The Soviets were latecomers to machine-gun development generally. Prior to World War I, the czarist army bought machine guns from other countries and manufactured some under license. For this reason, Russian machine-gun development and production had to start virtually from scratch after the Russian Revolution. A top priority was the development of a light machine gun to replace the Lewis, Hotchkiss, Madsen, and Chauchat left over from World War I. It had been difficult to get spare parts, and the weapons’ various ammunition calibers placed stress on the logistics system. The Soviets also had many water-cooled Maxims left and the factories to build them, so the initial effort went into developing a lightweight conversion of the Maxim. Several designers were given the task of coming up with independent designs for the conversion. F. V. Tokarev came up with the winner, in which he modified the Maxim by replacing the water-cooled sleeve around the barrel with a slotted jacket to produce a light, air-cooled weapon with a rifle butt and pistol grip. After extensive testing, the Maxim-Tokarev was finally approved in 1925 as the future light machine gun. However, Soviet troops complained that the weapon was still too heavy to meet the requirements for a light machine gun. Modifications were made, but the Soviet high command realized that the weapon was still only the extension of an outmoded design. So they gave another designer, Vasily A. Alexeyevich Degtyarev, the task of developing an entirely new light machine gun.
Degtyarev’s first successful model was the Degtyareva Pulemet (DP), which appeared in 1926. The DP was a simple, gas-operated weapon with only six moving parts. It proved very reliable in the harsh conditions it would be subjected to in the coming war. It fitted a visually distinctive drum magazine on the top of the weapon that held 49 rounds. In action, it was served by a two-man crew. The DP, including the infantry, tank, and aircraft versions, would be used in very large numbers throughout World War II.
A close relative to the DP, the Degtyareva Pulemet Tankovii (Degtyarev-Type Machine Gun, or DT) was first issued in 1929. It was designed for use in armored vehicles but was basically the same gun as the DP. Both weapons saw service with Loyalist forces during the Spanish Civil War, during which some deficiencies in design were noted. Modifications were made, and the two guns went on to become the principal squad and antitank machine guns in the Red Army for most of World War II. In 1944, the DP was modified into the DPM. Although there were some problems with the fragile tin drum magazine, the DP, DT, and DPM proved remarkably reliable under the harshest conditions.
Because of the initial difficulties in establishing an indigenous machine-gun industry, the Soviets had to develop mediums and heavys for their forces, still armed with the Maxim 1910 model. As part of the first Five-Year Plan for reequipping the Soviet Army, the Maxim 1910 underwent modifications to modernize the design. However, as was the case with the light machine gun, the Soviets wanted a new design to replace the older weapon. In the late 1920s, specifications were published for a replacement for the Maxim. The new weapon was to be similar in mechanism to the DP and DT guns to ensure uniformity of training. It was to be air-cooled and belt-fed, with a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute, weigh not more than 30 kilograms (66 pounds), and a tripod mounting with or without wheels.
In 1930, Vasily Degtyarev, in conjunction with G. Sergei Shpagin, produced a design that met the Red Army specifications. The Degtyarev Stankovy (Degtyarev Mounted, or DS) was a tripod-mounted machine gun in caliber 7.62mm using the same gas-piston and lock system as the DPs and DTs, but with a belt feed and a very heavily finned barrel. It was adopted in 1939, but there were serious problems with the design. The weapon ripped cartridges to pieces when withdrawing them from the belt, and it jammed in dusty conditions and froze up in cold weather. Ultimately, only 10,000 DS guns were made; production of the Maxim 1910/30 was restarted.
While trying to perfect the new MMG design, the Soviets also recognized the need for a true heavy machine gun that could be used against aircraft, light armor, and similar hard targets. Degtyarev was again called upon, although he was still busy trying to perfect the DS. He devised a caliber .50-inch gun that employed his locking and gas-piston system. Using a drum magazine, the new weapon, designated the Degtyarev Krupnokalibernyi (Degtyarev Heavy Caliber, or DK), was approved in 1933. The gun was reasonably well designed, but during tests users complained of a low cyclic rate of fire and difficulty in changing the bulky drum magazines. Production was stopped, and Degtyarev went back to the drawing board. Once again, he called in G. S. Shpagin to assist in modifying the design, particularly with regard to the feed problems.
