Today we will look at the various different categories of machine guns – what makes them, why they exist, and what their place in military history is. Specifically…
Automatic Rifle: Shoulder or hip fired, limited magazine capacity, minimal sustained fire capacity. Examples: M1918 BAR, Chauchat.
LMG: Magazine fed, rifle caliber, bipod fired. Examples: Bren, Madsen, Lewis.
HMG: Belt fed, usually water cooled, minimal portability, fired from tripod only. Examples: Maxim, Vickers, Hotchkiss 1914. Evolved into guns of caliber 12.7mm – 20mm, like the M2 and DShK.
MMG: Air cooled, tripod fired only, belt fed. Examples: Browning 1919A4, SG-43.
GPMG: Bipod or tripod fired, belt fed, rifle caliber, quick-change barrel. Examples: MG42, PKM, M240.
SAW/LSW: Intermediate caliber, magazine fed, bipod fired. Examples: L86A1, FN Minimi, RPK.
There’s disagreement with what terms you’re using here. The Vickers MG is a Medium Machine Gun but only from the 1930s. Prior to that, you only had a ‘machine gun’. Some people call the likes of the Vickers ‘heavy’ because it is but the definitions i’ve seen are based on calibre: If it’s rifle calibre (i.e. up to 12.7mm / .5-inch, then it’s a medium machine gun; over that then it’s a heavy machine gun); up to 20mm then it’s not a small arm.
The classic definition of a Heavy Machine Gun had nothing to do with caliber. It meant a rifle-caliber gun, invariably mounted on a tripod, sledge mount (like the German MG08) or emplacement mount, generally belt-fed,that was capable of sustained,continuous fire without melting the barrel(s). Usually, this meant water-cooled, quickly interchangeable barrels, or both.
The HMG was the first type developed, going back to the American Civil War. The Ager, with first interchangeable barrels and then water-cooling, and the Gatling, with multiple rotating barrels to reduce barrel heat buildup, wee both HMGs by definition, and both used the standard rifle caliber of the day, .58 Minie’.
The two basic missions of the HMG are troop fire support, often with overhead fire, and area denial by sheer weight of fire. The latter is one that no other type can really perform. Even multiple LMG teams generally cannot match the sustained fire of even one or two HMGs teams, provided the latter know their business. The water-cooled rifle-caliber HMG, with or without quickly interchangeable barrels (Vickers yes, Browning no) became the standard support and positional defense weapon in two world wars and in other conflicts up to Vietnam, simply because it could do this sort of thing and no other MG could.
It was especially effective in breaking up not just trench assaults but human-wave attacks on field fortifications, notably in Korea and Vietnam. Without the HMG, the usual solution was artillery, from mortars up to divisional support guns. Hence the axiom about “calling down fire on your own position”, and the “Firebase Gloria” scenario.
The .50 caliber Browning and its opposite numbers are not really HMGs, as few are water-cooled and fewer still have quickchange barrels. (NB; the original M1921 Browning .50 had both.) They are in fact secondary “automatic cannon”, intended for hard-target engagement up to and including aircraft and light AFVs. Their primary purpose has always been destruction of enemy materiel’ and support vehicles, plus engaging enemy field fortifications like bunkers and pillboxes.
Shooting an individual infantryman with one is the classic definition of overkill, or more like “Ya think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?”
Their principle drawback is their usual lack of explosive shell type rounds, although Armor-Piercing Incendiary (API) types go a long way toward rendering this a moot point. Their main advantage is that they generally mass significantly less, even “all up”, than most 20mm cannon, let alone larger-caliber ones from 30mm on up. Their ammo weighs less per round, as well. In short, the major-caliber MGs are just easier to move around the battlefield than autocannon are.
So are rifle-caliber HMGs, for that matter. All three types have their place in the TO&E, even today. A few water-cooled HMGS properly emplaced would make a typical modern FOB, as in Afghanistan, a lot more secure, especially at night.
Yes, a tango with an RPG can take one out, unless it’s properly bunkered in. But he’d better get it right the first time, because if he doesn’t and the HMG crew is anything like on the ball, he probably won’t get a second chance.
