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MARKINGS ON M1919 GROUND
CALIBER .30 BROWNING
MACHINE GUNS

 

One of the fascinating and sometimes confusing aspects of working with the M1919 series of Browning machine guns is the marks often found on various parts, why they are there and what they mean.

The markings fall into several categories, Some identify the manufacturer or a sub-contractor, or the particular production process that produced the part while others identify the part itself, and some of the marks are “proof” marks or marks indicating the part or perhaps the entire weapon has been “proved” and accepted by the Ordnance Department. 

But just a little a little background is in order.

First, we will deal with the markings that are imprinted on the part for identification of that part and the manufacturer. 

In any system of serial identification of information whether it be the Ordnance Department or constructing the Brooklyn Bridge there has to be a key element links together all of the other information.

In the case of the Ordnance Department that key is the various drawings of the item.

The drawings are the basic unit of information that is used to create all of the other document resources needed to manufacture, order and stock spare parts and rebuild the particular item.

Up until 1922 the Ordnance Department used a Class and Division system of numbering drawings and the parts produced from those drawings.

The Class and Division system applied a class number to a group of like weapons . 

In the case of the Browning machine guns that class number was 51, all automatic weapons below 40 mm were included in Class 51.  Each different type of weapon was assigned a Division number the M1917 was assigned the division number of 10. 

The M1919A4 Flexible was assigned Division 84, the Fixed version was Division 83.

When the Class number was combined with the Division number it produced the Major Item number. 

The drawings used to produce M1917 parts before 1931 were numbered using this system. 

The M1917 Browning drawings  started with a sheet numbered 51-10-1 which was the right side view of the weapon.  This sheet was followed by drawing 51-10-1A which listed every drawing of every part needed to produce a complete weapon. 

Sheet 51-10-1A also served as an index to the drawings of all of the various parts, listing which sheet the part appeared on and its piece mark.

The Class and Division system of identifying drawings allowed more than one part to be shown on a sheet.

Originally the drawing sheets was divided into four quadrants the upper left A, upper right B, lower left C and lower right D, however, we have seen sheets where the quadrants were not assigned in this order. 

Each part was assigned a “piece mark” that is a combination of upper case letters and numerals to identify it. Ordnance sometimes wrote “piece mark” as one word. 

Originally the piece mark itself was identified on the drawing by enclosing it in a 3/8 diameter circle located next to the part nomenclature.

This system worked well with the Class and Division system as there were usually only two or three characters used for the piece mark.   

The piece mark was created by combining the sheet number of the drawing with a letter which sometimes coincided with quadrant letter, and, if there had been revisions to the part, another number which corresponded to the revision number. 

For example, drawing 51-10-10, Revision 1 (August 20, 1919) has three parts shown. 

In the upper left quadrant,  (A) the left side plate is shown and it has a piece mark of 10A.  In the upper right quadrant,  (B), is the elevating bracket it’s assigned piece mark is 10B1.  The lower left quadrant (C) contains the drawing of the bottom plate with a piece mark of 10C1, it appears that revision 1 altered both the elevating bracket and the bottom plate but not the left side plate.

On some drawings the piece mark appear to have a direct connection with the location of the piece on the drawing sheet, on others it doesn’t. 

If the part had been revised, the revision number that affected the part in question was included in the piece mark. 

On these drawings, as on the later letter prefix drawings, just because a piece mark has been assigned does not mean that the part is imprinted with that identifier. 

From the early Class and Division drawings we have examined very few, if any, parts were required to be imprinted with a piece mark.

At one time in this search of drawings we thought that secrecy, or patent right infringement might have been the reason for the lack of imprinting.

In 1922 Ordnance implemented mandatory drawing sizes and identified them with letter prefixes A through E the higher up the alphabet the bigger the sheet.

At the same time Ordnance also implemented a policy of depicting only one part on a drawing sheet, this required redrawing every part and renumbering every drawing and changing every piece mark.

Now the piece mark consisted of the drawing number and any revision suffix numbers required.

The piece mark  would no longer fit in the 3/8" circle so Ordnance decided to continue using the circle but extending the piece mark to the right through the perimeter of the circle.

This gave the appearance of a large "C" enclosing the letter prefix of the drawing/piece mark.

Each part was drawn on an appropriate sized sheet. 

One of the drawbacks of the letter prefix system is illustrated by the barrel extension of the M1917 which consists of two parts, the barrel extension and the stud. 

Formerly it was shown on one Class and Division drawing sheet along with three other parts. Now there were three drawings, just for the barrel extension, one for the extension itself, one for the stud and one for the assembly consisting of the extension and the stud.

