The Browning Automatic Rifle: The First U.S.-Produced Light Machine Gun

Browning Automatic Rifle Photo Album

A real M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle.

A real M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle with bipod and small stock rest.

During World War I, U.S. military officials desired a man-portable light machine gun that could support infantry using the “marching fire” tactic, in which soldiers would pin down the enemy by approaching their positions while constantly firing their weapons.

Enter John M. Browning, a prodigious gun designer from Utah who patented 128 firearms during his lifetime. On Feb. 27, 1917, less than two months before the U.S. entered the war, Browning brought his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) to Washington, D.C. for a live-fire demonstration in front of members of Congress.

In his book, The History of Browning Firearms, David Miller says the weapon was immediately ordered into production, and, to avoid confusion with the M1917 Browning machine gun that was also demonstrated that day, the BAR became the M1918.

“The main object of the invention is to provide a machine rifle adapted to fire highly-charged military cartridges, but so light in weight as to allow of one person carrying it and firing it from the shoulder,” Browning said in his patent, which was filed on Aug. 1, 1917.

According to Lt. Col. George M. Chinn, when the BAR finally hit production in February 1918, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company rushed its work schedule so much that the first 1,800 guns were not all built to the same specifications.

1st Lt. Val A. Browning stands with a Browning Automatic Rifle during World War I.

1st Lt. Val A. Browning stands with a Browning Automatic Rifle during World War I.

After a delay to standardize production, the guns arrived in France in July 1918 in the hands of the 79th Division, which first used them in action on Sept. 13, 1918. Browning’s son, 1st Lt. Val A. Browning, a member of the 79th, personally used the weapon that day.

Although about 52,000 BARs were produced by Winchester, Colt, and the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation before the end of the war, most were never used in battle because fighting ceased with the signing of the Armistice of Compiègne, which took effect on Nov. 11, 1918.

The gun was further developed during the interwar period and versions were used by naval landing forces, law enforcement, and, although it never received the notoriety of the Thompson submachine gun, the BAR was also used by criminals, most notably Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

The U.S. Army adopted the M1918A2 version on June 30, 1938, and one was issued to every 12-man squad. Like all versions of the BAR, it fired the .30-06 Springfield cartridge that was favored by the military at the time. Unlike its predecessors, which could switch between semi- and fully-automatic fire, the A2 could only switch between two rates of automatic fire – 300 to 450 rounds per minute or 500 to 650.

Firing such a powerful round at that rate made the BAR a difficult weapon to master, and its low bullet capacity (20 rounds) limited its firepower when compared to other light machine guns.

Lt. Mike Powell holds the BAR as Capt. Ramsey suggests the pair search the nearby house for paratroopers.

Lt. Mike Powell holds the BAR as Capt. Ramsey suggests the pair search the nearby house for paratroopers.

The BAR is first seen in the hands of an Allied soldier after Powell escapes from DORA 1 in Norway, but makes its first usable appearance in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault during the mission after D-Day.

Lt. Mike Powell carries what appears to be an M1918A2 throughout this mission, though the gun does not feature the small stock rest, bipod, or flash suppresor that were standard-issue. However, to conserve weight (the BAR weighed about 19 pounds) the bipod and flash suppressor were often discarded.

Although Powell does not appear to be the designated BAR man for his squad (other soldiers are seen carrying them up Omaha Beach during the previous mission), all men were trained on the weapon at a basic level. While BAR teams started with two or three soldiers, one man could operate the gun if others carried extra ammunition.

As the game’s timeline moves through 1944, the BAR is seen with increasing frequency, including in the hands of two of three members of the tank crew Powell meets in Landerneau, France. It doesn’t make sense that the crew would’ve brought such large weapons into the tank with them (at 48 inches (122 cm), it would’ve been difficult to quickly maneuver the BAR in and out of a tank hatch), but they may have scavenged them from somewhere in town after finding themselves in need of some firepower.

In the game, the BAR feels heavy. It seems to slow Powell down when he runs with it, but it might be an optical illusion caused by the length of the gun. Given the weight of the weapon and its ammunition (Powell carries 400 rounds, or 40 magazines), its unlikely that he would’ve been able to move or fight effectively alone, especially considering the amount of other equipment he carries.

T/2 Engineer Campbell, a member of the tank crew Powell meets in Landerneau, stands with his BAR.

T/2 Engineer Campbell, a member of the tank crew Powell meets in Landerneau, stands with his BAR.

It’s certainly a powerful weapon, as it hits hard and can drop an enemy quickly, but fully automatic fire is inaccurate and it’s better suited for medium-to-long-range combat when Powell is forced to reload his Springfield sniper rifle.

Although it fires at about 400 rounds per minute (falling within the lower of the two selectable fire rates for the real weapon), the Thompson is always a better choice in close quarters as the BAR quickly runs out of bullets.

The BAR also occupies the assault rifle slot in the weapon selection menu (along with the StG 44), though it doesn’t technically qualify as such. An assault rifle is defined as a selective fire, shoulder-fired weapon that uses an intermediate cartridge from a box magazine and has a range of at least 300 meters.

Although the BAR resembles what most people would call an assault rifle, only the original version featured selective fire and all versions fired the .30-06 cartridge, which does not qualify as an intermediate cartridge.


~ by John on September 29, 2014.

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