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Browning M1917: America’s World War One Heavy Machine Gun

When the United States entered World War One, its military has a relatively tiny handful of machine guns, and they were divided between four different types, as the military budget was small and machine guns were not given much priority. However, since the failure of his gas-operated 1895 machine gun design to become a popular military item, John Browning had been working on a recoil-operated machine gun to replace it. This work became serious in 1910, and by 1915 Browning had met with Colt and agreed to give them exclusive license to his new design – and they began to work with him to refine and perfect it.

When the United States realized that it would be fighting in Europe and would need machine guns in 1917, it held an open trial for designs which Colt and Browning entered. The Browning gun was the undisputed star of the show, firing 40,000 rounds with only one parts breakage and no malfunctions that were not the fault of ammunition or belts. The gun was almost immediately adopted and pushed into production. Ultimately, Colt would allow the manufacture of its guns by Remington and New England Westinghouse, and Browning himself would accept a lump-sum royalty payment from the government for its use, which was about 3.5 million dollars less than he was contractually entitled to – out of patriotism and a desire not to profit too much from the war.

Browning 1917 machine guns would see only brief combat use in World War One, first tasting action in September of 1918. They would remain a staple of US military armament through World War Two, however, improved after the Armistice to the M1917A1 pattern. The gun we are looking at today is an original WW1 M1917, mounted on an equally rare M1917 original tripod.

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