The result of this collaboration was the 12.7mm Degtyarev-Shpagin Krupnokalibernyi (Large Caliber Degtyarev-Shpagin) 38 (DShK 38), submitted for initial testing in 1938. The DShK was similar to the Browning M2 but was gas-operated. Degtyarev contributed the gas operation and locking system from his DP LMG series, and Shpagin devised a novel way to extract incoming rounds from the belt by means of a rotary-feed cylinder. The DShK 38 saw extensive service during World War II; it became the infantry heavy-support machine gun and also became the universal air-defense machine gun in the Red Army; by the beginning of 1944, 8,000 were in the field.
By the beginning of World War II, all the major military powers had a range of choices of LMGs, MMGs, and HMGs. Many had been tested in combat during the 1930s in places like Manchuria beginning in 1931 and the Chaco Wars between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1932. The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, and the Italians invaded Abyssinia that same year. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Italy invaded Albania. In all of these conflicts, machine guns played an important role, providing firepower for infantry, close-in protection for tanks and other vehicles, and armament for ships, fighters, and bombers. Although the machine gun would not rule the battlefield in World War II as it had in World War I, it would still play a major role in combat on the ground, in the air, and at sea.
World War II
The Soviets entered the war with a mix of medium Maxims and light Degtyarevs, with the DShK being produced to replace the Maxims. However, when the Red Army attacked Finland in the 1939 Winter War, its DP and DT machine guns did not operate as well as hoped in the cold environment. They experienced major problems, especially the failure of return springs. Several quick fixes were tried but proved unsatisfactory. Eventually, the spring design and placement were radically changed; the resulting weapons were designated the DP Modernized (DPM). Similar changes were applied to the DT, resulting in the DTM, which was the tank and armored vehicle version.
Other modifications and revisions were made in the early years of the war, including converting them to belt-feed, but this made the DPM too heavy, and the long, flapping ammunition belt was a nuisance to the gunner when sprinting to a new position. It is suspected that the DPM was merely a stopgap pending the development of better weapons.
While production of the DPM continued, the Soviets put engineers to work developing a new 7.62mm LMG. A number of designers, including Vasily Degtyarev, Sergei Simonov, and Mikhail Kalashnikov (his first appearance as a designer; he would later become famous for his assault rifle), participated in this competition. Degtyarev offered two gas-operated guns, one belt-fed and the other with a top-mounted box magazine. Simonov designed a gas-operated weapon. Kalashnikov presented a short-recoil design. The Simonov design was selected after initial trials, but the weapon was neither durable nor accurate.
By the middle of 1943, the Soviets had developed a new short cartridge, the 7.62x39mm, and this led to a rethinking of the LMG concept in the Red Army.
Although the new round had been developed for the assault rifle, it was accurate out to 800 meters, sufficient for the squad light automatic weapon. A call went out for designs using the new cartridge. A number were submitted, and after trials the Degtyarev entry was selected. It was approved in 1944 as the RPD (Ruchnyy Pulyemet Systema Degtyarev-Light Machine Gun by Degtyarev).
The RPD was a derivative of the earlier DP and DPM models but was belt-fed from a drum clipped beneath the gun. For the first time, Soviet infantrymen had a machine gun that they could pick up and use in the assault. Unlike most LMGs, it had a fixed barrel, and the gunner had to be careful to avoid firing more than 100 rounds in one minute to prevent overheating. The war ended before this weapon could be perfected. It would go into full production in 1953 and proved to be a rugged and effective design; it became the standard squad automatic weapon for the Red Army and for Soviet client states.
