Vickers Gun in Action

British flagThe British Vickers machine-gun in action during the First World War.
arrow to Part I: history, development, service, specifications and pictures of the Vickers Gun.

Specially prepared positions for Vickers machine-gun teams

Specially-prepared positions for Vickers machine-gun teams somewhere among the Flanders battlefields.

When the first Vickers machine-guns were introduced in 1907, few British army officers knew exactly what their new weapon was all about. A few appreciated the potential firepower of this weapon, but they were seen as eccentrics.

packaging of a Vickers machine-gun on a horse

This Australian soldier demonstrates the packaging of a Vickers machine-gun on a horse or mule.

Originally, Vickers machine-guns were only issued in a two-piece rate to each infantry battalion. Within only a few cavalry battalions they existed and only a small portion of them took them over to France in 1914.
Once there, however, they quickly learned that the machine-gun was a powerful weapon, and the first to have had this painful experience were the cavalrymen. A single machine-gun, hidden somewhere on the distant horizon, could nail an entire cavalry battalion as long as it had ammunition. The Battle of Loos increased the lesson for the British and they saw the Vickers machine-gun in a different light.

The Vickers Gun was developed from the former Maxim machine-gun. Vickers built the Maxim machine-guns at their factory in Crayford, Kent, and although the Maxim sold very well to many customers, Vickers engineers thought they could improve the design beyond the basic concept to make a lighter and more efficient weapon.

They did this by reworking Maxim’s toggle lock device so that it opened upwards rather than downwards.

Vickers Mk I machine-gun

Vickers Mk I machine-gun

Prolonged firing made the barrel very hot and so it was cooled by water which was in a metal jacket around the barrel. This sheath contained 7 pints (3.98 litres) of water, which cooked after three minutes when 200 shots per minute were fired.
At first this cooking supported the cooling process, as tiny air bubbles carried the heat away from the barrel, but soon the heat evaporated the water. Initially, this steam was released through an opening in the jacket, but it soon turned out that it betrayed the position of the machine-gunner and attracted the enemy fire. So a simple solution was quickly found to drain the steam through a movable hose into a canister of water, where it condensed back harmlessly as water and could later be refilled into the cooling jacket. This was especially important in areas where water was scarce.

Despite the water-cooling system, the barrel had to be changed every 10,000 rounds. Since it was possible to fire 10,000 rounds per hour, a drill was introduced in which the barrel was changed every full hour. A well-trained crew could do this in two minutes without losing the cooling water, except what was in the barrel when it was pushed in from behind.
In fact, it was this activity that led only specialists to use the Vickers machine-gun. Initially, men from common battalions were assigned to the weapon, but the experience the weapon required led to the formation of the Machine Gun Corps. The machine-gunners not only had to have practical experience with the weapon, they also had to use it tactically, which had to be practiced regularly over a longer period of time.

Corporal of the Machine Gun Corps

Corporal of the Machine Gun Corps using the Vickers gun. He’s still armed with a revolver and carries the ‘Machine-gun-Proficiency’ badge on his arm, which was only awarded to the best gunners.

Gradually the heavy machine-guns which the divisions possessed were handed over to the companies of this new corps of specialists. Their ultimate importance is recognized by the fact that at the end of the First World War the machine-gun corps consisted of 6,432 officers and 124,920 crews.

These men gradually improved the way the machine-gun was used in combat by developing techniques that allowed it to be used not only as an isolated weapon, but as part of a mutually supportive fire plan. They continuously improved these fire plans so that they were sometimes even similar to those of artillery. In fact, machine-guns and artillery were used on appropriate occasions to pressurize the enemy.

However, when the machine-guns were given the task of providing longer fire support, it was soon discovered that this required not only well-trained crews, but also a perfectly organized supply system. The Vickers machine-gun was able to consume an enormous amount of ammunition, which meant that considerable supplies had to be available on a short supply line. The catch was the transport, because on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 there were only a few places where supply vehicles could reach their own lines somewhere close, so that the ammunition could usually only be carried by men over a considerable distance.

But when the ammunition reached the front, it could not simply be loaded into the machine-guns, because the cartridges were delivered in metal cases, often containing small cardboard boxes of 100 rounds each. These were intended for all kinds of weapons, including the Lee-Enfield rifles, the Lewis Gun and some others, so it was not practical to deliver the cartridges with ammunition belts for the Vickers machine-gun. Therefore, these belts had to be loaded manually by the men, which took a lot of time, even though a loading machine was later designed and issued.

Therefore, much more was needed to use the Vickers machine-gun than simply to pull the trigger and see the enemy fall. Over time, the members of the Machine Gun Corps became just as experienced as their colleagues in the German army when it came to the use of machine-guns and were sometimes a bit more inventive when it came to the tactical use of their weapons.

