Original U.S. WWI Marlin Colt M1895 Potato Digger Display Gun
Original Item: Only One Available. The Colt–Browning M1895, nicknamed "potato digger" because of its unusual operating mechanism, is an air-cooled, belt-fed, gas-operated machine gun that fires from a closed bolt with a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. Based on a John Browning and Matthew S. Browning design dating to 1889, it was the first successful gas-operated machine gun to enter service.
The diggers unique system utilized a piston operated by gas from the barrel pushing downward on an operating lever which would function the action. When close to the ground, this piston lever would dig into the ground causing the soil to fly, hence the name “potato digger”. The Marlin is generally considered to be a superior manufacturer of the “diggers”.
This totally inert BATF non-firing display example has matching serial numbers 381 on both the receiver and barrel. It was manufactured in 30-06 Cal. with a 28″ barrel. Marked on top of receiver as well as on matching barrel: MARLIN ARMS CORPORATION NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT CAL-30 U.S.A.
This Marlin potato digger comes on an original brass tripod which is in good solid condition but is missing its rear foot. With a little work the tripod would make a good candidate for a registered shooter.
Overall condition of the gun is fair, it has pitting in many areas, but is solid and make a very impressive eye catching display gun. Sight is a replacement, most internal parts have been removed, 98% comprised of all original parts.
Filed for patent in 1892, the M1895's operating mechanism was one of Browning's and Matthew S. Browning's early patents for automatic rifles; they had previously been working on lever action rifles for Winchester such as the Winchester 1886.
In a typical lever action design, the operating lever lies under the rear of the gun, typically below the stock, and is hinged near the breech area. It is operated by rotating the lever down and forward, which causes the breechblock to slide rearward away from the barrel and eject the spent round. The potato digger mechanism bears some similarities to the basic lever action design, in effect it uses a lever that is powered by the expanding gasses that are propelling the bullet down the barrel, rather than the operator's hands.
The M1895 used a tilting bolt to lock into position when firing, the first example of such in a machine gun design. The bolt slid forward and rearward within a slot in the receiver area, held forward by a spring inside the tube that also held the operator's grip handle. As it moved forward the bolt eventually met the barrel. At that point a cam below the bolt dropped into a hole which allowed the rear of the bolt to tilt downward, seating it against the rear of the breech and locking it in position. The bolt remained locked when the round was fired.
As the bullet travelled down the barrel after firing, it eventually passed a hole drilled in the bottom of the barrel known as a port. The hot gasses behind the bullet flow into the port and push down on a plug, marked p in the diagrams. This causes the plug to pop out of the hole with some velocity. The plug is attached to one end of a short lever, l, the other end of the lever is connected to a hinge below the barrel. The motion of the plug causes the entire lever to rotate down and to the rear, around the hinge point. This action is essentially front-to-back version of the typical back-to-front motion of a lever action rifle. The end point of this motion can be seen in the lower diagram, with the lever having traveled through an arc of about 160 degrees. A spring located at the hinge is compressed by this motion, and eventually causes the lever to rotate forward again, forcing the plug back into the port and holding it there when it is not in motion.
Connected to the midpoint of the rotating lever is a long metal arm. The motion of the lever causes this arm to be forced rearward, pushing the entire breech mechanism with it. The rear end of this mechanism presses on the cam, forcing the bolt upward and unlocking it. Continued motion slides the bolt rearward against the spring, while also operating the mechanism that feeds the ammunition belt and readies the next round. When it reaches the end of its motion the spring pushes everything forward again, carrying the new bullet with it and seating it in the barrel before locking again.
The M1895 was the first machine gun adopted by the United States military, and it saw service with the Army (who never formally adopted it), and the US Navy/US Marines, and was adapted to use in many roles. It was mounted on tripods, horse-drawn carriages, boats, aircraft, and even armored cars. The US Navy was the first to begin testing, as early as 1893, with a version chambered in the Navy's 6mm cartridge.