“Their principle drawback is their usual lack of explosive shell type rounds, although Armor-Piercing Incendiary (API) types go a long way toward rendering this a moot point.”
This seems to be intentional choice, as technically it is possible to make such projectile filled with HE filler – cf. German MG-131 and its Minengeschoß
For 12,7×108 cartridge there exist ФЗ-12,7 or in full name 12,7-мм патрон с фугасно-зажигательной пулей ЗМДБЧ (зажигательная пуля мгновенного действия большой чувствительности) which mean 12,7-mm cartridge with HE-I bullet ЗМДБЧ (incendiary bullet of multiple actions high sensitivity)
It was adopted in 1966 and created to use against spy-balloons (for more data about it see Project 119L, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Moby_Dick )
Like the example of the German 13mm rounds shows, HE rounds for “about .50 caliber” (12.7, 13 & 13.2 mm) machine guns have existed since the 1930s. The Italians had one of the first widely deployed ones for their 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT aircraft MGs.
The opinion of their usefulness varied, however, with the Americans and Soviets usually favoring API instead of HE. API has a good penetration while still including a useful incendiary mass for starting fuel fires. HE has less penetration, but will cause more damage on the aircraft’s skin, which may later lead to additional damage by the force of the airflow around the damaged area. It is also more likely to render control surfaces ineffective than AP or API.
For ground applications HE was not commonly used in WW2, because of its poor penetration. These days there exists an APHEI round for the 12.7×99mm, the Nammo NM140 MP (Raufoss Mk 211), which is commonly used in anti-materiel rifles. While not as good penetrator as a traditional AP or API round, it provides a useful penetration with a HE and incendiary effect.
“HE has less penetration, but will cause more damage on the aircraft’s skin, which may later lead to additional damage by the force of the airflow around the damaged area. It is also more likely to render control surfaces ineffective than AP or API.”
To combat self-sealing fuel tanks, MDZ bullets for 12,7×108 cartridge were developed
classifies this bullets as HEI and HEI-T, according to
МДЗ bullet penetrate 2-3 mm of duraluminum and setting on fire kerosene behind it.
Second link also states that МДЗ is often loaded into belt as part of mix consisting of МДЗ, Б-32 (API) and БЗТ-44М (API-T)
Most full technical information about 12,7×108 is probably here
Generally MDZ bullets are filled with PETN and incendiary mixture
On the 1919A6 in front of you, there is always something I have wondered about. Just below the feed port on the left side is a large hole- maybe 1/2″. Why? What is it used for?
That’s where you adjust the headspace on the barrel without taking the gun apart… Or, so I was told.
Wait… What hole are you talking about? The one down at the very front bottom of the receiver? If so, that is the place you put the bolt through for the pintle mounting…
Behind that one, and about 1/3 of the way up the receiver side plate. I had thought about headspace, but I think that is easier to access from under it. If I remember correctly.
Regarding the FN Minini (M249), the magazine feed was designed as an emergency feature to allow the machine-gunner to use his buddies ammo if he ran out of linked ammo. Without a belt to drag, the rate of fire increases dramatically as the wear of the gun.
Considering the linked 5.56 was nearly as new as the gun, it was more a psychological feature to help sales.
I was told than Belgian and French armies used magazine feed mostly with blank ammo, probably to not need linked blank 5.56 in the supply chain.
Generally, U.S. troops never use the STANAG magazine “interface”. Because its springloaded dustcover tends to lose spring tension over time and “flop” back and forth, or worse yet can jam in a halfway position and prevent the box magazine and the belt from being inserted.
According to a friend, at Ft. Lewis (9th ID) in the late 1980s, it was SOP to tack-weld the dustcover to close off the STANAG well, and rely on the belt-feed assault pack locked on under the receiver for patrol, moving fire, and etc. If welding was verboten, 100MPH tape was the second choice.
Of course, the first lot of M249s they received in 1987 had the carry/barrel change handle bolted in place sticking straight up, neatly blocking the sights, too.
The FN Minimi/M249 has a lot of “interesting” features. Then again, you can describe a lot of the “features” of the M60, M73, and M219 MGs as “interesting” too, if you’re trying to be polite.
