Vickers Gun

Vickers Gun


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In 1912 the British Army adopted the Vickers as its standard machine gun. Produced by the Vickers Company, it was a modified version of the Maxim Machine-Gun. The Vickers Gun used a 250 round fabric-belt magazine and had the reputation as a highly reliable weapon.

The .303 Vickers Gun could fire over 600 rounds per minute and had a range of 4,500 yards. Being water-cooled, it could fire continuously for long periods. There were usually six men in a Vickers gun team. In his book, With a Machine Gun to Cambrai, George Coppard, explained how the Vickers Gun Team worked. "Number One was leader and fired the gun, while Number Two controlled the entry of ammo belts into the feed-block. Number Three maintained a supply of ammo to Number Two, and Number Four to Six were reserves and carriers, but all the members of the team were fully trained in handling the gun."

When war was declared in August, 1914, Vickers were manufacturing 12 machine guns a week. Demand from the British Army was so high that Vickers had to find new ways of increasing production. By 1915 Vickers supplied the British armed forces with 2,405 guns. These increases continued throughout the First World War: 7,429 (1916); 21,782 (1917) and 39,473 (1918). The Vickers Company was accused of profiteering when in the early stages of the war they charged the Home Office £175 per gun. Under pressure from the government, Vickers reduced the price to £80 per gun.

Fitted with interrupter gear, the Vickers was also standard armament on all British and French aircraft after 1916.

The Vickers .303 water-cooled gun was a wonderful weapon, and its successful use led to the eventual formation of the Machine-Gun Corps, a formidable and highly-trained body of nearly 160,000 officers and men. Devotion to the gun became the most important thing in my life for the rest of my army career.

The Vickers gun proved to be most successful, being highly efficient, reliable, compact and reasonably light. The tripod was the heaviest component, weighing about 50 pounds; the gun itself weighed 28 pounds without water. In good tune the rate of fire was well over 600 rounds per minute, and with the gun was firmly fixed on the tripod there was little or no movement to upset its accuracy. Heat engendered by the rapid fire soon boiled the water and caused a powerful emission of steam, which was condensed by passing it through a pliable tube into a canvas bucket of water. By this means the gun could continue to fire without a cloud of steam giving its position away to the enemy.

There were normally six men in a gun team. Number One was leader and fired the gun, while Number Two controlled the entry of ammo belts into the feed-block. Number Three maintained a supply of ammo to Number Two, and Number Four to Six were reserves and carriers, but all the members of the team were fully trained in handling the gun. In the trenches the Vickers were primarily used for defence, but it was also effectively used to assist an attack, by indirect or barrage fire, and to restrict and harass enemy movement behind their lines.

When in reserve, it was normal routine in the machine gun section to give guns, accessories and equipment a complete overhaul. Most of us were dedicated enthusiasts, and strove to maintain the weapons at peak efficiency. Gun barrels had an average life of 18,000 rounds of firing, after which accuracy fell off. A spare barrel was carried for replacement when necessary.


A Classic World War One Weapon: The Vickers Machine Gun – In Action (Watch)

A mainstay of the British army, the Vickers machine gun is a classic First World War weapon. The design actually built on a previous gun, invented in the late 19th Century by Hiram Stevens Maxim. The company that produced the Maxim Gun was bought over by Vickers Limited, at which point the weapon was streamlined and improved, until it became the iconic Vickers machine gun we know today.

It was officially selected as the standard machine gun for the British military in 1912. Initially, they were still outnumbered by the old Maxim guns, but after Vickers Limited lowered their prices – allowing the army to buy their weaponry in even greater numbers – that quickly changed.

Although the Vickers machine gun needed a team of about six men to operate it, it was still highly effective in the field, as well as proving extremely reliable. This latter fact made it particularly popular, as it rarely jammed and could always be counted on to fire efficiently, even in adverse conditions.

As well as proving its mettle on the ground, this versatile weapon also found a place in the skies. Although the Lewis gun was the first machine gun to be fired from a plane in flight, the Vickers had some advantages over its popular counterpart. For example, it had a closed-bolt firing cycle, meaning that it was much easier to fire through the propellers of whatever aircraft it was mounted on. Many planes were soon equipped with twin guns, and this became standard practice by the end of the First World War.

