Shooting the Yugoslav M84 PKM: Arguably the Best GPMG

 

If I could have any one machine gun (but only one), it would be a PKM – in my experience thus far, this is the best universal machine gun that has been designed. Kalashnikov’s design team took the lessons of the MG42 and created a machine gun that does an excellent job of balancing the capabilities and costs of the concept.

The PKM is easily controllable despite being relatively light weight. It can fit optical sights, but has rugged and quite adequate iron sights. It uses a rugged and dependable belt design (although it might be nice to have the belt made in detachable segments). It is quick and easy to strip and clean, and it rugged and durable. It is pretty well sealed against ingress of dirt and grit. It has a sufficiently solid and dependable bipod. Designing a combat weapon is not a search for perfection in any single element, it is a search for balance among competing and mutually opposing characteristics, and the PKM is and excellent example of this.

One interesting thing to watch in the high speed footage is the sheer volume or flapping and wobbling bits – between the tangent leaf sight, the barrel, and three separate sheet metal dust covers, the gun looks like it is made of jello!

Thanks to Marstar for letting me examine and shoot their M84!

 

32 Comments

  1. That double-charging technique is how the 1919 works. The M60 had an opening top cover to get around this. This is quite a weapon. Thanks, Ian.

  2. Yup, tying to my note in previous section… this single-stage belt advance (as opposed to 2-stage feed e.i. back and foreward) is more abrupt than 2-stage applied on MG42 and MAG58. To tame that belt’s whipping is probably reason for spring loaded entry gate. And yes, all those gates flip up and down like cuckoo-clock.

    Rifle style shooting mode is also impressive. These guns are carried as rifles in today’s battles zones as many videos testify to. Try this with MAG 🙂

      • I believe RPD is from start intended as hand held. Our friend Daweo would likely confirm that “Ruchniy Pulemyot” means just that. In comparison, BAR is one thing and MAG developed out of it is not of the same purpose.

        • Indeed: ручной is adjective derived from word hand, which in this context mean hand-held.
          For method of usage please refer to manual in Russian available here:
          http://militera.lib.ru/manuals/nastav_rpd/index.html
          (click DJVU in rectangle to download file)
          See drawing 45 at page 100 to know how to use RPD in kneeling position
          See drawing 46 at page 101 to know how to use RPD in standing position

      • Kind of interesting to see those longitudinal cooling ribs on early PK.
        There are couple of guns such as Type 92 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_92_heavy_machine_gun
        or M1914 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotchkiss_M1914_machine_gun

        which have radial cooling fins. If I was to conceptualize MG barrel, I’d likely proceed same way. It is of known fact that transverse stress in long pressure vessel is half of the longitudinal (in seam) one. When you overcook your wiener, it always break lengthwise, never across. 🙂

        • @Denny:
          Radial vs longitudinal:
          generally greater area mean better cooling (assuming same metal, same air pressure, same air temperature and so on), however I want to note that also easiness of cleaning (removing dirt) should be considered. Design with a lot of super thin “disks” and very small distance between them would be hard to keep clean (in fact if dirt would be jammed in spaces it would probably hinder cooling) thus cooling fins should be big enough and possibly not too numerous.

  3. You can also support it from the bottom front of the receiver and fire from the shoulder. It really is a pleasant light gun to shoot upright from the shoulder.

  4. Ian, when firing “rifle style”” easiest way is to hold it by the ammo box. We learned to fire it that way from standing and kneeling position. From a prone, there are two official styles of shooting it:
    1. support hand below stock, pulling stock in the shoulder (for general shooting): https://i.ytimg.com/vi/824yhlS3TnQ/maxresdefault.jpg

    2. support hand over the stock, pushing it down and into shoulder, – for longer range shooting:
    http://www.armyrecognition.com/customer/thierry/serbia/m84_03.jpg

    • Just noticed, this is Serbian army, not Yugoslav. Has lot changed in meantime, regarding tactics and chain of command?
      I suppose one thing positive is that they do not have to deal with other nationalities and their sometimes eccentric tendencies.