It’s ironic to look at the original FN product, offered as the Minimi, and then the original M249, followed by the ones from two or three iterations of “improvements” afterwards, and look at how close those guns are to the original FN prototypes. It’s like all the “development” the Army did during testing and fielding resulted in contributing nothing substantial to the program. Go figure.
The next biggest shortcoming after problematic STANAG sleeve was barrel latch allowing barrel jiggle in its nest. This problem was of concern to both U.S. and Canadian military but never solved.
In addition, M249 had additional “speciality”. It was equipped with barrel heat shield which tented to melt on prolonged firing. No wonder Marines got rid of this contraption.
So trying to fix what was not broken made the product worse?
Doesn’t it always? See St. Etienne M1907 8mm HMG for another example.
To clamp barrel without allowing it to jump during cycle would require to pass over point of lock, just like toggle clamps are done. Then of course you have to address issue of heat expansion and possible jamming. This can be done if enough creativity is applied.
Another dual feed (belt and magazine) SAW are the Czech Vz 52 & Vz52/57. But they could also be seen as GPMG although in intermediate calibre. The philosophy was diferent: magazine for LMG role and belt for MMG/HMG role.
An outlier on the (modern) HMG category us the Russian Kord: it could be called a light HMG (25 kg) firing 12,7×108 from a bipod (7 kg) or tripod (16 kg).
There is also the General Dynamics LWMMG in .338 Norma Magnum, barely heavier than a M240 during a cartridge intermediate between GPMG and HMG ones.
A category is missing: the GMG (Grenade Machine Gun) like the Mk19, as these are considered small arms even with their ammo ranging from 20 to 40 mm.
PS. Ian, there is a small typo in the video: the animation before the GPMG section is spelled GMPG. Otherwise, another great video.
Корд is acronym from «ковровские оружейники дегтярёвцы», which only say about its origin (Kovrov plant named after Degtyaryov), its official designation (6П…) only say “infantry weapon”, “machine gun” nothing more.
This is very useful outline, not just for purpose of terminology clarification but also as a review of machinegun historical development. Good job!
Ian, you really should have prefaced this by making it clear that you are discussing this from a US-centric point of view and usage. The rest of the world just doesn’t look at MG nomenclature the way we do, nor do they do the categorization the way we do.
What you really want to do, as well, is ignore the “common usage” foibles, which are based on the same misinformation and myth that leads to people perpetuating the “M16 made by Mattel” stories. Go to the sources, namely the doctrinal military definitions of these guns. In the US case, that would be FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics. Looking at that, you are going to find siimutaeneously that the military doesn’t quite look at it the way civilian firearms enthusiasts do, and that they base their definitions on slightly different criteria.
In general terms, the actual breakdown points of categories for the military are operational requirements and capabilities, not cosmetics. Things like “does the gun require a crew” and “how much fire can it provide”, along with “to what range” and “with what predictable and repeatable accuracy” are what the military nomenclature addresses. This is why the M249 can be termed both an LMG and an Automatic Rifle here in the US, the distinction being made by virtue of what accessories are issued with it, and what the MTOE visualizes for manning the gun.
You’ve got a lot of the information right, here, but… Most of what you are communicating is a hodge-podge of definitions that have built up in the civilian enthusiast community, and those definitions are actually distortions and misunderstandings of the actual professional military terminology here in the US.
And, let’s be honest: The US military is more than just a tad incoherent on the whole realm of the machine gun in the first place, a fact that’s led to some spectacularly poor decisions, over the years, something I attribute at least partially to the similarly flawed and incoherent language we use to discuss these things.
“nor do they do the categorization the way we do”
In Russia, machine guns were named by combination of letters, which always contain 1st letter[s] of designer[s] name[s] and any combination of 1st letters of adjectives describing it, sometime П for “machine gun” is present, generally it is missing in pre-Great Patriotic War and present in later designed (but this is not always case – see NSV) so there exist DP, DT and DA.
Often encountered adjectives are:
Т – adjective(tank)
С – adjective(mount)
Н – adjective(night)
Daweo, we’re not talking about naming conventions, here, but about descriptive nomenclature, or type classifications. In Soviet usage, a like example would be describing the differences between the Avtomat and Samozaryadniy Karabin. The AK47 is clearly the former, and the SKS is clearly the latter.
