BAR Comparison: M1918 vs M1918A2

Ian shooting an M1918A3 Ohio Ordnance BAR

I was doing some reading up on the BAR, and some shooting with a semiauto Ohio Ordnance Works A3 model BAR recently, in addition to the recent 2-gun match we did with it. I got particularly interested in the improvements made between the original WWI version and the A2 version that was so heavily used in WWII and Korea. Pretty much every discussion of the BAR today is based on the A2, because there is nobody left alive who actually used the original M1918 in combat (with the exception of a few WWII vets who got unmodified WWI era guns).

US Army BAR variants
US military BAR variants

I do want to point out that this post is going to consider only the US military BARs. I know that the European military versions made by the Poles, Belgians, Swedes and other, and the civilian guns made by Colt solve some of the problems I am going to bring up – but my point here is more about the US Army than the potential of the BAR. Also, I should include the caveat that while I have fired a full-auto A2 BAR, I have only handled a WWI variant, not shot it. So consider the following speculative…

The conclusion that my friend Karl (who shot the A3 in the recent 2-gun match) and I came to is that the M1918A2 BAR is a pretty miserable weapon, easily obsolete by WWII and with many features that are more handicap than benefit to a shooter.But we had to wonder why John Browning, whose work was generally outstanding, would have made so many missteps on the design. And that required looking back to the original M1918 gun, which Browning actually designed (he was long dead when the A2 was conceptualized).

Let’s start with weight. One of the – if not the primary – problems with the A2 BAR is its weight of about 21 pounds. That is a beast to carry, particularly with the bulky bipod way out at the muzzle. If you want a taste of the experience, lash two M1 Garands together and go hike a few miles. Well, it turns out the original BAR was lighter – a full 5 pounds lighter! The M1918 weighed 16 pounds, or 25% less – and with that weight much better balanced thanks to the lack of bipod. Five pounds may not sound like a lot, but it is a very significant difference when you have to carry the weapon around all day, fire from the shoulder, move into covered or prone positions, and so on.

So what caused this increase in weight? Well, typical bureaucratic demands, really. Pretty much everything in military service gets heavier as it gets updated. Tanks do, aircraft do, the M16 did, and even the FG-42 did. On the BAR, the added bloat came from a hydraulic fire rate control buffer in the stock, a flash hider, a bipod (big addition there), folding shoulder plate, magazine guide wings, and a carry handle (ironically needed largely because of all the added weight). In my opinion (which I will freely admit is not supported by nearly enough experience), these were all poor choices to a greater or lesser extent. Let’s look at each one…

Hydraulic buffer. This was not to reduce recoil, but rather to slow down the rate of fire. The M1918 had two selector positions for firing, semi and full auto. The A2 replaced these with two full-auto settings, fast (~600rpm) and slow (~350rpm). Here’s an example (which I found on YouTube) of the two different speeds:

In order to allow slow full-auto fire, a hydraulic buffer in the stock was used to slow down bolt travel. There are three problems with this. First, I think two different speeds is an answer to a question nobody was asking – at least not anybody using a BAR in combat. Pick the best overall rate of fire, and couple that with semiauto. You know, like Browning did in the first place. Second problem is that the buffer adds weight. This problem is that the buffer was prone to failure. If the seals wore out, the buffer would lose pressure and cease to function, leaving the gun with both settings running at the “fast” speed. This was compounded by the gun’s lack of easy access to clean from the chamber end. Cleaning from the muzzle would allow solvent to drain down into the stock, and too much of that would compromise the buffer seals.

Flash Hider. Okay, this isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s small and light. But on the other hand, the BAR (all versions) had a 24 inch barrel; same as the Garand. Does the Garand need a flash hider? Not really. So does the BAR really get much benefit, especially considering that the device is nothing but a plain hollow cylinder?

Bipod. The biggie. I will agree that having a bipod on a support weapon like the BAR is a good idea…but the bipod they came up with was terrible. Here’s why:

  • Too heavy. Seriously, it’s something like 3 pounds. Significantly heavier than it needs to be.
  • Wrong mounting point. Put it on the gas block, not the muzzle. That would reduce barrel deflection and improve balance.
  • Too clumsy to deploy. You have to loosen a wing nut on each leg, lock the leg into its “deployed” notch, and then retighten the wingnuts. Two other wingnuts are used to extend the legs. This means that if you want to have rapid use of the bipod, you must carry the gun with it deployed all the time.
  • Unlimited rotation. It will spin 360 degrees around, and if you move quickly the wingnuts will sometimes block your sight picture.

Shoulder plate. Not a huge deal, but really not necessary. One of those things that some people want, and argue that it only adds a few ounces. Well, a few ounces here and a few more there and pretty soon you’ve added 5 pounds to your weapon. A much better idea to improve control would have been to add a rear pistol grip instead.

M1918A2 BAR buttstock parts
Let’s add some unnecessary extra bits to the stock!

Magazine guides. Possibly the first application of gamer modifications to a military arm? Well, probably not. But the intent was exactly like a big extended magwell on a competition pistol – to help the shooter guide new magazines smoothly into the receiver. Not a bad idea. But they went overboard on the A2 BAR, making them too big, too thick, and too heavy. Something a third the size would have worked just as well.

BAR magazine guides
M1918A2 magazine guides on left, original M1918 without guides on right

Carry handle. If it weren’t for the stuff listed above, the carry handle wouldn’t even have been necessary. And it was noisy and floppy, and lots of GIs threw them away even with the weight of the A2. Carry handles on light machine guns are typically there for manipulating hot barrels, not actually for carrying the gun with. A detachable barrel would have been a modification well worth the added weight, and it would have justified the handle – but they didn’t do that.

Sights. This one has nothing to do with weight, but really ought to be mentioned. The original BARs used basically the sights off the M1917 Enfield, which have a nice big rear aperture as a battle sight, and a second flip-up aperture for more precise shooting. It’s a really good combat sight. The A2 BAR, though, was “updated” to have instead the 1903 Springfield rear sight, which has an tiny open notch for a battle sight, and a narrower front post. It is better for target shooting, but pretty poor as a combat sight. I would say to battle sight on the A2 BAR is nearly useless. The only benefit to it over the original sight is that it allows windage adjustment…but I would much rather Kentucky windage my shots through a sight I can use than get exactly dialed in with one I can’t see half the time.

M1917 Enfield rear sight
The original M1918 BAR used this very nice rear sight…
1918A2 rear sight
…and then for the M1918A2 they deliberately changed to this. Ugh.

So…Why?

The BAR was originally conceived as an “automatic rifle” for walking fire assault – advancing across no-man’s land firing from the hip to suppress defending troops. That didn’t work out so well, but nobody knew that until they tried the idea out a couple times. The original gun was built for that purpose, which explains the fixed barrel (lower volume of fire and a need to keep the gun light and portable) and the lack of bipod. It quickly became clear that that tactic didn’t work, and between the world wars the concept of a light machine gun finally matured in a way it had not done by 1918. This new type of weapon had to endure more sustained fire and use positions of cover, while being operated by a 2-man crew. To this end, the guns had replaceable barrels, bipods, and top-mounted magazines to allow easier reloading by the assistant gunner and a lower profile on the bipod. Examples of these guns would be the ZB-26/30/Bren, Chatellerault 24/29, DP-28, Type 96 Nambu, and Vickers-Berthier, among others.

The US didn’t have a weapon that fit this tactical profile, but they had the BAR, which was on the right track, more or less. So they made modifications to bring it as close as possible to the LMG standard without having to spend all that much money in retrofitting the guns. The result (predictably, in hindsight) was an automatic rifle with a bipod, not a light machine gun. It developed and maintained its highly regarded reputation because of the qualities Browning gave it in the first place, and in spite of the “upgrades” made in 1939 when the A2 variation was formally adopted.

Why do you hate the BAR?

I don’t, really – I just think that it is valuable to understand what makes a weapon good and bad beyond simply accepting the mythology guns can acquire by being used by the winning or losing sides in memorable conflicts. The BAR has some outstanding qualities – it is remarkably accurate and remarkably reliable. That reliability, I believe, is a large part of why it developed such a great reputation – better to have a heavy and unergonomic gun that always works than one that feels great in the hand and malfunctions when you need it most. No doubt about it, the BAR worked.

If I were to get myself a BAR (and I don’t plan to do so; there are lots of other stranger things I would rather put the money into) I think I would look until I found an M1918 pattern one (whether semi-only or select fire) and get that instead of an A2 pattern. I’d rather have the gun the way John Browning envisioned it than as an Ordnance Department redesign-by-committee.

79 Comments

  1. All of your points are excellent. I’ve read a couple of accounts from WW2 stating that troops in the field typically removed the bipod and shoulder plate from the A2 in an attempt to lighten the weapon. Specifically, look at John George’s excellent book “Shots Fired in Anger”. Even then, he states that the BAR while excellent at putting down a base of fire, was too heavy to hump around the jungles of Guadalcanal. I believe it was in George’s book (or maybe another book – I don’t recall…) that he talks about the changes that Ordnance made going from the M1918 to the A1/A2 did nothing to improve the weapon. The only other critisim of the BAR that I’ve repeatedly read is that magazine capacity was too low.

