The story of the elusive M1919A4E1 is like the tale of
We know it exists from the historical record, there
are pictures and drawings of it, but it is seldom seen in the flesh.
The M1919A4E1 gets short shrift in most of the books
written about the ground models of the Browning .30 Calibers because
its service life was extremely short and its numbers few, just over
18,000, and its applications limited.
One problem with the design of the .30 caliber
browning ground weapons is that they all evolved from a left hand feed
This configuration passed muster for ground use, but
sometimes having a right hand feed would have been pretty handy when
adapting the weapons to tanks or other applications.
Ideally, a design that would allow changing feed
direction in the field would have been the best option.
RIA worked on this problem off and on, mostly off
during WWII and on post-war as funds were available.
Author's photo courtesy of RIA Museum.
Here's one attempt at solving the left/right hand
dilemma. This appears to be a M37 experiment that had a reversible
bolt handle and the bolt had the "switch plates" found on the M37.
In 1950 the Ordnance Department directed RIA to design
a weapon similar to the M1919A4 to be used in fixed applications such as
the combination mounts in tanks, with iron sights, capable of left or right
hand feed, along with a bolt retracting mechanism similar to the
M1919A5, having a pistol grip with a standard mechanical trigger, a trigger lock and a new,
more operator friendly style top cover and back plate, able to be deployed dismounted.
This tall order resulted in the M37 which was
eventually went to the field primarily as a tank weapon in 1955.
One of the purpose of having machine guns on tanks is
to defend against infantry attacks, the bow gun had a limited field of
fire while the gun in the combination mount with the main gun had a 360 degree field of
Post WWII the Army flirted with the use of a .50 caliber in the combination mount.
This was eventually considered to be overkill and, due to the very limited space inside a tank,
which reduced by
half the number of rounds of machine gun ammunition that could be carried.
Mass "human wave" attacks by Red Chinese
troops in Korea reinforced the need for lots of ammunition.
With what would become the M37 on the horizon, and
determined not to make the same mistakes that had been made rushing into
production with the M1919A6, the Army decided that it needed a .30
caliber weapon with proven battlefield reliability to use in the
Ordnance realized that they had the basis for such a
weapon in the form of the M1919A5.
Unfortunately, since these weapon were not required in
any significant number after the fall of 1943 when its principal
user the M3A1 Stewart light tank was declared obsolete, many had been converted to M1919A4
or M1919A6 configuration.
Ordnance had tons, literally, of M1919A4's that could
be converted to something like the A5 all they really needed to do was
put a retracting handle assembly on them and replace the bolt handle
with a cocking stud and they could satisfy the most important
requirement, immediacy of supply while developing the M37.
The A5's had a downward curving retracting bar with
the grasping knob pointing to the right, and the bar guides were riveted
onto the right side plate to prevent them from vibrating loose.
This photo shows a M1919A5 that was converted from a
M1918 Browning Aircraft Machine Gun to a M1919A4 then to a M1919A5.
The weapon pictured is equipped with front and rear
sights indicating that it could have been one of the M1919A4 Fixed
models equipped with front and rear sights and altered
before the M1919A5 designation was ordered by the Ordnance Department,
regardless of the date on the photo.
Some applications of the M1919A4 Fixed model,
principally in the M2A and M3A1 light tanks, lacked right side clearance
in the combination mount, so modified versions of the 1919A4 Fixed
equipped with a bolt retracting bar mounted on the right side and a
different cover hold open device were developed.
Apparently some confusion ensued regarding spare
parts for these modified weapons.
In January, 1942 the Ordnance Department decided
to give weapons modified with the bolt retracting bar and the
non-standard hold open device for the top cover their own Major Item
number 51-114 and model designation M1919A5 Fixed.
Drawing 7147864 (July 23, 1951)
This assembly drawing for the M1919A4E1 actually shows side plate markings for
the M1919A4E1, however, the drawing for the plate itself, 7147813, is
not filed with the rest of the RIA drawings.
No matter, because no
plates were likely made, as all known A4E1's were fabricated form existing
RIA Museum photo courtesy of Jodie Creen
This is a close up view from the RIA photo of a
December 12, 1952.
