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The 30 Caliber AN-M2 Browning Machinegun

Exclusive SAR Photo ID Guide!
Text & Photos by Steve Fleischman

In the years following the Wright brother’s famous flight, the airplane was becoming a more reliable machine and demonstrating its importance as a military tool. This was at best an observation platform and for years just an expensive toy for the military. It is not quite clear which country was first, but somewhere between 1909 and 1914 everybody was mounting machineguns on airplanes. Every conceivable gun and contrivance was tried.
HISTORY United States development of an aircraft machine after World War I was started with a set of specifications. Until they were changed, they produced a gun with compromised reliability. The first guns were modified 1917 watercooleds with perforated barrel jackets. A lightened bolt and muzzle booster increased its rate of fire to 1,000 rpm. These guns, produced by NE Westinghouse and Marlin, were at best a stopgap measure in development since they self-destructed. They were known as the M1918 and later modified as the M1918A1.



The Small Arms Review - Vol. 6 No. 7 - April, 2003

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DEVELOPMENT In the early 1920’s the Ordnance Board recommended a series of new specifications which essentially produced a “ground up” design. This gun was known as the Model 1922 and was produced by Springfield Armory. Post war budget cuts stopped the production of the M1922 even though there was a need for this gun. Colt Patent Firearms Co. seeing a good thing, picked up the development and production and introduced the aircraft machinegun M2 in 1931. Colt, along with its military production, manufactured a commercial model known as the MG40 that was sold around the world in not only .30-06 but in 7x57mm, and 6.5x55mm. By the time World War II was in full swing, the .30 AN-M2 was actually being phased out, by the increased firepower of the .50. The only places that they were still used were earlier models of B17, A20, P-39 and carrier-based fighters such as the SBD. The British did not feel that way, and used our .30 caliber M2’s and their own model, the MK2, in huge numbers on Spitfires and Hurricanes. US production records show that of the 200,000 guns built during World War II about 70,000 were sent to England. DESCRIPTION, COMPARIONS, AND SPECIFICATIONS As we look more closely, the AN-M2 .30 machinegun is more like a .50 Browning in its design than it is like any other 30 Browning. 1. Bolt is dual feed - two tracks. 2. Feed cover is convertible for right and left feed 3. Extractor is convertible for right and left feed 4. Recoil spring is on a fixed rod, the same as the .50 5. Back plate has spade grips and a safety, latch and lock 6. Receiver has square mounting holes for solenoids or trigger motors 7. Receiver has tapped holes for mounting various cocking devices 8. Barrel extension has two cuts to clear the extractor in either position. 9. Firing pins have two sear notches COMPARISON OF THE AN-M2 TO THE 1919A4 AN-M2 23.00 pounds 39.72 inches LINKS ONLY 1,350 rpm 23.90 inches 3.80 pounds 6.56 pounds 1919A4 31.00 pounds 41.11 inches LINKS OR BELTS 500 rpm 24.00I inches 7.35 pounds 11.7 pounds THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE AN-M2 Originated by Springfield Armory and developed by Colt, the AN-M2 was put out for bid by the Army Air Corps in the mid-1930s. Even though phased out in the early 1940s quantities were still produced for replacement, Lend Lease, and training use. The three major producers were located in NewYork State. These were Buffalo Arms in Buffalo, Savage Arms in Utica, and Brown Lipe Chapman Division of General Motors in Syracuse. The combined production was 193,556 guns. Brown Lipe Chapman was devoted to AN-M2 production. Buffalo also produced the 1919A4’s and Savage produced .50 BMG’s and Thompson submachine guns.


Above: Brown Lipe Chapman Below: Savage Arms

Above: Buffalo Arms Below: Colt Military

Above: Colt Commercial

The Small Arms Review - Vol. 6 No. 7 - April, 2003


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Field Stripping the AN-M2
Disassembly of this gun is much like a .50 in the design. You will notice there is no backplate latch on the top of the gun. 1) The latch and latch lock are located at the bottom of the backplate. 2) Using a punch, release the recoil spring-rod assembly. 3) Push bolt to rear and remove bolt stud (if equipped with retracting slide) or bolt handle. 4) Use a punch to depress the lockframe pin. 5) Push the whole barrel assembly out the rear of the receiver. 6) Remove the lockframe from the barrel extension. 7) Remove the barrel by lifting the retaining spring and unscrewing it. Note: Since you can not turn the barrel without lifting the spring, headspace adjustments can only be made when the gun is disassembled.
84 The Small Arms Review - Vol. 6 No. 7 - April, 2003