Ok, then it is time for ГОСТ 28653-90:
Ручной пулемет – machine gun, for which mean firing method is rest on bi-pod and stock on shoulder
Станковый пулемет – machine gun, designed for firing from mount
Единый пулемет – machine gun, which is made for firing in both methods described above
Танковый пулемет – machine gun, designed for mounting and combat usage on tanks
Авиационный пулемет – machine gun, designed for mounting and combat usage on flying machines
should be: “(…)main(…)”
You are right, Ian is basing his definitions on the colloquial or common language usage, not the official US military ones. I would argue that the colloquial usage is more practical in international setting, since although the definitions in other languages and non-US militaries are different, the common use of these acronyms in English seems to be broadly the same among gun ethusiasts regardless of their native language or nationality.
The issue with colloquial usages is that when you go to start doing historical research, and then try to understand what the hell the various military sources were talking about, you wind up in a rat’s nest of confusing and contradictory terminology–Which really makes it difficult to understand what the hell was going on and/or what they were thinking was going on…
Case in point–You’re a US Army NCO, and you sketch in the “LMG” symbol on your sector defense sketches, for your Automatic Rifle positions that you’ve filled with your M16A1 guys issued with the accessory bipods (which used to be the determining factor, for US doctrine: Did the operator have a bipod and the extra mags… Yes? Then, he’s the Automatic Rifleman for the Fire Team…). The French commander you’re working for shows up, and he’s expecting to see an actual LMG position, complete with firing tables for the MG, tripods, range cards, and all the rest of the crap that makes a real MG team so effective.
There’s more to this than the mere cosmetics that Ian is alluding to with this post. The actual difference between an Automatic Rifle and an LMG boils down to this: Can the weapon be served by a crew? Can it mount on a tripod, for repeatable and accurate fire? No? Then, it’s an Automatic Rifle, and not an LMG. If it can be mounted on a tripod, and served by a crew, then it’s an LMG. That’s why the BAR is an Automatic Rifle, and the BREN is a true LMG.
The “Crew-served” distinction is an important one, and not just because the gunner is freed up to do nothing but shoot the gun. A crew includes more eyes, and with the tripod, you can make minute, predictable adjustments to the delivered fires repeatably–Something you cannot do with a mere Automatic Rifle, which is really only “soldier-mounted”.
This ability to mount on a tripod and respond to corrections from the gun crew leader or Assistant Gunner is the key difference, along with the much higher effectiveness and lethality of the LMG vs. the Automatic Rifle. The Ultimax is not an LMG, really–It is a glorified Automatic Rifle, fired from a bipod by one person. You could crew-serve the thing, but what the hell is the point, without the tripod? Far better to put the gunner out into the maneuver fight, dancing with the riflemen. You don’t have the ability, as you do with something like the BREN, to use a tripod as an aid to delivering accurate, consistent, and reliably accurate fires. You are not advised to use an Automatic Rifle to deliver covering overhead or lateral fires for an assault; since you can’t lock the damn thing in to something, you have to rely on the imperfect human gunner not to hit the advancing troops. An LMG on a tripod, however…? Yeah, you can do that.
The terminology is important, in order to grasp what the hell the guns are supposed to be capable of doing. Like with the M60, which is a truly crappy GPMG, the thinking that led to its acceptance was critically flawed because the definition of “GPMG” that they were using was flawed.
There’s a Confucian analect that one should keep in mind, when dealing with all this sort of thing.
“Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.” “So! indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must
there be such rectification?”
The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
“When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
“Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” “
Unclear terminology leads inevitably to unclear thinking. Unclear thinking leads to things like dumbasses building machine guns with bipods attached to the barrels, and requiring those barrels to be headspaced to that specific gun/bolt combination, obviating the virtues of a true GPMG like the MG42. Which, by way of contrast, can use any and every serviceable barrel in the German Army, with no need to worry about marking the barrels for the gun they work with. Or, so I am assured by various and sundry Germans…
Clear terminology is important for actual current military use, like your example shows, no doubt about it. However, not even the military terminology stays the same over different periods, which makes it difficult to use for historical settings. NATO terminology is different from American and US WW2 terminology, which on the other hand was different from WW1 terminology.
