The Vickers Gun is an iconic weapon, developed from the Maxim and adopted by the British in 1912. It served for over 50 years in conflicts all around the world. In this video, we’re lucky enough to have Richard Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association shows us how to disassemble a the gun and talk us through its internals.
Big thank you to Rich for taking the time to help with this video and provide the voice over explaining the process! We’ll have more videos on the Vickers Gun in the future! Check out Richard’s work over on the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association’s site here.
I’ll let Rich explain the disassembly process in real time in the video but here are a couple of photographs of the gun disassembled:
This is the gun in its fully field stripped condition, with lock still assembled, but with its fusee spring and cover off and its barrel and action removed. Just below the barrel is the feed block.
Here’s the Vickers Gun’s lock disassembled into its 14 component parts:
This photo gives us a good look inside the receiver with the barrel, action and side plates removed, The spade grip assembly simply folds down to allow the action and barrel to be slide out of the gun.
Finally, here’s the gun reassembled and ready for action.
Thanks again to Richard for his help with this video, it was great to collaborate and hopefully we’ll have more videos with Rich in the future. Please check out the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association’s site to find out more about what they do. They have some wonderful resources, including a comprehensive collection of manuals, for not just the Vickers but also the wider British Army from the past 100 years. You can also order copies of the brilliant instructional posters which were featured in the video over on the the associations website too!
What’s interesting about the concept of an Obrez or cut-down SMLE is the myth that has grown up around them. They’re often described as being used by men during trench raids or by tunnellers digging beneath No-Man’s Land. But it’s very difficult to confirm the use of cut-down rifles by tunnellers or trench raiding parties.
British tunnelling operations began in 1915, as an attempt to break the stalemate on the Western Front, with the formation of the tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers. Tunnelling had historically been a feature of siege warfare since the medieval period and the Western Front proved no different. Occasionally, opposing tunnels may meet or a counter tunnel might break through often resulting in a short, sharp fight followed inevitably by one side blowing the other’s tunnel up. The final aim of the tunnelling was to lay massive explosive charges beneath enemy strong-points, no fewer than 19 were detonated on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Of course cutting down serviceable rifles was strictly prohibited and patrols were mostly issued with revolvers, grenades and knives or clubs. For tunnellers who encountered the enemy deep underground they were also normally armed with revolvers, knives and their mining tools.
The only contemporary reference of using cut-down SMLEs, that I was able to find, comes from a sketch drawn by a tunnelling officer, Major R.S.G. Stokes, who sketched a cut-down SMLE supposedly used by Canadian tunnellers near Ypres. The rifle Stokes drew had a completely exposed barrel and an added front sight post.
The rifle we’re examining differs from the truly Obrez SMLE’s we might normally imagine. The provenance and origins of this rifle are unknown but with its stock still intact it differs from others and actually, in my opinion at least, makes the rifle more user friendly. With the extra point of contact from the butt you can work the bolt faster and don’t have to lower the rifle to work the action. While the SMLE was already one of WW1’s shortest service rifles. This cut-down SMLE is about 64cm or 25 inches long, with a 4 inch barrel.
From descriptions of these subterranean fights they were short, vicious affairs which began with both sides blazing away at one another with pistols before fighting hand to hand.
Most accounts describe revolvers and pistols being the primary weapon used. Captain Basil Sawers, of the 177th Tunnelling Company, described using “little automatics which were meant to shoot where your finger pointed.” Captain Matthew Roach of the 255th Tunnelling Company personally carried two revolvers. Another account from Captain William Grant Grieve describes British tunnellers breaking into a German tunnel, “they encountered a party of Germans and immediately opened fire on them with pistols.”
From the contemporary accounts we have available it appears that immediate volume of fire was key in tunnel fights. For this double-action revolvers and small pistols like those described by Captain Sawers would have been ideal. A cut-down rifle would have been deafening and the muzzle flash would have been blinding in the confines of the tunnel.
This rifle has no sights, which while not a problem for short distances in the confines of a trench or a tunnel, anything over 25 yards is going to be challenging. Interestingly, however, who ever cut the rifle down left the long range volley peep sight in place. The rifle itself is a SMLE MkI, originally built in 1906, and as such does not have a charger bridge, which was introduced later with the MkIII, instead it has a pair of charger guides.
Despite cut-down rifles not being officially sanctioned, it is very likely that at least a small number were made – perhaps from damaged rifles which had been salvaged. How many were adapted we will probably never know.
There were of course a number of occasions when cutting down a rifle was permissible such as the use of cut-down SMLE’s as ignitors for various trench mortars like the 2in Trench mortar that we have covered previously. These ignitors are sometimes confused with unofficial cut-down rifles but the metal grip plates and threaded muzzles are the easiest way to spot them. Some SMLEs were also later adapted as smoke dischargers, one was famously used as a prop in Star Wars: A New Hope, appearing as a Jawa blaster.
