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Old February 15, 2014, 04:14 PM   #1
Buzzcook
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.50bmg and international law.

In another thread it was suggested that the .50bmg is not used as a anti-personnel round because it is forbidden under the Geneva convention.

It is my contention that is not the case.

However I have been told by a former Ranger and sniper that it is against international law. I have also been told second hand that others have heard the same for former and current members of the military.

Is it possible that our military has rules of engagement that preclude the use of the .50bmg against individuals?

Again I don't think that is the case, but it is also something I doubt I can prove one way or the other.

So I'll start with google.
http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-rum...rgets-1.134278

While stars and strips may not be the most authoritative source it is the first hit on "Geneva Convention .50bmg.

Quote:
In truth, neither the 1949 Geneva Conventions nor other laws governing the conduct of war forbid U.S. troops from using the weapon against enemy fighters, said Gary D. Solis, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University.
snip
Quote:
Since all weapons issued to U.S. troops have passed a review that
Quote:
they comply with international law, .50-caliber machine-gunners can legally use the weapon against human targets, he said in e-mail.
snip
The exact origin of the rumor is unclear. Solis said it dates back to the Korean War, possibly earlier. Another story suggests that commanders in Vietnam were told to conserve their .50-caliber ammunition by only using it against enemy equipment or hard targets.

But retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey said his troops used .50-caliber machine guns when fighting enemy troops at close range and when bombarding the enemy from afar.
There is also this earlier thread from this forum.
http://thefiringline.com/forums/show...eva+convention

That thread was closed because of excessive chest pounding. So if you could keep away from histrionic posts about how war is war and we gotta use everything we got and dam the french, I'd appreciate it.

One last thing before I go to work.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrett_M82

Once again wikipedia isn't an authoritative source but it is easy to get to.

Quote:
The XM107 was originally intended to be a bolt-action sniper rifle, and it was selected by the U.S. Army in a competition between such weapons. However, the decision was made that the U.S. Army did not, in fact, require such a weapon. The rifle originally selected under the trials to be the XM107 was the Barrett M95.

Then the Army decided on the Barrett M82, a semi-automatic rifle. In summer 2002, the M82 finally emerged from its Army trial phase and was approved for "full materiel release", meaning it was officially adopted as the Long Range Sniper Rifle, Caliber .50, M107. The M107 uses a Leupold 4.5–14×50 Mark 4 scope.
So basically I think I've made my case with what's here. I don't mind doing more research though.
If anyone has any solid evidence to the contrary, please post it.
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Old February 15, 2014, 05:38 PM   #2
velillen
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I had never heard of it being against the convention.

I have however read plenty of reports in various biographies and on shows about snipers using it for long range uses....although that's been somewhat replaced by the 338lapua now.

I don't have anything to really add other than it would be weird if it was banned but still got reports of snipers kills with it
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Old February 15, 2014, 05:59 PM   #3
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Buzz, you made your case for something that is obvious and only exists for the ignorant. The Geneva Convention has nothing to do with arms usage. It does have a whole lot to do with the treatment of prisoners and the wounded.

The issue at hand would concern the Hague Convention and use of the .50 BMG against people is not precluded by it either. In fact, the .50 BMG and its opposition counterparts have been used against people since the weapons were designed.

In the thread you failed to properly cite, no texts of the Geneva Convention were presented to indicate otherwise, were they?
http://thefiringline.com/forums/show...+geneva&page=2
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Old February 15, 2014, 07:24 PM   #4
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US; Geneva Convention, Hague Accords....

To my limited knowledge(it's been about 21 years since I was a US Army MP), the USA never signed or agreed to the Hauge Accords or some of the provisions of the Geneva Convention.
A USMC Scout/Sniper who served multiple tours in OIF(Iraq) wrote in his non fiction book that he & other snipers used the Barrett .50BMG rifles often. They would aim at a eyeglass frame or a LCE(web gear) item & call that "enemy equipment".
A TFL member got into a heated debate with a few of my remarks in another topic. They cited a US service member who was awarded a Silver Star for using a .50BMG M2 weapon to shoot at a large group of enemy combatants after a attack.
US general officers or the DoD may set up new ROEs(rules of engagement) about .50BMG caliber weapons but most snipers/spec ops still use them often in SW Asia.
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Old February 15, 2014, 08:55 PM   #5
rdavidsonjr
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Mr Buzzcook You are absolutely correct.
Have a great day!

