Tag Archive MAG58

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.

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PKM vs. MAG 58 part I

Pictures: Carolus Löfroos

Text: Carolus Löfross and Kristóf Nagy 

With this article we want to try something completely new. It is going to be the first article to published in English. None of us is a native speaker but we utilize English as the lingua franca of our times to bring contributors together from all around the globe. Furthermore, we will publish a discussion or an interview type of format that represents multiple approaches and perspectives on a specific topic. To start this off we want to discuss the controversial topic of the best general-purpose machine gun ever made. We have to state right away that feelings will be hurt. Especially, because we intentionally ignore the MG42/MG3.

Kristóf: Carolus, if I remember correctly, we started this discussion two or three years ago. Being a huge PKM fan I’m obviously deeply offended by your capitalist claim that the MAG 58 is a better machinegun. On the other hand, I definitely lack your experience of using it for a prolonged time in a combat environment. So, would you please enlighten us on this topic.

Carolus: I guess I should start off by saying that I am basing my thoughts on having gone from limited experience with the PKM during my conscription in Finland, then moving on to the Swedish home guard for some years where I spent much time with the Swedish variant of the MAG58, Ksp58B, and then moving on back to using the PKM again during my volunteer service in the Ukrainian national guard. During my Finnish military service, our standard machine gun was the KvKK M62, a gun that may not really deserve its horrible reputation, but it’s definitely not and never was an A-class weapon. When issued with PKM instead, the contrast between the two platforms was significant and I definitely took a special liking to the Soviet gun. It was reliable and easy to use and despite being bigger than the KvKK, weight wasn’t all that different and because of the less than stellar ergonomics of the KvKK, the PKM even seemed easier to handle in general. In reality, my actual experience with both these weapons were rather limited, as I was never assigned as a machine gunner in Finland. I used the PKM on a couple exercises or so for familiarization, but never carried it around for longer periods of time.

Kristóf: This is very interesting in deed. I assume that a lot of people never even heard of the KvKK M62, most likely the ugliest machinegun ever made but nevertheless a topic we should look into and potentially cover in the future. But how did your love affair with the MAG start?

Carolus: Sometime later I moved over to Sweden and joined the Home Guard where the Ksp58B was used, but let’s just call it the MAG here as they’re basically identical. My first obvious notice was that this Swedish gun was bigger, more unwieldy and most of all heavier than how I remembered the PKM. Same goes with its complexity – quite a number of small parts and tools needed to get it apart compared to the PKM being a hand full of parts in total which you could disassemble with your feet while drunk. In short, as I became a designated machine gunner after a while, I spent most time cursing over the MAG wishing it was a PKM instead.

Fast forward a couple of years I decided to volunteer to the Ukrainian forces in 2014 where I came to function as basically a support gunner in a recon unit, using among other weapons the PKM in a way that made me actually intimate with it for the first time. As time went on I found myself discovering new things to hate about the previously seemingly perfect machine gun. I believe it started with the belts and ammunition. I was previously able to fit 150 rounds of MG34/42 type 50 round belts (as used by the Swedish MAG) into is now limited to maximum 100 rounds of the old-style Maxim style belts used by the PKM, due to its much wider spacing between cartridges. The fact that the belt as standard aren’t disintegrating but 100 or 200 rounds continuously made it even worse. Having a one-meter long belt hanging out from each side of the gun getting tangled in everything is a nuisance at best. Sure, you can roll it around the barrel or something, but then you have to untangle it after you’re finished.

Kristóf: OK, but it was never intended to be fed by endless belts. This might be an option in a static, defence role but not in mobile infantry warfare. What about the metal ammunition cases? They are fitted with a dustcover and keep the dirt out.

Right, at least the problem of a long empty belt can be mediated by using the 25 linked rounds, if you’re lucky to find them. Their problem now is that they are too short. Allow me to elaborate: The Swedish MAG as I previously mentioned uses 50 round belts that can be linked together. These belts are short enough that they won’t really become an issue when empty and hanging out of the gun until they’re completely emptied and drop off anyway, but they’re also long enough that when you’ve expended around 30 rounds of the belt, you take the empty part and wrap it around the carry handle – thus it will hang around even when it drops from the feed mechanism and when you have the time, you just unwrap it in a simple move and stow it in your dump bag for future use. The PKM belts of 25 rounds each are too short to find some place to “store” like this, and being only half capacity of the MAG ones, you’ll drop them out of the gun at twice the speed. Therefore, even if you manage to get a hold of a few of these belts, you’re much more likely to lose them anyway finding yourself back to using those irritating 100 rounders again.

One thing I used to believe was an issue with the MAG and a win for the PKM was the belt cans mounted beneath. In theory, this seems like a great solution, but in practice it’s problematic. With at least the Swedish MAG, the solution was a belt pouch for 49 rounds attached to the side. A single belt obviously being too little to do any good, it was possible to cram another belt half way in and leaving some hanging outside the gun, thus giving you a total of 99 rounds. It is not an elegant solution, and on the surface the PKM belt can be attached under the gun seems a lot better. I would however argue it isn’t. While the Swedish pouch is easy to hang on the gun and replace, just open the cover and lift the empty pouch off and hang a new one on the stud, the way you latch the can on the PKM is prone to cause fiddling around, especially if the can is full of ammo. Unless you’re in a calm environment you’ll often just find yourself opening it up throwing the empty can away in frustration continuing with the unpackaged belt as it is.

