Lewis machine gun

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Lewis Mk
Lewis machine gun
general information
Developer / Manufacturer: Samuel McClean & Isaac Lewis / Build under license at Birmingham Small Arms Company and others
Production time: since 1914
Overall length: 1,283 mm
Weight: (unloaded) 12 kg
Barrel length : 666 mm
Technical specifications
Caliber : .303 British (GB)
.30-06 Springfield (US)
Possible magazine fillings : 47/97 cartridges
Ammunition supply : Plate magazine
Cadence : 550 rounds / min
Fire types: Continuous fire
Number of trains : 4th
Twist : Left
Closure : Turret lock
Charging principle: Gas pressure charger
Lists on the subject

The Lewis machine gun ( English Lewis Gun ) is a light machine gun developed in the United States around 1910 . The developer Isaac Newton Lewis could not convince those responsible for the armed forces of the United States of his weapon and found other buyers. The Lewis machine gun was from the UK and further with the British Empire allied states especially in the First World War used. In the interwar period , it was used by different conflicting parties in different disputes. Although technically out of date, it was still used in part during World War II and beyond.

The Lewis machine gun can be recognized by the attached plate magazine and the distinctive cooling jacket on the barrel. Some design features are unique in weapon technology. The Lewis machine gun was used in various versions with different magazine sizes as an infantry weapon, vehicle and aircraft armament , and anti-aircraft weapon.


Samuel McClean and Ormond Mitchell Lissak

The first design came from the American inventor Samuel Neal McClean , who founded the McClean Arms & Ordnance Company in Cleveland in 1900 . At a great expense, McClean tried to construct a water-cooled machine gun . However, he got into financial difficulties and was forced to sell his company; nevertheless he remained the company's general manager . From 1908 to 1910 he worked with the US Army officer Ormond Mitchell Lissak and together with him developed a water-cooled gas pressure loader with a screw magazine . It was a complicated design that tended to jam and therefore failed tests by the US Army and the US Navy . In 1909, McClean's patents were offered for sale to gun manufacturer Colt , but the company declined on the grounds that they were too similar to other patents. In the absence of any commercial prospects, the McClean Arms & Ordnance Company was closed in December 1909, and McClean's patents were transferred from his donors to the Automatic Arms Company , which was newly founded in 1910 .

Isaac Lewis

Isaac Newton Lewis

Isaac Newton Lewis was involved as an officer in the US Army in early experiments with the McClean-designed machine gun. In early 1910, McClean's financiers approached Lewis and promised him a large stake in the company if he would develop McClean's design into a usable machine gun. Lewis then revised the machine gun and switched it from water to air cooling, as he believed that otherwise it would not stand a chance against the water-cooled machine guns already available on the market. To improve reliability, he redesigned the closing spring , which in the original McClean design was arranged as a coil spring around the gas piston of the gas pressure charging system , where it quickly heated up and lost its tension. Lewis moved the closing spring, now designed as a spiral spring, in front of the trigger to slow down the absorption of heat. In addition, he replaced the unwieldy screw magazine with a simpler system. In September 1910, as agreed, he signed a partnership agreement with the Automatic Arms Company and ordered four .30-06 caliber prototypes from the arms manufacturer Savage Arms . In order to perfect and market this, he took a year off from the US Army.

Failure in the US, success in Europe

American pilots during testing, June 7, 1912

Lewis presented the machine gun to senior US Army officials with the assistance of General Leonard Wood . However, he tried to bypass William Crozier , the head of the Ordnance Department responsible for weapons development . On the one hand, this was due to mutual personal dislike, on the other hand, Lewis believed that Crozier would prefer Colt as a supplier. However, the Ordnance Department did not recognize the results of the unofficial experiments. Lewis was then able to capture Capt. Convince Charles DeForest Chandler, head of the Aeronautical Division, US Signal Corps , of another unofficial attempt with a Wright Model B biplane. For example, on June 7, 1912, at College Park Airport in College Park, a machine gun was first used from an aircraft to hit ground targets. This event was picked up in the media as a hook for possible future aerial warfare, but the US armed forces leadership saw no use for armed aircraft.

