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The Browning M1917 Heavy Machine Gun

Discussion in 'Allied Light Weapons' started by KodiakBeer, Mar 14, 2018.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    This terrific vid showed up on Forgotten Weapons this morning. This will be required viewing by all Rogues and anyone failing the quiz (yes, there will be a quiz) may have their weekend liberty revoked!

    This gun and its air-cooled sister, the M1919, were the standard machine guns of US forces right up until the Vietnam war. It should be noted that M2 "Ma Deuce" is essentially the same design, scaled up for the .50 BMG cartridge. When introduced late in WWI, the fantastic efficiency made an impression on US and allied forces alike. The gun could run for thousands of rounds with no stoppages, something quite unique in those days when machine guns were new to the world.


     
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  2. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Veerry Interesting--but heavy and cumbersome! Old Man Browning didn't design junk but by WW2 the heavy water-cooled MGs were becoming outdated. A later version had a bipod and shoulder stock but this was a poor imitation of German GPMGs.
     
  3. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    Out of curiosity were the Browning, Maxum, and Vickers roughly equal in performance, reliability, and endurance. I realize some of this overlaps.

    Great video, Kieth, well executed I imagine it is indeed rare to find a truly WW1 original.version.
     
  4. harolds

    harolds Member

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    The Maxim, Vickers, and MG 08 were closely related. They used a toggle mechanism in their action. All were considered quite robust and gave service comparable to the Browning and all could go many thousands of rounds without a breakdown. Rate of fire and cartridge power were similar. I suspect that the Browning could have had an edge in the reliability department because it was designed last and thus build on the shoulders of the others.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
  5. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    The heavy watercooled Browning was without peer in the sustained fire role on the defense. When the WW2 TOE's were modified with increased numbers of M-1919 air-cooled guns the M-1917 water cooled was retained in the headquarters to be swapped out by the gun crews as tactical situation dictated. My uncle was a machine gunner with the 1st Marine Division in Korea and he always credited the M-1917 with stopping the Chinese hordes at east hill during the defense at Hagaru-Ri during the Chosin Reservoir campaign. The fact that it served throughout WWII, through Korea and was still around during the early part of Vietnam should indicate it wasn't obsolete by WW2. There is also the very real possibility that the Marine perimeter at Guadalcanal wouldn't have been held had it not been for the M-1917a1. A great gun.

    Al Schmid's and Leroy Diamond's defense at Alligator Creek on 21 August, 1942 (both men were awarded the Navy Cross);


    "H Company’s machine-gun squad was there also. Schmid and two other Marines, Corporal Leroy Diamond and Pfc John Rivers, manned a .30-caliber water-cooled machine gun inside a sandbag-and-log emplacement camouflaged with palm fronds and jungle greenery. The position was on the west bank of the Ilu, which was 50 yards wide at that point.


    At 3 a.m., August 21, 1942, Ichiki, confident of victory, attacked by the sickly green light of flares. The Japanese yelled, jabbered and fired machine guns, trying to force the Marines to reveal their positions. The Marines held their fire.


    Across the river from their nest, Schmid saw a dark, bobbing mass at the edge of the water. “It looked like a herd of cattle coming down to drink,” he remembered. Fifty Japanese crossed the river yelling, “Marine, tonight you die,” and “Banzai,” firing their rifles as they came.


    Johnny Rivers opened up on them, and the mass broke up. Screams of rage and pain came from the other side as the Japanese concentrated everything they had on Schmid’s position and on another machine-gun position 150 yards downstream. Bullets whined past the Marines’ heads, throwing mud and wood chips around them. Schmid’s heart pounded rapidly.


    The machine gun on their right stopped firing, put out of action. Then a dozen bullets tore into Rivers’ face, killing him. His finger froze on the trigger, sending 200 rounds into the darkness. Cold rage rising in him, Schmid shoved Rivers’ body out of the way and took over the gun. Corporal Diamond got in position to load it for him.


