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· Registered
1,502 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
The United States, like most countries, entered the First World War without a workable automatic rifle or light machine gun. The Army and Marines found themselves using the French Chauchat automatic rifle, and that left a lot to be desired. Here's my post on the Chauchat:

French Model 1915 Chauchat Automatic Rifle (US Use)

It wasn't until shortly before the Armistice that an American replacement came on the scene - the highly regarded Model 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. The BAR (as it was called AFTER WWI) was developed by America's premier gun designer, John M. Browning, who had created such classic weapons as the 1894 Winchester and the 1911 Colt, which are still produced today. Though not without it's critics, the BAR was modified and used throughout the Second World War, the Korean Conflict, and even into the Vietnam War. The Model 1918 weighed 16 lbs and could fire semi or full automatic, with a rate of 550 rounds per minute. The BAR was milled steel instead of the pressed sheet metal of the Chauchat, and had a box magazine that held 20 rounds. Interestingly, the rear sight and butt plate of the Model 1918 were similar to those used on the Model 1917 Enfield rifle used by the U.S. Army.
The initial tactic developed for the automatic rifle was for "walking fire" - firing from the hip as you advanced to provide support for advancing rifle companies and squads. As with the Chauchat, this proved impractical in the face of heavy machine guns in hardened defensive positions. But the issue gunners belt had a feature designed for this tactic - a metal cup on the right side to hold the rifle butt as you fired.
I'm not aware of any 1918 BARs available, but I found one - possibly Soldiers of the World - that had the larger, checkered fore-end of the 1918. For mine, I attached this to a 21st Century 1918A1 BAR action, and modified the stock to the smaller 1918 version. I ended up using the butt end of one of Tony Barton's M1917 Rifles, and also used the rear sight on the BAR. The 1918 had a cylindrical flash suppressor, so one was made from styrene, and the larger 1918A1 magazine guides were replaced and the front sight rebuilt. All that was needed was a sling, and a Dragon 1918A1 supplied that, and it was ready for painting.

After all of this, I had the urge to build the 1918 BAR gunner's belt. These not only had the metal cup, but a magazine pouch for the 1911 Colt. Dragon also supplied the belt and a pistol mag pouch, and I fabricated the metal cup from very thin sheet brass and used sequin pins as the rivets that held it to the leather backing. My Dad left me an original belt to work from, and the 1/6 belt was painted to match using Testor's Acryl "US Khaki".

My officer seen firing the BAR was thrown together using a SST uniform and BGT helmet. He represents Lt. Val Browning, John Browning's son, who is credited with the first combat use of the BAR on September 13, 1918 - two months before the Armistice. The phots of young Browning don't show him with the gunner's belt, but I thought it was appropriate.

Thanks for looking!

Bruce N. Canfield, "U.S. Infantry Weapons of the First World War",
Andrew Mobray Publishers, 2000

James L. Ballou, "Rock in a Hard Place - The Browning Automatic Rifle", Collector Grade Publications, 2000

· Registered
314 Posts
Wow, this is such important and timely information for me as I'm currently working on a BAR-equipped doughboy as well.

I'm using the ACI BAR (one can see this item in the similar threads section listed below). I really like it because it's real wood and metal but a little rough, particularly the metal casting. I completely stripped the item, cleaned up parting lines, etc. and stained the wood furniture with walnut stain.

I'm putting the BAR gunner belt together (worked on it today as a matter of fact) in a very similar fashion as to that that you employed. I'll probably make the cup from plastic though as I thought it might be easier to sag form the shape. However, I need to think about that some more as your brass cup certainly looks very convincing.

Great job all around on your figure and thanks so much for sharing it with us.

· wave man TDY staff
41,730 Posts
Fine work here, Mark. Too bad these were issued so late, but after that, the BAR earned its place. It's atribute to John Browning, that a heavy auto rifle with the limitation of a 20 round magazine, found such devotion among soldiers, marines, and sailors, as well as so many kids.

· God Bless America
1,507 Posts
Outstanding!! :thumb Looks fantastic!
The top BAR in the first picture is also a 21st BAR (can see "21st Century Toys" on the side of the stock towards the bottom), which they ripped off from Cotswold early in 21st's life. But you weren't far off, because SOTW ALSO did a BAR, but it was just a M1918A1 with a checkered fore-end.
Google "BAR assistant gunner's belt" for your next project. ;)

Fun Fact: John Browning's son, 2nd Lt. Val Browning, was in the service at the time, and actually demonstrated the rifle in France. He may have used it in the field.
The BAR is my favorite weapon from WWII. Ever since I saw it on Combat! re-runs. :)

As PD pointed out, it was designed very well. SO well, it was still used in Korea AND Vietnam.

PD, gotta remember that in 1918, 20 rounds was a lot. Most other rifles had 5, 8, maybe 10 rounds and bolt action. Also, it's my understanding that the 20 round limit was to prevent the barrel from overheating.

Trivia: John Browning also designed the M2 BROWNING .50 heavy machine gun, which is basically the same gun still in use today.

· Pug Lord
1,244 Posts
Super custom and a great history lesson. I never knew these facts. The metal cup seems like a great solution to a potential problem. I'm curious to know what the "wear rate" on the belts might have been. I imagine this was a pretty brutal affair for the attatchment points.
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