The "larger" guns


August 14, 2008, 03:10 AM
I was just watching a History channel documentary on WWII air battles and it was mentioned that Allied aircraft usually sported .50 MG's while late war Axis often had 20mm cannons(and up). So the thought came to mind: could the .50BMG cartridge have enough space in the bullet and enough power in the case to deliver "effective" explosive ordnance? Would there have been any advantage modifying it or is the .50 in its antiaircraft M2 MG role just a spectacular performer despite not being able to explode?

BTW what was the M2 machinegun's original intended use?

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Kind of Blued
August 14, 2008, 04:14 AM
From Wikipedia:

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Armor-Piercing-Explosive-Incendiary, M02
This cartridge is used against various targets such as bunkers, suppressive fire against lightly armored vehicles, and ground and aerial threat suppression. It is generally fired either from pilot aimed aircraft mounted guns or anti aircraft platforms both produced by FN Herstal[2] It is identified by a gray over yellow tip.[3] A tracer variant of it also exists.

The article lists about 16 other .50 BMG cartridges for different purposes. Check it out.

August 14, 2008, 04:45 AM
BTW what was the M2 machinegun's original intended use?

If I understand my history right, when the M2 Browning Machine Gun and the .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun cartridge came out in WWI, it was designed for use against tanks, which were a fairly new threat at the time as well, and it was moderately effective in this role. However, armor evolved rather quickly and by WWII, the .50 cal remained effective against light armored vehicles, aircraft, and personnel, but not so much as an anti-tank round.

The .50 offers enough mass to be employed with explosive compounds, but these don't explode in the common understanding of the term. They aren't like grenades. It is more of an incendiary effect used to make the round more effective against armor than purely kinetic energy and momentum would normally allow.

Here's a video from a demonstration for the Marine Corp Scout Sniper program on the M82 SASR:

When you get to about 5:45, it starts showing the actual effect of a modern armor-piercing incendiary round. The round is described earlier, right after the introduction of the rifle.

Performance of ammunition in the skies above Europe and the Pacific during WWII would have been quite a bit worse, but still impressive to anyone on the receiving end. It still would have been terrifying to watch your Zero disintegrate around you in a hail of gunfire.

August 14, 2008, 02:18 PM
Hit the fuel tanks or lodge a projectile in the wooden spars, and it doesn't matter how well the bullet explodes or burns, so long as it's hot enough to act as an incendiary.

August 14, 2008, 11:06 PM
Have you heard of the Roufass round? A Norwegian invention, I believe, it is effectively an exploding 50 BMG.

Jim Watson
August 14, 2008, 11:11 PM
Yes, but that is all pretty modern stuff. In the day, explosives and fuzes were not as refined. There was a test of necking the .50 up to form the 16mm Vega to get a worthwhile warhead. They obviously decided that API was adequate for the needs of the day.

August 14, 2008, 11:13 PM
IIRC, the M2 and 50 BMG round were originally designed for use against observation aircraft during WWI.
I'm sure someone will be along shortly to correct me if I'm wrong.

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