Guest Post: The Deadliest Gun

The Deadliest Gun:  By Tim Elliot

The M1917 Browning Heavy Machine Gun

The legendary M1917 Browning machine gun was responsible for plenty of soldier’s deaths from World War I through the beginning of the Vietnam. The M1917 was a heavy belt-fed water-cooled machine gun that was commonly mounted on Jeeps. Extremely impressive for its time, the M1917, which was used primarily in WWI, had a firing rate of 450 rounds per minute while its later incarnation the M1917A1, which was used during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, had a firing rate of up to 600 rounds per minute.

The M1917 was first designed by John Browning in 1890, but it didn’t get much attention from the US military until war was declared in 1917. Unfortunately, because of production problems only about 1,2000 M1917s were used during conflict in WWI but in WWII the M1917A1 was the US Army’s primary heavy machine gun. The deadly consistency of the M1917A1 was a crucial American advantage in the Battle of Iwo Jima and the battle of Momote Airship.

Even though the US military phased out using the M1917 models in the 1960’s, the M1917 Browning machine gun remains one of the deadliest guns in existence. Because the M1917 was cooled with water and as the water absorbed the guns heat it turned to steam and heated the outer casing soldiers operating the M1917 were forced to wear insulated mitts made with asbestos.

Today the M1917 continues its deadly legacy because asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma cancer. Although it’s rare in the general public it’s diagnosed in nearly 1,000 veterans a year and because the mesothelioma life expectancy is only between a year and two years after diagnosis it’s one of the deadliest cancers.

It’s a particularly deadly cancer because the mesothelioma symptoms can be latent for 20-50 before the cancer begins to spread throughout the body. Because of this latency period and because the symptoms of mesothelioma, which include trouble breathing and a fluid build-up in the lungs, are similar to those of other, less serious disease mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed and untreated until the cancer has spread throughout the body.

Because of the asbestos mittens soldiers had to use when operating the M1917 Browning machine gun it still continues to kill soldiers now, even 50 years after it stopped being used by the military. The M1917’s deadly legacy continues on apace, and it’s easy to imagine the gun as one of the deadliest in military history.

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Deadliest Gun”

  1. I could be wrong but I thought most asbestos related mesothelioma came from inhaling loose fibers. I’m guessing that the asbestos sewn inside vet’s mittens didn’t make a major impact on their lives. Much more likely that the increased mesothelioma levels are due to the fact that most military installation’s heating systems were packed with the stuff…

  2. WTF?

    The gunner’s assistant was issued an asbestos mitt to change the air-cooled Browning barrel. Same as the Nazis, who issued one to change MG-42 barrels.

    We used that same mitt on the M-60.

    One was not issued with older watercooled MGs, for obvious reasons.

    The brits didn’t need one since the Vickers was water-cooled, and the Bren had a wooden handle attached to the barrel to facilitate barehanded barrel swaps.

    I think this Tim Elliot guy has a bonnet bee he insists on sharing.

    1. I think the main source of asbestos contamination for most of the military was not in the gun or the gloves… but in the Military Buildings and ships themselves.
      I’m beginning to suspect that this Guest Post was written as an attempt to widen the pool of Class Action Lawsuit Clients. But I went ahead and posted it because of the discussion potential.

      1. Lawyers who write about firearms should have an actual shooter vet their stuff before publishing.

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