In this video, viewers can watch the entire process of setting up, loading and firing a classic Vickers machine gun. The AZ Guns YouTube channel hosts an exciting range of content, covering everything from early 20th Century weaponry to modern-day firearms. If you’re a fan of the Vickers gun in particular, or just have an interest in firearms in general, this video and the channel behind it are definitely worth a visit.


Last name: Vickers

This interesting surname, with variant spellings Vicars, Viccars and Vickars, has two possible origins. Firstly, it may be a patronymic surname for the "son of a vicar", deriving from the Middle English "vicare", plus the possessive ending "s". Vicare was originally used to denote someone who carried out pastoral duties on behalf of the absentee holder of a benefice, and later became a regular word for a parish priest because in practice most benefice-holders were absentees. The final "s" however may also mean "servant of", and would therefore be an occupational surname for one who worked for a vicar. --> The surname was first recorded in the early half of the 14th Century (see below). Recordings from London Church Registers include: the christening of Francis, son of William Vickers, on October 4th 1559, at Christ Church, Grey Friars, Newgate the christening of William, son of Launcelot Vickers, on November 27th 1562, at St. Mary, Woolnoth and the marriage of William Vickers and Margaret Hobson, on July 6th 1570, at St. Mary Somerset. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Wiliam del Vickers, which was dated 1327, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Staffordshire", during the reign of King Edward 111, known as "The Father of the Navy", 1327 - 1377. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

© Copyright: Name Origin Research 1980 - 2017


History and Disassembly of the Vickers-Berthier MkIII LMG

The Vickers-Berthier was initially designed by Andre Berthier in France prior to World War One. It went through a number of substantial design changes before the war, and was actually ordered in quantity by the United States right at the end of WWI – but the order was cancelled with the armistice. In the 1920s, Berthier sold the design to the Vickers company in England, which wanted a light machine gun to market alongside its Vickers heavy machine gun.

When the British military decided to replace its Lewis and Hotchkiss light machine guns, the Vickers-Berthier was one of the leading contenders, although in the endurance trials it was edged out by the Czech ZB-33, which would ultimately be adopted as the Bren. However, the Indian Army opted to take the Vickers-Berthier, and it was put into production at the Ishapore Rifle Factory and saw substantial use in World War Two.

Mechanically, the Vickers-Berthier is a tilting bolt design with a long stroke gas piston. It has a thorough set of covers over the magazine well and ejection port, and a relatively slow rate of fire. The barrel is quick-changeable, and it feeds from top-mounted 30-round magazines, with an aperture type rear sight being offset to the left side of the gun to clear the magazine.

Thanks to Marstar for letting me examine and shoot their Vickers-Berthier!


Who Really Invented the Machine Gun?

On November 1, 1893, a small force of British soldiers defeated a much larger force of African warriors at the Battle of Bembezi in the South of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the First Matabele War. The British force carried the day mainly because of the addition of the Maxim machine gun to their arsenal, a weapon that was the brainchild of American inventor Hiram Maxim.

Digging Deeper

At Bembezi only 700 British soldiers faced 10,000 Matabele (various spellings) warriors, of which 2000 were armed with rifles and the other 8000 armed with spears and more primitive weapons. The British killed about 2500 of the Native Africans, routing the forces of King Lobengula, the man who would be the last King of the Matabele people. In addition to their modern (for the time) rifles, the British were also equipped with cannons and most notably 5 Maxim machine guns, weapons first introduced in 1886, that served around the world until 1959 (or perhaps the present!). In 1889, the British Army had introduced the .303 caliber smokeless powder cartridge, an enormous leap forward in lethality on the battlefield and more amenable to use in automatic weapons than the older .577/450 Martini–Henry black powder cartridge that had preceded it, although we do not know if the Maxim guns used at Bembezi were chambered in .303 or the older .577/450 cartridge. Either way, the effects were devastating against the enemy, both physically and psychologically. When faced with the overwhelming firepower of automatic machine guns, troops that had never faced such a weapon are generally terrified and prone to panic.