Given the inter-war period’s budget restrictions, the conversion of drawings for existing weapons took quite some time. 

The M1917 BMG drawings weren’t  fully converted until 1931.

The M1919A4 BMG family’s design wasn’t approved until 1936 so all of the parts drawings conformed to the letter prefix naming convention.  

However, the Class and Division system which produced the Major Item Number continued to be used, but instead of these “drawings” showing the actual parts they became illustrations of the complete weapon and lists of drawings of parts, materials, standards, and other things like packing crates that pertained to the particular weapon. 

The Class and Division assignments and Major Item Numbers for the WWII era M1919 family of ground BMG were as follows.

51-77, M1919A2

51-83, M1919A4 Fixed

51-84, M1919A4 Flexible

51-114, M1919A5

51-125, M1919A6

The Class and Division “drawings” for the M1919A4 Flexible were numbered as follows:

51-84-1, Right Side View

51-84-1A, List of Drawings and Specifications

51-84-2, Plan View

51-84-3, Longitudinal Section

51-84-4, Sectional View (Cross section)

Sheets 3 and 4 are actually “finding diagrams” which show the individual parts, location of the parts on the weapon and their drawing numbers.

These five sheets served as a sort of master index of all of the things necessary for producing the complete weapon. 

Like any other type of Ordnance drawings they were updated from time to time, that is a dated Revision to the drawing was made and recorded on the drawing itself and on a drawing index card which was the history of the individual drawing. 

The last available drawing 51-84-1A is revision 57 dated 8-19-48 when it was redrawn without change.

Some drawings produced between the introduction of the letter prefix system 1922 and before about 1936 used "Symbols" to identify the individual parts on the finding diagram and to group together all like parts.

By like parts it is meant that anything identified by a common name such as "barrel" would be identified by a three alpha characters having no relationship to the drawing number with the last letter being B the first letter of the common name and followed by  numeral(s) assigned in chronological order.

 

The Symbols system seems to have first appeared on Caliber .30 BMG drawings for the M1919 Aircraft Machine Gun.

The barrel drawing number was D32 and the Symbol was EEB1.

If you looked at the Finding Diagram for the M1919 BAMG the barrel would be identified as EEB1 then you looked at Sheet 51-25-1A found the barrel symbol and looked at the column to the left and there was the drawing number.

In the Symbols system all "barrels"  for whatever weapon would be grouped under EEB so engineers could quickly locate all the barrel designs in the Ordnance system.

Detailed instructions for using Symbols appeared in the 1934 version of the "Drafting Room Regulations of the Ordnance Department of the United States Army "

The whole Symbols system was abandoned about 1936, likely because it was redundant and the use of drawing numbers would serve the same function.

There are quite a few drawings made after the Symbols system was discontinued that have the "Symbol" box in the title block with no entries.

 Ordnance must have been using up the drawing medium in stock.

  

Fig 1

The earliest drawing 51-84-1A, List of Parts and Specifications, is dated September 30, 1936, it is the original without revision, and makes no reference to instructions for individual piece marks. However, it does make reference to Piece Mark instructions on drawing B169913 

We are of the opinion that all marking instructions continued to be on the drawing for the part itself and there were no general instructions for marking M1919A4 parts until January 22, 1941 when drawing B169913 appeared.

Our copy of this drawing, entitled “PIECEMARK INSTRUCTIONS” has no authorizing signatures, but does contain the draftsman’s initials and a note “New tracing made 4-7-41” and is signed “A.W. Roe”. 

A civilian employee of the Ordnance Department, Mr. Roe's signature appears on many RIA produced drawings.

The “Drawing Pertains To” block shows both drawing 51-83-1A and             51-84-1A, the M1919A4 Fixed and Flexible BMG’s and has a list of the parts to be marked and a note advising that piece marks, and their locations, can be found on the drawing for that part and  that no other parts need be marked regardless of instructions to the contrary on the drawings. 

There are no manufacturer’s identification marks listed on this drawing.

  

Fig 2

Drawing B169913 as redrawn on April 4, 1941  takes a more comprehensive approach.

Not only does it list the same parts and drawing numbers as the previous version but it adds a table of manufacture’s identification marks and directs that the parts listed have both the manufacturer’s marking and the drawing number and adds the note that the manufacturer may place his markings on additional components with the Chief of Ordnance’s approval.

This goes a long way to explaining why some manufacturers, like Buffalo Arms marked all kinds of parts that the Ordnance Department didn’t require to be marked.