This is a Saginaw produced M1919A4 converted to A4E1configuration
at RIA, it has all
the typical late WWII Saginaw production features cast top cover, latch, back
plate/pistol grip, rear sight base and it also has the non-adjustable (for
elevation) front sight along with no rivet hole for the bolt latch.
The first reference to a elevation adjustable front sight that
we have found for the M1919's was MWO ORD A6 W-13 that appeared in
October of 1952 ordering the change out of the front sight on weapons in
the field or those undergoing a rebuild.
This style of adjustable front sight featured a
knurled ring style adjustment nut having no locking feature
Based on that, it would appear that this weapon was
modified before the October,1952 date.
Apparently the decision was made that since the A4E1's
were being made from existing weapons, rather than attempt to chamfer
the inside surface of the holes for riveting on the retracting bar guides, the front and
rear guides and spacers would be attached to the side plates with
slotted head screws held in place with safety wires and the knob on the
retracting bar would
In this way, when the M37 arrived they could be easily
swapped for the A4E1's which, if not needed, could be
returned to A4's by merely cutting the safety wires, removing the screws
and retracting bar assembly, removing the cocking stud and installing a
It was, almost, a no tools required reconversion.
The A5's downward curving bar, required in the
original M3A1 tank mounting, was no longer necessary and a straight bar
would be easier to fabricate.
Photo courtesy of the Texas Military Forces Museum,
Lisa Sharik, Registrar
Here's a early Buffalo Arms M1919A4 serial #
279675 rebuilt at RIA before January 5, 1947 as it has the FK
(Frank Krack) inspector's rebuild marking then RIA rebuilt again into a
M1919A4E1 under EB (Elmer Bjerke).
RIA used a civilian Chief
of Small Arms Inspection instead of an Army officer.
You can see the original Rochester Ordnance District
inspectors initials RLB for Colonel Raymond L. Brolin.
During one of the rebuilds this weapon got a
cast top cover, latch and back plate and had its bolt latch removed as
evidenced by the unoccupied hole below and just forward of the
forward end of the retracting bar.
It is also equipped with the first style adjustable
front sight mentioned earlier.
You can also see the 7147841 drawing/part number
imprint on the bar itself.
The above two photos courtesy of the Texas
Military Forces Museum, Lisa Sharik, Registrar.
Here's another Buffalo Arms A4 rebuilt into a
M1919A4E1 at RIA. This one, apparently, had only one rebuild where it
likely received a cast top cover, latch and cast back plate.
It is equipped with the second style adjustable front
sight with the gear like elevation adjustment nut held in position by a spring loaded
This change in front sights required by MWO ORD A-6
W13, Changes 1, dated January, 1954.
This particular weapon, according to serial number,
was one of the last produced by Buffalo prior to the end of June 1943
and has no inspectors initials just a sideways "Flaming Bomb" mark.
Two photos above courtesy of Texas Military Forces
Museum, Lisa Sharik, Registrar.
Here's a Saginaw M1919A4E1 again rebuilt at RIA this
weapon has a two piece handle/cover top cover latch and cast back plate,
however, the top cover is missing.
It is equipped with the second style adjustable front
sight like the previous Buffalo Arms weapon.
The ABQ inspectors initials are
those of Brigadier General Alfred Bixby Quinton who commanded the
Detroit Ordnance District from 1942 to 1946.
As you can see in the upper picture this Saginaw A4
was produced without a bolt latch as the hole for the attaching rivet is
M1919A4's were converted to M1919A4E1 configuration
without regard to the original manufacturer, and no purpose built M1919A4E1's
were produced as far as we can tell.
While the A5, A4E1 and M37 all resemble each other
because they are equipped with a retracting bar the only part of these
retracting bar assemblies that is common is the rod style "knob" on the
on the bar.
Photo courtesy of Rollin Lofdahl
Photo courtesy of Rollin Lofdahl
These comparison photos show the retracting bars for
the M1919A5 at the top, the M1919A4E1 in the middle and the M37 at the
In the upper photo the A4E1 and M37 retracting
bars are shown as viewed from the inside.
