History of the PK, PKM, and Pecheneg w/ Max Popenker

I’m happy to be joined once again by Russian small arms historian Max Popenker, for a discussion of the development of the Kalashnikov PK machine gun. This is universally regarded as one of the best general-purpose machine guns ever designed. We will look at the Soviet machine gun systems at the end of World War Two, the development of the Nikitin MG, the Kalashnikov competing design, and then the modernization of the PK into the PKM and PKP Pecheneg (with it’s interesting Lewis-style cooling system).



  1. I was able to spend a fair amount of time with the PKM in Afghanistan years ago. They are astonishingly light when compared to the M-60 or M-240/FN MAG. I thought they were fantastic. I wished there was a forward grip of some kind. The Afghan commandos who worked out of places I was assigned had aftermarket kits for their PKMs – shorter barrels, rails, and gangster grips.

    • I thought the PK was crafted after captured M60’s from Vietnam were studied. I checked more background information and found that the Red Army had been putting designs into competition just as the M60 was captured, so that gave a comparison gun for the Soviet gun-smiths. I could be wrong…

      • M60 sample was acquired too late to influence noticeable PK as adopted in 1961, nonetheless it is probably spark which ignited Soviet search for lighter machine gun, Nikitin designed ТКБ-015: http://www.dogswar.ru/oryjeinaia-ekzotika/strelkovoe-oryjie/5831-opytnyi-pylemet-niki.html which was to some degree inspired by M60. It was chambered for 7,62x54R cartridge and accepted SGM belts, but again lost to Kalashnikov entry (which is now known PKM) as again it was unreliable when wet.

        • As for G.I.Nikitin (1905-1986) he would later use his experience in machine guns area as co-author of Utyos high-caliber machine gun (12,7×108 cartridge) – which would be his first machine gun which was mass-produced and also last at all (Utyos was adopted in 1971, Nikitin retired in 1972).

        • In support of what you say regarding timing PK vs M60, Russians were in head-lead. The U.S. support for South Vietnamese regime began during Johnson’s presidency, in full blown involvement in 1964 (which JFK was leery to do).

          Besides, Russians must have noticed that U.S. was trying to duplicate FG42 with wrong interpretation. Russian would not likely follow that “lead”.

          • I’m very certain the Russians, who were keen on actual field-testing of their weapons, would not create embark on the quest to create the “ultimate rifle,” unlike the US Army, which seems to have a complex of getting the “weapons to end all weapons” in order to terrify the enemy into submission. Yeah, not kidding. If proper field testing and true competitive development had been carried out, Kirk’s predecessors would not have shattered M60’s and jammed-shut M16’s on their hands.

            As for Vietnam, “containment” was a bad plan since it could NOT take the initiative at any time of day! Seeing as North Vietnam supported the Viet Cong, which we can categorize as irregular/unlawful combatants (as many were obviously in civilian dress and would literally stab Americans in the back), I’d have to propose the “Devil’s plan.” Give North Vietnam a warning about its supporting of terror movements and a time limit of two days to either declare the VC as enlisted proper soldiers (which also means they are forbidden from using false-flag/guerilla infiltrations) or abandon them as criminals. If they fail to comply or begin executing dissidents/POWs as retaliation, begin indiscriminate fire-bombing of North Vietnamese cities and farmland (while having waves of strike-fighters attack airfields, maybe with cluster munitions), with emphasis on starving their population to death if they aren’t burned alive. In short, KILL THEM ALL as revenge for “state-sponsored terrorism” and make sure nobody’s left to fight back if they refuse to stop fighting. Oh, and this insane plan calls for threatening China and Russia with nuking if they try sending ANY “humanitarian aid,” which usually consists of weapon packages (rather than medicine) and “advisors” who specialize in torturing prisoners-of-war. Yes, I was just making this half of the post a bad joke…

          • Yes, it does sound like bad joke; something like reversed morality. Actually, from what I remember, all hand held and support firearms were of Chinese origin. I do not recall even one picture with Vietcong/ NVA carrying PK.

          • “(…)leery(…)”
            This is arguable, as https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/teachers/curricular-resources/high-school-curricular-resources/jfk-and-vietnam-the-september-1963-tv-interviews put its
            Whether or not Kennedy would have increased military involvement in Vietnam or negotiated a withdrawal of military personnel still remains a hotly debated topic among historians and officials who served in the administrations of President Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
            Fact is that U.S. involvement in Vietnam
            rise even before LBJ becoming President, but there is great increase between 1964 and 1965 (more than 7 times personnel was involved in 1965 than in 1964).

          • Cough, cough, US military advisors were sent over as early as 1950 by President Truman but basically the French were not listening. In July of 1959, Maj. Dale Ruis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand were killed in a Vietcong attack. President Johnson did not take office until 1963. It is more accurate to state that the US started to directly support South Vietnam in 1955. Approximately 100 United States servicemen had been killed BEFORE Johnson became President. I won’t quibble about the US contract pilots who supported the French at Dien Bien Phu by dumping napalm out of C-119 transports on the Viet Mien artillery or that probably why Eisenhower did not initiate Operation Vulture was that there was little data on atomic bomb effects in dense jungle. By 1955, the US was supporting and making commitments. So please be careful when you start painting history with a broad brush.

  2. Again, a most interesting presentation.
    I think we should not forget that the concept of “universal machine gun” as Max calls it, originated actually in Denmark. German sources from pre-WW2 name Halvor Jessen as the first proponent of the idea to use the same machine gun with a bipod as well as firing it from a machine gun mount. The idea of allowing the machine gun to recoil on the mount, making lighter mounts possible, also is from Denmark. MG34 through MG3 used this type of mount.