  2. “The Last Parallel” by Martin Russ
    He had nothing but praise for the BAR
    BUT this isn’t the 1950s anymore!

    • I remember Russ saying that he too stripped off as much “stuff” as he could. He pulled off the flash hider and found out during a night patrol firefight that the flash was to protect his vision more than the enemy’s.

  3. It sounds like empire-building was in action.

    Over in France, the French Army’s ordnance department kept “improving” the Hotchkiss HMG with fire rate controls, magazine feeds with “Top Secret” springs (hint; wound springs like in most Russian arms), and in the case of the “St. Etienne” version, reversing the gas piston action so instead of shoving the bolt back in a reasonable manner, it needed a rack-and-pinion setup between piston and bolt to move the bolt back while the piston was moving forward. Why? Apparently, just to be able to claim it was their idea, not the Hotchkiss firm’s doing.

    I think most of the geegaws and whatsits hung on the M1918A2 were for similar reasons.

    Veterans of the PTO I “studied under” in my mis-spent youth said that when issued the M1918A2, they generally 86’d the bipod and the flash hider first thing; neither one was necessary in their estimation, and both made the A2 a pain in the posterior to maneuver in underbrush.

    The monopod under the butt was ditched as well, because all it did was lock the gun on a fixed azimuth, which is occasionally needed for a HMG, but on an LMG?

    The shoulder “flap” stuck around. It didn’t weigh much, as Ian said, and came in handy when you rested that nice, square forearm on a log. You could put the flap up, cuddle the buttplate into your shoulder, put your left hand over the stock comb, and swing from target to target, firing short bursts, a lot easier than you could swing it on the bipod.

    One possible rationale’ for that goofy monopod aft may have been the idea that the gunner would use his left hand wrapped around it to steady the piece on the bipod. Again, treating a SAW like a HMG. The Bren originally had a monopod under the stock, too, following the same reasoning. As John Weeks pointed out, the British machine-gunner has never held the weapon like that, always putting the off hand “over the top” instead. So the Bren aft monopod was seldom seen “on service”, either.

    That dual auto-fire rate was an example of an answer to a question that was too dumb to bother asking. 600 R/M was obviously a bit too high a ROF for a box-magazine-fed machine rifle with only 20 rounds in the hopper. 350 was just as obviously too slow, 100R/M slower than the sedate M3 .45 “Grease Gun”. A more sensible arrangement would have been a fixed autofire rate of about 500 R/M, and single-shot.

    That Springfield rear sight strikes me as having been conceived more for the gun being used on single-shot. The M1918, used that way, tended to behave a lot like a bull-barrel target rifle. You could actually “snipe” with it, according to the real experts (the ones who used it in battle).

    An M1918A1, with the Springfield rear sight, no flash hider or bipod, and the M1918 fire-selector, would be about the best all-around machine rifle you could ask for. And that’s exactly what the BAR is; it’s not an “automatic rifle”, and it’s not a “light machine gun”. It falls into a different category altogether.

    The trouble is that apparently nobody in the chain of command, or at Ordnance, ever figured that out.

    cheers

    eon

    • If you had the monopod fold back, it could double as a stock protector i.e. The steel butt plate.

      General observation.

      Probably don’t need it, eeeew look at those sights.

      Perhaps the rack and pinion thing, going in different directions on the Hotchkiss was a recoil counter action idea Ak103 is it type lark.

    • Hi Eon, your about right on. In 1959 I went from a M1, then to the BAR, then to the M1919A6 (lucky me!), this while being a 125 LB Airborne Troop in the 82nd ABN. 1961 went to RECON Plt. MUCH lighter loads! My first use of both BAR and A6 was in Vietnam with SF. I now weighed 162 LBS w/o rucksack! SO .. I can assure anyone that cares .. the BAR is a killer! As for being heavy, 21 lbs is 21 lbs; until the bullets start working their way towards you; then amazingly that 21 LBS seems to get LIGHTER and not so annoying! While with the 47th ARVN Rangers, the BAR was carried and USED by 110 lb Viets. Weight is kinda relative to the time .. When a 9.5 lb rifle is all there is .. you just learn to use it cause that is ALL THERE IS! Too many time I believe we compare yesterdays weapons with what we are used to today. For the young soldier today the idea of carrying a 9.5 Lb (w/o any ammo)rifle is unbelievable.

      • You are so right, Thomas — everything is relative. I remember humping an L1A1 SLR, MAG58 GPMG and Karl Gustav 84mm RR, among others, and also remember being equally grateful that the battlefield performance and outright reliability of these weapons far exceeded the weight issues where it mattered, especially when the proverbial s**t hit the fan. Rather amazing how one conveniently forgets certain comforts and inconveniences where it matters, and actually comes to staunchly support the very equipment one once swore at. I think much the same can be said of the M-14 rifle in Vietnam.

        • Earl .. that MAG 58 is a smoker, at times a real butt dragger, and like the A6 impossible to carry comfortably! BUT when you needed a “rather serous and extended amount of suppressive fire” Maggie never let’s ya down! Or the A6! And MAG has been around a LONG time. I, (as usual my opinion) know of NO government that has not been tainted in it’s procurement system, at various levels, and at various times. As you and I have discussed before, when taking into consideration just ONE element of weapons development, “numbers to be produced and issued as standard”, few commenters seem to take into account the US has had at times a vast number of men to be equipped, and everything cannot stop just to produce the small arms of the infantryman. We have always had a tail bigger than the dog, and always well have. Average 4 to 1 ratio. And does anyone, not having a serious drinking problem, believe that they all have soldiers well being at heart, above their OWN well being? I just KNOW none of our commenters have ever cut a corner, kept his mouth shut when he knew something was wrong, but didn’t want to piss off the boss. A Sargent’s Major of the 1 RAR in 65 told a young 1st LT “Sir people that live in beer bottles should avoid throwing rocks.” Just read a book, “This Goddamed War” by Tardi, you might like to read..if you haven’t already! He also wrote “It was the war of the Trenches”. Best to you Earl always.

          • Hi, Thomas :

            Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for the wonderful insights. Where the human condition is concerned, wisdom is so hard-won and seems to always come at the cost of enormous effort and much time. I am simply happy that you are here with us to share that wisdom.

            I should have added that many of us dearly wished we had the PK / PKM 7.62mm GPMG — every bit as accurate, hard-hitting, durable and reliable as the MAG58 ( as well as the M1919A6 ), if not more so, simpler to disassemble and maintain, and a lot lighter to boot.

    • “The monopod under the butt was ditched as well, because all it did was lock the gun on a fixed azimuth, which is occasionally needed for a HMG, but on an LMG?”

      The butt monopod was never going to “lock the gun on a fixed azimuth”, it was intended to enable repeatable, consistent elevation so that you could use the BAR for things like final protective fires. If the examples I’ve seen of the thing were consistent with the actual issued items, they were much like a T & E mechanism, in that the gunner could “set” the weapon for various elevations from a range card. There are a lot of uses for this sort of thing, tactically. If you’ve ever tried to set things up for a rifle like the M16 to deliver fire on a fixed, pre-determined target on orders, you suddenly understand why a butt monopod actually makes some sense. A couple of forked sticks, or a forked stick and a bipod just don’t cut it–Horribly awkward, and if someone is delivering fire using that technique, they’re not going to do it over the heads of either myself, or my troops.

      Better solution? A damn tripod, well-sandbagged, a T & E mechanism, and someone who knows what the hell they’re doing with one. I’ve made one assault with an infantry unit where they had the gun crews suddenly directed to go free-gun from the support-by-fire position. The resultant mutual pants-shitting led to us watching and cheering on the infantry component of our assault team beat the ever-loving snot out of the support-by-fire NCOIC at the conclusion of the exercise. There’s nothing quite like realizing that the machine guns are no longer firing off a fixed platform, and that you’re right in the middle of the potential beaten zone, with no nearby cover.

  4. The answer to the question “Why was the BAR M1918A2 so bad?” is pretty much what you’re saying in the “So… Why?” section. But, you don’t go far enough.

    The root problem with the BAR was not really the weapon; it was our (the US military’s) conceptualization of how combat was conducted at the end of WWI, the inter-war years, and indeed, into the 1950s. We did not “get it”, and our thinking about the issue itself was extraordinarily blinkered by the wish-fulfillment idea we had that everything in battle depended on the individual rifleman–Which it manifestly did not.