Lewis could not convince the US Army of his development and left them frustrated in 1913 before traveling to Europe to market his machine gun there. The first contacts with British and Belgian representatives were already promising. Lewis then opened the subsidiary "Armes Automatiques Lewis SA" in Belgium and planned to build a factory in Liege , but then accepted a lucrative offer from the arms manufacturer Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) from England. In mid-1913, BSA had handcrafted 50 Lewis machine guns in seven different calibers, which Lewis' company then offered to potential buyers, including Germany. The experiments with Lewis machine guns as aircraft armament against ground targets were continued in December 1912 in Belgium and in November 1913 in England.

In September 1913, the US Army tested a prototype made by BSA in the US standard caliber as a possible replacement for the lightweight Benet-Mercie . However, the prototype was poorly adapted to the powerful cartridge and therefore prone to jamming and defects. The tender then won the Vickers heavy machine gun .

When the First World War began on July 28, 1914 , the British government ordered a large number of Lewis machine guns.

Mass production

British worker makes trigger guards for Lewis machine guns, 1918

The model intended for mass production has been redesigned by slightly reducing the diameter of the cooling fins and the jacket. The reliability of the magazine has been improved, but this has reduced its capacity from 50 to 47 cartridges. The most important change, however, was the change from the opening to a closing closure . This allowed the cartridge chamber to cool down between bursts of fire.

In order to be able to meet the demand for the machine gun, BSA built a new factory and was initially able to produce 150 pieces a week. Since this was insufficient, the British government funded the construction of a larger factory in 1915 to increase production to 500 pieces per week. By the end of 1916, the production capacity could be doubled to 1000 pieces per week. In total, BSA produced around 145,000 units for the British government by 1919 and continued to offer the weapon for sale until World War II.

At the same time Canada also tried to equip its contingent with modern weapons for use in war. The first 500 pieces were ordered in July 1915 from the American arms manufacturer Savage Arms, which had previously produced the first prototypes. As Savage Arms had additional production capacity, the company manufactured additional Lewis machine guns for the UK. Some of the weapons produced by Savage Arms were found to have had insufficient heat treatment and some had to be reworked by BSA. Savage Arms produced approximately 50,000 pieces for the United States by June 1918.

French arms manufacturer Hotchkiss et Cie negotiated a license, but the French government arranged for the manufacturer to focus on the Hotchkiss M1914 heavy machine gun . Only about 4,400 aircraft-style Lewis machine guns were made by the much smaller French manufacturer Darne .

Development after the First World War

BSA 0.5 inch machine gun

After the First World War, the Netherlands acquired a license and produced around 10,000 pieces in the Arsenal artillery equipment by 1940. Further licensed productions also took place in Japan after the First World War .

Production in England and the USA ended shortly after the armistice. BSA used the weapon as the basis for some further developments, including a prototype with a belt feed. The "Light Infantry Model", on the other hand, was designed as a self-loading rifle , the cooling fins of which were exchanged for a wooden fore-end. Another prototype was an aircraft machine gun in twin design, in which the drum magazines were arranged on the side. However, none of the designs got beyond the experimental status. In 1924, BSA developed a weapon for the larger 12.7 × 81 mm (0.5 inch) caliber as aircraft armament. Because of the visual similarity, the weapon is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the .50 caliber Lewis machine gun. The new developments, however, aroused neither the interest of the British armed forces nor other potential buyers.

Due to the large number of surplus weapons and the global economic crisis that began in the late 1920s , the British armed forces initially had no plans to replace the Lewis machine gun. It wasn't until the early 1930s that the British armed forces introduced the Bren machine gun in 1935 . In 1937 BSA designed a new variant of the Lewis machine gun with some features of the Bren (magazine and mainspring), but the proposal was not accepted.

From 1937 the Lewis was replaced by the Vickers K as aircraft armament in the British Army . The British Soley Armament Company made a proposal on how to convert excess MKIII into Bren-like infantry weapons. But this conversion was not well received either. However, when Britain had a great need for machine guns at the beginning of World War II, excess aircraft-style Lewis machine guns were converted to ground use in a similar manner.


