Although machine guns are hardly in the world of rifle accuracy, this story about John Browning's machine guns was too good to ignore. Written by Captain Ned Crossman, one of the top gun writers of the era, it sheds a bit of light onto Browning's obscure existence at the height of his powers. We recognize his genius today, but at that time, he was little known outside of gun manufacturing circles. This article from Popular Science magazine helped to bring Browning his well deserved recognition by a broader public.
Browning, the Gun Wizard
By Edward C. Crossman, 1918
Old John Browning has produced the finest machine guns for our army ever invented
AMERICA has finer guns in the AA Browning light and heavy type than any nation now at war. While the members of Congressional military committees vapored and fumed that blue print guns never killed an enemy, and that the unknown Browning gun was an experiment and a doubtful experiment, the officers in the Bureau of Ordnance and the great Browning smiled quietly.
We had about thirteen hundred guns when war broke out, which were of a type ordered abandoned in favor of a better one by the powers that be after the tests at Texas City. When war broke out the Germans were known to have fifty thousand machine guns - and the fact is now rather well known that they didn't advertise during 1914 all the war material they had accumulated.
Europe had no light machine gun outside of the French Hotchkiss and Benet, and they were not entirely satisfactory. When there came over the horizon the light Lewis gun, one of many American machine-gun inventions, the British waxed enthusiastic. The gun worked most of the time, weighed but twenty-six pounds, had a very easily-changed magazine holding forty-seven cartridges, and very successfully coped with the need of a light machine gun that troops could carry forward - or back - in times of need. This did not mean that the Lewis was perfect. It has been known to jam and stop and break parts. Those guns bought by the United States and sent down to the border did not prove impeccable. In fact all the machine guns, so far, have their weak points in one respect or another. Each new one is, however, nearer perfection. So came the Browning. But we will speak of the man himself.
Who is Browning? Millions of Americans must have asked themselves that question when General Crozier, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, testified before an investigating committee that he had decided to equip the United States Army with the Browning machine gun. John Browning has been an inventor of firearms all his life. Shotguns, rifles and pistols such as Winchester, Remington, Stevens, and Colt, are all of them John Browning's invention
In 1914 Browning, the square-jawed, retiring, silent American Yankee, in his plain Yankee store-clothes, was made a Chevalier de 1'Ordre de Leopold and decorated by the King of Belgium on the occasion of the completion of the millionth Browning automatic pistol by the Fabrique Nationale of Liege - a pistol that ran considerably more than a million in one model and caliber without a change.
John Browning made his first patented gun in 1880. That weapon was the Winchester single shot rifle. Six hundred of these rifles were made by Browning and one of his brothers in the then little frontier town of Ogden, Utah, in a little shop, from forgings made for them in the East. Then the patent was bought by the Winchester Co., and the fame of the Winchester has since spread over the world.
The older type of Browning machine gun, better known as the Colt, was adopted by this Government in 1890, and has been in use the world over since. The Colt and the Marlin plants turned out this gun by the thousands for the belligerents after the war broke out. No Browning gun has ever been discontinued in manufacture - and the record runs back for nearly forty years.
This is the man, who, a worried Congressional Committee feared, could not turn out a gun as good as the well known types - merely because it had not been taken over to the torn fields of Europe to prove its worth.
Browning's Three Wonderful New Machine' Guns
The first of the recently tested Browning guns, falling in the class of guns to be readily moved about, turned out to be water-cooled and to weigh only twenty five pounds, which is marvelously light for a gun of this type. It must, however, be fired from a tripod which weighs twenty-five pounds more. The second was a little thing weighing fifteen pounds, the lightest machine gun ever built - more properly an automatic rifle as the modern term is coming to be for the light machine gun. Your father and mine thought nothing of shooting a duck gun weighing thirteen pounds. African hunters use double rifles going fifteen to sixteen pounds.
The water-cooled Browning gun, thus far a military secret and unlike any other Browning gun, is a belt fed gun like Browning's old Colt. Unlike the Colt it is recoil-operated, (heretofore the recoil had been used only in the Maxim and Vickers), which means a gun in which the power of the recoiling parts is used to compress the springs and extract the cartridge, etc. The ejection is through the bottom of the receiver - toward the ground instead of in the face of some soldier happening to be beside the gun. The entire gun can be dismounted in a moment without tools.
