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                                                     THE M1919A4E1


The story of the elusive M1919A4E1 is like the tale of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

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 configuration. 

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 fire. 

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 interim. 

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 right side plates were likely made, as all known A4E1's were fabricated form existing weapons.


RIA Museum photo courtesy of Jodie Creen Wesemann

This is a close up view from the RIA photo of a M1919A4E1 dated 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 face left. 

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 bolt handle. 

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 plunger. 

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 not present.

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 bottom. 

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 7188685.

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 stop missing. 

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 drawing F7162926. 

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 during firing. 

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.

The various 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 spacers.

The formatting of the "A" size drawings also changed in 1948 to either a portrait or a landscape orientation depending on the form number.

The information is now located both on the bottom of the drawing and the upper right, or across the top.  

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 plunger.

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 position.  

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 Shermans. 

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.

The 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.

The 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 issues. 

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 numbers that 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 silhouette.

The result of all this thinking was the M41 Bulldog later named M41 Walker Bulldog after General Walton W. Walker was 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 gun. 

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 handle. 

It entirely possible that when the picture was taken, there wasn't a A4E1 handy, so they stuck a standard A4 in the cradle.

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 style.

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. 







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


                          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.


                                                                        ROLLIN LOFDAHL

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.

                                                                        MATT DANKER

 Who tipped me off about the Texas Military Forces Museum and their collection of Browning's.

                                                                         Ray Westlake

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.