M1919 Browning machine gun

M1919 Browning machine gun
Gun, Machine, Caliber .30, Browning, M1919A4
Type Medium machine gun
Place of origin  United States
Service history
In service 1919–Present
Used by See Users
Wars World War II, Korean War, First Indochina War, Congo Crisis, Vietnam War, Rhodesian Bush War
Production history
Designed 1919
Produced 1919–1945
Variants A1–A6; M37
Weight 31 lb (14 kg) (M1919A4)
  • 37.94 in (964 mm) (M1919A4)
  • 53 in (1346 mm) (M1919A6)
Barrel length 24 in (609 mm)

Caliber various
Action Recoil-operated/short-recoil operation
Rate of fire 400–600 round/min (1200-1500 for AN/M2 Variant)
Muzzle velocity 2,800 ft/s (853.6 m/s)
Effective range 1,500 yd (1,370 m) (maximum effective range)
Feed system 250-round belt

The M1919 Browning is a .30 caliber medium machine gun that was widely used during the 20th century. It was used as a light infantry, coaxial, mounted, aircraft, and anti-aircraft machine gun by the U.S. and many other countries, especially during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Although it began to be superseded by newer designs in the later half of the century (such as by the M60 machine gun), it remained in use in many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and elsewhere for much longer. It is very similar in design to the larger .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Machine Gun, which is also a Browning-designed weapon and is still in NATO service.

Many M1919s were rechambered for the new 7.62 × 51 mm NATO round and served into the 1990s, as well as up to the present day in some countries. The United States Navy also converted many to 7.62 mm NATO, and designated them Mk 21 Mod 0; they were commonly used on river craft in the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam.

The M1919 was an air-cooled development of the standard US machine gun of World War I, the Browning M1917, as designed by John M. Browning.



US soldiers fire a M1919A4 in Aachen


The M1919 originally fired the .30 cal M1906 (30-06) ball cartridge, and later the .30 caliber M2 ball cartridge, contained in a woven cloth belt, feeding from left to right. A metallic link was later adopted, forming a "disintegrating" belt.It was usually Dark-Grey to a mixture of Olive-Green,

Two Marines with a M1919A4 on Namur Island during World War II

Loading was accomplished by inserting the pull tab on the ammunition belt from the left side of the gun (either metal links or metal tab on cloth belts), until the belt- holding pawl at the entrance of feedway grabbed the belt and held it in place. The cocking handle was then pulled back (hand palm-up, to avoid thumb dislocation from a potential 'hot-barrel-cooked-off' round, *see below for explanation), and released. This advanced the first round of the belt in front of the bolt for the extractor/ejector on the bolt to grab the first cartridge. The cocking handle was pulled and released a second time. This removed the first cartridge from the belt, advanced the next round into position to be grabbed and moved the first round down into the chamber of the barrel ready for firing.

As the bolt went into battery (ready to fire) position the extractor grabbed the next round on the belt that was advanced and was resting in the feedway waiting to be loaded. Every time the gun fired, the gun performed the simultaneous operations of ejecting the spent round, loading the next round to be fired into the barrel, advancing the belt, and grabbing the next round in preparation for loading again.

  • The gun's original design was as a watercooled machine gun. When it was decided to try to lighten the gun and make it an aircooled gun, its design as a gun that fires from the closed bolt created a potentially dangerous situation. If the gun was very hot from prolonged firing, the cartridge ready to be fired could be resting in a red hot barrel, causing the propellant in the round to "cook off": firing from the intense heat without any warning.


When the rear of the trigger was pivoted upwards by the operator, the front of the trigger tipped downward, releasing the sear, and the sear, in turn, released the firing pin allowing it to strike the primer of the cartridge.

As the assembly of bolt, barrel and barrel extension recoiled to the rear of the gun, following the firing of the cartridge, the locking block which locked the bolt to the barrel and barrel extension was drawn out of engagement by a cam in the bottom of the gun's receiver. The recoiling barrel extension struck the "accelerator" assembly, a half-moon shaped piece pivoting from the front of the lock frame. The tips of the accelerator's two curving fingers engaged the bottom of the bolt and caused it to move rapidly to the rear, extracting the fired cartridge casing from the barrel. A track in the top of the bolt caused the feed mechanism to advance, providing a new cartridge to be chambered as the bolt moved forward under pressure from the recoil spring. If the trigger was still being pressed, the cycle then repeated itself.

Operational use


A US soldier takes aim with a tripod-mounted M1919A4 in Korea, 1953.

