The rock and roll Marlin: the M1918 BAR

  1. Editor
    Today each Army and Marine fire team contains at least one hard charger who is designated the squad automatic weapon man. This position, first conceived back in 1918, was until the disco era composed of a Joe or Leatherneck armed with a BAR. What's a BAR you ask?

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    (A Marlin-Rockwell M1918 BAR, via Julia auctions)

    John Browning's trench sweeper

    Officially designated "Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918," this 16-pound light machine gun was revolutionary when it was introduced in the tail end of the First World War. At the time, the US Army grew from 200,000 to over 4-million in the span of about 18-months. Far outstripping all of the arsenals of weapons, the new Doughboys needed a machinegun capable of being mass-produced, then carried into the field in huge numbers.

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    The BAR as issued in WWI with a belt-cup for walking fire.

    It was to be used along with such wonder weapons as the Thompson submachine gun, Pedersen-device equipped Springfield rifles, armed airplanes, and modern field artillery to scour "No Man's Land" of the Kaiser's Imperial storm troopers.

    Capable of full-auto fire, the gun, usually just referred to as the BAR, could fire 30.06 rounds as fast as 550 rounds per minute, which meant it could drain its 20-round detachable box magazine in as few as two seconds if set to rock and roll (or we should say, the Charleston). However, with the magazine change in there, typical effective rate of fire was between 40-60 rounds per minute.

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    Although a beast, it was designed to be carried and operated by a single solider, which gave squad-sized units an incredible boost in firepower.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBK9awUNdrc
    A short video from the Institute of Military Technology the BAR and how it works to include a demonstration of "walking fire" towards the end.

    In September 1917, the Army ordered some 25,000 of these weapons from Winchester. With the prospect of having to put one in every squad in what was projected to be the world's largest military, Uncle called up Connecticut manufacturers Colt and Marlin-Rockwell to help army the boys "over there."

    The Marlin-Rockwell BAR

    In an interesting time in the company's history, Marlin, under the direction of company president Albert F. Rockwell (who promptly added his name to the company so everyone knew it was under new management) had for years been concentrating on military production-- even though the U.S. had only just entered the Great War in 1917.

    The conglomerate had been churning out the an updated version of the old 1895 Colt "Potato Digger" lever action light machine gun for the Tsar of Russia's poorly equipped troops as well as rifles for Belgium as well as the new Mark V machinegun for the U.S. Navy and 38,000 M1917 Aircraft and Tank machineguns.

    When the order for 20,000 BARs was placed on top of this, Marlin had to step up the pace and acquired nearby Hopkin and Allen-- a historic New England small arms maker. Even before this the company had picked up the Mayo Radiator Company, also located in New Haven, for additional manufacturing space.

    Marlin's distinctively-marked M1918s started to come off the assembly line just nine months later with the first one accepted by the Army on June 11, 1918. Although some of the first examples had "soft" parts due to moody metallurgy issues, the company soon ironed it out and by November, when the war up and ended, had produced some 16,000 gun (although some contend the actual total was higher).

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    (Via Rock Island Auctions)

    While precious few made it from Connecticut to the trenches of France, (they only had their first recorded use in combat on September 12, 1918, with the 79th Infantry Division) their time would come.

    Continued use

    In 1919 the giant new American army, which had been created from scratch in just two years, was subject to an even more rapid drawdown. This meant that many of the brand-new M1918's went right from Marlin-Rockwell's lines to Army storage. There, in many cases they sat, being inspected once a year then returned to storage, for decades until 1940 when President Roosevelt ordered thousands transferred to the British as Lend Lease aid as that country was standing alone against Hitler. The British Home Guard alone, famously remembered as "Dad's Army" received no less than 23,000 surplus WWI-era U.S. BARs-- of which undoubtedly some were Marlins.

    Those still in Army and Marine inventory, once the U.S. entered World War II after Pearl Harbor, were in many cases reworked into the newer M1918A2 standard, which entailed changing out the furniture and bipod.

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    A WWI-era Marlin-Rockwell M1918 that was modded to the M1918A2 standard. Via Rock Island Auctions. Notably this gun has British proof marks from service with that country as well.

    As such, these guns finally got their chance at hard service with the American military. From Guadalcanal to Normandy and Okinawa, the BAR served. By 1945, each U.S. Army infantry division was allocated 847 of these fast and reliable light machine guns.

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    A USMC BAR operator catching a smoke during a lull in the fighting somewhere in the Pacific.

    After their second World War, the standard M1918, which was select-fire rather than full-auto only as the A1 and A2 models were, was withdrawn from service as obsolete-- which meant either donation to overseas Allies to reequip their own shattered militaries, or the blowtorch. However, its possible a few Marlin guns that had been upgraded likely remained in active service through the Korean War and into the early stages of Vietnam. They were only pulled altogether from U.S. arsenals in the late 1960s after the M60 light machinegun replaced them for good.

    Getting your own

    The Marlin-Rockwell BARs were produced in serial number range 23000 to 64000, and 245000 to 260XXX, with not every number used. Sadly, throughout the 60s and 70s, with the 30.06 round being phased out of U.S. service, these guns still in the states were largely scrapped. While the similarly-chambered Springfield 1903 and M-1 Garand rifles could be sold as surplus, the feds weren't too keen on a stockpile of NFA-regulated BARs trickling down to the average gun owner.

    This means that very few transferable BARs still exist in the U.S. and most of these are the more common Winchester, New England Small Arms, IBM, and Royal McBee-made examples. Further, as these guns often had parts swapped around several times in their military service and teenage armorers generally cared little if a Marlin-Rockwell receiver was mated to a Winchester barrel, its harder still to find one that is not a "mixmaster" composed of several different components.

    Keep in mind that of the more than 320,000 BARs made from 1917-1954, only 5 percent of these were 1918-made Marlins, making them one of the rarest U.S. military arms out there on the collectors market.

    Since 1986, when the Hughes Act put the kybosh on select-fire weapons, the prices of these items have skyrocketed. With that being said, it is not uncommon to find NFA-complaint Marlin-Rockwells going for anywhere from $17,500 to $27,000 to $40,000 depending on condition and provenance.

    Of course, you can always manufacture your own semi-auto-only M1918 rifle with a compliant receiver and utilize surplus Marlin-Rockwell parts for much less, but they just aren't as fun.

    Then of course, there is always the $300 wall hanger option as well.

    Nevertheless, if you ever get your hands on one of these Browning-Marlin-Rockwells in any condition, sit and hold it for a minute and just imagine the story that it could tell.

    It's likely traveled a long way from New Haven.

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