Crafted by firearms polymath John Moses Browning in 1917 for the growing National Army being formed to fight the Kaiser and his buddies in Europe, the compact light machine gun was forward-thinking for its time. Unlike the awkward strips used by the bulky M1909 Benet-Mercie machine gun used by the Army, Browning’s new gun could be fired by a single soldier on the move and fed from a box magazine.
Further, as it could it be operated by a sole Doughboy, it added a serious volume of fire to advancing troops as it could rapidly accompany them across “No Man’s Land,” a feature that heavier Vickers and water-cooled M1917 sustained-fire machine guns were incapable of.
This led to the concept of “walking fire” in which the gun could be mounted with its butt against a belt attachment and fired continuously while charging across the shell-marked void to the German trenches was seen as the way to break stalemates in trench combat on the Western Front.
Capable of spitting out .30-06 rounds at 500-600 rounds per minute, the BAR could empty a 20-round detachable box magazine in just two seconds when wide open, which is a hell of a ride if you have ever experienced it.
The original WWI era gun, the M1918 was produced for just two years, with some 102,125 guns made by Colt, Marlin-Rockwell, and Winchester. These guns had no bipod, but did include a beefy checkered forend, sling attachments, and a thin flash hider.
The experimental M1918A1 was made in small numbers in 1937-38 and had a large bipod with spiked feet set forward of the foregrip.
The M1918A2 was brought about in 1940 with a lot of input from the Army. Some 229,000 of these guns were made from 1940-1953 by IBM, New England Firearms, and the Royal McBee Typewriter Company.
They are two-speed full auto only, have a the flat-footed bipod attached to the conical flash hider (usually the first item that GIs threw away), a rate of fire reducer, a smaller uncheckered forend, and a shoulder rest on the butt.
Nonetheless, the big BAR also soldiered on in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere that surplus military aid from the 1940s lingered.
Today, prices on intact and transferrable M1918s start at about the $10K mark due to the Hughes Amendment and head up from there.
But if you have a pallet of .30-06 you don’t want anymore, they are just the ticket.