Two soldiers marching close after the battle of Omaha beach.
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. Some arrived too late for combat service. For example, the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, fighting as part of the Second Division did not exchange their Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns for Browning M1917 machine guns until November 14, three days after the armistice. The U.S. equipped about a third of the divisions sent to France; the others were equipped equally with Hotchkiss 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 M1917 weapon system was inferior to the Vickers and Hotchkiss guns in indirect fire applications because the British and French cartridges had about 50 percent longer range than the .30-06 service cartridge used in World War I.
Many of the 1917s were given to South Vietnam. The last ones in regular US service were on the machine gun infiltration course at Fort Benning, Georgia, where their sustained-fire capability was an advantage in long nights of shooting over the heads of low-crawling trainees. The gun did continue to see service in some Third World armies well into the later half of the 20th century. Some are still in use today by irregular military forces because the water cooled barrel allows for long periods of sustained fire.
The Model 1917 was called to service again in the Korean War. On at least one occasion, U.S. soldiers in the Korean War urinated on the gun when water-cooling had failed in the frigid temperatures of the Korean winter. The Model 1917 was slowly phased out of military service in the late 1960s in favor of the much lighter M60 machine gun chambered in the new 7.62mm NATO cartridge.
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