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.303-inch Gun

At one stage or another, almost every unit in the British Army has used a Vickers Machine Gun. The form in which these guns were used, and the specific type of gun, is varied and changes by time and the role of the unit.

1912 - 1915

At the introduction of the Mk. I in 1912, the Machine Gun was held in the Machine Gun Section of Infantry Battalions. The Infantry Regiments of the time were:

The British Army Order of Battle for 1912 - 1915 and information on those units is available here.

In addition to this, Motor Machine Gun Batteries were formed as part of the Royal Field Artillery and attached to each Division as a mobile asset.

It went to war with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 in this manner and, apart from an increase in the number of guns from two to four in February 1915, remained so until the 26th October 1915.

1915 - 1922

This date saw the formation of the Machine Gun Corps and the guns were centralised and formed into Machine Gun Companies and Squadrons which were attached to Infantry and Cavalry Brigades. In 1918, further centralisation took place and the companies were combined and formed into Machine Gun Battalions which were then attached to Divisions.

1922 - 1936

When the Machine Gun Corps was disbanded in 1922, the guns reverted to service as a Machine Gun Platoon of the Infantry Battalion, which later became a Machine Gun Company. The Cavalry used their MG assets as a Machine Gun Squadron of a Cavalry Regiment.

The Order of Battle for the British Army in 1922, and further information on those units is available here.

1936 - 1945

However, with the eve of war approaching again, 1936 saw the reorganisation and mechanisation of the Army and centalisation of MG assets took place once again. Rather than form a separate Corps, the centralisation took place in the form of converting Infantry Regiments into Divisional (Machine Gun), some of which later became Divisional (Support) Battalions. It had initially been intended to convert up to 14 infantry regiments; however, only four were finally chosen. The Regiments that had Battalions converted to the new role were the:

  • Cheshire Regiment
  • Manchester Regiment
  • Middlesex Regiment; including the 13th (Princess Louise's Own Kensington) London Regiment
  • Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

    Some individual Battalions of Infantry Regiments were also converted on a Battalion level, or individual companies. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders and Devonshire Regiment provided independent MG Companies or Battalions; however, these were disbanded and returned to regular infantry units later on in the war.

    To provide a fast response to any proposed invasion threat in 1940, a series of Motor Machine Gun Brigades were formed using Cavalry and Armoured Regiments. These were numbered the 1st MMG Bde, 2nd MMG Bde, and 3rd MMG Bde. They were lightly armed yet highly mechanised.

    Aside from these units which were attached to the Infantry and Armoured Divisions of the time, there were a few Infantry Battalions which retained their Machine Gun assets within their Support Companies. These were primarily those Battalions which performed specialist roles including the Parachute Battalions of the Parachute Regiment and the Airlanding Battalions of the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions. These were:

    1st Airborne Division
    1st Bn, The Border Regiment
    2nd Bn, The South Staffordshire Regiment
    7th Bn, The King's Own Scottish Borderers

    6th Airborne Division
    1st Bn, The Royal Ulster Rifles
    2nd Bn, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
    12th Bn, The Devonshire Regiment

    On a similar theme, the Motor Battalions of the Armoured Brigades of Armoured Divisions and Independent Armoured Brigades also retained the Vickers MGs within their Support Companies and these units were:

  • Grenadier Guards
  • The Rifle Brigade
  • The King's Royal Rifle Corps

    The Vickers also provided a mobile support weapon for a number of specialist Regular and Special Forces units. The Vickers provided them with mobile indirect and direct fire support that was required when working independently of established lines of communication and regular support troops. At one time or another, the majority of units used the Vickers. These included:

  • Reconnaissance Corps
  • Royal Marines and Army Commando
  • Long Range Desert Group
  • Special Air Service
  • Raiding Support Regiment
  • The 'Chindit' Special Force

    At home, the Home Guard were also issued with Mk. I and American-made M1915 Vickers MGs.

    1945 - 1968

    With the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the British Army had a large-scale release of personnel and there was insufficient numbers to retain the quantity of Infantry Divisions that had been in place during the war. Therefore, the MG assets were once again split up and returned to Machine Gun Platoons within Support Companies of Infantry Battalions. This is how the guns were to remain in use until their disbandment in 1968.

    It is also worth pointing out that while not 'armed' with the Vickers, some units had a major part to play in the role of the gun within the Army. These were the Armourers of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Instructors of the Small Arms School Corps.

    In 1968, the Vickers Mk. I was declared obsolete and removed from service. It was such a momentous occasion that it warranted an article on the front page of The Times on January 09, 1968.

    The Times


    .303-inch Gas-Operated

    The Vickers Gas-Operated No. 1 was used by several units of the Army; although designed as an RAF weapon. It was used by the Reconnaissance Corps on light armoured vehicles, as well as jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron. It was also used on similar armoured vehicle of the Royal Armoured Corps and on some tanks.

    In addition to 'regular' usage of the Vickers, the No. 1 gun was also used by the Special Air Service and Long Range Desert Group mounted on jeeps and some larger trucks. The No. 2 gun was adapted for use by Army Commando units in the ground role.


    .5-inch Gun

    The .5-inch Vickers MGs were used by the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Tank Regiment fitted within light Tanks as the main and secondary armaments. The units of the RAC were generally part of Armoured Divisions and Independent Armoured Brigades. This was only for a limited period from the time of their introduction in the 1930s through to the mid-part of the Second World War (approximately 1942).

    When the guns became too limited for use as a tank weapon, some were used by the Long Range Desert Group as a heavy machine gun mounted on the rear of lorries.


    Sources:

  • Bouchery, 1999
  • Flags of the World, 2006
  • Joslen, 1960
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