There’s a reason that the M2 .50-caliber maker gun architecture has endured due to the fact that John Browning an initial created that 100 year ago, in 1918: The mechanical dependability of the weapon and also ballistics that the round are still exactly what a soldier demands to kill big numbers the people and also light vehicles conveniently at long range.

Here’s how it works and how it affects a human being body.

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A mounted .50-cal. Fires throughout an exercise in Germany in September 2018.

(U.S. Military Capt. Joseph Legros)

First, the M2 and also its ammunition deserve to be legally provided to target opponent personnel, despite apersistent legend that says it have the right to only be aimed at equipment. The said, it isn’t designed solely for anti-personnel use. One anti-personnel specific weapon usually has actually smaller rounds that are an ext likely to tumble once they strike human being flesh.

See, there are three major effects from a steel round hitting flesh that are likely to reason severe injury or death. First, there’s the laceration and also crushing from the round’s traversalthrough the flesh.

Then, there’s the cavitation,which has actually two parts. The first cavity is the long-term one:the open space left native the laceration questioned above. Yet there’s a second, short-lived cavity. Together the round travels v the body, it’s crushing the flesh and pushing it the end of the way very quickly. That flesh maintains that is momentum for a portion of a second, billowing out from the route of the bullet. The flesh have the right to tear and also cells deserve to burst as the organization erupts outward and also then slams back.


In this GIF that ballistics gel taking a .50-cal. Round, you can see all three effects. There’s the laceration and crushing immediately about the bullet, the large cavity as the gel flies apart, and the shockwave from that expansion as it forces the gel to paris outwards before re-compressing. The cavitation and also re-compression is for this reason violent the you can see a little explosion in the first block native the compressing air.

Finally, there’s the shock wave. That temporary cavity questioned above? The meat all about it is clearly compressed as the cavity expands, and also that’s wherein the shock wave starts. The cavity pushes outward, compressing the flesh and also the power in the compressed meat keeps traveling outward until that dissipates. This can also cause separations and tears. In excessive situations, it can even cause damage to nerve tissue, like the spinal cord and brain.

Typical rifle rounds generally aim come maximize the an initial two effects, laceration and also crushing and also cavitation. A reasonably short, tiny round — 5.56mm or .223 caliber in the case of the M16 — travels really quickly to the target. As soon as it hits, that quickly begins to yaw and also then tumble, depositing every one of its kinetic power to develop a large, temporary cavity. And the tumble the the round permits it to crush and cut a little much more flesh than it would certainly if flying straight.

But maximizing design for cavitation is maximizing for tumble, and also that can make the round more susceptible to environmental effects in flight, do it much less accurate at lengthy range.


A 5.56mm NATO ring stands come the left the a .50-cal. Sniper round.

(U.S. Air force Airman 1st Class Lawrence Sena)

But Browning wanted the M2 to be specific at long ranges, therefore he opted for a big, heavy round through a sharp tip. That’s good for flying long ranges and punching v the skin of a vehicle, but it can reason the cartridge to punch right through human flesh there is no depositing lot kinetic energy, an interpretation that it only damages the flesh directly in the path of the round.

But there’s a way to still get the round to cause lots that damage, also if it’s going come pass ideal through the enemy: maximizing its speed and also size so that it still sends a lot of of energy into the neighboring flesh, making a huge cavity and also creating a stunning shockwave. Basically, that doesn’t matter that the round just deposits a fraction of its power if it has actually a ton of energy.

The M2 fires ring at a lower muzzle velocity 보다 the M16 and at comparable speeds to the M4, however its ring is lot larger and heavier. The M33 ball ammo because that the M2 weighs practically 46 grams, when the M16’s NATO standard 5.56mm round weighs much less than 4 grams. The means, paris at the exact same speeds, the M2 .50-cal. Has 11 times together much energy to impart.


A Jordanian soldier fires the M2 .50-cal. Machine gun throughout an exercise near Amman, Jordan in 2018.

(U.S. Army)

It additionally maintains much more speed throughout flight. So, when the M33 ring from the M2 hits a target, the does normally pass v with lot of of its kinetic power left with the exiting round. However it still cut a substantial path with its target, doing plenty of damages from the first effect. And it compresses lot of of flesh around it as it forces its way through the target, developing a huge permanent cavity and also a still-impressive, temporary cavity.

But it really shines once it pertains to shock tide damage. The M33 and also other .50-cal. Rounds have so much energy that even depositing a small portion of it right into the neighboring tissues can reason it to substantially compress and then expand. Through a large round traveling at such high speeds, the shock wave have the right to become big enough to cause neurological damage.


A soldier fires the M240B during an exercise. The M240B fires a 7.62mm round that carries an ext energy 보다 a 5.56mm NATO rounds, however still much much less than the .50-cal. Machine gun. The amount of kinetic energy in a round is largely a product the its propellant and also its mass.

(U.S. Military National security Spc. Andrew Valenza)

Yeah, the target’s flesh deforms so easily that the power can compress nerves or displace them, shredding the connections in between them and potentially resulting in a concussion.

And every one of that is there is no the round hitting a bone, i beg your pardon instantly renders the whole problem much worse for the target. All rounds impart some of their power to a bone if lock strike it, yet with smaller rounds, there’s not all that lot energy. Through a .50-cal, it have the right to make the bone explode into lot of shards that room all flying with the speed of a low-velocity bullet.

The M2 can turn its target’s skeleton right into a shotgun blast taking place inside your body. The more tough the bone that takes the hit, the more energy is imparted come the skeleton prior to the bone breaks. On really hard bones, favor the hip socket, the huge, fast-moving round have the right to leave every or most of its power in the bone and also connected flesh.

This will certainly basically liquefy the foe it hits as the energy travels with the nearby muscles and the guts in the abdominal cavity. There’s really no way to endure a .50-cal. Round if it access time a good, hard, well-connected bone. No that your chances are much far better if it hits anything yet an extremity.

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In fact, the .50-cal. Hits through so much energy that that would likely kill you even if your body armor might stop it. The impact of the armor plate hitting your rib cage would be prefer taking a struggle from Thor’s Hammer. That energy would quiet crush her organs and also break apart your blood vessels and arteries, it would certainly just allow your skin come keep many of the goop inside together you died. No laceration or cavitation, however so much crushing and shock tide that it wouldn’t matter.

So, shot to avoid adversary .50-cal. Rounds if you can, but rest confident in the impacts on the foe if you’re shoot it at them. The ammo cans can be super heavy, yet causing these type of results at end a mile is frequently worth it.

There room a lot of vets sharing their story of bodies hit by .50-cal. Ring on Quora, if you’re into that sort of thing.