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1919A6 LMG: failure or just biding time?


The U.S. Army knew it needed something lighter, but coming up with it at the beginning of World War II proved difficult. What emerged was a stopgap measure.

The Model 1919A6 Browning Light Machine Gun (LMG) is an enigma to which there has never been a satisfactory conclusion. Some feel it was a full-blown failure. It most certainly did not come close to the machine guns it was supposed to emulate and compete against on the battlefield, the German MG34 and MG42.

John M. Browning's first experiments in automatic firearms, together with his brothers, Matthew and Edmund, involved a gas-operated Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle. A concave cup with a hole in its center was attached to the rifle's muzzle. Attached to this was a hinged and spring-loaded flapper.

When the rifle was fired, this flapper and a rod to which it was attached would travel forward. At the rear end of this rod was a shortened cocking lever. At termination of the flapper's forward motion, the cocking lever rotated forward, cocking the action, and the flapper's spring returned the flapper to its original position with its hole aligned with the bore, while the rod rotated the cocking lever rearward.

As the action closed once more, the shortened lever impinged against the lengthened trigger, and the rifle fired again and continued to do so until the tubular magazine was emptied of its .44-40 blackpowder cartridges.

Browning's next step, in 1890, was to develop what he called his "Apparatus," which would become the prototype of the world's first gas-operated, belt-fed machine gun.

It was a device that combined his original "flapper" principle with a sprocket-type wheel for feeding a machine gun ammunition belt. Both concepts were patented in 1892. The device was successfully demonstrated in Hartford, Conn., before two officers of the U.S. Navy.

This was developed into a viable machine gun by Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, tested and adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1895 chambered for the .236 Lee cartridge. Prior to World War I, the M1895 was improved, principally with a lighter finned barrel, and designated as the Model 1914.

I once owned a U.S. Navy-marked Model 1914, but neither I nor a senior project engineer from Aberdeen Proving Ground could ever get it to function properly, so I sold it to a machine gun collector who only displayed them.

The total number of Model 1895 and 1914 machine guns (known as "Potato Diggers") delivered to the US Government was just over 18,000. Except for sales during World War I, the gas-operated Browning machine gun was overpowered by the universally adopted, recoil-operated Maxim machine gun.



Browning's first attempt at a recoil-operated machine gun was a patent granted in 1901. While the firing mechanism was quite different, the little-known 1901 patent contained the following features found also in the water-cooled Model 1917 (actually designed in 1910): a rising breech lock to lock the action, an accelerator to speed the bolt's rearward travel, a coil recoil spring, a claw extractor, a separate barrel extension, and a belt feed lever.

However, the Model 1901 Browning ejected empty cases to the right, while the Model 1917 ejects them to the bottom. The latter is more acceptable as it avoids position disclosure. A buffer was added and a few other minor changes were made. However, the famous water-cooled Model 1917 differed little from the Model 1901 design.

The Browning Model 1917 was in appearance similar to Hiram Maxim's machine gun and in operation also recoil-operated. However, Browning had to avoid Maxim's patent on the toggle lock, so he developed a much more simple system employing a vertical locking piece, which cammed upward to lock the barrel and barrel extension together with the bolt assembly and then pulled down out of engagement as the reciprocating components recoiled rearward.

For a detailed narration of how the Browning system operates, see the sidebar. It's not beach reading, but read it close and you'll understand the complexity of a machine gun in operation.

Browning machine guns have a unique feature possessed almost by no other. First, we need to remember that John Browning developed the basic operating design for the M1917 (and all the subsequent guns in the series) in 1901. At that time, the manufacture of small arms ammunition was not nearly as consistent as it is today.

As a consequence, Browning cursed us with the ability to adjust the gun's headspace. Because of that, GIs have been blowing the top covers off of BMGs (Browning Machine Guns) for almost 100 years, up to and including the current combat in Afghanistan (where the .50 caliber M2 HB is deployed off of armored vehicles). See the sidebar for an explanation of how to adjust headspace.

As can be observed from the description of the method of operation, a belt-fed machine gun is considerably more complex than a blowback-operated submachine gun or a selective-fire rifle. It was for this very reason that the machine gun collectors of my era invariably quickly lost interest in blowback-operated submachine guns and direct gas impingement or short recoil-operated assault rifles and moved on to the far more complex and thus more interesting belt-fed machine guns.

