Army Finds 94-Year-Old .50-Caliber M2, Never Serviced, Still Works Great

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Cody Bryant, left, and Corby Tinney, right, inspect the 324th M2 receiver ever made for the first time in its working career. (Photo: Jennifer Bacchus)

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.

An M2A1 with the M2E2 Quick Change Barrel Kit. (Photo: PEO Soldier)

See Also: U.S. Army Looking for M249 Light Machine Gun Replacement

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.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Derwurst July 8, 2017, 9:19 am

    At an Airforce base I was stationed at in 1966 the local armory got brand new M2 .50 caliber machinegun barrels instead of the 20 mm barrels Vulcan they had ordered. Base supply would not take them back so the brand new barrels were torched to make them unusable what a waste of materials. There were 50 of them in the pile brought to the landfill at the base.

  • RGE July 7, 2017, 3:41 pm

    Cara Mia! That’s some serious wood for a nail.

  • DIYinSTL July 7, 2017, 1:31 pm

    And it’s pre-1985… Since the military is short on cash for maintenance they should start auctioning off their pre-’85 NFA items to us taxpayers who originally paid for them (instead of tossing them in the chipper) and use the money for equipment upkeep. Now that would be a real gun buyback program.

    • sportpsyc July 8, 2017, 12:55 am

      Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. First, FOPA went into effect May of 1986, not 1985. Second, just because a MG was made before ’86 doesn’t make it legal to be owned. Only guns that were registered and had the $200 tax stamp paid on them during the insanely brief 2 month amnesty period leading up to May of ’86 are “transferable”–i.e. can be transferred to the average Joe citizen. There were a little under 200,000 MGs registered, and that is all there is. That M2 being military, it wasn’t registered, so it is totally verboten, EXCEPT for one of the handful of people who has an 02 or 07 manufacturer’s license. That is why you can get a post-dealer sample M4 (ownable by a manufacturer, not a “regular” person) for about $1500, but a transferable, pre 1986 M-16 will run you $20,000. Finite quantities and there can’t ever be more. That M2 can ONLY have one of 2 things done with it. Fill out an ATF Form 5 to render it non-functioning and transfer it to a museum, or saw the receiver in half with a chop saw, saving all the unserialized parts out of it for replacement parts for a legally owned M2. The military is hanging on to thousands of 1911’s that they have been debating selling on the open market and they can’t get it done…only talk. Forget ever getting anything really good out of them for civilian use. Good news is they have started releasing loads of Humvees paid for by your tax dollars!

      • DIYinSTL July 9, 2017, 11:06 pm

        Not quite true. Any machine gun purchased by civilians since implementation of the NFA had the $200 tax paid and are transferable. Government agencies are exempt. For example, the St. Louis Police Department recently sold some Thompson sub-machine guns that it had in inventory since long before ’86.

  • Charles Moulis July 7, 2017, 1:22 pm

    I’m sure it was never lost, just stored where it shouldn’t be.

    • DaveW July 7, 2017, 4:27 pm

      While stationed at Edwards AFB, a custom bolt action rifle with high power scope in the corner of a room at the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory. It wasn’t listed as part of the equipment and nobody remembered it. It had clearly been a long time since anyone had used it although it was in excellent condition. It was used to fire bullets into blocks of rocket propellant to determine their explosive properties. Sadly, it was destroyed rather than be sold.

  • Grant Stevens July 7, 2017, 11:27 am

    “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” John Browning’s M2 is still in service because perfection is hard to improve upon. The same holds true for his Model 1911. “Plastic fantastics” in lesser calibers built to appease NATO may appeal to those limp of wrist, but the Yankee Fist is still the choice of real men with a job to do. Some things only improve with age.

  • John July 7, 2017, 11:00 am

    Although this is a great “find”, the thought that it was “lost” in the first place concerns me. The government likes to point fingers at gun owners, yet the Army and the Federal, state, and local police forces lose tens of thousands of weapons every year.

    How about requiring they store all their guns in a gun safe?

  • Michael Keim July 7, 2017, 10:21 am

    John Moses did it right the first time.

  • Richard Bigham July 7, 2017, 8:38 am

    Im a bit set back for the lack of photos. Wtf, they sure talked it up and although we all know what they look like, sure would have been nice to see this one field stripped at least with a fee closeups of the chamber and such. Even a bore scope would have been awesome to see the effects of time on an unfired barrel.

  • Marc July 7, 2017, 7:53 am

    I saw them on top of deuce/half trucks in Vietnam. They were called quad 50s; four of theme peeing at the front perimeter at night made for a spectacle.

  • Randy L Jones July 7, 2017, 7:02 am

    Had serial number 735 in my arms room at Ft Carson. The sights and barrel shroud were different than all my other M2’s. I imagine it had stories to tell.

  • JS July 7, 2017, 6:05 am

    I could give it a nice home and take really good care of it……no problem.

  • northerner July 7, 2017, 5:41 am

    sure would have been nice to have known where the M2 was hiding for all those years???

  • Joe July 7, 2017, 5:00 am

    John Browning’s contributions to the fire arms manufacturing industry span the test of time. The M 2 has defended our armed forces in too many instances to list. The quick change design only improves a almost perfect defense weapon.

  • Anthony hill July 4, 2017, 11:05 pm

    Never retire the 50 at will always be needed by real soldiers during wartime engagements.

    • Keith July 9, 2017, 5:46 pm

      I have read they are thinking of retiring a lot of .50 BMG machine guns. They want to go with a .338 caliber machine gun as they can carry a lot more ammunition and have a weapon that is effective to about 1,700 yards.

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