As a company or battalion support weapon, the M1919 required at least a two-man machine gun team. But in practice, four men were normally involved: the gunner (who fired the gun and when advancing carried the tripod and box of ammo), the assistant gunner (who helped feed the gun and carried the gun, and box of spare parts and tools), and two ammunition carriers.[1] The original idea was to allow the gun to be more easily packed for transport, and featured a light barrel and bipod when first introduced as the M1919A1. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the gun was too heavy to be easily moved, while at the same time too light for sustained fire. This led to the M1919A2, which included a heavier barrel and tripod, and could be continuously fired for longer durations.

The M1919A4 weighed about 31 lb (14 kg), and was ordinarily mounted on a lightweight, low-slung tripod for infantry use. Fixed vehicle mounts were also employed. It saw wide use in World War II mounted on jeeps, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and amphibious vehicles. The M1919A4 played a key role in the firepower of the World War II US Army infantry company normally had a weapons platoon in addition to its other organic units. The presence of M1919A4 weapons in the weapons platoon gave company commanders additional automatic fire support at the company level, whether in the assault or on defense.[2]

American GIs with the M1919A6 light machine gun.

The A5 was an adaptation of the A4 with a forward mounting point to allow it to be mounted in tanks and armored cars. This, along with the M37 and the Browning M2 machine gun, was the most common secondary armament during World War II for the Allies.

Another version of the M1919A4, the M1919A6, was an attempt to make the weapon into a light machine gun by attaching a buttstock and lighter barrel — 4 lb (1.8 kg) instead of 7 lb (3.2 kg). The A6 version was in fact heavier than the A4 without its tripod, at 32 lb (15 kg), though its bipod made for faster deployment and enabled the machine gun team to dispense with one man (the tripod bearer).[3] The A6 version saw increasing service in the latter days of World War II and was used extensively in Korea. The A6 variant had a folding bipod mounted on the front of the gun, a sheet-metal buttstock, carrying handle, and a tapered barrel. While the modifications were intended to make the weapon more useful as a squad light machine gun, it was a stopgap solution, as the M1919A6 was heavier than the old Lewis gun of World War I, let alone the contemporary light machine guns of other nations.

During the Second World War, two additional variants of the M1919 were adopted by the US military. One version was the coaxial M37 variant, with the ability to feed from either the left or the right of the weapon. The M37 also featured an extended charging handle similar to those on the M1919A4E1 and A5. A trial variant fitted with special sighting equipment was designated M37F.

In the late 1950s, a M1919 designed for remote firing via a solenoid trigger was developed for use in the XM1/E1 armament subsystem was designated M37C. The US Navy later converted a number of M1919A4s to 7.62 mm NATO chambering and designated them Mk 21 Mod 0; some of these weapons were employed in Vietnam in riverine warfare patrols.

From the 1960s until the 1990s, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used ground tripod and vehicle-mounted M1919A4 guns converted to 7.62 mm NATO on many of their armored vehicles and M3 personnel carriers. Israel developed a modified link for these guns due to feeding problems with the original US M1 link design. The improved Israeli link worked with .30 caliber, 7.62mm NATO and 7.92mmx57 cartridges.


An Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi installing an AN-M2 Browning machine gun in a PBY flying boat, ca. 1942

With assistance from firearms engineers at Fabrique Nationale de Herstal,[4] Belgium, the Model 1919 was completely re-engineered into the .30 caliber M2 AN (Army-Navy) aircraft machine gun. The .30 in M2 AN Browning was widely adopted as both a fixed (offensive) and flexible (defensive) weapon on aircraft. Aircraft machine guns required light weight, firepower, and reliability, and achieving all three goals proved a difficult challenge. The receiver walls and operating components of the M2 were made thinner and lighter, and with air cooling provided by the speed of the aircraft, designers were able to reduce the barrel's weight and profile. As a result, the M2 weighed two-thirds that of the 1919A4, and the lightened mechanism gave it a rate of fire approaching 1,200 rpm (some variants could achieve 1,500 rpm),[4] a necessity for engaging fast-moving aircraft. The M2's feed mechanism had to lift its own loaded belt out of the ammunition box and feed it into the gun, equivalent to a weight of 11 lb (5 kg).[5] In Ordnance circles, the .30 M2 AN Browning had the reputation of being the most difficult-to-repair weapon in the entire US small arms inventory.[5]

The M2 also appeared in a twin-mount version which paired two M2 guns with opposing feed chutes in one unit for operation by a single gunner, with a combined rate of fire of 2,400 rpm. All of the various M2 models saw service in the early stages of World War II, but were phased out beginning in 1943, as hand-trained defensive machine guns became obsolete for air warfare (the .50 in/12.7 mm M2 Browning and 20 mm automatic cannon had replaced the .30 in as offensive air armament as well). The .30 in M2 aircraft gun was widely distributed to other US allies during and after World War II, and in British and Commonwealth service saw limited use as a vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft or anti-personnel machine gun.[6]

Other calibers

The same basic weapon was also chambered for the British .303 round, and was used as a basic fighter aircraft gun in fighters such as the Supermarine Spitfire until the widespread introduction of the larger caliber Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon, and throughout the war in bombers.