The man responsible for putting such a deadly weapon in the hands of the British soldiers was Hiram Maxim (1840-1916), born in Sangerville, Maine. Maxim was a dedicated inventor and delved into many areas of engineering, including repeated unsuccessful efforts to invent an airplane. He did come up with nifty ideas for mousetraps, hair curling devices, steam powered pumps, and was one of many inventors working on inventing a practical electric light bulb, to the point of engaging Thomas Edison in a battle over who had actually invented the light bulb, with Maxim alleging that Edison had stolen Maxim’s design. Maxim traveled to England in 1881, where he sought more lucrative markets for his inventions. Famously given the advice that if he wanted to make money from Europeans, he should invent something to help them kill each other (this is paraphrased, the supposed quote is, “Hang your electricity. If you want to make your fortune, invent something to help these fool Europeans kill each other more quickly!”). Maxim took this advice to heart and went about inventing his famous/infamous machine gun, the type of which was copied by countries throughout the world.

Other inventors were hard at work to create rapid fire guns, with early efforts being hand cranked rather than harnessing the force of the recoil or expanding gasses to operate the mechanism. (See our previous article, “10 Greatest Machine Guns”) The Maxim recoil operated product was the winner in the race for the first truly practical and efficient self-powered automatic firearm. (Maxim also patented blowback and gas operated designs, both of which have been used for many machine guns.) Its design influenced almost all medium and heavy machine guns to follow (except for electrically operated “chain guns” and modern “Gatling guns.”) Maxim type guns were used by both sides in World War I to devastating effect. These guns are normally found chambered in rifle calibers such as British .303, German 8mm, or US .30-06., although larger caliber guns were also made. The “heavy” versions complete with a water jacket for barrel cooling could be fired virtually continuously for hours and sometimes were. In 1916 a British unit fired their 10 Vickers machine guns steadily for 12 hours, firing over a million rounds without a stoppage! A 1963 test made by Popular Mechanics Magazine had a team fire 5 million rounds through a Vickers version of a Maxim, a gun retired from military use. The venerable machine gun shot up all the ammo without a problem, and after the test it still met military specs! Tripods with traversing and elevating mechanisms made for super accurate fire and allowed for reliable “beaten zones” or “kill zones.” (Production numbers of all the various versions are hard to come by.)

In England Maxim found financial backing from Edward Vickers and became a business associate of the man the Vickers Corporation is named after. In 1897, Vickers, Son & Maxim was formed. The improved Maxim design often just called “the Vickers,” became the standard British machine gun for many decades. Maxim resigned from Vickers in 1911, becoming part of a new operation called Grahame-White, Blériot, and Maxim Company with the aim of designing and producing practical military airplanes that could drop a much heavier bomb load (500 pounds) than the string bag aircraft of the time. By this time, Maxim was nearly deaf and in his old age his health started to fail, perhaps adversely affecting his ability to contribute to the invention of a practical bomber aircraft.

Maxim had become a naturalized British citizen in 1899, and was knighted in 1901. (He would have been knighted in 1900, but Queen Victoria died, which delayed his knighthood for a year.) He died at the age of 76 in his adopted home city of London. There must have been an inherited “invention” gene carried by the Maxim family, because Hiram’s brother Hudson was also an inventor. The 2 brothers had worked together on developing explosives and smokeless powder but had a falling out over a patent dispute. Hiram Maxim’s son, Hiram Percy Maxim (1869-1936) was another inventor in the Maxim family and is famous for having invented the internal combustion engine muffler as well as the sound suppressor (often called “silencer”) for firearms, as well as devices used in radio transmission.

Hiram Maxim was a lifelong atheist, so if you are wondering if he had reservations about his invention eventually taking millions of lives you can rest easy. He apparently did not lose any sleep over it! Hiram Maxim, his wife and his grandson, lie resting at West Norwood Cemetery in London. We remember Hiram Maxim for the machine gun that bears his name, but should we really remember his for inventing the light bulb?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Maxim, Hiram Percy. A Genius in the Family. Benediction Classics, 2010.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of Hiram Maxim sitting with the first portable, fully automatic machine gun, which he invented, and a Dundonald gun carriage, is photograph Q 81725 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. This image is in the public domain because it is a mere mechanical scan or photocopy of a public domain original, or – from the available evidence – is so similar to such a scan or photocopy that no copyright protection can be expected to arise. The original itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain. This is because it is one of the following:

  1. It is a photograph taken prior to 1 June 1957 or
  2. It was published prior to 1969 or
  3. It is an artistic work other than a photograph or engraving (e.g. a painting) which was created prior to 1969.