Vickers gun and German machine-gun 08

Here the Machine Gun Corps uses a Vickers gun as well as a captured German Machine gun 08 on the right.

The famous action of the Vickers Gun at the Somme

Vickers MG gunners have settled in a discontinued position

Allied Vickers gunners have settled in a captured German position.

One example was the ten Vickers machine-guns of the 100th Machine Gun Company used during the battle to secure the High Forest on 24 August 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. This battle was a dirty business under the most terrible conditions, with the British attacking most of the time.
After an attack in the area of the High Forest, it was recognized that a barrage, known as the Savoy Trench, would provide a good firing position, as from there the German front line could be overlooked over a length of 2,000 yards (1,830 meters).
So it was decided that the next attack on the German trenches should be supported by the machine-guns of the 100th company from there. If this attack was successful, the inevitable German counter-attack was to be stopped by a machine-gun fire for 12 hours on the area behind the frontline trenches.

This demanding fire plan required extensive preparations. The night before the attack, two infantry companies were needed to move the ammunition and cooling water for the machine-guns forward. The Vickers guns were carefully set up, hidden under camouflage nets and prepared for the coming battle.

Vickers machine-gun in action

Vickers machine-gun in action after a gas attack.

When the infantry attack began, the Vickers machine-guns maintained fire for the next twelve hours. At intervals the gunners were replaced, together with the men responsible for the ammunition supply. They also had to make sure that the machine-guns didn’t move away from the spot when firing, thus picking up dirt.
The gunner had nothing more to do than to pull the trigger with his fingers between the two grips. He didn’t feel much of the recoil when firing, as most of it was caught by the heavy tripod. From time to time he gave the side of the weapon a sharp push to move the barrel towards a larger surface and a moment later another push to move the barrel a bit again.

If necessary, the water in the cooling barrel was replenished by the supplies that had been stored the previous night. The hot barrels were changed every hour. During this twelve-hour period, a group of men was busy bringing ammunition from the stockpile built last night, while two men were constantly working on an ammunition loading machine for the machine-gun belts. Another group dragged the loaded cartridge belts from the loader to the weapons.

By the end of the operation, the ten Vickers machine-guns had shot almost one million cartridges. Only 250 cartridges were missing to fill the million. One of the machine-guns alone shot an average of 10,000 rounds per hour.
During the twelve hours, only two machine-guns had problems. One broke the ejection latch and the other had something wrong with the breech mechanism, causing arbitrary jamming of the ammunition supply.
All the available water had been used up and the machine-guns could only continue firing because the company’s water bottles and other drinking supplies were used.

But finally the plan worked out. The German front trenches were taken and the expected counter-attack did not take place. This for the simple reason that the German troops could not cross the area due to the constant fire of the ten Vickers machine-guns of the 100th Machine Gun Company.

Vickers machine-gun is hidden in farm building

A Vickers machine-gun is hidden in farm building during the period of relatively fluid warfare after March 1918.

However, the heavy machine-gun was a mainly defensive weapon and in the Battle of the Somme the Germans were the defenders. Even if the heavy Vickers machine-gun could be brought forward during the attack, the enormous quantities of ammunition needed had to be brought in, which it used in battle.
The German machine-guns, on the other hand, were all in prepared positions with large ammunition stocks, while the British could usually only bring the light Lewis machine-gun with some ammunition over no man’s land.

In addition, the machine-gun not only fired much faster than rifles, but was also much easier to control and direct. In combat, it’s hard for officers and non-commissioned officers to direct the fire of their riflemen; it’s much easier to do so for a single machine gun, which develops the same firepower.

For the British losses of 57,470 men, including 19,240 killed, on the first day of the Somme battle on 1 July 1916, only about 100 German machine-guns were mainly responsible.
At the Somme not only the fighting power of the machine-gun showed up, but also the first tactical and technical counter-measures developed, in order to break their dominance.

In addition to more flexible and smaller infantry formations, the requirements also arose for the first tanks, which in turn were to fight down the enemy machine-guns with own machine-guns and cannons.
Also the ‘creeping’ artillery barrages developed with artillery fire moved further and further forward to hold down the enemy machine-gunners during the infantry attack, to which gas attacks and night attacks were added later.
But also the gunners of the Vickers gun developed fire tactics to shoot over the heads of their own attacking infantry.

Vickers gun  fires at low-flying aircraft

A Vickers gun of the Australian Expedition troops fires at low-flying aircraft. One of their teams also complained about the shooting down of the ‘Red Baron’ Manfred von Richthofen.

arrow to Part I: history, development, service, specifications and pictures of the Vickers Gun.

Today’s War Diary and Report Feeds

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

Japanese submarines I 15 class

Japanese submarines of WW2.

submarine I 19

Japanese submarine I 19 of I 15 class

I 15 submarine class (20 subs).
Japanese submarine class, launched 1939-1942.