This gun fired twenty thousand shots without a hitch due to the gun itself, and with but two stoppages due to imperfect ammunition, one cartridge failing to feed in, the other refusing to fire. Consider that this means twenty thousand terrific shocks to the operating mechanism, twenty thousand vicious drives backward of the mechanism when the powder pressure of fifty thousand pounds per square inch rose in the chamber for each shot. So fast does the mechanism of such a gun work that the eye cannot follow the moving parts. Imagine a single-cylinder automobile engine being asked to work twenty thousand times so quickly that the eye can't follow the piston in and out, and started from inertia to top speed in probably one-fiftieth second.
Compare this with the following official record of the Benet-Mercier at Texas City, in August of 1914, the comparative machine-gun trials between the Benet - the then standard type in our army - and the light Vickers rifle:
"It was found during these tests that it was practically impossible to obtain a continuous fire of 1000 shots from any of the Automatic Machine Rifles, M1909 (The Benet-Mercier). During two of the tests such fire was required, but owing to severe and frequent jams of various kinds, some of which could not be corrected within a reasonable time even by a skilled mechanic on duty with the board, it was necessary to discontinue this particular kind of test in so fur as this type of gun was concerned."
Also, said the board, regarding the belt-feed Vickers - the same type as the Browning in feed details:
"The greater number of cartridges in container, 250, resulted in a more continuous, concentrated fire from. the gun. While the rate of fire of the Vickers gun is slower than that of the service machine rifle - Benet - the actual number of rounds fired when both types of gun were working satisfactorily was in the proportion of 10 to 6 in favor of the Vickers, due to loss of time in inserting the shorter feed strips of the Benet automatic machine rifle."
Against this Benet record of not one thousand rounds continuous fire, the Vickers guns - four of them - were fired more than sixteen thousand times - six thousand rounds from one of them without "a malfunction that could not be easily and quickly corrected by the gun crew."
This resulted in the adoption of the Vickers gun - and now comes the great Browning machine gun of much the same type - belt feed and water cooled - that was fired twenty thousand rounds with but two stoppages, both due to ammunition. The fine Vickers has to take second place.
After the adoption of this splendid new Browning, the Board asked Browning to design one on the same lines but air cooled for airplane use. Air is efficient for an airplane gun because the rapid motion through the air cools the gun surface, where this is not true on the land. This has been done, and the gun adopted for airplane use. Water cooling is not, of course, practical for airplanes.
Browning's Airplane Gun
Browning filled the order with a fifteen pound automatic rifle or machine gun, as it really is, gas-operated like his old Colt, and air-cooled. It is fed by a twenty-shot magazine, and, with its very light weight and small magazine, it is as much a true automatic infantry shoulder rifle as it is a machine gun. It has a wooden stock like an ordinary rifle, and it can be fired from the shoulder, although hardly with automatic fire, because of the unbalancing effect of the series of hard drives of recoil. With the regulating latch set for one-shot fire, the gun fires once for each pull on the trigger, precisely like the well-known so called automatic sporting rifles and shotguns and pistols which reload themselves by the recoil and fire each time the trigger is pulled.
This Is Browning's Colt Automatic Machine GunLike all air-cooled machine guns, the Colt has its faults. If you inadvertently leave a cartridge in the barrel after firing a number of rounds, the heat of the gun will cause the cartridge to fire itself in about four seconds, regardless of all the safety devices provided. And yet the Colt is one of the most efficient air-cooled guns made. It is operated by the pressure of the powder gases. The rate of fire is about four hundred shots a minute. The cartridges are fed to the gun by a belt containing two hundred and fifty shots of regulation ammunition.
When the same latch is thrown down to automatic fire, however, the gun fires at a rate of speed higher than that of any known machine gun, and the twenty shots are fired in approximately two seconds! The Benet-Mercier would take this time or longer; the Colt and Vickers three seconds. The magazine is readily replaced by a filled one.
