|Bren Light Machine Gun
Early Mark I Bren LMG, photo from a Canadian factory
||Light machine gun
|Place of origin
||World War II
Chinese Civil War
Greek Civil War
Rhodesian Bush War
||Royal Small Arms Factory
John Inglis and Company
Long Branch Factory
Lithgow Small Arms Factory.
||Mk I, II, III, IV
||22.83 lb (10.35 kg) (Mk1 and Mk2) (25lb–11.25 kg loaded); 8.68 kg (Mk3 and Mk4) (21.6lb–9.75 kg loaded)
||42.9 in (1,156 mm), Mk IV
||25 in (635 mm)
||2, firer and magazine/barrel changer
8×57mm IS (for China in World War II)
7.62×51mm NATO (post-WW2)
||Gas-operated, tilting bolt
|Rate of fire
||2440 ft/s (743.7 m/s)
|Effective firing range
||600 yd (550 m)
|Maximum firing range
||1,850 yd (1,690 m)
||20 round L1A1 SLR magazine
30-round detachable box magazine
100-round detachable pan magazine
The Bren Gun, usually called simply the Bren, was a series of light machine guns adopted by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1992. While best known for its role as the British and Commonwealth forces' primary infantry light machine gun (LMG) in World War II, it was also used in the Korean War and saw service throughout the latter half of the 20th century, including the 1982 Falklands War. Although fitted with a bipod, it could also be mounted on a tripod or vehicle-mounted.
The Bren was a modified version of Czechoslovak-designed light machine guns, the ZB vz. 26 and its descendants, which British Army officials had tested during a firearms service competition in the 1930s. The later Bren featured a distinctive top-mounted curved box magazine, conical flash hider and quick change barrel. The name Bren was derived from Brno, Moravia, the Czechoslovak city where the Zb vz. 26 was originally designed (in Zbrojovka Brno Factory), and Enfield, site of the British Royal Small Arms Factory. The original and main designer was Václav Holek, a talented gun inventor and design engineer.
In the 1950s many Brens were rebarrelled to accept the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge and modified to feed from the magazine for the L1 (Commonwealth version of the FN FAL) rifle as the L4 light machine gun. It was replaced in the British Army as the section LMG by the L7 general-purpose machine gun (GPMG), a heavier belt-fed weapon. This was in turn supplemented in the 1980s by the L86 Light Support Weapon firing the 5.56×45mm NATO round, leaving the Bren in use only as a pintle mount on some vehicles.
The Bren is still manufactured by Indian Ordnance Factories as the "Gun, Machine 7.62mm 1B".
At the close of the First World War in 1918, the British Army was equipped with two main automatic weapons; the Vickers Medium Machine Gun (MMG) and the Lewis Light Machine Gun (LMG). The Vickers was heavy and required a supply of water to keep it in operation, which tended to relegate it to static defence and indirect fire support. The Lewis, although lighter, was still heavy and was prone to a variety of frequent stoppages; also, the barrel couldn't be changed in the field, which meant that sustained firing resulted in overheating until it stopped altogether. In 1922, the Small Arms Committee of the British Army ran competitive trials to find replacement for the Lewis, between theMadsen, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the Hotchkiss, the Beardmore-Farquhar and the Lewis itself. Although the BAR was recommended, the sheer number of Lewis guns available and the difficult financial conditions meant that nothing was done. Various new models of light machinegun were tested as they became available, and in 1930, a further set of extensive trials commenced. This time the weapons tested included the SIG Neuhausen KE7 the Vickers-Berthier and the Czechoslovak ZB vz.27. The Vickers-Berthier was later adopted by the Indian Army because it could be manufactured at once, rather than wait for the British Bren production run to finish; it too saw extensive service in World War II.
Following these trials, the British Army adopted the Czechoslovak ZB vz.26 light machine gun manufactured in Brno in 1935, although a slightly modified model, the ZB vz. 27, rather than the ZB vz. 26 had actually been submitted for the trials. A licence to manufacture was sought, and the Czech design was modified to British requirements. The major changes were in the magazine and barrel. The magazine was curved in order to feed the rimmed .303 British cartridge, a change from the various rimless Mauser-design cartridges such as the 7.92 mm Mauser round previously used by Czech designs. These modifications were categorised in various numbered designations, ZB vz. 27, ZB vz. 30, ZB vz. 32, and finally the ZB vz. 33, which became the Bren.
The Bren was a gas-operated weapon, which used the same .303 ammunition as the standard British rifle, the Lee-Enfield, firing at a rate of between 480 and 540 rounds per minute (rpm), depending on the model. Propellant gases vented from a port towards the muzzle end of the barrel through a regulator (visible in the photo, just in front of the bipod) with four quick-adjustment apertures of different sizes, intended to tailor the gas volume to different ambient temperatures (smallest flow at high temperature, e.g. summer desert, largest at low temperature, e.g. winter Arctic). The vented gas drove a piston which in turn actuated the breech block. Each gun came with a spare barrel that could be quickly changed when the barrel became hot during sustained fire, though later guns featured a chrome-lined barrel which reduced the need for a spare. To change barrels, the release catch in front of the magazine was rotated to unlock the barrel. The carrying handle above the barrel was used to grip and remove the hot barrel without risk of burning the hands.
The Bren was magazine-fed, which slowed its rate of fire and required more frequent reloading than British belt-fed machine guns such as the larger .303 Vickers machine gun. However, the slower rate of fire prevented more rapid overheating of the Bren's air-cooled barrel, and the Bren was much lighter than belt-fed machine guns which typically had cooling jackets, often liquid filled. The magazines also prevented the ammunition from getting dirty, which was more of a problem with the Vickers with its 250-round canvas belts. The sights were offset to the left, to avoid the magazine which was on the top of the weapon. The position of the sights meant that the Bren could be fired only from the right shoulder.