    Every time Schmid raked the attacking Japanese he heard them yelling as bullets ripped into them. He heard one particular Japanese officer “screeching and barking commands at the others; he had a nasty shrill voice that stood out over the others.” Schmid fired a burst at the voice, but failed to silence it. It would haunt him for years.


    Diamond then was hit in the arm, the bullet knocking him partially across Schmid’s feet. He could not load anymore, but while Schmid fired the gun, Diamond stood beside him, spotting targets. Schmid would fire across the river to the left, feel Diamond hitting him hard on the arm and pointing to the right, swing the gun and hear Japanese yelling as his bullets hit them.


    Schmid now was both loading and firing the machine gun. When he got close to the end of a 300-round belt of ammunition, Diamond would punch his arm. Schmid would fire a burst, rip open the magazine, insert a new belt and resume firing. At one point a Japanese soldier put a string of bullets through the .30 caliber’s water jacket. Water spurted over Schmid’s lap and chest; the gun crackled and overheated but did not jam.


    Schmid continued loading and firing the machine gun for more than four hours, with and without help. Somehow a Japanese soldier got through the body-choked stream and got close enough to throw a hand grenade into Schmid’s position.


    “There was a blinding flash and explosion,” Schmid recalled. “My helmet was knocked off. Something struck me in the face.” When he put his hand up, all he felt was blood and raw flesh. Then he felt pain in his left shoulder, arm and hand. He could see nothing. He collapsed on his back in the nest. “They got me in the eyes,” he muttered to Diamond, who lay beside him.


    The Japanese were still pouring bullets into the machine-gun position; Schmid reached around to his holster and took out his .45. Diamond heard him fussing with it and yelled, “Don’t do it, Smitty, don’t shoot yourself.”


    “Hell, don’t worry about that,” Schmid said. “I’m going to get the first Jap that tries to come in here!”


    “But you can’t see,” Diamond reminded him.


    “Just tell me which way he’s coming from and I’ll get him,” Schmid replied.


    Both men were helpless in the hole, and it was getting light. A sniper in a tree across the river was firing almost straight down at them. The only thing protecting them was the shelf where the machine gun stood, about 2 feet in diameter.


    Although his sight had not come back, Schmid took his position between the spread rear tripod legs of the machine gun, squeezed the trigger and, with Diamond yelling directions in his ear, resumed firing at the Japanese across the river."


    John Basilone's MoH action on 24-25 October, 1942 from "the Pacific";



    Mitchell Paige's MoH action on 26 October, 1942 in his own words;






     
  6. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    "In those days there were giants in the land."
     
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  7. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    "I guess the Japanese didn't realise he was a Marine"...What an amazing story.
     
  8. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Of course the water-cooled 1917 was at its best in fixed position defense. That was its forte. What it lacked was versatility. Between the wars the U.S. Army didn't really feel the need or even wanted to seriously examine MG trends or doctrine. So in WW2 we made do with the 1917 and 1919. The MG 34 and 42 made them obsolete, which is not saying they didn't have usefulness but that there were better things out there. In the Korean war we again made do with them and as the examples above point out, they did yeoman work. However, the Army was working on changing to a GPMG and came out with the M-60. The '60 was a decent infantry weapon but wasn't great on sustained fire. Therefore, when they developed the helicopter gun ship they put Brownings on them. The movement through the air by the chopper wicked the heat off the barrel so long sustained bursts were attainable without having to resort to a water jacket. I would say that the Browning MGs stayed in Army inventory so long is because we didn't have anything better.
     
  9. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I once watched a vid of two elderly German machine gunners talking about the MG34 vs the MG42. They both preferred the slower rate of fire of that MG34 - "like a sewing machine" one of them said. One of the points made was that they couldn't keep the 42 fed; the rate of fire burned up the ammo faster than it could be moved forward.

    I'm sure the M1917 and M1919 were similar in that way. A rate of 450 rpm doesn't burn up barrels or tax the crew to keep it fed.


