Interview with Richard Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection

Richard Fisher, the director of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association, was kind enough to invite us down to take a look at his collection of Vickers guns. Richard is a fantastic source of information on the Vickers, and British small arms more generally, and I’ve picked his brains on numerous occasions in the past so it was a real pleasure to meet him in person and discuss the collection.

I thought the best way to explain what the collection and research association does is to discuss it on camera with Richard, so as a result we have TAB’s first ever interview. Incidentally, it’s also the first on-camera interview I’ve ever conducted!

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A pair of Vickers Guns dating from 1915 at the Vickers Machine Gun Collection (Matthew Moss)

Richard’s impressive collection spans much of the Vickers’ history with representative examples of not just the many different types of Vickers that were produced but also the accoutrements and equipment that went along with the guns. The collection endeavours to bring together all the weapons, kit and equipment that a British Army section that operated the Vickers would have carried – during both World Wars.

The collection is open to visits from interested individuals and parties and is often shown at history events around the UK. Richard’s website is one of the best sources of information, manuals and documents on the Vickers available and is well worth checking out.

You can find the Vickers MG Collection on twitterfacebook and online at their website: www.vickersmg.org.uk

We’d like to thank Richard for inviting us down and for speaking to us about the collection. In the future we will hopefully have more videos featuring the collection.

 

M45 Quadmount

 

Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit with some very rare and extremely interesting weapons on display. 

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An M45 mounted on a M16 half-track during World War Two (source)

The M45 Quadmount was developed by the W.L. Maxson Corporation for the US Army. It mounted four .50 calibre M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns on a lightweight, rotating powered mount.  I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at an M45 while visiting the Menorcan Military Museum.

Introduced in 1943, the M45 was capable of 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of elevation. It was manned by a three man crew: two loaders, who loaded the M2 Browning’s 200-round belt drums, and a gunner.

The M45 was extremely versatile and could be mounted on a number of trailers and vehicles including the M20 and M17 trailers and the M16, M17 and M51 half-tracks.

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Diagram from the M45’s manual showing the layout and some of the Quadmount’s parts (source)

The gunner sat on a canvas seat inside the M45, between the two pairs of guns. He controlled the aiming of the guns with two control handles and aimed the M45 through a reflex sight which was mounted to a sight bar.

The M45 was powered by two 6-volt batteries and weighed approximately 2,400lb (1,090kg). The gunner was protected by an armoured plate at the front with two hinged armour plates either side of the M1X reflex sight. The M45 mounted four M2 TT (Turret Type) varriant machine guns – these were fired by solenoids. All four of the guns could be fired at once but gunners normally alternated between the upper and lower pairs in order to allow the guns to cool and loaders to replenish the drums.

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An M45 mounted on an M17 half-track during the Korean War (source)

When all the guns were fired together the M45 had an impressive rate of fire of approximately 2,300 rounds per minute. The Quadmount saw action throughout World War Two, the Korean War and in Vietnam. However, with the beginning of the jet age the M45 became increasingly obsolete in the anti-aircraft role. It continued to be used against ground targets with many mounted on vehicles to create ‘gun trucks’.

 

X11 Belt-Fed Bren Derivative

At the end of the Second World War the British Army had two primary infantry machine guns: the Bren light machine gun and the Vickers medium machine gun. These weapons had proved their worth, the Bren was especially well liked and the venerable Vickers continued to be a reliable workhorse.

In the late 1940s, the British Army recognised the Soviet threat to Western Europe. In 1947, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the newly appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff wrote a paper outlining rearmament plans based on intelligence estimates of how quickly the Soviet Union was likely to be ready for another full-scale war. Montgomery believed that Britain had just 10 years to develop new weapons and begin rearmament before the Soviet Union had recovered enough to launch an invasion of Western Europe. As such the British Army felt that rearmament needed to be complete by the late 1950s.

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Two Vickers medium machine guns in action in Wesel, 1945 (IWM)

A number of large budget programmes were launched while small arms projects were also undertaken. These included the Infantry Personal Weapon programme which sought to develop a new intermediate calibre infantry rifle – the IPW programme later yielded Stefan Janson’s EM-2, a bullpup chambered in .280, which was briefly adopted as the Rifle No.9. The FN FAL was later adopted due to changes in political circumstances – a long, fascinating story for another article. The companion to the IPW programme was the development of a Sustained Fire Machine Gun also chambered in .280.  The TADEN, a belt-fed derivative of the Bren firing the new .280 round was designed by Harold Turpin (‘T’), the Armament Design Establishment (‘AD’) and Enfield (‘EN’). With the abandonment of the IPW the TADEN was also abandoned but its design greatly influenced the later X11.