And also forgive my ignorance for posting a term out of place but the point made originally is still what it is.

Last edited by Brian Pfleuger; February 18, 2014 at 02:42 PM.
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Old February 15, 2014, 10:04 PM   #6
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Let's see ... in 1968, the weapon for a TC on a M113A1 ACAV was a Browning M2 HB. If it were against some "convention" to use said weapon against enemy infantry ... I guess I'm a war criminal ... but BOY WAS IT AN EFFECTIVE WEAPON!
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Old February 15, 2014, 10:11 PM   #7
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I don't know how relevant it may be to the discussion, but here is an official Army news report about a sniper who waited two days to use his .50 caliber Barrett to take out a suspected insurgent in Iraq.
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Old February 15, 2014, 10:55 PM   #8
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I might possibly shed a bit of light here. The 50bmg was originally used in the M2 machine gun. This was designated originally as a AA weapon. the assumption could be made that AA arms could not be used as an anti-personel arm.
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Old February 15, 2014, 11:02 PM   #9
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gc70 Thanks for the link Thanks

Last edited by rdavidsonjr; February 16, 2014 at 11:18 PM. Reason: language
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Old February 16, 2014, 01:01 AM   #10
Buzzcook
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Quote:
In the thread you failed to properly cite, no texts of the Geneva Convention were presented to indicate otherwise, were they?
Yes I should have cited the thread where this started.
http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=541092

This is the post and the quote I responded to.
http://thefiringline.com/forums/show...2&postcount=26
Quote:
.The 50 BMG for example which would still be the go to over 1500 yards if the Geneva Convention had not labeled it as inhumane as just a sniper round and it can only be used as a anti material round.
Here is my reply.
http://thefiringline.com/forums/show...0&postcount=46
Quote:
AFAIK that isn't true. The Barret and the M2 have been and still are used against individuals.

Don't know how that idea got started. Armies have used artillery as direct fire weapons for centuries.
In the first Iraq war there is lots of video of the Western forces using .50bmg and 20mm and bigger ammo against Iraqi troops.
Because this was off topic for the thread I started this one.

In my OP I should have used the broader term "international law or treaty" instead of just Geneva. It was lazy of me.

ClydeFrog I'm not sure which agreements the US is signatory to. Google say we did ratify at least the first Geneva convention.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions
Quote:
The ten articles of this first treaty were initially adopted on August 22, 1864 by twelve nations.[5] Clara Barton was instrumental in campaigning for the ratification of the 1864 Geneva Convention by the United States, which eventually ratified it in 1882.
But as Double Naught Spy pointed out that wouldn't be jermaine to the .50bmg or the M2.

The Hague Convention is deals more with weapons systems and we are signatories.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_C..._1899_and_1907

But once again DNS pointed out that it doesn't mention projectile size.

One of the thing that could make research difficult is that there are international agreements that the U.S. has not signed but that we agree to abide by.


rdavidsonjr: The St. Petersburg Declaration was one of the first agreements on rules of war. There were also earlier general orders by various individual nations such as General Washington's order that the Continental Army would not practice torture or assassination.

Wikipedia cites Lincoln "The Lieber Code was the first official comprehensive codified law that set out regulations for behavior in times of martial law..."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieber_Code

I sure would like to see a link for limiting military ammo to less than 400gr.
The .50-70-450 was the standard round for US forces in 1868. The advent of smokeless powder made speed a greater factor than mass, so by the next century the common weight of a rifle projectile dropped to under 100gr.

Quote:
The USMC and Army on the ground as was my son were handed down orders in Iraq and Afghanistan in Dec. 2007. " You can not fire on personnel with a mk19 or m2 50 bmg or 12.7 mm. The same applies for the mk 19 grenade launcher with a 40 mm grenade. The UN has laws as well as specific amended articles that specify these laws that have came about in the last 5-8 years. Since the heads of the present administration being the President and Vice-President signed these treaties our troops can be bound by them. The DOD is trying to find something new weapons for the toolbox but he said this is where you enter the classified world and it is need to know as is the rest of what he can not say about the subject.
Here you seem to be saying it is the M2 machine gun that is "illegal" to use against personnel, not the .50bmg round, is that the case?

Most of our UN treaties have to be ratified by congress, not just by the President's signature. As the CIC the president can set rules of engagement without approval by congress. It is possible that there was an executive order that agreed with a UN declaration about arms use.