    .
     
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  10. harolds

    harolds Member

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    It helps of you keep a light touch on the trigger. When I shot an MG42 I could keep the burst down to 10 rounds or less. Just as soon as the first round goes off you back off the trigger. The thing about the German MGs was their quick barrel changes. With practice, it could be done in 5 seconds while the assistant gunner put in a new belt. The '19 didn't have a quick barrel change so a gunner had to be careful not to overheat the barrel.
     
  11. Terry D

    Terry D Active Member

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    I have always liked the M1917A1, and the Vickers as well. Here is a link to the first of an excellent series of three videos which give a point-by-point comparison between the two, and a fun shooting test too.
     
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  12. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Thanks, TerryD, and there are other links to videos about WW2 MGs. Enjoyed watching all of them.
     
  13. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    M1917A1 weighed 30 pounds, 36.75 pounds when water-filled. The tripod weighed 53 pounds. The MG42 weighed 25.5 pounds and its Lafitte 42 weighed 45.2 pounds.

    They were both heavy machine guns, intended for a heavy machine gun role, using very similar tactics. In that role, the M1917A1 could maintain a sustained ROF of 125 RPM...effectively for as long as wanted. It could rapid fire at 250 RPM for 3 to 4 minutes before it began to steam. The sustained rate of fire of the MG42 was 154 RPM.

    It was the use of the MG42 as a squad automatic weapon that was different, but then the M1917A1 wasn't a squad automatic weapon, the BAR was. BTW, both limitations of the BAR - barrel changing and belt fed - were solvable, IIRC John Browning had worked on various possibilities before he died, FN produced a BAR with barrel change, while the Swedes produced a BAR with both. Also IIRC, the FN MAG and FN Minimi were adaptations of the basic BAR action, the MAG used a feed mechanism derived from the MG42.

    The problem for the US Army was not that they didn't care, but that they believed they had incorporated the lessons learned of the Great War into infantry tactics...and there wasn't any money for infantry weapons development between the wars...what little there was went to John Garand's rifle development, and even there economy measures affecting its performance and use were forced onto Ordnance by MacArthur.

    In any event, it was the squad tactics developed between the wars that proved faulty in the US Army, not the BAR. And, oddly enough, the Germans went much the same way, before experience in Poland and France taught them the errors of their way.
     
  14. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The truism is that all armies are preparing for the previous war (or something like that).

    In the case of the M1917/1919 the technology was just fine, but adapted to newer tactics rather than their intended trench defense role. The 1919 became the 'light' forward deployable gun (within its limitations), and the 1917 the defensive arm.

    The most interesting thing I learned from that video is how stupid I am. I always assumed the water can was basically a radiator, running hot water out of, and cooler water back into the water jacket on the barrel. It's a lot simpler than that, but just as clever.

    .
     
  15. harolds

    harolds Member

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    I agree with just about everything you said Rich. My point was that the MG 34 & 42 were more versatile than their predecessors. A M1917 could be nothing but a heavy MG. The two German weapons could be both. If a M1917 was put out of action you'd have to find another M1917. If a German MG in the heavy role were put out of action there were many others in the company or platoon that could be substituted for it. Barrel changing on the Brownings was somewhat of a pain, not so in the 34 and 42. If another light MG was needed in a German unit then the heavy MG could be taken off its Lafitte and used with its bipod. The US Army tried to convert the M1919 into something similar with the A6 model but the lack of a quick-change barrel made it less than optimum.
    I think I agree with KB in that our Army didn't think they needed to change because wars wouldn't change. I think that's what I was trying to say. Except for the Garand, our Army stagnated to a great degree in my opinion. We finally got the M60 and its feed system was, I believe, a copy of the MG 42. Anyway, I wasn't trying to say that the Brownings weren't good guns. It's just that the Germans came up with a better system. "Germany is a land fertile in military suprises."--Winston Churchill
     
