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Valkyrie Arms 1919A4 - SA
I had been curious about the whole belt fed semi-auto phenomenon since such guns came onto the scene in the mid-1990s. After a failed attempt at a home built semi (now scavenged for parts and welded shut as a display/prop gun) I had a factory built semi on the looong want list but had fears of getting stuck with a bad one. That quest led me to a short list of well regarded manufacturers of semi-auto 1919s as the best mix of price and quality in the semi-auto belt fed gun market. A recent trade opportunity netted a mildly used Valkyrie 1919 in 7.62 NATO that was built up from what is apparently an Israeli parts kit with a number of semi-auto specific US made components.
When configured in semi auto only, these guns are indistinguishable from their full auto cousins and are favored prop guns for movies and reenactment groups. Legally, they are a semiauto rifle, and since they lack a flash hider or detachable magazine, they are often legal in states where there are restrictions on assault weapons. Also note that it is impossible to pack one of these under a jacket for a trip to the bank to make an unscheduled withdrawal and these collectibles have no history of use in violent crime in the US.
While the question of survival utility remains ambiguous, the gun is a lot of fun to own and makes a heck of a conversation piece in the living room. Talk about a traffic stopper, when the gun shop employee and I were carrying the gun and tripod out to my car the day it came in, several cars on highway 101 slowed to a near stop as the drivers gawked at the weapon. Not many civilian legal weapons have that level of cognitive impact.
The firepower of the 1919 series weapons carried US military forces through more than half of the 20th century and the weapon is still in service in several countries, although eventually eclipsed by more versatile designs like the MAG-58. The Browning still remained best suited for its original role, as a tripod mounted field machinegun, and it's secondary role as a vehicle mounted gun.
On the tripod mount, the 1919 lacks the irritating buttstock assembly and allows for the gunner to get directly behind the gun and read the numbers on the T&E. Likewise, the lack of the stock also makes the gun more portable when carried and less obtrusive inside of a vehicle. The compact size being an important factor in small boats, aircraft and tight quarters of some armored vehicles. It allows for easier traverse over a wider area. What the gun lacks is suitability in the squad automatic weapon role that a general purpose gun would serve. Although there was a buttstock and bipod modification widely distributed for these weapons, the 1919A6 configuration has been almost universally disliked among military users who have had exposure to other types of machineguns. The 1919 is the king of low tripod mounted machineguns. Shooting this gun from the prone position does not require the uncomfortable contortion that is common with the M60 and M240B that use the same basic tripod. Most other machinegun tripods can be easily adapted to work with the 1919, but few have a T&E mechanism as good as the original. One notable exception is the German MG42/MG3 tripod which allows for use of a periscope to aim the weapon. Note that while the gun does come with very usable iron sights, some optics are in order to update the system for the modern battlefield and compensate for the lower rates of fire in the semi-auto version. A collector will not want to ruin the originality of the gun by installing a scope rail onto it, but a survivor might do well to keep a spare topcover with a scope rail welded in place for installation of an Eotech or similar sight. Tracers are also just as useful in aiming the semi-auto belt feds as the are in aiming the full auto belt fed guns.
The original John Browning design of this gun came out in 1917 and was used on a high tripod for sustained fire. The 1917 gun continued in service primarily as armament on ships and patrol boats into WW2 and with some US allies up to the Korean war. With that in mind, the guns were built to last forever and numerous serviceable models can be found in museums and old arms dealer's warehouses. A very limited number of the old 1917 guns have been scavenged for parts by the folks at Valkyrie arms and built into semi-automatic works of art which can be owned by most people in the US who are otherwise eligible to own a firearm.