Note the variety of manufacturers, some, like Frigidaire, AC Spark Plug, Saginaw Steering Gear, and Brown-Lipe-Chapin are General Motors subsidiary companies and had previously produced everything from household appliances to auto parts.

These GM companies went on to be the high quality, low cost providers of weapons.

 

 Fig 3

Note that those manufacturer’s marks that consisted of letters only had periods after each letter i.e. S.A. for Springfield Armory. 

B169913 Revision 1 dated 1-19-42 removed the periods after the letters and added the bottom plate to the list of parts required to be marked.

None of the subsequent drawings up to Revision 9 dated 10-7-44 have the periods after the letters.

The 1-19-42 date for Revision 1 on B169913 coincides with the Revision 6 date on drawing D35392 which required imprinting the bottom plate with the piece mark and manufacturer’s mark.

 

 Fig 4

We believe the periods after the letters, shown on Revision 1, to be a drafting error corrected by Revision 2  rather than an explanation of  why some Saginaw Steering Gear produced parts are marked S.G. rather than the more common SG marking. 

It is a distinct possibility that the S.G. marked 1919A4 parts may have been produced at the Grand Rapids, MI plant rather than the Saginaw, MI plant and so marked to identify which plant produced them. 

Saginaw used a variation of the same system to identify M1 carbine parts produced at the different plants.

The manufacturer’s identification marks listed  on the B169913 drawing dated April 7, 1941 list some manufacturer’s that are not usually connected with weapons manufacture and some identification marks that differ from markings on M1917’s such as the marks for Remington and Colt’s.

Typically, Remington M1917 parts were marked with the R enclosed in a triangle and the Colt’s C in a box. 

The marking for Westinghouse produced parts, a W in a circle remained unchanged. 

One explanation for some of the manufacturers listed is that at the time the April 7,1941 drawing was prepared, it was unknown who, or how many of the firms listed would actually be producing M1919’s or component parts, as this drawing predated the U.S. entry into WWII. 

It is also possible that this was a generic list of manufacturers marks, as Frigidaire, AC Spark Plug, Brown-Lipe-Chapin, Savage, Kelsey-Hayes and High-Standard went on to produce 50 Caliber BMG’s, and other weapons and parts.

There is no mention of a manufacturer’s mark for Border Cities Industries, Windsor, ON, Canada (BC/BCI) because M1919’s produced by BCI were not produced under Ordnance Department supervision.  

Border Cities Industries was a GM Canada subsidiary, and produced M1919’s for Canadian and other British Commonwealth forces.  As of this writing we do not know exactly which parts were required to be marked by Canadian Ordnance.

 

Fig 5

B169913 Revision 2 (2-23-42) removed the requirement that the cocking lever be marked with the piece mark, the manufacturer’s marking was all that was required from this point on.

It also removed the periods following the letters in the manufacturers marks.  The triangle preceding  Lever, Cocking  is a symbol used on this drawing to indicate “Manufacturer’s Identification Only”

 

 Fig 6

Revision 3 (3-3-42) removed the requirement  that the ejector be marked with the piece mark, probably the manufacturers of this very small part complained about the difficulty of marking it. 

After 3-3-42 only the manufacturers mark was required. 

Revision 3 has much relevance to identifying original, that is to say unmodified, extractor assemblies. Most of the 1919 parts and parts kits available today “repatriated” from Israel have had the bolts and extractor assemblies modified including replacing the ejectors with one supposedly  better suited to the design of the 7.62X51 NATO cartridge which has a very different extractor groove than the U.S. Cal.30 cartridge design. 

 

Fig 7

Revision 4  (3-30-42) to B169913 added the rear sight base spring to the parts no longer requiring the manufacturers mark.

 

Fig 8

Revision 5  (5-15-42) added the M1919A5  to the “Drawing Pertains To” block.

 

Fig 9

Revision 6  (6-18-42)  added an alternate design rear sight base spring (A13157A) to the list of parts and required the manufacturer’s mark only.

  

Fig 10 

Revision 7  (3-19-43) changed the drawing number of the extractor  from C8464 to D44087.

 

Fig 11

Revision 8 (7-22-43)  removed both styles of the rear sight base spring from all marking requirements.

This revision  also added Gellman Manufacturing company (GC) to the list of manufacturers.  Gellman was located in Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA, and was, from our research, involved in manufacturing metal products.

The Rock Island Argus newspaper archives carried a story about a  Gellman subsidiary company, Mississippi Foundry Corporation, opening a plant in 1933 on First St. in Rock Island. 