Similar versions for a variety of European calibers were delivered by the Belgian gun maker FN (Fabrique Nationale), notably German-standard 7.92 Mauser which was widely used in Eastern Europe; and by Swedish gun maker Carl Gustaf SGF in 6.5x55mm and 8x63mm calibers.

Argentina used Colt-manufactured guns chambered for the standard Argentine 7.65mmx53 cartridge.

US-manufactured M1919s were converted to the 7.62mmx54R cartridge by both the People's Republic of China and North Vietnam in order to use captured guns with their standard machinegun ammunition. The standard links and belts for the M1919 were retained. Similar conversions are available on the US commercial market for recreational shooters to take advantage of cheap surplus 7.62mmx54R ammunition.

On Soviet aircraft

The .303 variant equipped the Hawker Hurricanes delivered to Soviet Air Forces, during the Great Patriotic War. Soviet airmen compared them to Soviet ShKAS in terms of reliability: "But they often failed due to dust," recalled pilot Nikolai G. Golodnikov. "We tackled the problem glueing percale on all the machine-gun holes, and when you opened fire, bullets went right through. The machine guns became reliable then. They were of low efficiency when fired from distances of 150-300m."[7]


The M1919 was manufactured during World War II by many different companies in the US, including the Saginaw Steering Gear division of the General Motors Corporation, Buffalo Arms Corporation, and Rock Island Arsenal. In the UK, production was chiefly by BSA.

Civilian ownership and use

The Browning M1919 remains popular with civilian enthusiasts in the United States, though changes in 1986 to the National Firearms Act of 1934 (the US Federal law regulating private ownership of machineguns) prohibited the registration of new machineguns for sales to private citizens, thus freezing the number of "transferable" machineguns in private ownership. The inflation of prices that followed, and the availability of parts from surplussed and scrapped machineguns, led to the development of semi-automatic versions of the Browning M1919. Typically these are built using a new right sideplate (the portion legally considered the "firearm" under US law) which has a raised "island" protruding into the interior of the receiver. This requires the use of a modified bolt, barrel extension and lock frame which have been designed to allow only semi-automatic firing. The "island" prevents the insertion of unmodified full-automatic parts. A number of small gun companies have produced these "semi-auto machineguns" for commercial sales. The fairly simple modifications necessary to convert M1919 parts to the semi-automatic version, and the relatively easy process of riveting used in the assembly of the Browning machinegun's receiver, have also made it a popular gun for hobbyists to build at home.

Similar "semi-auto machineguns" have been built using parts from other Browning pattern machineguns, to include the AN/M2 aircraft gun and FN30, and variations that never saw military use such as extremely short (8") barreled guns.

Variants and derivatives

M1919 variants

M1919A6 mounted on the tripod for a M1917

In total there were six variants of the basic M1919 machine gun. The original M1919 featured a relatively heavy barrel, attempting to match the sustained fire capability of contemporary water-cooled machine guns.[citation needed] The M1919A1 featured a lighter barrel and a bipod. The M1919A2 was another lightweight development specifically for mounted cavalry units, utilizing a shorter barrel and special tripod (though it could be fitted to either the M1917 or M2 tripods). This weapon was designed to allow greater mobility to cavalry units over the existing M1917 machine gun. The M1919A2 was used for a short period between World War I and World War II after the cavalry had converted from horses to wheeled and tracked vehicles. An improved version of the M1919A2, the M1919A3, was also developed.

However, by and large the most common variant of the series was the M1919A4. The M1919A4 was used in both fixed and flexible mounts, by infantry and on vehicles. It was also widely exported after World War II and continues to be used in small numbers around the world. Two variants were developed specifically for vehicular use, the M1919A5, with an extended charging handle, and the M1919A4E1, a subvariant of the M1919A4 refitted with an extended charging handle.