All have the rod style knob.
Early versions of the M1919A5 retracting bar had a
right facing bell shaped knob
similar to the bell shaped bolt handle on the M1919A4.
Except for their length and the size of the stop, the
A4E1 bar (middle) and the M37 bar (bottom) appear very similar.
There is an easy way to tell the difference,
M1919A4E1 bars should be marked 7147841 which is the assembly number for
the "Bar, handle, retracting".
M37 retracting handle assemblies should be marked
It has been reported that many of the surplus
retracting bar assemblies marked with part/drawing number for the M1919A4E1 have been found with the
The reason for this is unknown.
Drawing B 7147841.
All of the drawings for the M1919A4E1 are dated in
June or July or 1951.
You will notice that in the "Drawing Pertains To"
block there is no reference to a Class and Division/Major Item Number rather a
By the date on this drawing Ordnance had finally
abandoned the Class and Division system, in use since about 1880, and
those drawings in the C & D system that formerly served as views and
finding diagrams and the list of all drawings for small arms were converted to "F" size
(28 X 40)
drawings usually numbered "Sheet 1 of Five" etc. depending on what was
displayed on the sheet.
Drawing 7162926 showing the parts needed to convert
the M1919A4 to the E1 configuration.
For all their similarity the
only parts that are common with the M1919A5 are the spring, plunger and
stop for the rear guide and the stud that replaces the bolt handle.
All the other parts are of a different design and not
considered interchangeable or
for some reason the drawings were renumbered to the 7 digit system.
This is the note on the drawing above.
Apparently there was some anticipation of removing the retracting bar.
The washers BEAX1-138881 referred to in the drawing are phosphate coated
#12 internal toothed lock washers and the locking wire appears to be
phosphate coated wire of about #18 AWG.
Drawing 7147862, July 6, 1951.
The rear guide for the A4E1 is similar to the rear
guide on the M1919A5, however, the upper portion containing the spring
loaded retracting bar plunger extends farther to the rear changing the position of the
half moon cut that holds the the retracting bar in the forward position
The front and rear guides for the M1919A5,
M1919A4E1 and the M37 have a vertical spacing of 1.25 inches.
The horizontal spacing, 4.20 inches, and location
of the holes on the right side plate of the of the M1919A5 and
M1919A4E1 likely identical.
We determined this from the right side plate
drawing of the A5, D40662, and scaling the pictures of the A4E1's in
the Texas Military Forces Museum collection.
The horizontal separation of the guide holes on
the M37 are 3.475 inches.
The reason for this redesign stems from the location
of the cocking stud hole in the M37 bolt which is farther to the rear
than the standard M1919 bolt.
You will note the change in appearance of the drawing.
In August of 1948 the Ordnance changed the formatting
of the blank sheets of paper, velum or tracing cloth used to prepare the drawings.
information blocks were formerly shown in several locations.
In the new "B" size
format they have been concentrated on the bottom of the drawing.
Drawing 7147863 July 9, 1951.
There are apparently small differences in the design
of the A5 and the A4E1 front guides as the drawing numbers do not match.
You will note that the front and rear guide drawings
were dated 3 days apart, but prepared on differently formatted sheets.
Apparently, the Ordnance Department decided to use up
existing stocks of material, a policy often seen on Army forms marked "use
earlier versions until supply exhausted"
Drawing 7147812 the rear guide screw. The front
guide screw drawing 7147814 is slightly shorter (.044 inches) as the
front guide and spacer is thinner than the rear guide and spacer.
The difference in length is made up on the
non-threaded portion of the screw shank.
Drawing 7147838 July 3, 1951 the front/rear guide
The formatting of the "A" size drawings also changed
in 1948 to either a portrait or a landscape orientation depending on the form
The information is now
located both on the bottom of the drawing and the upper right, or across
While all drawings of new parts produced after November of 1943
were numbered using the the 7 digit format, and the existing letter prefix
drawings redrawn and converted to 7 digit format post-war, Ordnance still used the
letter size prefix when filing the drawings.
All the "A" size
drawings in one set of file drawers and the "B's" in another and so on.
