The Lewis Gun, nicknamed “The Belgian Rattlesnake” by the German forces, was one of the most effective and widely used machine guns employed by British Commonwealth forces throughout the First World War.
Known also as the Lewis Automatic Rifle, despite the fact that the English made it famous, was designed in America. It is nearly immediately recognizable by its flat, pan-shaped, top-mounted magazine (47 and 97 round models were popular) and its distinctive barrel shroud, which served as a heat sink to cool the barrel during periods of intense fire.
The Lewis Gun was a gas-operated platform that captured a small amount of gas produced during firing to drive a piston rearward; this piston engaged and disengaged the rifle’s locking lugs and was connected to a post which contained the rotating open bolt and firing pin, which fired the next fed round after it had traveled forward into the chamber.
This action, paired with a unique pain magazine operated by a spiral spring (instead of a helically coiled recoil spring), was capable of producing rates of fire between 500 and 600 rounds per minute. In World War I, this machine gun was designed to fire the .303 British cartridge around with the infamous Lee-Enfield was also designed, but variants chambered in .30-06 Springfield and 7.62x54mmR cartridges have also subsequently been developed.
Though this machine gun was made infamous on the battlefields of WWI, notably in the hands of 7-person British machine gunner crews along the Western Front of the war, it was also used as an aircraft machine gun (with the barrel shroud removed) as well as in the Second World War, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War, among many other conflicts.
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