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My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

Article about: Here is the story and a few pictures of my "1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun". During WWI, Colt had a contract with the Imperial Russian government t

  1. #1

    Default My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

    Here is the story and a few pictures of my "1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun".

    During WWI, Colt had a contract with the Imperial Russian government to supply the Russian army with Vickers ground guns chambered in 7.62x54 Russian. When the Bolsheviks took control of that government, after the 1917 revolution, the US government froze all exports to Russia. Colt was now stuck with a some 4000 Vickers ground guns in a caliber that no other Allied nation used. What were they to do?

    In 1918 the US entered WWI. All this while Colt has been supplying the US military with 1915 US Vickers ground guns in 30-06. The new 1917 Browning Machine Gun was just starting to go into production and Colt did not want to re-tool back for 1915 US Vickers guns. So US ground troops were relegated to using a mixture of their 1915 US Vickers, British 1912 Vickers Mk. 1, and French Hotchkiss machine guns. They had to wait until the new 1917 Brownings begin to arrive to be re-equipped. At this same time a new requirement appeared, the need for an aircraft machine gun to shoot down German observation balloons and barrage balloons. What was also needed was an incendiary cartridge that was guaranteed to ignite the German balloons. Remember, the Germans used hydrogen in their balloons. US 30-06, British .303, and French Label cartridge bullets were all too small to hold enough incendiary material to guarantee balloon ignition. But there was another cartridge that would work, the obsolete 11mm French Gras Cartridge. It is just about the same length as the previous cartridges, but it had a huge bullet. That was just what the doctor ordered to hold more incendiary material. Now if only we can get enough aircraft machine guns to fire this newly improved cartridge. Here comes Colt to the rescue.

    Colt contracted with both the US and French governments to supply them with Vickers "balloon buster" guns firing the newly improved 11mm French Gras Cartridge. The "1918 Colt Vickers Aircraft Machine Gun" was born (or re-born). Colt re-worked their finished, non-exportable, Russian Vickers ground guns into 1918 Baloon Busters by:
    1) Reboring and rechambering the barrel to 11mm French Gras
    2) Reworking the feed block and extractor for 11mm French Gras
    3) Removing all sights
    4) Removing all grips
    5) Adding a new rebounding recoil assembly to handle the increased recoil
    6) Cutting holes in the water jacket and trunion to allow air to flow over the barrel while in flight
    7) Adding a synchronizer assembly to the trigger mechanism
    8) Externally re-marking and re-numbering for the new model designation (the internal numbers were not altered)

    Here is a picture of a 1918 Colt Aircraft Vickers Gun

    The 1918 Vickers Aircraft Gun remained in US service after WWI into 1920's when it was supplanted by various Browning models. Most 1918's were sold as scrap or just given away to anyone who wanted one. In the 1930's they were sold as war souvenirs for $4.00, delivered via US Mail. Many ended up in VFW halls gathering dust. Nobody wanted them. Thousands were just dumped at sea to free up needed warehouse space. By the 1950's only about 200 original 1918 Baloon Busters remained in existence.

    Now time passes into the 1980's and interest in machine guns begins to grow, as do their values. Vickers guns are always in high demand, but without adequate barrel cooling these aircraft Vickers guns are useless. The thin Vickers barrels get very hot very quickly unless immersed in water. Then suddenly, as if by miracle, surplus British and Australian Vickers parts kits begin to appear on the US market as these countries supplant their Vickers ground guns with more modern weapons. My Colt Vickers is about to be re-born, again.

    She is another of my "Heinz 57" guns. The right side plate (what BATF considers to be the gun), left side plate, bottom plate, lock, and internal recoiling assembly are all original Colt 1918 Baloon Buster. The trunion, water jacket assembly, top cover assemblies, back plate, and recoil assembly are Australian from a mint 1943 parts kit. The barrel, extractor, and feed block are Turkish from the 1930's in 8mm (7.92X57) Mauser. I won't go into how the Turks got involved with Vickers guns or how Turkish parts get into the US. That's another whole story by itself.

    Here is a picture of my re-re-born Vickers with Pat Tomlison, the gentleman who re-re-built my gun with parts from around the world.

    More Vickers re-re-birth porn. Notice the "A" prefix serial number. Only Colt 1918 Vickers Aircraft Baloon Buster guns use that prefix.

    And finally here is a picture of her at one of our shoots back in 2005. I have her configured using a South African 7.62 NATO setup. Yes, the South Africans also used the Vickers. I replaced the above Turkish parts with South African parts and I'm good to go in 7.62 NATO instead of 8mm. The bulbous flash hider is British from WWII. I installed it because some pussy shooter was complaining about muzzle blast. Hey, it's a machine gun shoot. What the hell did you expect?

