The Lewis machine-gun, usually called a “Lewis gun”, was a weapon commonly installed on Canadian merchant ships. However It was the weapon that brought down Manfred Von Richtofen Aka., “The Red Baron”, Germany’s highest scoring fighter pilot in The Great War, when light machine gunners of an Australian artillery battery fired on the famous Red triplane which had flown dangerously low over Allied lines.
The Lewis Gun was extensively used on British and French aircraft during FWW, either as an observer’s or gunner’s weapon or as an additional weapon to the more common Vickers. The Lewis’ popularity as an aircraft machine-gun was partly due to its low weight, the fact that it was air-cooled and that it used self-contained 97-round drum magazines. Because of this, the Lewis was first fitted on two early production examples of the Bristol Scout C aircraft by Lanoe Hawker in the summer of 1915, mounted on the port side and firing forwards and outwards at a 30º angle to avoid the propeller arc.
The open bolt firing cycle of the Lewis prevented it from being synchronized to fire directly forward through the propeller arc of a single engined-fighter, only the British Airco D.H.2 and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8 pusher fighters could readily use the Lewis as direct forward-firing armament early in World War I. For the use of observers or rear gunners, the Lewis was mounted on a Scarff ring, which allowed the gun to be rotated and elevated whilst supporting the gun’s weight. Lewis Guns were often employed in a balloon-busting role, loaded with incendiary ammunition designed to ignite the hydrogen inside the gasbags of German Zeppelins and dirigibles.
Source; Bruce, Robert (2000). “The Lewis Gun”. Guns Magazine, March 2000/findarticles.com. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
The Lewis gun was an air-powered portable machine gun, or machine rifle, invented by an American military man, Isaac Newton Lewis, in 1912-1913 and widely used by British and Allied forces. It fed the gas-pressure in the barrel (caused by the explosion of the bullet) through a tube-and-piston device under the barrel back to the loading and firing mechanism. The Lewis jammed easily, but for much of the war it was virtually the only mobile rapid fire weapon. A “Lewis Section” would consist of a man carrying the gun, and firing it when he put it down, and several men carrying canvas bags filled with drums of ammunition. The Lewis gun gave one man, briefly, huge fire power, and was an essential tool for the many men who heroically attacked German pillboxes, trenches and strong points. The Canadians made very effective use of the Lewis gun.
First used during the First World War, the Lewis Machine Gun was widely used as an aircraft mounted weapon, and by the middle of the war was being issued in large numbers to infantry platoons. The weapon was commonly fired from the 47 round drum (or pan), and was reputed to frequently jam. A Lewis gun team in the latter part of the First World War consisted of a gunner and three to six men carrying loaded pans for the gun in canvas carriers. In early 1916 a Canadian battalion had an entitlement of 8 Lewis Guns, by early 1918 it had sixteen, or one per platoon with four extra for anti-aircraft protection. By the end of 1918, each battalion had 32 Lewis Guns, with two per platoon plus anti-aircraft guns (fired from a tripod, as illustrated in the above photo).
Guns in use during the First World War retained the cooling system, and Lewis guns continued in service – often as Drill Purpose only weapons – up until the adoption of the Bren in 1939. The Lewis gun also saw widespread naval use during the Second World War. A flat drum on top of the weapon held ammunition (centre left), while an air-cooling jacket around its barrel created a distinctive profile (right). Fitted singly or in pairs on simple mountings, Lewis guns were used for anti-aircraft and general defence, but due to their limited range and effectiveness against aircraft they were gradually replaced by heavier weapons as the war progressed.
The Belgian Army was the first military force to adopt the Lewis Gun; when the Germans first encountered it in 1914 (whilst in combat against the Belgians), they nicknamed it “The Belgian Rattlesnake”.
The British officially adopted the Lewis Gun in .303 calibre for Land and Aircraft use in October 1915, with the US Navy and Marine Corps following in early 1917, adopting the M1917 Lewis Gun (produced by the Savage Arms Co.), in .30-06 caliber.
The US Army never officially adopted the weapon for infantry use and even went so far as to take Lewis Guns away from US Marines arriving in France and replacing them with the cheap, shoddy, and extremely unsatisfactory Chauchat LMG—a practice believed to be related to General Crozier’s dislike of Col. Lewis and his gun. The US Army eventually adopted the Browning Automatic Rifle in 1917 (although it was September 1918 before any of the new guns reached the front). The US Navy and Marine Corps continued to use the .30-06 caliber Lewis until the early part of World War.
- Bruce, Robert (2000). “The Lewis Gun”. Guns Magazine, March 2000/findarticles.com. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
- Skennerton (2001), p.6.
- Ford (2005), p.70.
- Hogg (1976), p.30-3.
- Hogg (1976), p.31.
- Ford (2005), p.71.
- Smith (1973), p.270