M1917 Browning machine gun

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Browning Model 1917
Browning1917.jpg
Browning Model 1917A1 water-cooled machine gun
Type Heavy machine gun
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1917-late 1960s (U.S.)
Used by See Users
Wars World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, The Troubles
Production history
Designed 1917
Number built ~ 2 million
Variants 1917A1
Specifications
Weight 103 lb (47 kg) (gun, tripod, water, and ammunition)
Length 980 mm
Barrel length 24 in (609 mm)

Cartridge .30-06 Springfield
Caliber 7.62mm
Action Recoil-operated automatic
Rate of fire 450 round/min, 600 round/min for M1917A1
Muzzle velocity 2,800 ft/s (853.6 m/s)
Feed system 250 round fabric belt

The M1917 Browning machine gun is a heavy machine gun used by the United States armed forces in World War I, World War II, Korea, and to a limited extent in Vietnam, and by other nations. It was a belt-fed water-cooled machine gun that served alongside the much lighter air-cooled Browning M1919. It was used at the battalion level, and often mounted on vehicles (such as a jeep). There were two main iterations of it: the M1917, which was used in World War I; and the M1917A1; which was used thereafter. The M1917 was used on the ground and on some aircraft, and had a firing rate of 450 round/min; the M1917A1 had a firing rate of 450 to 600 round/min.

Design and development[edit]

Val Browning, the inventor's son, demonstrates the M1917.
US Army 2nd Lieutenant Valmore A. Browning firing a Browning Machinegun. This gun was used in the Argonne Sector and is being tested by 2nd Lt. Browning at Thillombois, Meuse, France, October 5, 1918.
Marines push back a Japanese counterattack during the Battle of Cape Gloucester in 1944.

In 1900, John Moses Browning filed a patent for a recoil powered automatic gun.[1] Browning did not work on the gun again until 1910, when he built a water-cooled prototype of the 1900 design.[2] Although the gun worked well, Browning improved the design slightly. Browning replaced side ejection with bottom ejection, added a buffer for smoother operation, replaced the hammer with a two piece firing pin, and some other minor improvements.[3] The basic design of the gun was still the 1900 design.

The Browning is a water-cooled heavy machine gun, though some versions that did not use a water jacket were experimented with; the air-cooled M1919 was later developed as a medium machine gun. Unlike many other early machine guns, the M1917 had nothing to do with Maxim's toggle lock design. At 47 pounds (21 kg), it was much lighter than contemporary Maxim type guns such as the first 137-pound (62 kg) German Maschinengewehr 08 (08/15 model: 43 lb (20 kg)) and the British Vickers machine gun, while still being highly reliable. The only similarities with the Maxim or Vickers are the principle of recoil operation, T-slot breechblock, "pull-out" belt feed, water cooling, and forward ejection. Its sliding-block locking mechanism saved weight and complexity, and was used in many previous Browning designs. The belt fed left-to-right, and the cartridges were stacked closer together than Maxim/Vickers (patterns copied by most guns later.)

The Army Ordnance Department showed little interest in machine guns until war was declared in April 1917. At that time, the U.S. arsensal included only 1,100 machine guns, and most of those were outmoded.[4] The government asked several designers to submit weapons. Browning arranged a test at the Springfield Armory in May 1917.[5] In the first test, the weapon fired 20,000 rounds without incident. The reliability was exceptional, so Browning fired another 20,000 rounds through the weapon without any parts failing. The Ordnance Board was impressed but was unconvinced that the same level of performance could be achieved in a production model. Consequently, Browning used a second gun that not only duplicated the original trial, but it also fired continuously for 48 minutes and 12 seconds (over 21,000 rounds).[6]

The Army adopted the weapon as its principal heavy machine gun, utilizing the M1906 .30-06 cartridge with a 150-grain, flat-base bullet. Unfortunately, production was a problem. Several manufacturers started producing the gun, but they had to set up the assembly lines and tooling. By June 30, 1918, Westinghouse had made only 2,500 and Remington had made only 1,600. By the time of the Armistice, Westinghouse had made 30,150, Remington 12,000, and Colt 600.[7]

Until the start of World War I, the Army had used a variety of older machine guns like the M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun "Potato Digger" (which Browning had also designed) and weapons like the Maxim Gun, the Benet–Mercie M1909, and the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. Although the Model 1917 was intended to be the principal US Army heavy machine gun in the war, the Army was, in fact, forced to purchase many foreign weapons - the French-produced Hotchkiss 8 mm machine gun was actually the most numerous heavy machine gun used by the American Expeditionary Force.

