By Popular Demand: More BAR vs. BREN Video

R. Lee Ermey compares the BREN and the BAR in live fire, and comes to a surprising (to him) conclusion.

And here’s another BAR vs. BREN test — an accuracy competition, using vintage ammo, against B-27 silhouettes, at 100 yards.

That’s it for straight BAR-BREN comparisons. Now, there are some comparisons to other guns. First, the BAR vs. BREN vs. 1919. It’s a little slower that some of the other videos, but there’s more information in it, too.

Part II. He appears to be incorrect in attributing BREN design to simplifying the BAR, but some of his points about manipulation of the weapons are very good. One thing he is missing is that the BREN and the BAR were not deployed identically. (In fact, the BREN was employed, by doctrine, more like the Germans employed their MGs: don’t take our word for it, read our friends at Think Defence, who have dived into British wartime and prewar primary sources).

Now we go a little further afield. Here’s Ian and Karl of Forgotten Weapons and Full30 running a match with FG42 and BAR.

And Here’s a lively British guy we haven’t encountered before comparing the  Bren to what he calls the “Spandau,” the MG42.

(At least American GIs were referring to the old MG08 and 08/15, which were still turning up in Europe in 1944-45, as the Spandau. Period documents call the MG34 and 42 … the MG34 and -42).

What he calls “German kit fanboys” really didn’t like that video, and he made a rebuttal of their various rebuttals (which he answered in the long description of the first video). There’s some good information in these videos but the guy’s style is not for everybody.

Personally, we think he needs to amp up the humor a little, as he’s already got a bit of a Monty Python vibe to his channel.

Our conclusion: every combatant in World War II provided his grunts with some kind of light, portable weapon (and this evolved as the war continued). The weapons designs show differences in national preferences and approaches, but are more alike than different in their performance and tactical value. And we’re never going to get tired of arguing about the pros and cons of each.

Have at it in the comments, but please check your guns at the door.

35 thoughts on “By Popular Demand: More BAR vs. BREN Video

  1. SPEMack

    First to hoping that Kirk and LSWCHP get to going real good in the comments section again. Yesterday was most enlightening.

    However, as an American, I’m gonna go with BAR. Because Jesus sent it through his Prophet JMB the Divine to smite evil with.

    That being, said, I believe the BREN to objectively be the best of the bunch.

  2. Boat Guy

    Regrettably I have only shot ONE of the guns discussed; the MG-42 in the MG-3 version. Neat gun, and I actually “qualified” with it but I found it difficult to learn. Easy to operate but I’d want LOTS more time on the gun before hunting Dangerous Game. Disclosure; I was only shooting from the bipod.
    Objectively the BrEn wins it for me as well. Aesthetically and nationalistically; yeah JMB’s rifle is MIGHTY cool – I don’t think Steve McQueen would have looked near as cool as Jake Holman toting a BrEn.
    I’m happy to see that JMB’s machine gun lives on the Ma Deuce, my favorite machine gun of all time. Specially with a boat to carry it (them, actually) for me.

  3. Alan Ward

    Very limited experience with an Inglis built Korean era Bren whilst in Cadets. Got to run one mag from a pit on the know distance range. It really seemed to run smooth as I tried to shoot 3-5 round bursts ( first full auto experience). I found it felt like the recoil from the FNC1 we shot the day before in qualifying. The weight surprised me as it seemed bigger but was lighter than it looked.
    Got to see some fourth year cadets fire a M1919A4 that had been converted to fire 7.62 NATO. Really made me jealous!
    No time on the BAR, but have always wanted to try one.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah, the Bren looks like it would be impossible to carry, except Tommy, and the Canucks, and the South Effricans, and everybody in the Commonwealth lugged them around for most of the 20th Century.

      1. LSWCHP

        Compared to the M60, the Bren was a joy to carry and fire. The ergonomics were extraordinary. It felt much lighter and more nimble than it was. I think The Gunny referred to it as a Rolls-Royce gun and he’s dead right.

        I’m an engineer and I really enjoy experiencing good engineering. I take my hat off to those remarkable Czech engineers who designed the Bren.