Rollin Lofdahl photo.
Left to right, M37 screw mounted rear operating
slide guide, M1919A4E1, and a M1919A5 which seems to be missing its
Side by side they are obviously quite different.
Rollin Lofdahl photo.
Pictured above are the early style riveted on M37 rear
guide on the left and the later style retained with socket headed cap
screws drilled for safety wires.
While all of M1919A5 retracting bar guides appear to
have been riveted to the right side plate, and all known M1919A4E1
guides were attached with slot head screws, the M37 guides started out
being riveted to the side plate but changed to an attaching system using
threaded socket head cap screws with safety wires.
This cut from DMWR 9-1005-212 (Depot Maintenance Work
Requirement) dated April, 1970 discusses the overhaul of M37's having
riveted on guides.
The M37 rear guide was equipped with a spring loaded
push style lock to positively hold the retracting bar in the rearward
The retracting bar holding the bolt in the rearward
position was the equivalent of the bolt latch on M1919A4's produced
prior to about June 1943 when it was eliminated.
The A5 and A4E1 relied on only the downward spring
pressure of the rear guide plunger on the retracting bar keeping the rectangular
notch on the bottom of the bar engaged with the bottom of the rear guide to hold the bolt back.
Using this design, inadvertently bumping the
retracting bar when the bolt was held to the rear could result in the
bolt flying forward, and chambering a round which, in the case of a hot
barrel, might have initiated a "cook off."
Since the M1919A4E1 and its predecessor the
M1919A5 and successor the M37
were primarily used in tank applications we are going to take a quick
digression into the subject of armor specifically tanks.
The M4 Sherman medium tank, the U.S. Army's work
horse in WWII, and its various
combination mounts had sufficient room to use the standard M1919A4
Flexible for both the combination mount with the main gun and the
Assistant Driver's ball mounted weapon.
The Sherman was a medium tank, somewhat under
gunned with its short barreled 75 mm main gun and was never intended to go
toe to toe with other tanks, especially when the German PkW IV tank was
up gunned to a long barrel, high velocity, 75 mm main gun.
The Brits and the U.S. followed suit up gunning their
The U.S. adopted a long barreled high velocity 76 mm
main gun and
developed a more efficient AP round having a tungsten penetrator core.
The M4 Shermans prevailed on the battlefield, albeit
with high losses, by shear numbers, short tracked but with low ground
pressure, highly maneuverable, mechanically reliable, backed by superior
maintenance capability, and crewed by men courageous enough to take
them into battle well aware of their disadvantage.
After development of the "Rhino" bolt/weld on forks
made from "I" beams and railroad rails previously used as beach
obstacles by the Germans, the M4's were now
capable of rooting through the "Bocage" hedges that
separated farm fields in Normandy.
Sherman crews learned to survive by ganging up on German armor and
whenever possible attempting side shots or
better still a rear shot at their adversaries.
Germans upped the ante with what was originally called PkW V, renamed
the Panther at Hitler's behest, and later the Tiger and King Tiger
models mounting the much dreaded
Flak 88 mm main gun.
Despite popular beliefs regarding German armor,
such as they were all diesel powered, and made like a Swiss watch, most
had gasoline fueled power plants, and they suffered from reliability and
maintenance/ spare parts
The Tiger and King Tiger were fearsome open
country adversaries, well suited to operating on the steppes of Russia,
however, they were at a distinct disadvantage on soft ground or in the narrow
streets of western European villages and towns.
The U.S. countered with the M26 Pershing heavy
tank with a 90 mm main gun and thicker and better sloped armor to deflect
armor piercing rounds.
The Pershing arrived so late and in so few
it's effect on the battlefield was something less than decisive.
Post war the Army began to think of a better
medium tank than the M4 Sherman.
Something better armored and with a lower
The result of all this thinking was the M41
Bulldog later named M41 Walker Bulldog after General Walton W. Walker
killed in a jeep accident during the Korean War.
The Bulldog was clearly a watershed event in
that the tank was designed around the power plant, rather than building
the tank then shopping around for an engine or in the case of the M4
Sherman using a variety of power plants from air cooled radial aircraft
engines to Detroit (GMC) liquid cooled diesels, air cooled diesel, and
finally 500 HP Ford V-8 gasoline engines.
