How Long is an M2HB .50 Good For?

Nobody really knows, but this one came in to the Anniston Army Depot for conversion. They’d already stamped it M2A1 (as can be seen in this close-close-blow-up, along with the original maker marks of “Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg Co, Hartford”) when they realized it wasn’t just any M2 heavy machine gun. It was older than the oldest one they had kept as a museum display! Serial Number 324 was probably made in 1921 or 1922, and had never been overhauled before.

m2_serial_324_extreme_close_up

The Army PR release was picked up by a site called We Are The Mighty, and from there, one of our commenters flagged us to it.

Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.

Cody Bryant, left, and Corby Tinney inspect the 324th M2 receiver ever produced. The weapon arrived at Anniston Army Depot to be converted to a M2A1 in May. Photo: Army Materiel Command Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus

In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.

“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.

m2_serial_324_close_up

Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.

Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.

“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.

Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.

via The Army found an M2 .50 caliber machine-gun still shooting perfectly after 90 years of service.

When you think about what has changed since 1921, two competing thoughts come to mind. This first is: it’s about time they did something about headspace and timing, long the one real anachronism of the brilliant Browning designs. And the second: while the M2HB has outlasted a half-dozen would-be replacements, what else from 1921 is still current?

Not cars. Here’s a 1921 Chevrolet:

1921 Chevrolet

Here’s another. This one’s for sale. Good luck, buyers.

Chev21Touring3

Here’s the telephone company in 1921:

1921 telephone office

Winners of a “Bathing Beauties” swimsuit competition:

bathing beauties 1922

(OK, we cheated a little, the Atlantic City Bathing Beauties are from ’22).

And in 1921, the US Army took two bold moves into the future. It established a new form of mobile unit, in answer to the trench warfare of World War I: the First Cavalry Division. Yes, on horses.

first_cavalry_division_1921

And the Army introduced a new gun: Gun, Machine, .50, M2, Flexible, Heavy Barrel. While most of everything else from 1921 is as obsolete as the cavalry charge, the M2 is going to make its centenary with relatively few improvements.

Who knew it would outlast the horses?

21 thoughts on “How Long is an M2HB .50 Good For?

  1. Boat Guy

    Wow. I loves me some Ma Deuces and can live with the timing and headspace “issues” (I ALWAYS had a gage run through the buttonhole in my cammie shirt, all of my guys did too).
    I gotta wonder at “Modifications made to the weapon in the field … ” did somebody have Bubba in the Armory? PLEASE tell me this was an Army weapon! Presume it is since it’s going to Anniston instead of Barstow/Albany.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I’ve often thought that what we need in the company level gun department is a Browning gun in .338LM, fabricated of modern materials with fixed headspacing. We could probably get the gun weight down to standard 240 (not 240L) distance.

      1. Miles

        The closest emmagee we get to that today is one that General Dynamics has built on the XM806 design in .338 Norma.

      2. Martin S

        1919 (A6-ish) in .338LM with a modern light tripod, optics and quick-change barrel?

        But is it really necessary to bridge the gap between 7.62 NATO and .50? If anything it would end up supplanting the .50, economics and supply issues being what they are (just the simple math of x number of .50 being traded for x+y of .338 for the same weight would sway someone into doing it)

        I’m sure someone, somewhere could have a lot of fun building prototypes and doing tests and demos, just to bad it can’t be me.

        1. Kirk

          Don’t think of it as bridging a gap. Think of it as replacing an inferior, compromised cartridge with what should have been adopted in the first place. The thing about the 7.62mm NATO that needs to be remembered is that it’s manifestly not a purpose-designed heavy MG cartridge. It’s half-ass attempt to be all things to all men, fired from individual weapons and machine guns alike, and as a compromise, it’s shit. Too heavy for effective control on full auto individual weapons, and too light for really effective hard-hitting MG use. Shitcan it, and go to a real heavy MG cartridge, I say.

          1. Hognose Post author

            Logistically, all armies have always preferred their infantry MG cartridge and rifle cartridge to be alike. But you can read for days before finding your first example of someone who, in combat, had to (and had time to) crossload belted MG ammo to rifle mags or vice versa.

            Carrying belts or cans of ammo you can’t use in your rifle, because your squad/plt/company MG burns through it faster than you do, is just part of grunt life for the last century plus.

      3. Kirk

        I agree with you, on this one.

        I think we really need to do some very basic research, and find out what the hell is really going on down where the projectile meets the enemy. I have a purely subjective belief that we should have fielded a true intermediate cartridge, like a slightly souped-up .280 British, and supplemented that with a medium machine gun cartridge like the .338LM or the old Swedish heavy MG caliber, that 8X63mm number they had in their heavy Browning-designed Kulspruta m/36.

        To my way of thinking, if we’re going to keep restricting ourselves with asinine ROE the way we are in Afghanistan, and putting ourselves into small-arms centric fights, we really need to have small arms that outmatch the enemy’s in both range and lethality. The current combination we have, with the SCHV 5.56mm and that bitched-up, weak-ass individual weapon-compromised 7.62mm is just not what we should be using. I just can’t prove that with numbers, because we’re not doing the research that needs to be done to find conclusive proof of this.

