Four Sailors v. New England Arms

This case involved an M-1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) which was manufactured for World War II.  The rifle was part of a ship’s armament (in year 1977) and was being fired off the fantail for “training”.  The BAR was loaded and set down.  The ship rolled, the Browning slid, and promptly began an unattended runaway of all 20 rounds, chopping up the legs of 4 sailors before running dry.

New England Small Arms (a patriotic conglomerate created solely for the War) had manufactured that BAR (and more than 180,000 others during 1942 to 1944).  Nevertheless, the Courts ruled, after a long legal process, that the successor company, New England Arms (which included Harrington & Richardson, and others) could be held liable.  Over a period of more than two years, no one (including various civilian experts and the Crane Naval Weapons Depot) could solve the problem.  Nobody could explain the unattended runaway, nor understand it.

Both sides approached Department of the Army (DA) for assistance.  They needed a firearms design and firearms manufacture expert.  DA sent it to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, where I was an Assistant Professor at the time.  My name was given to the Superintendent as the best expert at the Academy.  I was ordered to take the case in my personal capacity.  I came in to assist the Plaintiffs.

Upon examining the subject BAR (in front of assembled multitudes of attorneys) it took less than 5 minutes to find that the nose of the sear, and the sear engagement notch on the bolt carrier, were both chipped off.  This damage allowed the BAR to appear to function normally but, if loaded and cocked (the BAR fires from an open bolt); a jostling would allow the bolt carrier to over-ride the sear, go forward and fire the weapon.  Thus, I dry replicated the incident.

Another 15 minutes and I figured out that the trigger group could be re-assembled in such a way that one leaf of the 3-leaf trigger spring could be incorrectly positioned.  This incorrect positioning reduced the amount of sear engagement which, over time, would lead to the damage in question.  I was able to replicate this, both dry and live, on exemplar BAR’s.  (It is interesting to note that John Moses Browning liked 3-leaf springs and they are in many of his designs.  This includes his M-1911 semi-automatic ,45 pistol, an incredibly popular pistol and still manufactured today.)

I was deposed and explained at great length the firearms design and the firearms manufacture issues involved.  The case was eventually settled, with the 4 maimed sailors receiving compensation.

One could argue that it was unfair for New England Arms (really their insurance carrier) to pay for a weapon built exactly according to the drawings specified under a Federal contract for World War II.   This is especially odious because patriotic companies like H&R traditionally took manufacturing contracts to support the military during wartime.  And they did it with little, or no, profit voluntarily built in to the contract.  And they frequently geared up for, and began manufacture before they even got a contract.  Patriotic actions like this contributed to the demise of many such companies (such as Chrysler) in the Post World War II environment.  (Contrast this to many shameless, anti-semite profiteers, such as Ford.)

The real culprit was some ICB (Idiot Civilian Bureaucrat) who wrote the TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) that put the BAR on that ship.  This war-criminal level ICB put the BAR there, minus the detailed training support structure, and minus the organizational and direct support maintenance structure; which each and every weapons system must have in order for it to be properly and safely employed.

The 4 sailors, who will never walk right again, got a few dollars and are now in civilian life.

The ICBs remain deeply embedded in the Pentagon, and are still injuring and killing servicemen, every day, to this day, by their terminal stupidity and monumental fecklessness.  Unfortunately, thanks to the CFR’s and the swamp in Washington, DC; the ICB’s will never receive the justice they deserve in this life.  Perhaps they will meet Robespierre in the next.