An Israeli LMG, Part II: The 8mm Dror

Today we continue the story of the Dror. Shortly after production of the .303 pattern guns began, the directive came down that the gun was to be redesigned for 8mm Mauser ammunition. Israeli supplies of British munitions were quickly being replaced by material from Czechoslovakia, and the Dror production needed to reflect this. The team building the guns used this opportunity to make a number of other improvements as well, most distinctively replacing the awkward Johnson-type magazines with a more traditional double-stack 20-round box magazine inserted in the bottom of the action instead off the side. The sights, bipod, buttplate, and barrel locking system were also improved, and a carry handle added.

This model went into full-scale production before its proper trials were completed, so much was the optimism about its potential. Alas, when tests finally took place (comparing the Dror to the Bren and MG-34), the Dror failed badly. It was found to be inferior to the surplus British and German guns in nearly every way. The guns still in production at that point were completed, but they were used for training and unimportant Navy duties only, and never saw combat use. So ended the biggest single clandestine Israeli arms development project of the 1940s.

Many thanks to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels for access to this very rare piece!


  1. “This model went into full-scale production before its proper trials were completed, so much was the optimism about its potential. Alas, when tests finally took place (comparing the Dror to the Bren and MG-34), the Dror failed badly. It was found to be inferior to the surplus British and German guns in nearly every way”

    To all those who heap praises on Melvin Johnson’s weapons, this should be a lesson. Let me point out that the Browning M1919A4, in both 30-06 and 7.62mm NATO was used for years and may still be in use for all I know and the BAR forms the basis for the revered FN MAG/M240.

    • I don’t think this is the fault of Johnson or his design. If anything, the success and reputation of the Johnson LMG in WWII probably led to the hubristic approach taken by the Israelis; what weapon has ever done well without full field testing and final development?

      Johnson’s basic design wasn’t the problem here; it was the execution of the recaliber job(s) and the manufacturing, more than anything else. The second model Dror was at least two design iterations away from Johnson’s hands. I don’t think you can fairly look it and say “Yeah, Johnson was to blame…”

      • You don’t think a brand new shop’s copy failing to beat two landmark guns from leading industrial and military powers is conclusive proof of a bad design? Next you’ll be telling us that cheesy high-school drama club productions don’t prove Shakespeare was illiterate!

        • You have grasped the essence of my argument… 😉

          I’ve got no real experience with the Johnson LMG. The rifle I got to handle and fire once upon a time, long long ago, when I was a mere pup and not all that experienced. In general, I didn’t find it all that much different than the Garand. Recoil a little sharper, maybe?

          As with wine, so too with weapons. You refine your palate, and the impressions you gained when you started out along the path of the cognoscenti have to be re-examined with the things you learn further along the path. I’d love to be able to do what Ian does, but I lack the resources in these sadly diminished times.

          • I have even less direct experience with the design, but I’d say most of its drawbacks were either forced by customers, or conventions of the era. The main inherent drawback of the LMG is the inability to zero the sights for each barrel – which is not only easily rectified, but also didn’t seem to be a limitation in some of the best MGs ever made.

          • You would be shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover just how little the people designing machineguns seem to know about… Actually using the damn things.

            The M60 is my best example, for all the multitudinous reasons I’ve gone through, over the years, ad nauseum.

            You see the same issue with the NGSW support version, the M250. Sure, OK, yeah… No quick-change barrel? WTF? The last time we issued a support weapon without that feature was the BAR, and it wasn’t exactly a resounding success in that role. Like it or not, there’s an interface edge there, between Automatic Rifle role and Light Machine Gun role, where you have to be able to easily transition between the two to provide sustained fire. You ain’t doing that with an M27 or the M250, which is just plain stupid. And, add in that the M250 is belt-fed? WTF? You’ve given it the provision for belt-feed, which makes it almost certain that people are going to fire that thing until the barrels are white-hot, in extremis, and now the damn barrels are gonna have to be swapped out by either the second or third echelon maintenance guys…? How the hell does that make sense? If they were gonna leave that a fixed barrel, they should have also left it magazine-fed. I foresee a lot of burned-out barrels and lengthy trips back to maintenance facilities.

            Which, I will point out, is an example of them not understanding the machinegun.

            And, another point to that… Where’s the tripod? What’s the interface with the tripod? Are they just going to stick that thing on top of that antiquated abortion of an M122 or its equally antiquated in design M192?

            I’m here to tell you, the tripod is really the key and essential bit of technology for a machinegun. Without it, you can’t deliver fire out to the full range of the cartridge, because there’s just too damn much dispersion and inaccuracy with the bipod. Plus, fire control flatly sucks, without a T&E to work off of. You’re reduced to telling the gunner all kinds of stupid sh*t like “No, not there… Over by those rocks, to the right…”, mainly because there’s no way of linking observation with fire direction that the gunner can use when he’s not able to see what the observer is seeing.