In 1926, the Browning's rear sight was revised to incorporate scales for both the new M1 Ball (172-grain boat-tail bullet) and the M1906 (150-grain flat-base bullet) ammunition.[8] With M1 ball, the M1917 had a maximum range of about 5,500 yd (5,000 m); with M2 ammunition, about 3,500 yd (3,200 m).[8] The rear sight had a battle sight as well as a raised leaf-type sight suitable for employment against either ground or air targets.[8]

Service[edit]

The M1917 saw limited service in the later days of World War I. Because of production delays, only about 1,200 Model 1917s saw combat in the conflict, and then only in the last 2½ months of the war. Some arrived too late for combat service. For example, the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, fighting as part of the Second Division didn't exchange their Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns for Browning M1917 machine guns until November 14, three days after the armistice.[9] The U.S. equipped about a third of the divisions sent to France; the others were equipped equally with machine guns bought from the French or the British Vickers machine guns built by Colt in the US. Where the Model 1917 did see action, its rate of fire and reliability were highly effective.[citation needed] The M1917 weapon system was inferior to the Vickers and Hotchkiss guns because the British and French cartridges had about 50 percent longer range than the .30-06 service cartridge used in World War I.[10]

A U.S. Marine firing his Browning M1917 machine gun at the Japanese at Battle of Iwo Jima
A Browning M1917 in action during the Korean War.

The Model 1917A1 was again used in the Second World War, and was primarily used with the M2 ball, tracer, and armor-piercing ammunition introduced just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Some were supplied to the UK for use by the Home Guard since all production of the .303 Vickers were needed to resupply the equipment abandoned during the Fall of France. The M1917's weight and bulk meant it was generally employed as a fixed defense or battalion or regimental support weapon. At the fierce battle of Momote Airstrip in the Admiralties, the US Army's 5th Cavalry machinegunners killed several hundred Japanese in one night using their M1917 Brownings; one gun was left in position after the battle as a memorial to the desperate struggle.[11]

The Model 1917 was called to service again in the Korean War. On at least one occasion, U.S. soldiers in the Korean War urinated on the gun when water-cooling had failed in the frigid temperatures of the Korean winter.[12] The Model 1917 was slowly phased out of military service in the late 1960s in favor of the much lighter M60 machine gun chambered in the new 7.62mm NATO cartridge.

The attributes of the Model 1917 (and similar weapons, such as the Vickers machine gun)—continuous fire from a static position—had been rendered useless by the transition to highly mobile warfare. Many of the 1917s were given to South Vietnam. The last ones in regular US service were on the machine gun infiltration course at Fort Benning, Georgia, where their sustained-fire capability was an advantage in long nights of shooting over the heads of low-crawling trainees. The gun did continue to see service in some Third World armies well into the later half of the 20th century. Some are still in use today by irregular military forces because its water cooled barrel allows for long periods of sustained fire.

M1917 and M1917A1 Ammunition Chests[edit]

The machine-gun used a wooden ammunition chest that carried 250 rounds.
The early M1917 model had an angled corner and a leather strap handle on top.
The later M1917A1 model had a square corner and a cloth strap handle on top.

The wood ammunition belt chest was replaced during WWII by the expendable metal Box Ammunition M1 adopted May 6, 1942. On June 20, 1945 a modified version known as the M1A1 was adopted. The M1A1 ha a spring loaded catch to fasten it to the M1917A1 tripod more securely and a better water tight seal. In the late 1940s the M19 box replaced the earlier metal M1 and M1A1 boxes and a modified version known as the M19A1 appeared in the early 1950s and continues in use today.[13]

Variants[edit]

US military variants[edit]

M1917[edit]

The original gun suffered from a weakness related to the design of the receiver - under field conditions, the bottom plates, which were dovetailed into the gun's two side plates, tore out. An early fix was to attach a roughly horseshoe-shaped steel bracket around the rearmost part of the receiver. A later fix was to rivet "stirrups" (right-angled steel pieces) to the bottom and side plates. The stirrup fix became the standard reinforcement until a more permanent fix for the problem was developed. [Another reported problem was bulging in the sideplates, which was probably caused by stresses put into the sideplates when hammering the dovetails closed.]

