Few firearms have had such a profound effect on warfare as John Browning’s massive .50 caliber M2 heavy machine gun, the most successful machine gun ever made. Affectionately called the Ma Deuce by American soldiers through five wars and numerous smaller actions around the world, it still is the go-to gun for the U.S. military.
The Ma Deuce was born when John J. Pershing, American expeditionary force commander in World War I, sent out an urgent call for a more powerful version of the Browning 1917 .30 caliber machine gun for use against aircraft in the waning years of the war. John Browning quickly took up the challenge.
The breakthrough on the Ma Deuce came in 1933, when Dr. Samuel Green of the U.S. ordinance department combined all the specialized 1921 A Brownings into a single gun, the M2. The M2 featured the same operating mechanism with specialized barrels, water cooling, lightweight parts for aircraft guns and other variations that could be easily attached without modifying the receiver. Making the M2 the Swiss Army Knife of heavy machine guns.
With WWII looming, the M2 went into mass production. It was originally deployed as an anti-aircraft gun and also used against vehicles and armor. It was mounted on fighter planes and bombers. It was used by the infantry for suppressive fire and even turret mounted on specialized vehicles. The M2, usually in its heavy barrel designation, has seen extensive use in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, especially vehicle mounted in convoys. The M2 has been in use longer than any other weapon in the American arsenal, with the exception of the 1911 pistol, another John Browning design.