            Using a T&E and a set of binoculars with a mil reticle, I can direct that gun pretty damn easily. No provision for that? LOL… It’s not a serious machinegun.

            I think the idiots running the NGSW program have mistaken the ability to provide sound effects for actual effective fires delivered by an MG team. I don’t care what kind of uber-cartridge the gun fires, or how neat the design is, absent a f*cking tripod? That whole system is utterly useless out where you say you need it to be effective.

            The fact that these assclowns don’t grasp that fact? That’s precisely how we wound up with the M60, where the barrels couldn’t be zeroed separately. That’s how you know the idiots doing the design work were never actually, y’know… Machinegunners, or even the leaders of machinegun crews.

          • “(…)That’s how you know the idiots doing the design work were never actually, y’know… Machinegunners, or even the leaders of machinegun crews.”
            So could be M250 described as PHP here that is
            Imagine you have uh, a toolbox. A set of tools. Looks okay, standard stuff in there.

            You pull out a screwdriver, and you see it’s one of those weird tri-headed things. Okay, well, that’s not very useful to you, but you guess it comes in handy sometimes.

            You pull out the hammer, but to your dismay, it has the claw part on both sides. Still serviceable though, I mean, you can hit nails with the middle of the head holding it sideways.

            You pull out the pliers, but they don’t have those serrated surfaces; it’s flat and smooth. That’s less useful, but it still turns bolts well enough, so whatever.

            And on you go. Everything in the box is kind of weird and quirky, but maybe not enough to make it completely worthless. And there’s no clear problem with the set as a whole; it still has all the tools.

            Now imagine you meet millions of carpenters using this toolbox who tell you “well hey what’s the problem with these tools? They’re all I’ve ever used and they work fine!” And the carpenters show you the houses they’ve built, where every room is a pentagon and the roof is upside-down. And you knock on the front door and it just collapses inwards and they all yell at you for breaking their door.

          • @Daweo,

            Entirely apt. But, it only nibbles at the edges of the horror…

            Imagine a car designed by someone who never drove. You go to get in, and the steering wheel isn’t connected to anything; it’s there, but it’s only there for use as a handgrip. There’s really no way to control the front wheels, because they only conceived of the car going in one direction at a time; you’re supposed to come to a stop, get out, pick up the front end of the car, lay it on it’s new path, and then get back in to drive in that direction.

            There’s a reverse gear, but you have to stop the car, turn it off, change the gear, and then start the car again. The controls for the windshield wiper are in the backseat, for the passenger to operate, and the wipers only clear the passenger side window and driver’s side window; the windshield itself doesn’t have any.

            Car looks great, though, sitting there on the showroom floor.

      • ” If anything, the success and reputation of the Johnson LMG in WWII probably led to the hubristic approach taken by the Israelis”
        I am wondering if that version Dror was not advertised as just little modernization to higher ups, which lead to by-passing serious testing. This would be somewhat similar to Tu-22M which was supposedly only modernization of Tu-22 (NATO parlance: BEAUTY) as it was easier to accept for Soviet military bureaucracy of that time upgrade of already existing design than whole new design.

        • More than likely, that’s how they sold it. “Oh, this is just like the one that the Americans were gonna adopt to replace the BAR… Just in our caliber…”

          Turns out, not so much.

          • I think one should also consider it was a desperate if not dire situation the fledgling Israel was in, so they grasped at anything that looked like help. So a few guys came around offering to design the first jewish machine gun and put it together in short time to be ready for the wars of early Israel.On paper the Dror sounds like a good idea, but it failed in the execution with the devil in the details. It was a very short timeframe and they were under pressure. Well it turned out not so good, but there simply was no time to refine the design and I guess the procurement officers surely had their hands busy equipping an army from nothing and were too few people to actually control each and every project and often had to take a gamble, I bet.

          • I forgot to mention that the Dror also came too late as well actually. Well, that is how things go sometimes.

    • They packed the brand new tooling for the Johnson LMG in a new caliber right after having completed how much? Six prototypes? Then unpacked the tooling, converted the gun it in another caliber, changed many things, and went to full scale production before a proper testing being done on either the models. It’s surprising it worked at all.

    • “(…)To all those who heap praises on Melvin Johnson’s weapons, this should be a lesson.(…)”
      Yes that conversion to different cartridge is not as easy task as it might looks and trying to get it done cheap/rapidly often lead to wonky results.
      For other example see Ciężki karabin maszynowy wz. 25 Hotchkiss

      “Browning M1919A4, in both 30-06 and 7.62mm NATO was used for years”
      This is not surprising if you take into account that many were attached to armoured vehicles furnished as part of Mutual Assistance Program which was attractive cost-wise so to speak.