      • Same manual for M84 is used as was when it was originally introduced, through were learned few “tricks” out of manual since weapon instructor was a veteran. 🙂

        Inf squad composition changed, in 1991 JNA inf squad was 8 men – 2 x SAW (M72), 1 x DMR (M76), 5 x AR (M70). In 1992-3 one M72 was changed for M84 in LMG role (lesson from the war, squad needs belt fed LMG in full caliber). It was this way when I was in army (2006-7) and I was squad LMG gunner (since I scored 2nd best on the initial qualifications – first one got M76).
        In combat rifle squad separates to a fire support group (LMG gunner, assistant, squad marksman, possibly one rifleman with rifle grenades) and assault group (squad leader, 3-4 riflemen and SAW gunner). Both squad leader and riflemen carry 4 x M80 LAW and rifle-grenades (smoke, illum and HE when I was in, I think that even then HEAT was on the way out).
        3 x rifle squad + command element of 3 + fire support squad (which can be composed of 10 men with 3 x tripod mounted machinegun* make a platoon. So rifle platoon has:
        3 x MMG (M84 on tripod)
        3 x LMG (M84)
        3 x SAW (M72)
        3 x DMR (M76)
        12 x LAW (M80)
        25 x AR (M70)
        Company has command section of 5+2 snipers, 3 x rifle platoon and FS platoon, which has two mortar sections, each with 2 x 82mm mortar, AGL section with 3 x AGL and 2 AT sections with 4 x M79 rocket launcher.

        Plenty of firepower for a company, since experience of the ’90s wars that company needs lot of own organic firepower and that it is better to have weapon even with a limited supply of ammo immediately available then to request it from a Bn level.

        • Thanks for response, Bojan. That is substantial amount of firepower for company, true. As I look at different weapons it comes to me that you have 3 rifle type cartridges to carry, 82mm mortar bombs, 30mm grenades and spare rockets (unless M79 is one shot disposable).

          What surprises me little bit is the fact that Serbian army did not adopt 5.45 Russian round and took 5.56 instead. I do not want to go into politics and power game, but it seems to me the first one would make more sense. I gather that plan is one thing and reality as it shapes in time is not the same thing.

          • 4 cals in a rifle section including pistols (MG gunner is supposed to be issued one).
            One of the reasons for army looking at 6.5×39 Grendel seriously is to solve section logistic mess with a single caliber w/o losing substantial range from DMRs and LMGs (which is lost with 5.56). So, a plan is 6.5×39 rifle with 16″ barrel, 6.5×39 DMR with 20″ barrel, 6.5×39 mag fed SAW with exchangeable 16″ and 20″ heavy barrels and 6.5×39 version of M84. Plt tripod mounted MGs are supposed to stay in 7.62x54R.
            OFC, due the financial situation this is very unlikely to happen anytime soon (if at all).
            As for 5.56 vs 5.45, trials (together with Sweden) were held, 5.56mm won. OTOH I don’t know if 5.45mm was trialed there. IIRC it was, but I am not sure. Swedes introduced 5.56, Yugoslavia did not due the fact it fell apart.
            In 2000s some amount of 5.56mm M21 rifles was acquired, making logistics even worse…

          • The northernmost republic of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia, borders on Italy and Austria, so-it’s-likely-that-in-July-1991-following-the-June-secession-that-its-military-changed-over-to-Western-standard-5.56-LMG-and-assault-rifle-caliber-and-7.62×51-GPMG-and-battle-rifle-cartridges-as-part-of-the-post-Soviet-modernization-program.
            For its post-Soviet service rifle, Slovenia adopted the Belgian FN F2000 to replace the dated Zastava M70 assault rifle and SKS battle rifle. When the F2000 was adopted, the SKS and M70 were consigned for the honor guardsmen to use in parades and cadets during live-fire drills.
            For its service pistol, Slovenia adopted the 9×19-mm-Parabellum-caliber Beretta-92FS made by its neighbor Italy.
            For machine guns, Slovenia adopted the FN Minimi for small-tier units such-as-squads-sections-and-fire-teams, and the MAG as its medium machine gun mounted on vehicles like the Humvee, Patria, and Otokar Cobra Light Armored Recon Vehicle. The M84 PKM is still in use with its Soviet-and-locally-built vehicles such as the MT-55 Bridge-layer, BOV, BRDM-2, PT-76 amphibious tank, and Valuk armored personnel carrier.

