Vickers Gun Disassembly

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:

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The Vickers gun field stripped (Matthew Moss)

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:

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The gun’s disassembled lock (Matthew Moss)

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.

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Once the action and barrel is removed you can look straight through the receiver and down through the water jacket (Matthew Moss)

Finally, here’s the gun reassembled and ready for action.

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The gun fully reassembled (Matthew Moss)

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!

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Cut-Down SMLE – A Tunneller’s Gun?

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.

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Right-side view of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

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.

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The mine under German front line positions at Hawthorn Redoubt is fired 10 minutes before the assault at Beaumont Hamel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. 45,000 pounds of ammonal exploded and the mine caused a crater 130 feet across by 58 feet deep (IWM)

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.

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Left-side view of the rifle, note that the rear volley sight remains (Matthew Moss)

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.

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Top view of the cut-down rifle (Matthew Moss)

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.

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Close up of the cut-down rifle’s wrist socket markings (Matthew Moss)

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.

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British 2in Trench Mortar, with SMLE ignitor (Matthew Moss)

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.

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Bibliography

Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers’ War 1914-1918 by P. Barton & J. Vandewalle

Tunnellers. The Story of the Tunnelling Companies, Royal Engineers, during the World War by W. Grant Grieve & B. Newman

The Underground War: Vimy Ridge to Arras by N. Cave & P. Robinson

Our special thanks go to the collection that holds this rifle, and allowed us to take a look at it.

Live Fire: Shooting the M1917 at 700 Yards

A month ago I posted a short video from a range trip shooting the Remington M1917 at about 100m, getting a feel for the rifle and checking zero. I said in that video that I was planning on stretching the M1917s legs in the near future and last week I got the chance. I had the opportunity to shoot the rifle out to 700 yards (640m) which was a lot of fun.

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The view down range from the firing point (Matthew Moss)

With some 147gr S&B I managed a half decent score only missing twice out of 20 rounds. I’ve never shot out to 700 yards especially not with iron sights so it was a fun challenge, amazingly my last round was a bull, which was a real bonus!

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US Military Railway Guns In Action

While doing some research in the US National Archives’ online catalogue I came across a very interesting video composed of footage from a couple of US Army Ordnance demonstrations so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some very big guns.
Railway guns emerged during the late 19th century as a way of moving massive, large calibre guns which had a reach far beyond that of field artillery. Before aircraft were able to effectively attack behind enemy lines railways allowed armies to bring huge guns within range and harass their enemies lines of communication and supply.
This footage comes from Ordnance demonstrations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the early 1920s.

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16in Coastal Gun (US National Archives)

First up we have a US-built copy of the French 305mm Canon de 305 modèle 1893/96 à glissement, which according the original footage notes, was a 10in sliding mount for a gun firing a 150lb projectile. I also found some contemporary images of the gun being built at the US Watertown Arsenal, in Massachusetts, which describes it as the Model 1919. It may be the only example built by the US, Schneider built 8 of these guns for France during the war.  When the gun fires we can see the whole gun and carriage recoil back a meter or so. Guns on sliding mounts cant be traversed and have to be aimed with specially laid track.

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M1895 12in Coastal Gun in a ‘disappearing#’ mount (US National Archives)

Next we have a 12 inch M1895 gun, mounted on a M1918 railway carriage which was based on the French Batignolles mount, with 360-degree traverse. Originally designed as a coastal defence gun, here’s a photograph taken in 1918 of the gun firing from a disappearing mount.
The M1895 had long been used as a coastal defence gun, and with US entry into the war surplus or unnecessary coastal guns were remounted as railway guns. The railway mounted M1895s had a large recuperator to mitigate the gun’s recoil. 12 were mounted, however, none reached France before the end of the war. We also get a nice shot of the shell hitting its target in the distance.

