By Edward C. Crossman, 1918

Old John Browning has produced the finest machine guns for our army ever invented

AMERICA has finer guns in the AA Browning light and heavy type than any nation now at war. While the members of Congressional military committees vapored and fumed that blue print guns never killed an enemy, and that the unknown Browning gun was an experiment and a doubtful experiment, the officers in the Bureau of Ordnance and the great Browning smiled quietly.

We had about thirteen hundred guns when war broke out, which were of a type ordered abandoned in favor of a better one by the powers that be after the tests at Texas City. When war broke out the Germans were known to have fifty thousand machine guns – and the fact is now rather well known that they didn’t advertise during 1914 all the war material they had accumulated.

Europe had no light machine gun outside of the French Hotchkiss and Benet, and they were not entirely satisfactory. When there came over the horizon the light Lewis gun, one of many American machine-gun inventions, the British waxed enthusiastic. The gun worked most of the time, weighed but twenty-six pounds, had a very easily-changed magazine holding forty-seven cartridges, and very successfully coped with the need of a light machine gun that troops could carry forward – or back – in times of need. This did not mean that the Lewis was perfect. It has been known to jam and stop and break parts. Those guns bought by the United States and sent down to the border did not prove impeccable. In fact all the machine guns, so far, have their weak points in one respect or another. Each new one is, however, nearer perfection. So came the Browning. But we will speak of the man himself.

The Mysterious John M. BrowningWho is Browning? Millions of Americans must have asked themselves that question when General Crozier, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, testified before an investigating committee that he had decided to equip the United States Army with the Browning machine gun. John Browning has been an inventor of firearms all his life. Shotguns, rifles and pistols such as Winchester, Remington, Stevens, and Colt, are all of them John Browning’s invention

Who Is Browning?

Let us first trace the record of John Browning, a rare notable without a press agent, an inventor of more successful firearms than any man who ever lived, with his identity buried under the names of the great companies making his arms under royalty agreement with him. He is the inventor of nearly all the Winchester models from the 1873 model to the fine 1906 rifle; the man who gave the world the Remington autoloading shotgun and the Remington autoloading rifle; the master who perfected the Stevens 12-gage repeating shotgun; the creator of the United States Army’s Colt automatic machine gun; the designer of all Colt automatic pistols, from the largest to the smallest; the patentee of the great Government .45 automatic pistol, now the hand-gun of our troops, and the man from whom Belgium, long before the war, bought the right to make automatic shotguns, rifles, and pistols of different calibers and models.

In 1914 Browning, the square-jawed, retiring, silent American Yankee, in his plain Yankee store-clothes, was made a Chevalier de 1’Ordre de Leopold and decorated by the King of Belgium on the occasion of the completion of the millionth Browning automatic pistol by the Fabrique Nationale of Liege – a pistol that ran considerably more than a million in one model and caliber without a change.

John Browning made his first patented gun in 1880. That weapon was the Winchester single shot rifle. Six hundred of these rifles were made by Browning and one of his brothers in the then little frontier town of Ogden, Utah, in a little shop, from forgings made for them in the East. Then the patent was bought by the Winchester Co., and the fame of the Winchester has since spread over the world.


The older type of Browning machine gun, better known as the Colt, was adopted by this Government in 1890, and has been in use the world over since. The Colt and the Marlin plants turned out this gun by the thousands for the belligerents after the war broke out. No Browning gun has ever been discontinued in manufacture – and the record runs back for nearly forty years.

This is the man, who, a worried Congressional Committee feared, could not turn out a gun as good as the well known types – merely because it had not been taken over to the torn fields of Europe to prove its worth.