Due to alterations in the internals of the basic operating design, semi-auto 1919s tend to max out at a cycle rate of around 400 RPM no matter how fast you can pull the trigger or use a crank device to activate the trigger. Valkyrie uses a slightly different operating system than that which has become standard among most semi-auto 1919 builders. The Valkyrie guns are thus mechanically capable of a higher rate of semiauto fire than other semi-autos on the market, but this is not sustainable as it would be with a true full auto. People using crank fire devices or having a particularly fast trigger finger report that the guns can go as high as 550RPM for short bursts. The thing about crank fire devices is that a shooter can become excited and crank the device faster than the gun can shoot, thus causing it to not fire every time the cam trips the trigger. This means a user has to find the "sweet spot" of crank turning RPM to match the mechanically possible cycle rate of the gun with the cycle rate of the crank which can change a bit due to a number of other factors. Crank devices for the semi-auto 1919 series guns range in price from $150 to $400 depending on the design and are usually purchased direct from the manufacturer of the particular crank device. Compare this to 650 RPM of most GPMGs, and the 1919 semi will never quite be in the firepower class of a true machinegun, but it can come close. More importantly, you can expect to run through a hundred or more rounds in the belt fed gun in less time with less failure than a semi auto box magazine fed gun, and have less expected wear and tear on the weapon. Note there is a major caveat in that situation, which is largely going to be dependant on the build quality of the gun and its present condition. The flaw in many of Browning designs of recoil operated systems is that the gun can be sensitive to parts wear and maladjustments of parts. That is part of why it is important for the savvy gun shopper to get one that comes from a quality maker and (or) at least comes with a good warranty. A gun from a non quality maker and that will not have any warranty coverage can end up costing hundreds in gunsmithing and replacement parts before it will really run right.
Loading the 1919 is fairly simple and the belts do not need to be oriented form one side or the other as you would normally see in guns that push the rounds out of the belt like the MG42 and NATO standard guns like the M60 and MAG-58 that use the M13 disintegrating link belts. Note that the best links to get for this gun are going to be the Israeli links that were originally made to function in the Israeli guns that served as parts donors for the Valkyrie rebuilds as well as most of the rebuild semi auto 1919 guns currently on the US market. The gun is easy on the brass and not overly sensitive to headspace, so reloading is definitely an option although guns like this seem to be best used as a means to burn up old surplus ammo. Links are neatly piled next to the pile of brass and can easily be reused as long as they have not been damaged. The big danger with links is rust. They should not be left long in mud or sand where they can be exposed to salts that will cause them to rust.
Most of the 7.62 NATO barrels for the 1919 machinegun are chrome lined which is good news for those who are using corrosive surplus ammo, and more good news is that spare barrels are cheap albeit sometimes tricky to find. I was able to obtain several spare 7.62 NATO barrels for this gun for only $50 each and they all appear to be in excellent shape. .30-06 barrels are more rare and more money. It is also evident that many of the US WW2 .30 caliber barrels were not chrome lines and will often have some signs of pitting. The guns can also relatively easily be converted to 8mm Mauser.
Reliability on the Valkyrie 1919 is excellent, of 100 rounds I fired in initial testing, I only had one hitch up and that could have been my fault for not getting the belt seated right when I first loaded the gun. I have had to load the gun by raising the top cover and putting the first round under the extractor because I don't have any of the belt started tabs. I also had loaded the belts by hand instead of using a loading machine. Still, this reliability is far superior to what I have heard is common for cheaper 1919 semi auto guns.
Realize that the original 1919 machinegun was not intended to be a super high precision weapon, but it was and is still going to be more accurate than a lot of people are willing to give it credit for an the volume of fire alone is going to give high hit probabilities when you carefully aim the weapon on target and start putting rounds downrange. Just make sure you have the discipline to continue aiming the weapon as carefully as you can since it is not going to stay on target all by itself. Realize also that the semi-atuo is going to be a different animal in that you are shaking the gun every time you pull the trigger and you cannot simply hold the trigger up and walk the rounds onto the target. On the flip side, you can also exercise considerably more control over your volume of fire on the semi-auto and ration out the rounds for only those instances where the gun is on target.
