Fire Support of the Soviet Infantry: The Mighty PKM Machine Gun

    For better or worse the PKM GPMG has been in constant service since 1961 and is considered by many to be one of the best machine guns in its field. Comparatively light, very reliable, and disgustingly simple to maintain and operate, the machine gun has found much favor among good guys and bad guys alike across almost every region of the world. In this episode we look at some of the features of the machine gun, what made it so successful (and fun to shoot) in all of its belt-fed, fully automatic glory.

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    Transcript ….

    – [Narrator] So from being used in small intensity conflicts all over the world by numerous rebel groups, insurgencies or being used by partnered nations in NATO, to being constantly outfitted with the latest gear and tech and turned into a bullpup variant with EOTech sights or even being used for competitive purposes in Russia by the soldiers it was originally designed for, the PKM machine gun is definitely here to stay and is one of the more iconic machine guns of the 20th century, especially within the Cold War arsenal.

    Originally standing for Pulemyot Kalashnikova, which means Kalashnikov’s machine gun, the PKM general-purpose machine gun was originally introduced in 1961 as the PK.

    It was later replaced by the PKM, which is simply a modified version of the PK, which reduced the weight, it dropped some of the fins on the barrel and it dropped the compensator in addition to adding strengthening ribs on the receiver cover.

    During the 1950s the Soviets had a plethora of machine guns available at the battalion and company levels.

    They had the SG-43, Maxims, DP-28s and they looked at the examples of the German MG 42 and MG 34 as a universal type of machine gun that could be used in multiple instances, not too light, not too heavy and still very reliable.

    Originally there was a design competition within the Soviet Union between two Soviet designers by the name of Nikitin and Sokolov.

    Their design was originally going to be adopted as the PK but then there’s some competition introduced by Kalashnikov’s Design Bureau.

    The design that Kalashnikov originally came up with later actually won the competition.

    However the original design by Nikitin and Sokolov later became the 12.7mm NSV.

    It should be noted that the tripod mount and ammunition boxes from their original NSV design later became adopted with the PKM.

    Numerous versions of the PKM came out such as the PKMSN which was an optics-capable version back in the 1960s and 70s capable of taking various 1st generation infrared optics and image-magnification optics.

    There’s also the PKMS which was actually a heavier version and stood for mounted in Russian and was used to be mounted on top of vehicles.

    This went back to some of the early PK designs with the fluted barrel and the compensator.

    Then there was the PKT, which was a tank version used as a co-ax machine gun, fired by solenoid trigger.

    Not mentioned here we also have the PKB which was sort of a helicopter-mounted version that you could use with a spade grip.

    Today we have the PKP Pecheneg, which is a modern squad automatic weapon, but not chambered in 5.56, chambered in 7.62×54 rimmed.

    We even have numerous attempts to suppress the PKM within the Soviet arsenal that we see among Spetsnaz groups within the current war in Syria today.

    The design was copied throughout the world.

    In this case we have the example of a Chinese Type 80, in use in the Syrian conflict.

    In addition a Zastava M84, which was copied by the Yugoslavian armaments groups in the 1980s and 90s and is still in use today in a number of ways.

    On top of these two we have numerous other examples of copies of the PKM all over the world.

    In addition we have some versions of the PKM chambered in 7.62mm NATO and are still in use by various NATO organizations today, in addition to being exported across the world.

    Many like the PKM because it is extremely reliable while on the other hand being extremely light-weight, coming in at around 19 pounds with the PKM version.

    It is also very simple to use if you are familiar with any Kalashnikov platform, then you are already halfway to understanding how the internal components are actually disassembled from the general-purpose machine gun.

    The PKM machine gun uses a reverse-engineered Kalashnikov’s operating system that Kalashnikov himself along with a bunch of other engineers designed.

    It uses a recoil spring that is fed through the bottom of the machine gun and can pivot in a certain way to allow it to be disassembled while taken out from the rear.

    There is a similar arrangement on the bolt and bolt carrier where there is a small portion where it can pivot and you can thus take it out of the machine gun for disassembly.

    Taking this stuff out of the machine gun can be a little bit difficult at times, so it does take some getting used to.

