John M. Browning
The timeless Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun is perhaps the most significant firearm in American history. Almost by itself, it gave the U.S. armed forces and their Allies the priceless gift of global aerial supremacy
in the Second World War.
John Moses Browning (1885–1926) invented nearly half the guns the United
States used in WW II, from the M1911 pistol to the automatic rifle to every belt-fed machine gun. The “Ma Deuce,” however, was invented during the First World
War and evolved into its final form 15 years later.
In 1918, the U.S. Army wanted a heavy-caliber weapon to defeat German
armor. Working with the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, Browning scaled up his
.30-caliber M1917 machine gun into the 1918 model, which fired the vastly more
potent .50-caliber cartridge. Coordinating with the Army, Colt, and Winchester,
Browning produced the water-cooled M1921, which functioned well but was far
too heavy for aircraft use. However, the air-cooled version, absent the water
jacket, functioned well as a ground and aircraft weapon, being adopted in 1933.
Usually cycling at 800+ rounds per minute, the “Deuce” fired a variety of ammunition, including ball, tracer, and armor-piercing, at a nominal 2,700 feet per second. By the time of Pearl Harbor, it was the standard naval fighter weawpon, while
army “pursuits” usually carried a mixture of .30s and .50s. Thereafter, four or six
“fifties” became the standard American fighter battery, with the exception of the
eight-gun P- 47 and the P- 38’s mixed 20mm and .50-caliber armament.
Combat experience proved the efficacy of the . 50 over . 30 calibers, and eventually every Army Air Force bomber carried the heavier weapons. Around the
globe, thousands of Axis aircraft fell to the powerful, hard-hitting Browning,
which, in whole or in part, equipped U.S. export fighters, such as the P- 39, P- 40,
and P- 51 family.
No other army fielded a heavy machine gun comparable to the Browning
. 50 caliber. In ground combat, its range and penetration were unmatched at
the company and battalion level, whether on Pacific isles or in African deserts.
John Browning’s gift to the United States and the Allied cause became the gun
that truly won the war.
John Moses Browning, left,
examining the Browning
Automatic Rifle, just one
of dozens of his important
firearms designs. (Photo
courtesy of Wikimedia
Browning’s superb .50-caliber
machine gun gave the United
States the edge over all of its
enemies in the air and on the
ground. (Photo courtesy of
Martin K. A. Morgan)