Maybe it was the movie Dr. No or The Longest Day, but what first caught my eye about the Bren gun, the iconic British light machine gun of World War II, was that it was upside down, with the curved magazine sticking out the top instead of the bottom. Whichever way you looked at it, the Bren is one of the most successful machine guns in the history of warfare- Ask any ‘Brenner,’ as its operators were called.

The Czech ZB-26 machine gun was the creation of one of that country’s premier arms designers, Václav Holek. The name Bren came from a combination of Brno, the Czech city where the ZB-26 was created, and Enfield, home of the Royal Small Arms Factory.

One of the early tests required the Czech gun to fire 150,000 rounds. The Ordnance Board report noted that after 146,802 rounds of .303, the gun was functioning as well at the end of the trial, as it was at the beginning. There was no object to be gained from extending the trial.

Brens began rolling off the Enfield assembly line in 1937, followed quickly by Canadian production. Bren guns used magazines instead of canvas belts, like Vickers, to keep the used belts from tangling the legs of soldiers as they move forward. The distinctive curve of the Bren magazine is necessary. Since the British .303 round is rimmed, the curve keeps the rounds from binding in the magazine. Later versions of the Bren were converted to NATO standard 7.62×51, the familiar rimless .308, and fed from standard FN FAL magazines. A Canadian newspaper article noted that the Brens were anything but easy to manufacture. The gun started 101 pounds of unshaped metal, which, finally, after 2846 separate operations, produce the finished gun of 18 pounds.

 

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