This is where a citation will end the debate. As I've said I have also been told by a member of the military that using the .50bmg is against the laws of war. But I've also been told by members of the military that it just isn't so.

Quote:
...Then there is always the kill or be killed when outflanked by a large insurgent army, then we all are going to use what ever means are necessary.
That doesn't make sense. It is a war crime to use the M2 unless you really need to? Would the same apply to mustard gas or expanding bullets?

The case you made in that paragraph was an economic one rather than a humanitarian one.

rdavidsonjr I would be surprised if restriction on using the M2 were secret. I hope that is not the case.

gc70's link
http://www.army.mil/article/19697/da...-road-in-iraq/
Has a date of April 2009.

rwilson452, From this article the M2 was introduced as both an infantry and aircraft/anti-aircraft weapon at the same time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M2_Browning#History
Quote:
Efforts by John M. Browning and Fred T. Moore resulted in the water-cooled Browning machine gun, caliber .50, M1921. An aircraft version was termed the Browning aircraft machine gun, caliber .50, M1921. These guns were used experimentally from 1921 until 1937. They had light-weight barrels and the ammunition only fed from the left side. Service trials raised doubts whether the guns would be suitable for aircraft or for anti-aircraft use. A heavy barrel M1921 was considered for ground vehicles
snip
Quote:
A variant without a water jacket, but with a thicker-walled, air-cooled barrel was designated the M2 HB (HB for Heavy Barrel). The added mass and surface area of the heavy barrel compensated somewhat for the loss of water-cooling, while reducing bulk and weight: the M2 weighs 121 lb (55 kg) with a water jacket, but the M2 HB weighs 84 lb (38 kg). Due to the long procedure for changing the barrel, an improved system was developed called QCB (quick change barrel). The lightweight "Army/Navy" prefixed AN/M2 "light-barrel" version of the Browning M2 weighing 60 pounds (27 kg) was also developed, and became the standard aviation machine gun of the World War II-era for American military aircraft of nearly every type
Thanks everyone for your replies.
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Old February 16, 2014, 02:01 AM   #11
rdavidsonjr
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You are correct in my error on Geneva Convention. Thanks

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Old February 16, 2014, 02:56 AM   #12
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No offense, but I've been told some pretty stupid things by people who should have known better.
Unless someone would care to post an order, regulation, or treaty that prohibits 12.7mm projectile use against humans, I have a hard time buying it.
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Old February 16, 2014, 07:17 AM   #13
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8/31/07... from someone I know quite well

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I know it has been a very long time since I have been able to write a letter. We have recently built up a new combat outpost in the center of one of the cities, and that has been where I have been living close to six days at a time. We're right in the heart of it. Already the insurgents have made it very clear that they don't like our new home. Within one week they hit us with over 18 IEDs. We have captured and killed a number of the emplacers, however that doesn't seem to be slowing them down at all.

Just a few days ago my platoon and I were in our first real fire fight since we've been in country. The whole exchange lasted over an hour, and though they attempted to ambush us on a number of occasions, the men acted wonderfully. The driver of one of the [panel van]trucks that was firing at us was taken in alive (though he will probably never walk again). I had never been in a situation like that. You always wonder how you will act and if you will do the right thing, but you can never be sure until you are in it for real. When I was caught in the open when they attempted to block off the road and catch us in a cross fire, I was in the lead and dismounted. There was no cover. It was a split second decision, but I charged them, firing a whole magazine into them as I ran. Two seconds into my charge the 50.cal from the truck behind me let loose and tore up the enemy vehicle. I saw two of the fighters in the back go down from my fire. The enemy truck sped off (i don't know how it was still holding together), but we intercepted it a minute or two later and took down the driver.

We have only been living at this combat outpost a few weeks, but already we have seen more action than in the past 7 or 8 months of the tour combined.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There's no issue with killing using the M2 when the conditions warrant. But I'll also warrant that strictures on ordnance size/destructiveness do come into play when (1) collateral damage is potentially high; (2) It is unnecessary and wastes expensive ammunition beyond any possible point of reason; (3) and or troops "...just want to see what it can do..."

Apparently not the case HERE

(But then... you never could a Marine anything. )

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Old February 16, 2014, 07:42 AM   #14
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I heard that statement going around the Army since the 80s. "It's illegal to use the .50 against personnel. It can only be used against equipment. You know, like trucks. Or belt buckles, LCE, stuff like that." Sometimes said as a joke, sometimes in seriousness.

