Colt’s MG52-A: Water-Cooled 50-Caliber Heavy Machine Gun for the World

Before the Browning M2, there was a series of Colt commercial .50 caliber machine guns. The .50 BMG (12.7x99mm) cartridge began development in 1918, and after the end of the war Colt and John Browning finalized a water-cooled machine gun to use it. While military experimentation and development continued, Colt introduced the gun as the Model 1924, and sold it in both water-cooled and air-cooled varieties. The names were changed in 1932/3 to become the MG52 (water cooled) and MG53 (air cooled) to keep the guns sounding modern. In addition, they introduced the MG52-A, which was a water cooled model with interchangeable feed to accommodate vehicle and dual mounts.

The Model 1924/MG52 has a number of early features that would be changed when the M2 become the standard model. These have simple straight-line charging handles, instead of the camel system of the M2. They have rear sights like the early M1917 .30 caliber guns, manual safeties, and are built on dedicated water-cooled receivers (the M2 would introduce a universal receiver). Only a few thousand of these were made by World War Two, and their production did not resume after the war.


  1. Water-cooled guns were still employed on airfields and aboard ships, as the likelihood of huge formation air strikes would make for long periods of shooting without rest and very little chance of changing an air-cooled barrel. I could be wrong.

  2. If anyone cares, the video on the “Howard’s Thunderbolt” carbine never posted here, it’s only on YouTube, dated three days ago. Is there any way for management to get it posted here in its correct calendar spot? The regular visitors to this site should be able to see it on this site, yes?

  3. Just as a side note; I seem to remember seeing this gun, or one similar in an old war movie. It was notable for the two chargeing handles and the belts of ammo going in the gun. Sorry I can’t remember which movie.

  4. Too bad Ian did not put on the table the M2 standing behind. It would have been an interresting to compare both.
    But perhaps two .50 MG were too much for the poor table?

  5. Jeffrey, There were three versions of the M2,using a common receiver


    M2 – Light barreled, water cooled. Used on a variety of heavy mounts, some shielded. Most rebuilt to M2HB by end of WW2

    (Note dual mount)

    Naval, using forced water circulation from heat exchanger mounted near keel (replaced by 20 mm Oerlikon)

    AN-M2 – Air cooled, short, light barrel (36 inch vs 45 inch) aircraft gun, fixed or flexible mounting, Barrel jacket to muzzle

    M2HB – Air Cooled ground gun, heavy barrel, short barrel jacket-support – still in production after SEVENTY years !

    My nomination for greatest gun ever made

      • No. That is an FN M3M, which is improved M3, which is related to the M2, but distinctly different. For one it shoots from open bolt and normally comes with a solenoid trigger for aircraft installation. There are other options offered of course.

        Why does a US Navy machine gun have a USAF designation?

        • During WW2 (when there still was no separate USAF) Army and Navy agreed upon a common designation system for common items, starting with an AN prefix. So apart from AN-M3 machine gun there was a AN-M2 cal. .30 cartridge.
          This common system was and is still mainly in use for communications and electronic equipment like, for example, AN/FLR-9.

    • Domestic may also mean some US state’s national guards have baughtsome? I would like to know the foreign buyers as well.

    • If I am not mistaken, the water cooling system can function in the same way from steam.
      But water cooling didn’t make much sense. If only in the Pacific and the tropics.

      And in the water-cooled 0.5 Vickers, in North Africa, another liquid was poured.

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