Object Title

Browning Automatic Rifle, Model of 1918

Browning Automatic Rifle, Model of 1918

Development

The 'BAR' (pronounced Bee-eh-ahr) was conceived as an automatic rifle rather than the light machine gun it later became. That is, it would be used to attack the enemy directly rather than simply support the advance of infantry armed with conventional bolt-action rifles. The intent was to arm lines of soldiers who would advance on the enemy giving 'marching fire'. This is shown by the stout leather belt originally designed for BAR gunners. This had ammunition pouches and a special metal butt-cup at the hip to help support the weight of the gun on its sling. Inventor John M. Browning 'sold' the weapon to the U.S. military by means of a massed firepower demonstration in front of generals and politicians in Washington, D.C. in February 1917. However, though originally ordered in July 1917 from manufacturer Colt, with further contracts awarded to Winchester and Marlin-Rockwell, the weapon was not produced in sufficient numbers for use until late in 1918. Browning arranged for his son Val, a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, to receive some of the first batch of guns. Val Browning used the weapon in combat, and became one of the first instructors on the type.

Use and effect

The American .30-06 cartridge used in the BAR was extremely powerful, more so than the NATO 7.62x51 mm cartridge that replaced it. Delivered on full-automatic, effects both physical and psychological were devastating, as both the criminals and law enforcement of post-war America would later discover. The weapon itself was extremely robust, being made from high-quality machined steel. However, in actual combat, the marching fire tactic originally envisaged proved to be a failure. Instead, the gun was used as a force multiplier, supporting infantry attacks and maximising firepower in the defence. This was closer to the British use of the Lewis gun as a light machine gun, though the BAR was limited by its low-capacity magazine. Later changes to the weapon moved it closer to this LMG role.

Like other advanced designs, the BAR arrived too late for widespread use and made little direct impact on tactics. However, BARs were used extensively by the American forces during the Allied Meuse-Argonne offensive that brought the war to an end from September to November 1918. The type became a mainstay during the Second World War, and in A2 form was fitted with a bipod and carrying handle. Some variants incorporated a quick-change barrel, completing development of the BAR into a true light machine gun. The tilting bolt mechanism and gas operation of the BAR survive to this day in the FN MAG, NATO's main general purpose machine gun.

"[The BARs] were highly praised by our officers and men who had to use them. Although these guns received hard usage, being on the front for days at a time in the rain and when the gunners had little opportunity to clean them, they invariably functioned well."
-U.S. Assistant Secretary of War, 1919

Videos

Loading the player...
Browning Automatic Rifle rifle being loaded and fired into ballistic gelatine target.

Statistics

Action / Operating system Gas
Barrel length 610 cm (24 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.62x63mm (.30-06 Springfield)
Capacity (rounds) 20
Country of manufacture USA
Crew 2
Date entered service 1918
Effective range 800 m (875 yd)
Feed Box magazine
Manufacturer Colt
Manufacturer Marlin-Rockwell Corporation
Manufacturer Winchester
Muzzle velocity 860 m/s (2822 fps)
Overall length 1.194 m (47 in)
Primary operator USA
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 550
Weight 7.25 kg (16 lb)

Author

Jonathan Ferguson