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A 14in Railway Gun in Bassens, France c.1919 (US National Archives)

The 14 inch railway guns were the only big US guns to see action during WW1. Taking spare US Navy 14in naval guns, the 14″/50 caliber Mk 4 gun, which had been mounted in the New Mexico and Tennessee-class battleships, and mounting them in a carriage built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Once in position the guns had to have a recoil pit dug out beneath the carriage to allow space for the gun to recoil when it was at high elevation. They had a range of up to 25 miles.
Five Mk1 guns made it to France operating as single gun batteries manned by US Navy Sailors. The guns fired a total of 782 shells during the war, with Battery 4 firing its last shell at 10:57:30 a.m. on 11 November 1918.

Unlike the MkI guns that made it to France in this footage we see the gun without an armoured gun house, with the gunners working the gun in the open.

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An M1919 16in Coastal Gun in a Barbette mount (US National Archives)

Finally, we have the truly massive 16 inch M1919 coastal gun . Designed for the Army Coast Artillery Corps to defend the US’ major coastal ports the 16-inch gun could throw a 2,340 lb shell up to 28 miles. In this footage we can see the gun mounted on an M1919 barbette carriage which could be elevated up to 65-degrees.
This second piece of footage dates from between 1929 and 1931, with dozens of West Point cadets gathered eagerly to see the gun in action.

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Bibliography:

Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 1920-1926 (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery, Vo.1, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1921) (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery Vol.2, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1922) (source)

The United States Naval Railway Batteries in France, E. Breck (1922) (source)


 

Live Fire: Remington M1917

This week’s episode is a short video of my first trip to the range with the Remington M1917. I basically wanted to get an overall feel for the rifle and see how the zero was. It was a beautiful day, and shooting the M1917 was a lot of fun.

I did take along my proper video camera but in a profoundly rookie move, I forgot to check it had a memory card in it. So had to improvise and use my phone, the results aren’t too bad!

The only range available that afternoon for zeroing was a 100 yard range. The first increment on the M1917’s ladder sight is 200 yards, so I set my aperture a little lower and put 8 rounds of 123gr SAKO .30-06 through the rifle, just to see where point impact was.

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A view down range from my firing point (Matthew Moss)

The results were better than I expected. With a six-oclock hold on the 7 ring I got a spread of about 7 inches. This was entirely due to me get used to the rifle and forgetting to bring along a rest. I was just pleased to see rounds on paper. My groups tightened up as the afternoon went on and I’m definitely looking forward to getting to the range with the M1917 again – hopefully with a memory card!

We’ll take an in-depth look at this rifle in the future, and we’ll hopefully have videos on its British predecessors too. In the meantime, bonus video here.

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How Many Men Does it Take to Flip a Tank?

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Ford employees attempt to flip over an M1918 Light Tank

While I was doing some research in the US National Archives’ catalogue, for footage of the Ford M1918 Light Tank, I came across this snippet of film. As we saw in our earlier video on the M1918 the tank struggled to deal with some terrain. In this video we see that at one point the prototype 3-ton tank managed to flip over completely! Which begs the question, how many men does it take to flip a tank?

Any guesses?

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A still of the front of the upside down tank

….The answer appears to be around 20! The tank was relatively light, weighing in at 3 tons, but I still don’t think think I would have been one of them men pulling the tank’s track towards them!

If you’d like to know more about the Ford M1918 Light Tank you can find our full video and article on its history here.


Sources:

Original footage found here: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419865

Music: New York Blues – Pietro Frosini (1917) https://www.loc.gov/item/varsrs.e50454/


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Ford M1918 Light Tank- America’s First Tank

When the US entered World War One in April 1917, the US Army had no experience with tanks. American observers in France had reported on the early Allied uses of tanks at the Somme and American enthusiasm for the new machines was lacking in many of the Army’s upper echelons.

This began to change after the arrival of General Pershing and his staff in France, ahead of the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing directed that a Tank Corps be raised and detailed a number of officers, including the enterprising young officer, Captain George S. Patton, to establish a training ground and report on how best to deploy tanks.
Patton was instrumental in shaping the US Army’s early tank doctrine, he wrote a highly detailed report on how to deploy tanks to maximum effect. Patton, a cavalry officer by training, admired the French Renault FT’s speed, mobility and manoeuvrability but felt the two doctrines of French light and British Heavy tanks could be combined. In December 1917, Colonel Samuel Rockenbach was placed in command of the new, but still tank-less, US Tank Corps.