Furthermore, to describe only the pistols, rifles and submachine guns of the World War II era, leaving out the belt-fed machine guns, is to leave out the most significant source of small arms firepower of modern warfare from World War I to the current era of ground warfare.

Belt-fed machine guns are a world far beyond burp guns and assault rifles, both in the complexity of their mechanism and their deployment on the battlefield.

By the end of World War I Westinghouse had made 30,150 Model 1917 machine guns, Remington 12,000 and Colt only 600. Weighing 47 pounds (21kg), it was much lighter than contemporary German Maxim and British Vickers water-cooled machine guns.

The original Model 1917 had a design flaw in the construction of its receiver. In the field, the bottom plates, which were dovetailed into the two sideplates (the serial numbered right sideplate containing the serial number is considered to be the gun by the BATF) tore out. The early fix was to attach a horseshoe-shaped bracket around the rear end of the receiver. A later repair was to rivet stirrups (right-angled steel plates) to the receiver's bottom and the sideplates.



In the 1930s, the Ordnance Bureau developed a new bottom plate, which had side flanges that came up on both sides of the bottom of the receiver and was attached to the sideplates by rivets. This ended the problem of the bottom plates and the gun was re-designated as the Model 1917A1.

This became the standard configuration for all of the Model 1919 Browning machine guns as well. In addition, the rear sight was improved and also modified for the trajectory of the new Ml ball ammunition. The top covers were provided with a stronger feed pawl pivot arm that increased the belt lifting capability.




In 1938, the pivot in the top cover was replaced with an improved version that would become standard on all of the M1919 series Browning machine guns. In 1943, Rock Island Arsenal developed an all-steel water jacket that was a significant improvement over the earlier brass-capped jackets. Later production Model 1917A1 and all Model 1919 series guns have a positive locking top cover hinge pin that permits the top cover to remain open, diminishing the chance of it dropping down on the operator's hands while working on the gun.


The Model 1917A1 water-cooled Browning machine gun remained in service through World War II and the Korean War. Small quantities were also issued to the South Vietnamese at the beginning of the Vietnam War.

At the start of World War II, the United States military had only the belt-fed M1917A1 water-cooled machine gun. The weight of the gun itself, without water, is 33.75 pounds (15.3kg). With 7 pints of water, the weight increases to 40.8 pounds (18.5kg). The M1917A1 tripod weighs 53.2 pounds (24.1kg).

There was no equivalent to the British Bren Light Machine Gun or the German MG34 and subsequent MG42, which served as LMGs (Light Machine Guns) when fired off the bipod and Heavy Machine Guns by the Wehrmacht when mounted on the German MG34 Lafette 34 tripod and the subsequent modification for the MG42. The highly complex Lafette 34 and 42 were derived from the so-called "grasshopper" mount for the Solothurn S2-200 LMG. Weighing close to 46 pounds, the Lafette 34 was nonetheless quite popular with the troops.



The only other selective-fire machine gun fielded by the U.S. infantry was the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), which although smothered in loving affection by the U.S. Marine Corps, had no quick-change barrel, broke extractors all too frequently, and with its bipod mounted at the muzzle actually had too much accuracy for an area target weapon dependent upon a "beaten zone."

This was news to no one, so on 9 June 1931 the Chief of Infantry forwarded to the Ordnance Department a request that 72 air-cooled Browning Tank Machine Guns in caliber ,30-'06 be issued to the infantry for experimental purposes.

Designated as the M1919E1, this tank machine gun was to be equipped with a light bipod. A hole drilled through the cover latch knob served as a crude rear sight, with a front sight added to the top of the feed cover.

Known as the M1919A3, it was supposed to be a bridge between the BAR and the water-cooled M1917A1. The short 18 5/8-inch barrel of the tank machine gun proved to be inadequate. A 24-inch barrel was soon added. A detent device was also added to prevent the cover from falling on the gunner's fingers. It had a spring-loaded bar to hold the cover open at several different angles.




A muzzle bearing was also added to increase the cyclic rate to 550-600 rounds per minute. Finally, the barrel jacket's cooling holes were changed from elongated oval slots to circular holes to increase the structural strength.

