Machine guns changed the face of warfare. They industrialized the way wars were fought. They were among the most used weapons during World War I and World War II. With dozens of designs and variations that the US had made, safe to say that the United States was a fan. Here are some of the most awesome ones:

Browning M1917

Lt. Val Browning with .30 Caliber Browning Machine Gun.

Patented by John Moses Browning in the 1900s, his heavy(at that time) machine gun was used by the United States during World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. It was heavy enough that four people needed to man it. It could fire up between 400 to 600 rounds per minute. You could also rely on it as it was once tested, and it fired 20,000 rounds without a miss. Its ammunition box was first made of wood until it was replaced with an expendable metal box during WWII. More often, it was mounted on vehicles like a jeep. The early version had a water jacket around the barrel to keep it cool and maintain a high rate of fire.  In WWII the infantry tended to favor a shrouded barrel because it was less of a beast to lug around but at a reduced rate of fire.

Browning Automatic Rifle

Sgt. Leonard Zajas, of 9106 Portland Ave., Detroit, Mich., Ranger, cleans his Browning Automatic Rifle during the rest period after several days’ hard fighting in Germany. 8th Divn USA.

A popular one, Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), was designed to be carried by the soldiers with a sling over the shoulder. This light machine gun fired .30-06 rounds at nearly 2,700 ft. per second. That capability is enough to pierce a light tank during WWI. According to Britannica, “It can fire up to 650 rounds per minute but can also fire single shots or bursts of two or three to increase accuracy.” By the end of the war, there were approximately 52,000 BARs delivered. In 2015, a 94-year-old BAR was found by a US Army, and guess what? It’s still functioned perfectly. In infantry squads, there was always a BAR man whose job was fire suppression and the BAR was actually ideal for the role.  The impact of the rounds was devastating to most cover and it was far more mobile than the German MG32 light machine gun.

M1 Thompson Submachine Gun

US M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, Fort Lewis Military Museum, Fort Lewis, Washington, USA. Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

Also called Tommy Gun and Trench Broom, this gun was designed for combat in the trench during World War I. Tommy Gun was the first machine gun designed around a pistol caliber. Because of its high rate of fire at 1,200 rounds per minute, it was issued more frequently to scouts, commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and other soldiers tasked to raid. It was perfect for close street fighting but was ineffective in heavy jungle cover. It was also a beast to lug around.  It weighed more than than the M1 Garrand did.

M134 Minigun

M134 7.62mm miniguns on a US Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky, circa in 1968. Fly-by-OwenCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This six-barrel rotary machine gun could fire up to 2,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute, depending on the selection, and was used by several branches of the US Military. The weapon itself is not small like what the “mini” suggests, but its NATO ammunition measures only 7.62×51mm. M134 was usually mounted on gunships or attack helicopters like the Bell AH-1 Cobra. What was unique about this gun was that it needed an electrical power source.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 22, 2018) Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fire a .50-caliber machine gun during exercise Joint Warrior 18-1 off the coast of Scotland. Joint Warrior is a United Kingdom-led multinational exercise that is designed to exercises interoperability and cooperation in all applicable warfare areas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kyle Steckler/Released)


The Browning .50 cal Heavy Machine Gun.

Last, but by no means least is the venerable Ma-Duce, the M2A.  Developed by John Browning at the end of WWI, it was the Machine Gun to end all Machine guns.  And it truly was a marvel at the time.

Basically, it was a scaled-up version of Browning’s .30 cal machine gun with a round based on a captured German anti-tank rifle that gave the round a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second.  Browning’s original design was pretty limited in how it could be used so it was tested in an experimental role into the 1930s.  After Browning died in 1926, a designer over at Colt firearms looked at some of the problems limiting the weapon and reworked things a bit.  What came out of that was a unitary receiver design that could feed from either the left or right side.  This was very important in terms of mounting it in aircraft, bombers or armored vehicles.  This universal receiver also allowed up to eight different varients in barrels and shrouds for different military applications.  The Navy version of the gun had a light barrel for mounting in aircraft.  The Army got a water-cooled, light barrel for fixed defensive positions and a heavy barrel version for mounting on trucks, tanks, and jeeps.