The Bulldog, designed and built by the Cadillac
Motor Car Division of General Motors, appeared on the scene in 1951 or 1952
depending on which author your are reading.
The design eliminated one crew member and the
forward firing bow machine gun but retained a coaxially mounted machine
Some M41's used .50 caliber M2's in the
combination mount instead of the .30 Caliber M1919A4E1 we don't know if
this was an either/or situation.
From the sourcing presently available, combined
with the in service date(s) of the Bulldog we believe that the M41 was
likely the first user of the M1919A4E1.
Some Bulldogs served in Korea and with their 76
mm high velocity main gun and better fire control system were considered to be superior to the the
Soviet T-34 used by the North Koreans and the Red Chinese.
The following two illustrations document the
substitution of the .50 caliber M2 for the .30 Caliber M1919A4E1 in the
M47 Patton tank equipped with the 90 MM main gun.
This MWO was classified URGENT so it must
have been a big deal to General Matthew B. Ridgeway the Army Chief
of Staff, who authorized this change by administrative action.
The name of General George S. Patton cast a very
long shadow over the U.S. armored forces.
Starting with the M46, the M47, M48 and finally
the M60 were all called "Patton".
This MWO is a good example of one of the difficulties in working with
some Army publications.
Even though the text in paragraph 12 clearly
calls out the M1919A4E1 and gives its stock number, Figure 7, the picture of the
.30 Caliber in the now modified mounting is a standard M1919A4 with bolt
It entirely possible that when the picture was
taken, there wasn't a A4E1 handy, so they stuck a standard A4 in the
This MWO superseded the Original document requiring
the installation of the ring style knurled nut adjustable front sight
and the Changes 1 that substituted the gear style plunger held
The existence of MWO A-6 W13 dated 5
September 1957 indicated that the M1919A4E1 was still a front line
weapon at least as of that date.
The Historical Summary of the Rock Island
Arsenal for 1 January through 30 June 1955 is the last known reference
to the conversion of M1919A4's to M1919A4E1's.
During this period 2,301 M37's were built and 3,974
M1919A4E1's were rebuilt from M1919A4's.
The Historical Summaries through 31 December 1957 make
no further mention of the A4E1 conversions only M37 production.
We have first hand knowledge of at least one Army
Reserve 8 inch Howitzer unit being equipped with M1919A4E1's used
mounted on M2 tripods for battery perimeter defense and jeep mounted
during the Martin Luther King riots in Detroit in 1968.
The final mention of the M1919A4E1 that we were able
to locate was in DMWR 9-1005-212, April, 1970.
No doubt many surplus M1919A4E1's were converted to some other
configuration which would explain their relative scarcity and the
existence of M1919A6's with retracting bar guide holes.
CREDITS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
RIA MUSEUM STAFF AND ESPECIALLY
JODIE CREEN WESEMANN, REGISTRAR
Who supplied all of the documents, drawings and RIA marked photos used
in the preparation of the article.
Without their support, none of this would be possible
TEXAS MILITARY FORCES MUSEUM
LISA SHARIK, REGISTRAR
Who supplied all the photos of the M1919A4E1's in
their collection. The Museum has three of these relatively rare
weapons along with one of three Colt commercial MG38B,s in 7.92X57
mm caliber purchased by the Springfield Armory in May of 1941.
The reason for the purchase of the MG38B's,
documented in Goldsmith's "The Browning Machine Gun Vol.1", is unknown,
however it is likely that these weapons may have been used in
experiments or tests of German service ammunition.
Who supplied all of the photos of the actual parts
that have been used in this article. In addition, as usual, Rollin
was a source of real word knowledge, good advice and encouragement.
Who tipped me off about the Texas Military Forces Museum and their
collection of Browning's.
Who added first hand knowledge about the use of this weapon
A special thanks to all the great people I have had
contact with through the m1919a4.com website for their help,
encouragement, and sharing their finds and, of course, Dolf Goldsmith
and Frank Iannamico for their work on the Browning story.