In 6mm Lee Navy caliber, the M1895 saw service with the United States Marines during the Spanish–American War, including the 1898 invasion of Guantanamo Bay, where a Marine battalion deployed four Colt guns (two of them borrowed from the USS Texas's armory). The M1895 proved to be a significant advance in firepower for the Marines, who employed them in the first known use of machine guns by the American military to provide tactical support of infantry forces during an assault. In contrast, Army regular forces in the campaign were still burdened with heavy, manually operated Gatling guns that required heavy artillery carriages pulled by mule transport. Lt. Colonel Roosevelt's Rough Riders, a dismounted volunteer cavalry regiment that fought in Cuba, also deployed two M1895 Colt machine guns in 7×57mm Mauser caliber (built for export, both guns were privately purchased for the Rough Riders by family members of the troops), but although they did cause some Spanish casualties were reportedly somewhat unreliable. As Lt. Col. Roosevelt noted, "These Colt automatic guns were not, on the whole, very successful...they proved more delicate than the Gatlings, and very readily got out of order." The two M1895 guns were transferred to Lt. John Parker's Gatling Gun Detachment, who used them in the siege of Santiago.
The M1895 in 6mm Lee was also utilized by American Naval and Marine forces during the Philippine–American War, and the Boxer Rebellion, where it proved to be accurate and reliable. Around 1904 the Mexican government purchased 150 of these guns in 7mm Mauser caliber, and these guns were employed throughout the protracted Mexican Revolution. Use of the 7mm M1895 in the Mexican Revolution has been photographically documented, including the use of the gun by what appears to be a Villista. The US Navy also deployed some 6mm Lee M1895 guns from ship armories during the 1914 Vera Cruz fighting and occupation.
The US Army, while never formally adopting the M1895, purchased two guns in 1902, followed by an additional purchase of 140 guns in 1904. These guns, along with small quantities of Maxim and Vickers guns, were issued to various units for evaluation purposes. These saw intermittent use by Army and National Guard Units at least until 1921. The first formally adopted machine gun by the US Army was the M1909 Benét–Mercié (Hotchkiss) machine-rifle, a bipod-mounted, strip-feed machine gun.
Canadian mounted troops successfully used .303 M1895 guns in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). In one spectacular rear guard action a Colt gun mounted on a light carriage was able to stop a pursuing Boer Cavalry unit. Winston Churchill, then a young Lieutenant in the South African Light Horse and a war correspondent, was impressed by the effect of the fire of a whole battery of these guns. The Canadian success with the M1895 led to the further use of the gun by the Canadian Army in World War I.
The M1895 was also used by various U.S. state militia and guard units, including the Colorado National Guard. A few of these guns fell into the hands of private militias staffed by mine company guards after the state discontinued funding of most of the guard units assigned to maintain order during a prolonged miners' strike. In 1914, an emplaced "digger" of one of these private militias fired extensively into a miner camp in Ludlow, Colorado, an event later termed the Ludlow Massacre. A privately purchased M1895 also provided the main armament of an armored car of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency used to terrorize miners' camps during the strike, which the miners called the Death Special.
World War I
The M1895/14 Colt–Browning saw use in France by some Canadian infantry formations. Deploying to France in 1915, the 21st Canadian Light Infantry Battalion used .303-caliber M1895/14 machine guns in combat. These guns saw significant combat but were soon replaced by Vickers machine guns. They were not taken out of combat however, but were instead given to equip formations of the Belgian Exile Army. The French also tested the Colt and some were used in early aircraft for testing. Additional Colt guns were sent to the Russians, who used them extensively.
While the United States used the M1895 for training, it was considered obsolete by the time the United States entered the war, and saw no service. Colt ceased production of the M1895 and variants in 1916, selling the machinery and rights to manufacture to Marlin Rockwell, who took over the still active Russian military and Italian Navy contracts, in order to concentrate on increased Vickers production.
Marlin Rockwell M1917/M1918 versions
After Marlin started making the Colt 1914s, it developed an improved version of the M1895. In 1917 this was adopted by the US Army as a training weapon and approximately 2,500 were purchased. Besides its designation of Colt–Browning M1895/14, it was also called the "Marlin Gun" and "Model 1917". The primary improvement was the use of a detachable barrel, a more generous side plate cut-out and a sliding door on the right side plate opening (also made larger) for easier access. Despite these improvements, the Marlin was limited to 500 rounds of continuous fire due to a tendency to overheat. The Navy also purchased a version of the Marlin gun with a gas piston in lieu of the lever mechanism, although very few if any guns saw service aboard ship.
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