PKM vs. MAG 58 part II

PKM vs. MAG 58 part II

Pictures: Carolus Löfroos

Text: Carolus Löfross and Kristóf Nagy 

After the positive feedback regarding the first part of our interview we would like to continue discussing the pros and cons of these two, iconic machineguns, so let us dive in right away.

Kristóf: Let us continue with handling and organics. Since you worked both systems for years, what else would you like to touch?

Carolus: The PKM loading procedure might seem okay at first glance, but over time, you’ll realize its downsides. With the MAG, again with the MG34/42 style belts used in Sweden, all you need to do is charge the gun, leave around 10-15 empty links in the first part of the belt which are easy to grab on to, throw it over and hook any of the empty links into the end of the feed tray, close the cover and pull the belt through the mechanism with your right hand until the first round in the belt locks in place. Sort of like you’d use a starter tab but the poor man’s version of it. Quick, easy and very much fail proof.

With the PKM, you’ll open the cover and place the rim of the first case in the hooks on the bolt carrier. Not as fast and easy in a stressed situation as with the MAG, but so far, its good enough. Then you close the cover and charge the gun, unlike with the MAG, you will now be fighting not only the return spring tension but also you will use force to extract the first round out of the belt. When prone on a shooting range this is hardly an issue but doing it while standing up, or kneeling, you might find it way more difficult, as you’ll have to hold the gun steady with your left hand and pull backwards on the charging handle with your right. This is not only an issue with the loading procedure, but becomes a real struggle if your gun malfunctions when not prone and you need to quickly reload it. Add to it a situation where your steel cased ammo has married to the steel belt with a lot of rust in between them and you may find yourself to have serious problems. All in all, the loading procedure of the PKM is a bit slower and at times extremely problematic.

The safety switch also comes to mind. The MAG uses a simple push through one, very easy and quick to use. It’s easy to carry the gun on safe, right hand a bit raised above the pistol grip so your middle finger is resting on the trigger guard and the palm part of your thumb rests on top of the safety – this way, if you need to open fire quickly, you’ll press the safety in by clutching your hand at the same time as you squeeze the trigger with your middle finger, saving a few micro seconds.

On the PKM on the other hand, you have a lever on the left side above the pistol grip. Pointing towards the shooter the gun is safe, and its rather easy to reach with your thumb, but in order to get the gun to fire, you’ll have to turn the lever downwards 180 degrees until it points forward toward the enemy. This is impossible for most people to do with the right hand without leaving the pistol grip entirely. Arguably its often easier to let go of the gun with your left completely and use that hand to manipulate the lever. It is not an issue for most normal situations, but if you’re expecting surprises and want to be quick, your only option is to walk with the gun constantly live. Not a huge problem perhaps, but if the choice is between waiting for a mishap where the gun fires by itself on a recon mission or ending up second place when getting ambushed, I’d much rather have none of those and just settle with a good safety switch instead.

Not that it mattered much anyway because that safety seem to break due to poor production quality, and to add insult to injury if the MAG trigger group breaks you just pulls the pins and replace it with a new one – with the PKM you need a whole new receiver. In five years of Home Guard service I’ve seen one broken MAG, where the entire bolt carrier broke in two pieces during firing, admittedly a pretty impressive failure! In much less time than so, I’ve seen PKMs with an assortment of problems and breakages in Ukraine. The worst ones were some home-grown ones, made in Ukraine called Mayak KM-7,62. This was the first one I was issued and It wouldn’t go 100 rounds without a failure. After some work on the extractor and me getting rid of the ejection port cover, I was able to get the fail rate down to about one every 200-400 rounds, but it never worked flawlessly.

Well, the old Soviet production ones weren’t as bad, but these too were often plagued by a variety of issues: Charging handles breaking off, pins coming lose, cracked receiver stampings, screws in both the stock unthreading due to vibrations, barrels which barely fit the guns either being difficult to lock in place or so lose they’ll just jump around when firing to the point where you’d struggle to hit a sleeping bag from the inside. I’m not entirely sure that I came across a single gun that didn’t have at least some minor issue with it.

Kristóf: I have to agree with the safety manipulation issues. The PKM was not designed with the modern, dynamic application you have used it for in mind. But otherwise it all sounds like a mix of bad maintenance, some sub quality manufacturing and firearms simply reaching the end of their service life. There might be some serious differences in the overall quality depending who made the PKM and I also have to admit that I have definitely not tried them all. Accuracy and the light weight were exactly what made me a fan. I could do stuff with the PKM that was impossible with the MG3.

Carolus: The general design of the gun isn’t bad at all, and whatever problems it has are admittedly mostly things that could be rather easily solved without rehauling the essentials that makes the gun good. And, as long as you find an example that were made by sober factory workers for once, I agree, the gun is very accurate and most of all a very smooth shooter in general. I have never tried the MG3 myself, but just from looking at it and knowing its manipulation I can understand that this is gun is obsolete compared to both the PKM and MAG and I’m pretty sure I would blow a blood vessel in my forehead if I would be forced to use that in the same way I’ve used the PKM. I have seen some modernisations of the PKM like the Polish UKM 2000 which seem to fix at least some of the issues I have with the original soviet design.

Kristóf: I think we can all agree with that. Btw. You should try a FÉG made and BM stamped PKM if you have the opportunity on day. Those are very close to what you are wishing for, minus the safety. Looking forward to our next discussion. We should definitely look into belt fed squad automatics. I’m super curious to learn more about your experience regarding that platform.


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