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War Factories – The Secret History of WW II Part 3 – Vickers | History Documentary

Watch ‘War Factories – The Secret History of WW II Part 4’ here:

At the start of World War 2, Hitler relied on three ‘superweapons’ to dominate the sea, the sky and the land: his U-Boats, his Stuka dive-bombers and his Panzer tanks. The company that can perhaps lay claim to doing much to defeat all three, was Britain’s engineering giant Vickers-Armstrong. Vickers had its roots in the Industrial Revolution, in a steel foundry built in 1828 by a miller, Edward Vickers. In 1888 it made its first piece of armour plate and a few years later took on Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the feared and revered Maxim Gun – the world’s first machine gun. Soon it was producing the Armstrong breech-loading gun and an improved version of the Maxim – the Vickers gun – which became the standard machine gun throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth till well after WW2. But it wasn’t just guns. Vickers made tanks. The Vickers 6-Ton Tank was purchased not by the British Army, but by the Soviets, who renamed it the T-26. This tank was produced in greater numbers than any tank of the period. The tank, and the variants that followed, are widely considered the most successful of WW2. Behind the extraordinary story of tank production in the Soviet Union, is Britain’s Vickers.

But more than this, Vickers-Armstrong was one of the most important warship manufacturers in the world. Vickers had gone into ship building in 1897. It built the first ever submarine for the Royal Navy. Largely because of Vickers, Britain entered the war with the largest navy in the world. It had 15 battleships and battlecruisers with five more battleships under construction, 66 cruisers with another 23 under construction, and 184 destroyers with 52 more under construction. During the war the Royal Navy lost 278 major warships and more than 1,000 small ones. Nevertheless, thanks to Vickers, during the war, Britain built more submarines and convoy escort ships than the U.S., and around two thirds as many battleships, cruisers and destroyers. But Vickers didn’t stop here. In 1928 they had bought a small seaplane manufacturer, called Supermarine. In the 1930s, with the threat of war looming, Vickers got aircraft engineer R.J. Mitchel to design a new kind of intercept fighter plane. ‘Prototype K5054’ astonished the test-pilots who flew it. It was soon given a name, the Spitfire, and it inflicted terrible damage on the Luftwaffe. In the skies, at sea, and on land, Vickers did much to defeat the Nazi menace.


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