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A Look at The Parts

The Barrel Jackets
1) Special enhanced cooling jacket with increased number of holes and expanded diameter at the throat of the barrel - 86 holes -, 6 rows 2) Most common military issue - 52 holes - 4 rows3) Slotted military that was also used on commercial guns - 27 slots - 6 rows 4) British MK2 - 24 slots - 6 rows

Boosters Muzzle Bearings and Flash Hiders
1) British M2 flash hider /booster 2) British M2 booster only 3) Military issue 2 piece bearing /booster 4) Colt Commerial 2 piece 5) Colt Commercial one piece bearing only. This had no booster, therefore resulted in a reduced speed gun6) Special Navy flash hider for night fighting
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Backplates and Grips
1) Early military issue - fitted walnut 2) Late military issue red plastic 3) Colt Commercial round walnut 4) Fixed backplate for solenoid-fired gun 5 ). Backplate with trigger bar for soft aircraft mounts

Firing Devices
1). Side plate solenoid, common to remote guns and turret installations 2). Side plate trigger assembly used on remote mounts and turrets 3). Safety /sear release assembly for british mk2 open bolt gun 4). Bolt release for British MK2. This assembly contacts the bolt latch in the lock frame.

Charging Mechanisms
1). Cable charger, used on remote locations and on twin soft mounts, where armor plate interfered with using the bolt handle. 2). T- handle retracting assembly used in tight locations where there is no side room for a bolt handle. 3). Cocking slide assembly, used on most flex guns to eliminate the hazard of the fast moving handle
86 The Small Arms Review - Vol. 6 No. 7 - April, 2003

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Lock Frames, Barrel Extensions, Bolts, Extractors, and Top Covers and Firingpins

Firing Pins 1) AN-M2 has 2 sear slots 2) 1919A4/M37

Lock Frames
1) AN-M2 2) British MK2 ( note bolt release and bolt buffer spring) 3) 1919A4/M37 for comparison

Barrel Extensions
1) AN-M2* 2) 1919A4 3) M37 * *(note two extractor cuts for dual feed)

Top Covers
1) AN-M2 2) 1919A4 3 ) M37 Both the M2 and M37 top covers have reversable feed pawl Assemblies and feed levers and pivot type latches

1) AN-M2 rotating bolt switch for changing feed 2) 1919A4 left hand feed only 3) M37 removable track filler pieces for changing feed

1) AN-M2 2) 1919A4 3) M37 Note: both the M2 and M37 extractors are reversable by removing the Ejector pivot pin and reinstalling the ejector for opposite feed They are similar in design differing mainly in the arm thickness. The M37 extractor is 0 .1875-inch thick and the M2 0.125-inch.
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Gun Mounts
The 30 cal. AN-M2 machinegun is attached to an airplane by means of a gun mount or gun mount adapter. The type of mounting depends on the purpose for which it was intended. Wing mounted guns were fixed and were aimed by pointing the airplane at the target. flexable gun installations are employed on attack or bombardment airplanes for defense against enemy attack, and are independent of the direction of flight. AN-M2 mounts are divided into two types - solid and shock absorbing or “soft”.

Left: British flex mount for pistol grip backplate. Right: Army C-12 mount.

Left: British spade mount. Right: Under side showing bolt release.

Hard Mounts
(Above) The hard mount used most in aircraft installations was the gun mount adapter Army Type C-12 or Navy Type MK-1. This mount does utilize the front and rear gun adapters most commonly associated with tripod adaptations. The gun is bolted between two sideplates with a large “s” shaped pintle between. This pintle attached to rail mount type g-1a, g-5, and h-1 that traveled on a ring located on the rear of fighter aircraft. The british had a unique system for the MK2 gun that fired from an open bolt. This is a rather inexpensive mount with wood grips. This was an all welded, non Shock absorbing mount. It did however have a very complicated bolt trip mechanism attached to the bottom of the gun. The bolt was held back by a large “sear” as part of the lock frame. A side trigger device released the firing pin at the point when the bolt was in battery. The side trigger had a fire and safe position. This type of design prevented “cook offs”.

Soft Mounts
(Right Page) Soft Mounts, as they are called, have been proven to increase gunner accuracy by eliminating the obvious shake associated with the high rate of fire. There are many modifications of the shock absorbing mounts, but the two basic ones are the:. single gun mount Army Type C-16 or Navy MK12. twin gun mount Army 19-G or Navy MK11 Mod2. Both these mounts consist of steel round bars or tubes with aluminum attachments, grease filled spring shock mounts, removable backplates with Plastic grips, trigger and safety.the twin MK11 had a built in link collection system through the center of the support mechanism. Guns attach in these mounts with a front bolt through the gun trunion and the shock absorber. Rear mounting uses special mounting blocks that fit the blind holes in the bottom plate of the gun. Both of these mounts use the 1-1/8 diameter pintle that fits most aircraft frame sockets.
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Left: Side view of the MK 12. Center: Detail of the rear gun blocks. Right: Front shock absorber.

