Bill Ruger’s Prototype WW2 Light Machine Gun

Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here today at the Cody Firearms Museum taking a look at a really interesting prototype machine gun that they have. This … has its origins in a 1940 US Ordnance Department program to try and find a better universal machine gun to replace the Browning 1917 and Browning 1919. Basically they wanted to lighten the guns. They were still envisioned as being used off of tripods, but they were also supposed to have shoulder stocks. And ultimately this would culminate in the 1919A6. But through a weird and roundabout different channel. So if we look at where this thing came from. In April of 1940 the Ordnance Department
put out an RFP for a new machine gun. And they didn’t want just a modified
Browning, they already had a lot of Brownings. They were looking for a new
design, and in a nutshell, the gun they wanted needed to be less
than 22 pounds, less than 38 inches long, be able to be selective fire, so
semi-automatic or fully-automatic. And then kind of fulfill all the general
requirements of durability, reliability, etc. So they published this in public,
and they’re actively looking for civilian companies to provide guns to meet this
new standard, as well as government arsenals. And they end up getting five different
submissions. Now this one came from Bill Ruger. Bill Ruger was a very young engineer
at the time, and he read this proposal. He thought about it and put together this conceptual
design that he thought would work pretty well. He was an engineer, he wasn’t a manufacturer at that
point, so he took his idea to the Auto-Ordnance Company. (Where he would go on to
do quite a bit of work actually.) And he proposed it to them and they thought
this looked like a decent plan for a machine gun, and they didn’t have anything
else in line for this trial. So they wrote up a contract, and in late
1940 they started working on this gun. And in fact, if I may read an
excerpt from a letter from Bill Ruger, “The object of this project was simple enough. To perfect
and prepare samples of a belt fed .30 calibre machine gun which would take the place of the Browning, and
get it ready for tests in about four or five months. As I was very young and Auto-Ordnance themselves
not too experienced, this sounded very reasonable. And I went to work with a couple of tool
makers to be on an 80 hour a week schedule.” So this was written in hindsight and Ruger
fully acknowledged the lunacy of the idea that in 4 or 5 months you could just whip up a new machine gun
that would be better, lighter, and more modern than the Browning. But that didn’t stop him from trying. And it’s fortunate that people do attempt impossible
projects, because sometimes they do work. This one did not actually work. So, testing was done in November of 1941. The 5
submissions that the Ordnance Department got were the Sedgley Company, whose gun was a complete dumpster
fire and didn’t … even complete most of the testing. This one from Auto-Ordnance, literally this gun. And then they got entries from the Springfield
Armory, the Rock Island Armory, and Colt. And Springfield, Rock Island and Colt all
provided modified Browning 1919 guns, because of course all of those guys had quite
a bit of experience and tooling to build those, so they took one and kind of
tweaked it to meet the requirements. So ultimately there were some good things about this gun.
The Ordnance Department liked the fact that it was within weight. It was a nice short, kind of handy gun. The tripod mounting was a little bit odd, and
part of the testing requirement involved basically kind of, not really high speed photography, but high speed
analysis of how stable the gun was when it was firing. So, you know, does it do this sort of thing,
or is it rocking up and down when you fire. And they were unable to actually do that analysis
on this gun because of its weird tripod attachment. Unfortunately, we don’t have the tripod for this,
I don’t have any pictures of it, so I’m not sure what exactly caused the problem. But the reporting on
it does specify that like, yeah, they couldn’t figure it out. Now the gun went through a 10,000 round
endurance test, or rather it was supposed to. You were able to cool the gun down every 500 rounds,
you’re able to disassemble, clean and oil it every 2,000 rounds. The converted Browning guns all passed that test. The Auto-Ordnance Ruger gun did not
manage to finish that test. And in the end it was … … Oh, I’m sorry, it had to have a quick-change barrel. You could take the barrel out of this fairly easily,
but it was difficult to get the new barrel back in. Especially when it got hot, and so really what it
needed was a better way to loosen this collar. We’ll take a look at that in just a moment. But then the gun’s reliability overall was
poor, its reliability in cold was very poor, its reliability in dusty conditions was poor. They had
trouble operating the gun manually when it got dusty. So the gun was rejected. That’s the bad
news for Ruger is his gun got rejected. Kind of the better news for Ruger was actually
everybody’s guns got rejected, because the Ordnance Department didn’t want Browning 1919s. And
so they rejected all three of those for basically that reason. And they actually looked at this and
they thought this is actually kind of simple, … there’s potential here, let’s have another test. None of these were worth adopting, so we’ll
have a new test, go back and keep working on it. And so there would be a second test in 1943. Now that test would involve a revised
and substantively different gun than this. So before we talk about that, let’s take a
closer look at what this first pattern was. So fundamentally Ruger’s machine gun was a rotating bolt locked
breech system. You can see the bolt clearly rotating right there. It fired from an open bolt, so lock the handle back. When you fire, bolt goes forward, locks,
fires. Does have a reciprocating handle. There’s a gas block on the barrel. This barrel, by the
way, is basically an adapted Browning 1919 barrel. You’ll see that when we take a look at the muzzle. Put a gas port on it, tap gas into a
gas piston here, with an adjustable plug. You can change how much
gas is going into the system. And the gas piston comes back here,
interfaces with a belt feed system, and the bolt. So the Army requirements specified left-hand feed, and of
course this is chambered for standard .30-06 ammunition. So your feed, your belt, would come in this side. This actually used
disintegrating metal links, the exact same ones as the Browning. After firing the spent links get
kicked out this little ejection port here, and the empty cartridge cases come
out the ejection port on the top of the gun. The grip and trigger are actually remarkably comfortable, and
it’s kind of cool the way that they’re mounted high up on the gun. This is ergonomically a pretty darn nice design
element. Now this is your safety lever, right here. Forward is safe, which locks the trigger. In theory one of
these should be full-auto and one should be semi-auto. On this particular example they both appear to
function in full-auto, but the trials requirements, the RFP requirements, did specify that the
guns had to have a semi-automatic mode. Unfortunately I can’t take this one apart for you. But
the way you would do that is through these two pins, which would allow you to remove (these pins are both a little bit
oversized on this side, not entirely sure why), but pulling those out would allow you to remove the grip frame.