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A Ford Model 1918 Light Tank, weighing 3 tons it was armed with a single .30 calibre machine gun (US National Archive)

Britain and France shared their tank designs with the US but in early 1918, the American automobile giant, Ford, began work on an American light tank. The result was a light and mobile tank weighing in at 3 US tons (or 2.7 metric tons). Sometimes referred to as the Ford 3-Ton Tank or the Ford Model 1918. Ford hoped to produce the new tank using as many off the shelf components, from their automobile and truck production, as they could. So the new tank was powered by two 4-cylinder Ford Model T engines, in theory developing around 40 horsepower, with a maximum speed of 8 mph and an operational range of just over 30 miles. Taking cues from the French FT, the M1918’s engines, fuel tank and transmission were mounted in a compartment at the rear of the tank. Some sources note that the tank was developed with the assistance of the Van Dorn Iron Works, in Cleveland, Ohio, presumably assisting in the manufacture of bullet-proof steel plates making up the tank’s armour.

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An early version of the 3-Ton Ford being assembled in one of Ford’s Detroit workshops (US National Archive)

Contemporary photographs show the prototype during assembly in one of Ford’s Detroit workshops. We’re extremely lucky to have these photos showing the development process, they show that the initial shape and layout changed very little but some important changes were made as the tank was tested. The photographs date to April 1918, suggesting that by late spring the first prototype was assembled.

Like the French FT, the M1918 had a two-man crew but was significantly lighter weighing 4 tons less. The Ford could reach speeds of up to 8 mph while the slower FT could achieve around 5 mph. The Ford M1918 was 14 feet (or 4.3m) long, making it slightly shorter than the FT. The Ford’s armour was much thinner than its French counterpart, while this helped with weight, it would have left the crew vulnerable. It had just 7 to 13mm of armour compared to the FT’s 8 to 22mm. The tank’s tracks were also extremely narrow, and while the tank was light, this could have conceivably led to issues with getting bogged down in thick mud. Some of the contemporary footage of the prototype shows it with wider, more practical looking, tracks but the later pre-production models seem to have reverted to the narrower tracks.

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The M1918 was powered by a pair of 4-cylinder Model T engines (US National Archive)

The earlier prototype Ford tank did not have a gun fitted and the front doors for both driver and gunner were hinged at the sides, rather than at the top. Some of the contemporary footage shows the gun-less prototype becoming trapped nose-up, at an almost 90-degree angle, after trying to cross a relatively narrow trench. To prevent this we see that the later tanks were subsequently fitted with a ‘trench tail’.

In terms of armament, the Ford was also limited with a single .30 calibre machine gun, mounted on the right side of the hull in an armoured casement. The casement doesn’t appear to have a prominent sight aperture or vision slit for the driver so how the gun was aimed is unclear. The gun also appears to have a very limited firing arc compared to the FT’s turret mounted gun, which could rotate a full 360 degrees. It is unclear exactly what sort of gun was going to be mounted in the tank although an Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié (also used in British tanks) may have been an option. Another more likely option would have been the specially-developed M1919 air-cooled Browning Machine Gun, which had been specially developed for tank mounting. Judging from the size of the armoured housing for the gun, however, it may have been intended to mount the M1918 Marlin Tank Machine Gun, which had large aluminium cooling fins.

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If we look closely we can see that the gunners hatch appears to be hinged, suggesting it can be opened too. Just to the right of the gun there is a round hole in the armour with what appears to be a starting handle sticking out of it (US National Archive)

The Ford had a two-man crew with the driver on the left and a gunner on the right. The driver also had a cupola, with vision slits, on the roof of the tank which allowed him to drive when the hatch was closed. But this must have been difficult to see out of unless the driver changed his driving position.