These Japanese submarines, designated Type B, were scouting craft designed to work in conjunction with the Type A headquarters submarines. They were developed from the Type KD6 and construction was carried out parallel with that of the Type A and Type C submarine.

For scouting the I 15 Class submarines carried a single floatplane stowed in sections in a small circular hangar extending forward of the conning tower. On the deck casing forward of the hangar there was a catapult reaching almost to the bows.

In order to simplify design and construction and to speed delivery of the boats, as many aspects of the design equipment as possible were made common to all three types. Machinery was thus identical to the Type A I9 Class, though bunkerage was reduced and the radius of action was thus 2000 nautical miles less. Armament was the same as in I9 Class, except that only 17 torpedoes were carried.

Japanese sub I 15

I 15 during service as a supply vessel, with two Daihatsu tracked landing boats loaded on her deck. Ships in this class were modified during the war to take four or six Kaiten one-man suicide torpedoes for kamikaze missions againts US warships.

Initially only six submarines (I 15 – I 25) were ordered to this design under the 1937 Programme, but under the 1939 Programme a further 14 vessels were ordered. The boats entered service between September 1940 and April 1943 having been built at Kure navy yard (I 15, I 26, I 30, I 37), Yokosuka navy yard (I 17, I 23, I 29, I 31, I 36), Mitsubishi­ Kobe (I 19, I 25, I 28, I 33, I 35), Kawasaki­ Kobe (I 21) and Sasebo navy yard (I 27, I 32, I 34, I 38, I 39).

During the war a number of units had a 140-mm (5.5-in) gun added in front of the conning tower to enable the boats to act as attack submarines. Towards the end of 1944 I36 and I37 were modified to carry four Kaiten suicide submarines.

Animated 3D model of Japanese submarine I 19 of the I 15 class

Specifications for I 15 class

I 15 class specification
Displacement 2,584 tons surfaced; 3,654 tons submerged
Length 356 ft 6 in
Bream 30 ft 6 in
Draught 16 ft 9 in
Machinery 2-shaft diesels, 2 electric motors
Power 12,400 hp surfaced; 2,000 hp submerged
Speed 23.8 kts surfaced; 8 kts submerged
Range 14,000 nm surfaced; 30 nm submerged
Crew 94
I 15 class specification
Main Armament 6 x 21-in torpedo tubes with 17 torpedoes
Secondary Armament 1 x 5.5-in gun
Anti-Aircraft 2 x 1-in guns
Aircraft 1 floatplane
Service Statistics
Submarine launched fate
I 15 3/1939 war loss 2/11/42
I 17 7/1939 war loss 19/8/43
I 19 9/1939 war loss 25/11/43
I 21 2/1940 war loss 29/11/43
I 23 11/1939 marine casualty 14/2/42
I 25 6/1940 war loss 3/9/43
I 26 4/1940 marine casualty 25/10/44
I 27 6/1940 war loss 12/2/44
I 28 12/1940 war loss 17/5/42
I 29 9/1940 war loss 26/7/44
I 30 9/1940 war loss 13/10/42
I 31 3/1941 war loss 12/5/43
I 32 12/1940 war loss 24/4/44
I 33 5/1941 marine casualty 13/6/44
I 34 9/1941 war loss 13/11/43
I 35 9/1941 war loss 22/11/43
I 36 11/1941 surrendered and scuttled
I 37 10/1941 war loss 19/11/44
I 38 4/1942 war loss 12/11/44
I 39 4/1942 war loss 26/11/43

Diary September 23, 1943

Loading a Nebelwefer rocket-launcher

Loading a Nebelwefer rocket-launcher in the mountains between Naples and the Gulf of Salerno.

WW2 War Diary for Thursday, September 23, 1943:


Italy: US 5th Army launches offensive north of Salerno.

Sea War

Mediterranean: Destroyer Eclipse sinks German torpedo boat and prison ship Donizetti carrying 1,576 Italians, south of Rhodes.
Pacific: Tanker convoy destroyed by US submarine Trigger, off Formosa.

Air War

Germany: 658 RAF bombers attacking Hannover and dropping 2,357t of bombs.

Occupied Territories

Corsica: French occupy Bonifacio.
Italy: Mussolini publicly announces creation of the Fascist Social Republic of Salo (town on Lake Garda) in North Italy.

Home Fronts

Britain: Death of Elinor Glyn, Anglo-Canadian author of ‘scandalous’ romances including ‘Three Weeks’ (1907), aged 78.

Diary September 23, 1918

British Lieutenant is in full Arab regalia

TE Lawrence war not the only officer in the Middle East to ‘go native’. Here a British Lieutenant is in full Arab regalia in 1918.

