Winchester-Williams WWII .50 BMG Antitank Rifle (Video)

David Marshall Williams was hired by the Winchester company in 1939, and would have a hand in a number of major projects during his 10-year stint with the company, although best known for the M1 Carbine. The Carbine was an offshoot of the Winchester G30 and G30M rifles, which would also evolve into the G30R and Winchester Automatic Rifle. Another offshoot using this same basic mechanism was this undesignated .50 BMG semiautomatic antitank rifle developed by Winchester during World War II.

This rifle, like its developmental precursors, uses a two-lug, Garand type rotating bolt and a Williams gas tappet short stroke action. It has a 10-round detachable box magazine.

Although I have not found a testing report, the gun was apparently tested by the Canadian military and performed quite well. It was never purchased or put into serial production, however, most likely because as an antitank rifle the .50 BMG cartridge was not effective by the end of World War II.


  1. 50 BMG was useless against takes by the end of the war, sure. It had no use as an anti-materiel rifle though? Beat the Barret 50 cal to the game by about 50 years.

    • Had this gone into production during the Korean War, North Korean snipers would become an endangered species, as counter-sniping with a bullet designed to punch straight through houses leaves little protection for the other team… Or am I wrong?

      • Col. George Chinn USMC and others made up .50 cal. “heavy sniper” rifles in Korea, by using Mauser 1918 T-Gewehrs captured from the Chinese rebarreled with spare .50 M2 HB barrels.With 10x telescopic sights, they were extremely accurate out to 2000 yards.

        One of my high school teachers, an Army .50 gunner in Korea, stated that he was routinely tasked with countersniping duty. He said that once the .50 was aligned and the traverse and elevation gearing was locked down on the tripod, it would consistently fire five-shot groups about a foot across out to 2500 yards. The SOP was to spot the sniper and reply with a two-second burst, which would be both AP and tracer.

        Few Communist snipers were quick enough to relocate to survive that response.



        • They didn’t re-barrel T-Gewehrs, they re-barrelled PTRDs. I doubt there were any T-Gewehrs in Chinese service at that point with the nature of 13mm TuF not being produced or used by anyone after WW1. There’s an example of a captured PTRD that was used for counter sniping in Korea.

    • I imagine weight might still have been an issue for using it as a anti-material rifle. I think the closest to a practically man portable anti-material rifle they got in WWII was the PTRD (PTRS being considered unreliable). Most of the anti-tank rifles seem to have been too bulky to be considered worthwhile once the anti-tank part became obsolete. I know the Boys got some vehicle mounted use and the German PzB 39 got turned into a grenade launcher, but those are the only two later uses of anti-tank rifles in WWII I can think of (I’m sure there are plenty of examples I’ve missed though).

      • The Boys was used in the AM role by the LRDG and SAS in the Western Desert, either fired off a pedestal mount on the Chevrolet 20cwt truck or off an adapted Bren bipod. SAS liked it in the latter mode for night attacks on enemy airfields, as its API round was very good at “lighting up” fueled aircraft from 1000 yards out given enough moonlight to see by.

        As a bonus from their POV, the muzzle brake on the Boys acted as a very effective flash suppressor, meaning night firing didn’t blind the shooter or spotter, and also didn’t advertise their position. When fired without the brake (which the manual definitely said you shouldn’t), the .55in round had a stupendous muzzle flash at night, easily the equal of the 6-pounder (57mm) AT gun.

        Mainly LRDG and SAS liked the Boys as a materiel destruction device because as one SAS veteran told me, “it beat crawling up to a German fighter on the ground to stick a time pencil in the fuel filler”.



      • The 20mm Lahti AT-rifle was used mostly for other things than destroying tanks from 1942 onwards. Most common use was bunker busting with APHE or HE ammunition. 20mm HE was not very effective in the open, but shot into a bunker through the firing opening it would cause a bad day for the occupants. Another method to utilize HE ammunition was to snipe at tanks with open hatches. Even a near miss on the turret top would take out any crew members (usually the commander) who had their heads out of the turret hatches. A tank without a functioning commander is a mission kill in most circumstances. These practices were somewhat limited by the availability of HE and APHE ammunition, since AT-rifles were issued only with AP ammunition. Luckily most 20mm AA guns in Finland fired compatible ammunition (20×138B “Long Solothurn”), so often ammunition could be obtained from AA gun crews.