HMSO has declared that the expiry of Crown Copyrights applies worldwide (ref: HMSO Email Reply). More information. See also Copyright and Crown copyright artistic works.

About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.


COW-Gun Fighter

First flown in 1931, the Vickers 161 looked more like an airplane from 1915, the year Coventry Ordnance Works initially tested the cannon it carried.

A seeming throwback to an earlier era, the Vickers 161 nevertheless packed a heavy punch.

There have been many instances in which warplanes were specifically designed around the armament they carried. Few examples have been as extreme or bizarre in appearance, however, as the Vickers Type 161. What makes the aircraft even stranger is that it looks like a fighter developed around 1915, but the Vickers 161 was actually built in 1930, when its archaic pusher configuration was generally considered long obsolete.

Vickers developed the 161 to satisfy a British Air Ministry request for a single-seat bomber interceptor, and the weapon around which it was designed was Coventry Ordnance Works’ 1½-pounder quick-firing gun. Developed in 1915, COW’s 1½-pounder was a recoil-operated 37mm automatic cannon, nearly eight feet long and weighing 200 pounds. On one occasion when a COW gun was test-fired from a Voisin pusher in 1915, the recoil reportedly tore the wings off the fuselage, killing the occupants in the ensuing crash. But by the time World War I ended, further developments in both weaponry and aircraft had reached a stage where a few examples were being successfully installed on operational airplanes.

As a result of the post-WWI economic downturn, in 1925 Vickers took over Coventry Ordnance Works and its patents. Nevertheless, the Air Ministry remained interested in the COW gun. During the 1920s, COW 1½-pounders were installed experimentally in the forward gunners’ cockpits of a few of the larger flying boats for use against submarines or small surface vessels. In addition, Bristol was contracted to develop a twin-engine, three-seat heavy fighter in 1924 that was to be armed with two of the 1½-pounders. The resulting aircraft, dubbed the Bristol Bagshot, proved to be underpowered and was soon abandoned.

In 1927 the Air Ministry issued a new specification, F.29/27, for a single-engine, single-seat COW gun–armed bomber destroyer. The gun was to be mounted to fire forward and upward at a 45-degree angle. The idea was that the fighter would attack enemy bombers from below and behind.


Vickers’ pusher biplane design for the COW-gun fighter differed from the tractor monoplane configuration of the Westland F.29/72. (AirTeam Images)

Both Westland and Vickers produced prototypes with the COW gun obliquely firing forward and upward, and positioned so the pilot could reach it to reload or clear jams. The Westland prototype was a conventional and, for the time, modern-looking low-wing tractor monoplane. Vickers’ solution was quite the antithesis: a pusher biplane in which the pilot was seated in a nacelle attached to the bottom of the upper wing. A Bristol Jupiter radial engine, mounted at the rear of the nacelle, drove a four-blade propeller. The tail was attached to the aircraft by means of a latticework of streamlined struts. A long, cone-shaped fairing extended from the propeller hub to the tailplane, supposedly enhancing directional stability.

That Vickers elected to use such an archaic configuration may seem less surprising when one considers that the company developed a whole series of pushers during WWI, and persisted with the configuration far longer than most other manufacturers of that period. In 1912 Vickers had built the first airplane specifically designed to carry a machine gun, the experimental Vickers EFB-1 Destroyer. That proto­type evolved into the F.B.5 Gunbus, which may have been the first purpose-built air combat fighter to enter series production. As late as May 1917, when most other manufacturers had abandoned that configuration, Vickers flew its F.B.26 Vampire, a single-seat pusher fighter that shared similarities with the 161.

In spite of its anachronistic appearance, the 161 included many modern features. Apart from fabric covering on the wings and tail surfaces, the entire airframe was constructed from lightweight aluminum alloy, and the nacelle was of monocoque structure. The state-of-the-art Bristol Jupiter VIIF air-cooled radial engine produced 530 hp.

First flown on January 21, 1931, the Vickers 161 seems to have performed fairly well apart from a minor degree of directional instability, remedied by installing a slightly larger-chord fin and rudder. During September of that same year, the 161 was delivered to the Armament and Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath for official evaluation. By that time, however, the Royal Air Force had begun to lose interest in the COW gun, and further development was soon abandoned. Considering that RAF fighter pilots of the day had the choice of flying either the Vickers 161 or the more advanced Hawker Fury, that’s not surprising. Moreover, the COW gun’s 50 rounds of ammunition came loaded in five-round clips, which the pilot had to reload by hand while flying the airplane.

