By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Fans of Guy Richie know the line by heart, and the Bren Gun scene from the 1998 cult hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a favorite of many with its slow, stop motion sequence.
The Bren came to be in the thirties as the British army sought to replace their Lewis light machinegun. The Lewis was a fine weapon, but it was a bit heavy for a “light” machinegun, and the gunner was not able to change the barrel in the field. Gunners would sometimes fire the Lewis until it stopped altogether.
The Bren is an improved copy of the Czechoslovakian ZBG 33. It is an air cooled, gas operated, magazine fed, select-fire, light machinegun with a sustained rate of fire of 500 rpm and an effective range of 600 yards. Originally chambered in the standard British .303 cartridge in use since 1889, the Bren is hard hitting at 2,400 feet per second. The relatively low rate of fire was effective in keeping the barrel from overheating and allowed for more accurate fire (as opposed to “spray and pray”).
The Bren was named after the two cities involved in the design and manufacture of the gun, Brno in Czechoslovakia and Enfield, England. Bren production initially started in 1940 at the John Inglis Factory in Toronto, Canada with an order for 5,000 Brens for England, and 7,000 for Canada. Production began later at British Royal Ordnance factories Enfield, England.
The original Mark I model was an expensive rifle to produce because it required more than 200 machining operations. The later models would be simplified to step up production time and lower costs. The Bren was originally chambered for the standard .303 British round used by the Brits in their Enfield rifle, but would later be rechambered in the standard NATO 7.62 X 51 round in the 1950s and use the magazine from the L1, which was Britain’s copy of the FN FAL.
The Bren design was distinct with its conical flash suppressor, top mounted magazine, and bottom ejection. The top mounted magazine design allowed the gunner to get close to the ground. But whether left handed, right handed, left or right eye dominant, it required all gunners to fire from the right shoulder, since the sights were offset left of the centerline.
The Bren was a rugged rifle with an adjustable gas system. The rotating aperture had four different sizes to use depending on the outside temperature. The system also allowed gunners to pump up the volume, so the Bren could keep firing even when dirty – a good option to have when you’re under fire and don’t have time to break out the cleaning kit.
The Bren gunner was always issued a spare barrel, and gunners would sometimes fire till the barrel glowed red. The barrel change was fast and simple, and with the carrying handle attached to the barrel, the barrel could be changed out in seconds.
Used by dozens of countries throughout the world, the Bren has seen action from its inception to WWII, Korea, Northern Ireland, and in 1982 when they were deployed with British forces to the Falklands. The Bren is still in use throughout the world, which attests to its design, ruggedness, and simple operation.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Private H.E. Goddard, of The Perth Regiment, carrying a Bren gun as he advances through a forest north of Arnhem with the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.