The Bren gun was a series of light machine gun
s (LMG) made 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 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 be vehicle-mounted.
The Bren gun was a licensed version of the Czechoslovak ZGB 33 light machine gun which, in turn, was a modified version of the ZB vz. 26
, which British Army
officials had tested during a firearms service competition in the 1930s. The later Bren gun featured a distinctive top-mounted curved box magazine, conical flash hider, and quick change barrel. The name ''Bren'' was derived from Brno
, the Czechoslovak city in Moravia
, where the Zb vz. 26 was designed (in the Zbrojovka Brno Factory
) and Enfield
, site of the British Royal Small Arms Factory
. The designer was Václav Holek
, a gun inventor and design engineer.
In the 1950s, many Bren guns were re-barrelled 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 supplemented in the 1980s by the L86 Light Support Weapon
firing the 5.56×45mm NATO
round, leaving the Bren gun in use only as a pintle mount on some vehicles. The Bren gun was manufactured by Indian Ordnance Factories
as the "Gun Machine 7.62mm 1B"
before it was discontinued in 2012.
A member of No. 9 Commando
at Anzio, equipped for a patrol with his Bren gun, 5 March 1944
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 frequent stoppages; its barrel could not be changed in the field, which meant that sustained firing resulted in overheating until it stopped altogether. In 1922, to find a replacement for the Lewis, the Small Arms Committee of the British Army ran competitive trials between the Madsen
, 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 machine gun were tested as they became available, and in 1930, a further set of extensive trials commenced, overseen by Frederick Hubert Vinden
. This time the weapons tested included the SIG Neuhausen KE7
, the Vickers-Berthier
and the Czechoslovak ZB vz.26. The Vickers-Berthier was later adopted by the Indian Army
because it could be manufactured at once, rather than wait for the British Lewis 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 which had been submitted for the trials. The design was modified to British requirements under new designation ZGB 33, which was then licensed for British manufacture under the Bren name. The major changes were in the magazine and barrel and the lower pistol grip assembly which went from a swivelling grip frame pivoted on the front of the trigger guard to a sliding grip frame which included the forward tripod mount and sliding ejection port cover. The magazine was curved in order to feed the rimmed .303 SAA
("Small Arms Ammunition") cartridge, a change from the various rimless Mauser
such as the 8mm 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 ZGB 33, which was licensed for manufacture under the Bren name.
The Bren was a gas-operated weapon, which used the same .303 ammunition as the standard British bolt-action 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 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. 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 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
In the British and Commonwealth armies, the Bren was generally issued on a scale of one per rifle section. An infantry battalion also had a "carrier" platoon, equipped with Universal Carrier
s, each of which carried a Bren gun. 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 of suppressive 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. The Bren was regarded as the principal weapon of an infantry section, providing the majority of its firepower. As such, all ranks were trained in its operation.
The Bren had an effective range of around when fired from a prone position with a bipod
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 case
s were 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 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. It was "by general consent the finest light machine gun in the world of its period, and the most useful weapon provided to the (French) "maquis" ... accurate up to 1,000 meters, and (it) could withstand immense maltreatment and unskilled use. "Resistants" were constantly pleading for maximum drops of Brens".
. With the magazine fitted, the original sights cannot be used.
Although they were generally well-liked, the high cost of £40 each gun was an issue for the British Army leadership. This became a greater issue when it was discovered that only 2,300 of the 30,000 Bren guns issued to the British Expeditionary Force came back to Britain after the defeat of France. As the result, cost savings and increased rate of production became two main goals for subsequent variant designs. The Bren Mk II design simplified production by replacing the drum rear sight with a ladder design, making the bipod legs non-adjustable, simplifying the gun butt, reducing the use of stainless steel, among other steps that reduced the cost by 20% to 25%; Mk II was approved in September 1940 and entered production in 1941. While the Bren Mk III design also aimed at reducing cost, it also had the concurrent goal of being lightened for jungle warfare; the final product weighed 19 pounds and 5 ounces (3 pounds lighter than the original Bren Mk I design); it was standardised in July 1944 and saw a production of 57,600. Also standardised in July 1944 was the Bren Mk IV, which was further lightened to 19 pounds and 2 ounces; however, it did not enter production until July 1945, and only 250 were built before the end of the war. While Enfield was able to produce only 400 Bren Mk I guns each month, with the various simplification efforts production numbers rose to 1,000 guns per week by 1943. Among the variant designs were two speciality prototypes that never entered production: The belt-fed Taden gun for stationary defence use, and the ultra-simplified Besal
gun to be produced in case a German invasion of Britain actually took place (which would hinder British production efforts). Later designs of production Bren guns featured chrome-lined barrels that offered less resistance, preventing overheating and reducing the need for quick changes of barrels.