    If you look at the entire history of the machine-gun in the US Army, you can see the problems which were present from the beginning. First, we completely ignored the idea of a true LMG, in that the Ordnance Corps refused to seriously consider what was the best available weapon in this class during the WWI era–The Lewis Gun. The fact that it was an American weapon, designed by a US Army Colonel, just makes it more ridiculous. Personalities, and the inability to grasp the essential nature of how combat worked on the modern battlefield are what led to this coming to pass. We could have had the Lewis Gun issued as an LMG in our Army from the beginning, but we didn’t. Some very obtuse reasoning was applied, and instead of going with the idea of a true support weapon, we asked John Browning to design a weapon in what proved to be an entirely superflous class, that of the “automatic rifle”. The entire concept of this was borrowed wholesale from the same idiots who expended thousands of their soldier’s lives in service of a nebulous tactical concept based on “elan”. The Germans envisioned interlocking machine-gun fire; the French envisioned countering that with superior “morale”. We all know how that one worked out, but instead of doing some deep thinking about just why we fell for that bullshit, we doubled down on it for the entirety of the inter-war period, never really grasping that the most manpower-economical way forward revolved around getting more firepower down to the lowest level. We should have designed a true GPMG, and had it ready for WWII, but our mental underpinnings did not even identify the problem.

    You can see this in the wishful thinking wrapped around the intelligence reports in WWII that describe the MG34 and MG42 as inferior weapons, and in how we completely misunderstood German tactics, which were both unit- and weapon-centric. We worried about maneuvering individual soldiers; the Germans focused on maneuvering weapons and firepower. If you examine a lot of what went on with regards to minor tactics, we never “got it”, the way the Germans did. Their approach was much more economical of manpower, and far more effective. For the Germans, the idea was that you used your weapons and manpower to exploit what they called “flachen und luckentaktic”, the tactics of spaces and gaps. If an officer of the US Army was asked to eliminate an enemy position, the first thing he was trained to do instinctively was attack the position. A German officer was instead trained to exploit spaces and gaps in the defenses in order to get his weapons into a position so as to make that position untenable, and force a withdrawal from it. Our concept of the machine-gun was that it was a weapon designed to support the individual rifleman in such attacks; the German was that the machine-gun was intended to be the primary tool used in the attack. They concentrated on maneuvering their machine-guns and mortars, not maneuvering individual rifleman the way we did. Which in large part explains why the hell the Germans managed to inflict such horrendous casualties on the Allies, and fight on as long as they did.

    You can still see this dichotomy present in the modern era; a German unit will be far more likely to use their machine-guns in what amounts to an indirect manner, concentrating on getting them into a position of superiority, instead of making direct attacks with them in support of the infantry.

    I would submit that the entire sorry history of US small arms design, doctrine, and procurement stems from our abysmal grasp of tactical and operational reality, from 1918 onwards. We continued with the flawed Automatic Rifle concept through the 1930s, and into the 1960s, never grasping the essential need for something like a true GPMG down at the squad level. Instead, we issued flawed substitutes, like the BAR and the M1919A6, right up until we finally procured something that sort of resembled a true GPMG, the M60. Based on the nature of that weapon, I’d have to say that the people behind it never really “got it”, either–Why the hell would you make the poor bastard carrying the thing have to carry the bipod and gas system twice over? Why would he require the issuance of an asbestos mitten, in order to perform a very basic function of a GPMG, changing the barrel?

    If you want a reason for why US machine-guns are so bad, you have to first grasp the fact that we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing with them at the tactical level. Because of that, there has been a lack of focus, and a lack of clear thought on both utilizing and designing them. Hell, just look at the accessories for them that we’ve issued: The US still doesn’t grasp the advantages of a periscopic sight, relying on bolting a rail for what really amounts to a hunting rifle scope sight on top of the weapon, where the gunner’s head is most exposed. Put a periscopic sight on the damn gun, the way the Germans have for the last sixty-odd years, and you’re going to see the number of dead gunners with bullets through their heads drop by a pretty significant number. We’ve seen these things used by the Germans, and other nations, and yet have never grasped the import of them. For the love of God, the tripods… We were issuing the same damn one for the M60 that we’d used on the old Browning guns, despite the manifest differences between the guns themselves. This still baffles me, to this day.

    Ah, well… We’ll figure it out about the time we replace the machine guns and their crews with something robotic, like the sentry gun in Aliens. I give it about another generation, and we’re going to see something like a tactical Roomba, with the gun integrated into a self-propelled robotic chassis that’s remote-controlled by a gunner with a cabled control unit or a heavily-encrypted and secured wireless controller.

    Although, to be honest, it likely won’t be the US that deploys something like this; it’ll be some high-tech little country with big bullies for neighbors, like Singapore or Israel.

      • I think it has more to do with the piss-poor thinking we’ve applied to low-level tactics and operations.

        There’s a genuine ethos of what could be termed anti-intellectualism in the US Army, at the lowest levels. You do not see organic NCO and junior officer involvement in developing tactics or operational techniques. Everything comes out of the bureaucracy, the schools. Here in the US, the basic manuals are all schoolhouse-developed and the doctrine flows down from the top. Compare that with current British practices–I was astonished to find that the guy who was writing their Route Clearance Pamphlet, which was the equivalent of our Field Manual on the subject, was a Platoon Sergeant WO actually in a unit, which came to Fort Lewis on an exercise. He was reviewing the draft he’d turned in, and proofing the text before it was printed and implemented. The US practice would have been that the doctrinal manual would be written and developed up at the schoolhouse, mostly by men who were failures from the Drill Sergeant program, and company-level officers who were awaiting assignment to the Advanced Course.

        You do not see a hell of a lot of deep thinking going on with these issues going on in the US Army, nor do you see much in the way of information flowing back up the channels. There is a good reason why the manuals are always out of date with current practices, and why anyone looking at them is delusional for thinking that they represent what’s going on out in the units. If you go back and look, that’s what we do: Adapt and improvise at the lowest level, using what’s available to us. The concept of “think first, then procure” is anathema, it sometimes appears. We’re also not to damn bright about things like those periscopic sights, because the sainted “system” won’t pay attention to things until some high-ranking nitwit finally decides he wants something done about a problem. You can explain the advantages of something like a periscopic sight to a Colonel, and he’ll nod knowingly, and then wander off to worry about whether or not we should be wearing berets. They don’t get it, and they don’t care to think about “getting it”, either.

        We’re going to get our asses handed to us the next time we come up on an enemy that has a genuine “learning organization” mentality, and which pays attention to the small things. The Germans developed that, during WWI and after, and managed to punch well above their weight for six long years of war, and caused the allies millions of casualties dealing with them. When you consider that the Germans were mostly a horse-drawn 19th-Century army with a thin veneer of mechanization, and yet still managed to last as long as they did, you have to wonder what the hell made the difference. What it really boiled down to was that they spent more time training their troops, and had put more thought into basics like “How do we most effectively use the machine gun? What are the features we need on our machine guns? How do we fight with them?”.

        Despite the demonstratively greater efficiencies that the Germans had over us, we never really sat down and re-thought what we were doing. Hell, look at the personnel system, for the love of God: Individual replacements, trickled into units in combat? What the hell made us ever think that was a good idea, and yet… Our personnel system continued this asinine system from the early 1940s up until around 2003, and we still have issues grasping that unit personnel turbulence is horribly destructive of team building, primary group bonding, and unit efficiency.

        I swear, sometimes you just want to rip the whole thing up, and start over. When it comes to small arms procurement in our system, I really fear that that is what it is going to take. Anyone familiar with how we came to replace the M60 with the M240B would have to admit we have a completely dysfunctional procurement system, when it comes to these issues.

        • Very interesting post!

          Since 1917 we really have not produced anything other than the M2 Tripod which is little more than a stand. Nothing like the German MG34/42 or MG3 or HK21 tripod has ever been in the US arsenal. We don’t have a true Heavy MG tripod. All of our stuff is more LMG or medium MG stuff without optics attached to the tripod. After all, you don’t want a periscope on the gun itself. The new M192 tripod is no different.

          It really does bother me to see how the economy of the bullet ruled US tactics for so long. One shot, one kill idea. The de-evolving of the Garand to the 8rd clip, Springfield trapdoor guns, the M14… The Germans with their small population could never afford not to put the life of the Soldier above all. You see this in WWII when the German soldiers were just bristling with weaponry.

          • This may be caused by “winner thinking” – “We have won this (WW1/WW2) war so why we should change anything?”.
            The Ordnance also can require some weird, unnecessary modifications (see French WW1-era Char 2C tank) note that early Johnson semiauto rifle used plain box magazine (called by Johnson “vertical feed”) but it happens in every army.

        • Asinine, how very apt. Hmmm, well you certainly appear to have hit the nail on the head so to speak.

          Anyone know Chuck Hagel, Kirk could do with a new job tearing a,s,s! “I swear, sometimes you just want to rip the whole thing up and start over” I was attempting American vernacular he he.

          We are certainly not immune to what you allude to however, for example. How do we most effectively use the machine gun? What are the features we need on our machine guns? How do we fight with them? Have we been bribed sufficiently? “yes” LSW, why not!

          • This is in reply to PDB…

            The US does have what they call the “Rapid Fielding Initiative”, but that is more geared towards small-scale stuff like getting civilian cold-weather gear and things like better helmets. Weapons, and weapons accessories seem to be limited to things like red-dot sights, cleaning kits, and scopes for individual weapons. I know that things like better tripods were suggested on numerous occasions, but the winnowing process for getting something into the RFI program often winds up sidelining things like that, due mostly to their esoteric nature.

