Browning 0.5in heavy machine guns

Browning 0.5inch (12.7 mm) heavy machine guns.
History, development, service, specifications, pictures and 3d-model.

Browning 0.5in M2 heavy machine-gun
Browning 0.5in M2 heavy machine-gun

arrow here to the predecessor Browning M1917 and M1919.

Browning M1921, M2
Type: Heavy machine gun.


Since the first heavy 0.5inch (12.7 mm) machine gun was produced by Browning in 1921, it has been one of the most feared weapons for enemy infantrymen. The projectile fired by the machine gun immediately knocks out any soldiers hit, and the weapon can also be used to destroy armored targets, especially when armor-piercing ammunition is used.

The projectile is the actual heart of the weapon and previous attempts by Browning to build such a heavy machine gun all failed due to the lack of a suitable cartridge.
Only when a German 13 mm cartridge from the Mauser anti-tank rifle was captured in World War One and examined, a viable solution could be found. Thus, the basic design of the cartridge has remained unchanged ever since, although numerous alternative propellants and projectile types have been used in the meantime.

Browning 0.5inch heavy machine gun on tripod
The classic Browning 0.5inch (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun on tripod for infantry use.

From the original heavy machine gun Browning M1921 a number of variants have been developed until today, which is still in use as Browning M2 machine gun.
In all these variants the mechanism of the weapon remained identical, which is very similar to the smaller machine gun Browning M1917. What these variants differed from each other was the type of barrel and the equipment for the base of the weapon.

One of the most numerous models of the M2 was the type M2 HB, where the two letters at the end stand for ‘Heavy Barrel’. This HB version can be installed in all possible ways and has been used in the past as an infantry weapon, an anti-aircraft weapon and even as a rigid or manually operated aircraft weapon.
For infantry use, the M2 HB is usually mounted on a tripod, but can also be mounted on vehicle quills, ring mounts and trunnions.

M2 Halftrack Rom1944
Browning 0.5in M2 machine gun on a US half-track vehicle in Rome, 1944.

Other M2 types include versions with water-cooled barrels, which were commonly used as anti-aircraft weapons. Especially on US Navy ships, they were used during World War II in multiple deployments against low-flying attack aircraft. Single water-cooled machine gun mountings were often used in land-based air defense installations.


The main difference between the versions of the machine gun used on the ground and in aircraft was that the aircraft version had a barrel length of 36 inch (91.4 cm), while the conventional 0.5inch (12.7 mm) Browning barrel of the ground troops was 45 inch (114.3 cm) long. Apart from the barrel and the way it was mounted, all parts could be exchanged between all versions of the M1921 and M2 machine guns.

Modern M2

Today’s Browning M2 is still the automatic, cartridge-feed, air-cooled weapon from the Second World War. It has a back plate with handles, a blade rear sight, muzzle flash suppressor and a spare cylinder. By modifying some components, the ammunition can be inserted from either the right or left side. The M2 is capable of firing in single fire or automatic continuous fire.

0.5in M2 machine gun today
The 0.5in M2 machine gun on a US combat vehicle today.

Nowadays, the M2 is permanently installed on vehicles used to fight infantry and aircraft. Related components are the anti-aircraft base and the M3 tripod, both of which provide stable weapon platforms. The M2 0.5-inch flexible version is used as a ground weapon on the M3 tripod or on various US Navy mountings on board of ships.


Tactically, the M2 should offer suppressive fire during the own attack or in defence. It can be used efficiently against infantry, light armoured vehicles, slow and low flying planes and small boats. The 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) cartridge also has good penetration against most types of masonry.

Surprisingly, the M2 was used in limited numbers as a sniper weapon against fixed installations, such as fire bases, during the Vietnam War due to its low rate of fire and good swivel and lifting mechanism.

More 0.5in Browning machine guns were built in the USA than any other type of machine-guns. To this day, the numbers are in the millions and serial production is still not finished. At the end of the 1970s, two other US companies found it profitable to put the gun back into production, and the same applies to the Belgian FN group.

Many other companies, scattered all over the world, find it profitable to manufacture spare parts and accessories for the M2 series and practically every year a different ammunition manufacturer comes onto the market with a new type of cartridge for these weapons. Some dealers have specialized completely in the purchase or sale of this single weapon, so great is the demand for these machine guns and no end in sight.
The M2 will be in use for many years to come, and there are no signs of a more modern replacement. For this reason, the 0.5in Browning is one of the most successful machine guns of all time.

Animated 3D model of 0.5in Browning M2

Specifications for Browning 0.5in heavy machine guns


specificationM2 HBmodern M2
Typeheavy machine gun=
Caliber 0.5in (12.7mm) 12.7 mm (.50 Browning)
Length 65.1 in (165.4 cm) 100.75 in (255.9 cm)
Barrel 45.0 in (114.3 cm)=
Weight 84 lb (38.1 kg) + 44 lb (19.96 kg) tripod 84 lb (38.1 kg)
Feed system 110-round metal-link belt=
System of Operationrecoil=
Muzzle velocity 2,900 ft (884 m) per sec 2,939 ft (893 m) per sec
Rate of fire450-575 rpm(practical 300 rpm)
Effective range? 7,435 yards (6,800 m); effective 2,000 yards (1,830 m)
Function?Single and continuous fire

Service statistics:

Production delivery 1933 (M2); M1921: 1921
Service deliveryafter 1933
Production figureseveral millions (to date)
Price per unit?

References and literature

The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (Chris Bishop)
The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (Ian V.Hogg)
Infanterie im 2. Weltkrieg (J.B.King, John Batchelor)
Illustriertes Lexikon der Waffen im 1. und 2. Weltkrieg (V. Dolinek, V. Francev, J. Sach)
Twenty-First Century Small Arms – The World’s great Infantry weapons (Steve Crawford)

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