  4. Kirk

    I think the BAR should have stayed in the original WWI-era configuration as an AR, and the US should have adopted the BREN in .30-06 as an LMG off the bipod and tripod. The Automatic Rifle concept has a lot of good things going for it, but it isn’t the full answer to the question of providing fire support to the squad.

    Trying to turn the BAR into a true LMG, the way we did during the interwar years, simply isn’t happening. The basic problem is, you can’t serve the thing with a crew; the entire design militates against that. The BREN, the AG can be swapping the magazines while the gunner is maintaining his attention on the target, and it’s a relatively versatile platform because of that. The BAR, on the other hand? You’re the gunner, you’re the guy who’s got to do everything, which means you have to remove your attention from the target, reload, and then try to reacquire the targets. If you don’t see the issues with that, then you’re someone who’s never run a gun in either training or combat.

    The BAR was at its best on the assault; it could have used lightening and modernization, but that’s where it shined. As a LMG in the support role? Oy, vey, did it suck.

    1. BAP45

      Don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner but it brings to mind the way the Marines have started using the m27. So the concept of an automatic rifle is still kicking. But also the way the marines used the BAR later in WW2 with 3 per squad. Seems to fit pretty well with the assault role you describe. And to have worked pretty well for them. From what I’ve seen you hit the nail on the head with your assessment of the pros and cons of the 2.

      Sorry if I’m rambling. Putting thoughts to writing has always been my weak point.

      1. BAP45

        PS I know we have the benefit of hindsight and newer information but I always like to imagine what could have been if the US had gone the other direction with the BAR. Instead of shoehorning it into a saw and stripping it down and shortening it up (along colt monitor or Clyde barrow lines) and incorporating improvments like a pistol grip into it to make it a reasonably handy automatic rifle. Granted it’s just day dreaming but how cool would that have been.

      2. Brad

        The M27 is an interesting case of equipment vs doctrine.

        The origin of the USMC fire team organization comes from WWII combat experience using the BAR. Fast forward 60 years, and the USMC is still using the same basic squad organization but now the rifle squad is getting weighed down, and a primary culprit is the M249 SAW. Even though the M249 was designed as a Squad weapon it was fielded as Fire Team weapon.

        So the USMC conducted a variety of field experiments, testing different ways of organizing the Rifle Platoon and of using the M249. Results from those field tests convinced the USMC to keep their existing doctrine and organization but also buy a replacement weapon called the Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) that would fit the doctrine better than the M249.

        And that is where the M27 came from, and why it is used the way it is by the USMC.

        1. Arturo

          I call shenanigans, from i have read on the m27. It sounded more like the Marines just wanted to buy an hk. How does one explain modifying weapons that were not hks from open operation to fire closed bolt to test cook off times. Exactly how hard were the Marines trying if a belt fed weapon is noticeably underperforming to a 30 round magazine fed weapon with no changeable barrels.

          1. Brad

            “It sounded more like the Marines just wanted to buy an hk.”

            Riiiight. I’ve seen variations of that conspiracy theory before. I think my favorite version of that theory was that the M27 buy was just the USMC trying to backdoor replace all their M16 with a ‘superior’ carbine, and the entire IAR project was just to spoof the Pentagon procurement process.

            And now I have to laugh with the news the USMC are issuing M4 carbines to replace all infantry M16 rifles.

    2. Brad

      LMG were certainly an interesting blind spot for the US during WWII. Despite interesting development projects (T23), by the climax of the war the US Army decided that the answer was the M1919a6 Browning and the USMC went for multiple BAR per squad.

      I wonder how a Johnson 1941 LMG in .276 Pedersen caliber might have played out.

  5. Hanzo

    Hognose, why don’t you allow my comments to be seen? I don’t understand …. I haven’t maligned anyone’s character, even though Kirk accused LEO Yanez of murder,with zero thought of due process, based entirely on his emotion and the testimony of a biased (understandably) witness? Andrew attempted to incriminate, from his lofty perch, the TCTH, and I’m not even sure he read the link (perhaps he did). I don’t post here often, I am better served by sitting back and taking everything in, from your knowledge as well as the other posters.

