Naval Automatic Guns: Vickers Maxim guns

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This topic covers the automatic guns which were used in the different navies from the arrival of light machine guns on board to the development of modern rapid-firing guns to combat fast-flying aircraft. It is in three parts, starting with the Maxim and Vickers Maxin guns then follows the Bofors, Oerlikon and Breda guns to finish with rifle-calibre machine guns. With the development of small, fast torpedo boats, it became necessary for a ship to counter attacks using easily-trained, rapid-firing guns of sufficient calibre and range to hit and stop torpedo boat attack before they can launch their torpedoes. In addition, as the performance of aircraft improved after the First World War, it became necessary to have a gun with similar properties for anti-aircraft defence. Rifle-calibre machine guns were adopted on board ship in the light of the experience with machine guns on land. Their role was to ward off boarders, to clear the decks of enemy ships and were a major component of naval landing parties. Once again, as aircraft attacks became more and more a risk, so multi-barrelled machine guns were placed up in the superstructure of ships.

Catalogue number 18028

Maxim 1-pounder

This gun was an enlarged version of the Maxim 0.303-inch machine gun (see Naval Automatic Guns: Light machine guns) and first appeared in service around 1895. The value of this gun was quickly identified by many European navies and trials, cited in 1894, had been made or were to be made in England, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey (the country of the officer in the photograph has not yet been identified). It was considered to be especially useful against attacks by the fast-moving torpedo boats that were appearing more and more on the naval scene.

Verso: “A. Reed, 39, Bernard St., Southampton” blue stamped

Credit: A. Reed

15.2cm x 11cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

The Maxim 1.46-inch gun

The gun illustrated is on a pivot naval mounting and, being light, the gun could be trained easily. Ammunition was in canvas belts of 25 or 50 rounds and these belts were a source of blockage, being affected by the humidity, for example. A round could penetrate a lightly-protected hull and carried a bursting charge adding to the damage – in 1894, penetration of wrought iron was given as 2.04-inches at 100 yards and 1.25-inches at 600 yards.

Credit: Notes on the Year’s Naval Progress, 1894, Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington, U.S.A.

24.2cm x 14.8cm Printed image


Catalogue number ****

Trials of a Maxim machine gun

This photograph shows a 37mm 1,457 inch Maxim 1 pounder during trials on the French gun training ship La Couronne sometime at the end of the 19th century. Note the pistol grip trigger characteristic of the Maxim 37mm gun. In “Notes on the Year’s Naval Progress", July 1894, page 95, it is said that “After extended trials a substantial order was given for these guns for the French navy, the guns to be made and tried in France.”. This, however, was not the case and it has been pointed out that the French Navy never acquired the rights to make the Maxim gun nor did they purchase any.



Catalogue number 101190

The Vickers Maxim 40mm 2-pounder

The 40mm Vickers Maxim 2-pounder was a scaled-up version of the Maxim 37 mm 1-pounder. The original canvas belt feed was replaced by steel-link belts in later models. These guns were taken up by the Royal Navy in 1892 principally to combat torpedo boats and in 1914, they formed the main anti-aircraft weapon when combined with a high-angle mounting. This photograph was printed on a U.S. postcard backing with an AZO stamp box which dates it between 1918 and 1930.

8.1cm x 13.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 110035

The Pompom gun

The U.S. Navy considered adopting the 40mm Vickers Maxim gun prior to entering the Second World War but decided to adopt the Bofors 40mm gun. This illustration shows an American sailor with a 40mm Vickers Maxim gun on a pedestal mount. The sights are not in place but note how the gun party would have to crouch down when working the gun at high elevation. The gun was called the “pompom” from the days of the Boer War because of the noise it made when fired.

Verso: “The Valentine Souvenir Co., New York” [This company printed postcards from 1914 to 1923]

Credit: Underwood and Underwood

7.9cm x 13cm Printed image


Catalogue number 113021

A single Vickers Maxim gun on a destroyer, detail

At the beginning of the Second World War, Royal Navy destroyers were still equipped with the 40mm Vickers Maxim gun, essentially for air defence. It could fire explosive shells but was gradually replaced by the higher muzzle velocity 40mm Bofors gun as it became available. The Vickers Maxim gun was relegated to mine sweeping trawlers, escort ships and coastal craft.

Verso: “B.E.F. arrives home. A general view on board the transport ships"

15.4cm x 20.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 43171

Pompom on the corvette Lobelia

H.M.S. Lobelia (K05) was a Flower-class corvette completed in 1941 and handed over to the Free French Navy to act as a convey escort within the Western Approaches Command. She is shown here equipped with a single 40mm Vickers Maxim gun. Note the presence of a splinter screen as compared to the previous photograph.

16cm x 10cm Copy print

Catalogue number 29031

An eight-barrelled pompom

This photograph shows an eight-barrelled 2-pounder as found on Royal Navy battleships, battlecruisers and some large cruisers at the beginning of the war. It could throw up a curtain of explosive fire into the flight path of attacking aircraft. The eight barrels are staggered to allow loading of shells in steel-linked belts and empty cases were ejected by the shoot to the right of the mounting. Training and elevation were by an electro-hydraulic system – we can see the training gunner in the left foreground looking through the gun sight and holding the training handwheel. To his left and in the background is the gun layer with headphones on and each has his receiver (training/elevation) in front of him. The funnel-like object is the filling-up cap for the cooling water.

11.5cm x 8.5cm Printed image