Gellman also apparently produced hand tools as there are several  wrenches listed on collectable tool websites. 

We also discovered appellate court records from 1961 concerning a law suit against Gellman regarding failure to deliver, as specified, bread slicing/wrapping machinery to a customer.

It is unknown as of this writing which M1919 parts Gellman produced.  However “Hard Rain” (Iannamico) mentions that “General Motors Corporation, Detroit, MI” and “Guide Lamp Division of General Motors Corporation, Anderson, IN” were  producers of M1919 barrels.  “GL”  (Guide Lamp) marked barrels are not uncommon, possibly the “General Motors” barrels were confused with barrels marked “GC”, however this is only conjecture as it is unknown whether or not Gellman ever produced barrels.

Since Gellman appears to have been in the metal fabricating business, and owned a foundry, they could have produced nearly any part for the M1919, or any other small arm for that matter.

We have seen M1919A6 Stellite barrels with a RIA-G marking which might indicate that RIA contracted with Gellman to manufacture the “tube” (barrel) portion of the Stellite assembly, but that begs the question why weren’t the barrels marked RIA-GC.  In any event, we know very little for certain about Gellman parts. 

I suspect that we will know much more about Gellman’s role in the production of parts after this article becomes more widely circulated. 

We tend to learn much more about this subject from persons contributing to the base of knowledge than from pure research.

 

Fig 13

The last available B169913 drawing, also a Revision 9, which is a “Blueprint” reproduction of the original,  carries  the note “SUPERCEEDED BY B6169913 WO/C (without change) 5-10-48”. 

Sometimes redrawing and renumbering to the 7 digit system originally instituted in the November of 1943 was shown as a numbered Revision but that does not  seem to be the case on this  particular drawing.  

The 5-10-48 redrawing/renumbering date is common with all of the other observed dates on M1919 drawings that were redrawn using the seven digit drawing numbers required by the 1943 plan to add commonality the drawing/part/stock number system.

This pretty well covers which parts were required  by Ordnance to be marked, and the authorized manufactures identification marks, however, is does nothing to shed light on other markings applied to parts by various manufacturers to identify their sub-contractors, or their own production facilities that produced individual parts.  It is likely that after the passage 75 years or so the meaning of many of these marks will remain a mystery. 

What is not a mystery is the “Proof “ marks and the world famous “Flaming Bomb” or the equally famous “Crossed Cannons” Ordnance Corps escutcheon.

The Ordnance “Proof” mark signifying that the weapon or part had successfully passed a firing proof  test using special high pressure test cartridges was placed on the part or weapon as indicated on the component or assembly drawing. This mark was a upper case “P” the size and location or which varied with the part and the individual weapon.

Weapons with wooden stocks often had the ‘P” proof mark, sometimes enclosed in a circle, imprinted on the bottom of the stock.

The Caliber .30 M2 Ball cartridge has a normal operating pressure of about 50,000 PSI.

There were at least 2 types of “Proof” cartridges, one had an operating pressure of about 68,000 PSI and one with a 75,000 PSI operating pressure. 

These pressures were produced by using either a greater propellant charge or a heavier projectile or both. 

We don’t know why there were two different requirements.

Ordnance required that the barrel, barrel extension, bolt assembly, and of course the completed  M1919 weapon undergo a proof/function firing test.

This is, as far as we know from the drawings we have examined, these are  the only M1919 components requiring the “P” imprint.  

Most likely the proof/function testing of the completed weapon consisted of firing some number of proof cartridges along with some number of Ball cartridges. 

This would be a pretty straight forward process and the Base Shop Data book shows sight alignment and firing fixtures. 

What we do not know is how the component parts, that is those parts that were not installed on a completed weapon, were proofed, or if they were proofed prior to being installed on the complete weapon and the final test was just a function test, the component parts having been previously proofed. 

Barrels were a very highly used replacement part and every barrel was required to be proofed, no doubt there was some high speed production method that was developed to accomplish this. 

Continuing research may yet uncover the Ordnance directives that describe the method and equipment used to proof component parts and completed M1919‘s.

We now move on to the “Flaming Bomb” and “Crossed Cannons” marks.

Further research may uncover  the circumstances under which of these marks were placed and where.

The M1919’s seemed to have the “Crossed Cannons” mark placed on the right side plate  adjacent to the Ordnance Inspector’s initial’s.

The “Flaming Bomb” U.S. Ordnance symbol/property mark is seen in widely varied locations, especially with Saginaw Steering Gear produced weapons. 

Again, further investigations may disclose Ordnance directives specifying where these marks should have been placed.