Model 1914 / Mk I (BSA for the UK)

The first model of the Lewis machine gun is known by various names. The manufacturer BSA called the model 1914, the British Army called it Gun, Lewis, .303-inch . After the introduction of the aircraft variant Mk II ( Mk as an abbreviation for Mark ), the bottom variant was as Lewis Gun Mk I referred to. The weapon had a fixed front sight and a rear sight that was adjustable from 365 to 1900 meters. With the standard .303-British cartridge, the muzzle velocity was 743 m / s (meters per second). The gun had a rate of about 550 rounds per minute.

Model 1915 (Savage Arms for the UK)

Savage Arms produced the weapon from 1915 and named it accordingly Model 1915. The weapon corresponded to Model 1914 from BSA. The interchangeability of the parts promised by Savage Arms was not given in practice.

Mk II, Mk II * and Mk III (BSA for the UK)

The ground version of the Lewis machine gun quickly turned out to be useful aircraft armament. The weapon was light, needed no cooling water or condensers, and had no belt feed that tended to become tangled in the wind. In order to better align the weapon with the special features of air combat, the flight crews experimented with various modifications. Since the weapon was attached to the aircraft, the shoulder rest was not needed and was often exchanged for a spade handle. Sometimes a case catcher was attached for flying cases which could damage the aircraft. The cooling jacket was also removed and the cooling fins shortened. On the one hand, this reduced the weight and, on the other hand, the air resistance and so the machine gun was easier to pivot. These changes were standardized in the MK II version from mid-1915. The cooling fins were completely removed, leaving a significantly reduced casing around the barrel and gas cylinder. The trigger guard has been enlarged so that the trigger can also be operated safely with gloves . A wire-reinforced sack could be attached as a sleeve catcher, as well as a special visor for aerial combat. A larger magazine with 97 rounds was produced from the beginning of 1916. For this, the magazine receiver of the weapon had to be enlarged; as a result, it was no longer compatible with the smaller infantry magazines. At the beginning of 1918, the MK II * version appeared with a higher rate. This increased the likelihood that a hit could be achieved in the short time an enemy aircraft was in front of the line of sight. In May 1918 the MK III was introduced; In addition to a further increased rate, the casing of the barrel and gas pipe was completely removed.

Mk VI / M1917, M1918 (Savage Arms for the United States)

The Ordnance Department had decided against the Lewis and Vickers machine guns in 1913, but because of the good experience reports from the war effort in Europe, the army command set a new test. As Savage Arms was busy with production for the United Kingdom, the company did not deliver a prototype in US .30-06 caliber until April 1916. However, the adaptation to the stronger cartridge was inadequate. In April 1917, the United States entered the war, creating an urgent need for machine guns. In the meantime, Savage Arms had optimized the gas pressure loading system for the .30-06 cartridge so that the machine gun passed the tests of the US armed forces in May 1917.

The machine gun designated as M1917 by the US Army and Mk VI by the US Navy was only available in large numbers in early 1918. Except for the caliber, it was very similar to the British Mk I. The most obvious difference was that the cocking handle was only on the left side. However, most of the M1917s were used as aircraft armament and consequently reworked similar to the British Mk I. Therefore, in 1918, an aircraft variant, the M1918, was produced. The cadence of the aircraft variant was increased to 800 to 850 rounds per minute.

Converted Mk III (United Kingdom)

Home Guard with MK III * (right), 1941

In order to make decommissioned Lewis machine guns available in the aircraft version for the defense of the British Isles, a conversion was made as MK III * (caliber .30-06) and MK III ** (caliber .303). A shoulder rest made of metal tape, a simple wooden fore-end and a simple bipod have been added. Either the old aircraft visor or a new, non-adjustable open sight served as the visor.

There was also the converted version MK III DEMS for merchant ships with defensive armament ( Defensively equipped merchant ship ). A wooden shoulder rest and a forearm with pistol grip, also made of wood, were used here.

MK IV (United Kingdom)

The Mk IV emerged from the British efforts to convert the many Lewis, in which the vulnerable closing spring mechanism no longer worked, into a reasonably usable weapon. The coil spring was removed and replaced with a new coil spring protruding into the shoulder rest. The shoulder rest and the pistol grip on the trigger were newly constructed from simple wire tape.

