2/2nd Australian Machine Gun Battalion Association 2023

Vickers Machine Gun

Calibre .303 (Mk VII Ball)
    (Mk VIIIz Ball)

Gun without water

33 lbs

Gun with water

40 lbs
  Tripod 50 lbs
Length Overall 43ins (1092mm)
  Barrel 28.5ins (723mm)
Feed device 250 rounds canvas belt 
Sights Front Hooded Blade
  Rear Leaf with aperture

Battle sight

400 yards (365m)
Muzzle velocity MK VIIIz amn 2550 ft per sec

MK VII amn

2450 ft per sec
Cyclic rate 450/550 rounds per min


In 1884 an American, Hiram Stevens Maxim, demonstrated a single-barrelled machine gun that could load and fire itself by recoil energy, with twice the  maximum rate of fire possible with the hand-cranked Catling gun then in use.

Not only did Maxim develop the basic principle of recoil operation of the machine gun, and the cartridge feed belt which was to enable the weapon to keep firing for long periods.  He also designed a system of parts which enabled the gun to be taken apart without the use of tools.  Practically every part could be changed within six seconds.

Unable to interest his own government in the machine gun he moved to London.  His production guns were made by Albert Vickers, a steel manufacturer in Kent.  When the Maxim patents eventually expired a version was produced first as the Vickers-Maxim, then as the Vickers medium machine gun.  For 50 years it was the British Army's support weapon.

In 1912 the Vickers machine gun was officially adopted by the British Army and was introduced against still military resistance on the Allied side in the First World War.

In Australia the Light Horse remained our great cavalry tradition.  Fortunately, not long before the outbreak of the Second World Was in 1939, the technological revolution of automated weapons reached this country, and some light horse regiments took up the weapon which, more than any other, had brought an end to the era of the horse on the battlefield : the medium machine gun.

The Vickers medium machine gun was water-cooled, holding seven points of water in the jacket around the barrel.  This water began to boil after firing two belts, if the gun were fired continuously.  The water evaporated at the rate of 1 � pints for every 1,000 rounds fired after it began to boil, so that after 2,000 rounds the casing normally needed to be refilled.

Steam was led off through the steam tube and the condenser hose to the condenser can, and water condensed in the can was passed back into the jacket. 

A barrel was likely to be sworn out after some 10,000 to 12,000 rounds had been fired, at an average rate of fire.

In the Second World War the Vickers medium machine gun was capable of producing a greater volume of sustained, concentrated, small-arms fire than any other weapon.  It was still an admirable defensive weapon; with a well-dug gunpit and an ample supply of ammunition it required few men to operate it, and it could be knocked out only by a direct hit.  Groups of guns could be sited to gain the fullest use of enfilade fire; they could be mutually supporting, and could give depth to the defence.

The Vickers also could be used as an offensive weapon; it could give the infantry covering fire before, during and after an advance.  With overhead, indirect and night fire it could harass the known and suspected enemy positions and lines of communication before the attack, support the attacking infantry by firing on roads, houses or other targets ahead of the artillery barrage, or along the flanks of the advance, and on call from the infantry could engage points which might be holding up the advance; it could go forward to support the reorganisation immediately the objective had been taken, and could help to break up any counter-attack the enemy might attempt.

When the Vickers were sited well forward in support of the infantry, some battalion commanders were reluctant to allow them to fire when all was quiet; their harassing fire might achieve no visible destruction, and the enemy almost invariable retaliated.  Machine-gun platoons under the command of infantry battalions, therefore, sometimes did very little firing unless the battalion was actually attacked.

The Machine Gunner was in himself a specialist in his field.  The gun he would have to use was one of the most complicated pieces of weaponry on the battlefield, he would have to know, off by heart how to work, fire and maintain the gun.  It could not be operated to full effectiveness without the MG Fire Controller.  A Fire Controller would have been a specially selected Machine Gunner with a high level of intelligence.