With these changes and a light tripod, the gun was designated as the M1919A4. It weighs 31 pounds (14kg). It was most often deployed on the M2 light tripod (which became the LTM-M122 flex (soft) mount when modified and deployed with the M240 Bravo GPMG--the LTM-M122 has a spring-buffered assembly to which the gun is attached).

It served with great fame and distinction through World War II and the Korean War, but it still did not totally satisfy, as it fell far short of the German MG34 (26.4 pounds [12kg]), and even more so of the MG42 (25.4 pounds [11.5kg]), the finest machine gun of World War II, both of which became the genesis of what became known as the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) concept that culminated with the magnificent Belgian FN MAG 58, modified and adopted by the U.S. military as the M240 Bravo.

The U.S. Army was still fielding the M1919A4 when I took basic training in 1955 at Fort Carson, Colo., in the 13th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division. I, of course, knew none of the above when I fired the M1919A4 for familiarity only in what was called the Machine Gun Square during the fifth week of basic training. The gun was mounted on the lightweight M2 tripod.

Eventually, the United States gave 20,000 ,30-'06 M1919A4 Browning Machine Guns (BMG) to the Israel Defense Force (IDF). As the IDF was already fielding the FN FAL, both the standard infantry rifle and heavy-barrel squad automatic versions, as well as Czech and Belgian made K98k bolt-action rifles chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, the IDF decided to convert the M1919A4 to that caliber and put it into the M1919A6 configuration to provide more tactical flexibility in an infantry "fire and movement" role, which then prevailed.

It turns out that these conversion kits for the IDF conversion were apparently all, or almost all, made by Saginaw Steering Gear, a division of the General Motors, but located in Saginaw, Mich.



When these guns and/or their parts kits became obsolete in the IDF and thus available for export it was during the timeframe that the Clinton administration had banned re-import of U.S.-made firearms (i.e., .30 Ml Garands and .30 M1 Carbines) from foreign countries for the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP).

However, Ed Owen, of the BATF's (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) branch ruled that since the guns had been converted from .30-'06 to 7.62x51mm NATO by Israel, they were eligible for re-import.

My specimen (see below) came with the M7 flash hider and the dumb, but original M1919A6 bipod. The question was when I got it, what kind of belts and links does it use?

Anyone that has one of these guns needs to know that. Well, it does not use the BMG series .30-'06 cloth belts or disintegrating metallic links, as there is a ten-thousandths-inch dimensional difference between the two cartridges.

As a consequence, the IDF had special belts and links for its 7.62x51mm NATO M1919A6 machine gun. The IDF cloth belts are no longer easily found. And, in any event, operating a BMG belt loading machine of which I have three, successfully, is a mystical art, not a science.

The IDF also had a special manual link loader/un-loader for these 7.62x51mm NATO disintegrating links. I have an Israeli fink loader-un-loader and IDF links. The links themselves are still available from my friend of 30+ years, Robert I. Landies at Ohio Ordnance Works, Inc. (OOW, Dept. SGN, 310 Park Drive, Chardon, Ohio 44024; phone: 440-285-3481; fax: 440-286-3571; email: info@ohioord; website:

By the way, how many of you know how metallic disintegrating machine gun links came to be? The very first Maxim, Vickers and Browning machine gun belts were made of cotton cloth with a metal spacer between each round and were, of course non-disintegrating. When these guns were installed on aircraft in World War I, the empty portion of the belt started flailing about in the aircraft's cockpit from wind drafts and, all too often, ended up wrapping itself around the pilot's neck.

Browning Machine Gun belts and links are of the "pull out"-type. The disintegrating metallic links used in later machine guns like the M60 and M240 Bravo GPMGs are of the so-called "push-through"-type. With pull-out-type links, the cartridge is pulled rearward and then drops down to be chambered.

Although generally obsolete, this type of metallic link, although non-disintegrating, is used even today with the famous Russian PK/PK.M series of machine guns.

But, back to the future: realizing that they were still not there, on 1 October 1940, Col. Rene R. Studler, Chief of Small Arms Research and Development, circulated a fist of the desired characteristics for a new light machine gun. It was to be selective-fire; belt-fed from the left; with a weight not to exceed 22 pounds; and overall length not greater than 38 inches; a barrel that permitted five minutes of full auto fire without undue dispersion (whatever that meant); a quick-change barrel that could be withdrawn from the front; a single-piece stock with a pistol grip trigger and a bipod.

