Origins of the BAR, Part II: WWI Manufacturing

Where we left you yesterday, Colt had delivered to the Government the gages, tools and drawings for BAR (and M1917 machine gun) production. We’ll continue with Chinn’s story:

During July and August 1917, more than 2 months after our entry into the war, a survey was made of facilities and plants thought capable of turning out the water-cooled version in quantity.

Several different plants began M1917 production. Then it was the BAR’s turn.

The production of the B.A.R. followed a similar pattern. Browning carried on most of his early development on the machine rifle at the Colt’s Patent FireArmsCo. Later, Winchester gave valuable assistance in connection with the preparation and correction of the drawings, adding many refinements to the gun. Winchester was the first to start manufacture on this model. Since the work did not begin until February 1918, it was so rushed that the component part of the first 1,800 to be put out were found to be not strictly interchangeable. Production had to be temporarily halted until the required manufacturing procedures were altered to bring the weapon up to specifications. At the end of the war the Winchester Co. was producing 1300 B.A.R.’s a day. A total of 63,000 items were canceled at the time of the Armistice.

Chinn just leaves this hanging here, and doesn’t answer the obvious question: how many BARs did Winchester produce prior to the end-of-war contract cancellation? For that we have to go to a Winchester source. R.L. Wilson’s Winchester: An American Legend, which is at once a beautiful coffee-table book and a fact-packed Winchester source, says “about 47,000” in its brief paragraph on BAR manufacture (p. 171), which is worth reproducing in full:

In September, 1917, Winchester was instructed to commence tooling up for the manufacture of the Browning automatic rifle (BAR). Edwin Pugsley, then manufacturing engineer, went to the Colt factory see the only existing model. Since the BAR was needed at Colt’s during the work week, it was borrowed for a weekend, and in that time drawings were made and the project begun. By the end of December the first Winchester BAR at been completed. Production was well along by March, and by Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Winchester had made approximately 47,000. Winchester also had begun construction of the Browning .50-caliber machine gun and had a working model completed within about two months. That gun, however, never entered into production, because of the end of hostilities.

Winchester found wartime contracting not to be the lucrative profit center it was imagined to be: the company took in vast amounts of money from Britain (for whom it made the P14 Enfield), Russia (Mosin-Nagant M1891) and US (1917 Enfield, BAR) but it sank it all into plant expansion to fulfill the contracts, and was fortunate to escape bankruptcy. It did, however, end up with greatly expanded facilities and an immeasurable increase in manufacturing know-how. Back to Chinn (p. 180-181):

The Marlin-Rockwell Corp. intended originally to use the Hopkins and Allen Co. plant for the construction of this weapon, but found that a contract for making rifles for the Belgian Government fully occupied its facilities. The corporation then acquired the Mayo Radiator Co.’s factory for use in its contract to produce the B.A.R. The first run from this source was made on 11 June 1918, and by 11 November 1918 the company was turning out 200 automatic rifles a day. The postwar cancellation was 93,000 weapons.

If Marlin’s contract was, like Winchester’s, 100,000 rifles, then Marlin turned out 7,000 BARs before the cancellation telegram arrived. (As we’ll see, this assumption is far from certain).

The Colt Co., because of the heavy demands of previous orders, produced only 9,000 B.A.R.’s. The combined daily production by all companies was 706 and a total of approximately 52,000 rifles was delivered by all sources.

Here’s where the lack of a BAR-specific book on our shelves shows. Obviously Winchester’s 47,000, Marlin’s 7,000 and Colt’s 9,000 doesn’t add up to 52,000 (more like 63,000), plus we’re doubtful that the production actually came down to round numbers like this. Somebody smarter than us has already done this research and resolved, or at least explained, these discrepancies. (Both Chinn and Wilson are well-regarded for accuracy, for what it’s worth).

Apart from the errors on the first 1,800 BARs made at Winchester, BAR production was relatively trouble-free; a more serious error in M1917 machine gun production required a doubler to be attached to the receiver, and this hand rework cost more than the actual production of the guns in the first place, a reminder of the risks inherent in modern mass production in wartime.