Second World War
Bren carried by a Canadian
soldier in 1945.
In the British and Commonwealth armies, the Bren was generally issued on a scale of one per rifle section, with three rifle sections in each platoon. A further three Bren guns were issued to the Admin platoon of each rifle company. An infantry battalion also had a "carrier" platoon, equipped with Universal Carriers, most of which carried Bren guns. Parachute battalions from 1944 had an extra Bren in the AT platoon. The 66-man "Assault Troop" of British Commandos had a nominal establishment of four Bren guns. Realising the need for additional section-level firepower, the British Army endeavoured to issue the Bren in great numbers, with a stated goal of one Bren to every four private soldiers.
The Bren was operated by a two-man crew, sometimes commanded by a Lance Corporal as an infantry section's "gun group", the remainder of the section forming the "rifle group". The gunner or "Number 1" carried and fired the Bren, and a loader or "Number 2" carried extra magazines, a spare barrel and a tool kit. Number 2 helped reload the gun and replace the barrel when it overheated, and spotted targets for Number 1.
Generally, the Bren was fired from the prone position using the attached bipod. On occasion, a Bren gunner would use his weapon on the move supported by a sling, much like an automatic rifle, and from standing or kneeling positions. Using the sling, Australian soldiers regularly fired the Bren from the hip, for instance in the marching fire tactic, a form ofsuppressive fire moving forward in assault. A Victoria Cross was awarded to Private Bruce Kingsbury for such use at Isurava, New Guinea in 1942, during the Australians' fighting retreat from Kokoda.
Each British soldier's equipment normally included two magazines for his section's Bren gun. The large ammunition pouches on the 1937 Pattern Web Equipment were designed around the Bren magazine. Every soldier would be trained to fire the Bren in case of an emergency, though these soldiers did not receive a Bren proficiency badge.
The Bren had an effective range of around 600 yards (550 m) when fired from a prone position with a bipod. Initial versions of the weapon were sometimes considered too accurate because the cone or pattern of fire was extremely concentrated. Soldiers often expressed a preference for worn-out barrels in order to spread the cone of fire and increase suppressive effects. Later versions of the Bren addressed this issue by providing a wider cone of fire.
For a light machine gun of the interwar and early World War II era, the Bren was about average in weight. On long marches in non-operational areas it was often partially disassembled and its parts were carried by two soldiers. The top-mounted magazine vibrated and moved during fire, making the weapon more visible in combat, and many Bren gunners used paint or improvised canvas covers to disguise the prominent magazine.
The 30-round magazine was in practice usually filled with 27 or 28 rounds to prevent jams and avoid wearing out the magazine spring. Care needed to be taken when loading the magazine to ensure that each round went ahead of the previous round, so that the .303 cartridge rims did not overlap the wrong way, which would cause a jam. The spent cartridge caseswere ejected downwards, which was an improvement on the Lewis gun which ejected sideways, since the glint of them flying through the air could compromise a concealed firing position.
In general, the Bren was considered a reliable and effective light machine gun, though in North Africa it was reported to jam regularly unless kept very clean and free of sand or dirt. It was popular with British troops, who respected the Bren for its reliability and combat effectiveness. The quality of the materials used would generally ensure minimal jamming. When the gun did jam through fouling caused by prolonged firing, the operator could adjust the four-position gas regulator to feed more gas to the piston increasing the power to operate the mechanism. The barrel needed to be unlocked and slid forward slightly to allow the regulator to be turned. It was even said that all problems with the Bren could simply be cleared by hitting the gun, turning the regulator, or doing both.
Bren gun mounted on a tripod, 2010
A complicated tripod mount was available to allow the Bren to be used as an indirect-fire weapon, but this was rarely used in the field. The Bren was also used on many vehicles, including on Universal Carriers, to which it gave the alternative name "Bren Gun Carrier", and on tanks and armoured cars. However, it could not be used as a co-axial weapon on tanks, as the magazine restricted its depression and was awkward to handle in confined spaces, and it was therefore used on a pintle mount only. (The belt fed Vickers or BESA, the latter being another Czechoslovak machine gun design adopted by the British, were instead used as co-axial weapons.) An unfortunate problem occurred when the Bren was fired from the Dingo Scout Car; the hot cartridge cases tended to be ejected down the neck of the driver, whose position was right next to the pintle. A canvas bag was designed to catch the cartridges and overcome the problem, but it seems to have been rarely issued.
Indian troops man a Bren gun on an anti-aircraft tripod, Western Desert
The Bren was also employed in the anti-aircraft role. A tall tripod was available to allow high angle fire. There were also several designs of less portable mountings, including the Gallows and Motley mounts. A 100-round pan magazine was available for the Bren for use in the anti-aircraft role.
The Bren's direct ancestor, the Czechoslovak ZB vz. 26, was also used in World War 2 by German and Romanian forces, including units of the Waffen SS. Many 7.92 mm ZB light machine guns were shipped to China, where they were employed first against the Japanese in World War II, and later against UN forces in Korea, including British and Commonwealth units. Some ex-Chinese Czech ZB weapons were also in use in the early stages of the Vietnam War.
Production of a 7.92 mm round model for the Far East was carried out by Inglis of Canada.
The Bren was also delivered to the Soviet Union as part of the lend-lease program