The cartridges arc supplied in flat strips of thirty, which feed_ across the gun horizontally, the clip being moved one cartridge at a time by the gun’s mechanism. The rate of fire is high, about six hundred shots a minute, which means that a full clip races across the breech of the gun in three seconds. Note the flanges on the gun. These cool it like the flanges cast on the barrel of a motor-cycle’s engine. The crew must swathe the gun barrel with wet sponges set on wooden handles every three rounds or oftener. which makes a pretty cloud of steam and advertises the whereabouts of the piece in the most disapproved manner

A machine gun, as you know, means in these days a rifle firing the cartridge of the infantry rifles of the army using it, and firing such cartridge at a rate of speed of from four hundred to seven hundred shots a minute by virtue of using either the recoil of the breech parts to work the extracting, cocking and reloading mechanism, or else gas taken from a tiny hole up the barrel and working against a piston precisely as gas does in the automobile form of gas engine. It is a gun that works by machinery. The old Gatling was a machine gun, but not an automatic machine gun, because its moving power was a crank in the hands of the firer. All modern machine guns are automatic.

Browning’s Three Wonderful New Machine’ Guns
The first of the recently tested Browning guns, falling in the class of guns to be readily moved about, turned out to be water-cooled and to weigh only twenty five pounds, which is marvelously light for a gun of this type. It must, however, be fired from a tripod which weighs twenty-five pounds more. The second was a little thing weighing fifteen pounds, the lightest machine gun ever built – more properly an automatic rifle as the modern term is coming to be for the light machine gun. Your father and mine thought nothing of shooting a duck gun weighing thirteen pounds. African hunters use double rifles going fifteen to sixteen pounds.

The water-cooled Browning gun, thus far a military secret and unlike any other Browning gun, is a belt fed gun like Browning’s old Colt. Unlike the Colt it is recoil-operated, (heretofore the recoil had been used only in the Maxim and Vickers), which means a gun in which the power of the recoiling parts is used to compress the springs and extract the cartridge, etc. The ejection is through the bottom of the receiver –  toward the ground instead of in the face of some soldier happening to be beside the gun. The entire gun can be dismounted in a moment without tools.

This gun fired twenty thousand shots without a hitch due to the gun itself, and with but two stoppages due to imperfect ammunition, one cartridge failing to feed in, the other refusing to fire. Consider that this means twenty thousand terrific shocks to the operating mechanism, twenty thousand vicious drives backward of the mechanism when the powder pressure of fifty thousand pounds per square inch rose in the chamber for each shot. So fast does the mechanism of such a gun work that the eye cannot follow the moving parts. Imagine a single-cylinder automobile engine being asked to work twenty thousand times so quickly that the eye can’t follow the piston in and out, and started from inertia to top speed in probably one-fiftieth second.

Compare this with the following official record of the Benet-Mercier at Texas City, in August of 1914, the comparative machine-gun trials between the Benet – the then standard type in our army – and the light Vickers rifle:

“It was found during these tests that it was practically impossible to obtain a continuous fire of 1000 shots from any of the Automatic Machine Rifles, M1909 (The Benet-Mercier). During two of the tests such fire was required, but owing to severe and frequent jams of various kinds, some of which could not be corrected within a reasonable time even by a skilled mechanic on duty with the board, it was necessary to discontinue this particular kind of test in so fur as this type of gun was concerned.”

Also, said the board, regarding the belt-feed Vickers – the same type as the Browning in feed details:

“The greater number of cartridges in container, 250, resulted in a more continuous, concentrated fire from. the gun. While the rate of fire of the Vickers gun is slower than that of the service machine rifle – Benet – the actual number of rounds fired when both types of gun were working satisfactorily was in the proportion of 10 to 6 in favor of the Vickers, due to loss of time in inserting the shorter feed strips of the Benet automatic machine rifle.”

Against this Benet record of not one thousand rounds continuous fire, the Vickers guns – four of them – were fired more than sixteen thousand times – six thousand rounds from one of them without “a malfunction that could not be easily and quickly corrected by the gun crew.”

This resulted in the adoption of the Vickers gun – and now comes the great Browning machine gun of much the same type – belt feed and water cooled – that was fired twenty thousand rounds with but two stoppages, both due to ammunition. The fine Vickers has to take second place.

After the adoption of this splendid new Browning, the Board asked Browning to design one on the same lines but air cooled for airplane use. Air is efficient for an airplane gun because the rapid motion through the air cools the gun surface, where this is not true on the land. This has been done, and the gun adopted for airplane use. Water cooling is not, of course, practical for airplanes.