        I could be wrong, though. 5.56mm NATO could be the greatest thing, ever, in an individual weapon cartridge. It just doesn’t feel like that to me, though. And, since we’re doing this all on the basis of “the feels”, well, mine are just as valid as anyone else’s…

        1. Historian

          Before WW2, the Army studied the matter and concluded that the US would be best served with a rifle caliber of 6.5 to 7 mm. The matter went as far as having prototypes manufactured, including the first models of the M1 Rifle, before MacArthur intervened and mandated that the .30-06 would be maintained, IIRC due to the huge quantity of stored ammunition possessed by these united States in that caliber.

          I’ve spent some time researching the history of small arms, and based on that as well as my personal experience, I think the tests and studies done in the 20s and 30s still reached valid conclusions. If the goal is to provide small arms with acceptable accuracy and power within 500 to 600 yards and to once again teach the body of our soldiery to shoot effectively out to those distances, then there are any number of existing calibers in the .264″ to .284″ range that might work well.

          Within the context of changing from the current weapons mix to a new round, choices narrow considerably. If we were to stay with the current M16 platform, then I would choose the 6.5 x 39 (call it by whatever name you wish) The advantage is that new uppers could be easily purchased and swapped for the 5.56 uppers.

          It would also be relatively easy to change the M14 barrel to a .260 Remington or a 7-08 round; magazines would be the same. Of course, there is no current military contract for these weapons that I know about, although there is one maker producing forged receivers and at least two others making cast receivers.

          Past that, one starts to get into acquisition of a new rifle in a new caliber.

          From a performance versus weight standpoint, the 260 Remington, the 6.5 Creedmore, and the 6.5 x 47 have a great deal to offer; they all provide performance well past the 600 yard point, staying supersonic to well past 1200 yards unlike the 7.62 x 51.

          As regards keeping squad and platoon MGs and rifles in the same caliber, it may well be that there is little need. But on the rare occasions when units DO need that capability, having the ability to use MG ammo in rifles or vice versa is likely to be EXTREMELY important to those involved. I do note that there are different tactical niches, both historically and recently, for the light squad MG and the heavy and there the need for the same ammo does not seem to be an issue.

          I’m sure that Dillon or Barrett could both produce prototype heavy MGs in almost any caliber required in pretty short order. The .408 CheyTac in a modified Browning design with quick change barrels and other improvements would significantly improve heavy MG range, penetration and accuracy…..

          Historian

          1. Floridian

            The military could probably sell every round of 7.62 and .556 in inventory to civilians, and make a profit. They could handpick the best of the M-16/M-4/240 series of rifles and machine guns and NFA them. Sell those to civilians as transferable over a course of a decade. Same goes with the DRM M1a’s( you wouldn’t have to NFA those, I believe). The public would pay premium prices for these weapons.

            This would be – of course – after you have found or designed superior replacements for them.

      4. Brad

        Well it’s not quite what you are suggesting, but I have an idea for something close. Simply put, could not the M240 be easily chambered for the .35 Whelen?

        The M240 is basically the FN MAG right? And wasn’t the MAG marketed as able to use any cartridge with the same rim diameter as the 30-06 and a length within the OAL of 30-06, by using an appropriate barrel? And since the .35 Whelen is just a necked up 30-06, couldn’t it be used?

        1. Martin S

          Sounds feasible, but we run into the procurement issue of high-cost, low volume cartridges. While adoption of one as standard would drive down cost, getting the budgeting politicians to accept something that, at the moment, is high cost would be a hard sell.

          If a large enough nation could be swayed and more or less force a new NATO standard it could be sorted, but from what I’ve read there just is not enough interest or drive in small arms development to get it off the ground.

          If it could have happened, Afghanistan should have forced it, but all we saw was people doubling down on 5.56 and 7.62 and insisting it was good enough for 3-400+ meter firefights with or without extreme elevation diffrences.

          1. Brad

            Small arms ammunition procurement is a drop in the bucket of US Army expenditures. For example, all 5.56mm ammunition costs amount to less than 1/1,000 of the total US Army budget.

        2. Historian

          I am not expert in this area, but I do know that one of the issues with MG design historically is that the shoulder of the case, which is typically annealed and soft, can be set back by the impact of the cartridge as it arrives in the chamber, especially with higher cyclic rates (and bolt speeds.) Less shoulder area, such as one has with the .35 Whelen, may be a problem, increasing the likelihood of case head separation, but I don’t know for sure. Any ideas from the experts here?

          Somebody has probably done this before, if not with the MAG then with a 1917 or 1919, but I don’t recall ever reading about it; typically MG shooters modify their guns to shoot cheaper ammo, not more expensive ammo. Certainly, a 275 grain AP or API .35 caliber projectile would provide significant performance improvement!

