GPMG Firing Comparison: PKM vs UK vz.59

Since I had the opportunity to do some shooting with both a Yugoslav PKM and a Czech vz.59 general-purpose machine gun, I thought it would be interesting to compare them side by side. Which is better as a proper machine gun? And, to make things interesting, which is better as a semiauto-only firearm, as they are both available in the US?

Thanks to Marstar for letting me examine and shoot their M84 PKM and UK vz.59!

42 Comments

  1. Wikipedia does not tell me why it is called the UK. vz.59. I assumed it was for, or potentially for, the British Army. Does UK mean something in czech/solvakian?

  2. “UK vz.59”
    One element which has influence on ergonomic was ignored here, to avoid confusion please refer to that drawing (click to enlarge):
    http://zonwar.ru/fotogalerej/CZ_UK_vz59/CZ_UK_vz59_09.html
    where this element is numbered 58 and named Ramenni opěra (opéra?)
    Why it was not deployed when firing? Does manual for that weapons explicitly prohibit opening it when firing from bi-pod or example shown has this element inoperable?

    • In English, that would be called the “shoulder rest”, and yeah… Ian should have had it deployed. With the shoulder rest on the shoulder, and the buttstock being pulled down by the non-firing hand, that makes for a much different firing experience.

    • By the same token you can say that Yugoslav version of PKM was deprived of original horizontally cut opening which would assist with better hold. I do not understand why they left it out.

      • I think, and I could be mistaken here, that the Yugoslavian Army taught that the off hand went over the stock at the neck of the buttstock, the same was as on the MG59. As such, the use of the skeleton stock for providing the same downforce into the soldier’s shoulder was probably seen as unnecessary. As well, the M84s that I’ve seen all had really nice full wood stocks; none of that cheap-ass plywood for the JNA, nosirree…

        As well, there’s always the possibility that the M84 designers just didn’t understand why the PKM was made that way… Similar things happened on the way from the FG42 to the M60, albeit in a far more inimical and widespread fashion…

        • Stock was made from a full wood w/o cut since original did not fulfill durability requirements. Other stocks were trialed, including tubular one with MG-34/42 style end, skeletonized but reinforced with steel and this one was decided to be “best”.

          As for shooting, two positions are used
          – left hand under the stock, grabbing front of the stock and pulling it into shoulder – used for closer range, and when you did not deploy shoulder rest.

          – left hand over the stock, pulling down on it – used for longer range shooting (600+m). For long range (1000+m from bipod) assistant is supposed to hold bipod legs down also.

          On a related note, Yugo AK pistol grip (same as appearing on M84) was inspired by… SIG 210 pistol. Originally, when it was decided original AK grip did not fulfill ergonomic standards new solution was sought, and someone high up in Zastava brought his own 210 to use as a pattern for a grip. In the end it was changed somewhat, but it is interesting story about “how” some things ended what they are.

          • The JNA was expecting to get effective hits out to 1000m off the bipod…? WTF? That’s… Amazing, if they could do it.

            That’s an interesting tid-bit about the SIG P-210, if only because it highlights that there was presumably a personal weapons for pistols like that in Yugoslavia under Tito. I was rather under the impression that everything that wasn’t in a JNA arsenal was verboten except for hunting rifles and shotguns. Although, there was this rather massive stockpile of leftovers from WWII that weren’t necessarily turned over to the proper authorities, either… Hearing someone had a SIG P-210 is kinda surprising, to tell the truth. Although, I have to admit, I can only see the outline of that inherited shape if I squint really hard.

          • Well, that is a story told by the man who designed a grip. Ofc, rifle and pistol grips have different requirements, so redesign was involved, but grip angle and hand webbing rest were clearly translated. Then, when you think about it – previus locally produced weapons used MG-34/42/MP-40 shaped grips – M56 SMG, M53 MG etc and no other AK pattern uses anything as close – this one had to come from somewhere… Frankly I was very surprised at first, but then it clicked later.
            For the range –
            Training is up the 1200m with optics, up the 800 w/o. Even at 1200m, you can hit truck sized target w/o that much problems, but you need spotter (tracer burnout is IIRC ~900m). It is a niche use, but it is (or was) in training, at least back in 2006-7 when I carried M84 as a squad LMG :).
            FS squad guys had tripods and trained up the 1800m.