  2. If they thought of using it as a scout car-cum-tank destroyer you’d have thought that they would have known that it would be entirely under gunned in Europe. Perhaps they were thinking of USMC contracts or anti-Japanese operations for the Canadian military.

    Either way, a more versatile system would have been to use a 4×4 scout car or universal carrier chassis and and mount something like a bofours 40mm on it on a forward facing mount, like a STuG.

  3. …One can only wonder how well this would have functioned against the Japanese Ha-Go type 95 tank, the most numerous Japanese tank in service at the beginning of our Pacific War. The Japanese tended to use their tanks in small groups and against folks without any defense or tanks of their own. Not much of a tank, really, but pretty awesome if you have no defense. I think a .50 rifle, semi auto, would have been just the ticket on the 95.

    • My father was a Marine rifleman on Okinawa. He was in a column of troops going up a road, and he kept hearing rifle fire. Seemed like there was a junk Japanese tank by the side of the road, and every Marine wanted to see what his M-1 would do to it. He said it looked like a colander by the time he got there. The armor was just to keep the brush off of the crew.

      • My one-time boss was Marine Recon, Guadalcanal to Okinawa. (He was in the base hospital at Pearl recovering from a mine explosion when the A-bombs were dropped.)

        He said that the Japanese Type 97 (1937) medium tank (37 or 47mm gun), the most advanced and heaviest tank they had, could be penetrated on the frontal aspect (glacis) by .30-06 rifle fire with standard semi armor-piercing rounds at any range below 200 yards. Its sides and rear were vulnerable to .30-06 out to 300.

        It could be penetrated by .50 cal AP from any angle at any reasonable range, which in the island campaign was defined by how far you could actually see, which generally was under 300 yards based on terrain and foliage.

        The 37mm AT gun and 2.36in rocket launcher (“Bazooka”) would certainly destroy any Japanese tank or armored car. NB; ACs were seldom seen in the island campaign, they were a Japanese Army specialty rather than Imperial “special landing forces”, i.e. Marines, which made up most of the Japanese ground forces other than in the Philippines. ACs were more commonly used in the CBI.

        The 37 and 2.36 were mainly used as “bunker busters”, since even the 75mm pack howitzer could cripple or destroy a Type 37 with ordinary HE shell, let alone a specialized HEAT round, which they did in fact have. The AT weapons, by comparison, could penetrate palm logs to punch through into bunkers and dugouts in direct-fire mode, allowing infantry to take out a bunker as soon as it was localized rather than waiting for armor, artillery, or naval fire support to deal with it.

        Generally, the Japanese armor was well suited to sorting out Chinese warlord armies, but rather deficient against an opponent with actual modern weaponry, even infantry weapons.

        As for flamethrowers, they were also highly effective vs. bunkers, but mainly you wanted a tank-mounted one because the Japanese had a nasty habit of siting MG nests plus snipers in “spider holes” to enfilade the likely approaches of an infantryman with a backpack FT. Rifle fire and machine guns didn’t impress a Sherman very much.



        • I think either you ot or ex-boss must have confused the Type 97 medium tank Chi-Ha with the Type 95 light tank Ha-Go. The former had 25mm armor at turret and hull front and sides, except more (33-38mm) at gun mantlet and 17mm at lower front hull. In any case enough to stop .30-06 AP even at point blank ranges. .50 cal AP might go through at close ranges, but even that would require a rare perfectly perpendicular hit. I have never heard of Japanese tank armor plate being of very bad quality, either, which penetration with .30-06 AP would require.

          The Type 95 light tank had only 12mm of armor at the front, which should be penetrable with .30-06 AP. The Type 95 lights were also more commonly encountered during the island campaigns, although on some islands Type 97 mediums were present as well, although in smaller numbers.

