“We shot them under Rule 303″****

It’s time to talk more about machine guns! We have already talked a bit about the Vickers machine gun mounted on the fuselage.  It was synchronized to fire directly through the propeller. There was also a machine gun mounted on the top wing – a Lewis gun. They look rather like this:

lewis with shroudThe Lewis gun was invented by a US Army colonel – Isaac Newton Lewis and was adopted by the British military who used this gun widely. They were especially liked by the aviators who removed the water jacket which normally surrounded the barrel. Water cooling wasn’t needed at high altitude and these parts were jettisoned to save weight.


The gun fired over the propeller so no synchronization was needed. It was fired via a lanyard that led from the gun to the cockpit.

Both the Vickers and the Lewis gun fired the venerable British 303 cartridge.


The Vickers used cloth belted ammo while the Lewis utilized round ‘drum’ magazines to hold the rounds. The 303 was relatively reliable and it had plenty of power to knock down an aeroplane.  It doesn’t look like much but see it in action: Lewis gun    Vickers

The Lewis gun was mounted on the top wing as shown below. To reload, the pilot had to unlock the gun and pull it down the curved rail, remove and replace the magazine. To do this, you had to expose parts of your body to the high altitude, freezing cold, 100 mph wind. The plane was frequently steered with the knees when this was going on.

foster mount

The results were less than stellar. To get an idea of what it was like, read this first hand account by Cecil Lewis:

“On the first Offensive Patrol, with two others, we attacked five German scouts: four bright red and one green. I chose one and dived, got  him in the sights, and pressed the trigger of the Vickers. Not a shot! I continued in the dive, trusting to the Lewis gun to do the trick: it fired two shots and jammed! Damnation!


“I zoomed away, trying frantically to clear the Vickers jam.Nothing would shift it, so I pulled the Lewis down its sliding quadrant to clear it and reload. The spade grip of gun knocked down the hinged wind-screen, and the blast of a 100 mph wind nearly blew my head off. This was a pretty state to be in surrounded by five enemy scouts! I was a sitter for any Hun, so I turned west and climbed away, working all the time to get my screen up and clear the Lewis jam. At last I managed it; but then, try as I would, I could not force the gun up the quadrant back into place on the top plane.

“The slide was twisted. I came home fed up, my gun pointing straight up into heaven. Nevertheless, that day the squadron got four Huns: a good start.”

-Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising

Cecil Lewis beside SE 25

Cecil Lewis standing by his new SE5a. This one has just been delivered to France and Lewis hasn’t had a chance to alter things to  his taste. You can see the odd cockpit canopy. Pilots refer to this as “the greenhouse” and the cumbersome shields were generally discarded because they obstructed the pilots view and they increased to likelihood of facial injury in the event of a crash. They were replaced with a smaller, simpler windshield.

Here’s some more from this great book:

“I dived with the others, testing my guns. The Vickers jammed, and I had to take off my glove to clear it. It was very cold at eleven thousand feet early in the morning. My hand went numb. I blew through it, banged it on my thigh, and crouched into the cockpit to keep warmer, still trying to clear the jam. Seeing the Huns dive away, I did not follow the patrol right down, but remained a thousand feet above, hoping to get my gun right while they reformed and climbed up to me again.

Thus, inadvertently, I became a straggler – alone in the sky – but what matter when the heavens were so utterly empty of danger? Then,  faintly, I heard the intermittent chatter of a machine gun. I looked round. Nothing. No sign of a fight, no one in the sky – but the chatter became a jabber and then a stuttering menace – the sun ambush was down on me. I tried vainly to look up, but the glare shrivelled my eyes to sightlessness. But tracers were whistling through the planes, and suddenly a white-hot rod was flicked along the round of my back. I jammed over stick and rudder and went flashing into a spin, then shut off the engine and collected myself to look up. It was one of the latest [German] Pfaltz scouts: the SE was no match for that machine.”

So, I guess it’s time to show you what I came up with.

Here is the real thing:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here is the copy:

SONY DSCI cobbled it together with bits and pieces from the shop. Most of it is wood but the barrel is copper tube and the various U-shaped pieces of metal are staples.


We’re getting there….



Those are louvers I made for the radiator. You like them? I was pleased.







****did you get the reference?

If not, watch Breaker Morant as soon as you can. This fabulous movie is about an incident which occurred during the Boer Wars (1899-1902). It was a fascinating time in history as big empires were learning that Imperialism was not all it was cracked up to be.

Breaker_MorantHarry “The Breaker” Harbord Morant

SecondBoerWarBoer commandos with their Mauser rifles.

boer6Canadian troops

When I was a kid living in San Diego, my mother and I would take the city bus. I remember her pointing out a dapper, elderly man who she said was a veteran of the Boer Wars. I thought that was pretty cool.

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 1:44 am  Leave a Comment  

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