  2. Probably the most significant contribution made by the Dror effort was to the establishment of the Israeli small arms industry. Israel Galili cut his teeth on the project, and we know where that ended up taking him. I’ve read commentary from Israelis who were involved in the whole thing, and they freely acknowledge that most of what later became the Israeli small arms establishment flowed out of the experiences they had putting the Dror into production, and establishing the manufacturing base with it.

    I’m a little more charitable than some; how many initial efforts for arms production actually work out? Look at the US history, going back to colonial days. How many years late was Eli Whitney, again? How many cost overruns were there?

    My impressions of the Johnson come from a former 1st Special Service Forceman who’d been a “Johnny Gunner”. He loved the things, considered them superior to the BAR in every way, and it was his opinion that the Army should have canned the BAR and bought the Johnson; something that was reputedly in the works if the war had gone on. I’ve seen reference to that elsewhere, but the first place I heard that was from him.

    The Dror legacy has to be looked at from the standpoint of it being the first Israeli attempt to manufacture their own small arms. It wasn’t a failure in the sense that they learned a lot from it, and used it to establish their experience and manufacturing base. Could the gun have done better, with more development and time, before going to serial manufacture? Oh, hell yes; the real question was, did it make sense in view of the surplus weapons market at the time? Well, kinda…

    Since the Israelis couldn’t be certain they’d be able to access the international arms market, the Dror was important in that regard. Anyone looking to embargo them from acquiring arms would have been discouraged from doing so because they were demonstrating that they could roll their own; the Czechs could say “Look, why can’t we make some money selling all that surplus German junk to them? If we don’t, they’ll just build their own…”

    Which, I suspect, was exactly what happened. The Brits applied pressure to the Czechs, post-WWII, not to supply the Israelis. The Czechs, remembering Munich, weren’t disposed to listen to them, so they figuratively stuck a finger in the eye of Chamberlain’s successors.

    There’s a solid element of glee in a lot of the Czech sources from that period, about this. Supplying Israel was a twofold source of pleasure; they got back at Hitler and the Nazis by helping their declared “race enemies”, and they got to say “F*ck you” to the Brits that sold them out in ’38. The Dror did play a role in enabling that, however slight it might have actually been.

    • I think the Israelis bit off more than they could chew. We know the Johnson LMG worked, but they had no history of small arms manufacture. Putting the Dror into production before thoroughly testing it was hubris. It was a good looking gun, I am sure it could have been made to work with a bit of time. But I suppose those cheap MG34s must have looked too enticing.

      As an aside, I have never seen photos of IDF using MG42s, only ever MG34s. Maybe the Czechs could not source MG42s?

      • I think the MG34 was chosen because the guns were still being made in Czech factories at the end of the war. The MG42 was manufactured elsewhere, from what I remember. As well, there was an entire ecosystem of subcontractors building parts for the MG42 that simply wasn’t accessible to them. The MG34 being a very traditional design, they had everything in house, under one roof.

        I think that’s the explanation. I remember cites for it, but I’ll be damned if I know what they were, off the top of my head.

        • Kirk:

          That sounds reasonable. For the same reason, I have never seen an Israeli with an MP40. They seem to have got a shedload of Kar98k’s and MG34s from the Czechs, which makes sense if they were building the things.

          • I think the MP40 and MG42 just hurt the sensibilities of the Czech firearms industry, TBH. You get the definite sense that they considered stamped sheet metal to be anathema, and regarded the stamped-out MP40 and MG42 to be some sort of abomination realized as weaponry…

          • Well, except for the fact that they developed their own (MUCH simpler) family of tube SMGs in the article’s time frame 😉

          • True, true… It was probably sour grapes, because lacking all the subcontractors feeding them the parts, and lacking the stamping dies/stamps for those parts in their factories? Building the traditionally-machined versions of the weapons was doable, and it then made more sense that if they were going to build the infrastructure for stamped weapons, they’d go with their own new designs.

            There’s a diagram out there somewhere that shows all the different plants making parts for the MG42. That was spread out all over the Reich, and once the borders came down after the war, you weren’t getting Gustlofswerke parts any more. And, then there were the minor problems that the plants themselves were looted like you wouldn’t believe, sooo… Yeah. The Czechs were making do with what they could.

          • Kirk,
            Milling is hard; stamping is hard in its own way – maybe even worse at first. I prefer to cheat and let the fine folks at seamless chromoly aircraft-tubing factories (which were probably at their peak back then) do the hard part for me!

          • Stamping is hard; the testimony is there in the varied and sundry attempts at emulating HK’s roller-delay system in all too many weapons, not the least of which were the CETME Modelo “L” and the AMELI. You either accept a super-high rate of rejects on the parts, or you’re mind-numbingly fussy about your stamping process, both of which are expensive as home-made sin.

