Does the smallest guy always get the BAR? Learn the truth in today’s Weapon Trivia Wednesday with Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons — his first post here on B-B-C, though hopefully not the last. Mad Duo
WTW: Smallest Guy Gets the BAR
[Foreword by Mike the Mook]
One of the most beloved and hated weapons of World War II was the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Another of John Browning’s classic designs, it was literally the first Squad Automatic Weapon. Though it lives on in weapon lore, like we said earlier, it had its detractors.
World War II Marine William Manchester wrote in his memoir Goodbye Darkness–A Memoir of the Pacific War:
“The BAR was a bitch. There were bolts and firing pins, extractors and receiver groups, a sliding leg assembly, a flash hider, a bipod bearing, and a recoil spring and guide. I lack small muscle skills, and I have a mechanical IQ of about 32, but I became adroit with all infantry small arms. I had no choice. It was either that or my ass. The tricky part of the BAR, I remember, was putting your index finger on the checkered surface of the recoil spring guide, turning and pressing until the ends were clear of the retaining shoulders, and then carefully removing the spring and guide. You never hurried that part. If you let the spring get away from you, the guide would rip right through your throat.”
Ian McCollum from Forgotten Weapons takes a look at another commonly heard story about the BAR in this week’s edition of Weapon Trivia Wednesday:
There is an oft-repeated myth that the Army in all its infinite wisdom would issue the BAR to the smallest man in each squad so equipped. Seems like just the sort of thing the Army would come up with, right? Well…it actually was (sort of).
Like so many common myths, there is a grain of truth behind this story. Marine squads before WWII were organized as eight men under a squad leader. When it was decided to add a BAR to the squad load out, it had to go to someone, right? Well, each guy in the squad already had a designated role. So who gets the BAR?
A decision was made that the #7 and #8 positions were most appropriate to replace with the BAR (I think those had been regular riflemen) – so one became the BAR gunner and one became his assistant gunner. Problem solved, now the squad had a BAR and the optimal mix of equipment and combat roles.
The factor that hadn’t found its way into the decision-making process was that the squad had also been organized by height, so the men would look impressive and squared away on the parade ground. Who looks random and jumbled by height on inspection? Certainly not Marines! The #1 man was tallest and the #8 man shortest. Problem solved, now the squad looked good on display.
Of course, when you mix Decision #1 and Decision #2 together in the real world, you get the smallest guy being issued the heaviest shoulder weapon. Whoops.
Thankfully, the modern role of the Automatic Rifleman in the Marine Corps Rifle Squad is based more on proficiency and or seniority within the fire team.
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author: Ian McCollum is considered a gun nerd even among gun nerds. He’s probably best known for his work as the founder and editor of Forgotten Weapons. McCollum is also a producer and co-host of InRange TV. As if these chops weren’t enough, he’s a technical adviser for the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners and a professional researcher for Armament Research Services. Somehow he manages to balance such academic work with private consultation and practical shooting competition. He’s been published in publications such as Strzał Magazine and Popular Mechanics, and he has excellent taste in rare and obscure camouflage. If you’d like to support Ian’s goal of creating a comprehensive firearms encyclopedia, support him here: https://www.patreon.com/ForgottenWeapons. (Yes, we know he looks like someone crossed a beatnik with a Civil War cavalry officer — idiosyncracies, eccentricities and peculiarities are the first requirements to write for us. He’s gonna fit in perfectly.