The Soviets also developed a medium machine gun during World War II. The Degtyarev DS MMG had proved a failure in service, and production was halted in 1941. The Red Army reverted to the Maxim M1910, but when the Germans attacked in OPERATION BARBAROSSA, the supply of machine guns was woefully inadequate. The choices were to build more factories to turn out more of the older model, or to come up with an entirely new design. Pyotr Goryunov had already been working on a medium, and in June 1941 he demonstrated his design to the military. He was instructed to make 50 guns for extensive testing, including some sent to front-line units. The reports were favorable; after some revisions and more tests, it was adopted in May 1943 as the 7.62mm Stankovyi Goryunova 43 (SG43). The SG43 was gas-operated and air-cooled. It was fed by belt and was usually mounted on a wheeled carriage similar to that used with the Maxim 1910. During the Winter War of 1944 against Finland, the SG43 was mounted on a sled for easier movement over snow. It is extremely heavy but was very good for use in the defense. This gun was manufactured in some numbers during the war but never entirely replaced the PM1910, which stayed in production right till war’s end and remained in front-line service with the Soviet Army into the 1980s.
The Soviets also used the 12.7mm DShK HMG during World War II. It had originally been employed primarily as an antiaircraft weapon, but by 1943 it was in wide use in the infantry support role. With the increase in usage, problems with the weapon became apparent; chief among these was a feed problem. Modifications were made to the Shpagin feed system, and various other parts were strengthened, making the gun easier to manufacture, more reliable, and less likely to jam. The new model was designated the DShKM 38/46.
Degtyaryov machine gun DP-27
The Degtyaryov machine gun or DP-27 is a light machine gun firing the 7.62×54mmR cartridge that was primarily used by the Soviet Union, with service trials starting in 1927 followed by general deployment in 1928. Besides being the standard Soviet infantry light machine gun (LMG) during WWII, with various modifications it was used in aircraft as a flexible defensive weapon, and it equipped almost all Soviet tanks in WWII as either a flexible bow machine gun or a co-axial machine gun controlled by the gunner. It was improved in 1943 producing the DPM, but it was replaced in 1946 with the RP-46 which improved on the basic DP design by converting it to use belt feed. The DP machine gun was supplemented in the 1950s by the more modern RPD machine gun and entirely replaced in Soviet service by the general purpose PK machine gun in the 1960s.
DPM, modernized version adopted in 1943–44, with a more robust bipod fastened to the cooling jacket and the recoil spring housed in a tube projecting from the rear of the receiver which necessitated a pistol grip for this model of the weapon (manufactured in China as the Type 53)
DA, for mounting and loading in aircraft. Also used in tandem mounts known as DA-2. Employed in the early versions of the Tupolev TB-3 bomber and in the Polikarpov R-5 and Polikarpov Po-2 army cooperation aircraft. The DA weighted 7.1 kg empty and 11.5 kg with standard ammunition load. Its rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute. It was built between 1928 and March 1930 with 1,200 units delivered. It was soon superseded by the ShKAS, which had a much higher rate of fire.
DT and DTM, for mounting and loading in armoured fighting vehicles. The DT (Pulemet Degtyareva Tankovii) is a close relative of the DP. It was originally designed for use in armored vehicles but is basically the same as the DP. It has an adjustable metal butt and can be fitted with a bipod for ground use. The DT was fitted to most of the Russian tanks used during World War II, including the famous T34 series.
DTM-4, quad mounted variant.
RP-46: metallic-belt fed version adopted in 1946 with a heavier barrel to allow prolonged sustained fire. About 500 rounds could be fired continuously before the barrel had to be swapped or allowed to cool down. Also had a user-adjustable gas system, with three holes of varying diameters provided, to cope with varying environmental conditions and residue buildup. Although the empty weight of the RP-46 exceeded that of DP by 2.5 kg, when considered together with a single ammo box of 250 rounds, the RP-46 weighed 10 kg less than the DP together with the same amount of ammunition in DP pans. The RP-46 remained in Soviet service for 15 years before it was replaced (together with the SGM) by the PK machine gun. The RP-46 was later manufactured in China as the Type 58 and in North Korea as the Type 64. The RP-46 could still fire from DP-style magazines by removing its belt-feeding system. The online tactical shooter game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege features an RP-46 configured to feed from DP magazines as the signature weapon of Spetsnaz operator Alexsandr “Tachanka” Senaviev. The original belt-fed RP-46 is used by the NVA/PAVN and the VC/NLF in the tactical shooter Rising Storm 2: Vietnam.