Tomorrow we’ll conclude this mini-series with Origins of the BAR, Part III: The BAR in WWI Combat, again quoting from Chinn.

(Note: we do have a picture for this article, but lacked time to prepare and insert it before press time. We will catch up and insert it later, if we can).

25 thoughts on “Origins of the BAR, Part II: WWI Manufacturing

  1. Brad

    Okay, if my math is right, 52,000 BAR if issued 1 per rifle squad is enough BAR to equip about 214 WWII USA Infantry Divisions. So 52,000 BAR sounds like more than large enough stockpile for the entire actual U.S. mobilization for WWII.

    1. Aesop

      Multiply that by 1/2 to 1/3.
      Recognize that there would be training Coys, Bns, Regts, and whole divisions, as well as recruit, ordnance, and depots maintenance schools and facilities with sufficient numbers of the weapons to train everyone on, as well as the number issued to bases, airfields, depots, other installations, and Navy and Coast Guard ships of the line for guard duty and personal defense (plus the requisite numbers for the sister services’ own training and maintenance needs), further reducing the number available for deployment in the field for ground combat to perhaps 1/2 to 1/3 of the total.

      That’s before we get into the number FUBAR’ed by broken, lost, or missing parts, overuse in training, or bad ammunition, awaiting repair, and the WWII Supply Corps “Top.Men.” situation of any number of crates of them unknowingly squirreled away in some vast warehouse complex for the duration, because 6th grade supply clerk education, and hand-written accounting procedures dating to the era of revolutionary/Napoleonic warfare, and totally ignoring those pilfered/stolen along the way.

      Then go look up the number of mobilized US divisions by mid-1945, and the period TO&Es for same, to see how many of them would have been required, on paper, and/or how many short they probably were.

      That’s all part of the stomach, noted by Napoleon, that an army marches on.

      1. Brad

        The US only mobilized about 90 divisions during WWII, and only about 70 of them were infantry divisions. So yeah, more than enough BAR were in stock for the US WWII mobilization. Upgrading enough of the BAR into the WWII M1918a2 standard must have been some job though.

        1. Hognose Post author

          They had some other upgrades in mind (like an FN style pistol grip) but didn’t do them, because Ordnance held to the requirement was that everything needed to be a simple part swap onto the original receiver, and the gun needed to be able to revert to previous versions. Changing from a slick 1918 to an A2 is just snap-in parts swaps, company armorers could probably do it with no drama.

          OD mails them a box of 8 or so parts sets, the armorer and a detail bod or two have all the guns reassembled and function checked in a morning.

          1. Brad

            Interesting. And that helps to explain why the BAR was not replaced by ‘something better’ during WWII. The sheer scale of US mobilization during WWII and the immense logistic difficulties of creating an Army almost overnight from nothing gets overlooked too much by too many people today.

            The fact that the BAR were already available in adequate numbers, and easily adaptable to be good enough for the immediate job, must have made the decision to stick with the BAR a no brainer for those in authority.

        2. Aesop

          There were reportedly 89 US Army divisions (plus 2 sustainment brigades), and 6 Marine Divisions formed up in WWII.
          The designation of divisions as infantry, or something else, is a misnomer to those unfamiliar with how that works. An armored division, for example, simply has more armored formations than an infantry division does, but not no infantry, and vice versa.

          Thus all the infantry formations in all those divisions would require the BARs in question, as would the other ancillary units, detachments, and services mentioned. It was even settled doctrine in the US Navy through the late 1950s that naval ships’ armories for destroyers, cruisers, and battleships would be sufficiently provisioned to provide sailors equipped as infantry for landing on hostile shores, exactly as they’d done since the Colonial Navy.

          That means over 20,000 BARs just for the actual infantry formations within the divisions, notwithstanding the fact that BARs would be also have been issued to the HQ, artillery, engineer, military police, reconnaissance, ranger, AA, ordnance, and every other divisional sub-unit, including medical troops and QM supply detachments. That alone probably burns through the notional 54,000 available BARs PDQ, long before we get to the Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, bases, airfields, coastal artillery, National Guard, training commands, etc., and the tail that outnumbered the military’s teeth, even in WWII, by something like 3 or 4 to 1. (For comparison, we had 16M men total in uniform, but only produced 6.25M M-1 Garands.)

