De-Farbing the BAR: The Carry Handle
Date Written: January 2009
Author: Chris Guska
One of the top 3 dubious components used by WWII Reenactors on their Browning Automatic Rifles is the Carry Handle Assembly . This article discusses the history of the carry handle and its implications for use by WWII Reenactors.
The BAR Carry Handle Assembly much loved by WWII Reenactors was designed and tested in late 1944 but never saw documented combat usage.
In October 1943 as part of a program to improve the usability of the BAR, several carry handle designs were produced and tested. The result of the design and test efforts was the “Handle, Carrying, T4” which was recommended for adoption in December 1944 for all services by request of the Marine Corps.
There is a published photo of the carry handle in use by a US Marine on Page 180 of Rock In A Hard Place by James Ballou. The caption reads: "A BAR in action on Okinawa, near Shuri Castle." This is the one and only photo that is known of in the BAR collectors circle and has been published in support of the Carry Handle being used during WWII. To my knowledge as of the time of this writing, there are no other known photographs of the Carry Handle purportedly from WWII published.
I believe this photo may have a correct caption but has been attributed incorrectly as a WWII photo. I assert that this is not of a Marine in WWII but rather is of an Army BAR Gunner during the 1950's on Okinawa, near Shuri Castle. Okinawa was used as a training base extensively post WWII, with exercises being carried out on many of the battlefields of 1945.
The gunner is wearing a M45 pack, which did not see any appreciable use during WW2 by the Marine Corps. The Marines continued to use the USMC pattern 41 haversack through the 1950's in many instances - not fully transitioning to different patterns till the 1960's. Some M44/M45 packs were used on Okinawa, but only by US Army units and not Marines. The BAR is equipped with the canvas sling, which shows up first in the 1945 ORD8 SNL A-4 as part number D44058. The combination of M45 pack, Carry Handle, Canvas Sling and Army can easily draw the conclusion that this photo actualy being from 1950's training conducted on Okinawa. The caption may be right as it is stated in the book - simply having the date left off and the incorrect assumption made that it was WWII.
From examination of photos from the recently opened LIFE magazine archive on Google, numerous examples of 1950's training on Okinawa have been found. Those photographs very closely emulate the uniform and equipment of the soldier in the disputed photo. Photographs of BAR's in these training exercises also display the same characterisitics of Carry Handle, Canvas Sling and top screw bipods.
1.) Draftees at Fort Carson, 1955. Notice the use of similarly configured BAR's with carry handles, late bipods, possible canvas slings, and the M45 pack.
2.) Marines at Quantico being trained for Guerrilla warfare, 1960. Note the continued use of the camouflage helmet cover and 41 pack. Both BAR's have been stripped of their bipod and flash hider - but both have the carry handle affixed.
I searched extensively for additional photos of carry handles in use and was unable to find any for Okinawa or following actions in the PTO during WWII. The photos of BAR's in use on Okinawa and Iwo Jima, especially with marines show early featured BAR's with early modified trigger housings almost universally, leather slings, and negligable quantities of bipods.
After not finding extensive quantities of BAR photographs on Iwo Jima or Okinawa I contacted avid USMC researcher and living historian, Tom Kelly, about the BAR Carry Handle in use. Mr Kelly personally examined thousands of photos, including all of the boxes of photos for Iwo Jima and Okinawa at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, Maryland. He was unable to find a single verifyable instance of the Carry Handle in use during these closing combat operations in the PTO. The breadth and depth of Mr Kelly's search leaves me with reasonable certainty to assert my conclusions and present the following photos as representative examples.
Iwo Jima Photos
Of note in the Iwo Jima photos of Marines are the use of the M41 pack, lack of bipod and carry handle.
Marines taking cover while defending an abutment-
Marines advancing against Japanese positions in southern okinawa-
The following photos are from the 7th Divsion, 184th Infantry Regiment. Of note are the numbers of M1910/28 packs in use, leather slings, and lack of bipods and carry handles.
The combination of M45 Pack, Carry Handle and Canvas Sling in use by the Army units, 96th, 81st, 77th, 27th or 7th divisions on Okinawa during WWII is very very unlikely. This conclusion is based on examing photos of those 3 divisions and the lack of M45 packs and overwhelming total absence of carry handles and predominance of leather slings on their BAR's.
The carry handle assembly is very questionable for PTO impressoins. In many ways, the carry handle is much like the bayonet lug on the M1 Carbine: There are reports and purported photographs of its use, but the photographs are difficult to find, and when those photographs are scrutinized, it is difficult to conclusively say that it is associated with a specific wartime combat action. Until conclusive photographic proof of the BAR carry handle in use during an identified wartime combat action can be found, the carry handle is incorrect for use.
The T4 carry handle has NOT been observed or rumored to have been in any wartime photographs of US Army troops in the European Theater of Operations. The use of the carry handle for ETO impressions is strictly farb!
Ballou, James L. Rock in a Hard Place, The Browning Automatic Rifle. Collector Grade Publications, 2000.
Kelly, Thomas. "US Marines on Okinawa" E-mail interview. 3 Jan. 2009.
Knott, George. "BAR Carry Handles." E-mail interview. 2 Jan. 2009.
"LIFE Image Archive powered by Google." LIFE Magazine Winter 2008.
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