Just before America’s entry into World War II, the final and most widely produced version of the BAR was adopted as the “Model of 1918A2.” The M1918A2, like the M1918A1, was fitted with a hinged bipod, but the latter’s was attached to a special flash hider on the barrel rather than on the gas cylinder. A modified buttstock with a folding buttplate and provision for a monopod was also adopted, although the monopod saw very little use. The fore-end was reduced in height and length and the rear sight was replaced by one similar to the type used on the M1919A4 air-cooled machine gun. Metal guide ribs were added to the front of the trigger guard to assist in changing magazines. Unlike the M1918 and M1918A1, the M1918A2 was not capable of semi-automatic operation. It fired only in full-automatic and had a slow and fast rate of fire; approximately 300-450 r.p.m. and 500-650 r.p.m. respectively. The modifications and additions added substantially to the BAR’s weight and the M1918A2 weighed some 20 pounds as compared to M1918’s 16 pounds.
Initially, M1918A2s were produced by converting M1918s, and thousands were converted to M1918A2 specifications primarily by Springfield Armory during the early 1940s. A number of unaltered M1918s were sent to Great Britain under Lend-Lease (often seen with red bands painted on them) and escaped conversion. Also, some M1918s were never converted to the ’A2 specs and were issued and used during World War II.
After Pearl Harbor, BAR demand increased dramatically and new production sources had to be found quickly. The government contracted with two commercial firms; International Business Machines (IBM) and New England Small Arms for M1918A2 production. These two firms delivered a total of 208,380 BARs to the government during the war. This was in addition to the earlier BARs.
The BARs were soon in the thick of fighting and they once again proved to be effective and reliable. An illustrative example of the BAR’s performance is contained in a 1943 Marine Corps report: “Browning Automatic Rifle, cal. .30, M1918A2. The weapon continues in popularity. It functions under all conditions with few exceptions and stoppages, and has the striking penetrating power desired in the jungle.” Despite the BAR’s weight, it provided excellent service to our troops during World War II and was widely praised. The biggest advantage of the BAR over .45 cal. submachine guns was the penetrating power of the .30 cal. cartridge. The BAR’s rate of fire and reliability were much appreciated by our combat troops.
The most common complaint lodged against the M1918A2 was its weight, which exceeded 20 pounds. To help reduce the weight some removed the bipod. Lt. Col. John George commented on this situation in his book “Shots Fired in Anger”: “Two weeks after we were on Guadalcanal we had thrown away all the gadgets (bipod, etc.) and were using the guns stark naked ... the way old John Browning had built them in the first place.”
The BAR’s role had shifted somewhat from providing “marching fire” to troops in trench warfare to becoming the standard squad automatic weapon. Many unit commanders sought to obtain as many BARs as possible for their troops. The only other automatic rifle fielded by the United States during the war was the M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun. The Johnson had some innovative design features and was much lighter in weight than the BAR. However, it was only modestly used during the war.
The BAR was the U.S. squad automatic weapon of the war. Although it was a superb performer in many applications, it had a number of deficiencies as well. Its weight prevented it from being used as a true automatic rifle, and it essentially played the role of light machine gun. However, due to its design, it was not capable of sustained automatic fire as were the Browning M1917A1 and M1919A4 .30 cal. belt-fed machine guns. The BAR’s limited magazine capacity was one detriment, but the fact that the barrel could not be easily removed and replaced was a serious drawback. Sustained automatic fire could rapidly burn out a barrel. The BAR’s barrel could only be removed and replaced by an ordnance depot. Some experimentation with adapting the BAR to belt feed and a more readily replaceable barrel was done, but required extensive modification of the receiver and was not practical. Due to these factors, it was actually somewhat of an anachronistic arm by end of the Second World War.
After World War II, the BAR was extensively used in Korea where it provided excellent service within its limits. It was again placed back into production during the early 1950s when several thousand were manufactured by the Royal McBee Company. These Korean War-vintage M1918A2s were very similar to late production World War II BARs and were fitted with a carrying handle attached to the barrel. This made carrying it for short distances a bit easier but further increased its weight. The “all purpose” M60 machine gun was adopted in the late 1950s as a replacement for several arms including the BAR. However, a number of BARs remained in inventory well into the Vietnam War era, and many were supplied to the South Vietnamese and other allies.