            I think that a lot of us out in the general public totally misapprehend how difficult arms manufacture, or manufacture in general, actually is. Serial production of precision machinery, with thousandth-inch tolerances? Repeatable production? LOL; nightmarish. Without John C. Garand, I doubt that the M1 rifle would have been successful, and I would also say that more than half of what made him the legend he and his rifle became stemmed from manufacture. You’ll note the signal failure of the M14 program, without him there to tweak the machinery and get the lines going…

            I haven’t ever seen it in print, but I was told by someone that claimed to know a lot about the Italian M1 production and the follow-on BM59 that Beretta had hired Garand as a consultant, and flew him in on several occasions. Which, said informant told me, triumphantly, just goes to show you how ‘effed up the arrogant sods at Springfield were, because they did not deign to consult with Garand after they eased him out into retirement.

            That’s apocryphal as all hell, because I only ever heard it orally from a guy I met who was a BM59 collector at a gun show. Dude was deep, deep into the Beretta mysticism, and probably had at least one of each M1 variant that Beretta produced, along with every BM59 model he could get his mitts on, here in the US.

          • You either accept a super-high rate of rejects on the parts, or you’re mind-numbingly fussy about your stamping process, both of which are expensive as home-made sin.

            I respectfully suggest a third alternative – not self-inflicting excruciating complexity. To paraphrase the great John Wayne, “Stamping is hard; it’s harder when you’re stupid.”

            A former CNO once said “An expert shiphandler is one whose expert judgment keeps him out of situations requiring expert shiphandling.” I’ve always applied the same philosophy to design: With very few exceptions (e.g. aerospace) the most brilliant designer / engineer is one whose designs don’t require the most brilliant craftsman to execute. Is there anything inherent in roller-delayed blowback that requires a receiver with the cross-section of a retarded snowman to function effectively? A more illustrative example would be the Grease Gun: I freely admit that I could not stamp (or mill, turn, forge, etc.) those two mating receiver halves to the required degree of precision if you gave me the rest of my life. Conversely, I could make an effective GG receiver – a tube for the bolt (which doesn’t even need tight tolerances because it rides on rods!) on a rectangle for the FCG and mag – in my sleep, and so could any competent tinkerer.

          • Like I said… Copying HK’s system required exquisite perfection in stamping things out, as well as with regards to the bolts, rollers, and locking surfaces. You could do “stamped” a hell of a lot more simply, and not have to worry about much in the way of repeatable precision. AR-18 springs to mind, as an example. Or, for that matter, any of the stamped-receiver AK series…

            As you say, you design around it. I think what happened with HK was that the engineers involved found themselves a “theory of the world” in the roller-delay system, and couldn’t hold themselves back from trying to implement it everywhere in every conceivable use. I’m actually sort of surprised that HK never tried building aircraft autocannon with roller-delay locking, TBH.

            The thing is that you have to design the weapon and the manufacturing in accordance with each other; an M16 absent the ability to forge aluminum would be a bit of a nightmare, would it not? Likewise, if you don’t have the stamping presses, how do you build stamped-sheet metal weapons?

            Everything has its place; everything has its time. The trick is to have the wisdom to know when and where things apply. In post-war Czechoslovakia, the stamped metal German designs of WWII did not fit in with what they had for production capabilities. So, no StG44, no MP40, no MG42 were available for post-war export manufacture.

          • Kirk,
            I agree completely with your summary of the Czech situation.

            I’d say everything good has its place, and gratuitous complexity is the opposite of good. There’s nothing inherently complex about roller-delay except retaining the rollers (and there are ways around that too). Despite the Calico’s unpopularity due to its garishly spacy appearance and finicky magazines (the latter a case of operator error, according to Ian) its BCG is the epitome of design elegance – and would easily fit into a stupid-simple, non-tolerance-critical receiver (incorporating one into a “MAC” is on my project list).

          • To develop the roller-delayed system during WWII had been an herculean effort (one of many wastes of time and resources that could have been better employed the Nazi made) and the Germans just barely made it work at the end of it. The same people at CETME obviously wanted to play with the new toy, now that much of the problems seemed to have been solved. But, if you had not access to those people, it was better to not even try. It was not worth the effort. In the end, it did nothing better than the simpler to machine lever delay.

            Mind that the guys at Rehinmetall had to reverse-engineer the MG42. Anyone wanting to manufacture one, should have done the same thing.

          • As I understand it (from Ian, IIRC) roller delay was a happy accident while working on (already funded and combat proven) roller locking.