        3. archy

          ***Simply put, could not the M240 be easily chambered for the .35 Whelen?***

          Not easily. The .35 Whelen is based on the .30-06/.30M2 case; the FN-MAG parent design of the M240 was meant for the .308/7.62 NATO, though some samples were made in 6.5 Swedish, 7,5 French and possibly 7.5 Swiss. The .358 Winchester is based on the .308 case, though the only sporting rifle I can think of chambered for it that might still be available on a production basis is the Browning BLR lever action.

          The Navy messed considerably with the M14 converted to .243 during the 1970s and found out that barrel life was something like half that of the 7,62 NATO in full auto; there were also questions about what bullet weight to run, the lack of tracer availability, and other factors. But there was one interesting aspect: depending on the direction of barrel twist, there was very little full-auto *climb* with a 20-round magazine…and with the opposite twist, it was horrible. Ofsetting bullet torque, most observers reasoned…maybe.

          But then Glen Nelson retired from the small arms shop and was replaced, and then the JSSAP program came along. The Seals stuck with the 7.62 and were fairly happy with it, and so it goes.

  2. Daniel E. Watters

    The M2 didn’t exist in 1921. In fact, the M2 wasn’t adopted until 1933. The authors are confusing it with its ancestor, the M1921. The major difference between the two is that the M2 used a modular receiver, allowing it to be adapted for multiple roles with component swaps: aviation, armor, anti-aircraft, and infantry. You can switch between left and right side feed; air-cooled versus water-cooled; fixed versus flexible; and light barrel versus heavy barrel. The earlier M1921 were set up in dedicated single-role configurations. For this reason, the M1921 and M1921A1 were declared obsolete during WW2.

    You’ll note that the M1921 in Springfield Armory’s museum collection have serial number prefix that appear to indicate their role. The aviation model has an A prefix, while the water-cooled anti-aircraft model has an AA prefix.

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  4. Bill T

    Given the armament of “today’s enemies”, there would be nothing wrong with .30 cal/7.62mm personal weapons w/select fire and 20rd Mags, (5.56mm if you “LOVE” the AR-15/M16/M4 platform). I liked the M-60 for a squad MG and the M-70 for grenades. (I was not a 11B so I’m not talking from a place of deep knowledge) these worked well in A-team/squad sized elements. For vehicle or static mounted MGs the .50 is, by far, a better force to be reckoned with. Anybody who was assigned to a M2 team learned about adjusting headspace immediately. One of my PET peeves is the replacement of the M1911-A1 .45 cal. Pistol with the M-4 in 9mm from a Foreign Manufacturer. I want MY military weapons made in the USA. ( know some or many M-4s are made in the US. The Parent company is Italian and the bulk of the money goes there.) Give me a SlabSide .45 any time. I’ll find room for a few extra 8-round mags, thank you very much.
    If it ain’t broke Don’t fix it! especially if it costs lots of money.

  5. Malgus

    I find it significant that the best, most effective and long-lived weapons ever given to America’s fighting men, which allowed us to dominate the battlefield, were largely the result of the efforts of one man – John Moses. Even the MAG58 owes it’s existence to him…

    Which sort of proves the old adage about “if it ain’t broke…” (like Bill T just said)

    Just remembering the story I was told decades ago. John Moses was demonstrating his new .30 cal MG back in 1917 to a bunch of Army brass. Had someone standing next to him with a garden rake and he proceeded to fire 40,000 rounds without a failure to feed, fire or eject. The kid with the rake kept the pile of spent brass from becoming too large…

    The Army bought the gun.

    Since those old guns – like 324 – were made at the height of the Machine Age and the guys running the machines were almost artisans, I’m not entirely confident we could duplicate them with those kind of tolerance, attention to detail and longevity.

    Metallurgy has certainly improved, but we have a paucity of folks who have gone into the trades over the last 25 years – everyone thinking that the world owes them a favor, or a living, or both, and they are “entitled” to a University education. Ever call for a plumber? You get some guy who’s older than Methuselah and should be On Golden Pond or some kid who looks like he’s 14… almost nobody between the ages of 20 to 40… Couple years ago, I remember reading about a guy in upstate New York who had a shop and needed at least a dozen qualified machinists. Despite a guaranteed six-digit salary, he was complaining that he couldn’t find a dozen willing to work for him…

    But then, whatever Man has made, Man can make again.

    324 served her country and it’s fighting men for almost a century. (Which begs the question: “Why are firearms referred to as “she”?) She should be treated with the utmost care and respect and whatever needs to be done to get her in fighting shape should be done. At which point, if TPTB want to retire her, then so be it. Don’t reduce her to a non-firing “display”… the ignominy…

    But the scrapyard? No. That’s borderline obscene. Rather like when they took crates of issue 1911A1’s to the bandsaws years ago… it breaks the heart.

    There’s not too many things like 324 left in the world. There are a finite number and that number can only decrease from here on out. We don’t actually “own” anything in this life – we only temporarily possess something, take care of it, and then pass it on to the next generation. Then it becomes their job to take care of it and pass it on…

    If 324 is destroyed, the world will be that much poorer…

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