Monday, July 4, 2011

A hero's gun

The Japanese Type 96 light machine gun (LMG) drew on some of the design features of the earlier Czech ZB 26. The Bren gun, also based on the Czech ZB 26, became the British and Commonwealth section LMG in World War II. Even as late as 21 November 1965 it was the weapon with which brave junior NCOs such as L. Naik Rambahadur Limbu of the 2/10th Gurkha Rifles won the highest award for gallantry: the Victoria Cross. Another Czech weapon, the ZB vz/53, was fielded by both the Germans and the British in World War II.

The Type 96 LMG
The Japanese 6.5mm Type 96 LMG was introduced in 1936. A number of ideas were taken from the Czechoslovakian ZB 26 (an LMG design manufactured at the small arms factory in Brno, Czechoslovakia) and the Hotchkiss machine gun. The Type 96 LMG had a curved 30-round box magazine and a cyclic rate of 550 rpm. The reduced-power Meiji 30 cartridge produced a muzzle velocity of 730m/s/2,394ft/s; this cartridge should not have caused a feed problem but in fact the gun still needed an oil dispenser to ensure a smooth feed. The Type 96 had a quick-change barrel and drum or telescopic sights. It could be fitted with a Model 30 sword bayonet, although launching a bayonet charge carrying a 9kg/20lb LMG would have been rather challenging to slightly built Japanese soldiers.
A Japanese paratrooper armed with the 6.5mm Type 96 LMG. The gun drew on a number of Western design concepts. A typical Japanese feature was that it could be fitted with a bayonet for close combat.

The Bren gun
The British Bren gun was initially built in 1937 at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield and was based on the Czechoslvakian-designed ZB vz/26 light machine gun. It was tested by British Army officials in the 1930s. A licence to manufacture was obtained and the Czech design modified to British requirements. The two factory names (Brno and Enfield) were combined to produce the name Bren, and the gun continued in use from World War II to the Gulf War of 1991.
The later Bren featured a curved box magazine, conical flash eliminator and barrel that could be quickly changed. In the 1950s the Bren was rebarrelled to accept the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge. It could be fitted on a bipod, or mounted on a vehicle.

The Bren was an air-cooled gas-operated weapon that fired a .303 round from a 30-round box magazine. It had a slow rate of fire - 500 rpm - but was extremely accurate, with sights set out to l,830m/2,000yd. It was also light, weighing only 10kg/22.1 lb, and measured l,155mm/45.5in in length.

It was easy to strip, and experienced gunners could change magazines or barrels in less than five seconds. Bren guns were also made in Australia, Canada and India during World War II. When, after the war, the British Army standardized its rifle ammunition with NATO and adopted 7.62mm, the versatile Bren was re-engineered to take the cartridge and with it a magazine with a flatter curve that was interchangeable with the L1A1 SLR magazine. This meant that, in a contact, riflemen in a section could resupply ammunition to the LMG crew. The Bren could be mounted on a bipod, tripod or vehicle mounted.
The .303 Bren, with its characteristic curved magazine, remained in service with the British Army after the war. When 7.62mm ammunition was standardized by NATO, the gun was rebarrelled and fitted with a new magazine.

The ZB vz/53 medium machine gun
The Czech ZB vz/53, designed by Vaclav Holek, was first produced in Brno in 1937 and entered service with the Czechoslovakian Army as the Kulomet vz/37. Captured guns were designated by the Germans as the 7.92mm MG 37 (t) and issued widely, often to Waffen-SS units. The British had obtained a production licence before the war and produced it as the Gun, Machine, Besa, building 59,322 of them, which were fitted to tanks. Among the British tanks that fielded the Besa were the Churchill, Valentine, Matilda and Cromwell.

The ZB vz/53 was unusual, with a quick-change barrel (normally fitted to LMGs) and two rates of fire: 500 or 700 rpm, firing from a 100- or 200-round metal link belt. The Besa was a very reliable gun which had a tripod mount that could be adjusted as an AA mount as well as a fortress mount for embrasures in fortifications.

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