Longer box-magazines - the form in which the cartridges are carried in this arm - can be used, but the twenty-shot is intended for use in the front line, where the firer may have to hug the ground and where a too-long magazine would make the automatic rifle hard to handle.
Consider the automatic rifle section of a platoon, then, each man carrying easily over his shoulder the 15-pound rifle, and loaded with ammunition packed in spare magazines, and with still more in the hands of ammunition carriers. Using one-shot fire, the firing party can easily empty a rifle with aim for each shot in ten seconds. Then, when the rush comes or when it is necessary hurriedly to sweep a trench traverse filled with the enemy, a shifting of the latch and a burst of fire of twenty shots in two seconds! A single burst, and a twitch or two of the muzzle, and a traverse would be cleaned out. Such fire would have to be from the prone position or from the hip. No man can stand up under the repeated recoil of a light machine gun fired from the shoulder.
The Benet-Mercier gun has been used by our army since 1908. It came originally from the French Hotchkiss factory. It weighed about twenty-eight pounds, which means that it can be picked up and carried by one man in changing position. Benet-Mercier machine guns, however, come as light as fifteen pounds. This gun is operated by the powder gas passing through a tiny port in the bottom of the barrel about half way up. The gas strikes the head of a piston within a regular cylinder like that of a one-cylinder gas engine. The backward drive of this piston performs the various operations of compressing the retractor and mainsprings, extracting and ejecting the empty shell, cocking the hammer, etc. Then the compressed springs drive home the bolt, with a fresh cartridge in the chamber.
The only competitor the new Browning gun has is the little French Chauchat "the hellcat," used now in our army, and weighing nineteen pounds. Our experienced officers say even the twenty six pound Lewis is too heavy for the automatic rifle work in the front line - and now every platoon of an infantry regiment has a machine gun or automatic rifle section - the terms being much the same in these days - the men of which carry light machine guns and ammunition, therefore, just as still another section carries only hand grenades. Some of the little fifteen pound terrors are now coming through the Winchester works.
So came about the crowning triumph of the Yankee, John Browning, designer of the Government's automatic pistol, and now the designer of the three most successful machine guns the world has seen, victors in fair trial over all other machine guns - the Browning water-cooled machine gun, twenty-five pounds in weight, the Browning air-cooled machine gun for planes, still lighter weight, and the marvellous Browning automatic rifle or light machine gun, fifteen pounds.
For further reading on machine guns of the World War I era, I highly recommend Julian Hatcher's "Machine Guns" published in 1917. - GAS -
That Winchester slide-action rifle is, of course, a John Browning design.
You Can't Buy Them, They Must Be Earned...
by Hap Rocketto
There are a few of Lee Marvin movies that I very much enjoy, in part because he was an excellent actor and in part because of the story line. The Professionals, Heck in the Pacific, Cat Ballou, and, of course, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are films which come to mind. The last because it features the line that inspires my writing, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
I recalled a lesser film of Marvin’s after an internet discussion on Shooters Journal (my old website GAS) that meandered its way around shooting equipment and just how did the greats of the old days of smallbore shooting, like Bill Woodring, Bill Schweitzer, or Dave Carlson, manage to win so often and so well with what we consider primitive rifles and mediocre quality ammunition.
The movie is The Emperor of the North Pole in which Marvin plays a Depression era hobo called A#1 who is willing to put his life on the line to become a hobo legend as the first person to make a complete ride aboard the train of the sadistic railway bull, a hobo term for a railroad policeman, Shack, played by Ernest Borginine. Along the way a pesky greenhorn, who titles himself Cigaret, played by Keith Carradine, attached himself to A#1like a remora. The intertwining story lines of A#1 riding the train as Shack attempts to throw him off and the irksome Cigaret’s claiming he is as good as the veteran A#1 culminate in a line which sums up the arguments given on Shooters Journal.
For a new shooter, on the other hand, it is all about equipment because most begin shooting with inexpensive or well used rifles, jackets, scopes, and find that it is pretty easy to progress to the point where they are shooting better than the starter equipment. Once they invest in top quality gear they will still progress but much slower and then begins gizmology-trying to buy an X with a piece of equipment. In reality a plateau has been reached that can only be overcome by what I might term “heart.”