  16. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Oh, I understand all that (BTW, the A6 did have a quick-change barrel...sort of), but my point was quite different. It wasn't that the MG34 and MG42 were so good that made them good battlefield weapons, although that certainly helped. It was rather the fundamental and early realization by the Germans that the design of the infantry squad and its associated tactics, were poor. They began the war with a ten-man infantry squad, very similar to the American. It consisted of a squad leader, a four-man LMG Gruppe, and a five man Rifle Gruppe. The squad leader was expected to fight his squad as two bits...a base of fire bit and a maneuver bit...jumping back and forth as necessary. In the similar 12-man US squad the squad leader actually initiated maneuver with his two-man scout section, then on contact was supposed to move to establish the base of fire with his three-man BAR team, and then lead the assault with his six-man rifle team. In the US case the squad leader usually got pinned down with his scout team...or worse was killed or injured on contact and out of the fight. Similar happened to the Germans when the Gruppenfueher led his rifle Gruppe into contact. The Germans quickly realized it was better to fight the squad as a unit...and doing so around the base of fire of the MG42 was ideal. The USMC did something similar, but one better by making the squad three mutually supporting fire teams all built around a BAR. The US Army finally did similar in December 1944 by adding a second BAR and organizing the squad as two teams built around a two-man BAR section and a three-man rifle section, including the squad leader and assistant squad leader.

    However, none of that has anything to do with the role of the M1917A1 and the s.MG42 as heavy machine guns. In that role, the German gun, weighing almost as much, simply wasn't as effective in a sustained fire role...barrel change or no (the M1917A1 only needed barrel changing in the case of a barrel failure, which, with an experienced gunner, rarely happened). That the l.MG42 could be easily substituted for a s.MG42 in extremis was a convenience, but not much more than that.

    Yes they were good guns...but what made them good was their rapid barrel change capability, not their ROF, which was little different from any other MG.

    It wasn't that the Army didn't think they needed to change, they simply didn't have the finances to change or the time. When the Infantry Board conceived the M1919A6 as a solution, Ordnance warned them that development would not be simple. They were right. Starting in 1942, by 1957 they had refined the M1919A6 to the point where it was pretty decent, just in time to begin replacing it with the M60, which had its own set of problems.
     
  17. harolds

    harolds Member

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    What I got from your mini-dissertation on squad tactics is that tactical theories, like battle plans, seldom survive contact with the enemy. I do feel that the German guns, with their high rate of fire had a psychological effect that was even greater than their actual effect-which was indeed considerable. So, one last question: If you had to go into battle as a squad leader, would you rather have a: BAR, an MG34 or an MG 42?
     
  18. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    As an American squad leader? A BAR. Because if it was a MG34/42, everybody and their brother would be shooting at us from our own side. And vice versa. :D Mac MacDonald told me the idea his men or other units used significant numbers of German MG was ridiculous because of that and because of the problems with ammo supply. In a similar way he questioned the idea that American units collected "extra" BAR...there were barely enough arriving in the ETO to make up losses.
     
  19. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Good point re. "friendly" fire! I know this wasn't one of the options I gave you but after considering the question, I think if I was an American squad leader, I'd go with the A6. I just like the belt fed weapons better. Even though the A6 was sort of "make-do" sort of thing, it did have significantly more firepower than the BAR. The Germans also had some "make-do" conversions such as taking the MG 15 aircraft gun and turning it into a sort of SAW. A question: speaking of ammo supply, you know of any real problems the Germans had with feeding the MG 42? I've read all sorts of opinions that the rate of fire was to high but I've only read of one instance of that being a problems and even that was after being cut off.
     
  20. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    BAR squads were used by the Army, IIRC. Doctrine was a BAR man and five riflemen would lay down fire to keep the enemy heads down and the other squads would move up. Then they would lay down fire for the BAR team to move up. Eventually you had enfilade fire on the enemy positions or were just so close you could miss. Each rifleman in the BAR squad carried spare bandolier for the BAR man. (From memory.)
     

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