Once you do that the recoil spring comes out the back, and then the bolt and bolt carrier and op rod, all
those parts will come right out the back as well. When I said this was a Browning 1919 barrel, you
can clearly see that by the profile here at the muzzle. And that makes sense, why make your own
.30 calibre machine gun barrel when you can just get a Browning barrel from the
government to use for this development. Now what I can show you is removal of the barrel. We have a threaded collar here, and there’s a set of
interrupted threads, or lugs, on the barrel and this collar. So, in order to remove the barrel we’re going to
push this button in, which allows this collar to rotate. (… rotate it to there it should be), and then
we can pull the whole barrel assembly forward. Note that it’s retained by the lugs here, and it slides on a lug right here on the gas tube. And there we can pull the barrel right off. You can see the interrupted lugs here on the
barrel. Note that they are not perfectly square, but they’re actually slightly canted,
so that they act as … a screw thread. There is a matching set of lugs
here inside that locking collar. And so of course, we have our locking
button here which acts in these grooves. I push that in, I can rotate this collar 90 degrees. That will engage the lugs with the barrel, and this
also pulls your barrel in, just slightly, as you rotate it. So I expect (not that there’s a
manual for this that I found), but I expect this threaded collar is
also how you set your headspace. Exactly how far this collar is threaded in or out
of the gun, because it’s threaded into the receiver. In fact, we can just take it completely out. You can move this in or out a
little bit to set your headspace. Which is something that the Browning
designs also, of course, allow you to do. So there’s that collar. With the barrel removed you can
pretty clearly see the bolt face in there. And you can see right there the firing
pin protrudes through the bolt face when I have the bolt handle all the way forward. As I pull the bolt handle back (which you can’t see but I am
doing), it retracts the firing pin, then rotates the bolt to unlock. So your … firing sequence is the bolt rotates to
lock, and then the firing pin protrudes right there, fires the cartridge, and the gas system
then causes it to unlock, pull back, and cycle. Unfortunately for Ruger, his second variation
on this gun was actually worse than his first one. Or at least that’s what the report makes it sound like. … Like everything was wrong with it. The reliability
wasn’t good, it was … hard to disassemble. And once you did disassemble it, it was easy
to put it back together wrong and mess it up. It was difficult to load belts. It was
difficult to change the barrel when it got hot. Like it went from being too fast in the first
pattern to being too slow in the second pattern. It was a wreck. And what ended up happening was, (I said this would eventually
result in the Browning 1919A6), well about the same time that the Ordnance Department
started looking for this gun and put out this RFP, the Infantry Department was kind of doing the same thing. It was
looking for a lightened version of the Browning 1919 for paratroopers. And their series of testing and
development to that end produced the 1919A6. That gun kinda did everything that people
were really wanting out of this project. This project didn’t produce any good results, and
so the 1919A6 got adopted for general US Army use, not just paratroopers, but everybody.
And this went nowhere further. Of course Bill Ruger would go on to have a substantial,
long and very productive career as a firearms designer. Ended up founding one of the
major American gun companies, Ruger. And really pretty interesting to get a chance
to take a look at some of his really early work. And it’s especially interesting to me to be
able to see him looking at this in hindsight, and basically going, “Wow, that was crap, and boy was I naive
and foolish to think that I could pull off a project like this.” However, while he doesn’t say it in the letter, I bet
he learned a tremendous amount from this project, despite the fact that it … ultimately
didn’t produce a gun that got built. So, a big thanks to the Cody Firearms
Museum for giving me access to this. We pulled this out of the display so that
we could film it and show it to you guys. So if you come back here to the museum,
they have recently renovated the entire collection. It’s a fantastic museum, a tremendous
number, thousands of guns on display. Including this one in the little downstairs gallery that you
shouldn’t miss, because there’s a whole cabinet full of prototypes and developmental design guns. It’s pretty cool.
So thanks to them, thanks for you for watching. Tune back in tomorrow for
another interesting Forgotten Weapon.

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