Bren guns were produced outside of Britain as well. In Canada, the John Inglis plant in Toronto began tooling its facilities for production in 1938; the first of 186,000 examples was completed in Mar 1940. Some of the Inglis-built Bren guns were chambered for the 7.92-millimeter Mauser ammunition; these were destined for export to Nationalist Chinese forces rather than for British and Commonwealth forces. In Australia, the Lithgow Small Arms Factory
in New South Wales began building Bren guns in 1940; a total of 17,249 were built. In India, the factory at Ishapore
began building Bren guns in 1942 (it had produced Vickers-Berthier machine guns prior to this time), and would continue producing them for decades long after the end of WW2. Many of the Bren guns produced at Ishapore went to Indian troops, who had lost a great number of automatic weapons during the disastrous campaigns against the Japanese in Malaya and Burma; 17th Indian Infantry Division
, for example, found itself with only 56 Bren guns after fleeing out of Burma in 1942.
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, to the extent that the Universal Carrier
was generally known as the "Bren Gun Carrier", and on tanks and armoured cars. 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
, 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 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.
The Bren was also employed in the anti-aircraft
role. The tripod could be adjusted to allow high angle fire. There were also several designs of less-portable mountings, including the ''Gallows'' and ''Mottley'' 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 II 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
The British Army, and the armies of various countries of the Commonwealth
, used the Bren in the Korean War
, the Malayan Emergency
, the Mau Mau Uprising
and the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
, where it was preferred to its replacement, the belt-fed GPMG
, on account of its lighter weight. In the conflict in Northern Ireland
(1969–1998), a British Army squad typically carried the L4A4 version of the Bren as the squad automatic weapon in the 1970s. During the Falklands War
in 1982, 40 Commando Royal Marines
carried one LMG and one GPMG per section. Its final operational deployment with the British Army, on a limited scale, was in the First Gulf War
When the British Army adopted the 7.62 mm NATO
cartridge, the Bren was re-designed to 7.62 mm calibre, fitted with a new bolt, barrel and magazine. It was redesignated as the L4 light machine gun (in various sub-versions) and remained in British Army service into the 1990s. A slotted flash hider similar to that of the contemporary L1 rifle and L7 general purpose machine gun
replaced the conical flash hider. The change from a rimmed to rimless cartridge and nearly straight magazine improved feeding considerably, and allowed use of 20-round magazines from the 7.62 mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle
. Bren gunners using the L4A1 were normally issued with the 30-round magazine from the SAW L2A1.
Completion of the move to a 5.56 mm
NATO cartridge led to the Army removing the Bren/L4 from the list of approved weapons and then withdrawing it from service.
The Mark III Bren remained in limited use with the Army Reserve
of the Irish Defence Forces until 2006, when the 7.62 mm GPMG replaced it. The Bren was popular with the soldiers who fired it (known as Brenners) as it was light and durable, and had a reputation for accuracy. The most notable use of the Bren by Irish forces was in the Congo Crisis
during the 1960s, when the Bren was the regular army's standard section automatic weapon.
Bren guns were in service with the Rhodesian Security Forces
during the Rhodesian Bush War
, including a substantial number re-chambered for 7.62 mm cartridges similar to those examples in the British Army.
The Rhodesian Bren guns continued to see frequent action until the 1970s, when they were largely replaced by the FN MAG
A few were captured and re-issued by the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army
Some examples were still in service with reservists of the British South Africa Police
in 1980, and were inherited by the Zimbabwe Republic Police
upon the country's internationally recognised independence.