    Is this topic “too hot”, or off limits? After all, this is your site, but I have to admit I’m kind of shocked, and dismayed, by the seemingly “PC” attitude displayed by your reluctance to post my comments and in the previous comments by some of the posters, most notably, obviously, Kirk and Andrew. I’m not sure if I even expect a response at this point. I view you as a fair-minded individual. If you’d like to, please respond to my personal email addy (if you need it I will give it to you, I’m under the assumption that you can view it under my registration), I’ll check back to see if you answer in this thread. Perhaps you could explain your reasoning behind your decision to moderate my comments, I’d appreciate that. Thanks for your time.

    1. Hanzo

      Hognose, I didn’t expect the previous post to actually appear. I mean no disrespect, I thought it was also going to go to moderation. My bad. Hanzo

      1. Hognose Post author

        As far as I understand it —
        1. first time commenters go to a moderation queue. They could be there anywhere from minutes to days before I get to them, although usually it’s within an hour or two.
        2. Anyone whose comment I’ve sent to “unapproved” has his comments go to moderation, unless and until I let one out, then all his comments go live, until I moderate him again.
        3. Long comments, and ones with links, by “experienced” commenters, go into moderation.

        If you have something you don’t want to go live, put a link in it, and write somewhere in it that you don’t want me to approve it out of the mod queue. That should work.

        Finally — that’s how I think the system works. I could be all wrong!

        1. Hanzo

          Actually, I’m not a first time commenter, but I am an infrequent commenter. I was confused because I’ve commented before (although it’s been a while), and my comments in the other thread, after the 1st one, were going straight through. Just wondering.

  6. Think Defence

    Thanks for the link Sir.

    What is interesting about the Bren is that it didn’t leave service until the mid nineties. When the UK moved from .303 to 7.62 it was redesigned and in what is a rather a rare bit of sensible commonality these days, could use the same magazine as the SLR/FAL. The rate of fire and magazine feed system protected the ammunition and meant resupply was less of a problem than the very high rate of fire belt fed weapons.

    The new weapons were not new builds either, so many of the components were of the WWII era.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think it’s also fascinating that Britain, in the throes of rearmament (too little and almost too late) in 1937-8, went ahead and adopted a foreign weapon from “a land far away and a people of whom we know nothing,” to quote a PM of the day.

      Most nations make decent weapons when they set out to do so, but they all are convinced that theirs is the best. Yet the UK threw over BSA, Vickers, and the venerable Lewis at least partly because the entry from Zbrojovka Brno was better. (And partly for political reasons: the UK wanted to shore up the Czechoslovak economy).

      1. Haxo Angmark

        John Horsefall, c/o of a Royal Irish Fusiliers Company during the Battle of France, has quite a lot to say about Bren effectiveness during fighting along the La Basee Canal, May 23-25, 1940. See his SAY NOT THE STRUGGLE (Kineton, 1977), pp. 80-107. Overall an excellent read, as are the other two volumes of his combat trilogy

      2. Kirk

        I dunno… The Vickers-Berthier was probably just about as good as the BREN was, in pure terms. Actually, even easier to produce, and since the Indians managed to do so in significant numbers, I’m kinda wondering if the Brits didn’t make a mistake in adopting the BREN over it. Granted, two pounds heavier, but a lot easier to produce. That might have made a major difference, in the middle of trying to churn out the intricately-machined BRENs in the middle of WWII.

        Not to mention, the derivative “K” version of the gun was extensively taken up by the LRDG and other ground forces. Supposedly, the rate of fire could be ramped up to almost 1200rpm, giving you a variable system that allowed for lower rate of fire for close in, and the ability to saturate the beaten zone at long range with plenty of lead to really affect things.

        All that was missing was the doctrinal underpinnings, and the Brits would have had a decent alternative to the MG34, albeit in a magazine-fed weapon. But, with the large pan-type magazines of the “K”, maybe not so big a deal…?

        1. Hognose Post author

          The K was made as an aerial gun, hence the high cyclic rate. Aerial and air defense guns have high rates because their target solutions are so fleeting.