The original DP is more commonly called the DP-28 (or DP-27), although there is some confusion as to whether these are official designations or not.
DS-39 was a Soviet medium machine gun, designed by Vasily Degtyaryov, that was used during the Second World War. The work on the gun’s design began in 1930, and it was accepted by the Red Army in September, 1939. About 10,000 were made from 1939 to 1941, but the weapon was not successful in service and its production was discontinued after the German invasion of June, 1941, with factories converted to produce the older, more reliable Russian M1910 Maxim machine guns. It was later replaced by the SG-43 in service.
About 200 were captured by Finland in 1941 and issued to Finnish troops.
The SG-43 Goryunov was a Soviet medium machine gun that was introduced during the Second World War. It was chambered for the 7.62×54mmR cartridge, and was introduced in 1943 as a replacement for the older M1910 Maxim machine guns. It was mounted on wheeled mounts, tripods and armored vehicles.
The PM M1910 is a medium machine gun that was used by the Imperial Russian Army during World War I and the Red Army during Russian Civil War and World War II. Later the gun saw service in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The Soviet Union manufactured more PM1910 Maxim guns and would keep them in service until the end of World War II, manufacturing more than 600,000 units.
Maxim’s machine gun model 1910 on a wheeled Sokolov’s mount
Maxim’s machine gun model 1915 on a wheeled Kolesnikov’s mount
Maxim’s machine gun model 1910 on an antiaircraft tripod
Maxim’s machine gun model 1910/30 on a wheeled Vladimirov’s mount
PV-1 machine gun
Poland Second Polish Republic
7.92mm Maxim wz. 1910/28
RPD machine gun
The RPD is a 7.62mm light machine gun developed in the Soviet Union by Vasily Degtyaryov for the 7.62×39mm M43 intermediate cartridge. It was created as a replacement for the DP machine gun chambered for the 7.62×54mmR round. It is a precursor of most squad automatic weapons. It was succeeded in Soviet service by the RPK.
During its service life, the weapon was modernized several times. Initially, the gas block was modified as was the rear sight, where the windage adjustment knob for the rear sight was moved to the left side of the notch. Later, the RPD was modified with a non-reciprocating cocking mechanism with a folding charging handle (replacing the fixed charging handle connected to the bolt carrier) that does not move during firing. The feed port received a dust cover, which when open, serves as a feeding ramp for the ammunition belt. This version of the light machine gun was produced mainly in China and Poland. A further modified variant (sometimes referred to as the RPDM) includes an extended gas cylinder and a recoil buffer mechanism in the stock. Late production RPD variants also had the fixed drum attachment removed (instead, the ammunition container was “hung” from the feed port cover) and feature a folding cleaning rod, that is stored in the weapon’s butt (in the Chinese Type 56-1 variant).
The DShK 1938 is a Soviet heavy machine gun with a V-shaped “butterfly” trigger, firing the 12.7×108mm cartridge. The weapon was also used as a heavy infantry machine gun, in which case it was frequently deployed with a two-wheeled mounting and a single-sheet armour-plate shield. It took its name from the weapons designers Vasily Degtyaryov, who designed the original weapon, and Georgi Shpagin, who improved the cartridge feed mechanism. It is sometimes nicknamed Dushka (a dear or beloved person) in Russian-speaking countries, from the abbreviation.
DShKM: modernized version
Type 54: Chinese unlicensed production. Also produced in Pakistan with a Chinese license.
KPV heavy machine gun
The KPV-14.5 heavy machine gun is a Soviet designed 14.5×114mm-caliber heavy machine gun, which first entered service as an infantry weapon (designated PKP) in 1949. In the 1960s, the infantry version was taken out of production because it was too large and heavy. It was later redesigned for anti-aircraft use, because it showed excellent results as an AA gun, with a range of 3,000 meters horizontally and 2,000 meters vertically against low flying planes. It was used in the ZPU series of anti-aircraft guns. Its size and power also made it a useful light anti-armour weapon on the BTR series of vehicles and the BRDM-2 scout car.