Zimbabwean policemen continued to deploy Bren guns during operations against ZIPRA dissidents throughout the early 1980s.
The South African Defence Force
deployed Bren guns during the South African Border War
alongside the more contemporary FN MAG as late as 1978.
Introduced September 1937; the original Bren, based on the Czechoslovak gun. Overall length , barrel length. Weight .
* Drum-pattern rear aperture sight
* Buttstrap for use over-the-shoulder when firing
* Rear grip under butt
* Telescoping bipod
* Folding cocking handle
An Enfield-made .303 Bren Mk 1 was converted to 7.92mm
in 1938 due to the suggestion of a possibility of a British Army change over to a rimless cartridge for machine guns being mooted.
Introduced 1941. A simplified version of the Mk1 more suited to wartime production with original design features subsequently found to be unnecessary deleted. Produced by Inglis of Canada and the Monotype Group through a number of component manufacturing factories. Sometimes known as the "Garage hands" model. Overall length , barrel length. Weight .
* Folding-leaf rear sight
* Buttstrap deleted
* Rear grip deleted
* Fixed height bipod
* Fixed cocking handle
The Bren Mk2 was much simplified in the body, which although still being milled from a solid billet of steel, required significantly fewer milling operations than the Mk1, resulting in a much cleaner appearance. The bipod was simplified in design as well as not having extending legs. Most Mk2 bipods resembled a simple A-frame and were more 'soldier proof'. The Mk2 also featured a slightly higher rate of fire than the Mk1.
The woodwork on the Mk2 was simplified by being less ornate and ergonomic, which sped up the manufacturing process. The barrel was also simplified by means of a non-stepped removable flash hider and, in some cases, a barrel fore-end that was matte instead of highly polished. The buffered buttplate of the Mk1 was omitted and replaced with a sheet metal buttplate.
A small number of Inglis-made .303 Bren Mk 2 were converted post-war to fire the .280
7 mm Mk 1Z round used by the EM-2 rifle
The Inglis version of the Bren Mk 2 chambered for the .30-06
(7.62 mm) cartridge and known as the M41 was also manufactured in Formosa
A shorter and lighter Bren made by Enfield from 1944 for the war in the East and for Airborne Forces. This was similar to the Mk2 but with the light weight features of the early Mk1. With the main distinguishing feature being a shorter barrel and serrated area in front of the barrel nut. Overall length , barrel length. Weight .
As with the Mk3 but this was a conversion of a Mk2. Overall length , barrel length. Weight .
The Bren was converted to 7.62x51mm in the 1950s, and designated the L4. L4 Brens can easily be identified by their straight magazine. The British-issue L4 magazine retains the 30-round capacity and has a slight curve. The L4 magazine was interchangeable with the L1A1 SLR
magazine, so the L4 Bren can be seen fitted with straight 20-round magazines from the SLR or with the straight 30-round magazine from the Australian L2A1
or Canadian C2A1 heavy-barrel SLR. The flash suppressor was changed from the cone type of .303 variants to a slotted type similar in appearance to that used on the SLR and L7 GPMG. The L4 remained in British service until the 1990s.
The Taden gun
was a development of the Bren to use with the .280 British
(7 mm) intermediate round proposed to replace the .303 in British service. The Taden was belt-fed with spade grips and would have replaced both the Bren and the Vickers machine gun. Although reliable it was not accepted due to the US-driven standardization within NATO on the larger 7.62×51mm NATO
Semiautomatic Bren guns
Many nations' militaries have disposed of their Bren guns as surplus to their needs. Surplus Brens have been imported to the United States for sale to collectors, but due to US gun laws restricting the importation of automatic weapons such guns must be legally destroyed by cutting up the receivers. A number of US gunsmiths have manufactured new semiautomatic Brens by welding the pieces of destroyed receivers back together, with modifications to prevent the use of full automatic parts, and fitting new fire-control components capable of only semiautomatic fire. The balance of the parts are surplus Bren parts. Such "semiautomatic machine guns" are legally considered rifles under US Federal law and the laws of most states.
World War II production
* RSAF Enfield, UK: 400 per month.
