MANUFACTURER(S): Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd - UK / Ishapore Rifle Factory - India
OPERATORS: Bolivia; India; United Kingdom
ACTION: Gas-Operated; Automatic Fire
CALIBER(S)*: .303 British
SIGHTS: Iron Front and Rear.
Detailing the development and operational history of the Vickers-Berthier (VB) Light Machine Gun (LMG).
Entry last updated on 3/19/2019.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The Vickers-Berthier was a British light machine gun design originally introduced by a Frenchman, passed on by the Americans and adopted into service with the Indian Army. The type became the standard light machine gun of British India during the inter-war years and played a major role in the upcoming World War 2. The weapon served from 1925 into 1945, seeing production in both England and India.
Origins of the Vickers-Berthier Light Machine Gun stemmed from the original French Berthier machine gun design appearing just before World War 1. Frenchman Adolphe Berthier began developing the weapon before the start of hostilities in 1914 and focused his attention on perfecting his creation throughout much of the conflict. The United States Army approved of the design and accepted into license production as the "US Machine Gun, Light, M1917". However, production facilities in the United States were slow to register lines for the new weapon and the war in Europe had formally ended in November of 1918 before it could fire a shot for the Americans. Further evaluation realized several key limitations in the design and the United States cancelled their contract outright.
Berthier relocated to Britain and continued work on the machine gun. He registered for, and received, a patent for a new and improved form in 1920. Seeing that the new weapon had some value, the British company of Vickers purchased license rights to the system in 1925 and began production of the improved form under the "Vickers-Berthier" designation to denote origins. The weapon came out of the Vicker's Crayford facility (Vickers-Armstrong Limited, Crayford, Kent).
In the early 1930s, the British military purchased only limited stockpiles of the weapon and some sales were made to foreign powers including Bolivia and some Baltic nations. The British Commonwealth of India went a step further than all and accepted the weapon as their standard light machine gun to replace their aged World War 1-era Hotchkiss and Lewis machine guns then in service. The Bren gun took this same mantle (standard light machine gun) in the British Army, the Army passing on the longer and heavier Vickers-Berthier after the two were in direct competition during 1932 trials. The Bren offered up a higher rate-of-fire and proved slightly more portable than the VB - this at the cost of a more inefficient production standard (the VB was easier to produce, and thus cheaper).
Vickers-Berthier Production Marks
The Vickers-Berthier was produced in the original Mark 1 variant - introduced in 1928. These models were identified by the ribbing (or finned) portion of the barrel. Additionally, a slab-sided foregrip was fitted to the underside of the receiver. Early forms took on a most utilitarian appearance.
The Mark 2 came along in 1929 with a rounded foregrip, this now extending beyond the receiver's running length. Additionally, the Mark 2 was fielded with a bipod attached to the gas cylinder and a monopod fitted to the underside of the buttstock. Other than these changes, the Mark 1 essentially lived on through the improved Mark 2 series.
The "Light Mark 2" began production in 1931 for evaluation purposes specific to the Indian Army. The barrel was now of a smooth appearance and the buttstock was carved out to save on weight and allow for more grip points when carrying or handling the weapon. The forend of the receiver was revised to a lighter construction degree for ease of carrying in the field. No monopod was fitted to these Indian Mark 2s.
The Mark 3 was adopted by the Indian government in 1933 - based on the Light Mark 2 but slightly heavier than the original mark. The Mark 3 fell under the official Indian designation of "Gun, Machine, .303in Vickers-Berthier, Indian Mark 3" and production was handled within India at facilities in Ishapore (Ishapore Rifle Factory).
The Mark 3B existed as a slightly improved form of the base Mark 3. For the most part, the system stayed true to the original Mark 3 design and only some slight revisions took place to improve the overall reliability of the all-important gas system.
A modified aircraft version of the Vickers-Berthier became the "Vickers K" (or "VGO" or "CO". This weapon was utilized by some of the RAF's inter-war fighters including the Hawker Hart. The Vickers K yielded a rate-of-fire more than twice that of the original World War 1-era Lewis machine guns. Once these aircraft were retired from RAF service, surplus components were utilized to good effect by British special forces groups known as "SAS" (Special Air Service). SAS elements fielded the machine gun on their jeep vehicles throughout North Africa and Europe during World War 2.
Vickers-Berthier Physical Characteristics
Design of the Vickers-Berthier was conventional . She delivered a smooth firing action and was purposely designed and manufactured with a limited set of internal moving parts - this facilitated repairs and cleaning when in the field and, overall, she proved a most reliable battlefield component in even the toughest of environments. Her simplicity also made her production-friendly. The weapon measured in at approximately 46.5 inches long with the barrel making up 23.9 inches. The Vickers-Berthier firing action operated from a gas-actuated system and was fitted with a 30-round curved magazine, this inserted into the top of the receiver ala the Bren Light Machine Gun (the two are regularly confused with one another). Muzzle velocity was rated at 2,450 feet per second while operational weight was in the neighborhood of 20lbs (9kg) and rate-of-fire was equal to 450 to 500 rounds per minute. The Vickers-Berthier made use of the machine gun version of the .303 British rifle cartridge - a rimmed, bottleneck cartridge to see service with British and Commonwealth forces from 1889 to the 1950s - until being replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO round during the Cold War.