The tank had an exposed front axle connecting its large front track idlers, this would have been susceptible to damage from enemy fire and from hitting obstacles. At the rear is the drive sprocket and along the body of the tank are two sets of three suspension wheels with two track support rollers above. Note that the support rollers are mounted on a truck leaf spring, another example of off-the-shelf parts being utilised. This represents a change from the single support roller seen in the earlier prototype

The later footage shows as many as half a dozen pre-production tanks on the move during a demonstration at Ford’s plant in Detroit. We get a good feel for how fast and manoeuvrable the Ford tanks were. But they also struggle to navigate some of the more difficult terrain and don’t appear to have the power or traction to tackle some of the steeper hills or ditches. The tanks much have been difficult to steer, likely using a pair of clutch levers to control the tracks on either side. Two tanks even collide with each other and there’s a couple of other near misses as the Ford’s navigate around the test area. One tank becomes stuck requiring two others to pull it clear of the bank.

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Six pre-production Ford M1918s lined up before a demonstration (US National Archive)

The War Department was eager to get tanks into production ordering 15,000 M1918s from Ford, with 500 to be delivered in January 1919 with production continuing at 100 per day after that. An initial batch of 15 were ordered for testing. At least one of these was sent to France for evaluation before the end of the war. The French were unimpressed finding it inferior to the FT, they did consider it as an artillery tractor for the French 75. The US also considered the Ford for this role and some photograph captions from early 1919, of Battery A, 140th Field Artillery, describes it as a ‘3-ton tractor’ for pulling “the new American 75mm split trail gun”, the M1916. These photographs also prove that more than one M1918 reached France.

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Several Ford M1918s in use as ‘3-ton tractors’ for pulling the M1916 75mm gun, taken at the Artillery Training School in Le Valdahon, in 1919 (US National Archives)

The Ford tanks were not well regarded by those with practical experience, with the men of the US Tank Corps in France not consulted about the tank before it was ordered by the Ordnance Department. The war ended before large scale production of the M1918 could begin, With just 15 M1918s built we’re lucky to have this much film of it in action. Today only two of the Ford light tanks survive in US Army collections.

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A post-war development of the Ford, note the slightly different gun mount, now in a ball mount with a prominent aiming aperture, this photograph was tank in early 1919 – gun type unknown (US National Archives)

In reality the M1918 was more a Machine Gun Carrier than a tank. How effective it might have been is a matter of speculation. It’s difficult to say, while the French may not have felt it was an improvement over the FT, it certainly showed enough merit for the War Department to make a large order. Its narrow tracks, lack of protection and minimal armament may have proved to be problems. The M1918’s real legacy is that it while the US had built other tanks during the war, including the M1917, a copy of the FT, and the MKVIII heavy tank, in collaboration with the British, the M1918 Ford was the first truly American designed and built tank.

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Specifications:

Length: 14 feet / 4.3 metres
Height: 5.9 feet / 1.8 metres
Width: 5.9 feet /1.8 metres
Weight: 3 US tons / 2.7 metric tons
Powerplant: 2 Ford Model T 4-cylinder engines producing ~40HP
Speed: 8mph
Armour: 7 – 13mm
Armament: .30 calibre machine gun, likely M1918 Marlin Tank Machine Gun or M1919 Browning Tank Machine Gun


Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

All photographs and footage was sourced from the US National Archives.

Contemporary Footage:

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419799
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419811
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419095
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419804
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419628
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419174
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/89506
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24823
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24615

Contemporary Photographs:

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45506351
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508549
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508547
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508551
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508430
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508545
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508428
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508446
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508462
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508450
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508448
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508444

Secondary Sources:

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Military Vehicles, I.V. Hogg & J. Weeks (1980)
The Complete Guide to Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles, G. Forty & J. Livesey, (2012)
Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S. Armored Forces, G.F. Hofmann & D.A. Starry (1999)
The Machine Gun: History, Evolution, and Development of Manual, Automatic, and
Airborne Repeating Weapons, G.M Chinn (1951)