World War II saw an unprecedented level of arms development for the United States and its allies, as well as the Axis forces. In many ways, the U.S. was unprepared for a war of this immense scale, with fighting environments ranging from the blistering deserts of North Africa and the mountains and frozen forests of Europe to the humid tropical jungles of the Pacific.
Sometimes, the war machine couldn’t develop exactly what Marines on the ground needed, so they had to improvise, overcome, and adapt. That’s how you get something like the Stinger machine gun, which was Frankesteined together from three different firearms, to fill the desperately needed role of a squad automatic weapon.
The Browning M1919A4 machine gun was the only full auto support weapon they had, which was served by a crew of at least two men, one hauling the gun, the other hauling the tripod and ammunition. It weighed over 30 pounds and pretty much had to be mounted on the tripod to be fired. Some figured out ways around this, like MOH recipient John Basilone, who developed what was known as the “Basilone Bale.” It was a simple handle made of a wood spool and wire slid onto the barrel of the machine gun so it could be carried when hot, and fired from the hip if necessary. This was prominently depicted in HBO’s The Pacific as a result of his experience with the M1917 machine gun on Guadalcanal that left him with a severely burned left arm and hand.
The only other full auto non-submachine gun they had at their disposal was the M1918 BAR, which was hard to control in full auto and only had a 20-round magazine, meaning it was near useless for suppressive and sweeping fire.
In 1943, Marine Private Bill Colby modified an ANM2 machine gun—which was a Browning M1919 used in aircraft. It was a lot lighter than the guns the Marines were issued, and it had a higher rate of fire, along with spade grips. And there were plenty lying around. The U.S. Navy and Marines lost literally thousands of planes, not only to enemy fire, but also to accidents and mechanical problems—many of which were equipped with one if not multiple ANM2 machine guns.
Colby acquired a few of these guns, ditched the tripod and the tripod mount and affixed a BAR bipod and carry handle. It made a huge difference and made the machine gun far more mobile and able to set up to fire about as fast as a Marine could go prone. But it still had some issues.
The rate of fire on the ANM2 was quite a bit higher than an M1919, to the tune of about 1400 rounds per minute, and the barrel was thinner, because it was meant to be cooled by the slipstream on the outside of a moving plane. On the ground, this meant if you kept up sustained fire, the barrel would overheat pretty quick—so Marines learned to fire it in bursts.
Also, because of the spade grips, the gun was nearly impossible to fire from the hip or on the move.
In late 1944, Para Marine Sgt. Mel Grevich worked up a new modification of the ANM2 for troops on the ground, with the green light from his commanding officers. He began building these guns in Hawaii while the 5th Marine Division waited to invade Iwo Jima.
All told, Grevich built six weapons, with the help of PFC John Lyttle.
The spade grips and trigger were removed. The buttstock of an M1 Garand was attached to the rear of the receiver, and a trigger long enough to allow for the gun to be fired from the hip on the move was added along with a trigger guard. Again, the bipod and carry handle from the BAR was added to the barrel shroud, right in front of the receiver. Additionally, a box was mounted to the left side of the receiver that could hold a 100-round belt of ammunition, making it far easier to operate by one man.
The resulting machine gun was about 40 inches long, weighed in at a hefty but manageable 25 pounds, and could spit out .30-06 bullets three times faster than the M1919. They still overheated fairly quickly, so firing in bursts was still the way to go. The last step was painting the whole gun in camo colors and was dubbed The Stinger—and it could serve in the same role as the German MG42—a very portable, high-rate-of-fire squad support machine gun.
It was a hideous abomination of necessity, but it worked.
One of the six Marines armed with a Stinger on Iwo Jima was Cpl. Tony Stein, whose story is detailed in the video below.
His unit landed on the island Feb. 19, 1945. During the assault, he was one of the first in the unit to set up a defensive position away from the beach and began to engage Japanese forces.
When his unit was stalled by concentrated machine gun and mortar fire, Stein stood up and drew the enemy’s fire, which let him observe the location of the enemy pillboxes and machine guns.
Stein then charged the enemy pillboxes with his Stinger, solo, wiping out their crews one after another. His Medal of Honor citation (below) says he killed 20 enemy soldiers during this assault.
He fired his Stinger so much that he ran out of ammo belts. He ditched his helmet, and his boots so he could run faster and repeatedly went back to the beach with his Stinger for more ammo. He made the trip a total of eight times, and each time, he not only hauled his Stinger, but also carried or assisted a wounded Marine back to the back.
Then, he directed fire from a half-track to destroy a stubborn pillbox. This action “effected the ultimate destruction of the Japanese fortification.”
Later that day, despite the fact that his Stinger had literally been shot out of his hands, twice, it kept firing and so did Stein as he covered the withdrawal of his platoon to the company position.
Stein never received the MOH he was awarded. He was killed by a sniper on Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945.
After word of the Stinger’s success started getting around, it was recommended that one of the weapons replace a BAR in each squad. However, this was never implemented before the war ended six months later and those six guns cobbled together in Hawaii were the only to ever be built and none of them survived.
However, you can get a great look at a reproduction, along with more great info from Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons in the video above.
Cpl. Tony Stein – Medal of Honor Citation
-Harry S. Truman
The U.S. Army attempted to make similar modifications to the M1919A4 to bring it more in line with the capabilities of the German MG-42, but they wren’t as successful. The result was the M1919A6, which first saw combat in the fall of 1943. It had a metal buttstock that clamped onto the backplate of the receiver, and a front barrel bearing that included a conical muzzle device and a bipod that looks quite a bit like that of the BAR. The barrel was lighter than that of the M1919A4, and a carrying handle was attached to the barrel jacket. The muzzle device also allowed the barrel of the gun to be replaced from the front.
The M1919A6, tipping the scales at 32 lbs, was quite a bit heavier than the Stinger and the German MG -34 and MG-42 which weighed 26 lbs. and 25 lbs., respectively. It actually weighed a pound more than the M1919A4 it replaced, so there were no improvements made there.
Regardless, it wasn’t replaced until the M60 was adopted in the 1960s.