The M1919A6 was an attempt to provide US forces with a more portable light machine gun, similar to the German MG34 and MG42 machine guns they were facing. The M1919A6 had a metal buttstock assembly that clamped to the backplate of the gun, and a front barrel bearing that incorporated both a muzzle booster and a bipod similar to that used on the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). A lighter barrel than that of the M1919A4 was fitted. The M1919A6 was a heavy (32 pounds) and awkward weapon in comparison with the MG34 and MG42 and was eventually replaced by the M60 machine gun.


A specific aircraft version of the Model 1919A4 was manufactured by Browning as the AN/M2 with a thinner barrel and thinner receiver walls. It was used on US aircraft early in the war, but was replaced by the larger .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 machine gun and relegated to training duties. A derivative of this weapon was built by Colt as the MG40. This weapon is not to be confused with the Browning Machine Gun, Cal. .50, M2, Aircraft, and its full designation is Browning Machine Gun, Cal. .30, M2, Aircraft. The .30 in M2 Browning is sometimes referred to as AN/M2.

Browning .303 Mark II

.303 Browning Mk II on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Browning was adopted by the Royal Air Force and manufactured by Vickers Armstrong and BSA to fire the .303 round and named Browning .303 Mk II in British Service. It was essentially the 1930 Pattern belt-fed Colt-Browning machine gun with a few minor modifications for British use, such as firing from an open bolt. It was designed to fire hydraulically as a wing mounted machine gun but was also adopted as hand fired mount for use in bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. It had a rate of fire of 1150 rounds per minute.[8][9]

Ckm wz.32

A Polish variant of the M1919 chambered in 7.92mm.


The AN/M2 was on occasion used as an infantry gun. Called the T33 it was fitted with a buttstock and bipod to allow for use without a tripod or other mount. The T33 consists of a butt stock from a M1919A6 and a rear sight and bipod from a BAR 1918. These conversions were based on field conversions carried out by soldiers in the Pacific Theater during World War II. A personally modified weapon of this type, using the butt stock from an M1 rifle, was used by Marine Corporal Tony Stein during the invasion of Iwo Jima. Stein would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle. It had a rate of fire in excess of 1,200 rpm and was nicknamed the "Stinger."[10] Barrel overheating and lack of control was the cause of its demise.

M37 and Mk 21

Mk 21 in Vietnam

The M37 coaxial machine gun has the ability to feed an ammunition belt from either the left or the right of the weapon, and has an extended charging handle similar to those on the M1919A4E1 and A5. A trial variant fitted with special sighting equipment was designated M37F, while a variant with spade grips, the T152, was also developed but not adopted. A variant designed for remote firing via a solenoid trigger for use in the XM1/E1 armament subsystem was designated M37C. A version of the M37, rechambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO is rumored to have been created, though no examples have been found. There was also a U.S. Navy variant of M1919A4 rechambered in 7.62 mm NATO caliber which was designated as the Mk 21 Mod 0.

International variants and derivatives

The M1919 pattern has been used in countries all over the world in a variety of forms and under a number of different designations.

  • The Browning Mk 1 and Mk 2 were older-style Commonwealth designations for the .303 caliber Browning machine guns used on the vast majority of British aircraft of World War II.[11] The difference between the Mk 1 and Mk 2 versions is unknown, but the weapon visually is quite similar AN/M2 aircraft gun. The post-war designations for these weapons was L3, and they were used by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia to designate the fixed (A1) and flexible (A2) versions of the M1919A4 in .30-06 caliber. L3A3 and L3A4 denoted sear hold-open conversion of previous L3A1s and L3A2s. The A3 is the modified version of the A1, and the A4 is the modified version of the A2. The Canadians later adopted a separate designation for 7.62x51 mm rechambered M1919A4s for fixed (C1) and flexible (C1A1) applications. The C5 and C5A1 were product improvements of the previous C1 and C1A1 respectively.
  • An M1919 derivative was manufactured in Belgium as the FN30.[12]
  • The Rhodesian Air Force used twin Browning Mk 2 models, chambered in the British .303 cartridge, mounted on Alouette III G-Car helicopters[13] as well as modified variants fitted with FN MAG bipods, pistol grips and stocks for ground use.[14]
  • The Browning was produced by FN-Herstal in Belgium as well, being used in, among others, the Fokker D.XXI fighter.
  • FN-Browning mle 1938 was the French designation for the FN-built derivative converted to 7.5 mm MAS ammunition. Manufactured in the late 1930s.
  • MG A4 is the Austrian designation for the M1919A4, not to be confused with MG4, a South African upgrade of the M1919 in current use with the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF). The MG4 was upgraded by Lyttleton Engineering Works, Pretoria.
  • Mg M/52-1 and Mg M/52-11 were Danish designations for the M1919A4 and M1919A5 respectively.
  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used vehicle-mounted M1919A4 guns converted to 7.62 mm NATO on many of their armored vehicles.
  • Ksp m/42 was the Swedish designation for license-built M1919 chambered in 6.5 x 55 mm or 8 x 63 mm, and from about 1975, mostly fitted with barrels in 7.62 x 51 mm. The Ksp m/42B was a lighter version with bipod and shoulder stock (used in a similar way as the M1919A6), chambered in 6.5 x 55 mm and later in 7.62 x 51 mm. The Ksp m/39 was a modification of the air-cooled M-1919 adapted for use in armored vehicles, initially in 8 x 63 mm, but later changed to 7.62 x 51 mm. It could be fed from either the left or the right.
  • The Poles developed a copy of the Browning M1919 chambered for 7.92 x 57mm Mauser, designated Ckm wz.32, similar to the earlier Ckm wz.30.

