John Browning developed the Browning Automatic Rifle for use by American troops in World War One, taking inspiration from the other light automatic weapons in service including the Chauchat, Lewis, and MG08/15. Rather than being used as a light machine gun as we would understand it today, the BAR was an “automatic rifle”, intended to be used in much the same way as the Germans would use the Sturmgewehr in WWII. It would be fired in semiautomatic mode from the shoulder or hip while advancing on the enemy, using steady fire to keep them pinned down. Once troops broke into close contact, the gun could be switched to fully automatic to provide overwhelming firepower for the final assault on a position. While the walking fire from the hip was not particularly realistic in practice, the fully automatic firepower was a huge boon to the infantry. While it filled the game role as the Chauchat, the BAR was a much more refined weapon and much easier to use effectively.
The BAR was showed tot he US Ordnance Department in 1917, and the first order for them was placed with Colt in July of 1917. In short order further contracts would be placed with Winchester and Marlin-Rockwell, although it would take many months to fabricate the production tooling and perfect the design for mass production. A few hand-fitted guns were ready in February 1918 for a public demonstration, but significant quantities were not being built until July of 1918.
These guns would be shipped to France for use by the AEF, but not actually put into combat service until the Meuse-Argonne offensive in late September of 1918, due to General Pershing’s desire to keep them secret from the Germans until a large number could be used at once. As a result, the guns saw only very limited use before the war ended on November 11th. In total 102,173 BARs would be built, about half of them being finished into 1919, after the armistice. They would go on the be changed and updated for use in World War Two, but that is a discussion for another day. This particular gun is an excellent example of an M1918 BAR in correct World War One configuration, which is a rare find today.