This gun was initially designed near the end of World War I as an aircraft weapon. The design was modified for land use after the war and then designated as the Model 1921 machine gun. In 1932 the design was modified again and this design became the M2. M2HB (HB = Heavy Barrel), introduced during World War II, is the most common modern version and denotes guns using a thicker, air-cooled barrel, which was adopted in order to increase barrel life.
In the 1930s, these guns in various forms on simple AA mountings were a common sight on most USN warships. However, with the start of World War II, the Navy quickly determined that they were almost useless against modern aircraft and replaced them as rapidly as possible with the 20 mm Oerlikon AA MG.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the US Navy used a water-cooled version on ships while aircraft and small craft such as PT Boats used a lightweight air-cooled version. This latter version was the most common US aircraft weapon employed during World War II, used on both US Army and US Navy aircraft. The US Army fielded both a water-cooled model and an air-cooled version with a slower rate of fire.
Today, the M2HB version is widely used by countless nations and ammunition for these weapons is currently manufactured in at least twenty countries.
In the late 1930s and 1940s the Belgian firm of Herstal obtained a license and built guns designed to accept Hotchkiss 13.2 mm ammunition. Many of these were used on French warships of the period.
All versions of this MG are recoil-operated and fire with a closed bolt, although at least one company is currently offering an adapter kit to convert this weapon into an open-bolt type. As a personal note, I fired this weapon a few times during my military service. Impressive firepower and quite reliable, although somewhat on the heavy side. Barrel changes are complicated with the need to adjust head spacings before the weapon can be fired. There have been efforts to produce quick change models, but these are not widely used.
The US Navy and Marine Corps have purchased a small quantity of the 0.50" (12.7 mm) M3M FN Herstal MG as a replacement for the aircraft version of the BMG and the Army is currently evaluating a General Dynamics replacement firing 25 mm "smart" ammunition. However, the M2 is plentiful and cheap and will continued to be in wide service use for quite some time.
The data that follows is organized as follows: "Air-cooled" refers to the modern-day "heavy barrel" (M2HB) version which is currently employed by the USN as a light anti-boat weapon. "Water-cooled" refers to the 1930s-1940s naval version. "Aircraft" refers to the 1930s-1940s perforated barrel version used on aircraft and small warships. This datapage is not meant to be a complete listing, as there have been many variations of the M2 during its long career, with several models in service today. Instead, this datapage is intended to provide information on the most common versions used for naval applications.
Modern-day air-cooled 0.50" (12.7 mm) Browning
|Designation||0.50" (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Machine Gun
Navy Fixed Right Hand Feed: 1005-00-122-9339
Navy Fixed Left Hand Feed: 1005-00-122-9368
|Ship Class Used On||Almost all warships 1930s
Many warships 2000s
|Date Of Design||Original design: about 1920
M2 version: 1932
|Date In Service||about 1933 on US Navy ships|
|Gun Weight||Air-cooled: 84 lbs. (38 kg)
Water-cooled: 100.5 lbs. (45.6 kg) - With water: 121 lbs. (54.9 kg)
Aircraft: 61 lbs. (27.7 kg)
|Gun Length oa||Air-cooled: 61.4 in (156 cm)
Water-cooled: 65 in (165 cm)
Aircraft: 37 in (0.940 m)
|Barrel Length||Air-cooled: 45 in (1.143 m)
|Rifling Length||Air-cooled: 41.9 in (1.064 m)
|Chamber Volume||1.5 in3 (24.6 cm3)|
|Rate Of Fire
|Air-cooled: 550 rounds per minute
Water-cooled: 450 - 600 rounds per minute cyclic
Aircraft: 750 - 850 rounds per minute cyclic
|Note: The practical rate of fire for these weapons varies widely depending upon the model and application. For the HB version, infantry training in the 1970s was to fire bursts of 8-10 rounds at a time, each followed by a short pause. Shipboard gunners of the 1930s-40s using water-cooled versions were trained to fire continuously in order to be able to "walk" the tracers onto the target. As the practical range against aircraft for this weapon was approximately 1,500 yards (1,400 m), an aircraft approaching at 200 knots would be under fire for about 14 seconds, or the rough equivalent of one belt of 100 rounds.|
|Weight of Complete Round||Varies depending upon ammunition type
and weapon version
Ball - 0.255 lbs. (0.116 kg)
|Projectile Types and Weights||Ball - 1.71 oz (48.5 gm)
See "Off-Site Resources" below
|Bursting Charge||N/A - Solid bullet|
|Projectile Length||N/A - Complete round 5.45 in (13.84 cm)|
|Propellant Charge||0.54 oz (15.3 gm) NC tube|
|Cartridge||0.5 x 3.9 in (12.7 x 99 mm)|
|Muzzle Velocity||Air-cooled 1940s: 2,820 fps (860
Air-cooled Modern: 2,910 fps (887 mps)
Water-cooled: 2,930 fps (893 mps)
Aircraft: 2,840 fps (866 mps)
|Working Pressure||about 23.0 to 29.0 tons/in2 (3,600 kg/cm2 to 4,550 kg/cm2)|
|Approximate Barrel Life||Air-cooled: 3,000 rounds
|Ammunition stowage per gun||Ammunition is usually supplied in 100 round belts. These can be joined together to make longer belts as necessary.|
|Range||Effective: 2,600 yards (2,400 m)
Maximum: 7,400 yards (6,770 m)
|AA Ceiling||Effective: about 5,000 feet (1,524
Maximum: about 15,000 feet (4,570 m)
|Range||Effective: 2,200 yards (2,000 m)
Maximum: 7,400 yards (6,770 m)
Naval water-cooled Mount: Mark 3
Army Anti-aircraft Mount: M63
Army Quad Mount: Mark 31
|Weight||M3 Tripod: about 44 lbs. (20 kg)
|Elevation||Mark 3: -10 / +80 degrees
|Rate of Elevation||Manually operated, only|
|Rate of Train||Manually operated, only|
|Note: The Mark 31 Quad was an Army mounting used late in World War II on a few aircraft carriers as a "last-ditch" anti-kamikaze weapon. It was almost totally ineffective and was removed from all ships shortly after the war ended.|
For data on 0.50" (12.7 mm) ammunition,
W. Cooke Website
For an interesting variation of the BMG with an open-bolt capability, see Vinghøg Website
For data on the General Dynamics 25 mm replacement for the BMG, see XM-307