Soldiers at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama found a machine gun that’s been around for nearly a century. Not only has this M2 been in action for 94 years, it’s fully-serviceable and within specifications.
The M2 or “Ma Deuce” is one of John Browning’s most successful designs with an unmatched military track record. The M2 is the military’s belt-fed, short recoil-operated heavy machine gun chambered for .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun). Developed during World War I, the M2 is still in service today, with just a few recent updates.
For the first time in 94 years, M2 serial number 324 was brought in for a full overhaul. Not that it was necessary.
“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, one of the depot’s repair leaders.
But the future of M2 324 is uncertain. The Army updated the M2 to the M2A1 in 2010. While the guns still use Browning’s clearly time-proven design, the M2A1 uses a different receiver. While it may be possible to modify the nine-decades-old gun, it’s still easier to replace the receiver and scrap the veteran part.
There is a glimmer of hope for M2 324. It’s possible that the Army will put the gun on display, celebrating the gun and its history. “I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark.
The updated M2A1 features an improved quick-change barrel system that makes it easier to field and maintain. The Army began looking for ways to safely replace worn M2 barrels in the ’90s and the M2A1 was the result of their efforts.
Unlike many newer gun systems in common use with the military, armorers must headspace M2s after installing a new barrel. If they don’t headspace the guns correctly they will not run reliably. In extreme cases they can cause the big .50-caliber cartridge to detonate out of battery, injuring machinegunners in the process.
The quick-change barrel system reduces the likelihood of these sorts of issues, and makes the M2 powerfully relevant well into the 21st century. Both the Army and the Marine Corps are in the process of converting all their M2s to the M2A1 standard.
Over the years the M2 has been pressed into service to perform many duties. In addition to its function as an anti-personnel and anti-materiel gun, the M2 was the standard World War II aircraft gun; it was used for anti-aircraft platforms and even used for sniping and counter-sniping at ranges well beyond 2,000 yards.
Hopefully, the Army will find a nice quiet home for M2 324 to retire to.