Bren Mk II Light Machine Gun
|Bren Mk II Light Machine Gun|
|Type||Light Machine Gun|
|Feed System||30 Round Box Magazine|
|Rate of Fire||530 Rounds/Min|
|Maximum Rffective Range||550m|
In 1930, the British War Office moved to select a successor to the Lewis gun, which had served as Great Britain’s standard light machine gun since World War I. Although the Lewis gun had performed well, it was difficult to operate and maintain and it lacked a changeable barrel. The War Office considered the Vickers-Berthier, the Madsen, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the French FM 24/29, and the Darne guns, among others, and came close to deciding upon either the Vickers-Berthier or the Madsen. As the Vickers-Berthier was already in service with the Indian Army and in current production in Great Britain, the War Office highly favoured it.
The British military attache in Prague, however, reported to the War Office that Czechoslovakia had recently demonstrated a remarkable light machine gun, the ZB26, which prompted the British to pay £135 to acquire a gun and 10,000 rounds of 7.92mm Mauser-calibre ammunition.
The firm of Ceskoslovenská Zbrojovka A.S. (Czechoslovakia Arms Factory Ltd., commonly known as CZ) formed around 1918 when Czechoslovakian military personnel took over the Austro-Hungarian armament works at Brno. In 1921, the chief designer, Vaclav Holek, became interested in machine guns and - together with his brother Emanuel and an Austrian engineer, Anton Marek - designed a gas-operated light machine gun, the Praga Model 1924, which with improvements evolved into the ZB26. This gas-operated weapon had an overhead box magazine and a long-finned barrel that could be changed via a quick-release latch, and was capable of both automatic and single-shot fire. The gas cylinder was located below the barrel and the gas piston tilted the bolt's rear end upward to lock into the receiver.
Further refinements led to the extremely successful ZB27 and ZB30 models, adopted by 24 countries. One of these countries was China, and captured examples influenced the design of the Japanese Types 96 and 99 machine guns.
The British Army was impressed with the ZB26 and expressed interest as long as the gun could be made to function with the British standard .303in rimmed cartridge. In 1931, The design team modified a ZB30 gun to use the British ammunition, fed by a distinctive curved magazine. Rimless ammunition can be contained within a straight-sided box but a magazine that contains rimmed cartridges must curve. Testing revealed slight defects, mostly ascribed to the ammunition. In 1932, Vaclav Holek returned to England with a new weapon, the ZGB32, for trial. This gun's gas port moved 9.65 inches closer to the chamber to reduce cordite fouling. Slight modifications resulted in the ZGB33 and ZGB34 models, with a reduction in weight of about 1.0 kg (2.2 lb). In August 1934, the ZGB34 was tested in competition with the Vickers-Berthier and Madsen guns where it proved conclusively to be the superior gun.
British authorities arranged with CZ to manufacture the gun under licence at the Royal Small Arms Factory, at Enfield Lock. The new gun’s name borrowed the first two letters of Brno and Enfield: the Bren. Drawings to British tolerances were prepared by January 1935, and the first gun rolled off the new Enfield production line in September 1937. The first 200 guns were delivered January 1938, and formally entered service Aug. 4. By the outbreak of war in 1939, production had reached 400 guns per week and peaked at 1,000 per week in 1943.
The Bren’s curved box magazine could contain 30 rounds, but usually only 28 were loaded in order to avoid straining the magazine spring. A 100-round drum magazine was available for anti-aircraft use. John Inglis Ltd. reworked the Bren gun back into the original 7.92mm calibre for supply to the Chinese Nationalist Army.
Bren gunners rarely used a tripod, and usually relied instead on the gun’s built-in bipod. For a machine gun, the Bren was extremely accurate. Gunners often fired it in semi-automatic mode, both to conceal the gun’s location among riflemen and to conserve ammunition.
The Bren gun saw service with Britain and all Commonwealth armies, including India. Indian troops, having adopted the Vickers-Berthier, often received Bren gun replacements when logistics made this quicker and easier than providing new Vickers-Berthiers from India. Germans often used captured Bren guns as “battlefield issues” and to arm occupation troops, in which role it was known as the 7.7mm Maschinengewehr (MG) 138(e). In its Czechoslovakian ZB form, this gun was one of the most important and extensively used non-German designs in German service, particularly with military police and anti-partisan formations.
The Bren gun became a legend in its own time and was probably the most liked and respected weapon fired by the British Army during World War II. Arguably the most successful and best light machine gun ever made, it was simple to dismantle and maintain, accurate, and robust enough to withstand the hardships of battle. It continued operating where mud, sand, or ice would stop lesser guns. In the 1950s, when Great Britain adopted the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge standard, the Bren design was reworked to take it, and it remains in service with the British and other Commonwealth armies as the Machine Gun L4 - although because NATO used rimless ammunition, it lost its distinctive curved magazine.