Gun Review: Browning M2HB .50 Caliber

    The Browning M2 Machine Gun is the the stuff legends are made of. This gun was designed in 1918 and has been in continuous service since 1933. It is used by 100 nations and few improvements to the system have been made (new versions sport a spiffy flash hider and a QD barrel), and there is no indication that a replacement is on the horizon.

    The M2 was born when General John “Black Jack” Pershing asked for a larger and more potent version of the M1917/1919 .30 caliber machine gun. The M2 was then mounted on everything from tripods to bombers (the B17 had 13 of these bad boys). In fact, Hermann Göring wrote “if the German Air Force had the Browning .50 Caliber, the Battle of Britain would have turned out differently”.

    John Browning did not just contribute firearms to US military war efforts; He could have forced the US Military to license the design of the M2 machine gun on a royalty basis, which would have netted him an incredible fortune, but instead Browning accepted a flat $750,000 which was the military’s first offer as a gift to his country.

    So there is the history lesson. How does this thing work?

    Well, the gun is a lot like a 1919 but with no recoil booster up front. It operates via short recoil and fires from a closed bolt (a rarity in machine guns). The gun is very modular, and various barrel weights affect the cyclic rate (such as a light aircraft barrel). All kinds of different backplates are available as well, some allowing the gun to be fired remotely. The gun must be timed and headspaced every time the barrel is removed too.

    But enough talk. It was time to take this to the range. But how does one transport such a ridiculously huge weapon system? Well the answer was pretty obvious: in the back of my friend’s truck.

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    You know what I love about Texas? Well for one, this wasn’t a big deal and people were honking to wave and give us a thumbs up even in traffic. A policeman on a motorcycle drove right by too and didn’t do a damn thing! I can only imagine what would happen if we were to do this in New York!

    So I figured seeing this thing in action would be more entertaining than reading another one of my long-winded reviews that are peppered with opinions and a few photos, so I made a video (watch on a PC, will not work on mobile devices):

    So that was a lot of fun, albeit expensive fun on a hot Texas day. I would also like to note that with the T&E set we started gradually punching through the berm! We did however not make it through (I was running XM33 ball only, no AP/APIT or anything like that).

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    Now I did make another video that shows how to headspace and time the M2 that some people may find entertaining as well:

    And another showing how to link ammunition for the firearm using a linker:

    So that is that.

    What about cleaning?

    Well cleaning is not that hard:

    • Remove barrel
    • Open top-cover
    • Remove backplate
    • Remove recoil spring
    • Slide bolt out until you can remove the retaining pin
    • Press retaining tab that holds the buffer body assembly in
    • Slide out assembly
    • Remove bolt and barrel extension group

    You are now stripped and have these parts laying about:

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    I usually wipe everything clean with a towel and then hit the parts with some brake cleaner. When it dries, I coat everything with a generous amount of CLP from a can or spray bottle (I have been told by many former military people that the trick to making these run forever is copious amounts of oil. Even motor oil will get the job done).

    I throw a towel under the gun and let it drip dry for a few hours and then take it from the garage to my house. Now storing an M2 is no easy task, but makes a great conversation piece sitting in the middle of the living room:

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    “Oh that? That’s just my .50 caliber machine gun. Care for a beverage?”

    Ok, so it doesn’t stay there (as ludicrous as it would be) but it does dominate a good portion of my safe (barrel removed, receiver in the corner).

    All in all I love the M2 machine gun, but anytime someone mentions buying one I make sure they know what they are getting into:

    • Ammo can bankrupt you, especially if you don’t reload (there is a reason M2s are cheaper than other beltfeds)
    • The gun weighs 130 lbs. (59 kilos) with tripod
    • Transporting the thing is a pain
    • Storing the thing is a pain
    • Finding a place to shoot it can be very difficult
    • Failure to headspace and time properly can result in injury or death (and a destroyed gun)
    • You need links and a linker unless you want a single shot

    I support the right of civilians to own this gun and guns like it, but from a logistical standpoint it can be very hard to justify. That aside, the M2 is an amazing machine that borders on being a mechanical marvel.

    Alex C.

    Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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