            I sat down with a Command Sergeant Major, once, and tried to explain the advantages of the German Laffette-style tripod and sighting arrangements. Frankly, I was wasting my time, because he couldn’t grasp that there were advantages to it, or that the key issue of being able to reduce the height-above-ground of the gunner’s head might save some lives. And, yes, the man was sort of dense–And, without the support of someone like that, there’s no damn way you can get the traction to enable getting something like “improved tripod” onto the list of things to do an RFI on.

            Hell, take a look at the travesty they just got done adopting as the “new” tripod for the M240, the M192:

            http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M240E6_M192_Tripod.jpg

            See anything there that implements any of the superior features of the Lafette system, sixty-odd years after the Germans came up with it? See a periscopic sight? Adjustable legs, in order to enable rapid set-up, in positions where there’s different command heights required? It’s like someone looked at the Lafette systems, and said “Nope, too complicated… I don’t understand ’em… Let’s do what we always did…”.

            Let’s face it: We’re the special education students of the machine gun world, here in the US.

          • Kirk;

            Well put, overall, start to finish.

            That M192 looks like something that should be holding up a lawn sprinkler, not a GPMG.

            cheers

            eon

    • I certainly agree with your statements, but I’d say that in the second world war at least the situation was less that the US military had an exceptionally bad machine gun situation and more that the Germans were exceptionally good in that regard. Nearly every other country was also using WWI-era designs for their belt-fed MGs and my estimation is that the M1917 and M1919 were at least some of the better of that bunch. The simple fact is that no one else’s belt-fed guns even came close to the MG34 and 42 at the time.
      Hell, I’d go as far as saying that the US Army’s MG collection looks positively rosy compared to what Japan and Italy had to work with. Well, to be fair to the Japanese, the Type 99 LMG was actually quite a good weapon and almost certainly preferable to the M1918A2, but overall I think it’s fair to say that the US had a distinct advantage over the IJA in terms of automatic weaponry. On the other hand, about the only positive thing one could say about the Italian Army’s miserable MG situation is that the 8x59RB was at least a pretty hard-hitting cartridge.

      • There were other countries which had proper traverse & elevation settings in their heavy MG tripods besides Germany, although like you said, none had a true GPMG. For the Italians I would like to comment that the 8mm Breda M37 was actually not that bad of a gun. The lack of sufficient primary extraction and requirement of an integrated cartridge oiler was a nuisance, but not really a big thing in the end*. Rate of fire was little on the slow side, but generally sufficient. As long as the oiler had oil left it proved to be a pretty reliable gun despite the many idiosyncrasies of the design. The tripod had full T&E controls, by the way.

        * Let’s not forget that the Schwarzlose M07 also required a cartridge oiler, and by all accounts it was a very reliable gun and simpler to maintain in field conditions than Maxim.

  5. If your the boss of G.M or whatever, having government contracts for pointless accessories is probably a good idea.

    You achieve these contracts on the golf course apparently, with Military procurement folk.

    The deal possibly involves prostitutes, depends on course.

      • The M16 (AR 15) was adopted by the Air Force after Gen. Curtis Lemay shot up some watermelons at a fund raising barbecue. Then, the Army decided they wanted some of “them fancy new space-guns,” and proceeded to make changes that reduced the weapon’s reliability, including the failure to issue cleaning kits in order to save money. After all, who needs those w/a self-cleaning rifle? In my personal (albeit limited) experience w/the M-60, the gun was mediocre at best, with the exception of the stellite bore, which was an excellent idea. However, the receivers tended to stretch out of spec due to heat and battering. (Personally, I hated the damn thing and wished we would have had MAG 58s or even better, MG 3s.) Leave it to Ordnance to take parts of two phenomenal weapons, the MG 42 and FG 42, and turn them into something barely functional.

        • My enduring memory of the M-60 is running through the tall grass across the road from the Westminster College science center during an ROTC exercise, and suddenly finding myself with the pistol grip in my right hand and the rest of the gun in the other, and them not being connected in any way. As USUAL, the crappy leaf spring failed to retain the pin, allowing it to fall out. I don’t know how, but I think I actually found it.

          I’ve hated M-60s ever since.

          • Imagine how it felt to be the poor bastard charged with keeping them all running, and who had to train the gunners and crews…

            When I think of all the hours I spent just teaching guys how to put the damn thing back together without screwing up the umpteen different ways it could be mis-assembled, instead of doing actual useful things like crew drills and gunnery instruction… I just want to weep with frustration.

            Not to mention, all the hours spent on fruitless maintenance, trying to keep them running reliably. I honestly wouldn’t have minded the M60, had it been issued as a disposable munition like the M72 LAW. That thing was the equivalent of Kleenex, in a machine gun format.

  6. Excellent article. I am glad you got some use out of my YT Video! Its really nice to see these points researched more. I think most guns need to be viewed in their time. Most forget the BAR is a WWI gun. I would argue maybe the best. It and the Thompson (slightly post WWI) were good enough to still be used in WWII as front line weapons.

    The BAR gets a lot of criticism for being heavy. However look what else was out there in 1918 (weight according to wiki):
    BAR 16 lbs
    Chauchat 20 lbs
    Lewis 28 lbs
    MG08/15 40 lbs

    When you consider that, you start to see how truly advanced the BAR was at its introduction.

    I personally have access to a Full Auto BAR A2. Most of the time I like to take the bipod off and shoot it standing. I myself have always found the Original 1918 design more interesting.

    As far as the walking fire, has is really been shown that is did not work or was it something really only applicable to Trench Warfare? So by WWII, with trenches becoming a thing of the past, so was this tactic? However in WWI, you were still required to move across open ground without cover. In reading the Collectors Grade book on the Chauchat, HONOUR BOUND, there are several after action reports of them using walking fire. Of course Walking Fire turned into the modern method of Cover fire with movement, into a kind of leap frogging motion. However in WWI there was no where to leap to, so one would have had a fairly constant rate of fire in order to suppress the enemy trench. I guess I may just be ignorant of its failings, so any good material on it would be of interest to me.

    • “As far as the walking fire, has is really been shown that is did not work or was it something really only applicable to Trench Warfare?”

      A smart ass would direct you to the French casualty reports, 1914-1918.

      The root problem was that it just didn’t work: Picture trying to deliver accurate fire on a German machine gun nest, firing from the hip while walking forward under fire from that nest, which was the essence of the idea. Early BAR belts included a sheet-steel cup for the butt of the weapon to rest in.

      When you stop and consider the thinking behind this idea, you’re left with the conclusion that the people who came up with it had no earthly idea what the hell they were doing, and probably garnered most of their information about warfare from heroic portraits and statues made in the 18th Century. Automatic fire, delivered from the hip? From a rifle-caliber weapon? WTF? Seriously? How many rounds can you put into the slit of a machine gun nest, firing like that, from the ranges you’d have to do it from? I’ve fired the BAR on full-auto just once in my life, and I’m here to tell you, I don’t think there’s any amount of training or practice that would make that something I’d like to try out in real life. Not even if I were one of several hundred other BAR gunners going up against one machine gun position that was only a few hundred meters away…

      Actual practice saw these weapons being used the way the British used the Lewis Gun, which was as a portable support weapon that leapfrogged from position to position, supporting the advance of the troops. I suspect that anyone who actually tried “walking fire” wound up as a casualty, and yet we were still teaching that as a technique in the 1940s, using the M1 and the BAR, firing from the hip. You can see that in the old training films they used, and if you talk to actual veterans of combat from the European or Pacific theaters, they’ll pretty much snort derisively, and tell you that they never did that outside of training in the States. If they did, the Germans or Japanese pretty much cut them down in windrows.

      As a concept, “walking fire” should have been left behind on the battlefields of 1916. We, here in the US, were still teaching the idea as a workable tactical concept using the M1 and the BAR up until late in WWII. Not so smart, eh?

      • “A smart ass would direct you to the French casualty reports, 1914-1918.”

        True but a smart reply would direct you to the casualty reports of all nations during that time period. Nothing was really working. To my knowledge the best results were using tanks and “storm troops” as in the German example. As far as the walking fire, the french seemed to have stuck with the tactic for a while. It was not a Magic answer but I don’t know it was the complete failure either. Is it going to be causality heavy? Sure but not as bad as the massed attack of standard infantry. The tanks and Storm troopers did not really come until 1918. Walking fire was really the precursor to it, being used mid war. At its time, I don’t know that it was not considered a successful tactic. My guess is that the Germans took it to its next level with the Storm trooper idea later in the war. Again it seems crazy today but in its time, what else was any better?

        As far as the walking fire with the BAR belt, I hope to test this out soon. I have a MG08/15 (with a sling) and access to a BAR. I plan to do a little shooting from the hip and see how it actually was. Hopefully another video down the road. As far as your comment “How many rounds can you put into the slit of a machine gun nest”, well thats not understanding the purpose of walking fire. Walking fire is moving suppression fire to keep the heads of the enemy down in their trench while your men move. Its not to shoot their MGers in their bunker. That was the snipers and artillery’s job.

