Sunday, July 3, 2011

Isaac Newton Lewis

In 1911, a serving American officer and amateur inventor, Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, perfected a light machine gun originally designed by another American, Samuel Maclean. The American Army showed no interest in its production, so Colonel Lewis retired and moved to Belgium in January 1913, where the Belgians undertook its manufacture. Surprisingly, its calibre was 7.7mm or .303, the calibre of the standard British rifle round.

When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, the German forces who came up against the weapon called it "the Belgian rattlesnake". Many of Lewis's Belgian workers fled to Britain, where they were given employment by the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), which bought the licence to manufacture the gun. From 1915 it entered service in increasing numbers with the British Army. By 1916 approximately 50,000 had been produced. In 1915 each British battalion on the Western Front had just four Lewis guns, but by 1917 each infantry section boasted its own Lewis gunner and number two, with battalions by now deploying 46 Lewis guns.

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