WEAPONS OF THE WORLD WAR II GYRENE

M1919A4 Light Machine Gun

 

Characteristics

Weight of gun and tripod: 48 pounds
Effective rate of fire: 150 rounds per minute
Cyclic rate: 450 rounds per minute
Maximum effective range: 1,100 yards
Ammunition: .30 caliber
Method of loading: 250 round cloth or linked belts

The 1919A4 was a recoil-operated, belt-fed, air-cooled light machine gun.


The M1919A4 was the Marine Corps' primary light machine gun for more than 30 years. It served in many roles, including as an infantry support weapon, tank machine gun, and in several types of aircraft. Known as the "light .30," this weapon delivered unsurpassed reliability and firepower across the demanding battlefields of World War II.

During the First World War, famed weapons designer John Browning and his team developed the M1917 heavy .30 caliber machine gun. This gave infantry battalions a weapon capable of firing thousands of rounds in a short period. The "heavy .30" performed this duty in an outstanding manner. But weighing 93 pounds, it was bulky and awkward to carry on patrols and in the assault.

In 1918 the US Army Ordnance Department issued a requirement for a light machine gun to equip the newly organized Tank Corps. A weapon was needed that would fit in the tank and the M1917 with its water jacket did not fit. The Ordnance Corps modified the M1917 and the M1919 tank machine gun was the result.

Through the 1920s and 30s, development continued on the M1919. The US Army Infantry Board issued a requirement in the late 1920s for an air-cooled infantry machine gun. By the mid-1930s, the final modifications were complete and the M1919A4 was adopted as the standard light machine gun in the US Army and Marine Corps.

Rock Island Arsenal was the primary manufacturer of the light .30s procured before World War II. During the war, several companies built M1919A4s with a total production of almost 390,000 weapons built. The primary contractor was the Saginaw Steering Division of General Motors.

(above) A light .30 of the 2nd Marine Division in action on Tarawa — November 1943. still image from USMC combat camera film

In the Marine Corps, the light .30 was the primary machine gun in the rifle company. This weapon was one of the anchors of the company's fire support. Under the D-series T/O, two light .30s were assigned to the light machine gun section in the company weapons platoon. The E-series T/O of April 1943 added a third machine gun to the section. In May 1944, the F-series T/O increased the number of machine guns to six and formed them and their crews into a light machine gun platoon commanded by a lieutenant.

(above) The light machine gun section as depicted in T/O E-1, April 1943. USMC Photo

The machine gun squad was the basic unit for the light .30 and its crew. A corporal led the squad and had the following non-rated Marines assigned; one gunner, one assistant gunner and ammunition bearers. The D- and E-series T/O specified three ammunition bearers, but this number was increased to five under the F-series T/O.

(left) a light .30 team of the 1st Marine Division takes a break from the rugged campaign for Peleliu — September 1944.

USMC Photo

During all campaigns in which it served, the light .30 proved to be dependable and flexible. Marines appreciated its ease of operation and hard-hitting firepower. Still, it had a few drawbacks. For instance, due to its air cooling and lightweight tripod, the light .30 couldn't keep up the sustained fire of its big brother, the M1917A1. Nevertheless, it was an important part of the Marine's arsenal.

(left) Marines of L 3/4 pose with their light .30 on Guadalcanal early in 1944. At right is Pfc Ray Ellis, of El Paso, Texas. The back of this photo is inscribed, "Arky, Berry and myself. "Ginnie" sitting out in front. Tough, huh?"

Photo courtesy Pfc Ellis' son, Randy Ellis


(left) A light .30 team of the 5th MarDiv training with their weapon at Camp Pendleton, Calif., before shipping out overseas.

The Spearhead, vol. 1

 

SOURCES USED:

Tables of Organization D, E, F, USMC
US Infantry Weapons of World War II by Bruce
Guidebook For Marines, Fourth Printing

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