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BAR in Europe after action report

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I got into WW2 reenactment a few years ago. It’s a cool hobby that brings people together from all walks of life with a common passion for history. A buddy put me onto a group called “2nd Armored in Europe” who does reenactment trips in Europe at the location of the actual battles. Every few years they do large trips with members participating from all over the globe. Members dress in period attire for the entire event, sleep on the ground in GI tents, and eat daily from a field kitchen. Trip prices are usually around 500 Euro for a 2 week trip so the price is very reasonable. You can find them on Facebook if you would like to learn more about their trips.


As many of you probably know the weapons laws in Europe are complicated and restrictive. The group rents blank firing weapons from a movie company, 30-06 costs 1 Euro a blank so it gets pricy if you fire alot. Weapon rentals are a few hundred Euro. Most members that don’t own a vehicle (or are friends with an owner) are assigned to armored infantry in a half track.


My first trip with that group was to Normandy in 2017. The trip commemorated the 2nd Armored Division’s break out from Normandy during operation Cobra. We had about 200 participants, the highlight of the trip for me was a wreath laying ceremony we did at the American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer (Omaha Beach area).


On that 2017 trip I went out on a volunteer night foot patrol one night outside of Carentan and traded my Garand with the our squad’s BAR gunner. I was usually up front and had a lot of fun with it, humping that and the gunner’s belt around was not as bad as I expected. I decided I would rent the BAR on my next trip.


This September 2019 I went back to Europe on the next trip, this time to Belgium commemorating the 75th anniversary of their liberation by the 2nd Armored Division. This was the largest trip the group has done to date, with 250 members and 70 original vehicles. I was assigned to 1st platoon, machine gun squad. In addition to the BAR I rented we also had a .30 cal M1919, and M1A1 Thompson for the sergeant the rest with Garands or carbines. We started near Rumes on the border with France and ended 10 days later in Hasselt Belgium, where we were encamped in a 600 year old Abby. One of the first things I did was remove the bipod! All of the other BAR gunners did the same.


I was issued BAR M1918A2 serial 609346 manufactured by N.E. Small Arms Corp. Now that I am learning more about the BAR I see this weapon had some post WW2 features, and the barrel was marked “HSA 1-51.” The top of the receiver had a light ordnance stamp and the initials “H.B.S.” The weapon had a tapped barrel to accept threaded blank adapters, and a rod welded vertically in the barrel. Most of the blanks they issued to the BAR gunners were brass base with a plastic body, full length size. The weapon ran great with those plastic blanks on fast mode, in slow mode it only did single shots. Perhaps something with the blanks was not powerful enough to manipulate the slow fire mechanism in the buffer. I worried about the plastic blanks getting sticky in a hot chamber but it never seemed to happen. I am sure if the weapon had a closed bolt it would have been different with a round resting in battery in a hot chamber, but with the open BAR bolt there is plenty of air flow.


We had some amazing mock battles at actual historical sites, in addition to recreated victory parades at many towns along the route. One of the most memorable battles was in Feluy Belgium where the engineering platoon set up an actual WW2 pontoon bridge across a canal. I provided covering fire with the BAR while US forces crossed the bridge and attacked the Germans on the other side. In a later battle in Reves Belgium I was in a small squad that got separated from the main US force. We flanked around a field and surprised an Opel Blitz truck full of Germans driving to engage the Americans. I took the truck and its occupants out with a mag dump.


Towards the end of the trip the BAR was starting to have some failures so I dropped it off with the armorer for service. He stripped the weapon to the core, even unthreading the barrel (I wonder if that threw head space out of wack?). By that time it had probably been 500 blanks fired through it and it was filthy. The following battle was the last of the event, and the organizers instructed both sides to not “take a hit” until you were out of ammo. I went into that one with nearly a full belt, and after engaging some Germans on a tree line I was disappointed to learn the damn armorer forgot to put the BFA back in the barrel when he re-assembled the BAR. So I was shooting a single shot rifle, and hand cycling the slide was hard on the hand due to the bolt lock.


I ended up with a bunch of extra blanks after that battle, but it ended up paying off. We did a group tour of Fort Eben-Emael near the German border. This is the large Belgium fort built into a hill that was taken by surprise by crack German paratroopers in the beginning of the Blitz. During the tour we did a mock battle in the tunnels and I was one of the few with blanks left. Dumping a mag in those concrete tunnels had very interesting acoustics!


Not trying to toot my own horn here, I thought some of you might appreciate the history here and the unique perspective of a BAR in Europe. I am sure this weapon has been featured in some movies based on the armorer’s stories. If memory serves, the armorer had 4 BARs for rent, all in similar set up to this one.


Some pictures I took:



























(photo credit to Rick Von Noogie,one of the event photographers)






Here are some links for pics done by some professional photographers:





Hasselt victory parade:


It was an honor to be part of this event, and hump the M1918A2 across Belgium in the footsteps of the liberators.

Edited by nate129
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Very cool experience, who can afford such a non rat-race sabbatical these days?

We are all just marching ants,


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Jim, the thought has definitely crossed my mind. I have a 1980s West Hurley M1A1 now that I blank adapted and have not had any abnormal wear and tear. I run Atlantic Wall blanks with the BFA orifice set just large enough to get the action to cycle. I have heard "movie blanks" like the Swanson brand cause abnormal barrel wear and damage so I avoid those. The only thing I have noticed the barrel heats up much faster with blanks than with live fire.The M1A1 required threading the barrel, which was a bit of a job. However, if I were to do it again I would have not blank adapted it and just run one of these new BFONG (Blank Firing Only Non Gun) uppers now on the market. They fire from an open bolt but are incapable of shooting live ammo and not a gun by ATF rules. No issues crossing state lines or going to states with restrictive laws, like Illinois where they have the big Rockford reenactment every fall. But no one is making a BRONG BAR and from what I researched none of the companies in the business are planning one.


With the M1918s its much simpler with the BFA threaded flash hiders. And I was thinking since the receiver already has some pitting, this Winchester is by no means a safe queen.

The Winchester's value definitely makes me shy about using it reenacting, even if abnormal wear and tear from shooting blanks was not an issue the weapon will definitely see more hard handling in that environment. So leaning against it for now but I know when I get my hands on it I will be tempted.

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