By Robert G. Segel
The vast majority of tripods produced by the various Vickers manufacturing facilities were the Mount, Tripod, MG, Mk IV. The Mk IV was the standard issue tripod of the British Armed Forces from 1915 to the end of its service career in the 1970s. It is most recognized and associated with the British army Mk I Vickers water-cooled machine gun.
As is well known, the Vickers gun was a direct descendent of the Maxim gun invented, designed, developed and produced by Hiram Maxim. A brief manufacturing location history is reviewed below:
- A) Maxim Gun Company, Ltd. (1884-1888) Hetton Gardens and Crayford
- B) Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company, Ltd. (1888-1897) Erith and Crayford
- C) Vickers Sons & Maxim, Ltd. (1897-1911) Erith and Crayford
- D) Vickers, Ltd. (1911-1928) Erith, Crayford and others
- E) Vickers-Armstrongs, Ltd. (1928- ) Erith and various other locations
In 1927, Vickers, Ltd. began to introduce for commercial sales the Mark L tripod for the commercial version of the Mk I Vickers that was called the Class “C” Rifle Caliber Gun. The Mk I and Class “C” guns were virtually identical except for their name – Mk I being a British military designation and Class “C” being a commercial designation. In 1928, when Vickers became Vickers-Armstrongs, they continued with their development of commercial sales of guns, mounts, and accessories around the world.
The Mark L tripod was a top of the line, well constructed and expensive option to purchase. What made this tripod unique and differentiated it from the standard Mk IV tripod is the elongated cradle that could be realigned from its horizontal configuration by unlocking the cradle and rotating it upward and locking it in a vertical configuration. This significantly raised the overall height of the tripod allowing the mount to be used as an anti-aircraft extension. The cradle also had a special ammunition box bracket that could be unlocked, rotated and re-locked thus enabling the ammunition box to be kept aligned with the proper axis of the gun. The elevation gear is engaged and used only when the gun and tripod are set up in the horizontal ground configuration. When setting up in the anti-aircraft configuration, the gun must be dismounted before the change-over can be achieved. The elevation gear is folded forward and secured with a retaining clip that is located within the frame of the cradle. The rear of the cradle is swung up and locked in place to the bronze crosshead with a retaining pin. The gun is then remounted at the forward mounting holes only. The ammunition box holding bracket is unlocked by pulling out the spring loaded locking pin, rotating the entire bracket and releasing the locking pin into the new guide hole. Though it is advisable to remove the ammunition box from the bracket when changing positions, it is not mandatory to do so.
The ammunition box was specifically designed for this mount. It is made of wood with dove-tail construction with a leather carrying handle at the top. The front forward sides are cut with guide slots for securing to the ammunition bracket mount located on the cradle. As was typical and unique of Vickers designed ammunition boxes, the top lid was double hinged. This allowed partial opening to permit feeding yet keep the rest of the box covered to protect the belt from dirt and the elements or opened full length to allow reloading the box with a fresh belt of ammunition.
The Mark L tripod was made during an eight year period with 535 being made. A later modification, called the Mark LB had a slightly different front leg locking mechanism and was produced for only three years from 1934 to 1936 with 760 units being produced. By 1937 the commercial market was drying up because of world recession and military sales to the British Government were increasing with the resulting emphasis on the Mk IV tripod.
Following is a detailed order history of sales of the Mark L and Mark LB tripods. This information is taken from previously unpublished handwritten notes in the “Mountings” book from the Vickers archives. These seventy year old entries were in pen and pencil done by at least four different writers (variations in handwriting) with notations that at times seem most cryptic. It is interesting to note that some of the tripods ordered were not for use with the Vickers Class “C” gun but rather for the Colt MG38 water-cooled machine gun. (The Colt MG38 is the Colt commercial version of the Browning M1917A1 water-cooled machine gun.) However, this is not as odd as it may sound at first impression as both guns would fit on the Mark L and Mark LB tripods and Vickers-Armstrongs was the agent for Colt in England at this time. Remember too, that mounts were ordered as accessories separately from orders for guns. Customers used the guns they purchased on a variety of mounts – naval mounts, cone mounts, wheeled field carriage mounts, fortification mounts, fortress mounts and tripod mounts to name a few. Just because a customer ordered X number of guns doesn’t mean that they would order the same number of X tripods. They would order separately Y number of mounts to suit their individual needs. Since gun and mounts were ordered and produced separately, serial numbers for guns never matched serial numbers for mounts unless specifically requested by the customer for inventory purposes and then special numbers were assigned. The order/work numbers were internal tracking numbers but it seems safe to assume that the second set of two or three digit numbers after the first backslash would indicate a date. Two digits would indicate a year and three digits would indicate year and month. What can not be determined is if the date is the year of order, year of production or year of shipment.
Though the production records shed some new light on production orders, they at the same time raise new questions that can not be readily answered. For example, the Mountings book list a number of Mark L tripods with an asterisk without explanation and no one now knows what they mean. Could it mean the rear leg was supplied with or without a seat? Or the rear leg was extendable? Perhaps an SAR RKI might know.
Nevertheless, the commercial Mark L tripod mount is a very rare accessory for the Vickers gun that is seldom encountered on the collectors market today. It reflects on a time period when all things were designed and manufactured with care and precision to last the rigors of use for many years.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N1 (October 2001)|