          The Type 97 Chi-Ha was, by the way, never armed with a 37mm gun. The original main armament was a 57mm low velocity gun, which was later upgraded to the 47mm high velocity gun in the “Shinhoto” (new turret) version. The Shinhoto Chi-Ha was rarely encountered by the US forces, since most of them were reserved for Home Islands defense. Even Okinawa didn’t have any, but the Japanese forces at Luzon did have a sizeable force.

          The Japanese did have better tanks than the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha, namely the Type 1 and Type 3 mediums. Both had significantly better armor than the Type 97, although still insufficient against the 75mm gun of the M4 Sherman. Neither tank was used in combat, again due to being reserved for the Home Islands.

          • Good call, my friend. I was about to write something to similar effect, but you got there first with the facts.

            I have noticed that there was ( and still is ) far too much unfounded, technically incorrect and perhaps culturally prejudiced bias against the concept of the World War Two Japanese tank and its capabilities, even today when we should know a lot better. There was little wrong with Japanese tanks of that era — they were basically reliable, well-built armored fighting vehicles designed for specific roles envisaged by the Imperial Army’s planners. If anything can be said to have had shortcomings in this role, it would be the thinking and concepts that gave rise to the limitations imposed upon those AFV designs, and not the machines themselves. After all, a tank ( or any other weapon system, for that matter ) is designed and built according to a specific military requirement, and will generally only be as good as that requirement allows.

            One oft-overlooked factor that contributed significantly to the reliability of Japanese tanks in the face of severe parts shortages and long, untenable supply lines in the PTO ( Pacific Theater Of Operations ) and CBI ( China-Burma-India Theater ), especially in the latter stages of the war, was the adoption of the diesel engine as a baseline powerplant, as opposed to the more maintenance-intensive and vulnerable gasoline engines that powered most Allied tanks.

          • Yes. While the Type 95 light tanks armor proved to be decisively insufficient againts US troops with good access to .30-06 AP, it was only slightly inferior to the British Light Tank Mk VI, which had 14mm frontal and 12mm side armor. These tanks were contemporaries and designed around the same kind of “speed over protection” philosophy. Both armor designs were likely designed to resist rifle caliber AP bullets, but the Japanese seemed to have underestimated the penetration ability of contemporary AP bullets. The M2 AP was according to US Army test good for only .42″ of armor steel at 100 yards, but the Japanese armor plate was probably somewhat softer than the US test plate. No international standards existed before NATO. According to modern tests M2 can fully penetrate up to .5″ of MIL-A-12560 spec armor (a.k.a. Rolled Homogenous Armor) at the same range, which shows that armor plates are not made equal. Thin plates in the 1930’s were often harder than standard RHA, which increased resistance against small caliber projectiles (but made the plate more vulnerable to cracking when hit with larger caliber projectiles).

            It is noticeable that the armor of the Mk VI light proved to be generally good enough to resist the Italian 8×59 Breda AP, although the 12mm sides could be penetrated at close ranges (less than 100 meters). The battles in the North African desert did not give the Italian L3 tankettes many chances to get within 100 meters of the British lights. Italian infantry MGs were usually not issued with AP. The Vickers .5 inch and Besa 15mm heavy machine guns could penetrate the 13.5mm armor of the L3 from any aspect at ranges exceeding 500 meters.

            Going back to the Type 95: it was quite successful against the British in the Malay peninsula and earlier also against the Chinese, both of which lacked AT guns, and the Chinese probably did not usually have access to AP rifle ammunition, either. On a related note, the main types used in China before 1941 were the Type 89 medium and the Type 94 tankette. The first big battle for the Type 95 was the Khalgin-Gol, where the Soviet 45mm guns decimated them, so by 1940 the Japanese were well aware of the design’s shortcomings. The improved Type 98 light tank entered production already in 1939, but priority was given to ships and medium tank production, so the Type 98 and its successor the Type 2 light tank remained a rarities to the end of the war.