            Overall today (from about late 1991-early 1992) infantry plt has 6 x M84 – 3 x LMG config, one in each squad and 3 x tripod mounted in FS squad. Each squad also has one M72 RPK, one M76 DMR and 6 x M70 AK. Yes, that is 3 types of ammo in squad (plus a 9×19 for a MG gunner’s pistol), which is why army is ATM trialing 6.5×39 Grendel to try to replace all 3 squad level calibers with one…

            ex-Yugoslavian gun laws:
            Gun laws were surprisingly liberal, cause local commies, at least partially really believed in “armed people” on all levels (plus more practically, it was considered next to impossible to disarm people so was never really tried).
            To get a firearm licence, which was good for almost anything except full auto weapons:

            – no criminal conviction, through if conviction was x years ago, where x was a length of the original sentence you could appeal to get an exception (my grandfather did, he spent 2.5 years in jail due the “anti-revolutionary” activity in late ’40s, but got firearms license back 3 years after getting out of jail.
            – finished army service (mandatory for everyone male) w/o dishonorable discharge (which was effectively equivalent to a civilian criminal conviction). Females did not have this requirement. If you were younger, you could get a permission from 14 y/o for a certain classes of weapons (.22 pistols and rifles, bolt action rifles) still, if you were a member of a shooting club, with a parent’s permission. My father got his first license at 14 years old.

            – pass a background check (which was basically light check to see if there are any outgoing serious feuds with a neighbours – this was intended to curb blood feuds which were still outgoing in some parts of country – parts of Montenegro, Kosovo and parts of Macedonia).

            If you were WW2 veteran, you automatically got a licence w/o background check. This was removed in 1975.
            If you were officer in the army, you automatically had a license w/o background check. Same for police.

            Single and double shotguns, .22 rifles did not require any license (if you were 18+ and finished army service) until 1975.
            Reloading was allowed, and gunpowder was over the counter sale if you had firearm license to show (black powder was over the counter sale to anyone 18+ and finished army service until 1975).
            Licence included right for concealed carry, but if you carried you needed a reason to do so, but almost anything would do (not a general “need defense”, but if you traveled 20+km for a work it was a valid reason, if you lived in rural area that was valid, if you were female and divorced at court (vs agreement) it was valid etc.).

            Now, that is not to say that weapons were widely available – what was were various surplus rifles, pistols etc. Rifles were mostly various factory-sporterized Mauser rifles (and some exotics) in 7.9×57, at least until 1970s. In ’70s, 30-06 became popular as army surplused large amounts of ammo, and Zastava started making rifles for US market, so those became popular here also. For pistols, M57 was a king of the hill. Most exotic thing I have seen? G41W and G43 used as a hunting rifles, in early 2000s and I still hate myself for not getting that G41W… 🙁 Also Werndl based shotgun in 1980s., but that was before WW2 rework…

            Main limiting factor about foreign made weapons was their price. Still, there were more than one example of people importing it – usually people working in foreign trade companies etc. At one moment, you could find excellent Soviet biathlon rifles, but ammo was next to impossible to find… 🙁 Czech rifles were common due the affordable price.
            Most weapons were imported from Germany, Austria and Italy.
            My father had .22 SIG 210-7, acquired in 1980., but when a brother was born in 1985 he sold it, getting (much cheaper) Ruger Mk II instead. I still have that Ruger. 🙂
            As kinda on topic, picture of the Yugoslavian film director Zivojin Pavlovic, also an avid weapon collector with a part of his collection – he was a father’s friend, and I think that visits to him sparked interest in the old weapons with me…
            http://miniaturesandcostumes.tumblr.com/post/155722015905/yugoslavian-film-director-writer-and-painter#notes

  3. I’d say the PKM has a better time with conscripts. The UK vz. 59 has a few quirks (like the pistol grip serving as the charging handle) and can be a bit off-putting to those who want beginner-friendly machine guns.

    • You like use of word “conscripts” and I understand why. In all WP armies we were mostly (part of officer corps) conscripts. But, consider this: basic service lasted 2 long years with recall for 2-3 weeks training after 3 years till age of 50. That means, after half of that period you became more-less proficient with equipment you were assigned too. And that included lot more sophisticated equipment than machineguns.

      Also, and this has wider connections and is unknown to western people, majority of young men were previously trained in variety of trades, mostly in manufacturing. That allowed them to have natural sense and attitude toward mechanical/ electrical applications – big advantage over people who were employed say in services, typical for capitalist armies.

    • “(…)UK vz. 59 has a few quirks (like the pistol grip serving as the charging handle) and can be a bit off-putting to those who want beginner-friendly machine guns.”
      This would mean that they have some prior experience with machine gun which I doubt. Also if all machine gun in your inventory have same quirks there is not problem, as said user except machine gun to have such features, so will be confused when facing machine gun lacking them.