Let’s take the example of an LMG. How would you classify a weapon that is crew served, but does NOT have a tripod mount such as the Soviet DP/DPM or the Italian Breda Mod. 30. Usually these are considered LMGs in all English language literature, even though the latter was actually a “Fucile Mitragliatore” or “machine rifle” in Italian. The US/NATO definition appears too strict and not very useful in these cases.
Walking fire was probably worth a try, under the circumstances; something, anything. “You first”
7.62 Nato Bren in conjunction with the SLR: Bren Bipod – Auto, SLR-Semi, better without a Bipod. Same ammo “logistics etc”
Best solution 7.62x39mm Ak/Rpd. Use the Ak in semi, Rpd is full. My problem with the assault rifle is: In full auto without a bipod 7.62x39mm isn’t great, good in 5.45mm but this calibre lacks range like 5.56mm particularly without a long barrel “the longer the barrel, the less assault rifle it becomes, does it? Compactness”
A 7.62 Nato LSW (British L86) would complement 5.56mm rifles ideally in my opinion particularly if it could fire from an open bolt “cooling it, a bit- without the need to change barrels” it isn’t logistically ideal but… With the same 30rnd mag in 5.56mm your not giving that much support, albeit it has a longer barrel but if your at the same range as the rifles can cope with, it has the same optic, the bipod helps for sure but the fire your putting down in full auto could probably be better employed as aimed shots.
The Pkm uses 7.62x54mm which is also used by their marksman/sniper rifle with the bayonet lug, but not the Ak…
Ppsh, TT30, Rpd, SKS, Dragunov, Pkm. For me, ditch 5.45mm, ok keep the Ak but emphasize Semi auto fire.
.280 Bren/semi EM2. Suppose 5.45 is better than 7.62x25mm against body armour.
Laser guns? He he.
“Rpd is full”
After long time, finally new intermediate cartridge belt-fed machine gun named Токарь-2
The Rpd was liked by the Americans in Vietnam apparently.
“Rpd was liked by the Americans in Vietnam apparently.”
U.S. do not have equivalent weapons, so is not surprise that it was used.
They had the “pig” didn’t they.
The RPD was really only ever used by the SF and SEALs. Everyone else stuck with the M60, not least because firing an enemy weapon inside a US unit would lead to confusion, chaos, and people thinking they had enemy within the position. Wasn’t a good idea, in other words. Outside of guys playing with trophies, and people doing deniable deep-penetration missions, the RPD was not a commonly-used weapon on the US side. Likewise, all the tall tales of US troops using AK47 rifles… A fellow could get killed, doing that. So, they mostly didn’t…
I really enjoyed the defination video. Thanks. Where would you fit the M-60? Also, I like the framed poster behind you, is a copy available?
The M60 is a piss-poor excuse for a GPMG, designed, tested, and procured by people possessed of a very flawed understanding of what a GPMG is supposed to be and do.
The Danes have adopted the latest incarnation, which I belive is this; E6: https://www.full30.com/video/c68835d81f6e702388b15e186bc0ee6f
Maybe it’s just like the Eurofighter, eventually… Eventually… It became something good. Then was promptly made obsolete, perhaps.
It is a decision I think the Danes will come to regret. The E6 is basically a well-polished turd, with all the underlying shit still there beneath the glossy shell.
None of the really major issues with the M60’s interpretation of the Lewis and FG42 have been corrected, and the uniquely M60 design mistakes are still there. The bolt still lacks the square cut that later Lewis guns and the FG42 had at the end of the op-rod track to reduce peening and wear to the op-rod tower and bolt, and the receiver is still built up out of a myriad of light-gauge sheet metal parts held together by rivets. Thus, it is still basically a disposable MG. 10-15,000 rounds, and you’re done. Extensive maintenance and depot-level work may push that off a bit, but it will cost you an arm and a leg.