Browning’s Airplane Gun
Browning filled the order with a fifteen pound automatic rifle or machine gun, as it really is, gas-operated like his old Colt, and air-cooled. It is fed by a twenty-shot magazine, and, with its very light weight and small magazine, it is as much a true automatic infantry shoulder rifle as it is a machine gun. It has a wooden stock like an ordinary rifle, and it can be fired from the shoulder, although hardly with automatic fire, because of the unbalancing effect of the series of hard drives of recoil. With the regulating latch set for one-shot fire, the gun fires once for each pull on the trigger, precisely like the well-known so called automatic sporting rifles and shotguns and pistols which reload themselves by the recoil and fire each time the trigger is pulled.

This Is Browning’s Colt Automatic Machine Gun Like all air-cooled machine guns, the Colt has its faults. If you inadvertently leave a cartridge in the barrel after firing a number of rounds, the heat of the gun will cause the cartridge to fire itself in about four seconds, regardless of all the safety devices provided. And yet the Colt is one of the most efficient air-cooled guns made. It is operated by the pressure of the powder gases. The rate of fire is about four hundred shots a minute. The cartridges are fed to the gun by a belt containing two hundred and fifty shots of regulation ammunition.


When the same latch is thrown down to automatic fire, however, the gun fires at a rate of speed higher than that of any known machine gun, and the twenty shots are fired in approximately two seconds! The Benet-Mercier would take this time or longer; the Colt and Vickers three seconds. The magazine is readily replaced by a filled one.

Longer box-magazines – the form in which the cartridges are carried in this arm – can be used, but the twenty-shot is intended for use in the front line, where the firer may have to hug the ground and where a too-long magazine would make the automatic rifle hard to handle.

Consider the automatic rifle section of a platoon, then, each man carrying easily over his shoulder the 15-pound rifle, and loaded with ammunition packed in spare magazines, and with still more in the hands of ammunition carriers. Using one-shot fire, the firing party can easily empty a rifle with aim for each shot in ten seconds. Then, when the rush comes or when it is necessary hurriedly to sweep a trench traverse filled with the enemy, a shifting of the latch and a burst of fire of twenty shots in two seconds! A single burst, and a twitch or two of the muzzle, and a traverse would be cleaned out. Such fire would have to be from the prone position or from the hip. No man can stand up under the repeated recoil of a light machine gun fired from the shoulder.

The Benet-Mercier Machine GunThe Benet-Mercier gun has been used by our army since 1908. It came originally from the French Hotchkiss factory. It weighed about twenty-eight pounds, which means that it can be picked up and carried by one man in changing position. Benet-Mercier machine guns, however, come as light as fifteen pounds. This gun is operated by the powder gas passing through a tiny port in the bottom of the barrel about half way up. The gas strikes the head of a piston within a regular cylinder like that of a one-cylinder gas engine. The backward drive of this piston performs the various operations of compressing the retractor and mainsprings, extracting and ejecting the empty shell, cocking the hammer, etc. Then the compressed springs drive home the bolt, with a fresh cartridge in the chamber.

The only competitor the new Browning gun has is the little French Chauchat “the hellcat,” used now in our army, and weighing nineteen pounds. Our experienced officers say even the twenty six pound Lewis is too heavy for the automatic rifle work in the front line – and now every platoon of an infantry regiment has a machine gun or automatic rifle section – the terms being much the same in these days – the men of which carry light machine guns and ammunition, therefore, just as still another section carries only hand grenades. Some of the little fifteen pound terrors are now coming through the Winchester works.

So came about the crowning triumph of the Yankee, John Browning, designer of the Government’s automatic pistol, and now the designer of the three most successful machine guns the world has seen, victors in fair trial over all other machine guns – the Browning water-cooled machine gun, twenty-five pounds in weight, the Browning air-cooled machine gun for planes, still lighter weight, and the marvellous Browning automatic rifle or light machine gun, fifteen pounds.

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