  4. One really cannot fully evaluate a machine gun until one has fired it off of the tripod it was designed for.

    The issues Ian has with the vz.59 in full-auto off of the bipod may well be dampened or counter-acted by the tripod system. Likewise, the things that make the PKM a better bipod-mounted MG may not make for a better tripod-mounted one.

    You have to look at these things as a full system; firing a GPMG off the bipod is only going to give you about half the picture, in terms of what their virtues and vices are.

    As well, there is the small issue of integrating the crew into the picture; you can have a great MG that is utter shite at delivering fire when operated by one man, but which is great when there’s a trained crew to spot the impacts and correct fires. As well, there are guns which are crap with poorly trained crews that shine like the sun when given over to well-trained operators and gun crew leaders…

    Looking at a GPMG fired off the bipod alone is like evaluating an artillery piece without its mounting. Sure, you can make some comparisons, but the real questions of how effective that piece is will only be answered by looking at the whole of it all.

    • You are correct, it has to be evaluated as a system. Also, I missed mention of tripod. And yes, it is conceivable that after all that, the PKM would still come out as more desirable. There is reason why it is most used GPMG in middle east battlefields.

      • I’m a fan of the PKM myself; I think that’s actually what Kalishnikov ought to be remembered for, rather than that rattletrap of an Avtomat. The PKM is such an ungainly goose of a machinegun; no elegance to it, at all, with all the flex and the flapping dust covers… Esthetically, it’s a disaster. Functionally? It’s a work of art.

        Honestly, I don’t think the PKM could have come from anyone other than a Russian; there’s no elegance to it, at all. You look at one, especially in operation, and you know that some fussy-ass Teutonic engineer had nothing to do with it, and that it was likely built by a purely pragmatic Russian, whose sole concern was how and whether it worked, not how it looked doing so…

        • Correct. Also, let’s look at the feeding; it is one stage type and rather abrupt one. One feeding pawl and one retaining one – that’s all volks. As a witness to this, there is constant whipping of belt up and down at entry – it almost looks that it will jam at any moment, yet amazingly, it does not. This is the most “cheeky” part of PKM design.

          Now, look what Israelis did on their Negev, both versions – much the same thing. And it works flawlessly.

          • Using a push through belt with a rimmed cartridge means you need more bolt energy at the start of the feed cycle for reliability compared to a pull out belt. This puts new constraints on the designer as he makes his design trade offs.

          • There is little bit of overlap in interpretation here – feeding belt and stripping/ pulling cartridge. Feeding/ belt advancing is happening on both guns during power stroke/ up-stroke. This is in contract with systems like MG42/MAG58 and derived guns, which use both strokes to drive the belt. Typically, it is expected that gun is capable of pulling at least 3ft/ 1m of hanging belt at normal setting.

            Cartridge stripping/ pulling out of belt at PKM takes place at the same time as belt advancing; at UK59 during down-stroke – so tasks are divided. Stripping rimmed cartridge from belt forward e.i. pushing thru rather than pulling it out to the rear probably requires more force since you need to overcome not just friction but also stretch the link. In that sense Czech gun may be considered more ‘challenged’, but it seems to handle it well.

          • All I’m saying is that forcing a cartridge out of the belt at the end of its forward stroke means that you can’t maintain a rate of fire and reduce recoil as much as you like. Sure it works well, but at what cost. Reliability is paramount, but a calmer gun would be nice.

        • One of the reasons why PKM has less felt recoil is that generally pull-push feed MGs do have less recoil than push through.
          Reason is that pulling cartridge back is done at a moment bolt has a peak energy that can be used and it actually slows a bolt additionally. When it picked cartridge it can happily slow down cause on the back stroke it only needs minimal energy to get back in the battery.
          With push through, bolt needs to have much more energy on the return stroke in order to push round out of the belt. Now this energy is only provided by a spring, which means that spring has to be quite stiff and well compressed previously, which means that there will be more perceived recoil, both on back and return stroke.
          Zastava toyed with direct-feed version of PKM in 7.62×51, one of the problems was that it had more recoil than with 7.62×54 version with pull-push feed. Also, recoil spring and receiver life were about 10-15% less…
          Overall, while it complicates feed, pull-push is IMO overall superior system.

          • That makes a lot of sense… I’ve always thought that the pull/push system on the M2HB Browning .50 caliber MG contributed a lot to the overall stability of the gun, but I’d never made that connection with the PKM. Probably because I’ve only ever been able to fire that thing for familiarization…

            I still think that was Kalishnikov’s master-work. The Avtomat is more like his journeyman’s project. Granted, it’s a decent design, but the limitations of the receiver cover and generally poor sighting arrangements have left it unable to grow out of its first-generation assault rifle status without significant redesign.