    I currently keep my Vickers configured in 30-06 using US 1915 Vickers parts in place of the Turkish or South African parts. The Vickers Gun is beautifully designed and engineered and any Vickers part, from whatever country of origin, will just fit and function in any properly constructed Vickers. It's all plug and play. As a matter of fact a friend of mine has a WWII Japanese Aircraft Vickers gun, also built with an Aussie kit, that he runs with Russian 7.62x54 Russian firing parts. I guess if you go far enough, you return to where you started.

  2. #2

    Default Re: My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

    Very interesting and nice that she is still going strong.

    Cheers, Ade.
    Had good advice? Saved money? Why not become a Gold Club Member, just hit the green "Join WRF Club" tab at the top of the page and help support the forum!

  3. #3

    Default Re: My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

    What an amazing story and machine gun. That is a restoration to be proud of. Thanks for sharing it with us!!

  4. #4

    Default Random Tidbits of Vickers Information.

    When shooting 8mm (7.92x57mm) Mauser ammo in a Vickers, do not install a muzzle cup on the barrel. Doing so will increase the cyclic rate dramatically and beat the crap out of your gun. The gun runs just fine without the muzzle cup installed.

    Believe it or not, but I found my 30-06 Vickers parts on eBay, albeit each in a separate auction. Most were misidentified and had no bidders whatsoever. SARCO, in the US, has NOS de-milled US 30-06 Vickers barrels for around $20 each. They were de-milled with a sledge hammer by bending at about 6 inches from the muzzle to an 18 degree angle. I found a local motorcycle restoration shop that straightened each barrel for $50 each. They use a 50 ton hydraulic press with maple blocks and pin gauges to get the job done. Since their shop is very busy, they slip my barrel bending tasks between their motorcycle restorations. It took six months for them to straighten five barrels, but it was well worth the wait.

    30-06 ammo loaded into Vickers belts is too thick to feed through a US 30-06 feed block. It seems that US Vickers cloth belts are thinner than British Vickers cloth belts. So either you mill out the feed block to accept thicker loaded cloth belts or you come up with another solution. I discovered that IMA, in the US, was offering Turkish 8mm, aluminum pocket, clamshell type Maxim belts for $30 each, and I tried one. It worked perfectly! Plus I can load the belt by hand without the need of a belt loader. Not too shabby.

    When shooting 7.62 NATO or 30-06 ammo in a Vickers, a muzzle cup is required on the barrel. Without the muzzle cup installed I was getting short cycling and double feeding. With a muzzle cup installed all is well. I find this very interesting because the opposite is true when shooting 8mm Mauser ammo.

    When shooting 7.62 NATO ammo using South African parts you should use South African Vickers links. Ammo reverse loaded into MG34/42 belts will partially work, but the loaded belts are very “wiggly” and cross feeds will be encountered. South African linked ammo belts are much stiffer and feed nicely.

    Although South African Vickers links appear almost identical to US M13, M60 links, the M13 links will not work. This is because the cartridge positioning finger on the South African link is repositioned to the top of belted ammo from the side of the belted ammo. When the positioning finger is on the side, the Vickers extractor cannot slide up and grip the cartridge for belt extraction.

    Here is one of Sam Fischer’s (Mongo) videos taken in 2006. You can hear my Vickers in the background at the 50 second mark. You can see it firing 8mm Mauser at the 3:23 mark also.

    May 2006 Machine Gun Shoot - YouTube

    I hope everyone recognized Dolf Goldsmith shooting one of his MG08’s at the 1:38 mark.
    Last edited by MG34; 09-04-2012 at 09:31 PM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

    Quote by MarkV View Post
    What an amazing story and machine gun. That is a restoration to be proud of. Thanks for sharing it with us!!
    +1 Great Vickers!!!!

  6. #6

    Default View of ac vickers.

    My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun

  7. #7


    Great resto - and very informative post - thank you!

    So much satisfaction to be had in bringing these objects back from the dead, but also in watching others do it - and in the case of this one, doing a very fine job of it -

    I am taking note of your using the shop press to straighten the barrel, I have an MP with a deformed grunion, either a tank ran over it, or it was hit against a wall multiple times, we were going to replace it, but, maybe your wisdom will help.



  8. #8



    Dean O

  9. #9


    The A prefix is also found on Lewis Guns that were used on aircraft.

  10. #10


    I must have misunderstood the A prefix only on Colt 1918 guns as my Lithgow is and 9,998 others are A prefixed. Should I have read that as the only aircraft Vickers with an A prefix would be the Colt 1918?

    Its and interesting story and history, I have a photo somewhere from a film made using aircraft Vickers converted back into semi Aircraft/Ground guns. I'll try and find it.

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