        • Bojan;

          What tripods and accessories were issued for the M84? Did the JNA copy the Soviet tripod for the PK/PKM, or did they modify the Lafette?

          I’d be curious to hear what you know–I’ve been told that the JNA did issue a lot of the stuff for the M59 that the Germans issued for the MG42, but did not get quite as lavish with all the little stuff. A comparison between the M59 “system”, all-inclusive, and that of the M84 “system” would be interesting.

          As well, which set of doctrine did the JNA follow, for the guns? Was it the German ideal of “the gun is the squad”, or the “the gun supports the squad” which the US and Western Allied forces generally adhered to?

          Flaechen und Luekentaktik, the strategy of surfaces and gaps, was how the Germans conceptualized the thinking behind their basic ideas for how to use the MG in war. Did the JNA follow the same ideas, or did they have their own?

          • Tripod is straight copy of the Soviet one.
            Accesorry for LMG role – spare barrel (carried by assistant), 2 x 100 rounds belt (one on gun, one carried by gunner), 2 x 250 rounds belt (carried in two boxes by assistant gunner), set of tools (including tool for extracting cases with a ripped rim – which happened rarely but was major PITA when it did – carried by assistant gunner), cleaning kit (carried by gunner).
            5x sight was generally for tripod-mounted guns, but I did have to opportunities to fire it with it. Tripod operation was only familiarization, we learned how to mount gun on tripod and that was it. I would dare to say that PKM tripod does not give you that much advantage compared to bipod, unlike MG42/M53 which are monsters on tripod but not so much w/o.

            As for doctrine, mostly German, but with some exceptions. Since early ’50s LMG was a main long range weapon of the squad as there were only 4 rifles in squad, MG assistant (who did not get to fire it a lot), grenadier and two sharpshooters. There were also 5 x SMG, so pretty good short range firepower with so-so long range.
            This changed in 1970s when Soviet (or rather French) idea of a highly mobile squad was introduced – full power belt fed weapons were thrown out of squad and squad stayed with 6 x AR (M70)and 2 x SAW (M72 RPK). In late ’70s squads got DMR (M76), first in light infantry then in other types as well.
            When a war came this was seen as not adequate firepower, so M84 was introduced to a squads, replacing one M72. This was kept until this day.

            LMG, by doctrine forms main firepower of the squad on defense, marksman picks targets of greater value, riflemen serve to protect flanks of the LMG gunner, so basically “gun is a squad”.
            In attack riflemen form assault element (in which case LMG gunner assistant and marksman stay to cover the rest of squad while it assaults positions), so here gun supports squad.

            This did not practically change since 1950s since then squad would also split in two groups for attack, one with LMG gunner, assistant, grenadier and two riflemen while SMG armed soldiers would form assault element with squad leader.
            For patrols LMG toward (3rd IIRC 1st one is SAW gunner, 2nd is squad leader) the middle of the column, since most likely ambush will come from a side.

            Unlike those, 1947 squad tactics were basically rewritten German documents for both defense and offense, and MG went first at a head of column in patrols.
            Hope it helps.

          • Unfortunetelly I did not have much experience with tripod, as I was trained as a squad LMG gunner (Plt MG section were professionals) as I was in service at a tail end of the conscription and whole service lasted about 6&3/4 months, about 4.5 months of which was real training (about 3 months of weapon and tactics training).
            Weapon training was good, it helped that instructor was a veteran and he really knew how to make people interested. Tactics training was very spotty, we never did more than a Co level training.

    • You can fire single shots with some training, but why? In a words of instructor, “you don’c carry 10kg single shot rifle”. Short bursts are 3-5, long 7-10 rounds by the book when in LMG role (5-8 and 10-12 on tripod).

      • The legend is that if you can fire single shots then you can conceal the fact you have a machine-gun, but that is probably like the myth of US soldiers being rushed while reloading an M1 after the enemy heard the ping of the clip hit a rock. The number of times when concealing a machine-gun served any useful purpose were probably rare enough to make training for it a waste.