The sole Vickers 161 built was 23 feet 6 inches long, with a 32-foot wingspan and a gross weight of 3,350 pounds. Its top speed was recorded as either 185 mph or 169 mph given the aircraft’s outdated configuration, the latter figure seems more reasonable.

Although the RAF eventually rejected the 1½-pounder COW gun and the specialized fighters designed to carry it, Vickers would go on to develop an updated version, the Vickers S Gun, chambered for its own 40mm ammunition. Armed with a single S Gun beneath each wing, the Hawker Hurricane became a very effective anti-tank and ground-attack aircraft, and was widely used in North Africa and Burma during World War II.

This feature originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe today!


Contents

1829 George Portus Naylor started a new firm with Edward Vickers and John Hutchinson, which was called Naylor, Hutchinson, Vickers and Co this later began making steel castings and quickly became famous for casting church bells.

Edward Vickers was a miller his wife was the daughter of a local steel maker George Naylor. His brother, William, owned a steel rolling operation at Millsands.

Edward's investments in the railway industry allowed him to gain control of the company, based at Millsands.

1854 Edward Vickers' sons Thomas and Albert joined the Naylor, Vickers and Co business.

1863 The company moved to a new site in Sheffield on the River Don in Brightside.

1867 The company went public with a capital of £155,000 as Vickers, Sons and Co and gradually acquired more businesses, branching out into various other sectors.

1868 Vickers began to manufacture marine shafts.

1872 Began casting marine propellers.

1882 Set up a forging press.

1888 Vickers produced their first armour plate.

1890 Produced their first artillery piece.

1896 Vickers, Sons and Co bought out the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co gaining access to Maxim's machine guns amongst other weapons.

1897 Company name changed to Vickers, Sons and Maxim.

1901 Listed as railway point and crossing manufacturers of Don Works, Sheffield.

1901 Further diversification occurred with the purchase by Vickers, Sons and Maxim of the car building activities of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co, which was set up as the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co.

1902 Acquired 60% of William Beardmore and Co in exchange for an equivalent amount of Vickers' own capital.

1905 Engine from Davey, Paxman and Co installed for the 48in plate mill at the River Don Works

At some point Douglas Vickers invited John Henry Soar Dickenson to establish a metallurgical research department at Vickers Works, Sheffield, which, later, became the research organisation of the English Steel Corporation, Ltd.

1909 Tom Vickers resigned as chairman, handing over to his brother Albert Vickers

1911 Electrical Exhibition. Six-phase rotary converter. (Vickers of River Don Works, Sheffield).

1911 Name changed from Vickers, Sons and Maxim to Vickers Α] . Operations expanded into aircraft manufacture by the formation of Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department).

1912 Showed the new metal Duralumin at the Non-Ferrous Metals Exhibition at the Royal Agricultural Halls Β] .

1914 Specialities Armour Plates, Guns, Marine Shafting, Railway Material, Electrical Machinery, Ships of War and Commerce, Motor Cars.

WWI At Barrow, Vickers built battleships and submarines, merchant ships, the larger types of naval gun mountings, airships, howitzers, and projectiles of all types Γ]

1915 Vickers Ltd acquired control of T. Cooke and Sons, a scientific instrument manufacturing business.

1915 Purchased the Consolidated Diesel Engine Manufacturers' factory at Ipswich to build engines for submarines Δ] . Manufactured oil engines up to 500h.p.

1917 Purchased a share in the British Westinghouse electrical company when the company's American shareholders were bought out by Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co.