M.20 (Netherlands)

The Netherlands acquired the production license after the First World War and manufactured the machine gun in various versions under the designation M.20. In addition to the aircraft armament, there were different variants for ground use, for example for armored cars and cavalry, which differed in details. Some were equipped with a folding stock, while some on-board weapons had a double spade handle with a thumb trigger . Initially, the weapons were set up for the 6.5 × 53 mm R cartridge and from 1925 for 7.92 × 57 mm . All variants were equipped with the large 97-round magazine.

Type 92 (Japan)

Type 92

In 1932 the Imperial Japanese Navy introduced the light machine gun Type 92 (not to be confused with the heavy machine gun Type 92 ) in .303 British caliber, produced in Japan . The Japanese version had the enlarged trigger guard, as did later British aircraft armament variants. Spade handles were used almost exclusively, including for the infantry. It was used to equip naval aviators as defensive armament, small warships for air defense, and the marine infantry as light machine guns.


Lewis lock housing, sectional drawing

The Lewis machine gun is a self-locking gas pressure loader with a rotating head lock and air cooling. The weapon has some technical features.


The rotating head lock is locked in the frame by means of locking elements that are attached to a rotating sleeve. The firing pin is firmly attached to the rear extension (control piece) of the gas piston. When the weapon is ready to fire, the control piece is held in the rear position by the trigger rod. When the trigger is pulled, the recoil spring pulls the control piece together with the bolt head forward. The bolt head pushes a cartridge into the cartridge chamber. As the control piece is pulled further forward, it rotates the bolt head, which has come to a standstill, until the firing pin strikes the cartridge primer. By turning the bolt head, the bolt is locked gas-tight with the barrel by means of locking lugs. The lock holds until the bullet passes the gas extraction hole in the barrel. The gas pressure pushes the gas piston back together with the control piece. The backward movement produces a rotary movement of the bolt head, which is unlocked and then withdrawn, the extractor ejecting the sleeve. The backward movement of the bolt head causes a partial rotation of the magazine via a mechanism and draws the next cartridge towards it.

The weapon shoots continuous fire as long as the trigger is pulled; there is no way to switch to single fire . The gas pressure - and thus the cadence - can be regulated by means of a valve at the front end of the gas cylinder. The adjustable gas pressure was a novelty at the time.

Closing spring

The closing spring is unique in weapon technology. It is spiral-shaped and acts via a gear on the teeth on the control piece. The spring mechanism is easily accessible in a housing in front of the trigger. The spring pressure can be adjusted externally, which allows a certain regulation of the rate of fire.

Since the recoil spring was not housed in the buttstock, the buttstock could be designed in different versions, as a shoulder rest, folding shoulder rest or spade handle, or it could be omitted completely.

Ammunition feed

Magazine viewed from below, inside the helical guide grooves are visible
How the Lewis machine gun loading mechanism works

The shape of the ammunition feed is unique. Hiram Maxim developed a prototype with a similar magazine in 1889, but Lewis was the first to develop it into a practical mechanism. The magazine is locked in the middle on a pin located on top of the weapon housing; the magazine can be changed within seconds. After each shot, the magazine is turned a little counterclockwise by a mechanism with a pawl .

The magazine is wavy and these depressions hold the cartridges in place at the bottom of the cartridge. On the other side, the cartridge is in deep, all-round grooves in the magazine center. The center of the magazine is immobile while the outside rotates. Like a screw conveyor , the cartridges are pushed on until they are fed to the weapon.

The magazine in the infantry version held 47 cartridges in two positions, the aircraft version 97 in four positions. This ammunition feed had advantages over the belt feed, since the contemporary textile belts were damp and therefore stiff at low temperatures. With Lewis, the ammunition feed worked reliably in every situation, even upside down. A major disadvantage of the Lewis ammunition feed, however, was that the magazine was open at the bottom and therefore contaminants could easily penetrate the weapon.

Plate magazines, for example in the Soviet infantry machine gun DP, were still used; they look similar from the outside, but work differently. They were locked at the bottom and did not turn, but an internal spring served as a drive to advance the cartridges.