            Rollers are commercially available, appropriately hardened, in a huge variety of sizes, and the recesses can be made by drilling down from the top down (the easiest milling operation to do precisely) and milling out the middle. The only complex part is the roller recesses in the bolt head. By contrast, lever delay not only requires complex milled shapes (lever and both bolt segments), but also tends to contact the receiver further back, defeating the original object (minimize the number and size of stressed / complex parts).

      • “As an aside, I have never seen photos of IDF using MG42s, only ever MG34s. Maybe the Czechs could not source MG42s?”
        claims that
        The third platform that arrived from overseas was the T214 light truck. Widely known as the Dodge 3/4, there were 12 different versions of this vehicle. The most in-demand ones were the WC-51 and WC-52. “Sandwiches” built on their chassis were used as light multipurpose armoured cars.

        In this case, the base model was a reconnaissance and assault variant, not an APC. Unlike the APCs, the trucks were equipped with turrets that contained a light machinegun. Ironically, these were usually MG 34 or MG 42 machineguns. Production of these armoured cars began in May of 1948, when the British prohibition lost its power.

  3. No surprise that rushed development can lead to a substandard product. And yet, on the other hand, no amount of development time will compensate for horrible design doctrine. I mean, just look at Kirk’s tirades about the M60. No number of accessories can compensate for the fact that the gun was an amalgamation of design features SMASHED TOGETHER WITH A &%*$#$^@#% SLEDGEHAMMER with no realistic end goal apart from “get something that fits the supposed requirements, looks cool, and earns us money.” And how will the M250 fare in dealing with, say, fending off the equivalent of a Great War Offensive (complete with surviving a preceding 48 hours’ artillery barrage)? Very poorly, I imagine. A belt-fed rifle is not a machine gun, no matter how much it tries to be one. Yes, I’m just exaggerating.

    • The M60 kinda worked at a basic level. The devil was in the details. It lacked in the “prototyping” phase. The one where ideas were put toghether, prototypes are built and it’s seen what works and what doesn’t and needs to be changed. In that phase it should have been noted that some part was too flimsy and needed to be made thicker, some riveted part needed to be welded, some part that was possible to assemble backwards needed to be made in a different shape, the chipping locking lugs needed to be cut slightly angled, the self-discarding parts needed to be secured differently… etc. But it was possible to make a working M60.
      the same for the SA80. The idea of a bullpup AR18 was not necessarily bad. The implementation had been,overlooking elements that a good design team with some experience on the matter never would have.

      • I think the root cause of the M60’s problems stemmed from two things during the design process: One, the designers were literally a “constantly rotating cast of thousands” without continuity through the design process, and two, I don’t think any of them had any real-world experience as machinegunners in any capacity. If they had, that thing with the sight system would have never made it through the mill into the final design. There are a lot of other signs there that they didn’t grasp what the hell a machinegun was supposed to do. It’s like someone related the barest aspects of the general concept “machine gun” to them, and then left them to it. There are so many things on that gun that just reek of “not getting it” that it’s not even funny.

        Sad thing is, it should have been a really good gun, given what they were cribbing design features and mechanisms off of. Unfortunately, you can’t fix stupid.

        • It’s the same for the SA80, designed by people that had never designed weapons before. Sometimes to have someone “out of the loop” brings in new interesting ideas, but in this fild experience is fundamental as well. Experience is needed to know what works ergonomically, and even phisically sometimes, and to say “ok, on paper it works that way, but in reality, if that piece is not made this other way, it doesn’t”.

        • Kirk:

          Let’s take all the many faults of the M60 as a given. But do you feel that if only it had been put in a decent chassis it might have been at least a workable gun? I would trade off an extra 3 lb for a reliable gun, even if the bipod was attached to the barrel.

          • even if the bipod was attached to the barrel

            But why, though? Sometimes when looking at historical designs, it’s important to put 20/20 hindsight into perspective, recognizing that a gun from the past couldn’t incorporate today’s technical and tactical advances. That isn’t really the case with the M-60, where the bipod on the barrel is just one of several completely unforced errors – a conscious choice to reject knowledge readily available in the 50s.

          • Mike:

            I have come to the conclusion that the designers wanted a new gas tube with every barrel change. In that case, it followed that the bipod would change every time the barrel/gas system changed, as there was nothing else to attach it to.

            I can only think that the idea was that, firing from the bipod, the barrel would not be changed, whereas firing from the tripod, the barrel would be changed, As it was on the tripod, the problem of the gun having no support when the barrel was changed was not an issue. One of the few good things about the M60 was the Stellite lining to the barrel, which may have meant there was less need to change the barrel of a gun acting as an LMG from the bipod. Or maybe the designers took “Mad Men” style three martini lunches, I don’t know.

          • the designers wanted

            Precisely. They chose failure despite ample evidence their choices were unnecessary. They could still have attached it to the forend, or with an extension if they really wanted it close to the muzzle.