        I really do suggest the CG book on the Chauchat. I found it very interesting on a subject really not well covered other then to outright dismiss. Was walking fire and the Chauchat the answer to Trench warfare? No but at the time it was one of the best solutions going in 1916 and 1917.

        • “True but a smart reply would direct you to the casualty reports of all nations during that time period. Nothing was really working. To my knowledge the best results were using tanks and “storm troops” as in the German example. As far as the walking fire, the french seemed to have stuck with the tactic for a while. It was not a Magic answer but I don’t know it was the complete failure either.”

          Oh, it was a failure, all right–And, they knew it. The German solution to the tactical issues of WWI was the development of what we term “Storm Troop Tactics”, which were essentially based on infiltration and the primacy of small, highly trained teams of men with lots of firepower and grenades. But, do you know where the Germans got the idea, at least initially?

          The idea stemmed not from a German source, but from a French one. The Germans captured a pamphlet written by a low-level French officer, Andre Laffargue, sometime in 1916 or 1917. The ideas of Laffargue gained no traction in the French Army, not the least because they were ideas which relied on stealth, infiltration, and the primacy of the small group. The French feared that men trained in these tactics would use their diffuse nature in order to avoid combat–Which was why they kept up the mass “stand up and charge the machine guns” tactics which directly led to the eventual mutiny of the French Army.

          The key difference between the two armies? The Germans were a true “learning organization”, where the ideas flowed freely up and down the chain of command. Laffargue was a prophet without honor in his own army, but the Germans not only listened to him, they actually republished his pamphlet for dissemination to the troops. Further developments by the Germans by men like Hutier and Rohr led eventually to what might have been war-winning tactics, had the German supply system been able to keep their front-line troops sufficiently well-fed to keep them from losing their discipline when they captured Western supply dumps. Better communications would have helped, as well, but the ability to counter the tactical problems of the trenches was developed by the Germans quite well, at least on the tactical level. Operational and strategic, not so much.

          All issues surrounding the conduct of war essentially boil down to culture. The whys of things like our poorly thought-out tactics and weapons procurements are answered by one phrase: “That’s just the way we do it, here…”. And, that’s rooted in the culture of our Army, I’m afraid.

          • Yes the tactics of the time were furthered and the Storm Trooper method was developed. However is walking fire not a step in that direction? I guess as I think about it, as successful or not, I am not asking was it a game changing tactic that solved the trench problem. No, it did not succeed in doing that. However was it not a more successful tactic than the mass charges that it replaced? That I don’t know but would be my measure of a successful tactic. I mean even the Storm Troopers didn’t solve the issue. It certainly was more successful than the Walking fire but did not break the trenches. Even tanks didn’t not directly end the stalemate of 1918. If the war would have played on, the Germans would have fielded their 4000 TuF 13mm Maxim machine guns and they probably would have cut up the tanks of the day. Of course we will never know.

            When I think about walking fire, I see one of the first tactics to introduce temporary suppression fire, to a limited area, to allow for the advancement of troops. This really turned into the key for the future of warfare. The Chauchat and BAR I think would have done well with the German Stormtrooper tactics. Many of those Storm troops with a chest full of grenades and a Mauser rifle would have been a lot more effective with a BAR instead of the Mauser. Having a MG08/15, I can tell you that the idea of bouncing in and out of trenches with it boggles the mind.

          • IMBLITZVT, I’d just have to disagree with you. The entire concept of “walking fire” was insane, on the outset. The only people with idiocy necessary to even conceive of an idea that ludicrous were the French, and the idiots here in the US that copied them. Some things, the French did pretty well on, like the 75mm artillery piece they built for light supporting fires. Much of the rest was actually flat-out self-destructive. When you stop to regard the horrendous losses incurred by thing like the bright red uniforms, and the whole concept of “elan”-based infantry tactics, you just have to swallow hard, and thank God you never worked for anyone so delusional about the art of war.

            The key thing is this: There is no damn way you’re going to deliver automatic fire accurately enough, firing from the hip, to have any real tactical effect. All you’re doing is the WWI equivalent of what the average inner-city hoodlum gang-banger does when they fire their pistols sideways, one-handed, without using the sights–You’re literally “firing for effect”, and not in the sense that the fire will actually have any effect on the enemy. All you’re ever going to manage is what amounts to a “feu de joie”, a morale-enhancer, as your men stand up in front of the sweeping fire of an MG08. And, if you read the literature from the era, that’s pretty much all they intended to accomplish.

            Whether you call it “marching fire”, which I just remembered is what they called it in the American Army, or “walking fire”, it’s a product of purely magical thinking: “If I make enough noise, the enemy will be intimidated, and go away…”. It didn’t work then, it didn’t work in WWII, but we kept on training it. The actual tactics we wound up using were far different, being fire-and-maneuver based, and wholly unsuited for the weapons we used. The M1 Garand wasn’t horrid, but we’d have been a lot better off if we’d have issued something akin to the M14, with a bigger magazine, and a true LMG like the BREN or something with a belt-feed that was actually portable and capable of being fired off of a bipod.

          • Walking fire was at least more effective than anything else, especially the elan type attacks of 1914/15 or the Somme opening in 1916… the much maligned Chauchat was indeed also made for firing it form the hip, it’s rate of fire was just 250 rounds/min, nothing comparable to the nearly 600 rounds/min of the BAR.

            The real problem with walking fire it’s that this system was really effective when facing less trained enemy, or when used by very well trained, agresive, soldiers with good coordination and situational awareness, so with even better junior officers. It was not for green infantry that would go to the ground and stop the advance at the firt german MG nest firing at them. Assault units have to assure a continue stream of automatic firepower until the end of the assault. That’s why, for exemple, the superbly agresive australians, in 1918, have so many success again german divs. that have been stripped of their better elements to send them to those crack Sturmtruppen corps, because that was the big disadvantage, to form those units you have let down many others, taking from them the best NCO’s and soldiers. And that’s why the British and French amry never use this system.

            As for the french and walking fire in the 1917-18 period, when Pétain, a true believer in the max. firepower to replace lack of manpower, the Chauchat only formed a part of the sum, the suppressing fire of the Chauchat was combined with rifle grenades (Vivien-Bessière lauchers: http://151ril.com/view-image/94 ) that were used in great numbers to finish-off the pinned down crew of a german MG nest. Marksmen with semiauto rifles were also widely used, equipped with the 8mm Lebel RSC 1917, little less than 100000 have been made so it was not a exotic weapon.

          • Roberto… As I read some of the comments (yours excluded), I cannot help thinking how many times I have read “a analys” of a battle , I happen to have taken part in ( I have a CIB with a star ) 50 years later, explaining what WE should have done or could have done….. Of course none of the analyzer were there. Yes amazing how clear things become from the 35 row of a football game!//

          • “Many of those Storm troops with a chest full of grenades and a Mauser rifle would have been a lot more effective with a BAR instead of the Mauser.”

            Actually, some of the original Sturmtruppen were issued the Madsen LMG (called by the Germans the Muskette), captured from the Russians. It was quite a good weapon in that role, but there were never that many of them, and spares were probably nonexistent.

  7. never could quite figure out why the Army never tried the weight saving modifications employed by Clyde Barrow. I know his “extended magazine” was a myth, but the other mods were sound.

  8. its the little things the germans did that made thier weaponry so ahead of its time. simple things that for one reason or another, other countries just had not made the connection. First would be the pistol grip on a rifle. What a huge difference that makes. Such an easy design addition. i think the people in charge in that time era, falsely used gun weight and bulkiness as reasons for why its a solid weapon. it seems like that had a hard time accepting a light weight weapon could be just as effective if not more as a heavier counterpart. Different designers are after different results though. I guess it would seem that Brownings biggest focus was on reliability and stopping power, which he achieved seemingly every time.

    • “its the little things the germans did that made thier weaponry so ahead of its time.”

      I’d submit that it wasn’t the “little things”, so much as it was the way they integrated their weapons design in with their tactics. German individual weapons had abysmal sights, up until the G-3. All of the WWII-era sights were the post-and-bar type, including the ones on the various iterations of the StG series of weapons. So, right there, you have one “little thing” that they did not do–The US was using a peep sight from the M1903A3 onwards, which was a superior system for training and accuracy. Granted, there was a philosophical difference going on there, as well, but the fact is, the Germans had their blind spots.

      What they did do that I find highly significant was integrate their intended tactics into their system of small arms. The MG42 is perhaps the best example of this, along with its predecessor, the MG34. The Germans determined that they would base their entire tactical system on easily portable general-purpose machine guns and lightweight mortars. So, they built the best lightweight guns in the world, issued them, and based their entire tactical system at the squad and platoon level around them–Which shows a continuity and clarity of thought that we just didn’t have.

