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Colt 1895 Potato Digger

The Colt Model 1895 was John Browning’s first foray into machine gun design, and based largely on his previous work with lever action rifles. The gun used a rather unique design, having a gas piston which swung in an arc from a gas port placed near the muzzle rather than reciprocating. The movement of the swinging arm was translated into forward and backward motion of the bolt through a cam, and a rotating cog wheel was used to feed cartridges from a belt. There’s no reason such a design couldn’t work, though the clearance required for the arm resulted in both the gun’s nickname and the absence of any other notable guns copying the idea.

The 1895 was initially adopted by the US Navy in 6mm Lee caliber, but the guns were made until the end of WWI in a variety of other rounds, including .30-40 Krag, .30-06, 7mm Mauser, and .303 British. During the War Colt ceased production and sold the rights and tooling to Marlin, who continued to produce them (most of the photos we have are actually of a Marlin 1917 version of the gun).

The gun was moderately successful, but not outstanding. Compared to its contemporaries (mainly the Maxim and Vickers), its advantages were weight and bulk, as it was fairly slim and air cooled (the action gave it a relatively slow rate of fire, making air cooling more realistic). US use included minor involvements with the escapades in Cuba, the Philippines and China, but not much more. Browning, of course, went on to create much more successful designs with the M2, M1917, and M1919 machine guns.

Photos

Download this gallery in high resolution

Manuals

Marlin .300" caliber Quadruple Gun Mount manual (English)

Marlin .300″ caliber Quadruple Gun Mount manual (English)

7 comments to Colt 1895 Potato Digger

  • Does anyone know if there are blueprints and/or dimensions on this gun? Trying to build one in 54mm – yes, I am nuts.

  • gerard demaison

    The French military purchased over 500 of these guns in 1915. The full story of their limited usage by the French Army remains to be researched. This air-cooled gun functioned very well but had the limitation of firing from a closed bolt. Hence it was prone to “cook-offs” after long periods of continuous fire.

  • Thanks for the excellent reference materials, now I need to convert this to 54mm for a diorama I’m working on.

  • OldBikr

    These were used to shoot up striking coal miners in the hills of the Eastern US.

  • Bill Spicer

    I just came across 4 colt working models, one of the 1895 potato digger, one of Baby Browning machine gun, one of automatic colt model 1914 cannon, and colt machine gun. We also found 3 Colt model 1919 patent booklets with the original patterns. There is also one other booklet with patterns on one of the other guns in this lot. These models were made by George J. Braun who worked for Colt.They are around 12″ long and 5″ tall. They are made exactly like the real guns. Great detail and craftsmanship. They are in super condition. Has any one ever seen these before. Thanks Bill Spicer

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