  7. Arsenal762

    Jeez, remember when History Channel showed actual good programming like Tales of the Gun, Mail Call and Lock ‘n’ Load? I didn’t even own a gun back then, but I sure as hell saw every single episode of those.

  8. Keith

    Nice post Hognose however got to get ready for work so I’ll come back and watch these latter.

  9. LSWCHP

    Machine guns! What’s not to love? More please!! :-)

    What’s really struck me after watching this series of MG related videos is that very few people (even those like the excitable Englishman who are posting extended discussions on the internet) appear to have any knowledge of the technical lexicon and theory of machine gun employment.

    For example, the excitable guy contrasts the spray of bullets from the MG42 with the accuracy of the Bren without (as far as I could tell) realising that he was comparing the diameter of the cone of fire from each gun and the resulting size of their respective beaten zones. I haven’t watched it all yet, so I wonder if he’s even aware of those terms.

    This is kinda like trying to discuss musical composition without using terms like “notes” and “chords”. Most punters probably think that employing a machine gun simply involves spraying bullets in the direction of the enemy as they charge toward you, which is almost the exact opposite of the truth. There is considerable theoretical and sometimes counterintuitive knowledge required to effectively site and employ machine guns. The Germans were early masters of this subject, as the British Toms attacking on the Somme learned 100 years ago.

    Hognose, assuming you haven’t done so already, perhaps you could put up a post sometime about the theory of MG deployment and operation. It’s arcane stuff, but I’d say most readers come here for the arcane stuff, and I’m pretty sure it would be a unique resource on the internet.

  10. 6pounder

    In the excellent book Forgotton Soldier the mg42 is also referred to as the Spandau by the author. I’ve always wondered why. Does anyone know?

  11. mr. sharkman

    Whatever.

    Witty Brit boy is off from the beginning, calling the ‘spandau’ a section weapon.

    Rifle squads for Ze Germans were meant to pack 1 LMG per squad at the start of the war.

    Armored Recon squads would rock 2 per squad, most line squads eventually reached that by the latter half of the war. Part of this came from losing more Soldiers than could be replaced while manufacturing more MG-42s each month than the previous month, almost until the end of the war. The Allied airborne badasses discovered this the hard way during Market Garden. Sure, the German formations were under strength in terms of manpower. That’s cold comfort to a Para(trooper) facing off against a ‘weak’ 7 or 8 man squad running 2 MG-42s in combat. ‘But hey, at least they don’t have BRENs and their higher short-burst accuracy!’, said no Para during WW2, ever.

    Most annoying is ‘analysts’ who have never done the Infantry/small-unit tactics thing, but hey they shoot the weapons on a range, so they know the deal when it comes to real-world application and effectiveness.

    ‘Why didn’t everyone copy it?’ I dunno, maybe because Big Dumb (insert branch here), something he’s probably never heard of and definitely never experienced. For similar situations maybe ask ‘How in the fuck did the L-85 ever make it into active service in it’s initial form?’ Applying common sense to army-wide armament decisions pegs someone as living in Fantasyland (TM).

    Maybe the Brits stuck with the BREN because some high-ranking idiot who never faced MG-34s or MG-42s in the field decided ‘We won the war after all, we’re not going to copy some nazi weapon nor adopt their TTPs for squad-level Infantry tactics even though they tended to give us a sound beating in Infantry vs. Infantry fights.’ Because pride > effectiveness every time with certain high-ranking types.

    What pisses me off the most about these revisionist d1ck measuring contests fomented by Shooting Range Veterans is that it diminishes what our (and by ‘our’, I mean modern-day rifle/SAW/etc. packers) Elders actually had to face when doing the deed.

    For most of WW2, Brit and American Infantry platoons were flat-out outgunned at the platoon level when it came to actual real-world, fire+movement situations. Americans could make up some of the disparity due to the presence of the Garand, but superior TTPs (honed against the Soviets and also present from actually paying attention to lessons learned from WW1) and battlefield NCOs (as a rule) almost always meant there was no such thing as an easy day for a Brit or American Infantryman when an actual Infantry brawl was called for.