            Stellite was a good choice, but doctrine still called for changing barrels every few hundred rounds – and it was very clear after a little Vietnam experience (or, again in the interest of not letting kindness outweigh simple truth) ample WWII experience that soldiers would fire much more than that.

          • I think that the basic idea of the M60, which I’d summarize as “Build GPMG from FG42/MG42 design ideas” should have worked. The problem was that the people actually executing the design work did not understand what they were looking at, and failed to examine the German “lessons learned”, which they had access to. There were a multitude of iterative design details, like the cuts in the bolt that prevented the operating rod tower from slamming into the end of the cam channel in the bolt, which they ignored. Another example is the spring assembly inside the bolt that was there to boost semi-automatic function in the FG42; why that needless complication was left in for the M60, I’ll never know.

            The M60 just reeks of “voodoo engineering” by men who didn’t know what they were doing or what the things they were copying actually did. The sighting arrangements are another key indicator, along with the fact that the weapon is very headspace-sensitive by design, and yet… No built-in, from the factory provisions for marking and identifying barrels. How ‘effing hard would it have been to machine a flat somewhere on one, and then, oh, say, stamp the serial number of the receiver? Same-same with the bolt, another commonly swapped part when troops are cleaning weapons in groups.

            First thing I’d have done with the M60 design, after I fixed all the “minor issues”? I’d have redesigned the entire receiver such that instead of a bunch of little thin stampings and rails, it consisted of five parts held together with heavy rivets and welds: Front trunnion block, which you’d insert into the heavy-gauge receiver body stamping which would have two harder left and right side rails inserted and secured with the same rivets, continuously welded in, and a rear trunnion block that would be assembled the same way. I’d test the design by taking it out and using it as a blunt object to beat some sense into the entirety of the original design team, and only accept the assembly when it reduced them to a mangled mass of blood, bone, and brain matter without damage to itself. Then, I’d test it some more on the people who accepted it for service, and if the final iteration managed that, take it out to the range to make sure it works.

            The M60 could have been an outstanding design. It should have been. It was not, mostly because of the people executing the design in the first place, who had no business being near any sort of firearms design process at all.

            Of course, one reason this happened? The hubristic American idea that design and engineering can be separated from practice. There are no formal “firearms engineering” programs that I know of, anywhere in the United States or the Western world. Only in the Soviet Union, which, oddly enough, has an amazing track record for machine gun and autocannon design work going back to the 1930s. It’s a formal discipline, there; here? It’s an artisanal, self-taught black art.

            Coupled with the ivory-tower tendency to not bother getting actual machinegun crew members or leaders? LOL… Yeah, the M60 was f*cking inevitable. Just like the latest cock-up; they got input from users, all right, but none of the damn users know how to really use a machine gun effectively in the first goddamn place, because “America” and our ever-present fantasy infatuation with the “lone rifleman”.

            Swear to God, one of these days… I would love to see this entire concept just get stomped on, hard. Because, folks, the individual marksman idea simply doesn’t hunt, Alvin York notwithstanding. There are exceptions to every rule, and he was one that reinforced the fantasy. 100 men with twenty machineguns should more than be able to take out one guy with a rifle and a .45, and in 99.99% of cases, they will. York got extraordinarily lucky, and while he made some of that luck, the fact remains: He was the exception, not the rule. The actual rule is, firepower dominates the battlefield, and the side that concentrates and then wields it the most effectively and efficiently is going to win. All other things being equal, that is: The machine gun does not trump the tank, the artillery piece, or the fighter-bomber, as the German infantry of WWII learned the hard way.

          • There’s another point to be considered here, which is the general lack of appreciation and understanding of the “art of machinegunnery” here in the US.

            The M60, as designed and issued up until at least the E3 iteration never should have been accepted for service by the people it was supposedly designed for. There are just too many deficiencies in the design which militate against it being accepted by anyone who knew what they were about or who knew what the hell a machinegun was supposed to do. Granted, with the M1919A6 being the predecessor in the role, they had their reasons, but… Dear God, the stupid… The stupid just… Hurts.

            Starting off from the top of the gun:

            –Sighting arrangements. One, the barrels requiring separate zeros, yet no provision for the zero to actually be on the barrel… Then, the fragility of the elevation adjustment provision on the rear sight itself? LOL… Plus, you couldn’t replace that aluminum leaf thingy without replacing the sight? WTF? And, it’s not a peep sight, like every other damn weapon in the arsenal?

            –Barrels and bolts not coming marked in any way, when the weapon goes “BOOM” when the headspace isn’t just right?