          Before we even get to wartime and combat losses, the number available for frontline issue must have been pretty tight. So somebody somewhere had to have been short of them anytime after mid-1944, and probably as early as Sicily or the Italian campaign.

          1. Brad

            I didn’t give a precise accounting simply because the scale of the numbers of BAR was so huge it would be pointless, since there were roughly two times more BAR than needed to equip ALL the WWII infantry battalions.

            Of course units like Armored Divisions have infantry battalions, but the would have somewhat different TO&E than a leg infantry battalion, and USMC infantry battalions would issue BAR on a scale at least three times as numerous as an USA battalion because of different TO&E. Ancillary units and formations are not going to issue BAR as intensively as an infantry battalion, so that isn’t a very important factor.

          2. Aesop

            It is when you’re talking about 95 divisions’ worth, plus the mind-boggling logistic tail to comprise 11 million soldiers under arms.

            Two times pure infantry Bn requirements alone is far less than what was needed.
            Then, as now, field artillery fights and self-defends as infantry. Engineers fight as infantry. Military police fight as infantry. AAA fights and defend as infantry.
            The fact that there are between 2-5 times as many other troops in a WWII division beside grunts underlines that 2x the purely infantry BAR requirements means the available number was woefully short. The fact that there were as many as there were just sitting there, with no time to field a substitute, drove the TO&E choices as a function of wartime necessity.

            In an Army of eventually >11M soldiers, a mere 54k BARs was nowhere near sufficient. It certainly wasn’t “yuuuuuge”.
            The exact lack of BARs was part of the reason we compensated by producing 5 million Browning .30 cal machineguns, i.e. almost 100 times as many as the number of BARs extant – because we had to, and because they were far easier to crank out. By late ’44-early ’45, they were probably cranking out more M1919s in one month than the total number of BARs ever made.

            Which is something our host could address someplace in his lengthy queue of topics, should the urge strike.

          3. Brad

            Do you have any evidence that BAR were issued to any non infantry unit as standard TO&E? Yet you keep insisting that numbers of non infantry issue of BAR dwarfed those issued to infantry. Prove it.

          4. Aesop

            Since you asked.
            I see your point: it’s far likelier that, faced with an absolute shortage of all individual weapons (6.25 M1 Garands for a military of 16M, and an Army of 11.2M), let alone BARs, leadership just told all personnel in those ancillary units deployed to the front lines right alongside the infantry to use harsh language in close combat instead. Just because it supports the theory?
            That’s exactly why, in artillery, 40 years later, I never carried, trained, nor was equipped with a pistol, rifle, grenade launcher, SAW (the BAR’s modern offspring), M-60(Oh for an M240 instead!), Mk 19, or M2 .50 BMG either, except for boot camp, and never trained to deploy as infantry. It was just me and my howitzer, even on guard duty. Wait, that never happened.
            {I don’t know how Big Green did/does it, but the Marines routinely deployed artillery units as infantry in Grenada, and from 2002-present in Iraq and Afghanistan. With every weapon in the grunt TO&E, because they’re assigned that way from the get go, just like for all ancillary units as well, albeit to a lesser extent for say, HQ clerks or cooks & bakers than for engineers or military police units, but it still happens across the board. They take that “Every Marine A Rifleman” thing pretty seriously once bullets start to fly, believe me. And that started in the 1700s, not the 1950s.}

            Am I being a bit too harsh? Perhaps.
            So sure, Brad. We can dig around the primary sources in library piles hereabouts if you’d like. Would you like the evidence from the US Navy Landing Party Manual from 1950, only slightly changed from the 1938 version, sitting in the other room as I type, detailing both Marine and Naval Landing Force TO&Es (from Regimental size down to individual junk-on-the-bunk equipment layouts, including for the BAR man in every squad) – or you could view it yourself online for free!:
            https://archive.org/details/landingpartymanu00unit

