Why the M2 Heavy Machine Gun Is Simply Unstoppable
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The venerable M2 Browning machine gun was first developed in the First World War. During the First World War, faster planes were developed that were heavier armored than previous balsa wood and canvas birds. Tanks were also beginning to race across the western front from both British and French lines. Though cumbersome, the tank found its niche on the battlefield - and was impervious to most rifle cartridges and artillery.
Although the standard American cartridge, the .30-06 Springfield, was a powerful rifle cartridge, it struggled to damage armored aircraft. The Americans wanted something that had both the range and the braking power to reliably dismantle German biplanes. So they consulted with perhaps the best gunsmith the United States has ever made: John Moses Browning.
Browning used the venerable .30-06 cartridge as the parent housing for the development of a newer, heavier cartridge. By increasing the .30-06 housing dimensions, Browning created a much larger cartridge, the .50 Browning machine gun cartridge. The .50 BMG is a massive round. Its overall length is almost 5.5 inches (or 140 millimeters) and the ball itself is just over half an inch in diameter. The .50 BMG is known for its enormous braking power and accuracy at extreme distances. With the .50 BMG, several record-breaking long-distance shots were achieved.
To fire the .50 BMG, Browning turned to another proven machine gun design, the M1917. After enlarging the M1917 design and making some changes, the resulting machine gun was ready to test. Although the machine gun was eventually taken over, it was water-cooled and therefore quite heavy. Due to the high weight, the design was mainly used in static firing positions and was unsuitable for use in aircraft.
Finally, the design was checked and redesigned in the interwar years. Improvements to the new design reduced the weight by changing from a water-cooled to an air-cooled barrel. The resulting design is now easily recognizable as an M2 Browning Machine Gun.
The M2 was used in both infantry and anti-aircraft defense during its combat debut in World War II, where it was used alternatively against armored personnel carriers and low-flying enemy planes by targeting its engine blocks and against infantry.
The M2, or "Ma Deuce," as the heavy machine gun is sometimes called, has served in every war since it was taken over by the United States from World War II to the present. It is valued for its enormous braking power and long range.
Millions of units have been manufactured, including in the United States and abroad. This is proof of the effectiveness of the Browning design. Very few changes have been made to the design since its introduction, although the new standard variant is the M2A1. It has a slotted flash suppressor that significantly reduces the muzzle flash, a new quick-release fastener for quick barrel changes after a longer shot and a firm head space that prevents the inner parts of the M2 from being misaligned after the recoil.
The M2 has a proven track record in combat in various roles - against armored and unarmored targets, as well as against mounted and dismounted infantry. There's no reason to believe Ma Deuce will be replaced soon - it's here to stay.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer with a national interest. He has a Master of Public Policy and deals with US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
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