      The Germans never bought into the cult of the individual rifleman, the way that we did. They very cold-bloodedly analyzed how they’d fought in WWI, and recognized that the machine gun had primacy over all other small arms. Thus, they economized by continuing to issue the same rifle that they’d issued in WWI, albeit with some slight improvements, while ensuring that they had the best machine gun on the battlefield, at least for their intended tactics. American commentators often remark that, for the Germans, the rifleman were there to support the machine gun, not the other way around. Which approach was superior? Again, I reference the casualty statistics: Germany’s approach consistently managed to generate more casualties on their enemies than their enemies inflicted on them, especially when it was simply infantry-on-infantry engagements. Many analysts of WWII combat have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that if we had not had superiority in all other branches, along with logistics, the odds are we’d have never won the war. Fortunately, the Germans were led by idiots who thought that 90 million could take on 300 million, and win. What’s frightening is how close they came, despite their manifest disadvantages. Horse-drawn transportation, and leg infantry that walked almost everywhere? And, we damn near lost? How the hell did that happen?

      Superior tactics, clarity of thought about the conduct of war at the tactical and operational level, and weapons designed in accordance with those tactics.

      If you want logistics or strategy, the Germans aren’t who you want to emulate, historically. Tactics? Operations? I can’t think of anyone who has done them better.

  9. Just my two cents. Part of the problem is that WWI ended a little too soon. Large numbers of US troops were really only engaged in heavy combat from September to November 11. The ability to send large numbers of fresh, enthusiastic Americans against worn down and increasingly demoralized Germans masked the deficiencies in American tactics and weapons. “Victory Disease” set in. “We won, so what we were doing must have been right.” If the war had gone into 1919 even the most hidebound senior officers would likely have been forced to more realistic assessments. If the BAR had been used in much larger numbers in actual combat it might well have developed into a more practical weapon. But, then again, we’re still dealing with US Ordnance, so who knows.

  10. The only problem I ever had with the A2 BAR was the magazines. Their bodies tended to dent when you would flop down on a rocky surface and then they stopped lifting cartridges when the follower got to the level of the dent.

    Aside from the magazine issue, the A2 was very reliable. We used to gut the hydraulic buffer and fill it with steel slugs and motorcycle valve springs. This elevated the cyclic rate to around 900 rpm, where it should have been all along. Browning’s ingenious buffered sear kept this modification from damaging anything.

    Our standard employment was one man shooting, another at a 45 degree angle changing out the magazines as they emptied. Small price to pay for one of the few leftie friendly guns in USAR inventory.

  11. kirk, their mindset is exactly what i was trying to comment on. Thats what to me was so amazing about thier designs. The relatively small additions they made, showed their constant evolving mindset in terms of what is needed for this weapon to function better in the soldiers hands. Germans showed true innovation.
    Germans led by “idiots”? i would have to disagree. They were led by ONE idiot. None of his generals were perfect, as were none of ours, but Hitler lost the war, not his generals. His paranoia due to his syphilis and methamphetamine treatment is what lost them the way. thank god for STD’s.

    • “Germans led by “idiots”? i would have to disagree. They were led by ONE idiot. None of his generals were perfect, as were none of ours, but Hitler lost the war, not his generals. His paranoia due to his syphilis and methamphetamine treatment is what lost them the way. thank god for STD’s.”

      We can differ in our opinions. Personally, when I look at the paucity of evidence for any German officers actually trying to stop the whole mess, I have to class the mass of them as fellow-traveling idiots who went over the cliff’s edge with the number-one idiot in charge. And, there were more than a few cases where things that were left specifically in the hands of the military leadership were fundamentally screwed up, and for which the self-serving generals tried to blame Hitler for, after the war. Read any of their post-war memoirs, and they’re all claiming that every bad decision came from Hitler, and there’s not a whiff of “Well, yeah… We screwed that up, ourselves…”.

      You’ll look long and hard for any evidence that the Wehrmacht did anything even remotely akin to what the US did, with the Industrial War College. They put precisely zero real thought into the realm of strategic industrial planning, and when you stop and examine what the Germans did with their economic policies during the war, you rapidly start wondering if the entire reason for the war was the Nazis trying to avoid having to tell the German people the truth about the economy. I mean, for the love of God, they didn’t even go onto a full industrial war footing before Speer took over in ’42, which was three years into the damn war, and well after they’d invaded the Soviet Union. Had Fritz Todt not had that convenient plane crash, there’s no telling how long they would have gone without doing that, either.

      The Nazis were a bunch of romantic idiots, delusional at best. The professional German officer corps bought into their fantasies, and led the German Army off the cliff with the rest of the German people. If they weren’t idiots at that level, I don’t know how else to describe them. The math on nine-tenths of their stuff never added up, anywhere: Case in point, the V-weapons. Who in the hell thought that building what amounted to an extremely expensive disposable aircraft to deliver a single 1000-lb warhead was ever going to win the war? The only way a V-2 was ever going to be economically effective was with a strategic warhead, which the Germans didn’t have–And, for which we’ve been able to find zero evidence for them ever even seriously seeking. Just like the insane focus on all the other wunderwaffen, when they couldn’t even keep up production on basic things like a decent medium tank.

      What’s really amazing is that they were so delusional that they started a war with the two largest industrial powers on the planet, and yet never managed to put things like tanks into anything like a full-scale production line construction. Right up until the end of the war, they were building tanks by batch production, without ever implementing anything resembling what went on in Detroit or Kharkovsk. The allies counted their tanks in the tens of thousands; the Germans were lucky if they managed to get them into production in the thousands. The numbers speak for themselves:

      8,553 Panzer IV, 6,000 Panthers, 1347 Tiger I, 492 Tiger II vs. 48,950 T-34/85 and 49,234 M4 Shermans.

      The Allies had damn near a five-to-one advantage going for them, and I didn’t even count the 49,000 or so T-34/76 tanks or any of the other tank-like vehicles manufactured by the other allies.

      This is not evidence of intelligence, or great wisdom. The German military was the exact opposite of a giant with feet of clay, in many respects: They had astoundingly good basic things going for them, but above a certain level, they were incredibly lacking. Everywhere you look, in their war effort, it’s the same damn thing: Occasional brilliance, punctuated by magical thinking and complete ignorance of reality. The naval war? The air war? Good lord… I can think of a dozen examples of the same sort of thing. The Germans were like some imaginary stereotypical samurai, perfectly focused on excellence at swordsmanship, while ignoring the reality that the land he held in fief could not economically support his taste for luxurious and elaborate hand-made armor and other goods. And, in the end, utterly defeated by some ignoble peasants who penuriously managed their money to afford more prosaic weapons that could overwhelm him.

      There’s a lot to be learned from the German experience of war, but there are as many negative lessons as there are positive ones. Small arms and training? Tactics and operational art? Good, in some examples excellent. Strategy and economic/industrial warfare? Absolutely, undeniably horrible.

      • The Nazis’ crushing strategic problem was that until the advent of Speer, their economy was run on principles on the level of a crack gang. For them “rationalization” meant giving X business to Fritz their buddy, or father in law.

        When it suddenly dawned on them that they couldn’t run a war economy they way “Little Nicky” Scarfo ran his Mafia operation, they panicked and went the other way, canceling dozens of research projects, not on the basis of return on investment, but mere CLAIMED time to fielding.

        Nazi industry, especially military industry, was pure chaos, and we’re damned lucky it was.

        • Exactly, Chris. And, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the German upper ranks went right along with the Nazi plans until it all came crashing down around their ears is pretty good evidence that they were profoundly bad at thinking past a certain level.

          If I had to imagine a superior military, I’d couple the German tactical/operational prowess with American logistics. Strategy, I don’t know who the hell I’d want, because we’ve certainly lost the bubble these last few decades past the end of WWII.

          • The Soviets had pretty good strategy after 1942, although Stalin still occasionally meddled. They managed to inflict more than one strategic surprise on the Germans with “maskirovka” and rapid shifting of the strategic focus. The near complete destruction of the Army Group Centre in the “Bagration” is of course a prime example of that, but not the only one. Partially their success can be attributed to poor German intelligence, but certainly not all.

        • Actualy Speer wasn’t really any better. There is an excellent analysis of how deeply flawed the the German war economy was and that there really was no way for them to win WWII. The book is “The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy” by Adam Tooze http://www.amazon.com/The-Wages-Destruction-Breaking-Economy/dp/0143113208/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401841038&sr=8-1&keywords=wages+of+destruction

          Speer’s greatest success? Making people think he’d accomplished anything… 😉

          • Before Speer, the German “war” economy was Peter Griffin making the decisions on how to arm and equip the German armed forces.

            After Speer, it was Brian the talking dog making the decisions on how to arm and equip the German armed forces… with Peter constantly looking over his shoulder and interfering.

            Solid gold Batmobiles or Honda Priuses running on old cooking grease. Does it make any REAL difference?

            Either way, the outcome wasn’t going to be good for the Germans.

          • Hello, Chris :

            I really liked the obvious inferences to Peter Griffin and Brian, and the implied courses of action regarding eventual cause-and-effect and the results thereof. Please don’t forget to include the often unintended but significant outlying impacts of other factors such as Louis, Meg, Chris, Stewart, et al. in this equation! Thanks very much for the whole alliterative exercise, and I enjoyed the laugh :)!

