The M1917 saw limited service in the later days of World War I. Because of production delays, only about 1,200 Model 1917s saw combat in the conflict, and then only in the last 2½ months of the war. They equipped about a third of the divisions sent to France; the others were equipped equally with machine guns bought from the French or the British Vickers machine guns built by Colt in the US. Where the Model 1917 did see action, its rate of fire and reliability were highly effective.
The Model 1917A1 was again used in the Second World War, and was primarily used with the M2 ball, tracer, and armor-piercing ammunition introduced just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Some were supplied to the UK for use by the Home Guard; all production of the .303 Vickers being needed to resupply the equipment abandoned during the Fall of France. The M1917's weight and bulk meant it was generally employed as a fixed defense or battalion or regimental support weapon. At the fierce battle of Momote Airstrip in the Admiralties, the US Army's 5th Cavalry machinegunners killed several hundred Japanese in one night using their M1917 Brownings; one gun was left in position after the battle as a memorial to the desperate struggle.
The Model 1917 was called to service again in the Korean War. The Model 1917 was slowly phased out of military service in the late 1960s in favor of the much lighter, and more suitable for modern warfare, M60 machine gun. The attributes of the Model 1917 and similar weapons such as the Vickers machine gun—continuous fire from a static position—had been rendered useless by the movement to highly mobile warfare. Many of the 1917's were given to South Vietnam. The gun did continue to see service in some Third World armies well into the later half of the 20th century.