The moral of the lesson is that anyone can buy the juice but you need the heart to earn the Xs.
The story below is about John Lowther's first "solo" chambering job. John is a very good friend and has been shooting Highpower for a little over a year. Unlike most of us, however, he jumped into the very deep end of the pool also and has been learning the fine arts of gunsmithing at Norm's College of Gunsmithing and Coffee Shop Loitering. John has been learning the craft much in the same manner as you might have read in the Lucian Carey story "The Secret of the Old Master". After learning all the various steps involved in chambering a rifle over the better part of the last year (fitting it into off hours and weekends) John did his first complete, start to finish chambering job unaided this week. The victim was a new Bartlein barrel and the Remington action which John recently trued with Norm using the new PTG Gen. 2 tooling. As much as I would have liked to write a detailed article about John chambering his first barrel, I will leave it to Professor Norm to tell the tale in his own manner. So, let's see just what was happening in Peoria (Arizona, that is) that caused all the commotion. - GAS -
Chambering the First Barrel
by: Norm Darnell
Today was a great day for everyone. John was busy with contracts and phone calls so he got to the shop a little late, but the accomplishments left a smile on everyone's face. John, all by himself, took a barrel blank and made it into a chambered barrel in 6 XC. No blood was let and as you can see on the ninth picture the finger check allowed John to count to 10. That is always a good sign.
Wolf .223 Primer Flash Test
by: Germán A. Salazar
A few friends have asked me if I plan to test the Wolf .223 primer. Chuck May gave me a box of 100 to try and I hope to give them a thorough test soon. As an initial test, I did the flash photo of them and they appear quite similar to the PMC (now Wolf) Small Rifle Magnum which are my preferred small rifle primer. Without further testing (chrono, pressure) I don't want to draw any conclusions, but they look promising.
I noticed that they have an unplated brass cup, not the plated cup of the SRM, but not the same as to copper colored cup of the standard small rifle which blank with most normal loads. I think, but won't be sure until I test, that this is the magnum cup without the plating.
Here are two pictures of the Wolf .223 primer firing and then an old one of the PMC Small Rifle Magnum for comparison. The original articles on primers are here:
Small Primer Article
Large Primer Article
Giraud Case Trimmer
by: Germán A. Salazar
Doug Giraud has been making his patented case trimmer for the better part of a decade now. I don't remember the exact date but I do remember getting one of his earliest production models and immediately selling two other power trimmers that I had at the time. The Giraud trimmer made them as useful as a Model T on a modern Interstate highway. Many of our more experienced readers are familiar with Doug's trimmer, but we have many newer shooters in our club and every now and then I hear "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" from them, so it's worth taking a closer look.
The basics of case trimming should need little explanation here. Suffice it to say that the Giraud trims, chamfers and deburrs in one operation and with such ease that my average speed is twenty cases per minute and I'm not particularly dexterous. The consistency of trim length is within 0.001" and the blade cuts without grabbing the brass, something I can't say for many other power trimmers I've examined.
Changing the setup to another cartridge is accomplished in a matter of about three minutes. Unscrew the case holder and remove it, unscrew the cutter blade holder (if switching to a different caliber) and remove it as well. Screw in the new cutter and case holder, adjust the case holder with a case and you're ready to go. Couldn't be any simpler.
I shoot about 5,000 to 7,500 rounds of centerfire rifle ammunition each year. Since buying the Giraud, I have made it a practice to trim each piece of brass after every firing. So far, after seven or eight years of this reasonably heavy use, the trimmer shows no sign of wear or degradation of performance. I have rotated the three-corner blade on the 30 caliber cutter at some point, but that's about it.
To give some realistic time references, I trimmed a set of 70 6XC cases while timing myself. First, I changed the setup from .30-06 to 6XC, that took a little under 3 minutes. Next I trimmed the 70 6XC cases working at a normal pace, it took 3 minutes and 15 seconds. If you've worn out your arm and your patience cranking on a hand powered trimmer, nothing more needs to be said, other than - call Doug!
