This machine gun
was developed by the Marlin-Rockwell Company in 1918
as part of their contract
to produce the Colt
M1895 machine gun
. They were given the additional task of producing this weapon
in a role more suited to aircraft
The original design, known as the Potato-Digger, had a hinged arm which was driven by gas tapped from the barrel, and swung downwards, operating the linkage that actuated the breech mechanism. This swinging arm was incompatible with aircraft installations, and the Marlin engineers replaced it with a conventional gas piston beneath the barrel.
In this form the gun was adopted as the standard aircraft and tank machine gun for United States forces in 1918. The end of the war brought cutbacks, and a total of 38,000 aircraft, and 1,470 tank guns were made.
In 1940, the British were desperately short of arms of all kinds, and several thousand of these weapons were taken out of storage in the USA and shipped to Britain. Most were mounted on merchant vessels and at airfields as a defense against air attack.