Colt Automatic Machine Rifle Model 1919: the First Commercial BAR

Several patents were taken out on the BAR during World War One, but they were all kept unpublished and secret during the war. Just days after the Armistice, Colt patent attorney CJ Ehbets wrote to the US Patent Office requesting release of the secrecy restrictions. They responded just two days later sending formal publication of the patents, and Colt was able to move directly into commercial export sales of the BAR.

The model being sold by Colt was officially the Colt Automatic Machine Rifle, Model of 1919. It was nearly identical to the regular M1918 US military BAR, but without the cylindrical flash hider and with the recoil spring moved from the gas tube into the buttstock. The first sale was made on April 11, 1919 (serial number C-100251) and a total of 1,003 of these guns were purchased by the end of 1923. In 1924, Colt released a new model, with a pistol grip and some other improvements.

Of the 1,003 Model 1919s, 701 were chambered for 6.5mm and sold to FN – almost certainly for resale to a European client, as FN was not yet set up for BAR manufacture. The remaining 302 were made in a variety of calibers (.30-06, 7.92mm Mauser, 7.65mm Mauser, 7mm Mauser), and also included a small batch in .303 British purchased by the UK and used in the light machine gun trials that ultimately let to the Bren.

This particular example is fully transferrable, but was at some point rebuilt by a prior owner in World War Two, M1918A2 configuration. It retains the original style hand guard and trigger assembly and is a proper Model 1919 receiver, and would be an ideal project for someone to properly return to Model 1919 configuration (IMO).


  1. claims that
    After the Great War Sweden bought some BAR m/1918 from Colt manufacturing Co. in USA made to Swedish specifications. The most obvious difference was a removable pistol grip on the Swedish gun. whilst it does not state that they went through Fabrique Nationale I found that probable considering that in beginning of 20th century Colt and Fabrique Nationale reached agreement granting European markets (sans United Kingdom) to latter.

    “(…)Automatic Machine Rifle(…)”
    Is there real reason to slap both adjectives simultaneously (could Rifle be Machine without being Automatic?) or or is this simply 1910s buzzword-speak?

    “(…)remaining 302 were made in a variety of calibers(…)”
    Were customers supposed to pay extra for cartridge other than 7,62×63 mm or price was same?

  2. Has there ever been a “secret” small arm that ever actually had tactical or strategic effect?

    Off the top of my head, I’m hard-pressed to think of one, which sort of puts the entire idea of “Secrecy” in this field as being essentially an utter waste of time.

    In fact, secrecy surrounding these things has been positively detrimental… See “Reffye mitrailleuse” for a pertinent case study.

    • The obvious answer is France’s smokeless powder. The fact that everyone made a better rifle and cartridge than France, and that France didn’t get into a significant shooting war till it was obsolete doesn’t change the fact that smokeless powder was 100% worth tactical and strategic effect.

      Beyond that, you’d have to exclude stuff made for a a group that’s entirely secret, otherwise you’d have obvious answers like Welrod and De Lisle as well all the various, locally produced, underground SMGs of resistance groups rather than something intended for general infantry issue. With that exclusion, maybe the M79? I don’t know how secret it was, but it seems to have been considered very effective when it got integrated in the conflict it was designed for.

      • France’s secrecy did not work. The report by the Prussian Gewehr-Prüfungskommission on its experiments lists eaxctly each time when first “O.” (for original, read French) ammunition samples and later rifles plus ammunition became available.
        This information finally led to the military decision to give up on the Rottweil RCP and follow the French approach.
        Needless to say, the French also managed to get hold of German cartridges and rifles. You simply can’t keep secret things that exists in large numbers, like small arms and their ammunition.

      • Nanashi said:

        “The obvious answer is France’s smokeless powder. The fact that everyone made a better rifle and cartridge than France, and that France didn’t get into a significant shooting war till it was obsolete doesn’t change the fact that smokeless powder was 100% worth tactical and strategic effect.”

        What did France gain by trying to keep the whole thing as secret as they did…? I’m not seeing the benefit to it, at all. If anything, it encouraged them to rush the entire enterprise and wound up with them being stuck with the 8mm Lebel, which wasn’t exactly a good thing. I think the argument could be made that “secrecy” actually screwed the French soldier over.