Eventually only six companies were able to meet the deadline of 10 October 1940. They were: Auto-Ordnance Corporation, Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co., Rock Island Arsenal, R.F. Sedgley, Inc., Schirgun Corporation, and Springfield Armory (the U.S. Government arsenal).

The late William B. Ruger, Sr., designed the Auto-Ordnance submission. Testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground demonstrated that it was a simple mechanism, but with poor functioning and endurance.

Its heat resistance was very good, but its functioning in dust was poor. Its reserve power was good, but it would not function in extreme cold. Its cyclic rate was too high. It was too sensitive to link size and single-shot fire involved too many movements. Barrel changing was only fair. Thus Ruger's design was considered to provide excellent possibilities, but would require extensive further development.




Colt's found it difficult to make a reliable machine gun of such light weight firing the powerful .30-'06 cartridge. It would have worked had it been the .276 Pedersen cartridge for which the semiautomatic Garand rifle was originally chambered.

The Rock Island Armory entry, called the T13E2, was also a modification of the Browning M1917. It had a heavier barrel, carrying handle, double driving springs, semiautomatic trigger and the other components lightened to meet the overall weight specifications.

The Sedgley light machine gun was an entirely new design. But it was over the weight limit, used links that could not function in the Ml917, the barrel was not a quick-change-type, the cyclic rate was too high, it could not be easily manufactured and it was ammunition sensitive.

The Shirgun light machine gun was unorthodox in appearance. The gas port was located in front of the muzzle and a U-shaped tube deflected the propellant gases rearward and above the barrel to operate the gun's mechanism. The cyclic rate could be varied. It was concluded that the small unit containing the bolt, hammer, firing pin, lock and extractor was weak.

At least 60% of the parts were standard tubes that could be obtained on the open market. The Springfield Armory submission was a modification of the caliber .30-'06 M2 aircraft gun with a speed regulator that could adjust the cyclic rate up to 800 rpm.

The test results of these six prototype light machine guns were determined to be very disappointing. The improvement in almost every area over the M1919A4 was limited at best. The Colt's, Springfield and Rock Island entries were no more than slight modifications of the Browning M1919A4, and thus represented a design near its maximum practicable development.

None of the six entries offered significant enough improvement to warrant adoption over what was currently fielded. It was recommended that all six entries be rejected. They were.

Meanwhile, simultaneously the infantry had begun testing the M1919A4 fitted with a shoulder stock and bipod, principally for deployment by airborne troops. The tests took place at Fort Benning during August and September of 1940.

It was recommended that the front barrel bearing, bipod, carrying handle, and shoulder stock be adopted as standard accessories for the M1919A4. However, the Ordnance Department was still looking for an entirely new design and approved these accessories only as stopgap measures.

In October of 1942, five M1919A4 machine guns with shoulder stocks and bipods made by Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors Corporation were tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The cyclic rate was only 364 rpm and there was not enough reserve power to pass the standard minimum belt lift capacity of 5 pounds.

To solve the problem of low reserve power, a booster cap with a .812" hole, larger than the .718" hole on the M1919A4 booster, was adopted. The cap has a spring clip that attaches to two slots in the muzzle bearing directly in front of the bipod bearing surface, and a curved latch over a stud to securely retain it. My specimen is equipped with the M7 flash hider that replaced the cap but is retained in the same manner.

Both the lighter barrel of the new model and that of the M1919A4 were interchangeable. In February of 1943 it was recommended that this new version of the Browning design be adopted as the M1919A6. The letter "A" in its designation indicates that it was officially adopted, even though it was only "substitute standard."

The infantry was not pleased with the M1919A6 but nothing else was available. Bill Ruger's Auto Ordnance design was improved and showed real promise. A German MG42 was converted to caliber ,30-'06, albeit incorrectly. Known as the T24, it was tested early in 1944, as was the T33, an aircraft ANM2 equipped with a shoulder stock and bipod. For various reasons, none of these concepts were accepted.

Altogether more than 5 million of the Browning recoil-operated machine guns in one form or another were produced from 1919 to 1945.

The bipod was one of the least desirable components of the M1919A6. It has telescoping legs and the command height can be adjusted and retained by wing nuts. It is unfortunately all too similar to the one that which was eventually installed on the Model 1918 BAR.