M1917A1[edit]

An M1917A1 in Hackenberg museum (Veckring, Moselle, France)

In the 1930s, the Ordnance Bureau developed a new bottom plate, which had side flanges that came up on both side of the bottom of the receiver, that was attached to the side plates by rivets. This fixed the problem of the original bottom plates and became standard for all M1917 and M1919 series machine guns. While the US Arsenal at Rock Island was the leader in converting the existing stocks of M1917 series guns over to 1917A1 configuration, other arsenals took part. In addition, the rear sights were updated for the new ammunition and the new sights did away with the World War I multiple aperture disk on the rear sight. The top covers also had a stronger feed pawl pivot arm installed, so the gun could handle the stress of pulling an ammunition belt the distance from the ground. Rock Island Arsenal also developed an all-steel water jacket that went into production around 1943; this was stronger than the earlier brass capped jackets. These steel components were interchangeable with the earlier brass ones to allow for repair of worn or damaged water jacket components.

Other changes were implemented, some during the war, so but not all M1917s received these updates. Beginning in 1938, the pivot in the top cover was replaced with a new one that would become standard on all M1919 series guns. While the World War I pattern top cover hinge pin appears to have been retained on most converted M1917s, the later production M1917A1s had a positive locking top cover hinge pin that allowed the top cover to remain open lessening the chance of it dropping closed on one's hands while working on the gun - this became the standard on all M1919 series guns.

M1918[edit]

Air-cooled aircraft version of the M1917. Developed during the First World War, the M1918 arrived too late, but became the dominant weapon of its type in US service until the development of the M1919. It features a heavier barrel, but lighter barrel jacket as compared to the M1917. A sub-variant, the M1918M1, was developed as a flexible version of the fixed M1918.

International variants & designations[edit]

The M1917 pattern has been used in countries the world over in a variety of forms. In certain cases a new designation was applied by the user nation.

Type 30[edit]

Chinese designation for locally produced M1917s chambered in 7.92x57 mm Mauser.

Ksp m14-29[edit]

Kulspruta m/14-29 was the Swedish designation for M1917s chambered in 6.5×55mm for infantry support. It was used with the Schwarzlose tripod, the machinegun the Ksp m/14-29 replaced. The 6.5mm weapon was found to be too light for Anti-Aircraft use, so the heavier 8×63mm patron m/32 cartridge was developed in 1932[14] for use in the heavier Kulspruta m/36, which replaced it in production in 1936. In 1966 a 7.62×51mm NATO conversion was created.[14] Some old models were retained in training use to use up the stores of obsolete ammunition.[14]

Ksp m/36[edit]

The Kulspruta m/36 8×63mm patron m/32 was developed in 1936.[14] In 1966 most were converted to 7.62×51mm NATO.[14] Some old models were retained in training use to use up the stores of obsolete ammunition.[14] After the stocks were expended in the 1970s, all guns were rebarreled to 7.62mm NATO.[14][15][16] The weapons were finally taken out of service in the 1990s.[14]

Ckm wz.30[edit]

The Ckm wz.30 was an unlicenced Polish-built clone of the M1917 chambered in 8 mm (technically 7.92x57 mm) Mauser.[17] The modifications included new iron sights (V-notch rather than loophole), lengthened butt handle, lengthened barrel, simplified rifle lock for easier exchange of used-up barrels and better handling, mounting adapted for both anti-personnel and AA fire and sights and grips adapted to suit both purposes.

M/29[edit]

Norwegian M/29 in anti-aircraft configuration on the Narvik front in 1940

Norwegian designation for the Colt M1917 (mentioned in the following section) in 7.92 mm, used as the standard HMG and anti-aircraft weapon for the Norwegian Army from 1929 to 1940.[18][19] The M/29 replaced the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun in Norwegian service.[19] In all, 1,800 M/29s were in Norwegian service by the time of the 9 April 1940 German invasion.[20] The M/29 saw sterling service in the 1940 Norwegian Campaign, often deployed as the only heavy weapon of Norwegian front line units.