An update on what Matt has been up to, where the channel is at and how YouTube finally monetised the channel (spoilers) and how it isn’t really worth it – except for the ability to add links to videos!
We’ve looked at a few cutaways in the past, today we’re going to take a look at a Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4 cutaway.
One of the main drawbacks of the venerable SMLE was that it was expensive and time consuming to manufacture. The No.4 was an attempt to address this. It evolved from the experimental No.1 MkV and MkVI which were trialled in the early 1920s. The key mechanical change was that the barrel was free-floated and had a heavier profile to deal with expansion of the stock. The No.4 also had a new rear aperture sight mounted further back on the receiver giving a better sight picture and a longer sight radius.
With this cutaway we get a look inside the butt trap, which has a pull-through and oil bottle inside, then as we move to the action we get a look at the rifle’s trigger, sear, sear spring and magazine catch. If we look closely we can see the bolt head catch. The magazine has also been cutaway, with the magazine follower spring just visible.
This cutaway rifle has had all of the wood around its receiver removed, so we can see the magazine housing floor plate and the point where the retaining screw attaches to the trunnion. As we move along we get a look inside the chamber where the outline of the cartridge neck is easy to see and we can also see the barrel’s rifling too.
Down near the muzzle the rifle’s upper retaining band and the hand guard have been cutaway to show the barrel inside. The No.4 was adopted for service officially in November 1939 and just over 4 million were made during WW2. We’ll have a full, more in-depth video on the No.4 in the future.
More of a gun carrier than a tank, as the vehicle was open topped, it was, however, equipped with a 75mm field gun. During the footage it not only seamlessly operates on both land and water, it also fires four rounds as it crosses a body of water at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Very little is known about the vehicle but it is believed to be the second of three amphibious vehicles developed by Christie during the 1920s. None of the vehicles were purchased by the US military and no major international orders were made either.
The vehicle itself is manned by two people during the demonstration, presumably one steering while the other mans the gun. It appears to have narrow tracks over its four sets of wheels and a pair of propellers at the rear.
Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 1920-1926, US National Archives, (source)
This week TAB hit 4,000 subscribers! Thanks for all your support over the last couple of years. I filmed this update on Tuesday during a recent research trip in the south of England. I visited Fort Nelson near Portsmouth and thought I’d film a quick update while I stopped for a break.
Today, we have a short video looking at Fort Clinch, a fort built at the mouth of the St Mary’s river in North eastern Florida. The pentagonal masonry fort defends the strategic position on Amelia Island, at the mouth of the river and Cumberland sound.
While the site had been fortified by the Spanish in the 1730s, construction of the present fort began in 1847 after the end of the Second Seminole War. Built as part of the Third System of coastal defences, which began in the 1820s and was characterised by building thick masonry walls. Clinch is one of the smaller forts that were built to defend less important harbours. Named after General Duncan Lamont Clinch, the fort wasn’t fully completed until 1869.
During the civil war it was originally held by the Confederacy before they abandoned it and it was taken over by the Union in spring 1862. The Union then set about finishing the fort. While some sources suggest it was designed to mount as many as 70 guns, it was never fully equipped but we can see that it has mounts and barbettes for around 40 guns on its ramparts.
Today, the fort has a handful of Rodman guns in place. The guns appear to be mounted on front-pintle barbette carriages. Beneath the guns are ammunition casements; powder rooms and shot stores, the holes for bringing up ammunition can still be seen.
Rodman guns were a staple of US coastal forts during the late 19th century, designed by Thomas Jackson Rodman, they were hollow cast and much stronger than earlier, traditionally cast guns. They were produced in a variety of calibres ranging from small 8 and 10in guns to huge 15 and even 20in guns. They were designed to be fired from behind a parapet, giving the crew some protection, the parapet at Fort Clinch is missing. The guns themselves were smoothbore and were designed to fire round shot and explosive shell. They would have been manned by an 8-man crew and, depending on calibre, had a range of over 4,000 yards.
In 1864, Major-General John Foster, a veteran of the Siege of Fort Sumter, reported that the fort was poorly sited and its design was flawed. It’s clear to see that the fort’s brick walls certainly wouldn’t have withstood fire from rifled artillery for long.
The fort never saw action and once finished wasn’t garrisoned again until 1898 during the Spanish-American War, when a 8″ Rifled Cannon Emplacement with a concrete gun shield was built. The fort was subsequently abandoned again and began to deteriorate until the 1930s when it became part of a state park and was renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
September 3, 1864: Foster relates the “main defects” of Fort Clinch, Florida, To the Sound of the Guns, (source)
Map of the Entrance to Cumberland Sound Ga. & Fl., Tampa Bay History Centre, (source)