The M1919A6 is already too heavy when compared to contemporary LMGs. When the bipod is added, the weapon is far too muzzle-heavy. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) uses a much superior bipod on their caliber 7.62x51mm NATO M1919A6 that is easily removable, can be attached to the barrel jacket at any point, and can be adjusted for cant and 20[degrees] of traverse.

Unfortunately, my IDF M1919A6 came equipped with the clumsy U.S. bipod. Another bizarre feature is a nonadjustable bracket, bolted to the bipod head's frame that is supposed to be used for supporting the gun when it's fired over a low embankment or wall, when height is not desired. It's a totally worthless appendage, in my opinion.

After the war, a carrying handle, much like that found on, and attached to, every British Bren Gun LMG barrel was adopted.

However, at 32 pounds and 53 inches in overall length, the M1919A6 is not the model of a modern fight machine gun. In addition to these deficiencies and its very poor bipod, compared for example to the contemporary German MG42, barrel changing--an absolutely essential feature of the fight machine gun concept--is by far too slow (and the requirement for adjusting the headspace makes this even worse).

Light machine guns are "area," not "point" target weapons. What does this difficult concept mean? It means that during the sustained fire they are supposed to generate, wind, slight differences in projectile and propellant charge weights, vibration of the tripod and its individual components and other factors make the bullets come out of the gun's muzzle not as a single "ray" but somewhat dispersed into what machine gunners call the "cone of fire," they then impact on the target(s) and surface of the ground in an oval-shaped, elongate pattern called the "beaten zone."

Although single points, such as an individual soldier or aircraft, may be designated as targets, in general, belt-fed machine guns are fired in bursts for "sustained" periods of time and are intended to cover an area rather than a specific target.

This causes the barrels to overheat, and they must therefore be replaced, often and as quickly as possible. During sustained fire, the barrel and receiver of the machine gun become heat sinks into which the heat generated by firing is absorbed. While we cannot keep changing the receiver, ways in which the barrels can quickly be changed have been successfully devised. The more quickly the barrel can be changed, the more successful this aspect of the design.

The sights found on the M1919A6 are modifications of those on the M1917A1 and M1919A4. The M1919A6 rear sight is a folding leaf A4 type. When folded down, it presents an open U-notch close combat sight. When deployed in that manner, the M1919A6 is almost certainly a point target weapon.

When folded up it can be adjusted for elevation from zero to 2400 yards in 200-yard increments and the peep aperture is utilized. The windage scale is graduated in 1-mil graduations and marked every 5 mils for 10 mils right or left from zero. (A mil is a unit of angular measurement used in artillery and machine gunnery and equal to 1/6400 of a complete revolution.)

The M1919A6 folding front sight is an exposed, slight tapered blade that can be adjusted for windage and elevation zero, which was not a first echelon procedure. As it's mounted at the front of the receiver, the sight radius is short and less than ideal.

The T&E (Traversing and Elevation) mechanism of the M1919A4/A6 M2 tripod should be attached to the tripod's traversing bar oriented so that the T&E mechanism is vertical. It was designed for the art of machine gunnery that included the cone of fire, the beaten zone and firing from enfilade and defilade, all techniques that were unfortunately lost and/or discarded many decades ago.






Machine guns with high cyclic rates usually are equipped with "hard" buffers in which no energy is lost. Slow firing machine guns, like the Browning series are usually found to have "soft" buffers designed to absorb some of the recoil energy.

I have never attempted to disassemble a .30 cal. BMG buffer assembly. But I have disassembled the buffer of a .50 cal. M2 HB machine gun. It comprises a series of saucer-shaped Belleville washers, which flattened when impinged upon by the recoiling parts to absorb partially the gun's recoil impulse and then rebounded back to their original saucer configuration.

During the 1950s, a .30 cal. tank weapon was developed as the M1919A4E1. This was eventually adopted as the M37 Browning tank machine gun. It was a coaxial machine gun for tanks and armored vehicles.

Eventually, the U.S. Army adopted the M73 7.62x51mm NATO coaxial machine gun. It was not a Browning derivative. Firing from the open-bolt with a quick-change barrel. I fired it at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California. It was a total failure.

It's not difficult to also conclude that the M1919A6 LMG was also a dud. In addition to the deficiencies described above, the bipod, positioned up at the muzzle, made this 32-pound clunk impossible to lift when firing from the prone position and it becomes necessary to engage rapidly moving enemy troops on the flanks.

