The BAR (short for Browning Automatic Rifle) is a family of American 7.62 mm automatic rifles (or machine rifles) and light machine guns used by the United States and numerous other countries during the 20th century. The primary variant of the BAR series is the M1918, chambered for the .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm) rifle cartridge and designed by John Browning in 1917 for the U.S. Expeditionary Corps in Europe as a replacement for (and improvement on) the French-made Chauchat and Hotchkiss M1909 machine guns.
Development prototypes of the BAR were presented to a United States Army Ordnance Board in February 1917, testing was then conducted at Springfield Armory in May 1917 and on 16 July 1917 12,000 weapons known at that time as the BMR (Browning Machine Rifle) were duly ordered from Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company who had secured the production rights. However, Colt was already producing at peak capacity and requested for a delay in production while they expanded their manufacturing output with a new facility in Meriden, Connecticut. Due to the urgent need for the weapon, the request was denied and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (WRAC) was designated as the prime contractor. The initial contract with Winchester called for 25,000 BARs. They were in full production by June 1918, delivering 4,000 guns and in July were turning out 9,000 units. Colt and Marlin-Rockwell Corporation also began production shortly after Winchester got into full production. By July of 1918, the BAR began to arrive in France and the first unit to receive them was the U.S. Army’s 79th Infantry Division. Despite being introduced very late in the war, the BAR saw some combat use; it was used extensively during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
In order to avoid confusion with the belt-fed Browning M1917 heavy machine gun, the BAR came to be known as the M1918 or Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918 according to official nomenclature. Almost immediately after its introduction into service, John Browning modified the design by changing the BAR’s ejection pattern (to the right side of the weapon – instead of straight up). Between 1918–1919, 102,125 BARs had been manufactured jointly by Colt (16,000 weapons), Winchester (47,123) and Marlin-Rockwell (39,002 units). Browning's was owned by Colt.
The BAR was originally intended as a light automatic rifle, but spent much of its service life in various guises used in the light machine gun role with a bipod. The original M1918 version was and remains the lightest machine gun to fire the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, though the limited capacity of its standard 20-round magazine tended to hamper its utility as a light machine gun.
The weapon’s barrel is screwed into the receiver and is not quickly detachable. The M1918 feeds using double-column 20-round box magazines, although 40-round magazines were also used in an anti-aircraft role; these were withdrawn from use in 1927. The M1918 has a cylindrical flash suppressor fitted to the muzzle end. The weapon was equipped with a fixed wooden buttstock and closed-type adjustable iron sights, consisting of a forward post and a rear leaf sight with 100 to 1,500 yard range graduations. Bayonets for the BAR were not manufactured in great quantity and are thus extremely rare. They consisted of a spike form with a slat on the top side, attaching to the bottom of the barrel in the conventional fashion.
The second significant modification of the M1918 was intended to increase the weapon’s effectiveness and controllability firing in bursts and took place in 1937, which saw the introduction of the M1918A1 into U.S. Army inventories. Compared to the original M1918, the newer model includes a lightweight spiked bipod attached to the gas cylinder with a leg height adjustment feature and a new hinged steel butt plate. Relatively few M1918s were rebuilt to the new M1918A1 standard.
In 1938–1939, work was begun on what would become the new M1918A2, accepted into service in 1941. One of the most important aspects of this modification involved removal of the semi-automatic firing capabilities of the weapon and using a rate-reducing buffer mechanism, activated by engaging the “F” position on the selector toggle. Furthermore, a new skid-footed bipod was fitted to the muzzle end of the barrel, magazine guides were added to the front of the trigger guard, the handguard was shortened, a heat shield was added to help the cooling process, a small monopod was hinged from and folded into the butt, and the weapon's role was changed to that of a squad light machine gun. The BAR's rear sight scales were also modified to accommodate the newly-standardized M2 Ball ammunition with its lighter flat-base bullet. In 1942, a fiberglass buttstock replaced the wood version, and late in the war – a barrel-mounted carrying handle was added. Initially, M1918A2s were obtained by converting older M1918 rifles (remaining in surplus) and a limited number of M1922s and M1918A1s; later, their production was undertaken at the New England Small Arms Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. (a total of 168,000 new weapons were manufactured). During the Korean War, production was again launched, this time contracted to the Royal McBee Typewriter Co. responsible for a further 61,000 M1918A2 light machine guns.
The M1918A2 is an automatic weapon which uses a trigger and fire control mechanism that permits fully automatic fire only but with two variable rates of fire: a normal rate (500–650 rounds/min) and a reduced rate (300–450 rounds/min), achieved by engaging a device which reduces the weapon’s cyclic rate of fire, installed inside the buttstock (together with the buffer). The safety and fire selector lever is placed on the left side of the trigger group and has three positions: “S” – weapon safe, “F” – automatic fire with a mechanically reduced rate and “A” – continuous fire at the normal cyclic rate. The weapon’s barrel has a new slotted flash suppressor (introduced during the Korean War), an adjustable bipod, a fixed stock with a folding shoulder rest, carry handle and fully adjustable iron sights, with a post foresight and a leaf rear sight (can be adjusted with windage and elevation corrections) with an elevation ladder graduated from 100 to 1,600 yd and a notch for immediate firing up to 300 yd.
