BY T.P. SCHWEIDER
No, Regular readers, this installment is not about a mythic band of Ancient Warriors, but about the greatest Heavy Machine Gun ever made, the Browning M2-HB .50 Cal Machine Gun. Designed by that genius John Moses Browning in 1921 to meet an Army specification of a heavier machine gun than the .30, for anti-tank and anti-aircraft use, the .50 was the result.
It is a belt-fed, recoil-operated, air-cooled weapon firing a slug that is 1/2” in diameter, the thickness of your thumb. Weight of the receiver group is 56 lbs; weight of the barrel is 26lbs, for a total of over 80lbs. (THAT’S WHY IT’S CALLED “HEAVY!”),
Maximum range is 7,400 yds, maximum range is 2000 yds, and rate of fire is 450-500 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity of 2,930 fps (1,997 MPH). It is a time-tested and War-proved weapon, as you can see in the film footage from Afghanistan, mounted on Humvee’s, M-1 Tanks and special forces vehicles.
First employed in WWII, it proved to be a reliable, fearsome weapon, and when used in quadruple mount, was terrifyingly devastating to the bad guys, reducing Banzai attacks to mincemeat in seconds.
The Chinese hated them with a Passion in Korea, where they shredded human wave tactics and there are scholars who opine that if the French had had 6 more quad .50’s at Dien Bien Phu, the position would not have fallen. The water-cooled variant has a higher rate of fire and being water-cooled, can fire all-day, but is too cumbersome for field use.
During lulls on an operation (sitting around waiting for the “Word”.) I would pass the time laying the ammo belt out on top of the turret and rearrange the sequence of the individual rounds. Instead of the standard of every fifth round being a tracer, I would make it every tenth round, and load the accumulated extras at the very end of the belt, so when the gun shot out a stream of silver (the tracer ammo we used at that time was Silver, not red.) I knew that I’d be out of ammo and could yell for the loader to break out a new can of .50 ammo, it was a Kick!
So much for the real world. In the Model World there are problems. The average .50 in 1/35th scale is usually a rectangle with a rod for a barrel, and not much else. Italeri’s .50 is hideous! Tamiya is acceptable and dragon, while intensely detailed is too narrow in the receiver and way too thin of a barrel. Like a pin stuck in a block of plastic. It appears downright fragile, and if you had ever had to carry one for any distance you’d know why it is called a Heavy Machine Gun.
Therefore, it is my considered and biased opinion that the best model .50 is the Academy kit: U.S. MACHINE GUN SET #1384 for about $7.50.
They have the proportions down right; do an excellent copy of the configuration of the spade grips, and a choice of things like receivers, mounts and barrels. There are enough parts to make 2-.50 and 2-.30 Cal MG’s on vehicle mounts or tripods and both modern and WWII ammo boxes. You have to assemble the .50’s: the receiver group, feed cover, barrel, sight, retracting handle, spad grips, trigger, and pintle are all separate parts. You’ll definitely need forceps with the trigger and retracting handle.
However, you have a choice of 3 different barrels (bore them out with a #75 drill) and the ground mount and aviation type receivers. These last could be used as the wing guns on a 1/32 US fighter aircraft diorama or as waist guns on a heavy bomber. Have always wanted to do a box diorama of the waist gunners in a B-24D on the big Ploesti Mission in 1943.
My only criticism is the ammo belts. They’re too small in proportion and clunky at the same time. Tamiya’s belts from their US Weapons Kits work much better.
Being lazy, I’ve never attempted the resin model MG’s: too much work, and the proportions look off, plus the handles are quite delicate, and the barrels are always warped. Academy makes a damn nice gun without undue effort to assemble. Try’em!