Lewis Machine Gun
While not a new weapon by World War I the Lewis Machine Gun became one of the defining implements of war. At the start of the conflict in 1914 there was only one basic type of machine gun: The water cooled, tripod mounted, belt feed, Maxim type machine gun. The idea of small portable squad or even a platoon level machine gun was a concept that had yet to be adapted by the armies of the world.
The Lewis Machine gun was the brainchild of an American Dr. Samuel N. McClean, who envisioned a weapon of water-cooled design; and Artillery Colonel Isaac N. Lewis, who invented a simpler air-cooled design. Developed in 1911 the weapon was initially rejected by the Head of the US Army Ordnance department, Brigadier General William Crozier, because of a personal animosity between himself and Colonel Lewis. However, by 1915 it had been ordered by the British Army and was in use against the Germans. The British established its worthiness as both an aircraft mounted weapon and a light infantry support weapon.
In 1917 when Americans joined the war the Lewis machine gun was put to the test by the US Navy and Marine Corps. The US Army chose the horrible French Chauchat that was so badly manufactured that no two same parts could be interchanged with another. The Marines also were stripped of their Lewis’s upon arriving in France, so this versatile light machine gun was never used by any US ground force during WWI.
Manufactured by the Savage Arms Company and Birmingham Small Arms Company this light machine gun proved a war winner, and was used by over a dozen different armies throughout the world. The last known recorded examples of the Lewis gun’s service was during the Northern Ireland conflict from 1968-1998.
The example on display at the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum resides in our World War I display. It is stamped US Navy and is caliber .30-06. This is the same type weapon that was used to defend the first ship sunk by the Japanese, the USS Panay; not at Pearl Harbor but on the Yangtze River in China on December 12, 1937.