Forward Thinking: Lewis “Assault Phase” Rifle

Colonel Isaac Lewis was an early pioneer in 20th-century machine gun design. His developments butted heads with John Brownings on numerous occasions, to include this peculiar case. Stemming from his work on the light machine gun, Lewis like others in his peer group saw the problems with the stagnated trench warfare of the First World War and thought he could put forth a weapon system that would make war mobile. His answer to this was the Lewis “Assualt Phase” rifle. Chambered in .30-06, with a detachable magazine, angled grip, combat sights, left-hand charging lever, a simple safety system, piston operated, and weighing an entire pound less than the minimum stipulation for the weapon that became the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Lewis rifle was very far ahead of its time, in addition to being an extremely sleek and low-profile weapon. However, the rifle had the fate of being consigned to history due to its late entry upon the BAR adoption scene, of which the War Department already was very much involved in purchasing. However, the Lewis “Assualt Phase” rifle still lives on, as prototypes in numerous reference collections around the world, this one in the National Firearms Centre in Leeds.

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Transcript ….


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  • MrBrassporkchop

    Seems like a lot of military guys designed guns. Like guys that were actually in the military when they designed the gun. Is this still the case at all?

    • BillyOblivion


      The AR-15/10 style rifle in either 5.56 or 7.62×51 is the platonic ideal of a service rifle. No one will ever do better because they can’t. It’s the best.

      Soldiers know this, so they don’t even try.

      • tiger

        Ideal? That is overkill.

        • BillyOblivion

          Maxim 37: There is no overkill, there is only open fire and reloading.

      • Denny

        Stoner, prior to his role in Armalite was US Marines weapon tech. Thus it can be said that AR10 was “military designed” weapon.

        • BillyOblivion

          Is there a special kind of lubricant you use to keep sarcasm from sticking, or just Mobil-1?

      • Ryfyle

        How ’bout we go with four lugs?

      • BillyOblivion

        Good lord people:

  • idahoguy101

    Colonel Issac Lewis was hated by the Chief of Ordinance, General William Crozier. When the U.S. Marines arrived in France the Army took away their Lewis machine guns and issued the very inferior Chauchat machine rifle. The only exception to General Crozier’s ban on Lewis guns was for arming aircraft.

    • Major Tom

      Colonel Lewis got the last laugh however. His Lewis gun survived in the Marines hands until the Second World War. The Chauchat (Sho-Sho) didn’t survive 1918 instead being withdrawn and thrown away in favor of the BAR and ironically the Lewis Gun right after the Armistice.

  • RH

    Pretty awesome rifle, but it’s a bummer you didn’t get any shots of it being shouldered, or even the two rifles side by side, especially since you had a BAR on hand. Would have been a nice comparison.

    • Ryfyle

      Make me want to build a rifle.

  • Raginzerker

    Interesting how politics got in the way off of so many potential designs

  • valorius

    Does it fire plasma in the 40 watt range? Well does it?!?!?

  • valorius
    • Paveway

      Makes you wonder if someone could make a box mag fed 12 guage with similar layout/asthetics. Hell, throw in a in-grip pistol caliber barrel underneath.

      • valorius

        It would be an NFA item, but it could certainly be done.

  • Ryfyle

    Thats hella modern. Looks like the locking lugs engage a barrel extension of some sort.

    • gunsandrockets

      The heart of the action looks like an upside down version of the earlier Lewis LMG. Except this ‘assault rifle’ was simplified and lightened by getting rid of the bipod, drum magazine, and clockwork action spring.

      • Ryfyle

        Gotta have that consistent lock up. Engineers were still using tilting bolts and other lock ups before going back to the rotating bolt that seems to be the mainstay of current rifles. A shame this never went into production, would have put us decades forward in Firearms theory. I wonder what the Marines today would develope.

  • Brett baker

    I’d like(but probably will never see) a shootout between a BAR, a Lewis, and a Federov. Now that would be interesting.

  • Brett

    That’s crazy. Could you imagine having access to a FAL-like(not really but just using it as an example) rifle in 1916? That is cool, but also shows another instance on how the U.S. government sucks at arms procurement.

    • Major Tom

      “Could you imagine having access to a FAL-like(not really but just using it as an example) rifle in 1916?”

      Ribeyrolles Machine Carbine. A viable contender for first assault rifle right after the Federov Avtomat.

      • Brett

        Yes, many other great design where out there at this time. Even some firing an intermediate cartridge. Few had features like those on this rifle. I was mainly saying that it is sad that politics gets in the way in things like this.

    • tiger

      In 1917, talking pictures were a crazy idea too.

      • Brett

        True. But hey, we all new my comment was many hearsay. Just imagining possibilities.

        Damn it, now I want a FAL.

  • Paveway

    Who calls it a bar?

    B. A. R. is how I’ve heard it my entire life.

  • gunsandrockets

    Cyclic rate of fire?

  • The_Champ

    If I had to hazard a guess I would say that extra weight on the BAR meant a more rugged and reliable firearm. Shaving weight, especially in the era these guns were designed, usually means sacrifice in another area.

  • Stephen Paraski

    Prolific is the word. I think Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a better format for these things.

  • Amplified Heat

    The FND appears to have directly taken the tiny/angled pistol grip off this one. BAR is possibly the best example of military bureaucratic nepotism there is. While the gun worked since Browning was a genius, its concept was terrible (walking fire) and execution fundamentally flawed (way too big, way too heavy, no changeable barrel), and not even superior to other competitors like the Lewis or Madsen, but Browning had a well-deserved rockstar reputation, and family serving in the field, so he got the nod.

  • UnrepentantLib

    You can see the derivation from the Lewis Gun in the bolt/carrier/piston. It’s basically the same design, but flipped upside down. The fins on the barrel and shroud are a simplified version of the radiator on the Lewis Gun. The idea is that the muzzle blast draws air in at the receiver end of the shroud and along the barrel to the muzzle. Someone (maybe Ian and Karl?) did a video awhile ago demonstrating that it actually works on the Lewis Gun. It’s a pity this gun wasn’t developed further. It’s brilliant.

  • Walter Keller II

    Excellent video