by name.

In the Wehrmacht there was always the most qualified personnel (both physically and mentally) – especially for the officers – with the fighting forces.
With the U.S. Army – including officers – it was the other way around: the best men were with the so-called ‘support troops’ (supply, administration, etc.). This was due to the fact that the training in America was already led by the ‘support troops’, which picked out the best personnel for themself – and these men in turn were mostly happy not to be burned with the front-line troops.

German divisions or elements of them were mostly regularly removed from the front for resting, refreshment and refitting.
With the US Army every soldier in Europe had to fight on until he was either dead, injured, sick or a ‘psychiatric case’. For this reason – and because of the laxer punishment – the number of ‘psychiatric cases’ and the unauthorized removal of soldiers or numbers of desertions was a much huger problem in the U.S. Army than in the Wehrmacht. This problem resulted from the limited shipping space, the months-long journey times because of the vast distances to America and the ever-acute lack of ‘battle-worthy front soldiers’ in the US Army in Europe.


Wehrmacht soldiers in mass grave

The bitter end of hundreds of thousands soldiers of the Wehrmacht in a mass grave.

In the French campaign of 1940 were 21.9 percent of the casualties were kills. This figure rose to 22.9 percent during the Russian campaign. Out of 100 wounded in the campaign in France 85 (83 in the summer of 1941, 77 in the winter of 1941) could be expected to return to service.

Between 7.9 percent (France 1940) and 12.2 percent (Russia in January 1942) of the wounded died.

With the U.S. Army this proportion was only 4.5 percent and 64 percent of the wounded returned to any type of service.

Period Total Officers (average share in the army was 2.5 percent)
1939-40 73,829 5.9 %
1940-41 138,301 5.6 %
1941-42 445,036 3.8 %
1942-43 418,276 3.9 %
1943-44 534,112 3.9 %
to December 1944 167,335 3.2 %
Total 1939-1944 1,776,889 4.0 %


Award Number of awards
Iron Cross 2nd class 2,300,000
Iron Cross 1st class 300,000
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 5,070
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves 569
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves with Swords 87
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds 13
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of the Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds 1 (Stuka pilot Colonel Rudel)
Stuka pilot colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel

Stuka pilot colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel, highest decorated German soldier in WW2

45 percent of all awards in the U.S. Army were issued only to officers and were often awarded for achievements outside the battlefield – opposite to the practice in the Wehrmacht.

Death sentences
Period death sentence for desertion, etc Number of executions for all other offenses (civil offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, etc.)
1940 312 559
1941 c. 470 425
1942 1,551 c. 1,560
1943 c. 1,364 2,880
January-September 1944 c. 1,605 3,829
January-April 1945 ? 2,400
for comparison: US Army in Europe 1942-1945 1 (of 188 sentences) 69 (of 253 sentences)

CONTINUE HERE TO PART III: German Military Performance

see also: German Fighting Power in World War One

Diary September 17, 1943

Inhabitants of Bryansk

Inhabitants of Bryansk welcome the Red Army.

WW2 War Diary for Friday, September 17, 1943:

Eastern Front



Italy: Patrols of Allied 5th and 8th Armies link up near Agropoli, south of Salerno.