Air cooling

The barrel is surrounded by a tight-fitting aluminum tube with strong longitudinal ribs as a heat sink . Due to its high thermal conductivity , the aluminum quickly absorbs the heat from the barrel; the ribs serve to enlarge the surface in order to give off the heat again. The heat sink is encased in a tube made of thin sheet aluminum that extends over the muzzle. This has the effect that the suction effect of the projectiles leaving the muzzle draws cool air from behind over the heat sinks. Since the casing was pulled over the muzzle, it also acted like a flash hider . Both muzzle bangs and muzzle flashes were muffled and the shooter could only be identified from the front. The gun worked even without the cooling system, but the barrel overheated that much earlier. With cooling, around 1000 shots of continuous fire could be fired.

This type of active air cooling did not establish itself in weapons technology. Except in a prototype of the Russian Awtomat Fjodorowa in the version as a light machine gun, it was no longer used. It turned out that the interchangeable barrel was a better solution to the cooling problem.


First World War

Infantry weapon

British troops with handcarts for Lewis machine guns, Battle of the Somme , September 1916

When World War I began on July 28, 1914 , the Lewis machine gun was involved from the start. Belgium started using the existing prototypes on August 15 to defend Namur .

At the beginning of World War I, the United Kingdom had viewed the Lewis machine gun as an alternative to the water-cooled Vickers machine gun and used the Lewis as a stationary heavy machine gun on the Vickers mount. Machine guns were urgently needed, and making a Vickers machine gun was about six times more laborious. The air-cooled Lewis machine gun did not perform well in this role compared to the water-cooled Vickers because it could not sustain continuous fire for long. The advantages of the Lewis, however, lay elsewhere: An important advantage was the higher mobility due to the lower weight. The Lewis machine gun weighed around 12 kg, much less than the massive Vickers machine gun (around 18 kg for the weapon, 23 kg for the mount and the water supply). Another benefit was the lower profile; that made it a smaller goal. Usually the Lewis was fired lying down from a bipod. Initially, a 3 kg bipod with a crossbar was used, but it was quickly replaced by a simpler bipod that was 1.5 kg lighter.

Because the magazine was open at the bottom, the weapon required a lot of cleaning work so that jamming could be avoided. Especially in the muddy or dusty trenches , dirt and foreign bodies could easily get into the weapon.

It took some time before the Lewis machine gun's potential as a light machine gun was recognized. At the beginning of the war, the basic principles of operation were not even known. It has been shown that light machine guns were mainly used in attack, because heavy machine guns could not be relocated quickly enough. The Lewis machine gun was carried by the second wave of attacking infantry. If the enemy resistance became too strong and the attack stalled, the machine gun could be set up and support fire could be made. The Lewis could be shot from the hip to provide support fire from the barrel, but it wasn't designed for that. To do this, the strap was placed around the shoulder. The weapon was badly balanced for the purpose, and it had to be held at an angle so that the rotating magazine would not get caught on the uniform or equipment. When the opposing trench was taken, Lewis Guns were quickly installed to ward off a possible counterattack . The Lewis machine gun was also mobile enough to make it unnoticed into the no man's land between the fronts during nighttime surprise attacks , to fire a burst at an established target and then to retreat quickly. The stationary Vickers machine guns were the primary defensive armament in trench warfare. With the mobile Lewis Guns, a position could be reinforced quickly if it was attacked.

Due to its characteristics, the Lewis machine gun is considered to be the best light machine gun of the First World War. It was respectfully called the “Belgian rattlesnake” by the German soldiers.

The Lewis machine gun was assigned to a crew. It consisted at least of the shooter and his assistant, plus additional ammunition carriers. The shooter carried the gun and fired it. The assistant carried some magazines and spare parts; he changed magazines and assisted the shooter in removing jams. One of the tasks of the ammunition carriers was also to fill the magazines with cartridges. In order to transport the weapon, ammunition and accessories when laying on developed roads, a handcart was assigned to each . Later in the war these were replaced by horse-drawn carts .