I hear plenty of criticism (justified or not) leveled on M60 from country of its origin. You might be interested that popular-military literature in country of my origin (a WP country) called M60 rather respectfully “modern general purpose machinegun”. In fact it was deemed the only one U.S. forces had at the time. Now, you figure.
From my point of view, M60 is decidedly more modern than obsolescent M240.
I was an M60 loader/AG, gunner, gun crew NCOIC, and the poor schmuck stuck in the unit Arms Room trying to keep the cursed things up and operational. Most of my company-sized units had nine of them on issue, generally set in a field of about 120 M16-series rifles, twenty or so M203s, and whatever other ancillary toys they saw fit to issue us, like the M67 90mm Recoilless Rifle.
Care to guess which weapons system ate up most of my time, for maintenance? Which one was usually down, for various and sundry reasons? Which weapon system kept me up nights, before critical qualification ranges, and which weapon system I took to support most often?
Yeah; the M60. Whatever it was in terms of characteristics on paper, that thing was an incredible piece of shit when it came to actually functioning. The only thing on it that really deserved the term “worthwhile” was the Stellite barrel, and that was a triumph of manufacture. The weapon it was attached to? Not so much…
Anecdote time: I took a factory new M60 out of the wrapper in Germany, circa 1985. Thing had been in storage since the 1960s, and came out of some warehouse up in Holland. Took it to the field for one major exercise, where due to the incompetence of the other companies, my company had the only operational M60s in the battalion. We wound up firing every gun team in our battalion and a couple of supporting companies for qualification off our nine guns. At the end of the exercise, my brand-new gun had fired around 15,000 rounds, all within the parameters for rate of fire and all that jazz. Of our nine guns, eight went to support on return from the field, and six of those were coded out for being beyond repair, including mine. 15,000 rounds, and done.
I unpackaged brand-new M240s for my battalion before we went to Iraq in 2001 or so. Those same guns, I got the chance to look over again in 2005, when I became the physical security guy for the brigade, and went through the Arms Rooms, where I also poked my nose into maintenance and other issues. Other than external cosmetic wear, those M240s looked brand-new on the internals, and I’ll be damned if I could find any real signs of mechanical wear on the internals. Some of those guns had fired around 30-50,000 rounds that we could document, by that point…
M240 may be a more primitive design, in some respects, but the M240 has one cardinal virtue: The damn things last. M60? That’s basically a disposable machine gun, and in a sane world, you’d get one with a pallet of ammunition, and be expected to simply throw the gun away when you finished the ammo.
The cardinal virtues of the M60 as a 7.62 MG are the same things that make it a piece of junk in long-term use. That light weight that everyone loves? It’s possible because the receiver is built up out of a lot of light-gauge stampings that are riveted and welded together. The rivets are not the sort used to hold the plates of the M240 together–Instead of having nice, big mushroomed heads, the M60 uses blind rivets that are ground flush with the plates. The differential heating of the receiver, and the wear as all those parts flex results in the rivets working loose very quickly, and once that starts? You may be able to stake them, for a short while, but that’s a band-aid approach that doesn’t work over the long haul. Corrective welding may work, but that will also fail due to flex, and the heat damage done to the material when you weld.
On top of that, the mechanism beats itself to death, due to things like I mention above. The gun was designed by people who did not understand the weapons they were copying, and it shows. Case in point: The spring mechanism inside the bolt, around the firing pin. Why is that there? The op rod tower is linked to the firing pin; there’s no need for a spring boost to the firing pin, but there’s a spring there anyway. The gun functions perfectly well without it. I know, because I’ve dealt with guns that the operators lost parts to, and still managed to make work. My best guess is that the designers saw that spring there when they looked at the FG42, didn’t realize its role was to boost firing pin energy during semi-auto fire, and just carried it over unthinkingly–Making the gun unnecessarily complex.
