The Apocalypse Is Coming.....
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World War IIWhen the threat of a new war arose, Ordnance belatedly realized it had no portable squad light machine gun, and attempted to convert the M1918 BAR to that role with the adoption of the M1918A2 by the U.S. Army on 30 June 1938. The BAR was issued as the sole automatic fire support for an eight-man squad, and all men were trained at the basic level how to operate and fire the weapon in case the designated operator(s) were killed or wounded. At the start of the war, most infantry companies designated two- or three-man BAR teams, a gunner and one or two assistant gunners (ammo bearers) who carried extra loaded magazines for the gun. By 1944, some units were using one-man BAR teams, with the other riflemen in the squad detailed to carry additional magazines and/or bandoliers of .30 ammunition. The average combat lifespan of a World War II BAR man was estimated to be 30 minutes. Despite various claims on the subject, the BAR was issued to soldiers of various heights.
As originally conceived, U.S. Army tactical doctrine called for one M1918A2 per squad, using either one or two men to support and carry ammunition for the gun. Fire and movement tactics centered around the M1 riflemen in the squad, while the BAR man was detailed to support the riflemen in the attack and provide mobility to the riflemen with a base of fire. This doctrine received a setback early in the war after U.S. ground forces encountered German troops well-armed with automatic weapons, including fast-firing, portable machine guns. In some cases, particularly in the attack, every fourth German infantryman was equipped with an automatic weapon, either a submachine gun or a full-power machine gun.
In an attempt to overcome the BAR's limited continuous-fire capability, U.S. Army combat divisions increasingly began to specify two BAR fire teams per squad, following the practice of the U.S. Marine Corps. One team would typically provide covering fire until a magazine was empty, whereupon the second team would open fire, thus allowing the first team to reload. In the Pacific, the BAR was often employed at the point or tail of a patrol or infantry column, where its firepower could help break contact on a jungle trail in the event of ambush. After combat experience showed the benefits of maximizing portable automatic firepower in squad-size formations, the U.S. Marine Corps began to increase the number of BARs in its combat divisions, from 513 per division in 1943 to 867 per division in 1945. A thirteen-man squad was developed, consisting of three four-man fire teams, with one BAR per fire team, or three BARs per squad. Instead of supporting the M1 riflemen in the attack, Marine tactical doctrine was focused around the BAR, with riflemen supporting and protecting the BAR gunner.
Despite the improvements in the M1918A2, the BAR remained a difficult weapon to master with its open bolt and strong recoil spring, requiring additional range practice and training to hit targets accurately without flinching. As a squad light machine gun, the BAR's effectiveness was mixed, since its thin, non-quick-change barrel and small magazine capacity greatly limited its firepower in comparison to genuine light machine guns such as the British Bren or the Japanese Type 96. The weapon's rate-reducer mechanism, a delicately balanced spring-and-weight system described by one Ordnance sergeant as a "Rube Goldberg device", came in for much criticism, often causing malfunctions when not regularly cleaned. The bipod and buttstock rest (monopod), which contributed so much to the M1918A2's accuracy when firing prone on the rifle range, proved far less valuable under actual field combat conditions. The stock rest was dropped from production in 1942, while the M1918A2's bipod and flash hider were often discarded by individual soldiers and Marines to save weight and improve portability, particularly in the Pacific Theatre of war. With these modifications, the BAR effectively reverted to its original role as a portable, shoulder-fired automatic rifle.
Due to production demands, war priorities, subcontractor issues, and material shortages, demand for the M1918A2 frequently exceeded supply, and as late as 1945 some Army units were sent into combat still carrying older, unmodified M1918 weapons.
After a period of service, ordnance personnel began to receive BARs with inoperable or malfunctioning recoil buffer mechanisms. This was eventually traced to the soldier's common practice of cleaning the BAR in a vertical position with the butt of the weapon on the ground, allowing cleaning fluid and burned powder to collect in the recoil buffer mechanism. Additionally, unlike the M1 rifle, the BAR's gas cylinder was never changed to stainless steel. Consequently, the gas cylinder frequently rusted solid from the use of corrosive-primered M2 service ammunition in a humid environment when not stripped and cleaned on a daily basis. While not without design flaws (a thin-diameter, fixed barrel that quickly overheated, limited magazine capacity, complex field-strip/cleaning procedure, unreliable recoil buffer mechanism, a gas cylinder assembly made of corrosion-prone metals, and many small internal parts), the BAR proved rugged and reliable enough when regularly field-stripped and cleaned.
During World War II, the BAR saw extensive service, both official and unofficial, with many branches of service. One of the BAR's most unusual uses was as a defensive aircraft weapon. In 1944, Captain Wally A. Gayda, of the USAAF Air Transport Command, reportedly used a BAR to return fire against a Japanese Army Nakajima fighter that had attacked his C-46 cargo plane over the Hump in Burma. Gayda shoved the rifle out his forward cabin window, emptying the magazine and apparently killing the Japanese pilot.