** 1943: 1,000 per week.
* John Inglis and Company
, Canada: A contract was signed with the British and Canadian governments in March 1938 to supply 5,000 Bren machine guns to Great Britain and 7,000 Bren machine guns to Canada. Both countries shared the capital
costs of bringing in this new production facility. Production started in 1940, and by 1943 Inglis was producing 60% of the world output of Bren machine guns.
* Long Branch, Toronto
, India: The first Indian-made Bren was made in .303 British in 1953 before it was later rechambered to fire 7.62 NATO ammo in 1964 as the 1A LMG.
* Lithgow Small Arms Factory
* Daimler also built 74,000 Bren guns, initially at a workshop in their Coventry factory and, after that workshop was destroyed in the April 1941 raid, at a boot and shoe factory in Burton-on-Trent.
* : National Liberation Army
received 500 Brens from Egypt
* : during World War II and Korean War. Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
(as L4A4). Continued in limited service until about the time of the general introduction of the F88 Steyr
* : post-war
* : received Czech-made Brens in 8×56mmR
, designated kartěnice 39
* : used by Gendarmerie
and Republican Guard
* : Mark 2 version known to be used in the Croatian War of Independence
* : Many guns captured from Kuomintang
. Used during Korean War
. Some converted to fire 7.62x39 caliber ammunition from ammo supplied by their Soviet allies. They used regular AK-47 magazines.
* : used by National Revolutionary Army
43,000 guns produced in 7.92×57mm Mauser
in Canada. Later in 1952, Taiwan
produced a .30-06 Springfield
version of Bren Mk II, the ''Type 41''.
* : post-war
** : Used by the Free French Forces
and French Resistance
** : Captured Brens were issued to the Milice
** French Far East Expeditionary Corps
* : manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board
Phased out of Indian military service in 2012.
* : Still in use by Brimob
* : Irish Defence Forces
, replaced by the FN MAG
in 1960s. Remained in use with Irish military reserve forces until the early 2000s.
* : During its war of independence
and for some time thereafter by the Haganah and the Israeli Defense Forces. Replaced after Operation Kadesh
* : airdrop
ped to partisans
and also issued to the Italian Co-Belligerent Army
in the latter part of WWII. It continued to see post-war use with the Italian Army.
Also used by the Italian Police
in .30-06 caliber.
* : captured weapons.
* : Arab Legion
* : used captured examples under the designation ''7.7 mm Leichtes MG 138(e)''
* : post-war
* : WWII and L4 post war
* : post-war
* : Used by the Polish Underground State
and Polish Armed Forces in the West
during World War II.
* : ''m/43''
* : Used by Ceylon Defence Force
in World War II and thereafter by the Sri Lanka Army
until the late 1970s.
* : 294 guns were purchased by the Tibetan Army
* : British and Commonwealth forces, and cadet forces until the introduction of the L98 Cadet Rifle
* State of Vietnam
*: used by Viet-Minh
acquired from China and the Soviet Union or by capture
* : Supplied by the United Kingdom during the Lend-Lease program.
* : Yugoslav Partisans
during World War II;
some remained in stockpiles until the Yugoslav Wars
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-720-0318-04, Frankreich, Parade der Milice Francaise.jpg|Members of the Milice with captured Bren guns.
File:8th Royal Scots halted 27-10-1944.jpg|Bren near Tilburg, October 1944
File:Twin Bren gun anti-aircraft mounting at RAF Duxford.jpg|Twin Bren anti-aircraft mounting
File:The British Army in the United Kingdom 1939-45 H37157.jpg|Universal Carrier with Vickers machine gun and two Brens
* Browning Automatic Rifle
* Charlton Automatic Rifle
* FM 24/29 light machine gun
* Mendoza RM2
* Sterling 7.62
* Taden gun
* Type 96 light machine gun
* Type 99 light machine gun
* Type 73 light machine gun
* Vickers K machine gun
The Light Machine GunModern Firearms (additional information)
Category:History of the London Borough of Enfield
Category:Light machine guns
Category:Machine guns of the United Kingdom
Category:World War II infantry weapons of the United Kingdom
Category:World War II machine guns
Category:.303 British machine guns
Category:Czechoslovakia–United Kingdom relations