Aircraft armament

Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 with MK II on Foster mount
Bristol F.2 with MK II on rotating ring mount
Shooting camera

Even if the British had already successfully tested Lewis machine guns as aircraft armament ten months before the outbreak of war, only two seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service were equipped with them on a trial basis. All Royal Flying Corps aircraft on mainland Europe were initially unarmed; their purpose was solely the education. Encounters with planes of the opposing parties increased and the pilots began to arm themselves with handguns.

On August 22, 1914, British pilots Louis Strange and Penn Gaskell, armed with a Lewis machine gun, attacked a German aircraft in what was the first air combat with a machine gun. The gun was experimentally attached to their aircraft by the British pilots. The British High Command then banned the use of machine guns in aircraft. The crews should focus on reconnaissance instead of chasing enemy aircraft. The British High Command may also have concerns about an escalation of the air war and the unpredictable consequences that it entails. But the development could not be stopped and within a few weeks British pilots shot down some German planes with handguns. The ban on machine guns did not last long either. As early as the end of September 1914, British planes arrived in France with factory-installed Lewis machine guns. From the beginning, the Lewis machine gun was considered a suitable aircraft armament. There were no problems with contamination by foreign objects, as they occurred again and again on the ground, in the aircraft. From July 1916 the larger 96-round magazine was introduced and the buttstock was replaced by spade handles.

The problem with aircraft with the aerodynamically more favorable tractor configuration was that the propeller circle was in the way and the aircraft could not fire forward. For a short time, pusher propeller planes , such as the Vickers FB5 , were therefore preferred as fighter planes. Since these could not prevail, however, one went to fighter aircraft to attach the Lewis machine gun so that it fired outside the propeller circle. The pilot operated the trigger from the cockpit via a Bowden cable . The mount usually allowed the weapon to be retracted in order to change the magazine. The pilot needed both hands to do this, had to let go of the steering wheel and hold it with his knees, which was a dangerous situation in a fight.

An experience of the British pilot Louis Strange is indicative of the risk. When he wanted to change the magazine of his Lewis MG, which was mounted on the wing of a Martinsyde S.1 , he lost control of the wheel. The plane changed its attitude and Strange was thrown out of the cockpit, but was able to hold on to the magazine. He finally managed to climb back into the cockpit.

With some mounts, such as the Foster mount, the pilot could aim freely with one hand in the retracted position. This enabled the tactic of sneaking up on an enemy aircraft in the blind spot in order to attack it from below.

The Lewis MG was unsuitable for an interrupter gear to fire synchronized through the propeller circuit. The Lewis machine gun was a shooting weapon; In weapons of this type, the breech is in its rear, open position before the trigger is actuated. The shutter is only closed when the trigger is pulled. This principle caused too great a delay and made the weapon unusable for synchronization with the propeller. The later air-cooled Vickers MG was much better suited for this type of aircraft armament.

The Lewis machine gun was often used on rotating ring mounts, these were usually mounted as a rear-facing defense weapon. Since the ammunition was fed from the plate magazine, the ammunition belt could not get tangled when swiveling sideways.

A short-lived idea, however, was Lewis machine guns mounted downwards on fighter planes like the Sopwith Camel . This was intended to attack enemy trenches. The lack of a reload option limited its use. Also, the pilot just had to fly the aircraft at the same altitude in the attack phase, which made it an easy target for air defense.

The training of gunneries posed a new challenge. Both one's own aircraft and the target aircraft moved quickly in three dimensions, which was difficult to simulate on the ground. That is why shooting cameras similar to the Lewis MG were developed and used in mock battles in the air. The film was developed on the ground in order to see what the gunner would have hit.

Other types of use

Lewis machine gun for air defense on improvised mount

As airplanes flew more and more bombs and ground attacks in the later course of the war, the importance of air defense grew. Lewis machine guns for air defense were equipped with special anti-aircraft sights and mounted on various types of mounts. In many cases, a car axle was dug upright with the lower wheel, while the MG was mounted on the upper wheel. So the MG could be rotated 360 degrees. Special anti-aircraft mounts were also produced later.