But I don't recall ever hearing it from the JAG or in any Law of Land Warfare class I ever had. Nor have I ever heard of anyone being charged. And I assure you, the Ma Deuce has been used against LOTS of personnel targets in the last decade.
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Old February 16, 2014, 12:29 PM   #15
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rdavidsonjr, I also respect and honor your son's service. It was and is not my intention to denigrate either him or you.

If I gave that impression, I apologize.
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Old February 16, 2014, 03:50 PM   #16
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Quote:
I might possibly shed a bit of light here. The 50bmg was originally used in the M2 machine gun. This was designated originally as a AA weapon. the assumption could be made that AA arms could not be used as an anti-personel arm.
No it doesn't! Design intent has nothing to do with law. Design intent may have NOTHING to do with application. My favorite example here is Viagra (blood pressure medicine by design, did not do well in that regard, now used for other purposes). There are LOTS of examples in the arms world of thing working well in arenas/problem areas for which they were not intended. The German 88s are a great example, used as AA originally, determined to be useful against tanks and as antipersonnel. PT motormen put LAND-BASED designed mortars, cannon, and other arms on PT boats and it worked quite well in many case.

BTW, M2s were mounted in the wings of several fighters (some still are) that were routinely used in various conflicts for striating combatants on the ground.

As for the notion of not using over 400 gr bullets, that doesn't apply. I don't know anything about rdavidsonjr's son's purported orders, but the issue certainly wasn't with bullet weight or caliber as snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan used Barrett, McMillans, and such against human targets as needed in the caliber of .50 BMG with bullets weighing much more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest...d_sniper_kills

None of the people here were prosecuted for any sort of war crimes pertaining to any supposed violations for use of these weapons in these kills and the countries were not brought before any sort of tribunals in regard to such accords.

Your son may have been given orders to or not to do certain things, but that does not mean that they were because of compliance with any sort of international laws/agreements/conventions/accords.
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Old February 16, 2014, 06:57 PM   #17
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OK OK I stand corrected.
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Old February 16, 2014, 11:23 PM   #18
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Just to be a bit of a devils advocate, I remember during the Vietnam war the M2 being used in "freefire zones" was cite as a criminal.

If I recall right, it went beyond the if it moves shoot it problems associated with free fire zones because the M2 penetrated so far the risk of hitting a non-combatant rose exponentially.

It is possible that this is what started the international agreement thing that started the thread.
That military commanders are shy about using the M2 because of that controversy.

Anyway it's something to consider.
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Old February 17, 2014, 12:09 AM   #19
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I heard this rumor as well, never thought much into it. Also never heard of it biting anyone in the arse. HOWEVER, I do know for a fact of two Marines who used a Mk19 automatic grenade launcher on two IED emplacers who had NJPs (non judicial punishment/article 15) brought against them, requested Courts Martial, and lost. I believe they served time in Leavenworth. The COC (the HQ of a small patrol base) screwed them pretty bad, when they radioed in the emplacers and were cleared to engage COC didn't specify what weapon to use (personal vs crew served). After COC heard the explosions they freaked and started screaming over the radio that they said "direct fire only", which they didn't (not that that would've mattered because the Mk19 is a direct fire weapon).


*edit to add- needless to say the IED emplacers died. No one survives accurate Mk19 fire.
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Old February 17, 2014, 02:11 AM   #20
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I remember a discussion on the .50 supposedly only to be used in an anti-material role shortly while in a class related to the laws of land warfare while I was in the army. The sergeant teaching class made a comment about "shirt buttons are material, uniforms are material, anything a soldier carries is material".

Not sure how that would go over today but that was 1974 and the Southeast Asian war games were still ongoing.
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Old February 17, 2014, 09:11 AM   #21
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"I heard that statement going around the Army since the 80s. "It's illegal to use the .50 against personnel. It can only be used against equipment. You know, like trucks. Or belt buckles, LCE, stuff like that." Sometimes said as a joke, sometimes in seriousness."


I've always considered statements such as this to be akin to the Army firearms instructor telling a class that the 5.56 round is so effective because it comes out of the barrel of the M4 and immediately begins tumbling.

Or that the .45 ACP is SO effective and deadly that a hit to anywhere on the body, including the tip of the pinky finger, GUARANTEES immediate incapacitation, if not instant death.

Or that the 9mm is so poor a round that it's impossible to kill someone with it, the best you can hope for is to wound them.


