Britannia’s version of the ‘quad 50’

Note wheels cranked out when stationay

The U.S. land-based concept of WWII. The M45C mount, fully equipped with 800 rounds of ammunition, armor shield for the gunner, oil, fuel for the engine, and all accessories was 2400-pounds. The Brits came up with the same idea 15~ years earlier and used much faster firing water-cooled guns that weighed about the same.

While the U.S. Army’s M45 Maxson “Meatchopper” four-pack of air-cooled M2 .50-cal BMG (12.7x99mm) heavy machine guns is legendary, Britain’s version, used almost exclusively for shipborne anti-aircraft artillery, gets considerably less attention.

The British version, for Naval use, which predated WWII.

The British version, for Naval use, which predated WWII.

The Vickers 0.5-inch was an altogether different gun and caliber (12.7x81mm) with 690-grain Semi-Armour Piercing (SAP) and 664-grain Semi-Armour Piercing-Tracer (SAPT) rounds favored in RN use. The round, according to some bullet collectors, was invented by necking down a .600 Nitro Express.

While the Army and RAF used the same gun, typically in single mounts, the cyclic rate was pretty slow (400 rpms). The RN’s version lacked the delay pawl and used heavier springs, almost doubling that rate of fire.

Vickers Quadruple 0.5" MG, possibly a Mk3, fired a 1.3 Ounce bullet, rate of fire 600 RPM from 4 200 round magazines, max range 1,500 yards, max elev 80 degrees with 360 firing. This one is HMS Hero (H 99), later HMCS Chaudière, an H-class Destroyer with Vickers Mk III mount. She was paid off and scrapped in 1950.

The Vickers Quadruple 0.5″ MG, fired a 1.3 Ounce bullet, had a 700 RPM cyclic rate from 4×200 round magazines, a max rangeof  1,500 yards, max elevation of 80 degrees with 360-degree firing arc, dependent on superstructure. This one is on HMS Hero (H 99), later HMCS Chaudière, an H-class Destroyer with Vickers Mk III mount. She was paid off and scrapped in 1950.

Classified as the Vickers Mark III No. 1, the mount weighed in at 2,580-pounds when fully loaded and included a quartet of water-cooled .50 cals, capable of depressing/elevating -10 / +80 degrees. Unlike the Maxson which was electrically powered via a small gasoline engine, the Vickers relied on a pair of Jack Tars working their elevation and azimuth wheels while sometimes a third rating served as the mount’s captain/spotter.

HMS Vanity, (D28, later L38) a V-class destroyer commissoned in 1918, picked up her MkIII in 1940. She was scrapped in 1947. IWM A 1249

HMS Vanity, (D28, later L38) a V-class destroyer commissioned in 1918, picked up her MkIII in 1940. She was scrapped in 1947. IWM A 1249

Loading the drums of a 0.50 Vickers Mark III quad mount on the light cruiser HMNZS Leander. She was scrapped in 1950

Loading the drums of a 0.50 Vickers Mark III quad mount on the light cruiser HMNZS Leander. She was scrapped in 1950

The guns could be calibrated to have a spread of fire 60 feet wide and 50 feet high at 1,000 yards, which is a pretty effective cone, though a short ranged one.

Each machine gun had a 200-round belt in a drum can, giving the gun 800 rounds at the ready. As cyclic rate per gun could run as fast as 700rpms, you could drain a mount’s onboard ammo supply in well under a minute of constant firing. However, as you are dealing with a water-cooled machine gun (each held 3.5 quarts in its jacket), simply add another belt and get back into the fight. A new belt could be added to a gun in 16 seconds or less, with two gunners recharging all four guns within a minute.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 3154) The crew of a quadruple Vickers 0.5 inch machine gun at action stations on a destroyer in wintry conditions. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185243

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 3154) The crew of a quadruple Vickers 0.5 inch machine gun at action stations on a destroyer in wintry conditions. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185243

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 13617) Cleaning and re-ammunitioning the 0.5 inch Vickers machine guns in quadruple Mark III mounting on board HMS CALM in a port in the eastern Mediterranean. The little ship is a minesweeper doing one of the most important, most dangerous and most uncomfortable war jobs. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186153

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 13617) Cleaning and re-ammunitioning the 0.5 inch Vickers machine guns in quadruple Mark III mounting on board HMS CALM in a port in the eastern Mediterranean. The little ship is a minesweeper doing one of the most important, most dangerous and most uncomfortable war jobs. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186153

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 5901) The gun crew of a .5 inch four barrelled Vickers gun at their quarter on board HMS LONDON. Note the long belts of ammunition hanging off the two men. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185473

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 5901) The gun crew of a .5 inch four barrelled Vickers gun at their quarter on board HMS LONDON. Note the long belts of ammunition hanging off the two men. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185473

According to Navweaps, production started on these guns as early as 1926 and they were no doubt effective against the biplanes of that day. However, as planes got faster and heavier, the prospect of using .50 cal– even massed– had rather expired in the early days of WWII. Indeed, by the end of that conflict, the U.S. Navy was distancing not only 20mm Oerlikons but also 40mm Bofors in favor of rapid-fire radar directed 3″ and 5″ DP mounts.

Apparently, some 12,500 of these guns (in several varieties not limited to the quad mount shown here) were produced and a limited number exported to Japan and China before 1939.

Vickers Mk III in Soviet service

Vickers Mk III in Soviet service. Don’t be surprised if a few of these, along with their 1940s Kynoch-made ammo, are still in a warehouse somewhere in Murmansk

These guns, nonetheless, were very common on British and Commonwealth ships as well as Soviet vessels passed on, being mounted on everything from converted trawlers to aircraft carriers (HMS Ark Royal had eight such quad mounts in 1940).

These guns no doubt lingered in service with third world navies on surplus RN ships through the 1960s or later.

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