The Inside Story of the BAR, John M. Browning's Automatic Rifle

The U.S. Model 1918A2 BAR served G.I.s well in World War II and Korea and was a modified version of Browning’s original design. Accouterments courtesy Chris J. Anderson and Ivan F. Ingraham. M1918A2 courtesy National Firearms Museum. NRA photo.

A review of Bruce N. Canfield's article. The military version of the Browning Automatic Rifle has been a mainstay of infantry firepower at the squad level since its baptism by fire in the closing days of World War I. Recently renowned gun writer and historian Bruce N. Canfield’s fine article on the development and deployment of the original military BAR appeared on the NRA American Rifleman website. We think you’ll find this a very interesting read.

Bruce N. Canfield’s article offers an excellent overview on the development and deployment of the original military BAR.

America’s greatest firearms inventor John Moses Browning designed the BAR during the latter part of World War I. It was unanimously and rapidly accepted by an Ordnance Department board. The BAR is one of the most important U.S. military arms of the 20th century and it will forever, fittingly, bear the name of its designer. NRA photo.

“Without question, America’s most prolific and revered arms designer was John Moses Browning,” begins Canfield’s article. “The Utah native’s contributions to the field of small arms development are unparalleled. The guns he invented for the commercial and sporting market are almost too numerous to list and many of his designs are still made today. While sometimes overlooked, Browning-designed military arms are even more impressive. One of the most important U.S. military arms of the 20th century will forever, fittingly, bear the name of its designer, the Browning Automatic Rifle.”

“Generally referred to by its initials, the BAR set the standard for automatic rifles from its inception during the First World War and for several decades afterward,” continues Canfield. “Few U.S. military arms elicit as much widespread admiration as does the venerable BAR. The BAR proved its worth on countless battlefields around the globe…”

 “The BAR had its roots in the trenches of France during World War I when both sides were mired in bloody and protracted trench warfare,” Canfield revealed. “One of the most serious gaps in our armament capability was the lack of a satisfactory light machine gun. An automatic that could be used by troops moving to the assault was desperately needed…The U.S. purchased some 16,000 Chauchats from the French, and our troops quickly discovered that it was extremely unreliable, and found it ineffective and unpopular.”

During WW, Lt. Val Browning of the US Army Ordinance branch was assigned to go to France and train US forces on the use of his father’s military arms like the new BAR. Browning archives photo.

“Fortunately, the legendary John M. Browning had quietly been working on a design of his own for a reliable and effective automatic rifle,” continued Canfield. “On May 1, 1917, the Secretary of War convened an ordnance panel to test and recommend for adoption a light machine gun or automatic rifle. Browning’s was quickly adopted. It was known as the Browning Automatic Rifle’ and was soon referred to primarily by its initials ‘B-A-R.’ The BAR was chambered for the standard M1906 (.30-’06) cartridge and was capable of semi-automatic or fully automatic operation at the rate of some 550 rounds per minute.”

The US Army’s 79th Infantry Division shoulder patch, the Cross of Lorraine.

“BARs began to flow from the production lines, and limited issue to our troops overseas began by the late summer 1918,” notes Canfield. “Interestingly, it was first demonstrated in France by Lt. Val Browning, the inventor’s son. After familiarization and training, the BAR began to be issued to front line troops and used in actual combat. The first recorded U.S. Army use of the BAR in combat was on September 12, 1918, in the hands of the 79th Infantry Division. The BAR immediately proved to be an unqualified success as a combat arm.”

This World War II photograph shows a mud-encrusted U.S. Marine who has a World War I-vintage BAR that has not been modified to the later M1918A2 configuration. The Marines reported favorably on the BAR’s reliability and “striking penetrating power in the jungle.” NRA photo.

Canfield goes on to describe the outstanding service the BAR delivered in small scale combat, in the Banana Wars of the 1920s and its devastating firepower that it gave US Marines and US Army infantrymen during WWII. 

This 1918A2 configuration BAR being fired from the prone position with its bipod extended is likely an M1918 conversion as evidenced by the cut-down fore-end. U.S. Army Photo.

The BAR also was essential in helping US and UN forces break up the massed “human wave” infantry charges by Chinese and North Korean troops during the later stages of the Korean War. It was one of the few automatic firearms in the Allied inventory capable of functioning in the harsh winter combat conditions on brutal Korean battlefields like the “Frozen Chosin.”

While the Browning Automatic Rifle was being superseded by more modern light machine gun and squad automatic weapons designs in the 1960s and 1970s, many BARs still soldiered on during Vietnam, and plenty of them were provided to our allies all around the globe.

“The BAR’s days as a front line automatic rifle are over,” concludes Canfield a bit wistfully. “However, few U.S. military small arms have garnered a better reputation or are looked upon with more respect than John Browning’s automatic rifle. From its baptism of fire in the trenches of France in 1918 to the steaming jungles of Guadalcanal or the frozen Chosin Reservoir, the BAR has served this nation with distinction.”

Read Bruce Canfield’s entire article on the BAR online at: https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2016/10/13/john-brownings-automatic-rifle/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=insider&utm_campaign=1016

While original military BARs are few and far between these days, the modern sporting BAR from Browning is readily available at your local Browning dealer. A product of the inventive genius of Bruce Browning, John M.’s grandson and the 4th generation of Browning gun designers, today’s sporting BAR is magnum cartridge capable, highly accurate, soft recoiling and relentlessly reliable. Just like the one Bruce’s grandpa designed about 100 years ago.

You can learn more about the modern sporting BAR at browning.com or stop by and handle one for yourself at your local Browning retailer.

Orignal article copyright NRA American Rifleman, 2016. Review copyright Browning, 2016. Review written by Browning staff writer, Scott Engen. Read the NRA American Rifleman article, subscribe and join the NRA.