        • The only time you want to conceal a rifle-caliber machine gun is when you have less than even half a proper infantry squad and when your logistical support has been reduced to less than even one bicycle-load of rifle ammunition per day. If your unit is isolated behind enemy lines during such a period, the last thing you want to do is attract artillery. And if this is the case, I must also assume that the radio is broken beyond repair (which has happened lots of times in real life). If stealth is a priority, the last thing you want to do is make your opponent prepare to counter everything bigger than infantry rifles. Said preparations include artillery, armored vehicles, heavy machine guns, and snipers. I could be wrong.

  5. I wonder if Yugoslavia ever entertained the thought of building M84 Machineguns in 8×57. Bojan thanks for your comment, the set up of the squad makes a lot of sense. We had FN Minimis (M249). A M84 would have been better.

  6. The PK/PKM is probably the best modern GPMG out there, within acknowledgment that the MG42/3 has a slight edge at longer ranges due to its rate of fire and tripod.

    However, we need to look at the gun as a system, including the tripod, the sights, and all the other accessories required to make a GPMG really effective. Firing it as an LMG, off the bipod alone? You don’t get the full picture of its capabilities. Regretfully, I’ve never had the opportunity to fire a PKM off the tripod through a full course of fire. I have done that with the M60, the M240, the MG3, and the M2HB. From that, I have concluded that the US military is laughably behind in nearly all regards, when evaluating the MG as a system. We’ve gotten away with this for as long as we have mostly through the substitution of artillery and aviation-based fire support for actual skill-at-arms with infantry organic weapons like the MG. Thanks to ROE restrictions, this has been an ongoing problem in Afghanistan.

    I know it’s not quite in Ian’s wheelhouse, but it would be nice to see the things like the tripods and so forth included when it comes to looking at these weapons. The quality and quantity of supporting accessories and how they are all employed together as a system is sometimes far more influential on the overall success of the weapon as a system than the bare-bones of the weapon itself…

    • Here it should be remembered that together with PKM new mount (tripod) was introduced 6Т5 commonly known as станок Степанова (Stepanov mount, after designer name) which replaced 6Т2 (станок Саможенкова, Samozhenkov mount) used together with PK. 6Т5 itself is masterpiece of engineering, several photos can be seen here:
      http://russianguns.ru/?cat=250
      Stepanov mount weight is 4,5 kg (against Samozhenkov 7,7 kg), it has 29 less details and as you can calculate is 3,2 kg lighter. It is superior function-wise and mass-wise that U.S. equivalent M2 Tripod weighting 6,8 kg.

      • The thing I’ve never been able to gather from the pictures of these tripods is precisely how the damn things work, in terms of where the scales for traverse and elevation are. They have to be there, but where?

        It would be nice if there were some actual scholarship applied to all of this, so that one had access to good English translations of Soviet MG doctrine, but all the stuff I had access to in the US military suffered from the essential US failure to pay proper attention to all the details. We never fully understood or appreciated German WWII-era doctrine, ignored the post-WWII German versions of that, and the details of Soviet MG usage were hand-waved away, as well. I don’t think anyone ever even translated what Soviet manuals existed, on machine-gunnery, and given the general Soviet reluctance to document, I suspect a lot of the “tribal knowledge” of how things were done simply weren’t at all well-documented.

        It’s an interesting thing, that–Where the US Army published copious low-level manuals and graphical training aids for the junior troops, the Soviets relied upon having the troops take careful notes as they were lectured and conducted training. I’m not sure which approach works better, in terms of “training the troops”, but the paucity of documentation available in English from Soviet sources leaves me very frustrated.

        • At least here, there were manuals for everything, including very banal things (flashlights, folding shovels itc).
          A lot of knowledge was from weapon instructors however, or maybe I was just lucky that he was good instructor and showed us a lot of stuff out of book.

        • “given the general Soviet reluctance to document”
          Wait, what?!
          At least in area of fire-arms Soviet manual are fully comprehensive. About how many were translated to English I don’t know.
          Here is chapter from manual 7,62 – мм пулемёт Калашникова (ПК, ПКС, ПКБ, ПКТ) concerning mount:
          http://www.nastavleniya.ru/PK/pk4.htm
          I even don’t try to translate it, but maybe drawings will be helpful.

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