World War One Diary for Monday, September 23, 1918:

Middle East

Palestine: 500 British cavalry capture Acre and Haifa with 889 PoWs and 18 guns. Liman arrives in Damascus (stay until September 29), sends staff to Aleppo on September 25.
Trans-Jordan: NZ Mounted Brigade occupies Es Salt and the Arabs Maan.

Eastern Front

Russia: Helfferich resigns as German Ambassador.
Western Urals: Ufa State Conference elects 5-man compromise Directorate including ex­-Tsarist corps commander General VG Boldyrev as White Siberian C­-in-C.

Southern Fronts

Serbia: French Cavalry Brigade Jouinot-Gambetta begins 57­-mile 6-day advance from Novak, C-in-C gives Uskub (Skopje) as their objective, reaches evacuated Prilep at 1300 hours. Serb Second Army forces the Vardar despite stiff resistance.

Air War

Western Front: 13 German bombers raid RAF Marquise depot, destroy or damage 99 aircraft (172 casualties; night September 23-24).
Palestine: RAF (at least 22 attack) drop 6 1/4t bombs and fires over 33,000 MG rounds east of Jordan (resumed on September 25 with 39 sorties).

Waffen-SS divisions 7-12

Order of Battle Waffen-SS divisions 7 (Prinz Eugen) – 12 (Hitlerjugend)

Germany-flagThe Waffen-SS divisions from this and the previous page were Germany’s most effective troops of WW2.

7 SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen

French Hotchkiss H-35 tanks with SS division Prinz Eugen

Captured French Hotchkiss H-35 tanks on operations against Yugoslav partisans with 7 SS division Prinz Eugen, 1944.

Raised (as division)
March 1942 (operational October 1942).

The End
Surrendered to Yugoslav Partisans at Cilli, Slovenia.
Many personnel executed.

Infantry strength
2 mountain infantry regiments, also cavalry and light armoured elements.

Tank strength
Armoured support units with captured French, Italian and Russian tanks.

Raised from ethnic Germans living in the Balkans, officers mainly Austrians and Rumanians.
Used entirely against partisans and civilians, bad record atrocities.

8 SS-Kavallerie-Division Florian Geyer

Troopers of 8 SS Cavalry division

Troopers of 8 SS Cavalry division.

Raised (as division)
As division from June 1942.

The End
Annihilated in fall of Budapest, February 1945.

Infantry strength
3 cavalry regiments.

Tank strength

Operated partly on anti-partisan duties, partly front-line combat.

9 SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen

Crewman of Hummel SP artillery

Crewman of Hummel SP artillery of 9 SS division Hohenstaufen.

Raised (as division)
March 1943 (operational December 1943).

The End
Surrendered to US at Steyr (Austria), 5 May 1945.

Infantry strength
2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions).

Tank strength
1 Panzer battalion, since June 1944 additional Panzer V Panther battalion. Hummel SP artillery guns (12 or more).
Total: 105 tanks until June 1944, later 154.

Rested near Arnheim when Allied parachute assault took place.

10 SS-Panzer-Division Frundsberg

Raised (as division)
January 1943 (operational March 1944).

The End
Most members surrendered to US in Czechoslovakia, May 1945.

Infantry strength
2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions).

Tank strength
1 Panzer battalion, since June 1944 additional Panzer V Panther battalion.
Total: 93 tanks until June 1944, later 142.

Raised from 18-year-old German conscripts, worked up in France during 1943.
Rested near Arnheim when Allied parachute assault took place.

11 SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division Nordland

Sturmbannführer Quist of Norge volunteer bataillon

Sturmbannführer Quist of Norge volunteer bataillon I/2 of 11 SS division Nordland

Raised (as division)
May 1943 (operational September 1943).

The End
Fought to annihilation at battle for Berlin, 1945.

Infantry strength
3 (1 Danish, 2 Norwegians) , later 2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions).

Tank strength
4 Panzer companies (Panzer IV, Panzer V Panther, Tiger tanks ), 3 assault gun companies (StuG IV).
Total: 159 tanks.

Total strength 1943 : 11,400 men.
Incorporating various foreign volunteer units (Danish, Norwegians, Swedish, Finns, Swiss, Dutch) and ethnic Germans, mainly from Hungary and Rumania.
Formidable combat reputation.

12 SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend

7.5cm AT gun of 12 SS 'Hitlerjugend' in Normandy

7.5cm AT gun of 12 SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ in Normandy.

Raised (as division)
July 1943 (operational June 1944).

The End
Surrendered to US near Enns, Austria (only 455 survivors).

Infantry strengthTank strength
4 Panzer companies with Panzer IV, 4 companies with Panzer V Panther, 18 self-propelled artillery guns Hummel.
Total: 204 tanks.

Total strength 21,300 men.
Personnel largely fanatical 17-year-old Hitler Youth boys, cadre from LAH. Lost over 60% in just first four weeks in Normandy.
Highest combat reputation.