            The PKM, though… If only our authorities had had the honesty to admit that the control weapon they used during the trials that led to the M240 effectively trounced everything else, and then maybe if they’d simply licensed the design from someone who was producing it outside the Warsaw Pact… Egypt, maybe? I dunno if they built any, but… Jeez, anything would have been better than what we saddled ourselves with. I like the M240, but that’s a gun that should have stayed a coax or vehicular-mounted weapon. It’s just too damn heavy…

          • “limitations of the receiver cover and generally poor sighting arrangements have left it unable to grow out of its first-generation assault rifle status without significant redesign.”
            1940s technical-tactical requirements do not include need of mounting any optical sight or similar.

          • “It’s just too damn heavy…”
            One thing should be noted here: Soviet Union in development of weapons pay attention for ratio of firepower to mass, it is visible especially in aviation armaments, but also present in other areas.

        • “PKM(…)I think that’s actually what Kalishnikov ought to be remembered for, rather than that rattletrap of an Avtomat”
          The fact PKM is still in wide-spread use and production in its country of origin and without potential replacement visible, with “new” rifle-caliber machine gun being derivatives of it, namely Pecheneg and AEK-999.
          But, if we measure success in terms of year in production, then most successful of Soviet fire-arms would be Vladimirov 14,5-mm machine gun (or more exactly: its “tank” variant, that is KPVT, which is still in production)
          http://www.zid.ru/eng/products/47/detail/234

      • “You are correct, it has to be evaluated as a system. Also, I missed mention of tripod. And yes, it is conceivable that after all that, the PKM would still come out as more desirable.”
        But with which tri-pod? There exist two main patterns of tripod which are used with PKM: older Samozhenkov mount designated 6Т2 (6Т2 станок Саможенкова) and newer Stepanov mount designated 6Т5 (6Т5 станок Степанова), with latter being lighter (4,5 kg vs 7,7 kg), has 29 details less, and providing all functions and even more than of earlier pattern, newer tri-pod has mount for box-of-ammo on one of legs, so one man can carry machine gun complete with tripod and belt of ammo (without need to unload).
        Both Samozhenkov and Stepanov mount allows AA usage.
        Stepanov mount is considered superior to M2 tripod of U.S. origin, as it is lighter and provide more functions.
        http://russianguns.ru/?p=4340

  5. This is very cursory and incomplete observation…. it does not include endurance, stripping/ cleaning, night/ low visibility use, transfer from position to position, engagement at different targets/ distances and so on. Thus incomplete.

    This is not to say, I have preconceived favor for ex-Czech gun – not at all. In some way I have more respect for PK because, for lack of better description, it is better optimised. To make the point – look at location of gas tap; on Czech gun it is way closer to chamber (higher operating pressure) and leaves longer period of time for gas energy transfer into mechanism, hence the beating shooter gets. I’d like to know WHY they did it this way, therefore as a shortcut I consider it “less optimised”.

    On general note as I recall from my time of service, the attitude toward soldier was: let him take the punishment, that’s what makes him soldier at first place. Little absurd, isn’t it.

    • Oh yeah, I left a major shortcoming of UK59 – bipod attached to barrel instead to receiver. When you change barrel, most typically in dirty environment, you will inevitably contaminate the gun. This is where designers/ controlling authority missed big time.

    • Your last line reminds me why Hiram Percy Maxim tried to advocate using suppressors when introducing raw recruits to the full-powered bolt-action Springfield rifles. The last thing you want is a soldier who flinches and tosses his rifle away in terror when he pulls the trigger for the very first time! Telling soldiers to “toughen up and take it like a man” matters little if everyone develops flinching habits.

      • Makes sense; actually to put less burden on soldier has many advantages – he needs his senses sharp as long as possible. He will get plenty of bad stuff along the way, not to worry.

      • I’d agree to some of that, but the idea of waiting until the soldier is experiencing battle for the first time to expose him to the realities of his weapons and their effects…? No; absolutely not. You really want to create combat stress, that’s the way to go about doing it.

        It’s a fine line, there–You don’t want to go to the extent of having crawl through tunnels filled halfway up with entrails from a slaughterhouse, but you do need to expose them to the experience of dealing with that sort of thing before they see it for the first time in combat.