            – or you could peruse the actual 1938 Landing Force Manual yourself:
            https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073462551;view=1up;seq=20
            (*note below)
            – or the 1938 version reprinted in 1944 with Changes 1 to 6 yourself, also online:
            https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015063533437;view=1up;seq=5

            ; or I could pull out my copy of the entire US Army Master TO&E signed off by then-CoS Gen. Geo. C. Marshall I unearthed on my travels from off the shelves here somewhere, dating from the late inter-war period, just before WWII mobilization?
            (The stuff that turns up in used bookstores and surplus stores can be absolutely fascinating, I tell ya.)

            Assuming that no one but infantry units were trained on nor issued the BARs extant during WWII is simply nonsensical and counter-factual. We don’t do that with basic weapons now, and we didn’t do it then. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up. Just because something is unknown to you doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and the number of primary sources online, if one takes the time, is enough to support a Ph.D. in history at Oxford or Cambridge, let alone at Whatsamatta U. or The University Of The Interwebz.

            54K BARs was probably adequate for the size of military we had from 1919-1939 (i.e. relatively tiny), esp. bearing in mind that the bulk of them from 1918-1940 were located primarily in armories of the respective states’ National Guard divisions. (Have a peek sometime and see where Bonnie & Clyde et al picked up much of their bank-robbing hardware back in the day. The .gov was supplying criminal enterprises with their gats long before BATFE invented Fast & Furious.)

            It was wholly inadequate for the military of 1944-5, as those 5M M1919s produced attest handily.

            {Hint: UofMich’s 1938 LFM, in Section 13, pg 90 details that the BAR was to be issued at 1 per 8 man Navy squad, exactly like Army and Marine infantry doctrine and ratio. The Manual elsewhere notes that ships and fleets were expected to be able to compose and equip landing forces for all eventualities from individual platoons up to and including brigade size, with the intermediate requisite Bns and Regts. For reference, a destroyer or submarine was expected to supply a deployable platoon, a cruiser a company, and a battleship or carrier a full battalion. As of just before Pearl Harbor, we had 114 submarines, 171 destroyers, 43 cruisers, 17 battleships, and 7 aircraft carriers.
            In BAR terms, that would be some 750 infantry platoons, or 12.5 regiments, or over 3-4 Army-equivalent divisions of naval landing force troops, with the requisite armament, somewhere north of 3000 BARs, not counting similar arrangements for training, naval bases & depots, and other shore commands.
            The Marines, at that point, would be at about 9 full regiments, 432 platoons, +/-1300 BARs, not counting training, base detachments, separate ship’s companies, etc.
            And we haven’t even talked about the Coast Guard. So we’re already at 10% of the notional 54K total, before we count training depots, base armories, garrison and guard detachments, etc., just for the Navy, USMC, and Coast Guard. So probably closer to 20 or 25%. In 1941.
            And for reference, the Army went from 1.2M by the beginning of WWII, and deployed only 7 divisions – 6 infantry (counting the Philippine Division) and 1 cavalry division, total up until the pre-mobilization of late 1941. And the USMC comprised 2 understrength divisions plus the China contingent. In short, nearly half the BARs deployed in 1940 out of the notional 54K available total belonged to not-the-army, and one third to not-the-anybody’s-infantry. By late 1941, the Army had gone from 7 to 31 divisions, the Marines were well on their way to 6 divisions from 2, and the Navy was similarly expanding ships of the line by the day. (And I’m totally ignoring those doubtlessly assigned to ships in the entire support, repair, and transport fleet, and smaller surface combatants.) So we were probably out of sufficient BARs by probably mid 1943 to issue them from pre-war reserves per pre-war doctrine, even if only the infantry in every Army and Marine division got them. (We’d also functionally or actually lost, at that point, all the BARs in the Philippine Division, on Wake island, on numerous ships at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and in the Slot around Guadalcanal, and an entire regimental combat command at Kasserine Pass, if you’re still keeping score at home. And by then, although they were assuredly serving side-by-side concurrently, .30 Browning MGs had more than picked up that slack.
            So, did you want to actually talk about the weather, or just make chit-chat?}

          5. Brad

            Yeah, thanks for nothing. I’m especially amused at your imagination in inventing spectacularly high numbers for some things. 5 million .30 caliber M1919 produced during WWII? An army of 11 million, a military of 16 million?