1918 Employed 16,000 persons at the River Don works

1918 Albert Vickers retired from the post of chairman

Post WWI. Built the Aussi tractor in small numbers

1919 Entered into a partnership with Petters under which the Vickers factory at Ipswich built diesel engines under the name of the joint company Vickers-Petters. This arrangement lasted until 1926. Ε]

1921 Made two Francis-type water turbines for Bradford Waterworks. Each developed 295 HP at 1000 rpm, 168 ft head. Ζ]

1921 The Vickers hardness test was developed by Robert L. Smith and George E. Sandland at Vickers Η]

1923 Vickers and the International Combustion Engineering Corporation established a new joint company Vickers and International Combustion Engineering Co to manufacture power plant equipment. Part of Vickers factory at Barrow in Furness, which had been used to make shells, would be transferred to the new company to manufacture boilers for pulverised fuel and related equipment ⎖]

1923 Formed British Separators Ltd, to make the Vickcen separator and oil purifier became a subsidiary of Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

1924 The work of Vickers in aircraft development was largely of the commerical and service machines produced in 1923. This development work was particularly related to the Valparaiso two-seater fighting reconnaissance machine. On the commercial side, the Vulture amphibian was produced, in which Squadron-Leader MacLaren made his courageous but unfortunate attempt to fly around the world. ⎗]

1924 Advert as engineers and shipbuilders with works at River Don Works at Sheffield Dartford, Erith, Crayford and Weybridge and the Naval Construction Works at Barrow.

1924 'The hydro-electric department of Messrs. Vickers Limited have received an order for the largest single runner Francis water turbine which has been built in England. This is a 25,000 h.p. water turbine to be installed at Calumet Island, on the Ottawa River, in Canada. At the point where the power station is now under construction the river falls sixty feet, and eventually three units such as the one now order will be installed. ⎘]

1924 Set up Vickers Research Building in the Palace of Engineering at the Empire Exhibition which illustrated research work conducted at various parts of the Vickers Group, including Metropolitan-Vickers Electric Co as well as Vickers' manufacturing of steel and non-ferrous alloys at Sheffield, Barrow, Erith and other works.

1925 July - Mr G. W. Jackson, Mr W. E. Pritchard and Mr J. Callender were appointed special directors of Vickers. ⎙]

1925 July - Vickers acquired the whole interest in the Vickers-Spearing Boiler Co. This change also gave Vickers control of Tinkers Ltd,. ⎚]

1925 Dec - William Clark managing director of Vickers announced his intention of resigning at the end of the year. ⎛]

1926 Major J. L. Benthall, one of the Sheffield directors of Vickers, Ltd., retired ⎜]

1927 February. Vickers sold Wolseley to William Morris for £730,000. Other bidders included General Motors and the Austin Motor Company. Morris renamed the company Wolseley Motors (1927) Ltd and consolidated its production at the sprawling Ward End Works in Birmingham.

1927 Having made considerable losses since the end of the war, Vickers merged many of its assets with those of the Tyneside-based engineering company Armstrong Whitworth, a company that had developed along similar lines by producing a suite of military products. The new company Vickers-Armstrongs would own assets from Vickers including those at Sheffield, Barrow, Eskmeals, Erith, Dartford, Swanley and Eynsford. Armstrong's contribution was to be the assets at Elswick, Openshaw and the Naval and Walker shipyards ⎝] . Some subsidiaries would be retained by the parent companies and operated independently, such as Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co which would be retained by Vickers. Vickers was the major partner in the new company with two thirds of the shares Armstrong Whitworth would receive one third of the shares.

1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1927 Also see Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1928 Due to downturn in the demand for railway wagons, the rolling stock interests of the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co Ltd were merged with those of Cammell, Laird and Co ⎞] under the name Metropolitan Cammell Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co Ltd ⎟] . The amalgamated entity was owned by Vickers and Cammell, Laird and Co and became known as Metro Cammell.

1928 Merger of companies in the steel industry announced, involving parts of Vickers, Vickers-Armstrongs and Cammell, Laird and Co ⎠] . This would involve all of the steel interests of the 3 contributing groups, except for interests in guns, ammunition and tanks. A new company would be created to take over these interests: the English Steel Corporation Ltd. The contribution from Vickers was Taylor Brothers and Co.

1928 Acquired Supermarine to extend the aircraft made by Vickers Aviation to include flying boats ⎡]

1930 The company was essentially a holding company was the largest shareholder by far in Vickers-Armstrongs also holding in Metro Cammell continued to be the sole proprietor of Vickers Aviation and the Supermarine Co and various smaller companies: Ioco Rubber and Waterproofing Co, Cooke, Troughton and Simms, Boby's ⎢]

1935 Vickers acquired the remainder of the share capital of Vickers-Armstrongs that it did not already own from Armstrong Whitworth Securities Company and other investment companies ⎣] .

