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.