        Thinking back over it all, the actual effect of “secret weapons” hasn’t been all that good. The Japanese went to great lengths to keep the Yamato and Mushashi secret, and what’d that gain them? Anything?

        The benefits of “secret weapons” are, I believe, entirely illusory and likely to have very unpredictable effects when you try to put them into use. Without getting the troops trained on the new weapon, and having the leadership develop a good understanding of how to use the things to best effect, you’re really not doing yourself any favors. Initial fielding will be ugly, the enemy won’t know what the hell they’re facing and likely won’t react the way you think they will, and whatever countermeasures they come up with on the fly will likely be still more weight on the side of “unpredictable”.

        I honestly can’t think of a single “secret weapon” that’s historically been very successful. Even Greek Fire would be a questionable example… About all they maintained “secrecy” on was the exact formula. As soon as they set the first ship afire with it, there went the surprise factor, and it became just another weapon whose characteristics you knew and you could counter.

        Again, none of this makes a damn bit of sense over the long haul. The Byzantines had to have their crews trained in handling that stuff, so the only real secrecy would have been from the barbarian Norse and Bulgarians running into it for the first time, along with keeping the formula secret, which is a different category of “secret” than we’re discussing.

        The foolish Soviet idea of keeping the AK47 and its ammo secret did exactly what for them? The raw fact is that the US, their primary opponent in those years, flatly did not appreciate the benefits of an intermediate cartridge and would have done the same thing to the AK that they did with the MG42: Write it off as some foreign foolishness, and tell the troops that they were being issued the bestest thing ever, while those poor benighted foreigners were saddled with inferior weapons only good for a few hundred meters…

        Net gain for Soviet Union? Nada. Same as for the French with the mitrailleuse and smokeless.

        The idea of somehow implementing war-winning secrecy on a mass-issue item is, as near as I can tell, an utter and complete waste of time.

    • Also the Dreyse “needle gun”. It was supposed to be Top Secret and Prussia’s trump card, but by 1848-49 there were already sporting rifles based on it being sold in other countries. Notably this one;

      They’re fairly common on the collectors’ market today, so I’m guessing quite a few were made and sold back then.

      It was later improved into a true centerfire design using a metallic cartridge. That version is fairly rare, as is its cartridge (cartridge collectors take note).

      The Klein patent centerfire rifle may have been the first actual metallic cartridge centerfire design on Earth, around 1855.



    • “(…)puts the entire idea of “Secrecy” in this field as being essentially an utter waste of time.”
      According to
      In early 1917, before the US had entered the war, Browning had travelled to Washington DC to demonstrate two automatic weapons(…)and a shoulder-fired automatic rifle, then known as the Browning Machine Rifle or BMR(…)fired the .30-06 cartridge. On 27 February 1917, Browning conducted a live-fire exercise at a location outside Washington C known as ‘Congress Heights’, in front members of Congress, the Public, the Press and high-ranking military dignitaries. The gathered crowd
      Considering that “the Press” was allowed to attend it suggests that existence of such weapon was to be spread, not hold confined. Hiding patents might be seen as preventing revealing mechanical details, which could be used to find weakness of such design and thus devising effective countermeasures.

      • What “countermeasure” could the enemy take against a BAR, pray tell?

        I’m sure you are correct, and that is precisely what they were thinking, but… Let’s go through this logically: How would the Germans have been able to do anything at all effective? It’s no damn secret that everyone had their sad attempts at an LMG going, so that’s out the window, and that really only leaves us with some nefarious scheme to… What? Somehow gain access to manufacturing and sabotage heat treatment of the bolts or receivers, such that they all failed in the middle of combat?

        No, just like with the Pedersen Device, this “secrecy” and refusal to deploy the BAR stemmed from a sensibility on the part of American (and, others…) officials that can only be described as “Swiftian” in the sense of Tom Swift and all his amazing toys. They genuinely thought that the Germans would somehow gain from seeing these weapons before the 1919 battles, and… What? Spend the time reverse-engineering them and getting them into production before the battle, and then stand triumphantly crowing atop the battlements of their trenches, shouting at the heaps of American dead that “Ve haf yurr Bruning Gewehrs!!!”

        Yeah. No. This is just more magical thinking by the US small arms hierarchy that failed to actually, y’know… Think. It’s of a piece with the whole “Yeah, we’re gonna field the Pedersen all at once in that first big battle, and it’ll all be so wonderful!!”, never having bothered to test out the idea under actual real-world combat conditions.