1939 All aircraft construction activities transferred to Vickers-Armstrongs at government request ⎤] .

WWII At the outbreak of war, Vickers employed 95,000 people ⎥] .

1943 At its peak the company employed 170,000 people.

1944 At the end of the year the company employed 145,500.

By the end of 1944 the company had built 188 warships, including battleships and aircraft carriers, as well as 28,000 aircraft and repaired a further 9,000. The company also manufactured 6,200 tanks as well as many other vehicles. The company also produced major weapons, including massive bombs as well as 14,000 guns for the Navy and 150,000 guns for the other Services, and a huge amount of ammunition. It also expanded its programme for providing technical information to other companies and expanded this service to include Dominion countries. Was in the process of establishing a centralized research department for the aviation side of the business under Mr Barnes Wallis as well as equipping a centralized research department for the engineering side of the business. ⎦] .

1947 Making the transition to peacetime work had proved more difficult than expected, due to shortages of certain types of labour and of parts and rising costs ⎨]

1947 Acquired George Mann and Co of Leeds used help from Elswick and Scotswood works to increase production of printing machinery ⎩]

1948 Vickers increased its interest in Powers-Samas Accounting Machines to 59% and treated the company as a subsidiary ⎪] .

1949 Started making bottling machinery at Crayford.

1950 The transport activities included: shipping , aviation, railway rolling stock, and road passenger transport.

1951 It was felt that fair compensation had been achieved in return for nationalization of English Steel Corporation ⎫]

1966 Vickers acquired Waite and Saville Crabtree-Vickers was established as Britain's leading printing machinery manufacturer. ⎭]

1968 Received £16.25 million from the nationalization of the English Steel Corporation ⎮]

Acquired Michell Bearings of Newcastle and Kirby's (Engineers) of Walsall which became part of the Engineering Division ⎯]

1973 Vickers acquired Dawson and Barfos Manufacturing, of Gomersal and Thetford, making Vickers the largest manufacturer of bottling equipment in the UK ⎰]

1977 After the shipbuilding and aircraft interests were nationalised, the profit potential of the remainder of the business was seen to be substantially reduced ⎱] . The remainder of the business consisted of: heavy engineering (at Scotswood) printing machinery bearings bottling machinery shipbuilding, Roneo Vickers office equipment. The company acquired other interests using borrowed money in anticipation of the compensation for the nationalised assets ⎲]

1979 Closure of Vickers Scotswood heavy engineering plant began and 230 of 750 workers were paid off. ⎳]

1980 Vickers bought Rolls-Royce Motors to form one of the largest engineering companies in the country ⎴] .

1990 Acquired Cosworth, which would complement the existing engine activities ⎵] .

1998 Sold Rolls-Royce Motor Cars to Volkswagen. The Leeds tank factory was closed and Challenger tank production concentrated at Newcastle-upon-Tyne ⎶] . Acquired Ulstein, a Norwegian marine engineer ⎷]

1999 Rolls-Royce plc acquired Vickers plc ⎸] Vickers Ulstein and Kamewa products were added to Rolls-Royce's gas turbine activities, making Rolls-Royce a global leader in marine power systems.

2002 Alvis group purchased Vickers Defence Systems and Vickers Bridging, making Alvis the dominant UK maker of armoured vehicles ⎹]

By 2004 The Vickers company name was extinct


The First Fighter

This authentic Vickers Gun Bus replica first flew in 1966 but was grounded two years later for display at the Royal Air Force Museum.

The Vickers’ “Gun Bus” pointed the way to the future of fighter aircraft, but was soon left in the wake of more advanced designs.

The Vickers F.B.5 has the distinction of being the first airplane designed from the outset as a fighter, built in quantity and deployed in a fighter squadron equipped with a single aircraft type. But its appearance was not much like what we would think of today as a fighter. To understand why the F.B.5 looked the way it did, it’s useful to examine both how it came to be developed and even the very definition of “fighter.”