            Before you posted those numbers I did a little digging around to see what I could find, including sources from the Army and Navy to get some hard numbers on manpower mobilization and equipment production numbers. And what I found was the USA had expanded to 8 million by May 1945, and the USN to 3.4 million by the same time. The production number I found for the .50 caliber Browning M2 was only 2 million, which was produced in greater numbers than the M1919.

          6. Aesop

            Tsk tsk: moving the goal posts never works.

            5.5M was the total production of all versions of the M1919, and was never identified by me as solely the WWII production. (The 1919A6 version, with awkward wooden stock, was designed specifically to replace the BAR and overcome its shortcomings, and was, in fact produced in number (43,479 total by the end of production) almost equal to the 54K total of all BARs ever made.
            https://books.google.com/books?id=MuGsf0psjvcC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=Total+production+number+of+Browning+M1919+MGs&source=bl&ots=K6YEDbQH6D&sig=I_Bxa1Eq-re_mIKAmgwlzJRqm2k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjfqoC34P7NAhUO52MKHd7wBXcQ6AEITjAJ#v=onepage&q=Total%20production%20number%20of%20Browning%20M1919%20MGs&f=false

            Buffalo Arms produced 38,000 M1919A4s during WWII.
            Saginaw Steering Gear produced 367,000 A4s, “several” thousand A5s (for the M3A1 Stuart light tanks), and “nearly” 44,000 A6s (likely the exact 43,479 number cited in the prior source).
            RIA produced 30,000 A4s.
            That’s only WWII production, omitting the pre-war A1, A2, and A3 numbers, Commonwealth production, and post-war production of AN, AN-M2, and M37 versions. (Versions of the M1919 continued in production well through the late 1950s, and parts and ammunition into the 1960s.)
            http://www.m1919tech.com/12903.html
            Hence the approximate 5.5M number cited.
            Thus US production, during the war, only amounts to a paltry 479,000 or so guns, or only about 9 times the total number of BARs produced, since ever.
            Well played, sir.

            (Yet another site
            http://www.pt103.com/Browning_50_Cal_M2_History.html

            notes that in the US from 1940-1945, there were a total of 1,960,596 .50cal MGs produced, and 719,223 .30 cal MGs produced. Neither of these totals include BARs, which were classed as automatic rifles, so at those totals, LMG production outstripped BAR total numbers extant by a mere 13 times. Though doubtless the higher totals includes .303 versions for the British/Commonwealth forces – who also incidentally had possession of a significant number of the 54K tally of original-version BARs through Lend-Lease – and aircraft and vehicle machineguns, neither having much bearing on issue at the US infantry squad level.)

            As to US mobilization strength,
            During World War II about 16,000,000 personnel served in the U.S. Military: approximately 11,200,000 in the Army, 4,200,000 in the Navy, and 660,000 in the Marine Corps. – Civil War Journal website:
            http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/expanding-the-size-of-the-u-s-military-in-world-war-ii/
            My math’s a little fuzzy Brad, but that seems to say that the Army alone in WWII was 11 million men, and the total for all services was 16M.
            Which sounds familiar, somehow…
            And outside of Common Core math, 11.2 + 4.2 + .66 would seem to come to 16,060,000 men under arms (not counting the Coast Guard, which evidently peaked at 171,749 in 1944 (there being much less for them to do once France and the entire Mediterranean were secured).
            So thanks for helping me to see that in specifying only 16M men under arms, I had undercounted the actual total by some 231,749 servicemen during WWII, and my sincere apologies to the Greatest Generation for that inadvertent and unintentional oversight.