Left: Rear view showing back plate. Center: Twin mount MK11 Right: Top view showing dual feed.

Left: MK11 installed in an SBD with armor. Right: Rear gun blocks on MK11.

Left: Back plate removed showing trigger bars. Right: MK11 with continuous feed units.
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Feed Devices
All mounts used a variation of feed devices as necessitated by the type of installation.

Box Type
The AN type ammunition box type L-4, or l-7, has a 100-round capacity. This box is held in type a-1 box holder. All mounts that have the bolt pattern for this device. 1) L-4 box and British copy. 2) Variations of the A-1 box holder.

Continuous Feed Units
3) Continuous feed units enable the ammunition belt to be guided into the machinegun while the gun is swiveled, elevated, or depressed. This unit is bolted directly to the gun mount and permit increased turning radius of the belt as it enters the gun. This mechanism consists of a bracket with 3 roller bearings, a guide chute and roller for the cartridges. There is a lower unit that is attached near or on the ammunition box in the fuselage. This unit was manufactured by the Bell Aircraft Corp. As upper continuous feed unit (left or right) Models CF-3l and CF-3r. The lower unit is Model CF-5

Flexible Feed Chutes
4) Flexible feed chutes are used to keep the cartridge belt from twisting and catching as it travels to the gun. Chutes enable large capacity ammunition boxes to be located some distance from the gun. Interlocking metal stampings shaped an assembled to support the cartridges comprise the chute. There are adapters on the gun and box end to attach the chute. This is most commonly used only in remote wing installations and some special flex attachments.


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Aircraft sights came in two forms, iron and optical. They all use the ring method by lining up the target with a front post or viewing an optical image on a glass plate. The rings are a form of range finding to establish lead and accurate range of engagement. the most common iron sight pair is the post A-4 and ring B-10. The B-10 clamps on to the feed cover, and the post attaches to the barrel jacket. Other variations are used on mounts MK12 single and MK11 twin. Colt commercial guns were furnished with ground sights, a flip up rear leaf and a folding front. the MK9 illuminated sight consists of a light, reflector, and lens. The sight projects an image onto the reflector screen. This hooded sight has a sunscreen and rheostat for brightness control. This sight was used on the MK11 twin mount.

Above: 1&2) Sights for twin MK11 mount. 3&4) Sights for single MK12 mount 5&6 ) Post A-4 & ring B-10 for flexible gun. 7&8) Front and rear Colt Commercial sights.

Above: 1) Rear sight type L-2. This sight is fully adjustable for elevation and windage. It is marked such for self computing of range for 400 yards, 150 miles per hour and 37 foot wing span. 2&3) Five inch diameter folding rear sight used in conjunction with the Navy night fighting flash hider. The high offset design keeps the sight field as far away from the muzzle flash as possible. 4) Navy MK9 illuminated sight. 5&6) Open sights on British MK-2.
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Training Guns

Most gunnery training started out with shotgun skeet shooting to teach new gunners how to lead. Another inexpensive method was the air powered BB gun. This subject gun was built to look and feel like an AN-M2. It is a, trainer-aerial gunnery Type E-3, made by the Mac Glashan Air Machinegun Corp. The top tube is the “magazine”. There is a ratchet feed that blocks the chamber for each shot for maximum pressure. It is quite accurate out to 150 feet.

The T33 Machinegun

In 1944 Aberdeen Proving Ground worked on a project to increase the rate of fire of ground machineguns. This was probably in response to Germany’s MG-42 and limited introduction of a ground use MG-81. This gun project no. 4765(90-S9-044) was designated cal. 30 Browning T33. It was a combination of an AN-M2 gun, A6 buttstock, BAR rear sight and bipod, and a front sight which was similar to a Colt Commercial item. Barrel overheating and lack of control was the cause of its demise.

What was one of the most perfected Browning Machineguns of the times, became obsolescent by world war II. Slow-moving, lightly-armored airplanes of the day were perfect for the rifle caliber flex gun. Kills quickly translated into how many pounds of projectiles could be fired at a target per minute. Planes got faster, their armor got thicker, and ranges of engagement got farther out.
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