            –Zero provision for getting the gunner’s head below the plane of fire, anywhere in the “system” of the weapon and tripod? WTF? After seeing a Lafette and periscopic sight on the MG34/42 series in WWII, there’s not a single goddamn excuse for this. NONE.

            –Tripod. Oh, do not get me started on this bullshit–The continued use of the M1919 simplified tripod, numbering it a little higher as the M122? Criminal. You can’t adjust the command height; you can’t adjust the legs; the T&E is simple and reliable, but also complex and heavy. Also, pieces there to be lost, and worst of all? THE IDIOTS NEVER BUILT OR ISSUED A DECENT CARRYING SYSTEM FOR IT ALL. You could not fit the T&E into the half-ass “spare barrel bag”, and they never did issue a decent way to carry that tripod. Lafette? Fold that puppy up, and you got yourself a backpack, baby.

            Nobody ever bothered to look at that and go “Wow, why don’t we do that? Any of that?”

            –The vast multitude of ways in which the tyro gunner could get something wrong, in assembling the weapon. Even Ian didn’t note that the bolt was put together backwards on his last video of the gun, which ain’t a pointer to that being a good design feature. If you have to spend hours going over the assembly and then beating into your gun crews how to do it right, well… You’ve done your design wrong. Period.

            –Lack of a good way to manage the barrels and barrel changes. No handle on the thing, no permanent markings on the system when the system requires barrel/bolt matching…? You done f*cked up, boy. I can kind of forgive the unnecessary extra gas system, but in actual practice? It was unnecessary. Then, there were the problems with said gas systems self-disassembly; if you have to use aircraft safety wire in order to prevent parts falling the f*ck off your design, you may have a bad design on your hands.

            Frankly, that alone should have been a huge red flag, coupled with a huge red STOP!!!! sign for the guys accepting this weapon for service.

            Bunch of other crap about it just reeks of “Nobody here knows nuttin’ ’bout no maaaacheeeneguuooneries…” However, if I spend the necessary time to enumerate all of them, then I might just as well have skipped the blood pressure meds, this morning. So, I’ll cease my ranting here.

          • Kirk:

            It seems we agree that an M60 which was properly built with a decent chassis would have been the basis for a good machine gun. The problem then would have been that a heavier M60 would have no advantage over an FN MAG, which should have been adopted instead. Which is of course what happened, albeit 30 years and one major war too late.

          • JohnK,
            A rear-locking MAG is inherently heavy; a front rotating-locking M60 is not. Look at the PKM – similar operating principle, construction method, and cartridge, ~10lb lighter than a MAG.

          • Oh, I agree. The “perfect sphere” M60 would have been a heavier beast. How much heavier? No idea, at all. Might have worked out heavier than the M240, might not.

            The primary objection I have to the M60 is mostly the amount of goddamn time that thing wasted. All the training hours lavished on “put it together right” could have been spent on “how to employ it most effectively”, all the maintenance time could have gone into other weapons, all the wasted time on the ranges because of guns that were down…? We might have been able to get our gunners up to a much higher standard of training, which would have resulted in who knows what benefits, downstream.

            That’s really the major source of my angst with the weapon; the lost time and effort expended to keep that monumental POS running, when we could have been doing a lot of other things with the time and the money.

            Sadly, we’re primed to repeat a lot of the same mistakes, going forward. I’ll be interested to see the course of fire for the M250, and whether or not it reflects an “Automatic Rifle” mentality or a “support machinegun” one. How they actually implement the employment will mean a lot to how effective it is on issue and later on in its service life.

            Raw fact remains, you’re not doing effective supporting fire off a bipod much past 800m, no matter what the caliber is.

          • Mike:

            It’s more “all things equal, a front locking action CAN BE made lighter than a rear locking one”.
            How much this “lighter” is, is up to debate. To me, talking of steel-framed weapons (aluminium frames forces you to lock on front, since you can’t lock on aluminium), considering that steel needs a certain thickness just to be rigid enough for practical use, the difference “all things equal” can be measured in ounces, not pounds. The FN MAG is not the lightest rear locking MG possible. is only a single example of a rear locking MG. Functionally a PKM is an AK47 upside-down, strenghtened and belt fed. An upside-down, slightly strenghtened (since it already used the right ammo) and belt-fed FAL would have been significantly heavier than a PKM? I don’t think so. And the FAL is not the lightest rear-locking 7.62 battle rifle possible. IE the Franchi LF59 (STG44-style action) was lighter.

          • Dogwalker,
            I was responding to a comment suggesting that an appropriately strengthened M60 might be heavier than an M240 – which IMHO would require a major screw-up given the inherent differences between the systems. I agree that the MAG is hardly the lightest rear-locking MG possible, but it’s almost twice as heavy as several successful MGs with similar characteristics to the M60 (locking system, gas operation, construction method, and cartridge class). It’s true that there are rear-tilt-locking rifles that aren’t extremely heavy, but they tend to involve a long extension secured in a lighter unstressed receiver – a technique I have not seen applied to MGs of this type (not saying it’s impossible, just that I’m unaware). Are you aware of any, or of any comparable MGs in this weight class?

