The Lewis Gun

The Lewis Gun was a light machine gun which first came into service during the First World War and which continued to be used in the Second World War. Typically it was employed as an anti-aircraft gun.

The gun was invented in 1911 by an American named Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, but the US government did not adopt it, so Lewis took his design to Europe where it was purchased by the Belgian and British governments. In Britain the gun was manufactured by the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). The Lewis was formally adopted as the standard issue British Army machine gun from the close of 1915 and by 1916 approximately 50,000 had been produced in Birmingham. The Lewis gun was belatedly adopted by the U.S. Army in 1917, and then manufactured in New York.

The gun fired cartridges which were held in a circular drum magazine. This drum was mounted flat on top of the breech of the gun and held 47 rounds of .303″ ammunition. The drum revolved after each cartridge was fired, bringing a new cartridge into the gun chamber.

To fire the gun:

Place the loaded magazine onto the post on the breech of the gun and rotate it slightly until the hook on the magazine catches on the groove in the post. The magazine will then be held securely.

There is a cocking handle on the left side of the gun. Pulling this back as far as it will go will a place a cartridge into barrel of the gun. Then pull the trigger. A bolt will hit the bottom of the cartridge so driving it forward along the barrel where it will be struck by a firing pin. Then the powder inside the cartridge will explode and the bullet will be shot out down the gun barrel.

The gas from the explosion will leave the barrel by a vent and pass into a gas chamber. The pressure from the gas will force a piston down the length of the gun towards the trigger. The piston will then engage with a spring gear device which will cause the spent cartridge to be ejected and a new one to fall into the gun.

The gun was usually operated by soldiers in pairs – one to fire it and one to put on new magazines of cartridges. A full magazine weighed 4.5 lbs (2kg). Sometimes there would be two extra men present whose job it was to keep refilling the magazines. A good team could fire 500 rounds a minute. The Lewis gun was only capable of automatic fire. It could not fire single shot.

The gun was fairly big and heavy – it was 50.5 inches (1.28m) long and it weighed 28 pounds (13 kg). It could be fired by a man standing upright but usually it was usually steadied by resting it on a stand with the gunner lying prone on the ground. Sometimes the gun was fixed on a plane.

The gun had an effective range of about 600 yards (550 metres).

Gun drill at Passchendale 1917

— Hilary Greenwood

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We at Shoreham Fort can't do any of the work we are able to without the help and support of many people, if you would like to contribute please click the donate button below. Your donations will go towards materials and equipment to help us restore the Fort.

The Friends of Shoreham Fort.

More then 6133 hours have been contributed... Why don't you join in? Find out more here.

We're always in need of equipment, tools, and items at the fort... here's a few things on our wish list:


Purchased with funding raised through a week of community fundraising in Shoreham Branch

A big THANK-YOU to Santander for the donation!

Doors for Food for Fort and Nissen Hut

A big THANK-YOU to Vevo Vision for the donation!


We have four main events of the year, the biggest being our Military History Weekend - Sponsors of any of our events would be very welcome - please contact us


Bid writers / Architects / Fundraisers

Hand tools

We are getting to the end of the useful life of our trowels, hand garden forks and equipment that we use for carefully weeding around the Scheduled Monument. Any small hand tools would be gratefully received.

Barrack Block

That would be really lovely........ We are working on it ;)

My Cloud Mirror Drive

Purchased with thanks to Shoreham and Southwick Rotary who we help when we can with book donations and especially at Christmas with our very own version of Elf and Safety lol Thank you for your continued support

A big THANK-YOU to Rotary Club of Shoreham & Southwick for the donation!

Renewal of IT/presentation equipment

With a partial award for an application to Sussex Community Foundation we have been able to increase our outreach and education programme; therefore increasing word of mouth of our project and engaging the wider community in a positive and proactive manner.

A big THANK-YOU to Sussex Community Foundation for the donation!


People are genuinely surprised when we tell them how few volunteers we have that come on site on a regular basis to help maintain and conserve the site for the enjoyment of the public. If you think you would like to get involved with this amazing project then please do get in touch or come down on one of our volunteer days. It may look like it's all hard, manual work but there really is a job for all.

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