The Royal Navy and the US Navy also use the Lewis MG on various classes of ship , from armed trawlers to battleships . In order to increase the probability of a hit, a multiple mount (twin, triple, quadruplet) was often used. The primary purpose was air defense, but enemy boarding commands and speedboats could also be fought.

The Lewis machine gun was occasionally used on armored vehicles, but the Vickers machine gun was more common. The Lewis was the standard machine gun for the then new tanks, the Mark II , Mark III and Mark IV . The world's first armored personnel carrier , the British Mark V * , was used to transport a group armed with Lewis machine guns .

More users

US Marines propaganda poster: Lewis MG with heavy bipod

Isaac Newton Lewis offered his weapon to the United States Army before the war , but the Ordnance Department rejected it several times. This decision was also discussed controversially in public. At the same time as the First World War, the USA carried out the Mexican Expedition (1916–1917). Since the lack of machine guns was evident, the United States Army ordered 350 Lewis machine guns from Savage Arms and used them in Mexico. Since the US Navy had had good experiences with its own tests, the US Army ordered additional Lewis machine guns in 1917. The US Army planned to use these weapons to bridge the time until the newly developed Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) was available. However, when the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the US Army had far too few light machine guns. The US Army could not buy large quantities of Lewis machine guns as the manufacturer Savage Arms mainly supplied the United Kingdom, and the BAR was just beginning production. Therefore, the US Army decided to purchase the French Chauchat , which was worse than the Lewis machine gun, but was available in sufficient quantities. This decision also affected the soldiers of the United States Marine Corps , which was actually under the command of the Navy. The Marine Corps had already received the Lewis machine gun before the entry into the war, but had to hand it over to the US Army because of the standardization of armament. The Lewis machine gun, on the other hand, was used as aircraft armament by the Aviation Section, US Signal Corps .

German troops with captured Lewis MGs

Russia was interested in the Lewis machine gun even before the outbreak of war. From mid-1916 the Russians were supplied with some Lewis machine guns as aircraft armament from the United Kingdom. In January 1917, the Russian government placed a large order for over 10,000 pieces, a smaller portion of them in the Russian 7.62 × 54 mm R caliber . Before all weapons were delivered, the Russian Civil War broke out in November 1917 and the United Kingdom stopped deliveries.

The German army equipped its units with captured Lewis machine guns. About 10,000 pieces were converted to the German 7.92 × 57 mm cartridge . The operation of the Lewis machine gun was integrated into the training of the machine gunner. The weapon was also used as an aircraft armament. Despite the effort involved in converting the booty weapons, it's unclear why the Germans didn't copy the design. Instead, they developed a lighter version of the heavy MG 08 with the MG 08/15 . At over 20 kg, the MG 08/15 still weighed twice that of the Lewis machine gun.

Second World War

Vehicle of the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa

In the United Kingdom, the Lewis machine gun was replaced by the Bren machine gun in the late 1930s , but remained with reserve units and with units outside the mainland, especially in the Middle East. After the outbreak of war it was widely used on the vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa. When the British contingent in France, the British Expeditionary Force , had to be evacuated due to the German campaign in the west at the Battle of Dunkirk , the British lost a large part of the modern equipment including the Brens. While the British simplified and accelerated the production of the Bren machine gun under high pressure, the Lewis machine guns filled the gap, as a German invasion ( Operation Sea Lion ) was feared. 46,000 Lewis machine guns in US .30-06 caliber were also purchased from the USA. The British Home Guard in particular received these Lewis machine guns. Many of them were old aircraft weapons that first had to be converted for use on the ground.

The Lewis machine gun was used as a defensive armament on British, American and Japanese aircraft until the early 1940s. It has been superseded by higher-rate weapons.

As an anti -aircraft machine gun on ships, the Lewis machine gun was superseded by the more effective 20mm Oerlikon cannon during World War II , but remained in use on armed freighters and small warships until the end of the war.

The US naval units were equipped with Lewis machine guns at the beginning of the war and used them primarily in the Battle of the Philippines . Because of major material losses and the need to unify with the US Army, the Marine Corps introduced the BAR. The US Navy and United States Coast Guard used the Lewis machine gun on ships for air defense until the end of the war.