  4. The design, machine work and finish is thing to behold. The bolt, safety and op rod were magnificent. GunLab!GunLab!GunLab!

  5. Thanks for this great series on the work of Frank Burton, Ed Browning, and David Marshall Williams at the Cody Firearms Museum. I look forward to more in the future! You’ve just scratched the surface! ^__^

    You could keep the discussion of David Marshall Williams going by examining his various floating chamber designs.

    • Brian- I have one of the floating chamber Colt conversion kits for the 1911. As long as you clean it every couple of hundred rounds, reliable as hell with any kind of .22 LR ammo. Except for birdshot. Not enough pressure to work the chamber. One of my jobs around the combination trucking company/ horse farm, was to shoot rats and pigeons. And skunks, fox, etc. A .22 with various magazines of ammo was just the thing.

      • Bill,

        I also have one of those Colt 1911 conversion kits, and as you say, when it’s clean it works well. I have a Winchester Model 59 shotgun, another Williams floating chamber design, which is a bit of a safe queen with its fiberglass wrapped barrel and ultra-light weight. I need to look around for a Model 50 as a shooter to see how well it performs in the field.

        I understand that Williams designed a floating chamber version of the Browning M1917 machine gun in .22 Long Rifle for training purposes as well.

        I’m also looking forward to Ian eventually taking a look at the various M1 Carbine prototypes including the Light Rifle actually designed by Williams which was completed too late to compete in the trials. I’ve often wondered if the Williams design would have been more reliable that the one we got from the Winchester design team. ^__^

        • Are you commenting about reliability of the M-1 carbine? I have had a couple, and the only reliability issues were a bad magazine, refusal to feed soft points, and one was so dirty that the gas piston was frozen. Carburetor cleaner cleared that up.
          I understand that the Browning training units worked quite well, and SARCO has some parts available.
          By the way, my 1911/.22 unit is plenty accurate enough for plinking, but I never tried it for serious target work.

          • I won’t get into another debate on M1 Carbine reliability. We really need Ian or Karl to come up with a challenge for how to test if an M1 Carbine is reliable enough for 2G-ACM, especially compared to an M1 Garand. ^__^

            The 1911 .22 Conversion units don’t have a great reputation for accuracy, I can’t say for sure how well mine would shoot since I haven’t gone to the trouble of fitting it up to a match quality “lower.” Mine is just a fun plinker.

          • Mine was accurate enough to hunt the critters around the farm. Birdshot was very effective against pigeons up in the rafters, and safe enough from the short barrel to use in the horse sheds. Would not go through both sides of a cardboard box (corrugated). Safer than a .177 pellet gun.

    • One of the (many) beauties of Forgotten Weapons – we get to see many ideas that were around before their “inventor” was even born

      one of those ideas was the floating chamber (which is really a co-ax short stroke gas piston) Check out the Drawing on Clausius’ 1900 patent.

      Clausius seems to have had several ideas which didn’t succeed for him, but which others patented again many years later and those later people get the credit.

      • Keith (In England),

        This previous British patent is mentioned in the reference section of Williams’ U.S. Patent 2847787 of 19 Aug. 1958

        That U.S. patent also mentions German patent 471350 of 4 Sept. 1929. Does anybody have an image of that patent? I wonder if the prototype might be a patent model for that one.

      • When I think of the poor devils who fought on Iwo Jima and other jungle battles, I wonder if this weapon could not have made a great difference in their dealing with the robust Jap sniper hideouts and other rural field fortifications.

        Many of them died unnecessarily because they did not have the right weapon. Even the Japanese used their Type 98 20mm cannon to attack Soviet Tanks, AFVS, transports, VVS aircraft and hostile manpower during the numerous border battles and infiltrations in Mongolia.

  6. I remember reading that back in 1982 or 1983 before the barracks was bombed some Marines at the Beirut airport were taking sniper fire from some distance away. They used a scoped M2HB on single fire with spotters to take care of the problem. This would have been very useful there and in Korea and Vietnam as well.