            But you’ve yet to explain how any of the above helps your original case, nor undermines mine, nor acknowledge that passing out BARs to all and sundry forces and commands, rather than solely to US infantry troop formations, was in fact settled doctrine and long-standing practice, before and during WWII, according to authoritative primary sources of the era, which sources I cited, and which proof, per your demand, has been satisfied, and to the point of excess.

            You can keep dodging that reality if you like, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.
            There were quite simply never enough BARs to go around.
            True in 1918, true in 1942, true in 1950, and probably true at A-camps in 1967, or in the South Vietnamese Army in 1975.

          7. Brad

            I was curious, so I checked in one last time. This will be my last word to you on this subject. Suffice to say I am underwhelmed.

            However, it is only fair I should try to disabuse you of some whoppers. The size of the US Army and US Navy force structure manpower which peaked by May 1945 is NOT the same thing as the total number of men who served during WWII, though you seem to think otherwise. And quite a few new BAR were manufactured during WWII (some were even made during the Korean War), in fact many more BAR were made during WWII than were made during the original WWI era production run. No doubt Hognose will fill us in on those BAR production details when he posts updates on the BAR story.

  2. John h

    Couldnt find an email for u so thought i’d ask here. I have a M1a that i bought from Jack at Armscorp before he passed. He said it was one of the 1st, if the first produced from Silver Spring plant. Ser numbr A 10000. Have found no record of that ser no. Do you have any idea how to verify or determine provenance?
    John h.

  3. Kirk

    There’s a lot we don’t know about the accounting that went on, back in the WWI era. I remember reading a book in my grandparent’s library that was very much in the vein of the whole “Merchants of Death” thing, published sometime in the ’20s. The author seemed like a bit of a nut job, to be honest, but he detailed dozens of super-questionable things, like the arms manufacturers getting paid for weapons they didn’t produce when contracts were cancelled, in lieu of cancellation fees that hadn’t been negotiated. A lot of really speculative crap went on during the WWI era, and the US government bailed these guys out, big time.

    The discrepancies may originate in that kind of thing.

    The financial chicanery that went on during that era is something that really deserves a lot more highlighting than it actually gets. We rail against the militarism and diplomatic foolishness that brought about WWI, but we also scrupulously ignore the role that the US financiers and industrialists played in the whole sorry mess. WWI would likely have ended in 1916, or so, in general financial destruction and exhaustion among the Brits and the French. Instead, we loaned them billions, and bought up their long-term investments at fire-sale prices.

    There’s an element there of self-destruction, sure, but… We damn sure enabled it.

    1. Matt

      ‘War is a Racket’ By Smedley Butler talks a lot about that. One of the most interesting claims in it is that Allied representatives met with Woodrow Wilson before the U.S. entered WWI and pointed out that if the U.S. didn’t pull their feet out of the fire, U.S. companies would go belly up when the allied countries that owed them money lost the war.

    2. John M.

      Well, I’m not here to defend war profiteering or cronyism, but a functional arms industry is pretty critical to a country’s survival. Just ask the Confederate States of America’s current ambassador to the U.S. Or the Third Reich’s, for that matter.

      -John M.

    3. Hognose Post author

      One example of cancellation drama involved the Pattern 14 Enfield. When the British canceled without warning, Winchester, which had built a plant to build the things, flipped out and tried to apply pressure. Apparently it went all the way to the Prime Minister and the British arranged to buy the machinery from Winchester. But then, Winchester used the machinery to make the US Enfield, and where money went is actually a bit uncertain.

  4. Bart Noir

    “At the end of the Ivar the Winchester Co. was looducing 1300 B.A.R.’s a day.”
    I’m guessing that this resulted from a computer reading a .pdf of a scan of an old typewritten page. Blame it on the software!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, the initial scan is pretty crummy. I have better OCR software but this tool (Nuance OCR for Mac) is good enough if the scan is OK. I may try the Fujitsu OCR and see if that works better.

      I’ll fix the errors.

  5. Aesop

    So, without allowing for ramp-up over time, Winchester was only cranking BARs out for about 36 working days, give or take, or about 7 weeks prior to the Armistice, simply dividing their rough finished number produced by their peak daily prod. rate.

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