Don’t even get me started on the innumerable ways the gun can be assembled improperly, and how much training it takes to beat those facts into the average soldier’s head. If I had a dime for every time I had a soldier come to me, M60 in hand, saying “Sergeant K, my weapon won’t fire…”, only for me to find that they’d put something critical in backwards, or improperly… I’d be a damn multi-millionaire, I swear. The M60 is an utter abortion of a weapon, in oh-so-many-ways…
Personally, I’ve always somewhat anthropomorphized the guns, imagining that the reason they just don’t last is that they’re kinda like Jeff Goldblum, there at the end of The Fly. They’ve become caricatures of what they should be, given the various other weapons that contributed the bits and pieces they cobbled together to make the M60, but the fact is, they’re actually monstrous abominations, Frankenstein’s Monster in firearm form. The guns want to die. You’d have the poor things on your bench, stripped and working away at stoning all the peening away from the working surfaces, and you could almost hear them moaning “Kill me… Please… Please, kill meeee…”.
Some weapons rise above their component features and design. The Madsen LMG, for example–That thing works way better than it should, when you look at it and its design. The M60 does the exact opposite–It sinks below all the good ideas stolen from its design predecessors, and implements those ideas in such a way that the gun is literally worse than its component parts.
Except, those barrels. Man, I still love those, and I’ll be damned if I understand what the hell is keeping FN from building in Stellite. Although, then we wouldn’t get the superb accuracy we get from the cold hammer-forged ones they sell us now–Which have actually had their barrel-blanks re-purposed for some sniper rifles.
Now Kirk, don’t sit on the fence. Tell us what you REALLY think about the M60!
Thank you for your account Kirk. There cannot be dispute with actual hands-on experience. I respect it.
My own casual contact with M60 was mainly physical observation, not actual firing. I found some controls fiddly/ spindly and construction of receiver is well…. less than integral. No sense of solidity in other words.
One observation on side. New MHMG by GD appears to have similar “sandwich-like” kind of construction. They probably wanted to make it within weigh limit for whatever the cost is. I wonder when comes to army trials what actual durability will be like.
You story about qualification tests in Germany remind me a previous comment.
Were you the guy who wrote motor grease was used in M60 to keep it more reliable than the official brand new lubricant?
CG, that was probably me. I’ve speculated in the past that one reason we vets of the later Cold War era had such different opinions of the M60 from the Vietnam-era guys is at least partially due to the lubricant change from LSA to Break-free.
Actually, they’re almost exactly the same age. MAG 58, first adopted in 1958; M60, first adopted in 1957.
The difference is the MAG 58/M240 is essentially a Browning Automatic Rifle beefed up and converted to belt feed, with the quick-change barrel of the FN Model 30/Model D version of the original.
The M60 is a dog’s breakfast of “features” from other weapons, like the feed system of the MG42 (minus the springloaded feed pawl, which was what made it work correctly), the gas action and bolt locking system of the FG42 (which never really did work right), and various design kinks intended to make it cheaper to mass produce (which make it noticeably less durable and reliable in service, like the firing pin assembly that can go together three different ways, only one of which will allow it to actually fire).
MAG 58 was designed by FN, a private company that wanted to sell guns to armies and get repeat business. M60 was designed by Army Ordnance and Maremont corporation (part of DARPA) as a government-made item they could avoid paying patent royalties on.
Every time an army pulls the latter trick, they end up in trouble. See the British Army’s experience with the .476 Enfield revolver in the 1880s, adopted to avoid paying royalties to Webley & Sons, Ltd.
The usual end result is that after failures in service, the “in house” design is withdrawn and replaced with something that actually works, regardless of who came up with it to begin with. In the .476’s case, it took eight years. In the M60’s case, it took forty-six (1957 to 2003).
As Einstein is reputed to have said, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result each time.
Good write-up Eon, thanks.
Fair is fair, you cannot go around it in any other way.
I really think the real question that ought to be asked, is, why the M240 even got adopted in the first place. Sure, it was a lot better than the other crap they were looking like, such as the M60 they’d cobbled into a tank coax format, but… The actual winner of the testing? The captured, battlefield-pickup control they used, a PKT. That gun walked away from everything else in the competition, and that was without factory support and using captured battlefield-pickup ammunition, to boot.
A sane army would have looked at that, and gone “Damn… Just… Damn. Fred? We gotta get us some of those…”. The US Army basically buried the data, didn’t report it to Congress, and selected the M240. Which, while a great vehicle-mounted weapon, is basically a boat anchor for dismount operations.