The BAR family of light machine guns also found a ready market overseas and were widely exported. In 1919, the Colt’s company developed and produced a commercial variant called the Automatic Machine Rifle Model 1919 (company designation: Model U), which has a different return mechanism compared to the M1918 (it is installed in the stock rather than the gas tube) and lacks a flash hider. Later the Model 1924 rifle was offered for a short period of time, featuring a pistol grip and a redesigned handguard. However, the following Model 1925 (R75) would achieve the highest popularity in export sales. It is based on the Model 1924 but uses a heavy, finned barrel, a lightweight bipod and is equipped with dust covers in the magazine well and ejection port (some of these features were patented: refer to US patents 1548709 and 1533968). The Model 1925 was produced in various calibers, including .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm), 7.65x53mm Belgian Mauser, 7x57mm Mauser, 6.5x55mm, 7.92x57mm Mauser and .303 British (7.7x56mmR). A minor variant of the Model 1925 (R75) was the R75A light machine gun with a quick-change barrel (produced in 1924 in small quantities for the Dutch Army) and the Monitor (R80) automatic rifle, which was adopted by various US security services (including the FBI) in 1931. The R80 lacks a bipod and uses a lightweight receiver and a lightweight short barrel fitted with a Cutts compensator.
In 1920, the Belgian arms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) acquired sales and production rights to the BAR series of firearms in Europe from Colt’s. The first BAR model sold by FN was the Kg m/21 (Kg – Kulsprutegevär – “machine rifle”) chambered for the 6.5x55mm m/94 cartridge. The m/21 is a variant of the Model 1919 designed to Swedish specifications and manufactured initially by Colt’s and later under license at the Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori in Eskilstuna. Compared to the Model 1919, the Swedish weapon has – apart from the different caliber – a spiked bipod and pistol grip. The m/21 would become one of Sweden’s main support weapons in the interwar years together with the water-cooled belt-fed Ksp m/1914 medium machine gun (Swedish adaptation of the Austrian M07/12). Dissatisfied with the rapidly overheating fixed barrel of the m/21, Carl Gustaf began to design a new quick-detach mechanism for the barrel which mates the externally grooved chamber to a series of rotating flanges in the receiver operated by a locking lever. The barrel also received cooling fins throughout its entire length. These enhancements were incorporated into the fm/1935 prototype trialed successfully in 1935, which in turn led to the m/37 variant that lacks the finned barrel, selected into service in 1937 and remaining in first-line use until 1980. Carl Gustaf also developed a belt-fed version of the weapon; however it was never adopted.
Production of the BAR in Belgium began only after signing an agreement with Poland (on December 10 1927) involving the procurement of 10,000 wz. 1928 light machine guns chambered in 7.92x57mm Mauser, which are similar to the R75 variant but designed specifically to meet the requirements of the Polish Army. Changes to the base design include a pistol grip, different type of bipod, open-type V-notch rear sight and a slightly longer barrel. Subsequent rifles were assembled locally in Poland under license by the State Rifle Factory (Państwowa Fabryka Karabinów) in Warsaw. The wz. 1928 was accepted into service with the Polish Army in 1927 under the formal name 7,92 mm rkm Browning wz. 1928 (“7.92 mm Browning hand-held machine gun model 1928”) and – until the outbreak of World War II – was the primary light support weapon of Polish infantry and cavalry formations (in 1939 Poland had a total of approx. 20,000 wz. 1928 rifles in service). Additional detail modifications were introduced on the production line. Among them was the replacement of the iron sights with a smaller version and reshaping the butt to a fish tail.
In the mid 1930s Polish small arms designer Wawrzyniec Lewandowski was tasked with developing a flexible aircraft-mounted machine gun based on the Browning wz.1928. This resulted in the wz. 1937. Changes included increasing the weapon's rate of fire to 1100 rounds/min, eliminating the buttstock, adding a spade-type grip to the rear of receiver, moving the main drive spring under the barrel and most importantly – changing the feed system. Sustained fire was practically impossible with the standard 20-round box magazine thus a new feed mechanism was developed, which was added to the receiver as a module. It contains a spring-loaded bolt-actuated lever, which would feed a round from a 91-round pan magazine located above the receiver and force the round into the feed path during unlocking. The machine gun was accepted in 1937 and ordered by the Polish Air Force as the karabin maszynowy obserwatora wz. 1937 ("observers machine gun model 1937"). 339 machine guns were eventuality acquired and used as armament in the PZL.37 Łoś medium bomber and the LWS-3 Mewa reconnaissance aircraft
Based on the wz. 1928 a variant known as the FN Mle 1930 was developed in 7.65x53mm Belgian Mauser and adopted by the Belgian Army. This model has a different gas valve; it too uses a rate-reducing fire control mechanism. The weapon also has a hinged shoulder plate and is adapted for use on a tripod mount. In 1932 Belgium adopted a new version of the FN Mle 1930 allocated the service designation FN Mle D (D – Demontable or “removable”) which has a quick-change barrel, shoulder rest and a simplified take-down method for eased cleaning and maintenance. The Mle D was produced even after World War II in versions adapted for .30-06 Springfield and NATO-standard 7.62x51mm ammunition.