    • The M2 was used in exactly that manner in VietNam. Carlos Hathcock related making several long range kills that way.




  8. …Weapons that were obsolete in the European theatre ( such as the 37mm anti-tank gun ) were handy as hell on Iwo Jima . Once you own the air many slow but serviceable platforms ( Battleships ) are again militarily viable.
    …Drones allow a weaker opponent to take away air supremacy. Changes the whole equation.

  9. REally the best video on here for ages. Never had heard about this rifle ever before.
    Barrett M82 is like 30lbs so pretty good effort. Just no one really thought too much “outside of the box” on how this could be used for light armoured vechiles, trucks, aircraft etc at longer ranges.
    With a bit of fine tuning I’m sure it would have proved an awesome weapon.

    • And it’s a very “clean” design. Looks good enough that somebody ought to copy it and sell it to compete with the Barrett.

  10. A good future topic would be Canadian arms procurement from WWI up to the cold war era. How it differed from the UK and if they had any unique doctrine that made weapons like this one interesting to them.

  11. Actually everybody has got it wrong it wasnt designed for the canadian army to shoot japanese
    tanks but for canadian deer
    In 1946 my dad who had been a sub leut. in the canadian navy and was still in reserve was asked if he wouldnt go out to camp shiloh in manatoba to instruct the army artilery how the navy did things
    Nobody had been shooting the deer during the war and mule deer were everywhere
    Game is still eaten out on the prairies and as there were restaurants looking for it a thriving poaching busness got going
    What spoiled it was the night the camp commander decided he wanted venison steak and took out a bren gun carrier and managed to put most of a bren mag into one deer
    apparently the mounties heard about it and that was the end of that
    This winchester gun being semiauto would have been great on those mulies
    incidently they had a tankgewehr from the first war in the camp museaum and dad saw it fired once
    apparently the chap braced himself against a wall and broke his collar bone

  12. It would close out the series rather nicely if you could do a video showing the internals of an M1 carbine, intercut with the close=ups from your G30 and M2 videos, so we could see the similarities and how one evolved from the other. (Not all of us have direct experience with M1 Carbines, y’know.)

  13. Probably best to remember, by late 1944 through earlish 1945 the general allied perception of the war in Europe, rightly or wrongly, was basically a done-deal. And it was. The Tigers and Panthers were dying in their tracks as much from fuel and spare parts shortages as tank battles. Or simple abandonment as their crews opted for survival and just walked away from the beasts. Thunderbolts and Typhoons didn’t help matters for them much either.
    And there were a lot more Thunderbolts and Typhoons than Tigers or Panthers.
    But the Allied world view was quickly shifting East.
    April fools day, 1945. The invasion of Okinawa. The certain taste of the impending invasion of Japan and intense preparation and defense in depth. What a mess.
    Already the Japanese had learned their prep was somewhat outdated and the allies were similarly not entirely ready for the offered resistance. The Ryukyu Islands were/are covered in concrete family tombs, in some locations literally in everyone’s back yard. Easily converted to passable bunkers. The general terrain is flat coastal fields raising to overhanging ridges. Attack, in other words, is nearly always uphill and pre-fortified. Just to make things more interesting, here & there are stockpiles of suicide speedboats and rocket-powered Divine Wind suicide aircraft.
    To just jump to the chase, having a high-velocity bunker-buster could be/would be highly useful.
    Yes, there were man portable bazookas, and recoiless rifles, even TD’s with high velocity main guns, but never
    enough, nor never enough ammunition. And effective as the TD’s were on dead flat-Kwajalein, they were hard to get to a ridge top on Okinawa, while the 90mm gun tanks never made it to the battle at all.
    Again, point being, this was just a preview of the invasion of Japan, you know, where all the reserve weapons were stored. Tanks, artillery, and, allegedly, the chemical and bio weapons were.
    There is little doubt, at this late date, anybody was about to give up and every advantage on both sides was applied, even antitank rifles.
    Enter the Divine wind.
    But then the Japanese high command somehow missed the memo on the proceedings at the Trinity site.

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