        I grew up on a farm; I knew many of my meals on a first-name basis, and I helped butcher animals from about the age of 8-9. When I joined the Army, I had few if any illusions about that sort of thing, and what I noticed was that the kids who’d grown up in white-bread suburbia, or even the inner city…? They had not a clue about much of that sort of thing, and when they encountered it for the first time…? Lord, love a duck… Most froze, many freaked out, and not a few simply couldn’t cope with it. I could tell you stories about the huge mess that one survival course I attended turned into, when they issued out the bunnies and chickys for us to turn into dinner. I kid you not; there were guys who were theoretically supposed to be able to lead men into combat and supervise the killing of our nation’s enemies who were simply completely dysfunctional in the face of the necessity to perform the basic function of killing and preparing small game animals for food. The amount of trauma that simple event caused led me to seriously wonder at our selection and training process, and worry about how these inept twits would handle actually having to kill other human beings in combat. I don’t think it’s gotten any better, either…

        • I think we are mixing psychological preparation with reduction of unnecessary physical burden/ fatigue. One thing which I believe is a key is individual motivation, meaning justification of one’s action(s). With that in place it goes a bit easier. But yes, one has to be prepared to throw stomach, at occasion.

    • “endurance”
      I found potentially interesting article, but in Czech, so I understand it partially:
      https://www.stoplusjednicka.cz/kulomet-vz59-kontroverzni-pomocnik-cs-armady
      Title: Machine gun vz. 59 controversial helper of c[zecho]s[lovak] army
      It reveals that:
      – vz. 59 has name: Rachot
      – vz. 59 was designed by Antonín Foral
      – vz. 59 in bi-pod mode was used with belt-50 and in tri-pod mode with belt-250
      – vz. 59 could used following sighting system: iron, optical 4×8 or infrared PPN-2
      – vz. 59T is tank version, lack stock and have electric trigger
      – vz. 59 was serially produced 1960-1975 with [around? no less than? no more than?] 37000 examples made, it was exported to Arabian State [I am not sure which country author of article means] and interest from export market leaded to creation of vz. 59N for 7,62×51 NATO cartridge, which was made in small numbers and exported among others to Morocco. However size of export was below expectation in contrast to inter-war period success
      – taking in account theoretical values vz. 59 outperforms Soviet PK machine gun (using same cartridge), however Czechoslovak is often considered more complicated, and in case of long-term use less reliable, because some parts of its mechanism worn out quickly
      – foreign users have objections about reload-using-grip feature
      – Lebanon is known to use Czechoslovak machine gun in 1970s and 1980s
      – vz. 59 was spotted in Georgia
      – vz. 59 was sporadically observed in hand of militants [I hope this is proper word] in Africa and Arabia
      – vz. 59 is phased out in Czech service in favor of 5,56 mm FN Minimi
      Zbrojovka Vsetín [entity which produced vz. 59] some time ago again advertised that machine gun, now as Rachot for foreign customers, but it remain unknown if any customer was found
      Point about replacement vz. 59 with Minimi is especially mind-boggling for me: why they replace 7,62×54 R (i.e. rifle-caliber) machine gun with 5,56×45 (i.e. intermediate) machine gun? And why Czechs are not able to create own machine gun, either general purpose or squad if they want? It seems as mis-match with their tradition of designing own fire-arms.

      • Hi Daweo

        I read the article you present – your understanding is basically correct. The article does not sound overly optimistic in description of this product. Your question regarding CZ military choice to adopt Minimi (in 7.62, not 5.56mm) is simple: it is economically based. They weighed the market and its possibilities and concluded that there is no place for another maker (remember, there is also HK). Cost of development would not be paid off by gun for domestic use only (due to low numbers).

        I want to return to one of your remarks about Mk48. The story I heard was that in fact (and contrary to what Mr.Popenker says) is that original design was in 7.62, as is in Mk.48 format. Lighter version in 5.56 was developed out of it, not the other way around.

        The reason why U.S. services adopted MAG58 was that they found themselves in mid of 70s in dire need for tank machinegun. Apparently the “sheet-metal” gun was not what would serve their purpose. The rest of services had to, for need of unification adopt the same. In hind sight it does not seem to be right decision, mainly for its weight in infantry application.

    • “it does not include endurance, stripping/ cleaning, night/ low visibility use, transfer from position to position, engagement at different targets/ distances and so on. Thus incomplete.”
      As side note, Nikitin and Sokolov machine gun (ТКБ-521) which was one of competitors of Kalashnikov general-purpose machine gun, lost among others, due to low reliability in wet condition (for example during river crossing)

      • Soviet Union had immeasurably greater industrial and engineering resources than Czechoslovakia. In fact I wonder and let this view sound in past several times, that Czechs should not have bothered with their own developments and adopt soviet weapons instead.

        Just the shear number of various competing designs throughout soviet history supports the fact that they were able to throw lots of resources into fray and come up with best solutions. Czechoslovaks in no way could replicate this effort.

  6. One 8 foot by 8 foot chunk of canvas would make clean up and pick up much easier.
    Both for the guns and for the operator.

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