I would think (but I'm not 100% sure) that if this oft-repeated legend (yes, I'm calling it a legend) WERE actually true, that there would be a lot of very nice, very readable paper on the subject originating from either the Judge Advocate General's Corps, directives from the Department of Defense, or both.

Yet, I can't find anything at all.

The old "well I didn't aim at the person, I aimed at equipment" is fun, but it's an absolutely ludicrous statement, a quibble, that I doubt would ever be an affirmative defense.

That's akin to saying "I wasn't targeting civilians with my napalm cannisters, I was targeting their huts."


Or my personal favorite, "I didn't break the lamp, the floor broke the lamp."
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Old February 17, 2014, 09:17 AM   #22
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" HOWEVER, I do know for a fact of two Marines who used a Mk19 automatic grenade launcher on two IED emplacers who had NJPs (non judicial punishment/article 15) brought against them, requested Courts Martial, and lost."

I personally would like to see verification of that, for no other reason that it's been pretty common to use drone missile strikes against individuals emplacing IEDs, and a Hellfire launched from 30,000 feet by someone 5,000 miles away is about as indirect as you can get.
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Old February 17, 2014, 09:50 AM   #23
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Quote:
I remember a discussion on the .50 supposedly only to be used in an anti-material role shortly while in a class related to the laws of land warfare while I was in the army. The sergeant teaching class made a comment about "shirt buttons are material, uniforms are material, anything a soldier carries is material".

Not sure how that would go over today but that was 1974 and the Southeast Asian war games were still ongoing.
It wasn't illegal then either. That buttons and shirts were being shot and not people is silly. Somebody back in '74 didn't know the law then either.
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Old February 17, 2014, 10:05 AM   #24
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Backing way up in time: I served in occupation duty in Korea in '54/'55. No combat--but I served with guys on second and even a very few on a third tour.

Ack-ack outfit. 50th AAA Bn. 32 M-16 halftracks with Quad-.50s and 32 M-19s with Twin 40mm.

One of the Batteries was at Chosin. The M-16s' Quad .50s were used against human-wave assaults. Worked well, but only for short-term engagement. Back up to the line, shoot for a brief period, then exit before one of those two-inch mortar shells dropped in "the box". Rinse and repeat.

A problem: Re-supply. Logistics. I can see why .50s were used somewhat sparingly in Vietnam. Fast rate of fire, 105 rounds per canister, heavy. A fire-base has it easier than do the folks out in the boonies. Call this an Olde Phart's opinion.

The only thing I've ever read, anywhere, about legalities of infantry weaponry, dealt with "dum-dum" or expanding bullets. Not the weapon itself. I'm not a military historian, but I've read a good bit about wars and gear, these last several decades.
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Old February 17, 2014, 11:02 AM   #25
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Historical footnote...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Double Naught Spy
BTW, M2s were mounted in the wings of several fighters (some still are) that were routinely used in various conflicts for striating combatants on the ground.
.50-caliber M2 use in aircraft goes a little further than that. It was THE standard aerial machine gun used in virtually every aircraft used by the US Army Air Force and US Navy for most of WWII, in all combat applications- fighter wing guns, defensive bomber guns, you name it.

Many aircraft in service at the beginning of the war used .30-caliber M1919's, but these were largely phased out due to concerns about ineffectiveness against the larger bombers that were coming into service; by the end of the war, most of the US aircraft wielding .30's were trainers used for gunnery practice, or patrol and reconnaissance aircraft that weren't expected to need guns on a regular basis. Early in the war, when German aerial bombing of the American mainland was considered a legitimate threat, the USAAF experimented with 37mm M4 autocannon, but these were found to have too slow of a rate of fire, inadequate ammo capacity, and too much long-range bullet drop for practical combat use in fighters, and relatively few aircraft were equipped with them.

Some later versions of the B-25 Mitchell bomber were equipped with 18(!!) forward-firing .50-cal M2's- primarily for use against Japanese merchant ships, but you can be assured these were also used against Japanese ground positions!

Furthermore, the .50 continued to be the primary machine gun of the USAF through the Korean War era, although the Navy had largely transitioned to 20mm autocannon by then.

If WWII Lend-Lease aircraft are considered, the .50-cal M2 has probably been installed in more combat aircraft than any other machine gun, ever.

I'm thinking that the leaders of the USAAF and USN during WWII hadn't heard that it's unlawful to use this gun against ground forces.
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