Saginaw seems to have placed these markings in many locations, the purpose of these marks is, as yet, unclear. 

The “Flaming Bomb” is a Ordnance mark, not a proprietary mark of any one manufacturer, although Saginaw seems to have used the “Flaming Bomb” for just that purpose. 

One reason for this might be that for a period of time between 1943 and 1945 Saginaw was the only manufacturer of complete M1919 ground BMG’s

Saginaw seems to have placed final proof “P’s” and “Flaming Bomb” marks overlapping the joint between the left side plate and the top plate near the rear sight bracket.

The drawings we have reviewed indicate that the final firing proof was supposed to be imprinted on the right side plate just to the rear of the right mount adaptor.

What authority directed this placement of the other flaming bomb markings is, at yet, unknown, but this is a good method for identifying probable Saginaw production, even if the right side plate is missing as it is in the of “parts kits“.

My kit built semi-auto U.S./Saginaw/Izzy/ OOW/A4/A6 mutt has a mismatched top/left side plate, as the stamped marks are not in alignment.

Most persons familiar with M1919’s view stamping  in this area as proof that the weapon was produced by Saginaw, however, we do not have at this writing anything definitive to confirm this.

One disclaimer must be noted.  While the information used to prepare this article was obtained from actual Ordnance drawings there is no guarantee that during wartime production these very detailed directives were followed in every instance.  The more we learn, the more we discover how little we understand about what actually went on.

 

Fig 14

A Korean war vintage RIA produced Revision 22 bottom plate note the 7 digit part number 6535233 which replaced the earlier D35233 piece mark number on the  1948  drawing.  This plate is most likely a replacement part as it shows no evidence of ever being assembled into a complete weapon.

 Photo courtesy of Rollin Lofdahl

 Fig 15

This photo is of a Rock Island Arsenal produced D35392 MP (modified part) bottom plate. 

This specialized bottom plate was used in the conversion of WWI era M1917 water cooled Browning machine guns to M1917A1 water cooled and M1919A4 air cooled weapons used in WWII.

 Photo courtesy of “CaptMax”

Fig 15A 

This photo shows a Gellman marked ejector attached to a Gellman extractor assembly.

Photo by Douglas  Dague

 

 Fig 16

M1919A4 barrel markings on a D35233 Revision 6  barrel produced by Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors. 

The “P” proof mark is located just below the G in SG the Ordnance “Flaming Bomb” is just visible below the piece mark the 2 “C” ‘s  stamped on the barrel are most likely Saginaw production codes.

 Authors photo

 

Fig 17

Authors photo

Buffalo Arms used many subcontractors to produce M1919 parts and had the subcontractor apply number codes to identify their production.  This M1919 lock frame  has a 223 code imprinted on the lock frame separator along with Buffalo‘s BA manufacturer’s code.

The accelerator stop stud shown in the upper left is marked “BA 80“, the left and right side plates are marked “135” and the spacer, not visible in this picture is marked “11”. this lock frame consisting of 7 parts appears to have had 4 different production codes. 

This is not uncommon on Buffalo produced parts.  

According to Iannamico in “Hard Rain“, Buffalo Arms only produced 36 of the nearly 189 parts of the M1919A4 in house, the rest were produced by subcontractors.

The identify of the various subcontractors is unknown as the marks were required by Buffalo Arms not the Ordnance Department and the records are long gone.

While the hobbyist, or collector puts great store in being able to date or identify the  various parts, either by piece marks or design changes to the part, I am fairly certain that the combat users of these weapons occupied themselves with more practical concerns.

Far more praying was done on the way into Omaha Beach than wondering  when a weapon or part was produced and who manufactured it

 

CREDITS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This article contains mostly original sourced material, where other sources are used, they have been credited in the body of the article.

All of the Ordnance drawings through the courtesy of Jodie Creen Wesemann, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.  Without her assistance none of the information we have presented in this article, or our other attempts to shed light on the M1919 enigma, would be possible.  Not only does she provide the drawings, but more importantly  shares her “finds”.  We have discovered more through Jo’s “Would this help ?” offerings than by structured research.

Rollin Lofdahl also contributed much as usual, his collection of parts, and extensive contacts in the 1919 community are most helpful and greatly appreciated.

A special thanks to SHOTS the founder of the 1919a4.com forum for offering a place to post and discuss our information.

Last but not least, thank you to all the 1919a4.com forum members for their comments, encouragement and suggestions, and even their criticism. 

All of us have a piece of the big puzzle and by sharing  our observations, experience, and knowledge we all benefit.