The Basics of Palma Shooting in the U.S.
by: Germán A. Salazar
That's it, the entire rifle rule, the whole enchilada. The rule is notable for what is left unspecified: bullet weight, rifle weight, trigger pull weight. All of these things are unrestricted. As long as you're shooting a rifle with metallic sights chambered in .308 or .223, you're in compliance with the rules for a Palma rifle in the United States under NRA rules. You might think that subsection (b) is redundant since a rifle that meets the specifications of (b) also meets the specifications of (a). However, if the match is large enough, the National Championship for example, the match sponsor might provide a separate award for category (b). A service rifle under 3.3.1(b) must, of course, meet all the other requirements for a service rifle set forth in NRA Highpower Rule 3.1.
Can you use a Tubegun? Yes. Can you shoot 190 grain bullets? Yes. Can you shoot 240 grain bullets? Yes. Can you shoot 90 grain bullets in a .223? Yes. Can you use a 4 oz. trigger? Yes. Can the rifle weigh 15 lb.? Yes. Can it weigh 20 lb.? Yes, Arnold. Can you have a lens in the sight? Yes, but only in the front or rear, not both. Can you use a .30-06? No, the .30-06 was dropped from the Palma Rifle rule in the late 1980's by someone with no sense of history and no common sense. How are we going to get Garand and Springfield match shooters interested in Palma shooting if we tell them their cartridge isn't allowed? The single most used cartridge in the history of U.S. competitive shooting, by the way. These are today's entry-level shooters and we need them! Are you listening, NRA?
"Can I use a scope if I'm shooting in the Palma Rifle category of an Any-Sight match?" No, once you put a scope on it, it's no longer a Palma Rifle. You can still shoot in the Any-Sight match, but you're now shooting against all the unrestricted cartridge rifles, bad idea. Palma = metallic sights.
The Course of Fire
This is the simple part. The Palma match consists of 15 shots at each of three distances: 800 yards, 900 yards and 1000 yards. You'll have unlimited sighting shots at 800 yards and 2 sighters at 900 and 1000 yards.
"Why 15 shots, why not 20?" Because that's the way it's been since 1874, don't argue. The Palma is a very historic course of fire, it has a certain rhythm with increasing difficulty as the day progresses and limited chances to make up for a poor shot. Enjoy it for its own sake and don't try to make comparisons to other matches - the Palma is unique.
You'll notice in the picture above that the shooter, Allen Elliott a fine Palma shooter, appears to be praying before the match. Prayer is always a good idea before a Palma. The wind, heat, dust, haze, mirage and other unseen forces are all working against the under-powered .308 spitting out whatever bullet we choose to use - and at 1000 yards, those forces are usually winning! Pray early and often, it helps.
The fundamental appeal of Palma shooting is that all competitors are on a roughly equal level in terms of ballistics. That reduces the match to a contest of shooting skill and to many of us that makes for a much more interesting match than the ballistic contest that most long-range shooting has become. Beyond the level playing field aspect, the Palma then throws a curve ball at you by requiring the use of a cartridge that is ballistically very marginal for the distances involved. You will learn more about wind reading by shooting Palma matches (or a Palma rifle in long-range matches) than you will in any other type of match available in Highpower shooting.
Cartridge and Bullet Choices
As mentioned above, you can shoot a .223 or a .308 and you have an unrestricted choice of bullet weights for either cartridge. A bit of discussion about these choices might be useful.
The .308 is really the Palma cartridge and there's no reason to think otherwise. The question then becomes: what bullet? More fundamentally: is there any good reason to shoot a 155 grain bullet?
Apart from the flawless logic which dictates that shooting a ballistically challenged bullet at 1000 yards is good for you, there is the additional fact that for every Palma or long-range match you shoot, you'll probably shoot three or four mid-range matches. Wind at mid-range has a much smaller effect than at Palma distances, so a light bullet will keep you on your toes and working toward your goal of becoming a great wind reader.
The last point to consider is that the 155 grain bullets from Sierra, Berger, Nosler and Lapua tend to be exceptionally accurate. My highest mid-range score ever, a 600-52X was fired with Berger 155 VLD's and I've shot a few 448 Palma scores with the Berger 155.5 grain bullet. Last month when I was testing a new Palma barrel, even though it is a 1:11" twist barrel throated for heavier bullets, I used the 155 Sierra (#2155) to check its basic accuracy. The two test string scores of 199-16X and 200-14X at 500 yards with my standard load for 155's showed me all I needed to know about the barrel.