During World War I, Britain applied the term specifically to machine-gun-armed airplanes that were designed for offensive aerial combat. British fighters were usually substantial two-seat combat aircraft, culminating in the development of the famous Bristol Fighter, or F.2B. The light, agile single-seaters that we now think of as fighters were called “scouts” by the British and were, at least at the beginning of the war, incapable of carrying any armament. Even after armed single-seaters were introduced, the British persisted in referring to them as scouts throughout the war. The designations applied by the French and Germans to their later armed single-seaters, on the other hand, were derived from their respective terms for “hunting” (avion de chasse and Jadgflugzeug). Subsequently the U.S. Army, whose members were Francophiles, literally translated the French term avion de chasse into “pursuit plane.”

The F.B.5’s story began in 1912 when the Royal Navy asked Vickers to develop an airplane armed with a machine gun. After examining the problems involved, Vickers’ designers decided the best configuration would be a fairly large single-engine, two-seat pusher. That way the gunner could be seated in the nose, where he would have a clear view ahead and an unobstructed field of fire.

The first prototype was designated the E.F.B.1 (Experimental Fighter Biplane 1) Destroyer. Powered by an 80-hp water-cooled Wolseley V-8 engine, it flew for the first time in February 1913. Unfortunately, it proved nose-heavy, which was hardly surprising considering that it carried a 60-pound Maxim water-cooled machine gun, and crashed on its maiden flight.

Vickers persisted with development through several subsequent prototypes. First flown on July 17, 1914, the F.B.5 was powered by a much lighter 100-hp air-cooled Gnome engine and was armed with a lightweight, magazine-fed Lewis machine gun. Like its predecessors, the F.B.5 was a two-seat pusher biplane with the gunner seated ahead of the pilot. Constructed of wood and fabric, it was 27 feet 2 inches long and had a wingspan of 36 feet 6 inches. Maximum speed was 70 mph and range was 250 miles.


An observer aims the F.B.5’s Lewis machine gun. (RAF Museum, Hendon)

Entering service with the Royal Flying Corps in November 1914 and widely known as the “Gun Bus,” the F.B.5 proved to be an effective weapon largely because there was nothing else that could challenge it. F.B.5s were initially issued individually to squadrons until July 1915, when No. 11 Squadron was deployed to the Western Front equipped entirely with F.B.5s, becoming history’s first dedicated fighter squadron. One of its pilots, Welsh-born Captain Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees, was credited with shooting down or at least “driving down” six enemy planes in collaboration with his gunner-observers, becoming the only Gun Bus ace.

Another 11 Squadron pilot, 2nd Lt. Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall, was flying F.B.5 no. 5074 with 1st Class Air Mechanic Thomas Ham Donald as his observer on November 7, 1915, when they forced a German Aviatik to land southeast of Arras, France. Ignoring groundfire—including shots from the downed enemy, who fled from their airplane when Donald shot back—Insall swooped down to finish off the Aviatik with a small incendiary bomb. On the way home the British airmen strafed the German trenches…until return fire holed their fuel tank. Force-landing in a wood just 500 yards behind Allied lines, Insall and Donald stood by their aircraft while German artillery lobbed shells their way. Working by flashlight and other illumination that night, the two repaired their Gun Bus and took off at dawn to return safely to their aerodrome. For their dedication to recovering the plane—literally at the risk of their lives—Insall was awarded the Victoria Cross and Donald the Distinguished Conduct Medal on December 23.

A total of 224 F.B.5s were eventually built—119 in Britain, 99 in France and six in Denmark. An additional 50 aircraft featuring a slightly improved design and designated F.B.9s were produced. As 1915 progressed, however, newer and more formidable aircraft began to appear over the front, most especially the new Fokker Eindeckers armed with machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller. Although the Gun Bus was by then outclassed, it remained in service well into 1916.

The F.B.5 was designed to be exactly what it was, an airplane that could deploy a machine gun in the sky. Its chief disadvantages stemmed from the fact that it was designed before the war began, at a time when providing a stable gun platform was considered the most impor­tant criterion for a fighting airplane. The importance of speed, rate of climb, ceiling and maneuverability—later to be recognized as among a fighter’s most essential assets—was not yet appreciated. Nevertheless, the F.B.5 was a start, and the sky would never be the same after the advent of the Gun Bus.

Although no originals survive, the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon possesses a beautiful full-sized flying Vickers F.B.5 replica constructed in 1966. No. 11 Squadron, the world’s first fighter squadron, still exists in today’s RAF, and currently flies the Euro­fighter Typhoon.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe here!


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