Commercial variants and derivatives

Colt produced a derivative of the M2 aircraft machine gun, the Colt MG40, which shipped in a variety of calibers including the basic .30-06 Springfield and 7mm Mauser.


See also


  1. ^ Garrison, Gene, Unless Victory Comes, NAI Press (2004), ISBN 9780451222244, 1932033300, p. 8
  2. ^ Weeks, John, World War II Small Arms, New York:Galahad Books (1979), p.123
  3. ^ Garrison, Gene, Unless Victory Comes, NAI Press (2004), ISBN 9780451222244, 1932033300, p.38
  4. ^ a b Goldsmith, Dolf L., The Browning Machine Gun, Volume II: Rifle Caliber Brownings Abroad, Collector Grade Publications, 1st ed. (2006)
  5. ^ a b Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), pp. 4-5
  6. ^ LRDG Weapons, Machine Guns, http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/lrdg/mgs.html
  7. ^ Drabkinl 2007, p.126.
  8. ^ Browning 0.303in Mark II Machine Gun (R.A.F.)
  9. ^ 0.303 Inch Browning Machinegun
  10. ^ http://www.navalorder.org/02-Feb-01%20MistHist.PDF
  11. ^ http://1919a4.com/forums/picture.php?albumid=84&pictureid=1008
  12. ^ http://www.defencetalk.com/pictures/data/4695/medium/FN30.jpg
  13. ^ http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_KOo6bb1o3qY/Sy36bAeRdoI/AAAAAAAACNg/av8mHYdXyCk/s320/1114.jpg
  14. ^ a b http://www.britains-smallwars.com/RRGP/Agila/Subs19.jpg
  15. ^ http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/army-sells-off-machine-guns/story-e6freuy9-1225941955479
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Jones, Richard D.; Ness, Leland S., eds (January 27, 2009). Jane's Infantry Weapons 2009/2010 (35th ed.). Coulsdon: Jane's Information Group. ISBN 9780710628695. 
  17. ^ Gander, Terry J.; Hogg, Ian V. Jane's Infantry Weapons 1995/1996. Jane's Information Group; 21 edition (May 1995). ISBN 978-0710612410.
  18. ^ Jordon, David (2005). The History of the French Foreign Legion: From 1831 to Present Day. The Lyons Press. p. 170. ISBN 1592287689. 
  19. ^ Karl Martin, Irish Army Vehicles, Transport & Armour Since 1922, Karl Martin 2002.
  20. ^ Laffin, John (1982). The Israeli Army in the Middle East Wars 1948-73. Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 0850454506. 
  21. ^ http://stukaph.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/navsoghumveeblog1_lowres.jpg
  22. ^ Portuguese Army Afghanistan
  23. ^ http://www.rhodesianforces.org/graphics_air/G-Car303Browning.jpg
  24. ^ http://www.army.mil.za/equipment/weaponsystems/infantry/Machine_Guns.htm
  25. ^ Hogg, Ian (1989). Jane's Infantry Weapons 1989-90, 15th Edition. Jane's Information Group. p. 341. ISBN 0710608896. 
  26. ^ http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/m1919.htm

Further reading

  • Frank Iannamico, Hard Rain: History of the Browning Machine Guns
  • Dolf L. Goldsmith, The Browning Machine Gun, Vol I & II
  • Drabkin, Artem. The Red Air Force at War: Barbarossa & the retreat to Moscow – Recollections of Fighter Pilots on the Eastern Front. Barnsley (South Yorkshire), Pen & Sword Military, 2007. ISBN 184415563-3

External links

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