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Museum of the Manchester Regiment


The Vickers Machine Gun and The Manchester Regiment

In 1881 Hiram Stevens Maxim, an American, attended the Paris electrical exhibition. He was told that the way to get rich was "to invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others' throats with greater facility". He set up a workshop in Hatton Garden, London and between 1883 and 1885 patented almost every process by which automatic fire could be produced. In 1884 a press report stated "Hiram Maxim, the well known American electrician has made an automatic machine gun with a single barrel, using the standard.45 rifle cartridge, that will load and fire itself by energy derived from recoil at a rate of over 600 rounds a minute". From that time until his death in New York in 1916 his gun had been adopted by every major power, although some were to discard it in favour of other systems.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 the importance of the sustained fire machine gun was demonstrated in positional defence. By 1908 the German Army approved the 1908 model Maxim and 5,000 were ready for war by 1914. The British approved the Vickers.303 (an improved version of the Maxim) in 1912; with two intended for each infantry battalion. Less than 200 were available for the six British Divisions sent to France in 1914. By 1915 between six and eight guns were issued to infantry battalions, grouped into machine gun companies for greater effect.

In October 1915 the British Machine Gun Corps was formed, eventually consisting of 4,000 officers and 80,000 other ranks. By the end of the war the British were at their peak in the technical skill of the use of the machine gun in defence and attack. In all, some 3,816 guns were deployed, primarily in fifty-four machine gun battalions - each with an establishment of sixty-four guns. In 1922 the Machine Gun Corps was disbanded and the gun was issued to infantry battalions with one Rifle Company being converted to a machine gun company.

In 1936 it was decided to form machine gun battalions from four selected infantry regiments, the Manchester Regiment being one of them. The other Regiments were the Cheshire Regiment, the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment. During 1936-37 the two Regular Army battalions of the Manchester Regiment were re-organised and trained as mechanised machine gun battalions. To allow for the additional instruction the recruits' 18 week training at the Depot was increased to 22 weeks. The first of these squads joined the 2nd Battalion at Strensall in 1937.

During the 1939-45 war these battalions of the Regiment served as machine gun battalions:

1st Battalion
1939 - 1942. Singapore.

6th Battalion - reconstituted as 1st Battalion
1942 - 1945. 53rd (Welsh) Division - UK, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

2nd Battalion
1939 - 1945. 2nd Division - France, Belgium, UK, India and Burma/Assam.

7th Battalion
1942 - 1945. 52nd (Lowland) Division - Scotland, France, Holland and Germany.

1/9th Battalion
1939 42nd Division - UK
1940 5th and 50th Divisions - France and Belgium.
1941 C Force - Iceland.
1941 - 1942 46th Division - North Africa.
1943 - 1944 4th (Indian) Division - Sicily, Italy and Greece.
1944 - 1945. 46th Division - Austria.

2/9th Battalion
1939 - 1941. UK (Later converted to an Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery).

In 1948 the Vickers once again became integral with the infantry battalion support weapon organisation and the role of the specialised machine gun battalion was dispensed with.

A Vickers machine gun, as used by the Manchester Regiment, is displayed in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment.