By popular request, this month we are doing a head-to-head match of the awesome FG-42 (second model, in 8mm, made by SMG Guns) and the much-revered Browning BAR (M1918A3, in .30-06, made by Ohio Ordnance). Lots of people suggested that this would be a fair match, since both guns were intended to be support-type weapons.
In reality, though, the FG-42 is a far superior design. The BAR was designed more than 20 years earlier, and the M1918 version used by the US Army was obsolete before WWII ever started. That said, Karl (who is shooting the BAR) is a significantly better shooting than I am – will the FG-42 give me enough of an advantage to actually win the match? One of the fundamental lessons I have learned shooting these matches is that a shooter’s skill is much more important than what firearms he or she happens to be using – but there will come a point somewhere when one firearm is so clearly superior to another than it can outweigh a significant difference in skill.
There is a lot of mythos surrounding the BAR and glorifying it, thanks in large part to war movies. It was a legitimately good weapon when it first hit the battlefield in 1918, replacing (in theory, had there been enough time and enough BARs) the French M1915 Chauchat. It was both more accurate, more durable, and significantly more reliable than the Chauchat. However, it was still one of the first guns of its type to see wide-scale service, and the design left a lot to be desired.
First of all, it was designed with “walking fire” in mind, as that is what the Allied commanders wanted. The notion is that the gunner would rest the butt in a specially designed cup in his web belt, and fire from the hip as he advanced, walking upright, across No Man’s Land. This concept was a laughable failure – a BAR gunner doing this cannot possibly hope to suppress, say, an dug-in MG08. Other shortcomings include the target-rifle type sights, the slow and very heavy bipod, the clumsy magazine changes, and other general ergonomic deficiencies. This was tolerable in 1918, given the very short development period and the general novelty of light machine guns, but by the 1930s it should have been clear that it was thoroughly obsolete. New designs like the ZB/Bren, Chatellerault, Vickers-Berthier, and others had made a major improvement in the field. Even the Madsen from all the way back to 1902 was in most ways superior to the BAR.
Not that the BAR was a lost cause – FN as able to make significant improvements to it in the form of the FN-D. In this guise it had a much better bipod, a better magazine release and pistol grip, shorter quick-detach barrel, and larger ejection port for clearing malfunctions. Several European armies used the FN-D during WWII, but the US military was uninterested in making the investment to update their BARs.
The FG-42, on the other hand, was a very modern design from its inception. It was designed within strict size and weight limitations, and incorporated several elements to minimize recoil. The side-mounted magazine allowed the mag to use the same footprint as the trigger group, thus shortening the overall length by 5 inches or more. The recoil buffer in the stock and the excellent muzzle brake make the gun quite pleasant to shoot (and the brake doesn’t even kick up dirt when fired prone). The bipod is light and unobtrusive (although being mounted at the end of the relatively thin barrel, it is primarily useful for automatic fire). As Karl mentions in the video conclusion, the FG-42 can easily hold its own against totally modern firearm designs.