Colt-Vickers M1915: America’s 2nd Maxim Gun
While the heavy machine guns of John Browning have become synonymous with the US Army since the turn of the 20th century, it was actually the Maxim gun, which was the US Army’s most used machine gun of the First World War, with 13 US divisions equipped with the Colt-Vickers M1915.
First introduced in 1887, the Maxim gun was revolutionary. It instantly made all preceding hand operated machine guns like the Gatling Gun obsolete. Over the next 15 years the Maxim was adopted by almost every major military power across the globe including Great Britain who adopted an improved model built by Vickers Ltd. It was this Vickers-improved design which the US would adopt in 1914. However, the Colt-Vickers Model of 1915 was not the first Maxim adopted by the US Army, in 1904, after several years of fitful testing an order was placed with Vickers, Sons & Maxim of England to manufacture a run of 90 machine guns while licensed manufacturing was prepared at Colt. In the end only 287 Maxim Model 1904s were built before the US Army began to favour the Benét-Mercié, which was adopted in 1909.
With the outbreak of World War One and the obvious dominance of the machine gun the US began to realise that in comparison for example to Germany who fielded approximately 12,000 machine guns at the onset of war their machine gun capability was woeful. When the US entered the war in 1917 the US machine gun establishment was made up of a mishmash of guns dating from the turn of the century. These included Colt-Browning M1895s, Maxim M1904s, Benét-Mercié M1909s and Lewis light machine guns.
US troops training with the Benét-Mercié M1909 (source)
In 1913, US Ordnance had begun the search for a new machine gun to replace the mixture of designs then in service. Seven competing designs were tested including a British Vickers MkI which jammed just 23 times during extensive testing with no parts broken. This greatly impressed the selection board who unanimously deemed the Vickers as the best machine gun tested, Captain John Butler of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance later described how the Vickers gun “…stood in a class by itself. Not a single part was broken nor replaced. Nor was there a jam worthy of the name during the entire series of tests. A better performance could not be desired.”
The Vickers-Maxim was adopted as the 'Vickers Machine Gun Model of 1915, Caliber .30, Water-Cooled' with an initial order of over 4,000 guns. However, as with the earlier Maxim M1904 production issues at Colt meant that by 1917, the US Army has not received any of the ordered guns, this put the Army at a grave tactical disadvantages as they had neither the machine guns to equip divisions shipping out to Europe nor had they had the chance to train and develop tactics for the use of machine guns in the field. As a result when the lead divisions of the American Expeditionary Force reached France they were equipped with French and British machine guns. The first US troops to be issued with the Vickers M1915 were the ten divisions that arrived in June 1918. By the end of the First World War thirteen US combat divisions in Europe were armed with the Vickers M1915, with some 7,600 guns in the field this made it the most widely use American-made machine gun of the war.
British Vickers Machine Gun MKI (source)
Physically the US Vickers M1915 is almost identical to the British Vickers .303 MkI. They share the instantly recognisable muzzle booster and indented barrel shroud. Both cycled at around 450 to 500 rounds per minute and while the guns could be differentiated by their markings, grips and sights the main difference between to two weapons was their ammunition.
The British Vickers fired the rimmed .303 round while the M1915 fired the rimless US .30-06, as such when the US shipped Vickers M1915s to British during World War Two as part of the Lend-Lease scheme the newly arrived American weapons were painted with a red stripe on the receiver to differentiate the very similar looking guns to prevent soldiers firing the wrong ammunition in the weapon.
By 1918, the US Army had adopted the American-designed Colt-Browning M1917 which was simpler to manufacture and began issuing this in the place of the Vickers M1915 in late 1918. By the time Colt ended production some 12,125 guns had been produced, today due to loss in action, Lend-Lease shipments to Britain during World War Two and the loss of remaining stocks in the Philippines during the early Pacific campaign the Vickers M1915 is a rare weapon with its important role as the US Army’s main machine gun during World War One largely forgotten.
Image One Source
Image Two Source
Image Three & Four Source
U.S. Colt Vickers Model of 1915 - Small Arms Defense Journal, January 2012, (Source)
Vickers American Roots & Ties (Source)
Military Small Arms, I. Hogg & J. Weeks, (1985)