        • Mike:

          Thanks to the Czechs, that always wanted to do things their own way, there is the UK vz. 59. Considered the UKs longer barrel and bulkiest stock, the weight is practically identical to that of the PKM. Even more remarkable, since the UK had been made before, so it had not to be made “as light as”.

          • That’s reasonably close – thanks! Interesting that Ian noted that the [3-4lb heavier] Vz59 “beats you up in a way that the PKM doesn’t”, but thought it would be better for semiauto shooting.

          • Mike:
            Part of the difference in perceived recoil can be due to the locking system, since tilting locks absorb very little energy to work, but I suspect the main part is due to the conical flash hider, that’s a recoil enhancer.

  4. I really wonder if it was worse than the Johnson? While I’ve heard good reviews of Johnson rifles, albeit the usual verdict was that it was inferior to the M1, I’ve never read any reviews by people who had fired the machine-guns that were anything other than negative.
    Really too bad, Melvin Johnson was a good man

  5. Further to Mr. Kirk on the disconnect between LMG designer and user: In one of those Ballantine WWII ppbks from the ’70s, Ian Hogg (I think) summarized the Bren gun, and mentioned the handle on the quick-change barrel. He added, There were three different designs of LMG with quick-change barrels in world service, and none of their barrels had handles. Gunners were issued with asbestos gloves. I presume two of the guns were the M60 and the ex-MG42. I welcome any guess as to the third.

    • Well, with regards to the MG42 and the MG3, I’m pretty sure the Germans found an expedient method to change barrels without gloves. That probably involved using the armorer field kit (and something like a pair of tongs or some other tool to yank out the hot barrel fast). But I could be wrong.

      • Off the bipod, the technique I’ve seen is a cunning little tip to the side, lifting the muzzle, coupled with what I’d call a “forward jerk”. That’ll usually slide the barrel out onto the ground, and once the gunner gets the weapon back on the bipod, the AG slams home the fresh barrel and closes the side latch.

        Off the tripod, they usually had the mitts available. In exigency, the gunners and assistant gunners just accepted the burns, from what I’ve read in the supposed “oral histories”.

        As an aside, one reason I include that book about the German MG42 gunner at Omaha beach as probable bullshit is that there’s about zero in there about changing the barrels on the gun. If he’d have been doing what he said he did, those barrel changes would have been a huge part of his story, and the fact they weren’t there in the versions I read early on of that story makes me wonder about the veracity of the whole package.

        • I have met WW2 veterans that had scarred hands from the burns when changing the hot barrels without the asbestos glove (which looked more like pot cloth, not really a glove). But when the red army swarms your position… The two machine gunner adn assistant gunner stayed friends after the war and regularly visited Bundeswehr open door days. Demonstrating to the young soldiers what they could do with the MG42 (or MG3). They had a neat trick to quickly change the bolt. They took off the rear piece with buttstock, the gunner ejected the bolt and the assistant catched it with his hands and the gunner shoved in the fresh one. Then the assistant put the spring and buttstock back. Lightning fast those two old veterans.

          I agree on the dodgy omittance of barrel changes in the Omaha beach story, because any machine gun trained soldier gets regular barrel and bolt changes drilled into their heads in training. Very peculiar to not mention this.

    • Maybe he talked about the ZB.VZ26. Obviously in 1926 bot the quick exchange barrel and the handle were novelties (the first LMG I can think of with a quick exchange barel is the SIA 1918, but it’s purpose wasn’t to change the barrel, it was to rapidly dismantle the MG in two pieces for carrying on the muntains), because, when the BREN entred in service, the handle had been the norm for any new design for years (Breda 30, FN model D…)

      • False memory, aided and abetted by a too-quick check of internet imagery. My mistake… Issued AA-52 has carrying handle for barrel, it’s just the occasional ones on top of tank turrets that have them taken off.

    • Only that, with the MK14 torpedo, they weren’t in any hurry, during the development, that prevented the torps to be tested, they were only being cheap.

  6. It just occured to me, that the bolthead is always mentioned in relation to the AR-10 and M16 boltheads, but nobody mentions, that the layout of the lower receiver with magazine well, trigger and pistol grip with a tube attached that the bolt reciprocrates into is the same on the Johnson machine gun and the AR-10. It was so obvious to me when seeing the parts lying on the table disassembled. Sure there are other guns with similar layout, but it really struck me.

  7. You changed how to access the link to the videos. Yes I did figure it out, but it sure would have been nice if you had explained this.

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