|Cost - Expect to spend over $3,000 to get a premium grade 1919A4 in action with all of the support material you will need. Consider the much higher rates of ammo consumption and it is easy to figure that you will sink over $4000 to field this weapon system. Guns alone from cheaper makers like Hesse can be had as low as $1200, but remember that costs of support material and tripods will jack the actual fielding cost of the weapon system right back up.||Accessories - There are some accessories available for these guns which are necessary and some which are not. A survivor who is fielding this weapon system is quite likely to spend as much on the accessories as on the gun itself, and even a spare gun might be considered the "accessory". Most of the stuff is readily available or can be made in a workshop.|
|Mags - The gun does not use mags, but it does use belts and links for the ammo. Loading links is slower than loading magazines and the links can be difficult to find although they are relatively cheap. Stock up on them while you can. A linking machine is helpful to have on hand, but not necessary. Also note that leaving ammo linked and ready to go does not diminish the capability of the system the way leaving mags loaded for extended periods of time will eventually diminish reliability of the magazine springs and thus, the weapon when it comes to large caliber mag fed weapons. .||Longevity and durability - The guns are built to last centuries, in fact several of the originals will likely be fully functional in 2019 when some will conceivably have been used for 100 years. Many of these guns are built from parts that date to before WW2 and are fully functional, but I notice that most of the parts in the Valkyrie guns were actually made in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s. Due to the lower stress levels of use on the semi-autos, they would conceivably last indefinitely. That is not to say they are entirely immune from damage due to rough handling or a hostile environment. Rust can be a constant enemy to these weapons because they used a high carbon steel in the construction of the parts and the finish will wear off of moving parts.|
|Ammunition - Easy to obtain and the multi-caliber options mean the gun can stay running as long as you can afford ammo for it. The system is tolerant of lower grades of ammo than what you would normally use in an assault rifle of the same caliber.||Power - The gun shoots 7.62 NATO, there is little if any to dispute about the power of this cartridge but it is not the Excalibur of machinegun rounds. Conversions for .30-06 and 8mm don't change the power curve of the weapon by very much.|
|Parts - Spare parts for the gun are readily available due to massive amounts of military surplus, but it is conceivable that demand for surplus parts will eventually outpace the fixed supply of those parts. The semi-auto specific parts of the gun come from readily available surplus but are uniquely modified for this particular commercial design while other semi-auto 1919s tend to follow a more common design that is less mechanically reliable but cheaper to produce.||Ergonomics and handling - Excellent for tripod and vehicle mounted use, but lousy for field use off of the available bipods. Consider this a tripod or vehicle mount weapon only and forget trying to use it in the squad automatic weapon role like a GPMG. The controls are unique to this gun, but relatively easy for anyone of normal intelligence to learn.|
|Popularity - The 1919 type belt fed guns are among the most popular on the civilian market in the US when it comes to belt fed guns. This is in part due to the large number of Israeli and USGI surplus parts that have been on the market for several decades. Although owned by only a small number of elite collectors, these guns are represent the top of the heap of the various semi auto 1919s on the market and due to cost are not the most popular variant.||Maintenance and repair - Belt fed guns are much more mechanically complex than standard firearms. Make sure you have tools and spare parts around. Larger guns like this tend to be mechanically similar in a general way to automotive systems and a person with a decent level of mechanical ability can usually fix the big things on these guns, but it can take a specialist to fix and tune the little things. Fortunately this information is readily available on the net.|
|Accuracy - The sights adjust out to 1200 meters and nothing is lost with regards to range capability on the semi-auto, but the sights are not overly precise. Optics would definitely improve accuracy of the weapon. Realistic engagement distances are going to be 500 meters and under.||Reliability - The test specimen has been 98% reliable. We have not heard of any of these guns suffering from reliability problems that can plague other 1919 semi conversions or rebuilt full autos.|
More to come later.