During their early years, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) fielded an incredible mishmash of small arms from bolt-action K98k rifles chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round to the German World-War-II-era MG34 machine gun and the bipod-mounted, heavy-barrel FN FAL and captured British Bren LMGs and Sten SMGs. I have an Israeli Bren Mkll tripod with an adapter to accept a German MG34. They also used the US M1919A6, although they brought it to NATO specifications.

However, if like me, you own an M1919A6, just mount it on the M2 tripod, remove the sheet metal buttstock and you're mostly back to a good old reliable M1919A4 configuration. Furthermore, mine is in 7.62x51mm NATO, as it's an Israeli parts kit assembled on a registered and fully transferrable RAMO sideplate.

Remember the BATF regulation states that on the Browning series, the right sideplate, which carries the serial number and designation, is the machine gun. I obtained this 25 years ago for $1,500 plus an original AR10. Today it's worth at least $35,000.

I didn't buy all of my dozens of belt-fed machine guns to make money; I simply was intrigued by their mechanisms, which are so much more complicated than blowback-operated burp guns and gas- or recoil-operated assault rifles.

It could be worse. You could be the proud owner of an M60 GPMG. The M60 program began in 1946 with the experimental caliber 7.92x57mm T44, which was very little more than the German MG42's belt feed mechanism mounted sideways on the German selective-fire FG42 airborne rifle. This morphed into the T52 through the T52E5 series of machine guns. These, in turn, evolved into the T161 and T161E3 series chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round. This final version went into production series as the M60 GPMG and was adopted by the USZ military on 30 January 1957.

I deployed on the battlefield many times with the M60 in El Salvador. I, and a team made up of my personal friends, rebuilt literally hundreds of them at several brigade levels in El Salvador.

The M60 was supposed to be the very model of a modern General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). We marched off to Vietnam eagerly clutching it to our bosoms. It was the best. We dearly loved it, that we knew, for the Ordnance Corps told us so. In Vietnam the M60 fell into the ultimate crucible of the battlefield and the hype began to pale as its many serious deficiencies became apparent. The M60 was 10 long years and millions of dollars in the making. It's too bad we didn't get a weapon worth all that time and money. This gun was flawed from its very soul to its outer skin.

In the field, its unique constant-energy gas cut-off system, was a total failure. The piston can easily be reassembled backward. The M60 gas cylinder is sweated and pinned to the barrel. That means when the barrel is changed an entirely new gas system comes into operation. The bipod is also attached to the barrel.

Carrying spare barrels means carrying redundant bipods. Components on the gas cylinder must be safety wired in place to keep them from falling off. The rear sight elevation markings are stamped onto a piece of black anodized aluminum and disappear completely in short order. The black anodizing on the top cover wears off even more quickly.

The bolt's locking lugs and the barrel extension crack and break with great regularity and have to be discarded after only 15,000 rounds. The sear and bolt components can, and often are, reassembled backward.

The list of M60 idiosyncrasies goes on and on. The only machine gun ever deployed by the U.S. military that was worse was the French Chauchat chambered for the .30-'06 cartridge that was fielded during World War I.

The M60 has been replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO FN MAG 58 modified slightly into the M240 Bravo and the FN Minimi reconfigured into the excellent caliber 5.56x45mm NATO M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon). No experienced machine gunner misses it.

I own over 100 transferrable machine guns. Assembling a collection of that size today is almost impossible because of the current prices. Very few members of the "Over One Hundred" Club remain alive. Dolf Goldsmith, Bob Landies, I and a small number of others remain. Kent Lomont and Dick Wray passed away a few years ago.

It's vital that our database of machine gun information be passed on. SHOTGUN NEWS is the only periodical publishing this kind of information. Owning six burp guns does not provide you with real bona fides as an authority on machine guns and publishing a book on shooting the small arms of World War II that does not even mention the hundreds of millions of rounds fired on each side of the line by the famous belt-fed machine guns of that era is a poor joke.


The Browning Machine Gun Volume I--Rifle Caliber Brownings in U.S. Service By Dolf L. Goldsmith. Published by Collector Grade Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 1046, Dept. SGN, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada K9A 4W5; phone: 905-342-3434; fax: 905342-3688; website:; e-mail: Copyright 2005. ISBN 0-88935-370-06. Deluxe Edition, 552 pages, 568 illustrations. $79.95.