    Here’s my anti-bias-bullshit end-all question for the above mentioned crowd:

    ‘Yo, Hognose. Sorry about this, but you’re headed back to war (you can thank me later). You and nine other guys. You get 2 ‘squad auto weapons’, any/all of your guys can work as assistant gunners if you so desire.

    You can choose from the BAR, the BREN, or the MG-42. Both weapons must be of the same type.

    What’s it gonna be?’

    1. Kirk

      Depends. Do I get to pick the supporting equipment, as well as doctrine and operational planning?

      Put MG42s into a US rifle squad, and they’re not going to do all that well, absent the Lafette, German training, and German doctrine/military culture. Not to mention, the rest of the picture, which is all the rest of the forces around one, working in concert.

      Allied tactics worked, given that they included a bunch of crap that made the inadequate MG situation completely irrelevant. When your MG-centric section is getting swamped by vast amounts of very responsive and flexible artillery, the aviation bubbas are weighing in with rockets and bombs, and the tankers are rolling up on you while all the rest is happening… Your excellence as basic infantry becomes purely an item of academic interest.

      I keep telling people this, but nobody wants to listen to me: Just like with everything involving weapons, the more important questions are those of training, doctrine, and operational art. If your weapon doesn’t quite support those three pillars of military art, no biggie. Put the BREN into the German squad, and they’d have likely managed, albeit maybe not quite so effectively. Put the MG42 into the US squad, and it’s probably not going to make that much difference to how things turned out. About the only time you’re going to see these things really affected by the weapon is when you start talking inter-generational stuff, like taking a Chauchat up against men armed with Dreyse needle-guns. So long as the systems are reasonably comparable, the rest of the system is what makes a difference.

      Trust me on this: You want full, effective use of Germanic MG tactics? Your entire damn force needs to be doing that stuff, because one or two isolated squads working in accordance with the German ideas are not going to overcome the inertia or the casualty lists generated by the rest of the organization. Believe me, I tried–And, despite the fact that I was getting my guns and teams in on the flanks, since nobody else was in a general sense, about all I really managed was a slight reduction in my own unit’s losses, and confusing the living hell out of my bosses, who saw what I was doing as being both aberrant and “not in accordance with doctrine…”. Even with the fact I was doing what I was doing successfully, the ones that noticed were like “How’d you do that…?” and “Don’t do that again–It screws everyone else up… We thought you were the enemy, back there behind the actual enemy firing at them, and were calling in artillery on you…”.

  12. mr. sharkman

    Another illustration of the effect of more advanced TTPs combined with a weapon system that meshed with them.

    The Dieppe raid pitted some of the finest Infantry (Commandos) in the world at that time against effectively 2d line, basically trained German Infantry (‘fortress’ squads, essentially).

    Even though they were ‘2d line’, they still were packing standard armament, to include 1 MG-34 per squad and they had received the requisite training on proper deployment/employment in combat.

    I cannot recall where the specific AAR came from, and it was related to me long, long ago. But one of the Commandos (from the beach side of the deal, poor MFer) reported (paraphrased from hazy memory) ‘Before we could get within range to effectively engage, we were pinned by highly accurate fire from a very large number of LMGs. Even when the lead elements advanced far enough to assault the defending infantry, the LMGs could not be effectively silenced due to proper defense by enemy infantry and the LMG crews tendency to shift firing position rapidly and frequently’.

    I think he used the term ‘crews’ because at that time the Allies were unaware of German squad-level organization and assumed organization and TTPs similar to their own unless they had concrete intel to tell them otherwise.

    Now it’s true they were caught in horrible terrain, which lead to the truly lopsided outcome because man-for-man, when it came to individual Infantry fighting skills the Allies were the superior force top-to-bottom. But even in ‘neutral’ terrain, the German’s basic tactic of the LMG being the primary fire element, while also being considered a maneuver element in the assault with riflemen providing security and the other half of the squad being its own maneuver and assault element put them at a distinct advantage when facing Allied Infantry with their somewhat dated TTPs.

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