      • Kirk, per your post dated June 3rd, 2014 / 1;17 P.M. : A pretty good synopsis of the paucity of real strategic thinking that eventually sounded the doom of the Third Reich ( fortunately for us ). Obviously not an exclusive and universal truth, of course, but who was it who said that the Germans never made any small mistakes but only the biggest ones? This certainly no longer holds true of modern post-war Germany, and, come to think of it, would apply to just about any country if we were to look at the details closely enough.

        Nevertheless, what I am getting at is Kirk’s painfully honest assessment of the dearth of properly-integrated wartime planning in Germany, a deficiency that was to have dire consequences for the country — and, ironically, may have proven to be of utmost benefit for the “new” Germany in the post-war global economy.

  12. Well Ian,
    You sure started a firefight with your truly excellent review; and permit me to congratulate you on an excellent analysis of the BAR’s problems. OMG! an extra 5 lb for nothing to an obsolete weapon.
    Aside from natural weight gain with age (which happens to all of us), I suspect this may have also been driven by the tight military budgets of the 20’s and 30’s. “Oh, I have to design something or change something or look busy or I might loose my job”. Now listen to this unpalatable truth ‘Pilgrem’, Americans suffer severely and die because “It isn’t invented here” See also the Sherman ‘Firefly’ tank or the Merlin-engined P51 Mustang fighter which were adapted only over protest by the higher brass in the US army. The Brits had no problem using the Czech designed BREN smg and it served them so well.
    A graphic example of the use of the BREN can be seen in an Australian movie called KOKODA which was the Aussie equivalent of Guadalcanal and defeated the Japs just a bit earlier than the latter campaign. the BREN gunner of the squad KEEPS his sights on enemy infantry while his #2 changes 30 round magazines on TOP of the gun. you can’t do that with any version of the BAR. Numbert 2 also carries a submachine gun. Look for it on DVD…and be very grateful that American troops had the Garand (some Marines the equally usefull Johnson) semi-auto to make up the lack of a smg.

  13. You could saw the piston rod off perhaps, and pop it’s gas plug end back on, then stick that in a new socket for it on the frame with a AR gas tube going to it.

    Kind of a Negev…

    FAL pistol grip, AR stock over a tube with a Fg42 style buffer in it.

    WA2000 style bipod, few rails.

      • I quite like the M60’s sorta layout in that it’s more compact than the FN mag, if you stuck an extended feed tray lug on top of a BAR bolt. And strengthened the insides of the Pigs receiver, you could drill through and stick a pin running across which would act as the receiver stop for a BAR bolt. Saw off the BAR’s piston rod and re-attach the piston end, so it would resemble the rectangular bolt carrier of the Negev. Get a FN Gpmg barrel, and move the gas plug thing further down towards the chamber. Have it rest against the piston, via attaching a barrel socket and piston/gas plug socket to the receivers front “simply drill ports in this, so it would vent like a AK” modify the carrying handle so it acts like that off a Bren. Fit a WA2000 sniper rifle style bipod, to the front of the upper receiver.

        • I quite like the Mg34 double trigger thing, pop on of them on via single fixed hinge pin and a removable captive pin.

  14. The US hasn’t fought a war in over 125 years that it needed to fight to protect itself. So making sure that the weapons, tactics, etc are the best doesn’t have the “failure not an option” motivation.

    No surprise that the BAR wasn’t replaced before WW2, after the war the MG42 wasn’t adapted, M60 took years to design, the M14 a failure, etc.

    And now spend a lot of time and money on trying to make war ‘green’ when a ‘green’ war is impossible.

  15. US machine gun adoption and use have been a joke from the beginning.

    Gatling guns – treat them like artillery – too a young LT to change that, probably got smacked down for it.

    WW1 – what we need machine guns, no reason to produce them until its late in the war and then we will have a complete new design instead of adopting a proven one. Oh and BTW the new design, you are not allowed to use it in case the Germans capture it and might copy it.

    WW2 – Still using WW1 designs, none have quick change barrels, all are heavy and none are suitable as a top class LMG. I know lets copy a MG42 and make it for 30.06, oh wait we are too dumb to make the receiver long enough for our round. I know lets take the heavy assed 1919 and stick a butt stock on it and call it a LMG even though it still weighs and has the ergonomics of a MMG.

    Korea – Nope still have not learned anything yet, guess we will lump carry handles onto LMG wannabees and call it good.

    Early Vietnam – 20 years after WW2 and we are still using a WW1 AR for a LMG. I know lets make a new service rifle and add a pistol grip to it and then it cam be our new LMG even though it does not have a quick change barrel, small magazines, and is completely useless as far as controlability.

    Later Vietnam – Well we now have a true LMG that is belt fed. We took the best of many guns and made sure that we screwed them up. We also manage to make sure spare barrels will stay back at base. What’s this? some one came up with a light weight SAW that is great for support on the squad level, hell no we don’t need anything like that, lets sit on it for a few years and study it.

    The 80s, look every country now has some sort of SAW but we are still sitting around with worn out POS M60s, maybe we should do something about it. Oh and out WW1 design HMG that is used by the entire free world has still not been updated to a QCB like other countries using it. Lets do more study.

    Lates 80s, maybe we should adopt that SAW thing Belgium has. But that POS old M60 is just fine as it is.

    1991 – Holy shit another little war and we are using the tired old M60! Lets adopt a gun that is actually older than the M60 but is 100% better.

    2010- In another war, you know that SAW thing, well its just does not seem like its what we need, you know that BAR in WW1 was really good lets adopt an Automatic Rifle like it! Send loads of money to HK they can make one! Lets see, no QCB, magazine fed on bottom, and heavy. I think we got a set of winning specs for it.

    Rinse and repeat.

    • To be fair, the M27 IAR is not supposed to completely replace the M249 even for the Marines, and as far as I know it has not been adopted by the US Army. The M27 seems to be a specialized weapon for brushfire wars, where you has to worry about collateral damage. The M27 also has an option to to use higher capacity magazines, something that the BAR never had even in its more developed FN made versions.

  16. Gentlemen, without getting into the whys and wherefores of the topic at hand — especially since so many of you have already raised so many relevant points that do not require repeating — I have to say three things :

    1. That Ian’s evaluation and assessment is almost spot-on regarding the M1918 and M1918A2 BAR’s, regardless of what “official” sources might opine

    2. That Kirk’s comments and posts are mostly right on the mark, as unpalatable as they might be to many, and that he has simply exposed the hard, often painful, truth for what it is ( and I applaud your courage, Kirk, for speaking up as you should )

    3. That Mongo, Thomas Kerr, Thomas ( where in the hell have you been, but so d**ned glad to hear from you again ), and so many other perceptive members of our website, have all sincerely spoken their minds to truth as they see fit, and then some.

    On this topic, no one, from the President’s Council downwards, could genuinely ask for more.

    • Hahahaha Earl.. always the gentleman! I’ve been working on another Sharps 50-70, a Siamese 8x52R (This one really BEAUTIFUL weapon), and my favorite a Martini-Henry 577/450 Cavalry Carbine which is a delight to shoot in BP or Triple 7 and astonishingly accurate to 200 yds. As for the current “discussion” we should; after all is said and done, pay a bit of tribute the men that used these (in some peoples minds)flawed weapons, and quite successfully I might add! It isn’t always the number of things you do right that wins; it is the number of things you don’t do WRONG! The Accuracy International AWS is a fine shooting machine, but they weren’t any at the time of WW II Korea or VN, so the troops just made the best use of the 03A4’s and M1D’s.

      • So good to hear from you again, Thomas — I will admit your recent silence on FW was a bit worrying, but I’m happy to see that it is because you’ve been busy with some really interesting firearms projects! Hope to see a write-up or two in the near future, as you see fit of course.

  17. Don’t want to try to steal anyone’s thunder here, but one has to back up and look at the history of last century after WWI. Regarding machine gun development in the US, before WWII there was a severe shortage of funds for the War Dept. There was the America First movement that wanted to stay completely neutral and pacifist movements that saw any military build up only as a means to start, not to prevent or shorten, a war. Some of them were communist front groups (who changed their tune real fast after Hitler attacked Stalin). It is a miracle that the M1 saw the light of day, it was surely only through the tenacity of John Garand that it did. And it was not produced in sufficient numbers to arm all the combat troops.

    After WWII the budget focus was on strategic weapons: Nuclear warheads, lots of them. B-36 bombers (a six prop and 4 jet monster, intercontinental without inflight refueling). ICBMs. Ground to air missiles all over the country, tied together with the SAGE system–a very early very huge computer system that tracked all flights around the country and could direct SAMs and even interceptors by remote control–it really was a technological feat that cost about $260B in today’s dollars. There was a time when there were B-52’s in the air all the time on airborne alert. And there were something like 700 B52’s produced, all intended to deliver nuclear warheads, about $86B in today’s dollars. That was after 300+ B-36’s were put in service then obsoleted out in less than ten years (about $10B in today’s dollars). That was where the money went. Airplanes and nuclear ships and boats got the rest of the money. The Army was big because there was a draft and they could not all go into the Air Force, but equipping it was not a priority.

