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WWII Browning Machine Guns From Crashed Spitfire Found In Peat Bog Still Work

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November 18, 2011

WWII Browning Machine Guns From Crashed Spitfire Found In Peat Bog Still Work

By Chad Love

How tough were WWII-era Browning machine guns? So tough that after surviving a 300mph crash and seventy-odd years in an Irish peat bog, they still work. 

From this story on the BBC website:
An excavation at the site of a 1941 Spitfire crash in a bog in the Irish Republic uncovered huge, remarkably preserved chunks of plane and six Browning machine guns. After 70 years buried in peat could they be made to fire? They certainly could, writes Dan Snow. It was June in Donegal, when we stood on a windswept hillside in hard hats and high-vis surrounded by a crowd of locals and watched by an Irish army unit while we filmed an archaeological excavation. This was the place where, in 1941, Roland "Bud" Wolfe, an American pilot flying a British RAF Spitfire, paid for by a wealthy Canadian industrialist, had experienced engine failure while flying over the neutral Republic of Ireland.

After flying a sortie over the Atlantic, Wolfe was on his way back to his base in Northern Ireland when he was forced to bail out. He parachuted safely to the ground - his plane smashed into the boggy hillside. Fast-forwarding 70 years and local aviation expert Johnny McNee was able to identify the wreck site. The ensuing dig was accompanied by intense anticipation. We did not have to wait long for results.

Suddenly the fresh Donegal air was tainted with the tang of aviation fuel. Minutes later the mechanical digger's bucket struck metal. We leapt into the pit to continue by hand. One by one the Spitfire's Browning machine guns were hauled out. We had hoped for one in reasonable condition - we got six, in great shape, with belts containing hundreds of gleaming .303 rounds. The Irish soldiers then stepped in. This was a cache of heavy weapons, however historic they might be.

After being broken down, cleaned and inspected, one of the Brownings was pieced back together from undamaged parts from the other guns loaded with modern ammo and worked flawlessly.

Irish specialists had chosen the best preserved body and added parts from all six guns, like the breech block and the spring, to assemble one that they thought would fire. They made the decision to use modern bullets, to reduce the risk of jamming. Wearing helmet, ear protection and body armour I crouched in a trench a metre away from the Browning, which I would operate remotely. Every part of the gun, to the tiniest pin, had been under a peat bog for 70 years, to the month.

This Spitfire had seen service during Britain's darkest days and is reliably credited with shooting down a German bomber off the Norfolk coast in early 1941. The Irish had found large amounts of carbon inside the weapon, evidence of heavy use. I turned the handle of the remote firing mechanism. The Browning roared, the belt of ammunition disappeared, the spent shell cases were spat out and the muzzle flash stood out sharply against a grey sky. It was elating.

How cool is that?

Comments (16)

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from Muleynut30.06 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I dont remeber exactly why but I learned in one of my classes that peat bogs are extremely good for keepings things perserved this is why they came out in such good condition.

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from horseman308 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Not too surprising, actually. I think they've also recovered old Viking burial sites from peat bogs that were pretty well intact.

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from larson014 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

bet they weren't made in china...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pbshooter1217 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

You should read some of the comments from the original article. Be glad you don't live in England, most are a bunch of anti gun idiots who wanted the guns to be disabled or destroyed.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from bass bomber wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Made in America tough

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

More proof that they just don't make them like they use to.

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from Ruckweiler wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Let's hear it for John Browning in the 100th Anniversary year of the M1911 .45 pistol. Amazing that the weapon was in good enough shape to fire. Wonder which US company made this light .30?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I've read that peat bogs kind of pickle anything that falls into them. I read a story aobut some guy who murdered somebody and dumped his body in a peat bog. they found it decades later perfectly preserved.

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from RES1956 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

The Browning is a very fine weapon,,,even after 70 years in a peat bog. The Spitfire didn't fare as well.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 784512 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

built ford tough

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from BrandonScarbel wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

"Firing restored guns such as this for fun is wrong."
I'm so glad I don't live on the other side of the pond.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from BrandonScarbel wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

just to clarify my quote was taken from the bbc comments

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Douglas wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Brownings don't wear ot, they wear in.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Paul Carroll wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I trained on the M1911 & M2 and I still have the last head space and timing gage that I use for a key chain. You never know when you may need to change a barrel out.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from nearlynormalnorman wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Those surviving US military artifacts should be returned to US soil immediately. The British owe us a heck of a lot more than the return of that which was supplied, built, and paid for by by the American taxpayer. Since Ireland was a neutral country they should be happy to return war artifacts to the country that paid for them with their blood, sweat and tears.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nyflyangler wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Hand it over to the Provos. I'm sure they can put it to good use against the fascists. Up the RA.

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from pbshooter1217 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

You should read some of the comments from the original article. Be glad you don't live in England, most are a bunch of anti gun idiots who wanted the guns to be disabled or destroyed.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ruckweiler wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Let's hear it for John Browning in the 100th Anniversary year of the M1911 .45 pistol. Amazing that the weapon was in good enough shape to fire. Wonder which US company made this light .30?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Douglas wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Brownings don't wear ot, they wear in.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from nearlynormalnorman wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Those surviving US military artifacts should be returned to US soil immediately. The British owe us a heck of a lot more than the return of that which was supplied, built, and paid for by by the American taxpayer. Since Ireland was a neutral country they should be happy to return war artifacts to the country that paid for them with their blood, sweat and tears.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from nearlynormalnorman wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Those surviving US military artifacts should be returned to US soil immediately. The British owe us a heck of a lot more than the return of that which was supplied, built, and paid for by by the American taxpayer. Since Ireland was a neutral country they should be happy to return war artifacts to the country that paid for them with their blood, sweat and tears.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from larson014 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

bet they weren't made in china...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from bass bomber wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Made in America tough

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

The Browning is a very fine weapon,,,even after 70 years in a peat bog. The Spitfire didn't fare as well.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 784512 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

built ford tough

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from BrandonScarbel wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

just to clarify my quote was taken from the bbc comments

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Paul Carroll wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I trained on the M1911 & M2 and I still have the last head space and timing gage that I use for a key chain. You never know when you may need to change a barrel out.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Muleynut30.06 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I dont remeber exactly why but I learned in one of my classes that peat bogs are extremely good for keepings things perserved this is why they came out in such good condition.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from horseman308 wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Not too surprising, actually. I think they've also recovered old Viking burial sites from peat bogs that were pretty well intact.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

More proof that they just don't make them like they use to.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I've read that peat bogs kind of pickle anything that falls into them. I read a story aobut some guy who murdered somebody and dumped his body in a peat bog. they found it decades later perfectly preserved.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from BrandonScarbel wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

"Firing restored guns such as this for fun is wrong."
I'm so glad I don't live on the other side of the pond.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nyflyangler wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Hand it over to the Provos. I'm sure they can put it to good use against the fascists. Up the RA.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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