Commercial variants[edit]

Colt Model 1917 and Model 1928
Colt commercially produced the M1917, and also under contract to the Argentine government a number of slightly modified guns as the Model 1928.
The Model 1928 featured a thumb safety, Type A flash hider, and a mount for a panoramic sight unit.
Colt MG38, MG38B, and MG38BT
Derivatives of the Colt M1928 for general commercial sale.
The 38 and 38B were water-cooled with a barrel jacket threaded inside the trunnion, unlike the M1917 and Colt Model 1928.
The 38BT was a short heavy barreled air-cooled weapon resembling the Browning M1919A2, designed for use in tanks.
The 38 series also features spade grips, not found on the rest of the M1917 and the majority of the M1919 families.

Derivatives[edit]

A simplified, air-cooled version of the weapon, the Model 1919, was adopted after World War I and saw action in World War II, the Korean War, and the Congo crisis.

Users[edit]

See also[edit]

Weapons of comparable role, performance and era[edit]

Popular Culture[edit]

The M1917 Browning is featured prominently in the denouement of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. [22]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ US 678937, Browning, John M., "Automatic Gun", published June 19, 1900, issued July 23, 1901 
  2. ^ Chinn (1951), "Part III, Full Automatic Machine Gun Development, Chapter 3, Browning Automatic Machine Guns", The Machine Gun I, Bureau of Ordnance, Department of the Navy, pp. 173–181 , page 172.
  3. ^ Chinn (1951, p. 173)
  4. ^ Chinn (1951, pp. 173–174)
  5. ^ Chinn (1951, p. 176)
  6. ^ Chinn (1951, pp. 176–177)
  7. ^ Chinn (1951, p. 179)
  8. ^ a b c Dunlap, Roy, Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), p. 309
  9. ^ Curtis, Thomas J., History of the Sixth Machine Gun Battalion, Fourth Brigade, U.S. Marines, Second Division, and its Participation in the Great War, Neuwied on the Rhine, Germany, 1919, p. 59.
  10. ^ Hatcher, Julian S. (1962), Hatcher's Notebook (third ed.), Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-0614-1, LCCN 62-12654 Check |lccn= value (help) , p. 23
  11. ^ Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), p. 310
  12. ^ Lowenherz, David H. The 50 Greatest Letters from America's Wars. New York: Crown, 2002 p. 35.
  13. ^ Ordnance committee minutes number 18105, April 22, 1942
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Swedish Kulspruta m/36, forgottenweapons.com
  15. ^ Robert G. Segel (11 September 2012), Swedish Medium Machine Guns: Kulspruta M/36 LV DBL, Small Arms Defense Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3
  16. ^ O. Janson The Swedish machineguns before 1950
  17. ^ Morgan, Martin (6 June 2014), "The Forgotten Guns of D-Day", American Rifleman, "The Wehrmacht also made good use of a captured water-cooled heavy machine gun in Normandy: the Ckm wz.30. Manufactured in Poland by Ciezki Karabin Maszynowy and chambered for the 7.92x57 mm Mauser cartridge, the wz.30 was capable of laying down sustained fire in a way that air-cooled machine guns simply could not. ... The bitter irony is that Franz Gockel killed an unknown number of Americans on D-Day using an obscure Polish machine gun that was based on John M. Browning’s M1917 design." 
  18. ^ Bull, Stephen (2013). World War II Winter and Mountain Warfare Tactics. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-84908-712-4. 
  19. ^ a b Mårtensson, Robert. "Norwegian weapons – Infantry weapons". Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  20. ^ Holm, Terje H. (1987). 1940 – igjen?. Oslo: Norwegian Armed Forces Museum. p. 26. ISBN 82-991167-2-4. 
  21. ^ Chinese firearms: Hanyang Arsenal http://www.chinesefirearms.com/110108/history/hanyang_g.htm
  22. ^ Peckinpah, Sam. "The Battle of Bloody Porch". The Wild Bunch. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 

External links[edit]