M1895 Colt–Browning machine gun

The Colt–Browning M1895, nicknamed "potato digger" because of its unusual operating mechanism, is an air-cooled, belt-fed, gas-operated machine gun that fires from a closed bolt with a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. Based on a John Browning design dating to 1889, it was the first successful gas-operated machine gun to enter service.

M1895 Colt–Browning machine gun
Class Manportable
Type Machine Guns
Manufacturer Colt's Manufacturing Company
Production Period 1889 - 1895
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1889
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Cuba 1898 1898 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Colt's Manufacturing Company 1889 1895 View

An improved design based on Browning's prototype lever mechanism was offered to Colt by Browning in 1892. The lever was moved back, and power was supplied by a gas port about six inches (15 cm) back from the muzzle. To minimize heating during rapid fire, the gun used a very heavy straight contour barrel (finned for ventilation on later variants), bringing its weight up to 35 pounds; the standard tripod mount with seat for the gunner added another 56 pounds. Despite the heavy barrel, the closed bolt mechanism would cook off shots if a round was left chambered in a hot barrel. This required that the gun be unloaded immediately after an extended burst of firing. During testing of the gun, it was found to be capable of firing extended bursts of over 1,000 rounds before the barrel overheated and bullets began to tumble out of control; upon stopping, the red-hot barrel cooked off four or five additional shots before cooling down.

Early conflicts:

In 6mm Lee Navy caliber, the M1895 saw service with the United States Marines during the Spanish–American War, including the 1898 invasion of Guantanamo Bay, where a Marine battalion deployed four Colt guns (two of them borrowed from the USS Texas's armory).

The M1895 in 6mm Lee was also utilized by American Naval and Marine forces during the Philippine–American War, and the Boxer Rebellion, where it proved to be accurate and reliable. Around 1904 the Mexican government purchased 150 of these guns in 7mm Mauser caliber, and these guns were employed throughout the protracted Mexican Revolution. Use of the 7mm M1895 in the Mexican Revolution has been photographically documented, including the use of the gun by what appears to be a Villista.

Further south, the M1895 was also used by the Uruguayan Army against rebels during a late flare-up of the Uruguayan Civil War in 1904.

Canadian mounted troops successfully used .303 M1895 guns in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). In one spectacular rear guard action a Colt gun mounted on a light carriage was able to stop a pursuing Boer Cavalry unit. Winston Churchill, then a young Lieutenant in the South African Light Horse and a war correspondent, was impressed by the effect of the fire of a whole battery of these guns.

World War I:

The M1895/14 Colt–Browning saw use in France by some Canadian infantry formations. Deploying to France in 1915, the 21st Canadian Light Infantry Battalion used .303-caliber M1895/14 machine guns in combat. These guns saw significant combat but were soon replaced by Vickers machine guns. They were not taken out of combat however, but were instead given to equip formations of the Belgian Exile Army. The French also tested the Colt and some were used in early aircraft for testing. Additional Colt guns were sent to the Russians, who used them extensively.

Postwar service:

After World War I, some Colt–Browning guns (possibly including the M1917/18 Marlin variants) saw use in the Russian Civil war. Its most spectacular use came during the Czech Legion's exodus from Russia, where the guns (either Colt–Browning M1914 or Marlin M1917 models) were photographed in sandbagged stations on the top of trains being used to transport the Legion as it withdrew from Soviet Russia. Many of these guns were also used in the Polish–Soviet War of 1920. At the outset of World War II, M1917 and M1918 Marlins were also sent to Britain for use by the Home Guard, but were never used in combat.

The last documented use of the type was by the US National Guard against striking miners in the Battle of Blair Mountain, West Virginia, U.S., in 1921.

Type Machine gun
Place of origin United States
Service history
Used by Canada, Spain, Czechoslovakia, France, Kingdom of Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russian Empire, Finland, Uruguay, United Kingdom, United States
Production history
Designer John M. Browning
Designed 1889–1895
Manufacturer Colt

Marlin Rockwell
Weight 16 kg (35.3 lb)
Length 1040 mm (41 in)
Barrel length 711 mm (28 in)
Cartridge 6mm Lee Navy

7×57mm Mauser

.30-40 Krag

.30-06 Springfield

.303 British


6.5×52mm Mannlicher–Carcano
Action Gas-operated, lever actuated
Rate of fire 400–450 rpm
Feed system Belt
Sights Iron sights

End notes