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.280 TADEN SFMG mounted on a tripod (Royal Armouries)

Another major small arms programme was the search for a new machine carbine (or submachine gun). This saw the testing of designs from Sterling, BSA and Madsen – with the Sterling finally adopted as the L2.

The other major small arms project was the programme to find a new section level machine gun. The German MG34 and MG42 had impressed the Allies during the war, so much so the US went as far as to clone it with the T24. After the abandonment of the EM-2 and TADEN machine gun the British issued a new specification for a lightweight sustained fire machine gun, chambered in the 7.62x51mm round recently adopted by NATO, in the mid-1950s.

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US T24, MG42 clone, complete with US-pattern bipod (Springfield Armory)

The design team at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield developed a belt-fed derivative of the Bren light machine gun. The X11 series of prototypes sought to convert the Bren’s proven design into a weapon capable of sustained fire. The X11 made a number of changes to the Bren included the addition of a detachable butt/grip/trigger assembly which could be swapped for a pair of spade grips and a paddle trigger for static sustained fire from a tripod. This resulted in the pistol grip being located much further back than the traditional Bren’s.

Centrefire automatic machine gun - Experimental SFMG (about 1956)
The X11E2 set up for the sustained fire role on a tripod with the spade grips and an optical sight similar to the UNIT sight. (Royal Armouries)

It appears that during the mid-1950s British military parlance described the General Purpose Machine Gun as a Sustained Fire Machine Gun (SFMG). From the available photographs it appears that the L4 and X11 use the same barrel with its distinct flash hider. The receivers of all the prototypes appear to be milled to attach the optical long range sight seen above.

The main drawback with the X11 was its feed mechanism. The feed slide was indexed by a rotating vertical feed shaft which was driven by the gas piston’s recoil. This created a considerable amount of friction within the action. It had the effect of causing failures to feed during adverse conditions testing and elevated firing tests. A series of four X11 prototypes were developed with Harold Turpin (co-designer of the STEN gun and later TADEN) working on the new gun. Each prototype appears to have a sightly different trigger configuration. The most interesting of these is a two-finger double-crescent trigger reminiscent of the MG-34’s – from the photographs it appears that the conventional selector lever, used in the X11E2, was replaced with a fire-selector system similar to the MG-34’s (upper crescent – semi-auto, lower crescent – full-auto). However, the trigger of the example of the X11E4 examined by Vic (serial number #11) was fully automatic only, despite its crescent shape.

Below are photographs of examples of the three types held at the Royal Armouries:

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X11E2, note the large cutout in the receiver in front of the trigger group (Royal Armouries)
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X11E3 (Bren Gun Saga, Dugelby)
Centrefire automatic machine gun - SFMG Experimental Turpin X11E4
X11E4, note double-crescent trigger (Royal Armouries)

The X11 was tested against the M60, French AA-52, Swiss MG51, Danish Madsen-Saetter, German MG-3, and the Belgian FN MAG. The FN MAG, designated the X15E1 by the British, fared best in the trials with the X11 coming second due to its feeding issues. In January 1958, the British abandoned the X11 and moved to adopt the X15E1 general purpose machine gun, negotiating a license for its manufacture. The weapon was finally adopted as the L7A1 in 1961, with production at Enfield beginning in 1963. It seems that the Birmingham Small Arms Company were a latecomer to the competition having developed the another belt-fed Bren gun derivative known as the X16.

The Bren did continue in service after the switch to 7.62x51mm. In 1954, before beginning work on the X11, Enfield had developed the X10E1. Taking a Canadian manufactured 7.92x57mm Bren breech block and converting it to cycle the new round. The X10E1 was formally adopted as the L4. The L4 remained in service, alongside the L7, into the early 1990s. The L7 GPMG continues to be used by the British Army.

 


Bibliography:

The Bren Gun Saga, T. B. Dugelby (1999)