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Browning M1918 Automatic Rifle (BAR)

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Browning M1918: Description and Comparisons

Soldier carrying Browning Automatic Rifle (probably an M1918A2)

Soldier carrying Browning Automatic Rifle (probably an M1918A2) during the Battle of Okinawa. U.S. Army photo (cropped from original).

The Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) served American soldiers in all major theaters of operation during World War II. Considered to be quite accurate, it could be carried into battle by one man.

In Contrast, the machine-gun needed a team of soldiers to move the gun, its base, and its ammunition. The machine gun also required additional critical seconds to be assembled for action.

But the BAR could not be used for sustained fire because it was limited to its 20 round box clip and the number of additional box clips that the soldier could carry. The BAR also lacked the water cooling jacket or interchangeable barrel, found on the various other machine guns, to control heat buildup in the gun barrel.

The Browning Automatic Rifle could be fired using a tripod (in later model)s, or from the shoulder. It used a powerful .30-06 cartridge (rifle cartridge) with a 20 round box clip, and proved to be reliable. The Browning Automatic Rifles were highly praised by our officers and men who had to use them. Although these guns received hard usage, being on the front lines for days at a time in the rain and when the gunners had little opportunity to clean them, they invariable functioned well.1 The combination of portability, fire power, and reliability made the BAR a popular weapon during WW II and it continued to be in great demand throughout the war.

BAR Models: M1918, M1918A1, and M1918A2

Adopted by the U.S. military in 1917, the Browning Automatic Rifle was called the M1918, so it would not be confused with the M1917 Browning machine-gun. Used during World War I, this model could be fired as a semi-automatic or full-automatic weapon. It was designed to offer cover for the infantry as it advanced on the enemy's trenches.

Browning M1918 Automatic Rifle models - M1918, M1918A1 and M1918A2.

Browning M1918 variants - M1918, M1918A1 and M1918A2. U.S. Army photo.

In 1932, a bipod was added along with a folding buttplate to create the M1918A1. Few of this model were made. The final update, the M1918A2, was issued in 1940 and was automatic fire only, with two rates fo fire available: automatic-slow (350 rpm) or automatic-fast (550 rpm). The semiautomatic option of the original M1918 was no longer available, as it was thought to be an unneeded overlap with the semiautomatic M1 Garand already in service.

The M1918A2 had a folding bipod and buttplate, additions to the original M1918 which increased its accuracy at long ranges, but also increased the weight to nearly 20 pounds. In the field, the bipod was reportedly removed with some frequency, as the original M1918 version was often preferred.

Manufacturers of the BAR during World War II

Initially the M1918A2s were made by updating the previous versions. Records indicate that 8,375 M1918 BARs were converted to M1918A2 configuration during Fiscal Year 1941, and a total of 188,380 M1918s were eventually converted to M1918A2s.2


Demands for the M1918A2 exceeded the numbers of original M1918s available for conversion, and New England Small Arms (NESA) and International Business Machines (IBM), were contracted build the BAR for the U.S. military.

Due to shortages of walnut wood and high grade steel, items used in the production of the rifle, other companies also made significant developments which aided in the manufacture of the Browning Automatic Rifle. Firestone Rubber and Latex Products Company developed a plastic substitute for the walnut used to make the stock, and Saginaw Malleable Iron developed ArmaSteel from scrap steel and pig iron to replace the high grade steel needed in the production of the BAR.3

The Browning Automatic Rifle continued to be used by the U.S. military after World War II, going back into production during the Korean War, and also seeing service in the Vietnam War.

1Benedict Crowell - Assistant Secretary of War. America's Munitions 1917-1918 United States War Department, 1918, p.175.
2Bruce N. Canfield. U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II. Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray Publishers. 1998, p.164.
3Robert R Hodges. The Browning Automatic Rifle. Oxford; Long Island City, NY: Osprey, 2012, p.27.