        These are the same brilliant magical thinkers whose primary takeaway from WWI was that they needed a semi-auto rifle that could kill horses at 2000m for the next war, never mind that most actual mano-y-mano rifle combat was taking place at well under 300m…

        I cannot honestly contort my thinking to come up with a scenario in which fielding a brand-new small arm that’s been kept monumentally secret could somehow even vaguely influence a battle by way of surprise due to its secrecy… Every time I try to come up with one, the factors of “New weapon, unfamiliar to troops, partially trained on it with no actual combat feedback on it all…” trump any potential advantage brought on by the secrecy fetish. In the final analysis, anything you’re going to put on general issue with the troops needs to be thoroughly trained upon and well-understood.

        Witness the hash that secrecy made of the French mitrailleuse made of things for that entire class of weapons… Properly fielded, tested by the troops and officers, with its issues and proper usages worked out in advance? It might not have made the difference between victory and defeat, but it damn sure would have been utilized a hell of a lot more effectively than it was. The 1870 experience warped thinking about this sort of weapon for decades, and had a good deal to do with the how-and-why of the later machineguns having such “unexpected” effect during WWI.

    • “Has there ever been a “secret” small arm that ever actually had tactical or strategic effect?(…)”
      I think M3 Carbine might be response as it allowed to effectively engage targets in low-light condition.

      • I’d argue that the M3 and its German “Vampyr” cousin were a.) Sighting systems on top of already well-known and fully-issued weapons, and that b.) Neither one of them gained a damn thing from “secrecy”, either. Everyone already knew about infra-red sights, and about all that you’d really be concealing from the enemy was that they had managed to get them issued out to the troops.

        I’m uncertain as to the benefits of the surrounding secrecy. If anything, with the state of the art at the time? The secrecy was actually detrimental, because I can about guarantee you that the actual effect of these sighting systems as they were would have been more in terms of “Keeping enemy troops awake at night because “fear”…”

        I’ve actually seen and handled an M3 setup, and was fairly close to a reconstruction of a Vampyr rig. My take on them both was “Not ready for primetime, and about as actually useful as tits on a boar hog…”

        My own take on the things is that they should have been set up and built to go on top of medium machine guns for defense work, with the IR sources set up remotely with several emitters. You could have probably done something about night attacks with that sort of thing; the whole “Let’s put this cluster-f*ck on top of a carbine and go hunting for wabbits…” idea was ludicrously stupid from the beginning. Like a lot of the very early night-vision crap…

          • It’s been a few years, but I believe it was the later version, with the IR emitter on the top of the sight. At least, that’s where they had it. The battery pack was huge, however, and might have been from an earlier version.

            I remain convinced that they should have put those sights on top of medium machine guns and had multiple remote IR emitters and IR flares to use with them. on a carbine? Nutso idea, because a.) Too unwieldy to take carbine out and go hunting for the enemy, and b.) Once found, then what? You don’t have enough firepower with that carbine platform to do much of anything besides alert people to the presence of the enemy and then die…

    • Hazarding a guess, because the Modele “D” did not fit in with the then-prevalent US idea of what a BAR was supposed to be…

      You have to remember that they were still very much locked into the “Marching/Walking Fire” lunacy; fire and movement between positions was not the mindset they had, nor was that how they envisaged the BAR being used. If you’re thinking that most of your fires are going to be from the hip, then something with a full pistol grip is not going to be what you think you want.

      From today’s perspective, we know that the idea of firing while on the move is nowhere nearly effective enough to truly suppress the enemy. Then, they did not… Thus, the Chauchat and the BAR. Arguably, the Chauchat is a better LMG than the original BAR, because it has a bipod…

      • Even worse issues there. The brass demanded that ANY modification of the M1918 had to include parts interchangeability with the original guns. Anything like a pistol grip or quick-change barrel wouldn’t work, therefore the domestically made Colt R75A was flatly rejected as a “pampered poodle” as adopting it would have required the army to buy up thousands of dollars in production tooling (and that did not include the licensing fees, like say, $300 PER GUN). Oh, and during the interwar period, the US Army was too bent on replacing the M1903 with the M1 Garand, still insisting that every soldier be a perfect shot, and that every shot kill the enemy. ARGH!!!!

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