    • “(…)Denmark(…)”
      Actually, British become aware of this concept no later than 1930 after testing of MADSEN machine gun:

      As proved by these trials the Madsen gun combines sustained fire power with light weight, great accuracy, reliable automatic working, strength and resistance to rough handling. The Madsen Gun is therefore a STANDARD MACHINE GUN which, with superior efficiency, will replace all Heavy Machine Guns and Light Automatic Guns such as the Vickers and the Lewis. The advantages are striking: One and the same machine gun for Infantry, Cavalry, Tank, Field Artillery and Engineers. One gun serviceable for all purposes, in attack as well as defence, for close quarters fighting as well as for long range accuracy fire, for sustained barrage fire, anti-aircraft fire and for any other task.
      The use of Standard Machine Gun simplifies military and manufacturing organisation, training of troops and skilled labour; it facilitates supply and upkeep of armament and simplifies tactical handling of troops in the field. When armed with Madsen Guns each Infantry Battalion would be composed of 4 Uniform Companies, equally mobile, with equal fire-power, equally fit for attack and defence. Likewise, Cavalry Regiments armed with Madsen Gun would comprise uniform Squadrons combining great fire power for dismounted and unhampered mobility when mounted.
      The old system of having two different machine guns within each Unit might have been justified in the past because the Heavy Machine Gun, although capable of sustained rapid fire was lacking in mobility while the Light Gun was lacking in fire-power. But in the Madsen Gun mobility and fire-power are combined: It is more powerful than any Heavy Machine Gun while lighter in weight than any existing Light Automatic Gun.

      excerpt from pages 34…35 of:

      • Interesting that htey tested the Madsen machine gun. And not e.g. the Lewis machine gun. I guess these tests led to the adoption of the BREN later in 1938?

        • The Lewis didn’t lend itself to being a “light” anything. The Madsen, however, was probably the most compact (and therefore light) lmg action until the turn-bolt/barrel-extension-locking designs developed decades later. It was also so awkwardly shaped that it practically begged to be braced by ‘pods in all manners of use.

      • The French army tested it during 1922/23, in the tender for selecting the new Fusil Mitrailleur. The tests were conducted under conditions as close as possible to operational ones, by the troops. The LMGs tested included two foreign designs, Madsen and Browning (Belgian-made, I suppose), plus a few French ones: Berthier, Hotchkiss, Berthier and Darne.
        The new book by Jean Huon and Alain Barrelier on the Darne machine guns (published by Crépin-Leblond) includes a lot of hitherto unpublished data on these tests and the Darne mgs.

    • “(…)concept of “universal machine gun” as Max calls it, originated actually in Denmark.(…)”
      In Denmark it was certainly firstly commercially implemented but I am not so sure about “originated” as yet during Great War Germany produced limited quantity of MG16
      states that: a compromise weapon, somewhere between the light and heavy machine gun should be developed as an all-purpose gun. The concept was known as the Einheitsmaschinengewehr, or universal machine gun.
      But I do not know if Einheitsmaschinengewehr term was used back them or was applied retroactively after 1918.

  3. Interestingly PK was not first trip of M.T.Kalashnikov into world of machine guns.
    In fact he designed his first machine gun, even before his famous avtomat.
    This weapon has not designation (as it was never adopted) as is today known as ручной пулемет Калашникова 1943 года or hand-held machine gun [of] Kalashnikov [of] 1943 year, see photos:
    It was designed as answer to requirement for DP replacement and show inspirations from Dreyse machine gun (which was tested in Soviet Union in 1920s) and MP40 (see stock).
    It failed to meet requirements, as all other competing designs, see photos:
    including that of more experience designers – requirements proved too strict – it called for lighter (than DP) which could be produce 1,5-2 times faster (mass-produced DP required 24 machine-hours)

  4. V.A.Degtyarov also appears in back-ground of this story, in fact since begin of 1930s was developing machine gun to replace Maxim 1910 which would be eventually adopted as DS-39:
    and ended in utter failure, so plan to end production of Maxim machine gun was aborted. V.A.Degtyarov would try to fix his machine gun, which would result in DS-42, which again will prove not reliable enough. I suspect that he feel kind of relief when Goryunov appeared with mounted machine gun (working correctly enough).
    In second half of 1940s V.A.Degtyarov started works on universal machine gun, but he died (1949) before could finish it.

    • Alas, creating a universal machine gun is not easy. But we applaud the man’s spirit! Unlike American attempts to create a “wonder rifle” with the M14 and constant problems from Ordnance suppressing negative reports of performance deficiencies, the DS-39 was let go when the creator realized that it wasn’t up to the task. At least he didn’t insist on being the best, and his humility paid off (lots of self-aggrandizement will get you shot if you can’t deliver on your promise). I could be wrong…

  5. Nice to see Max again. It sounds, as if he made a similar presentation on the PK history in the past. Things I learned are that PM1910 machine guns were still in service on the chinese border and that the PKP and PK actually interchange parts and that the special spetsnaz squirrels went back to using PK barrels for weight reasons. Does that mean they use PKP receivers?

  6. What amazes me again is how Maxim holds his line in terms of chronological order although there are minor branch-outs (side-developments). He knows his stuff that’s for sure.

    Also, Ian wisely keeps on listening and interjects only when deemed necessary. An intelligent dialogue overall.

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