Good Old Fiddy Cal

WW2 ammunition dusted off for Iraq. I found this article to be interesting- from this week's army times.

November 28, 2005

‘Fiddy-cal’: New life for old standby
Heavy use in Iraq has Army dipping into WWII ammo stores

By David Wood
Newhouse News Service

Troops in Iraq are firing .50-caliber machine guns at such a high rate, the Army is scrambling to resupply them with ammunition — in some cases dusting off crates of World War II machine-gun rounds and shipping them to combat units.

Since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, the “fiddy-cal” or “Ma Deuce,” after its official designation, M2, has become a ubiquitous sight mounted on armored Humvees and other heavy vehicles.

Above the staccato crackle and squeak of small-arms fire, the fiddy-cal’s distinctive “THUMP THUMP THUMP” indicates its 1.6-ounce bullets, exactly the weight of eight quarters, are speeding downrange at 2,000 mph. The bullets are said to be able to stop an onrushing car packed with deadly explosives dead in its tracks from a mile away. A .50-cal round can travel four miles, though generally not with great accuracy.

At closer ranges, it is so powerful that a round will obliterate a person, penetrate a concrete wall behind him and several houses beyond that, gunners in Iraq say.

“You can stop a car, definitely penetrate the vehicle to take out the engine — and the driver,” said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., who recently retired after commanding the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.

Merely the noise of it is intimidating, Swannack said.

But it’s so powerful, he added, “I would not use it in an area [with] lots of non-combatants.”

In the 1990s, fiddy-cals and crates of .50-cal ammunition gathered dust as the Army struggled to become lighter, quicker and more high-tech.

Fiddy-cals are Industrial Age artifacts, invented by John Moses Browning during World War I. His 1919 drawings specified machined steel plates and rivets; today’s manufacturers have not monkeyed with his basic design. The gun weighs a bone-crushing 84 pounds, not including its 40-pound tripod and heavy brass-jacketed rounds.

When Iraq erupted, the Army and Marine Corps reached back for the .50-cal and its heavy killing power. Swivel-mounted in the turret of a Humvee, the gun can lay down a steel blizzard, 40 rounds a minute, on grouped insurgents, and is often used in convoys or at checkpoints as a last resort to stop suicide car bombers.

Small wonder, then, that the steady increase in .50-cal use began to rapidly drain ammo stockpiles. At the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., ammunition left over from Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea and even World War II had been stored in massive concrete bunkers, including some 12 million rounds of .50-cal.

By the time the war stretched into its second year, the Blue Grass stockpile of .50-cal ammo had shrunk to 4 million rounds.

The Army surged production of ammunition, taking on more than a thousand new workers at its Lake City ammunition plant in Independence, Mo. Four years ago, Lake City was producing about 10 million rounds a year; its current annual rate is 50 million rounds and rising. And even that fivefold increase has not been enough.

At Blue Grass, Darryl Brewer is chief of logistics for the ammunition depot. He recently began pulling out .50-cal crates marked 1945. He opened some up and peered inside.

“Pristine,” Brewer reported. “It’s in lead-sealed cans, like sardines. Just like it was made yesterday.”

The 1945 ammunition was opened and test rounds fired to check for reliability and accuracy. “They find anything wrong, they’ll do a suspension,” Brewer said, adding, “Very seldom [do] you see that in a fiddy-cal.”

Once grunts open up the boxes in Iraq, “then you start to have deterioration,” Brewer said.

“We got a couple guys with sons over there,” he said. “That’s why we’re kind of particular to make sure this stuff is right when it goes out.”

David Wood can be contacted at

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