The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their Maxims. There were still shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914.
The Maxim Machine-Gun was a self-powered, heavy machine gun invented by American Sir Hiram Maxim in 1883. The recoil from each bullet fired powered the gun to load and fire the next bullet; it fired up to 600-700 bullets a minute at a range of several thousand yards. The Maxim gun used “belts” to feed it bullets, and ideally needed a crew of two to eight men to operate. This gun revolutionized warfare by making cavalry and infantry attacks across open ground virtually suicidal. This created the need for trenches, and in turn caused the stalemate of the Western Front. The French version was called the Hotchkiss, the German the Spandau, and the English the Vickers.
DESCRIPTION OF THE MAXIM AUTOMATIC MACHINE GUN, CALIBER .30, MODEL OF 1904.
[Plates I and II.]
The Maxim automatic machine gun, caliber .30, belongs to that class of automatic guns in which the force of recoil is utilized to operate it. After the first shot the gun is self-operative, until the ammunition in the cartridge belt is exhausted or until the trigger is released. The force of recoil opens the breech, extracts the empty case, and inserts and fires the next cartridge. In firing, the action of the mechanism is as follows: The barrel and lock move to the rear a short distance. At the end of this recoil the lock is drawn back from the chamber, thus opening the breech and at the same time drawing a loaded cartridge from the belt and extracting the empty case from the chamber. During the last part of the motion of the lock the empty case and the loaded cartridge are lowered until the latter is in line with the chamber and the former with the ejection opening. Under the influence of a spring, which the movement of recoil has extended, the lock is then pressed forward, the fresh cartridge is pushed into the chamber, the empty case is pushed into the ejector opening, the belt is fed forward one round, and the carrier and barrel finally returned to the firing position. During the recoil the firing pin is cocked, and unless the trigger has been released the sear is struck at the conclusion of the movement described above, and the gun is again fired. Continuous fire is obtained, therefore, simply by keeping the trigger pressed down after firing the first round.
The Maxim Gun was water-cooled (via a jacket around the barrel which held approximately one gallon) and fed from fabric belts; the German version of the gun, the Maschinengewehr, utilised 250-round belts. The whole was mounted on a sledge which, although heavy – 1914 machine guns weighed from 40-60kg – did enable the gun to be carried in the manner of a stretcher. The Maxim was usually operator by a four to six man team.
In designing his machine gun, Hiram Maxim utilised a simple if ingenious concept. The gas produced by the explosion of the powder in each cartridge itself generated a recoil which served to continuously operate the gun’s mechanism. No external power was needed. His initial design allowed for a theoretical rate of fire of up to 600 rounds per minute (half that number in practice).
Source: DHH OH: The CF In the Great War 1938:
Canada’s Call to Arms,” on the Atlantic coast, a meditated attack by Austrian steamships on the important wireless station at Glace Bay was reported on 4th August in a cable from the Colonial Office, and resulted in the hurried despatch of the maintenance crew of the Niobe – “a carpenter, a petty officer, a seaman and a gunner” – followed by special train at 3 a.m. on the 5th by a detachment of naval volunteers, 43 strong with two field guns and two maxim machine guns, from Halifax. A military detachment of 30 was, however, already on the spot, provided under the local defence scheme, and the naval detachment was withdrawn two days later………. First Contingent at Valcartier; for a contract to be made with Vickers Limited of London (England), for thirty light Vickers guns, delivery to be made to the G.O.C., Canadian Expeditionary Force on arrival in England. This order was never filled, the whole Vickers output being requisitioned by the War Office, which offered to provide thirty Maxim guns in lieu. The Contingent actually took overseas twenty Colts, with the Motor Machine Gun unit, and four Maxims; in November and December, 51 more Colts were shipped from Canada and issued to the C.E.F. in England….. On Salisbury plain: The Canadian establishment of battalion machine guns was increased from two to four; the Vickers guns ordered in England were, however, not delivered because the whole output was reserved for the War Office, which on 15th October offered thirty Maxim guns temporarily in lieu. It was evident that American manufacturers would have to be relied on, for the present at least, to provide machine guns for the Canadian forces, and an order for 250 Colt guns was placed on 17th October. Fifty Colt guns had already been ordered on 29th August but deliveries were slow; 17 were issued to infantry battalions on Salisbury Plain on 26th November, and the remainder reached there only on 31st January………