FM23-55--Department of the Army Field Manual--Browning Machineguns Caliber .30--M1917A1, M1919A4, M1919A4E1, M1919A6, and M37 Department of the Army--October 1955 (later editions included only the M1919A6 and the M37); 462 pages, numerous black and white illustrations. Out of print--available on the Internet for $35 and more.


Caliber: .30-'06 or 7.62x51 mm NATO.

Method of         Short recoil-operated with assist
operation:        from a barrel bearing and firing
                  from the closed bolt position.
                  Headspace must be adjusted.

Feed:             250-round cloth belts or
                  disintegrating metallic links.

Cyclic rate:      400 to 600/675 rpm

Overall weight:   32 pounds (14.5kg); weight of M2
                  tripod--14 pounds (6.35kg).

Overall length:   Approximately 38 inches (965mm)
                  plus length of buttstock when
                  so deployed.

Barrel length:    24 inches (69.6mm).

Status:           Over 5 million of the entire M1919
                  series produced by various manufacturers;
                  no longer in service.

T&E summary: A reliable design that requires adjustment
of the headspace. The M1919A6 variant was
too heavy for an LMG-type with a poorly designed
bipod. A mediocre stopgap measure.


All of the Browning M1917, M1917A1, M1919A4, M1919A6, M347 and aircraft AN/M2 machine guns are recoil-operated. The Browning machine guns fire from the closed bolt position (except for the 7.62x51 mm NATO South African MG4, which fires from the open bolt position).

The loaded belt, either disintegrating metallic links or 250-round cloth belt, is fed into the opening on the left side until the extractor groove of the first cartridge is under the hook of the extractor claw and the second cartridge is just past the belt holding pawl, at the entrance of the feed way.

Then grasp the retracting handle with the palm of the hand facing up and draw the bolt rearward and release it. This advances the first round of the belt in front of the bolt for the extractor/ejector to grab it.

Pull and release the cocking handle a second time. This removes the first round from the belt and advances the second round into position to be grabbed and simultaneously moves the first round down into the barrel's chamber and ready for firing.

More explicitly, since the bolt and barrel extension are now locked together by the breech lock, the barrel will move back with the bolt, compressing both the barrel buffer and driving springs and cocking the striker, which is caught by both sears.

The cartridge is drawn back by the hook of the extractor claw. The striker cannot impinge against the firing pin except when the barrel is in its forward position and the barrel and bolt are firmly locked together.

When the breech lock's pin reaches the downward incline of the breech lock's cam in the receiver, the breech lock will be forced downward, freeing the barrel from the bolt. The barrel is then thrown forward by the action of the buffer spring.

The pressure of the cover extractor cam throws the forward end of the extractor claw downward, causing the front of the cartridge to fall into the receiver's T-slot, so as to move forward below the cartridge belt in line with the chamber. The forward movement of the barrel is stopped by the accelerator claws engaging the projection of the barrel extension's shank.

Simultaneously, the projection on the barrel extension locks the accelerator, so that the bolt cannot be engaged. The feed lever, feed slide, and feed pawl have been moved to the proper position by the backward movement of the cam.

If the bolt is released, its driving spring will throw the bolt forward, carrying a cartridge into the chamber. When the bolt is near the limit of its independent forward movement, the cam on its under surface engages the claw on the accelerator, forcing the accelerator down and releasing the barrel to continue its forward travel under the force of the buffer spring.

The barrel and bolt then travel forward together, as the pin of the breech lock rides up the incline in the casing; the breech lock is forced into engagement with the locking recess in the bolt, so that the barrel and bolt remain locked together.

When at the limit of its forward movement, the forward end of the barrel extension strikes the sear, disengaging the sear from the striker, leaving the sear in engagement and the gun in position for firing by pulling the trigger.

When the gun is ready to fire, a cartridge will be in the chamber and the bolt and barrel group will be locked together by means of the locking block at the rear end of the bolt body. The locking block reciprocates vertically, up and down.

When the gunner pivots the rear of the trigger upward, the front of the trigger tips downward, pulling the sear out of engagement with the spring-loaded firing pin, allowing it to move forward and strike the cartridge's percussion primer.