    The bolt head is precisely the same as the Kalashnikov version, except it is a little larger of course.

    Also note that the gas piston is on the bottom instead of the top.

    Such is the case in the Kalashnikov version.

    Because it is an open-bolt machine gun, there isn’t any hammer or firing pin that is, that can actually be hit by a hammer.

    Instead the firing pin goes forward as soon as the bolt head itself is pressed all the way to the rear in the locked position when it is chambered.

    Assembly of the machine gun requires the bolt to be pushed into position by pivoting down and then into the actual frame of the machine gun which is stamped steel.

    Next up is the recoil spring, which is also being pivoted into the machine gun as well, just like it is disassembled.

    The feed tray cover is unleashed with a Kalashnikov-style release button, thus gettin soldiers used to that sort of button from transitioning from an AK.

    Underneath the feed tray cover are a number of the working components that push the belt through the machine gun when it is bein fired.

    In addition the feed tray cover can be lifted up and the bottom part can be inspected and cleaned.

    Here you can see the portion of the machine gun that actually pulls the round out of the belt via a Maxim-type feed claw, drops and drops it into the chamber, thus firing it and after that the round can be pushed out.

    Changing the barrel requires lifting of the feed tray cover and pressing a small portion of the barrel retaining latch to the left, this is also captive.

    The forward handle doubles as a barrel-changing handle because as you press it, it actually pushes the barrel outside of the chamber which helps get the barrel moving if there is a lot of gunk in there from various pieces of carbon.

    Many have often compared the PKM to the 240 or the M60 machine gun which was in use by the Soviet Union’s principal enemy, the United States during the Cold War.

    Many have also said that the PKM, just like many other Soviet weapons are great until they fail and then they seem to fail completely because of their stamped steel design.

    Whereas with the 240 you have a little bit more reliability and you have a little bit more of an ability to take care of it with different spare parts and the like.

    However in the long run it is a much heavier design and requires much more care to take care of it compared to the PKM series of machine guns.

    The PKM could either be fired from a 100 round salt can or a 200 or 250 round can that could be sitting outside the machine gun, you could use in a dismounted role or you could have it set up in the vehicle role with a similar can in place nearby.

    The safety is located on the left side of the machine gun and needs to be pushed all the way from the front to the rear to actually actuate the safety and allow the trigger to be either fired or put in a safe position.

    The machine gun came with bipods that could be locked in a forward position and they could also be swiveled to the rear so you could actually hold the machine, hold the bipods while shooting.

    In addition they could obviously be locked in the center portion with the machine gun employed.

    The buttstock had a shoulder latch that could be flipped up so you could better control the machine gun while firing it.

    While the stock also had a chamber brush that was threaded into the stock and you could easily take it out and clean the machine gun when you weren’t in direct action or you needed to quickly clean off something in the chamber.

    Rear sights were graduated to 1500 meters and were adjustable for height and windage.

    Interestingly all the rear sights were, were a simple copy of a Mosin-Nagant or even an AK rear-sight design, simply switched around so that the elevation was in the opposite direction as with a standard AK rifle.

    Windage could be adjusted on a plane in the rear and red numerals helped users see the numbers in low-light settings.

    The front sight could also be adjusted for elevation as well and was protected by two front sight ears.

    Ammunition could be loaded into these belts via a special machine that was probably issued at the company level.

    Although many of the belts came straight from the factory in 25 round increments that you could then clip together to make larger portions.

    Thank you very much for watching guys.

    We really appreciate the viewership.

    I’d really like to thank my friend Brush for helping out with the production of this video, in addition I really wanna give a shoutout to Marcolmar Firearms in northern Indiana who helped provide the machine guns and some of the other check firearm designs that we’ve been looking at for the past couple of weeks on

    Again I’d like to point out one of our sponsors Proxibid, for helpin out with the channel and helping us bring the kinds of content that you see here today.

    I don’t think you can get a full-auto PKM but you might be able to snag a semi-automatic PKM or even various pieces and parts of PKMs if that’s all you really want to have anything to do with a machine gun.

    Thank you very much and we’ll see you next time to learn about the Dylan AK from the Ia Drang of Vietnam.

    (classical martial theme)


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]