By now some of you are questioning my sanity and a few others are questioning my motives since it's reasonably well known that I don't shoot 155 grain bullets very often. Well, I don't shoot them much anymore, but they still have a purpose as I outlined above.
The reason I usually shoot heavier bullets is simply that I don't like shooting close to 3000 fps with a .308 and that's what the 155's require (2970 fps is fairly normal for a 155 grain Palma load). At those velocities, the chance of a bullet blowing up in mid flight is increased and when that happens, you just lost 10 points. I view any chance of a bullet blow-up as an unacceptable risk to my chances at a major tournament; by shooting a heavier bullet at a lower velocity, I reduce that risk considerably. My wind reading skills are fairly well developed so the 155 holds little appeal for me.
My two main loads for Palma shooting are the 175 Berger at 2830 fps and the 190 Sierra at 2640 fps. If you run the numbers on these combinations on a good ballistics program like JBM Ballistics, you'll see that they are very comparable to the newer 155 grain bullets at 2970 fps to 3000 fps. I've tried plenty of other bullets for Palma shooting, but these two are a good balance of BC, reliable performance and ease of use.
In order to use the 200 grain and 210 grain bullets effectively, the chamber needs a very long throat. I've done that with a couple of 1:10" twist barrels, but the results haven't been earth shattering and the ability to use shorter bullets is severely compromised because they will have to jump quite a way to the rifling which is detrimental to accuracy. Since I prefer to have some flexibility in bullet choice, that's a serious negative. More importantly, I find it more difficult to develop a load that holds very good elevation as the bullets get heavier - that's another good reason for the beginning shooter to stick to the 155 grain bullets. The 175 to 190 grain range seems to be well suited to the .308 cartridge, just well balanced. My reamer has a 0.114" freebore and that is a good compromise for these bullets while still allowing the use of the 155 when desired.
Things That Won't Work
I noted above that the .308 at 1000 yards is a marginal setup and that's very true - your responsibility to your fellow competitors and to your target puller is to make sure you are on the right side of that margin. The first thing to consider is remaining velocity at 1000 yards. Use a chronograph to get reliable MV numbers for your load and then use a good program like JBM Ballistics to see if the bullet will still be at least moving at 1300 fps at 1000 yards; if not, the load is likely to cause you grief. As bullets dip below 1300 fps or so, their stability can be affected and they may not reliably hit the target. The Sierra 168 is a great bullet for mid-range shooting, but after about 800 yards it becomes unstable regardless of velocity and will not reliably reach the target. Don't even consider using it for Palma shooting. If your barrel is shorter than 28", don't use the 155 grain bullets, you won't be able to keep them at 1300 fps with safe pressure levels and will be better off with a heavier bullet. If you want to use 190 grain bullets, you should use a 1:11" twist or 1:10" twist barrel. Sometimes a 1:12" twist will work with 190's, but not always; however it will work well with 180 grain and 185 grain bullets. A 1:13" twist barrel will handle 155 grain and 175 grain bullets easily.
A Few Random Load Notes
Below is a short list of some of my personal "do's and don'ts" in reloading .308 for Palma shooting.
- I use Winchester or old WCC brass for my Palma loads because it is light (about 154 gr.), has thin necks and holds the powder charge without having to resort to vibrating or long drop tubes.
- I weigh all powder charges.
- I use Russian primers because they consistently give the lowest SD and lowest pressure of all primers tested.
- I uniform primer pockets with a K&M tool.
- I moly-coat all my bullets so that when I get to the 1000 yard line at the end of the match, the barrel has as little copper fouling as possible.
- I use H4895 or IMR4320 for 155 and 175 grain bullets.
- I use IMR 4064 for 190 grain bullets.
- I turn necks for uniform neck tension.
- I full length size all brass.
- I don't weigh brass or bullets.
- I don't measure bullets.
- I don't trim meplats.
- I don't deburr flash holes.
- I don't re-anneal brass.
See You On the Range!