From its inception, the M1918 was an automatic rifle. First issued in September 1918 to the AEF, it was based on the concept of "walking fire", a French practice in use since 1916 for which the CSRG 1915 had been used accompanying advancing squads of riflemen toward the enemy trenches, since the machine guns were too heavy to follow the troops during an assault. In addition to shoulder-fired operation, BAR gunners were issued a belt with magazine pouches for the BAR and sidearm along with a "cup" to support the stock of the rifle when held at the hip. In theory, this allowed the soldier to lay suppressive fire while walking forward, keeping the enemy's head down. The idea would resurface in the submachine gun and ultimately the assault rifle. It is not known if any of the belt-cup devices actually saw combat use. The BAR saw little action in WWI, in part due to the Armistice, and also because the U.S. Army was reluctant to have the BAR fall into enemy hands, its first action being in September of 1918. Eighty-five thousand BARs were built by the war's end.
After the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Army had belatedly realized it had no portable squad light machine gun, and attempted to convert the BAR to that role with the M1918A2. Its success in this role was mixed at best, since the BAR's fixed non-replaceable barrel and small magazine capacity greatly limited its utility in comparison to genuine light machine guns such as the Bren or the Japanese Type 96. The weapon's rate-reducer mechanism proved difficult to clean and was susceptible to damage from moisture and corrosion. This in turn either rendered the weapon inoperable, or prevented it from firing in the automatic mode. The bipod and flash hider, being easily removable, were often discarded by troops to save weight and improve portability.
In combat, particularly in the Pacific Theatre of war, the BAR effectively reverted to its original role as a portable, shoulder-fired automatic rifle. The BAR was often employed at the point or tail of a patrol or infantry column, where its firepower could help break contact on a jungle trail in the event of ambush. After a period of service, ordnance personnel began to receive BARs with inoperable or malfunctioning recoil buffer mechanisms. This was eventually traced to the soldier's common practice of cleaning the BAR in a vertical position with the butt of the weapon on the ground, allowing cleaning fluid and burned powder to collect in the recoil buffer mechanism. Additionally, unlike the M1 Garand, the BAR's gas cylinder was never changed to stainless steel. Consequently, the gas cylinder frequently rusted solid from the use of corrosive-primered M2 service ammunition in a humid environment when not stripped and cleaned on a daily basis.
Issued as automatic fire support for a squad, all men were trained at the basic level how to operate and fire the weapon in case the designated BAR operator(s) were killed or wounded. In an attempt to overcome the BAR's limited continuous-fire capability, U.S. Marine and some army units used two BAR fire teams per squad. One team would typically provide covering fire until a magazine was empty, whereupon the second team would open fire, thus allowing the first team to reload. While not without design flaws (a thin-diameter, fixed barrel that quickly overheated, limited magazine capacity, complex field-strip/cleaning procedure, unreliable recoil buffer mechanism, a gas cylinder assembly made of corrosion-prone metals, and many small internal parts), the BAR proved rugged and reliable enough when regularly field-stripped and cleaned.
During World War II, the BAR saw extensive service, both official and unofficial, with many branches of service. One of the BAR's most unusual uses was as a defensive aircraft weapon. In 1944, USAAF Air Transport Command Capt. Wally A. Gayda reportedly used a BAR to return fire against a Japanese Army Nakajima fighter that had attacked his C-46 cargo plane over the Hump in Burma. Gayda shoved the rifle out his forward cabin window, emptying the magazine and apparently killing the Japanese pilot.
After World War II, the BAR continued in service in the Korean War, and the early stages of the Vietnam War, when the U.S. delivered a quantity of weapons to the South Vietnamese. Quantities of the BAR remained in use by the Army National Guard up until the mid-1970s. Many nations in NATO and recipients of U.S. foreign aid adopted the BAR and used it into the 1990s.
The BAR proved a popular civilian weapon in the U.S., although fully automatic models were greatly restricted in the 1930s, which made them much harder to own and transfer. Importation of machine guns for U.S. civilian transfer was banned in 1968, and U.S. production of machine guns for civilian transfer was banned in 1986. Transferable civilian-owned BAR models remain, however.
Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde used a shortened BAR (stolen from National Guard armories) during his spree in the 1930s. The six lawmen who killed Bonnie and Clyde used a variant of the BAR called the Colt Monitor in their ambush.
A modern manufacturer of firearms has produced a semi-automatic version of the Browning Automatic Rifle known as the 1918A3 SLR ("self-loading rifle").
The BAR hunting rifle currently offered by Browning is a completely different firearm, unrelated in design to the Browning military weapons.