As the bolt, barrel and barrel extension recoil rearward, the locking block is drawn upward and out of engagement by a cam in the bottom of the gun's receiver. The recoiling barrel extension strikes the Browning's unique "accelerator," a double half-moon-shaped, spring-loaded steel piece that pivots from the receiver below the bolt and behind the barrel extension.

The tips of the accelerator's two curved fingers engage the bottom of the bolt, causing it to move more rapidly to the rear.

The extractor/ejector is a mechanism that pivots over the front of the bolt, with a claw that grips the base of the next cartridge in the belt. A camming track on the receiver's left side plate causes the extractor/ejector to rotate downward as the bolt travels rearward, lowering the next round downward on top of the empty case, pushing it straight down out of the extraction grooves of the bolt face through the ejection port.

A spring in the feed tray cover pushes the extractor/ ejector down onto the next cartridge, so if the feed tray cover is opened, the extractor/ejector will be pulled upward if the belt was to be removed.

The belt feeding mechanism operates as follows: The belt feed lever is connected to the belt feeding pawl at the forward end and has a cam pin at the rearward end, which runs through a track in the top of the bolt body.

A pin in the gun's feed cover acts as a pivot between the two ends. The rearward travel of the bolt body causes the rear end of the feed lever to pull to the right, causing the feed pawl at the other end to move left over the belt.

The pawl pulls the belt further to the right as the bolt travels forward again, also resulting in the empty M1 metallic link of the previous round to be taken out of the belt to be expelled out the right side of the gun. A recoil buffer tube in the pistol grip is used to smooth the reciprocating cycle by absorbing some of the recoil impulse.

When the gun is fired and as long as the trigger is held down and cartridges supplied, the automatic action of firing will continue, the sear then alternately holding and releasing the striker. The action of the bolt moves the belt feed lever and firing will continue unless the trigger is lifted.


The headspace of a firearm is the distance between the face of the bolt and the base (head) of the cartridge fully seated in the chamber. With BMGs, the conditions necessary for correct headspace are met only when the bolt assembly is correctly locked to the barrel and barrel extension. The barrel on these machine guns is threaded to the barrel extension and thus can be screwed in or out until the proper headspace can be achieved. This can be accomplished one of three ways.

Headspace adjustment controls the position of the breech lock in its recess in the bottom of the bolt and is crucial. Correct headspace is necessary to prevent sluggish operation, damage to the gun (especially the top cover assembly) and ruptured or separated cartridge cases.

Headspace adjustment is correct when a) the recoiling assemblies are fully forward, b) the breech lock is positioned in its recess in the bolt body so that the forward edge of the breech lock is in contact with, but not binding against, the forward wall of that recess, and c) there is no independent rearward movement between the bolt and the barrel and barrel extension.

Here's how to adjust headspace with the parts outside the receiver. With the bolt body locked by the breech lock to the barrel, i.e., making sure that the breech lock's cam pin is all the way up, and having removed (or pushed forward) the flat spring on the front end of the barrel extension, turn the barrel all the way into the barrel extension. Be careful not to overtighten.

Then back off the barrel from the barrel extension one or two notches. That will be the correct headspace. Reinsert the flat spring and install the bolt assembly, barrel extension and barrel back into the receiver.

Headspace can also be adjusted with the gun fully assembled. Retract the bolt about 3/4". Screw the barrel into the barrel extension with the nose of a cartridge or the combination wrench in the barrel notches, until the recoiling components will not go fully forward by means of the driving spring when the bolt is released from its 3/4" position. Unscrew the barrel one notch at a time until the barrel and barrel extension go fully forward without being forced. Unscrew the barrel an additional two notches to compensate for heat expansion.

This can also be more easily accomplished if you have a Browning headspace gauge, with a "GO" and "NO GO" end. The gauge is inserted between the barrel and barrel extension.

Caliber .30 BMG headspace gauges are difficult to locate. Far more common are the headspace and timing gauges for the .50 cal. M2 HB machine gun, aka "Ma Deuce." I have these gauges in both calibers in Spanish and used them in El Salvador during the more than 30 trips I made there during the civil war, much of which was spent training the Ma Deuce crews in the airborne and Special Forces battalions.

Text and photos by Peter G. Kokalis
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Author:Kokalis, Peter G.
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:Jul 20, 2015
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