    It was not expected to have a significant non-nuclear conflict after WWII. When the atom bomb spies the Rosenburgs were given the death sentence the judge said that they were responsible for the 30,000+ American deaths in the Korean war, that if they had not send the secrets to Moscow then South Korea would not have been invaded as the US would have used the threat of the bomb to send the North Koreans, back North. That was the thinking at the time, and explains why there was probably more engineering work done to the tail fin of the B36, than in small arms development in its entirety up to that point. I don’t think the blame can be set completely at the feet of the fuddy duddys on the ordinance board, the fact is that designing or selecting a great machine gun won’t do much if there is no budget money for it. As well, after WWII I suspect that the Army looked at the data and figured that a minority of battle field deaths involved rifle or machinegun bullets. Artillery, and bombs were what did it, so why not spend the money that remained there? This all meant that when conflicts did come about that did use small arms, it could lead to knee jerk reactions to do something right now and that is how half-baked ideas come about.

  18. “The US didn’t have a weapon that fit this tactical profile”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_gun
    states that: “The US Navy and Marine Corps continued to use the .30-06 caliber Lewis until the early part of World War II.”
    US Army used the Hotchkiss Portative (official name: “Benet-Mercie Machine Rifle, Caliber .30 U. S. Model of 1909”) which was produced by Springfield Armory and Colt’s Manufacturing Company.

  19. Thanks for clearing up differences between 1918 BAR and the 1918A2 version.
    Have fired both the 1918 and 1918A2 versions a bit. Big difference between 21 lbs and 16 lbs when not shooting off a rest !
    Trained in the use of BAR by my Dad,a BAR man in Korea 1952-53.
    He said the bipod was worthless except in a fixed position, he “lost” his bipod early on. The flash hider was a must however because the gunner would be blinded at night without it !
    He too agrees that the 1918 model was the best,all the attachments did not change a machine RIFLE into a machine GUN.He preferred the slow fire rate. It allowed for recovery time between shots for fairly accurate F/A shooting.
    Had a chance to practice “walking fire” with both a Chauchat and a 1918 BAR . The “sho sho” truly is a horrible weapon. Uncomfortable to use it is like shooting a pogo stick. Hard to hit anything with hip fire unless directly on top of it.
    With a little practice it was possible to make good hits with the BAR out to 20 yards from the hip on full auto while moving.Worked fairly well on a semi auto setting too.
    Tried the belt with cup and sling. My results were better not using the cup and just tucking the butt firmly under the elbow against body.
    Was ‘walking fire” effective ? Probably not as thought by the officers who coined the term. It would work best when very close and in bad light when not possible to see exactly what you are shooting at. Fire and movement a better idea.Best to shoulder the weapon and point fire using the front sight like a poor man’s optical sight than hip fire except at very close range.

    • One other thing I noticed is that rotation in the bipod is designed to allow the gunner to twist the weapon 90 degrees in either direction to load it from a prone position.

  20. If only the US Army’d had the sense to adopt something along the lines of the FN Model D, then the US would’ve had a proper LMG.

    • Agreed. The FN Model D is generally regarded as the best version of the BAR ever made. Has anyone on FW actually used a Model D? It would be great to hear a first-hand account from one of our own.

      • I have shot a FND a fair amount. Its nice. Its heavy like a Bren. Shoots much like a Bren too. Its no longer an Automatic rifle and you would not want to shoot it standing. Its really a light-light machine gun.

        While fun to shoot, I think the Bren and FND are far outclassed by the MG34 and MG42. IMHO, the lack of a belt on a LMG is really outdated come WWII. I think everyone saw that and thats why the future LMG designs were all belt fed. The BAR/1919a4 really ended up as the M240. Using basically a Bren Front with barrel change, a BAR action in a light 1919a4 body with a MG42 grip.

        While the FND was probably superior to the BAR 1918A2, its also a lot heavier. Its not the answer to the problem, IMHO. You are just not getting the fire power out of a mag fed gun that you can with a Belt fed.

  21. Hello, two things I am wondering. Why did the US think it was a good idea to put the bipod on the barrel and such a long way forward when everyone else put it on the gasblock? The second thing I wonder is why didn’t anyone of those who adopted the weapon tried to make a drum-mag? Drum-mag did exist during this time? The reasons I heard is weight? But a BAR is lighter then an MG42 and at a certain point it should be lighter with one big mag then, let say, three of four small ones? So carrying two to three 60 round drum-mags could be weight less then carrying six to eight 20 round mags? And it could also have required less resources to produce? At which amount of rounds would a drum mag be better then many small mags?

    • Drum magazines are complex, weigh more for the same amount of ammunition, and cost a lot more. Using the Thompson drum magazine for an example–the 50 round drums (there were also 100 round drums)–two Type L 50-round drums were heavier and bulkier than five Type XX 20-round box magazines–and more expensive. Another “plus” for the drum magazines was loading the magazine and then winding the magazine springs to the correct tension for reliable feeding. Then there’s the issue of the resulting abortion being bulky, possibly unbalanced–just try to get into prone with the Type L versus the Type XX. To be candid, the 30 round late-war Thompson magazines were difficult to use from prone, too. There were also issues such as fouling the winding key on the drum magazine and jamming the weapon.

  22. For what it’s worth, the US Army was ridding itself of the M1918A1 Automatic Rifle as swiftly as it could develop the two weapons to replace it–the M1919A4 Light Machine Gun and the M1 Rifle (aka the Garand). Two sources that mention this are the 1940 Small Wars Manual written by our Marines and a four-volume 1940 Infantry ROTC Manual.

    John M. Browning originally designed his Browning Machine Rifle as a replacement for some or all of the Rifle, .30 Caliber, Model of 1903 (Springfield)in the infantry rifle companies of pre-First World War America, but there wasn’t a market for his invention until after the USA jumped into the Great War with both feet. Even though designed to fire semiautomatic for most fire missions, the BAR incorporated open-bolt firing mechanism to avoid the annoying cook-off problem of the closed-bolt firing Colt Model 1895 Machine Gun (aka “Potato Digger”)when his individual weapon was used to deliver maximum firepower. Due to the limits of mass produce firearms of the period, Browning’s “machine rifle” weighed as much as two Springfield rifles–and the basic ammunition load of ten or twelve loaded 20 round magazines was more than double the weight in ammo carried by US Army riflemen.

    I think the Colt Monitor automatic rifle of the 1930’s was more true to Browning’s vision for his machine rifle–an individual weapon used “single shot” for long range targets and full-auto when things got interesting.

    The US Army had different attitudes about the role of its infantry companies on the battlefield. The primary weapon of a RIFLE company was, of course, the rifle! Infantry regiments traditionally had an artillery battery attached, as did the cavalry squadron–this battery usually was a pair of field guns and a pair of “machine guns.” The Gatling gun and later Maxim, Vickers and Browning heavy machine guns were regarded as artillery pieces. Several light machine gun designs were tried–the definition of “light machine gun” is rather elastic but generally means a crew served weapon. The USA went into World War One with its infantry companies reorganizing along French Army lines–for better or worse. All those new weapons! Rifles. Light machine guns. Hand and rifle grenades. Trench shotguns, even! The French “rifle” squad consisted of a light machine gun team and a “shock” team of riflemen with rifles, bayonets, hand and rifle grenades.

    By 1940 both Army and Marines had their “rifle companies” organized into three “rifle platoons” and a “weapons platoon” with the new light machine gun (the M1919A4) and a pair of 60mm mortars. The “rifle platoon” had a headquarters, an automatic rifle squad with two BARs (en lieu of a platoon light machine gun), and three 9-man rifle squads armed either with nine of the new Garand rifles or eight of the old M1903 (Springfield) rifles and one BAR in peace; in war the BAR squad gained additional men and each rifle squad was supposed to be 12 men with a “VB” rifle grenade launcher (on a Springfield because the Garand wasn’t yet adapted to fire rifle grenades) and 11 Garands–or one BAR and 11 Springfield rifles.

    During the war, the US Army unofficially went to two BAR rifle squads and deleted the automatic rifle squad. The Marines went one better, essentially fielding three 13-Marine rifle squads that were really reinforced BAR squads–the famous Marine Corps fire team was built around a Browning Automatic Rifle supported by three riflemen. In my opinion (overrated, most likely) this was the optimum use of the BAR.

    When the M-14 was in development there was a heavy-barrel M15 “automatic rifle” but firing from the closed bolt was problematic due to overheating. The heavy barreled FN FAL used in the automatic rifle role also had these problems. Today’s M16 family, especially the M4 Carbine, was never intended to deliver belt-fed machine gun firepower. FN produced a BAR model with a quick-change barrel before and after World War Two to help deal with overheating–a problem even with the “insufficiently small” 20 round magazines. I still claim that John M. Browning designed his machine rifle to be primarily a semiautomatic rifle with “machine gun” capabilities.

    Fitting the BAR into Army tactics was difficult because the BAR wasn’t a service rifle and it wasn’t a belt-fed crew-served machine gun. The M1 Carbine was purpose-built as a Personal Defense Weapon long before the concept was sexy–and the Carbine became a victim of mission creep–but the M1 Carbine was developed to fill a specific battlefield niche. Not so the Browning Automatic Rifle–that niche had to be created.

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