In the western campaign , the German Wehrmacht captured large quantities of British and Dutch Lewis machine guns. They were issued to reserve troops as MG137 (e) and MG100 (h).

Other conflicts

Members of the Hagana train with the Lewis MG, Tel Aviv 1948

The USA used the Lewis machine gun before the USA entered the First World War, in the Mexican Expedition in 1917. The US Marines continued to use the machine gun in the so-called Banana Wars (1920–1930). It was used on both sides in the Russian Civil War (1918–1920), the Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921), the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) and the Palestine War (1947–1949).

Use in regular armed forces

The Lewis machine gun was procured by the following regular armed forces: Belgium, British Commonwealth (United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia), France, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, United States.

Cultural reception

War Memorial, Portsmouth

As a distinctive weapon of the First World War, the Lewis machine gun is depicted on various monuments , for example the War Memorial in Portsmouth or the ANZAC War Memorial in Sydney . The weapon naturally appears in war films about World War I, even if filmmakers prefer the depiction of heavy, stationary machine guns for trench warfare .

The Lewis machine gun is also shown in other historical scenarios, such as The Feared Four during the Mexican Revolution, in White Sun of the Desert shortly after the Russian Civil War, in Michael Collins during the Irish War of Independence , in Whom the Hour Strikes during the Spanish Civil War or in a ticket to Marseille or Dad's Army during World War II.

In the science fiction film Star Wars , the Lewis machine gun (without magazine) serves as the basis of the fictional "Sandtrooper Blaster".


Web links

Commons : Lewis Gun  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
  • Tony Edwards: Lewis machine gun a game changer. Presentation at the London Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA), August 25, 2012 [10]
  • Graeme Barber: Lewis Gun Love Affair. May 1, 2013 [11]
  • Manuals and pictures on forgottenweapons.com [12]
  • Exhibits in the Springfield Armory Museum : [13] , [14]

Individual evidence

  1. a b The National cyclopædia of American biography, Volume 26. James T. White & Company, New York 1937, pp. 37–38 [1]
  2. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 8.
  3. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 8–9.
  4. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, p. 278.
  5. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 9-10.
  6. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, pp. 275-277.
  7. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 10.
  8. ^ A b Spencer C. Tucker: World War I: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO , 2014, ISBN 978-1-85109-965-8 , p. 955 [2]
  9. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 10-11.
  10. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, p. 282.
  11. ^ A b c Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 13.
  12. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 11.
  13. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 12.
  14. ^ A b c d Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 15.
  15. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 16.
  16. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 69.
  17. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 26–28.
  18. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, pp. 412-415.
  19. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 12–13.
  20. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 32.
  21. a b Ezell: Small Arms of the World. 1983, p. 333.
  22. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 24.
  23. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 17-18.
  24. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 18-20.
  25. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, p. 292.
  26. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 31.
  27. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 68.
  28. a b c Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, p. 281.
  29. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 14.
  30. a b Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, p. 279.
  31. ^ David van Nostrand: Operation and tactical use of the Lewis automatic machine rifle. 1917, p. 19 [3]
  32. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 21.
  33. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 75.
  34. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 38.
  35. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 74.
  36. Peter Hart: The Somme. 2005, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 978-1-78022-572-2 , pp. 39-40 [4]
  37. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 48.
  38. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 36–38.
  39. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 46–53.
  40. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 34.
  41. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 41–43.
  42. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 44.
  43. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, pp. 282-284.
  44. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 57-61.
  45. ^ Spencer C. Tucker: The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. Routledge , 2013, ISBN 978-1-135-50694-0 , p. 20 [5]
  46. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 61–62.
  47. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 55.
  48. ^ A b c Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 63.
  49. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 56–57.
  50. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 65–66.
  51. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 64.
  52. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 25.
  53. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 56.
  54. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 28–31.
  55. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 61.
  56. ^ A b Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 66.
  57. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 65.
  58. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 19-20, 65.
  59. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, pp. 63–64.
  60. Chinn: The Machine Gun. 1951, pp. 299-300.
  61. ^ New South Wales Government : Lewis-gunner at the ANZAC War Memorial
  62. ^ Grant: The Lewis Gun. 2014, p. 72.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on November 5, 2016 .