M2 Browning - History

History

The United States did not have many machine guns when it entered World War I, and most were old technology. The machine gun was heavily used in World War I, and weapons of larger than rifle caliber were appearing. Both the British and French had large caliber machine guns. The larger rounds were needed to defeat the armor that was being introduced to the battlefield. Armor was also appearing in the skies. During World War I, the Germans introduced a heavily armored airplane, the Junkers J.I. The armor made aircraft machine guns using conventional rifle ammunition (such as the .30-06) ineffective. The United States became keenly aware of this problem when Quentin Roosevelt's aircraft was shot down.

Consequently, American Expeditionary Force's commander General John J. Pershing asked for a larger caliber machine gun. Pershing asked the Army Ordnance Department to develop a machine gun with a caliber of at least 0.50 inches (12.7 mm) and a muzzle velocity of at least 2,700 feet per second (820 m/s). U.S. Col. John Henry Parker, commanding a machine gun school in France, observed the effectiveness of a French 11 mm (0.43 in) incendiary armor-piercing round. The Army Ordnance Department ordered eight experimental Colt machine guns rechambered for the French 11-mm cartridge. The French had developed a prototype machine gun for an even larger caliber.

The French 11-mm round was not suitable because its velocity was too low. Pershing wanted a bullet of at least 670 gr (43 g) and a muzzle velocity of 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s). Development with the French round was dropped.

Around July 1917, John M. Browning started redesigning his .30 caliber machine for a larger caliber. Winchester worked on the cartridge, which was a scaled up version of the .30/06. Winchester initially added a rim to the cartridge because it wanted to use the cartridge in an anti-tank rifle, but Pershing insisted the cartridge be rimless. The first .50 machine gun underwent trials on 15 October 1918. It fired at less than 500 rounds per minute, and the muzzle velocity was only 2,300 ft/s (700 m/s). Cartridge improvements were promised. The gun was heavy, difficult to control, fired too slowly for anti-personnel, and was not powerful enough against armor.

While the .50 was being developed, some German anti-tank rifles and ammunition were seized. The German rounds had a muzzle velocity of 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s), an 800 gr (52 g) bullet, and could pierce 1 in (25 mm) at 250 yd (230 m). Winchester made the .50 caliber round have similar performance. Ultimately, the muzzle velocity was 2,750 ft/s (840 m/s).

Efforts by John M. Browning and Fred T. Moore resulted in the water-cooled Browning machine gun, caliber .50, M1921. An aircraft version was termed the Browning aircraft machine gun, caliber .50, M1921. These guns were used experimentally from 1921 until 1937. They had light-weight barrels and the ammunition only fed from the left side. Service trials raised doubts whether the guns would be suitabile for aircraft or for anti-aircraft use. A heavy barrel M1921 was considered for ground vehicles.

John M. Browning died in 1926. Between 1927 and 1932, Dr. S. H. Green studied the design issues and service needs. The result was a single receiver design that could be turned into seven types of .50 caliber machine guns by using different jackets, barrels, and other components. The new receiver allowed right or left hand feed. In 1933, Colt manufactured several prototype Browning machine guns (including what would be known as the M1921A1 and M1921E2). With support from the Navy, Colt started manufacturing the M2 in 1933.

A variant without a water jacket, but with a thicker-walled, air-cooled barrel was designated the M2 HB (HB for Heavy Barrel). The added mass and surface area of the heavy barrel compensated somewhat for the loss of water-cooling, while reducing bulk and weight: the M2 weighs 121 lb (55 kg) with a water jacket, but the M2 HB weighs 84 lb (38 kg). Due to the long procedure for changing the barrel, an improved system was developed called QCB (quick change barrel). The lightweight AN/M2 "light-barrel" version of the Browning M2 weighing 60 lb (27 kg) was also developed, and became the standard aviation machine gun of the World War II-era For American military aircraft of nearly every type.

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