Image Collection 5
Gavin K. Watt
The Bren Light Machine Gun was the most famous Commonwealth small arm of the Second War. The original design was developed at Brno [BR-] arsenal, Czechoslovakia and modified by Enfield Lock arsenal, England [-EN, i.e. BREN] and adopted into the British service in 1937. Although Britain was initially loath to turn to Canada for the production of war goods (lack of confidence in Canadian industry and concerns about future competition), an early exception was the Bren. The first contract was let to John Inglis Co. Ltd. of Toronto in 1938 and, by the end of the conflict, Inglis had produced 186,000 Mark I & II guns in two calibres, .303 for Commonwealth forces and 7.92mm for the Nationalist Chinese Army.
Three accessories developed in the early days were soon discarded. These were: a butt ‘spoon’ that rested on the firer’s shoulder; a butt grip similar to the barrel’s carrying handle which attached to the rear tripod mount and a dovetail machined into the left side of the magazine housing to mount the No.32 Tele-scope. A collapsible tripod was carried on every Universal Carrier, but was very rarely used in combat.
In the early war, the Bren was employed in an Anti-aircraft role on ground and vehicle mounts and as secondary armament on armoured vehicles, but its fame was truly earned as the infantry’s section light machine gun. The Bren was extremely accurate on repetition fire and gave dense bursts on automatic, which some critics considered a fault. While an overheated barrel could be quickly changed, the spare barrel mounted a front sight that had to be sighted-in to the specific gun, unlike the German MG-42, which could accept any spare barrel. Parts from both Marks of Bren could be readily interchanged, although the block and barrels had to be matched for proper fit.
An infantry section was divided into two elements, a Rifle group under the corporal’s direction and a Bren group under the lance-corporal with a gunner - the No.1 – and an assistant - the No.2. The latter carried additional magazines, the spare barrel and maintenance tools. As well, every man in the Rifle group carried one or two Bren mags in his Basic Pouches. Bren gunners were trained to fire repetition and to only switch to automatic in extremis, a tactic that disguised the gun’s position. Similarly, to avoid identification during movement in combat, gunners learned to carry the gun across their body like a rifle, rather than by the barrel’s handle.
During the war, the British continued the Bren’s development and introduced two other Marks; however, Canada continued with the initial two variants.
Thomas B. Dugelby & R. Blake Stevens, The Bren Gun Saga (Cobourg, ON: Collector Grade Publications, revised edition, 1999)
Doug Knight, ed. & Clive M. Law, Tools of the Trade – Equipping the Canadian Army (Ottawa: Service Publications, 2005)
Edward Clinton Ezell & W.H.B. Smith, Small Arms of the World (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 11th Revised edition, 1977)
1. A No.1 illustrates the advantages of a sling while clambering over an obstacle during training at the Cdn Assault School, CFB Borden, 04Nov41.
2. Because of a shortage of AA guns in the Canadian forces, strange contraptions such as this tandem mount were developed. These two Brens mount 30-round magazines.
3. As the 30-round magazine was ineffective in the AA role, a 100-round drum was developed, two of which can be seen here in the hands of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, 3CID during training at Bognor Regis, England, Apr42.
4. When full mechanization of the army was slow to develop, bicycles were brought into play. This image shows a method of attaching a Bren. This gunner’s tool and spare parts kit can be seen hanging over the left handlebar. England, Apr43.
5. A British MkII barrel mounted on a MkI receiver and buttstock. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1CID Valguarnera, Italy, Jul43. As was quite common, the gunner was not using a sling.
6. A Bren gunner with a MkII Bren with the late-model, unadjustable bipod, Royal 22nd Regiment [R22R], 1CID, Campobasso, Italy. A fully packed set of Utilities can be seen resting on the wall of his sangar. Once again, no sling is in evidence.
7. A Royal Canadian Regiment (1CID) Bren gunner carrying a MkII with the sling mounted on the forward tripod fitting. The gun’s bipod is the late-model, unadjustable version, Campobasso, Italy, Oct43.
8. A section of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, 1CID moving through Motta, Italy, Oct43. The gunner carries his MkI over his shoulder. No sling is in evidence.
9. Tandem Brens in a pintle mount on the hatch ring of an 8th New Brunswick Hussars’ [5th Cdn Arm’d Regiment, 5CAD] Sherman, presumably for AA work. Italy, Mar44.
10. A MkI Bren with a MkII buttstock, barrel and spare barrel. Highland Light Infantry (3CID), Normandy, 20Jun44.
11. A MkI of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, 1CID at the Foglia River, Italy, 30Aug44 with a set of Utility Pouches and spare magazines.
12. A soldier of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, 2CID sets up his MkI in a window, Nieuport, France, 09Sep44. No sling in evidence.
13. A bespectacled Bren gunner of the Royal Regiment of Canada, 2CID with his ‘slingless’ MkII in Blankenberge, Belgium, 11Sep44.
14. A Bren gunner of the Calgary Highlanders, 2CID cleaning his MkI at Fort de Schooten, Belgium, 04Oct44.
15. Major Currie, VC, South Alberta Regiment [29th Cdn Arm’d Recce Regt, 4CAD] posing on top of his Mk1 Humber armoured car with his arm on the butt of a MkI Bren, Halte, Holland, 12Nov44.
16. Mixed Mk1 & MkII Brens involved in an R22R training session at Cattolica, Italy, 24Nov44.
17. Bren gunner of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, 2CID cleans his MkII in the Hochwald Forest, Germany, 05Mar45.
18. Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, 2CID marches through Terborg, Holland, 01Apr45. The gunner has his MkI Bren slung.
19. A Perth Regiment, 5CAD Bren gunner wearing a storm jacket carries his ‘slingless’ MkI through the streets of Arnhem, 15Apr45.
20. One of the most famous Bren gunner photos of the Second War shows Pte H.E. Goddard of the Perths lugging his ‘slingless’ MkI on his shoulder during the march north from Arnhem, 15Apr45.
21. A 1CID (Seaforth Highlanders?) Bren team at Apeldoorn, Holland with a MkI and spare magazines, 17Apr45.
22. A MkI Bren team of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, 2CID watching tanks of the Fort Garry Horse [10th Cdn Arm’d Regt, 1CAB] passing near Munderloh, Germany, 29Apr45.