For the love of Ma Deuce: The M2 Browning
Since just after World War One, US and allied service members across history and the world have fell in love with the fifty-caliber beauty that is the Browning M2 heavy machine gun. Of course, many who have met her simply refer to the M2 as "ma deuce."
Firearms wizard John Moses Browning was responsible for many of the greatest guns in modern history. Among dozens of designs, he gave us the M1911 Colt .45, the Winchester 1894 rifle, the Browning Auto 5 shotgun, and many others. Well, during World War One, he switched gears and worked on military designs for the US Army, now embroiled in a war with the Kaiser. This led to the BAR, and the M1919 machinegun, which both provided service to the military until the 1960s.
(The fifty caliber round is a handful)
At the tail end of the war, the Army wanted a large caliber machinegun capable of bringing down an enemy airplane. This led to Browning creating a new, larger round, the .50-caliber Browning Machine Gun round (12.7x99mm BMG) which he perfected in 1921. This huge cartridge is almost six inches long and is about the same size around as a big cigar. Its huge 650-800-grain bullets can deliver over 14,000 ft./lbs of force on target more than 2000 yards away. For comparison, the 30.06, with a 180-grain bullet delivers a paltry 3,000 ft.lbs and is good for barely half that range.
(By the way, this is a semi-auto kit build from surplus parts)
To fire this huge bullet, Browning stretched his M1919 machinegun, giving it a 45-inch barrel and an overall length of over five feet. Weight wise, it tipped the scales at about 125-pounds when set up on its tripod to fire.
(The M2 was used in three different versions in WWII)
Perfected by the 1930s, the M2 Browning became the go-to gun of the Allies in World War Two. It was mounted on tanks, jeeps, armored cars, ships, aircraft, in bunkers and pillboxes from Berlin to Tokyo. Unlike many of the guns of that era that were soon replaced in twenty years, the M2 lived on, serving in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Desert Storm and into modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's unlikely that the powerful gun will be retired anytime soon even though the design is nearly a hundred years old.
"Shooting the .50-caliber for the first time for me was one of the best experiences I can remember," said Staff Sgt. Brian Brown, a truck driver with the 1404th Transportation Company of the Arizona National Guard at a recent range day with the Deuce. "I trained on that weapon for three months, only after my sergeant felt that I was proficient in that weapon did I get to fire it and it was just an unbelievable experience."
Brown, like many in the Guard and Reserve these days, is a veteran of multiple deployments to Southwest Asia that involved combat use of their weapons. He witnessed first-hand the shadow the big fifty casts when it comes to the party.
"I saw [the respect] when I was deployed [to Iraq] and even the enemy had serious respect for the .50-caliber," Brown said.
Getting your own
Now full-auto versions of the Deuce are rare, especially since the 1986 Hughes Act banned sales of new machine guns to mere civilians in the US. There are some out there for those with deep pockets, like $15,000 deep.
For those of us without a trust fund to draw from, there are semi-auto versions out there for about half that amount. Of course, you can always buy a parts kit and build your own with all NFA rules applying.
Then again, you can always sign up for the Guard and get to know Ma firsthand.