POTD: What a Chunk! – Vickers-Berthier Model 1919 Semi-Automatic Rifle
Welcome to today’s Photo of the Day! In the early 1920s, officials of the United States military got together to go over their current small arms and what could be improved. Mainly, they wanted to look back at the first world war and what they learned, and how that could be applied to their small arms so that they were better prepared going forward. As we all know the long story short is that the United States would adopt the M1 Garand as their standard issue service rifle. One rifle that popped up early in trials was this Vickers-Berthier Model 1919 Semi-Automatic Rifle. This rifle was manufactured by Vickers and designed mainly by Berthier hence the name Vickers-Berthier. It did not perform great in trials suffering parts breakages plenty. The folks in charge did not admire its 10 lbs weight nor did they like the top-mounted magazine style.
“Manufactured by Vickers, little information is available on this rifle. While Vickers did work on a line of light machine guns derived from Berthier’s 1922 machine gun, this rifle appears to stem from a slightly different origin. In addition to his machine gun work, Berthier experimented in the “machine rifle” field, and was one, among many inventors, trying to put reliable semi-automatic or full automatic firepower in the hands of the average infantryman. To this end, a number of patents were submitted by Andre Berthier c.1917-1919 under the name of the U.S. Machine Gun Company, a division of Hopkins and Allen, with an eye for sales to the Army and Marine Corps. The design was not picked up; Berthier’s machine rifle was one of the many “also-rans” of the military arms development process. The exact circumstances of the design ending up with Vickers are unknown, though it would be a logical fit for the company; in the mid-1920s, Vickers became interested in the Berthier’s machine gun as a possible LMG companion to their already very popular Vickers heavy machine gun, and produced several variants. The Vickers rifle would make a very natural addition to the line. At heart, this rifle very strongly resembles the Vickers-Berthier, if it were converted from an open bolt selective fire machine gun to a closed bolt semi-automatic rifle, and scaled down to make a relatively lightweight and maneuverable rifle, coming in at about 10 pounds, in contrast to the 24+ pounds of the machine gun. The heart of the rifle is a long piston gas operated action, with the piston assembly concealed by the forearm and enclosed by an aluminum heat shield. The sights are offset to the left to clear the top-load magazine (not included) with a blade front sight and a peep rear; the rear sight is elevation adjustable, but with no graduation marks and only two positions, suggesting an early prototype or test model.”
Lot 2632: Vickers-Berther ‘Model 1919’ Semi-Automatic Rifle – Rare and Interesting Vickers-Berthier “Model 1919” Prototype Semi-Automatic Rifle. (n.d.). Rock Island Auction Company. photograph. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/75/2632/vickersberther-model-1919-semiautomatic-rifle.