The result of those trials back in the day should have been wholesale firing in the small arms procurement community, and someone doing a really careful job of reverse-engineering the PK series. Just sayin’…
Swishing your post around in my head, I realize something that is probably pertinent to why the M60 is so bad a design.
See, you look at other stamped-sheet metal designs, like the MG42 and the PK series, and you look at the receivers. Those guns were designed up from the ground to be manufactured that way, and you can see it in the stampings. Heavy gauge metal, and the design works within the manufacture technique to make a durable, long-lasting weapon.
The M60? I look at that receiver, and the more I think about since having this insight, I think they took a basically forged and machined receiver design, and tried to replicate it using stampings. That’s the only answer for why they did what they did, the more I think about it, because those damn rear receiver bridges where most of the failures start simply don’t make sense otherwise. That, and maybe they didn’t have the stamping equipment available in the US arms industry.
The M60 had decent potential to be a good, solid weapon. The problem is that the design and manufacture flatly just… Sucked. On paper, it looks good: A modernized descendant of the Lewis gun married to an MG42 feed system and trigger group. Executed? It’s an utter, irretrievable POS.
We should have done anything besides adopt that gun. What’s really sad is that I’ve heard anecdotal stories that the initial prototypes were decent guns, but once the bureaucracy got done doing “value engineering”, the whole thing went to hell.
“We should have done anything besides adopt that gun [M60]”
For me conclusion is that there should be always competition before entering new pattern of weaponry. Both as stimuli of development and for back-up in case of failure of one.
Before PK was adopted following designers made prototypes of machine gun for such purpose:
Nikitin and Sokolov (ТКБ-521)
Garanin, two variants – 2Б-П-10 (delayed blow-back) and 2Б-П-45 (gas-operated)
Silin and Pererushev (ТКБ-464)
So it is shame that in U.S. they failed to do:
– arrange internal (between U.S. manufacturers) honest competition, this should be possible, as some one-and-half decade earlier there was competition which leaded to M1 Carbine
– get NATO members to enter their proposals, for example French AAT-52 seems to be working as intended
“In the .476’s case, it took eight years. In the M60’s case, it took forty-six (1957 to 2003).”
Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare.
“Evolved into guns of caliber 12.7mm – 20mm, like the M2”
Now I confused, please point exactly one: M2 here should be understand as:
Gun, Aircraft, Automatic, 20-mm, AN-M2
M2 Browning (sometimes codenamed “Ma-Deuce”)
This classification does not provide 100% coverage, RPD does not fit.
It also fail against 6П62: http://russianguns.ru/?p=3361
Nobody uses that thing surely, really… What’s it for?
“What’s it for?”
“…designated for combat against light-armoured targets, means of transport and group live targets up to 1000 m distance, can also be used against low-flying targets…”
“…with special mounting, could be used as additional armament of helicopters, boats and other objects…”
Frivolity, capitalism for you.
I’m going to have to go digging for my old machine gun training notes for the citations for all that I’m about to say, but there is a lot more to the issue of nomenclature and type classification than just the externalities of appearance and features.
I loathe posting from a phone… I’m going to move over to a computer in order to finish this.
I’m sure everyone reading will be very interested so we thank you in advance 🙂
Hopefully… Or, they’re going to want to claw their eyes out, having learned way more than they ever really wanted to about this issue.
I’ve got to go do things, but I promise I’ll return to this later in the kind of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder depth that I’m known for… Y’all can take that as either a promise or a fair warning.
One note on perceived Ian’s lack of proper terminology. I’d say, lets consider that he took on himself an uneasy task to suit both the HISTORICAL prospective and MODERN day terminology – not easy, as reader’s remarks are suggesting. I propose leniency at this point of time.
Indeed terminology changed in time, which is especially visible when new categories of weapons were introduced.
is example of early belt-fed intermediate cartridge machine gun and it is described as Malý kulomet i.e. small machine gun, however I am not sure if that was used during its development or applied retroactively
It is first time I see this; thank you.
This is true “ruchnyi pulemyot”. although the shot itself was probably underpowered.
I don’t think anyone is giving Ian a hard time or saying he’s necessarily wrong, just pointing out that there’s a lot more to the story than initially meets the eye.