The heavy weight of the German MG 08/15 (a "light" machine gun) must in part have been the inspiration to produce the genuinely light MG34 and later the well-designed MG42. The American Browning M1917 would serve through two world wars, but the Browning .50 would be a true survivor; it remains in service in the 21st century.Maschinengewehr MG08/15
The MG08/15 was an attempt by the Germans to produce a lighter version of the MG08 for use by assault troops. It retained the mechanism of the MG08 but in place of the heavy tripod had a bipod with a pistol grip and shoulder stock. Despite this attempt to lighten the gun, it still weighed 18kg/40lb. It fired from 50-, 100- or 250-round fabric belts at 450 rpm. The gun was used by Belgium and Yugoslavia in the inter-war years, and in World War II was still in service with German formations, albeit with second- and third-line units. It was used in an anti-aircraft (AA) role and perhaps most notoriously in the watchtowers of concentration and prisoner-of-war camps. At the close of the war, MG08/15 guns were issued to Volkssturm formations.
The Browning M1917
Like the MG08 the Browning M1917 was a water-cooled machine gun. It was superficially similar to the Maxim and Vickers machine guns, although its pistol grip and internal mechanism differentiated it from both. It was adopted by the US Army following the entry of the United States into World War I in April 1917. Before the war ended on 11 November 1918, some 57,000 recoil-operated, belt-fed, M1917 machine guns had been manufactured for use by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Weighing some 24kg/53lb, the Browning .3 was actually developed in 1910 from an 1890s design. The M1917 fired from a 250-round fabric belt and was capable of firing 450-600 rpm. The basic Browning mechanism in the M1917 would remain virtually unchanged in all future Browning designs. Immediately following US entry into World War I, the M1917 was not initially available. In the interim, while production was increased, the AEF deployed the French Chauchat LMG. The M1917A1, produced in 1936, had changes to the feed, sights and tripod. It continued to be used into World War II with US and Allied forces. A total of 53,854 of these guns were built.
The Browning M2 HMG
The US Browning .50 M2HB machine gun, or "Big Fifty", is one of the longest-serving weapons in the world, having entered service with the US Army in 1923. Some water-cooled guns were produced, but most relied on the heavy barrel to absorb the heat of firing. Although the sights are graduated up to 2,600m/2,845yd the big rounds are effective beyond this range. The M2HB's ammunition was developed from the German anti-tank rifle rounds captured at the end of World War I and is effective against lightly armoured vehicles. The French-made Societe Francaise de Munitions (SFM) armour-piercing ammunition weighs 47.6g/1.68oz and will penetrate 2.49cm/0.98in of steel at 300m/330yd and 1.29cm/0.51in at 1,300m/1,420yd. Among the types available are ball, tracer, incendiary and armour-piercing incendiary. The slow cyclic rate of 450-600 rpm ensures accuracy.
It was firing a Browning M2 HMG mounted on a knocked-out US tank destroyer armoured vehicle that won 21-year-old Lieutenant Audie Murphy the Medal of Honor on 26 January 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge. He pushed the dead tank commander out of the way and used the machine gun to cut down advancing German infantry. At the same time, he called down artillery fire on the tanks supporting them. At one stage, in order to convince the distant gunners that the enemy attack had come dangerously close, he held the field telephone next to the machine gun as he fired.
Post-World War II improvements on the battle-tested Browning .50 include the RAMO and Saco .50 M2HB quick-change kit and the M2 lightweight machine gun, which weighs 27kg/59lb compared to the 38kg/83.7lb of the M2HB. The rate of fire on the lightweight gun can be adjusted from 550-750 rpm to allow it to be used in ground-support or air-defence roles. The quick-change kits only allow hot barrels to be changed quickly and safely after prolonged firing and eliminate the time-consuming task of headspace adjustment.