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Lewis gun in RFC service

Printed From: Cross & Cockade
Category: General Discussion
Forum Name: General
Forum Discription: General Discussion
URL: http://www.crossandcockade.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=1480
Printed Date: 24 May 2022 at 02:24
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Topic: Lewis gun in RFC service
Posted By: NickForder
Subject: Lewis gun in RFC service
Date Posted: 06 Jul 2016 at 11:56
According to Strange, his 5 Squadron Farman F20 was armed with a Lewis gun in August, 1914, and was the only aircraft so fitted. 
Where did this gun come from ?
Although the Lewis had been 'invented' in 1911, and used fitted to a Wright in 1912, it was not officially adopted for use by the British until October, 1915, when BSA began manufacturing Model 1914 Lewis guns chambered for the 0.303" rifle round.
However, 1616, the first production Vickers FB5, was photographed with an 'infantry type' Lewis gun fitted as early as 24.12.1914.
The Belgian Army had a small number of Lewis guns (some fitted to armored cars) in 1914, though the gun was never in wide scale use.
So, was Strange's machine gun 'private purchase' or not a Lewis gun ?



Replies:
Posted By: NickForder
Date Posted: 06 Jul 2016 at 12:40
According to the Gunbus Datafile,  the Lewis Gun had been identified as the standard armament for the FB5 on 24.11.1914 (which must have annoyed Vickers, as it replaced their Maxim in the original design), suggesting that the photo of that date was linked to the decision and was on a mock-up mount (the Vickers No 2 Mark I mount for the Lewis not being created' until April, 1915).
BSA was producing guns before the Lewis was adopted officially, and 285 were delivered (to whom ?) by the end of May, 1915.
The lack of Lewis guns resulted in early production FB5s being delivered with Vickers guns.
Seems increasingly likely that Strange's memory was at fault and his Farman was fitted with a Vickers ?


Posted By: MikeMeech
Date Posted: 08 Jul 2016 at 17:49
Hi

As both 'British Aircraft Armament Volume 2' by R Wallace Clarke, page 18 and 'Lewis Guns' (Windsock Mini Datafile 3) by Harry Woodman, page 1, point out: The Lewis guns were being manufactured by BSA in Britain for the Belgian company that had the licence for them. The War Office ordered trial batches and various faults were found at Woolwich and modifications were made and it was recommended for British service use. However, the first guns were ordered for the War Office and Admiralty, ten guns, in July 1914. Two weeks later a further 45 were ordered. When war was declared a further contract for 200 guns was made, to be delivered at a rate of 25 per week. It is likely that the Lewis guns you mention did come from the British source as that is where they were being made at the time.

Mike


Posted By: NickForder
Date Posted: 12 Jul 2016 at 07:51
I agree that it is probable that the Lewis fitted to the FB5 in November 1914 was one of the British test batch, possibly even one of the initial ten ordered.
Presumably, the War Office order was for the entire army, and not just for RFC use (the first production FB5s with Lewis guns having the 'infantry' version).
However, for 5 Squadron to have a Lewis so early in the war would indicate that the squadron was part of an official trial.


Posted By: MikeMeech
Date Posted: 12 Jul 2016 at 17:02
Originally posted by NickForder NickForder wrote:

I agree that it is probable that the Lewis fitted to the FB5 in November 1914 was one of the British test batch, possibly even one of the initial ten ordered.
Presumably, the War Office order was for the entire army, and not just for RFC use (the first production FB5s with Lewis guns having the 'infantry' version).
However, for 5 Squadron to have a Lewis so early in the war would indicate that the squadron was part of an official trial.


Hi
Trials reference machine-guns on aeroplanes had been undertaken by No.3 Squadron during the winter of 1913/14. They had recommended the Lewis Gun although some further ground trials were needed. This was one of the many 'use of aviation trials' that No.3 Sqn. was involved in pre-war.
No. 5 squadron was formed from a flight of No.3 so the knowledge of the MG and other trials would have gone with the flight to No. 5. For example one of the Flight Commanders on No.5 was Captain G. I. Carmichael, ex No.3 Sqn. who had also been involved in various trials (not sure if he was on the MG trials at Hythe, but he would have certainly known about it). So I think it is less likely No.5 were undertaking 'official trials' but to some extent carrying on the work (in action) that had been done by No.3 pre-war.

Mike


Posted By: Ian Burns
Date Posted: 19 Jul 2016 at 21:10
Harry Woodman also wrote Mini Datafile #3 (1995) for Windsock.

He mentions that 'even larger orders were placed with the manufacturers in the USA', the American Savage Co, Ithica [sic], NY. This was correctly named the Savage Arms Co. When these were delivered he does not say.

He does note that the British Army only adopted the Lewis in October 1915 'after an initial try-out period.' Which suggests delivery some months previous. He mentions 'as early as spring 1915 some aircrew realized that certain bits and pieces could be removed...' Which gives an approximate date for introduction to the RNAS and RFC.


Posted By: Ian Burns
Date Posted: 25 Jul 2016 at 20:55
Hi Nick,
My reply has been stuck with the 'moderator' for almost a week! So, look for a private message. Hopefully those are outside his control.



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