A 100 rounds capacity is still a limitation if you really want to get the most out of a machine gun. What you really want is go above that, with 150 or 200 rounds of continuous fire. As the MAG feeds from the left side, a right-handed shooter will easily be able to roll a belt of this size around his left arm and feed directly from it. I used this technique with the MAG, starting with a 200 round in the gun/around the left arm and a pair of pouches with 150 rounds each on the chest, easy to feed directly from once the starting 200 rounds were gone. This way I could hold a total of 500 rounds ready fast with only two short reloads in between them. Not having the ammunition directly attached to the gun also makes it lighter and a lot easier to swing around and control when firing from the shoulder or hip. With the PKM, as it feeds from the right side, this technique is impossible for a right-handed shooter. The right-side feed also means you are less aware of ammunition left and problems with the belt like tangled up ammunition (which the 7.62x54R is much more prone to than rimless 7,62 NATO) since the belt is behind your field of view, obscured on the other side of the gun receiver. For example, let’s say your belt gets tangled in some grass or whatever. The MAG gunner will have clear visual on this and, time permitting, he will be able to clean it off the belt before God’s green earth enters the internals of the gun. The PKM gunner on the other hand will be surprised when his gun stops firing suddenly. To be fair and in its defence, the PKM can take an astonishing lot of gunk inside it before it stops working, but it’s still not really a good design feature.

Outside of these directly “combat related” issues of the PKM and its belly can, it’s also like a huge cowbell hanging around underneath the gun, ammunition rattling around inside against the thin steel casing, telling everyone around you are coming. Sure, not necessarily a problem when there’s already a lot of shooting going on, but forget about trying to do sneaky recon stuff with it. This problem can be mitigated with 3rd party production cloth pouches of different kinds, but they’ll in turn often increase the chances of the case rims getting stuck to each other, freezing the gun up completely.

Worst of all though, walking around with the PKM is bad as it is with any MG, but with the can attached, carrying the gun on your chest is horrible.  Enjoy having that can of ammunition banging against your scrotum for what will feel like an eternity. In general, whichever way you try to carry the gun, there will always be some part of it sticking into your guts, ribs or some other part of your body, or you will have to carry it in a way that puts an excess strain on your back, neck or both. This is a proud soviet design feature I think pioneered by the DP28. The MAG on the other hand carried on your chest will lie flush against it and won’t give you any bruises. If you get back pains from it anyway, you can always just swing it over with the ejection port on top of your shoulder. Because of this, despite being several kilos heavier, the MAG is the gun I’d prefer to carry around for an extended period of time. And with this being said, most of the weight the machine gunner carries comes from the ammunition anyway. So even if you save a couple of kilos with the PKM, well you’re still going to be carrying a lot and the very small difference in how much your life will suck will be negligible if even noticeable.

The bipod is another sad story for the PKM and the only good thing it’s got going for it is that it holds a cleaning rod inside one of the legs. While the MAG has a sturdy one with good play in all directions, quick to both unfold and fold with the use of one hand, the PKM is a stiff piece of rattling junk that is close to a two-handed procedure to fold back up. Because of this, you may end up just running the gun with the bipod unfolded much of the time. This works, I guess, until you have to dive down quickly to the ground and as the bipod is married between the weight of the gun, the force of you going prone and the unmoving ground beneath you, it just breaks its thin metal mounting point wrapped around the gas tube and falls right off. You’ve got that cowbell of a metal can underneath the gun, at least you can sort of support the gun on that instead. But now it will want to slide around on some surfaces but better than nothing. And to be fair, because of how thin the bipod legs are, you still couldn’t carry it with them folded up backwards without frying your fingertips on the hot barrel anyway, so not much of a loss there. You’ll just have to hold and shoot the gun from the hip using that terrible and flimsy carry handle instead. Until the carry handle also just came loose, because the screws that attaches it to barrel unthreaded through the of vibrations as you were shooting. How very unexpected of something that came out of a soviet factory. Well I guess you’re going to have to wrap a sweaty t-shirt around the barrel then and go from there.

Kristóf: Well, that is, because you are doing it all wrong. As a right-handed person you grab the left leg of the bipod and apply some pull while you press the receiver against your hip. This way you have a stable platform to fire on the move at close distance. With tracers it would works easily to 50m and more if you just want to supress the target. While I agree with your point regarding the less than ideal ergonomics of the PKM bipod I’m surprised to hear how badly it worked for you in the field. I would also not generally despise everything, because it was made in the Soviet Union. There is plenty of stuff that came out of this country with superb quality and design. By the way the PKM is light enough to fire it from the shoulder in short bursts. You just need some training. But I get the rest. What else do you dislike?

Carolus: Yeah, I’ve seen people do that. The same kind of people who excuse their lack of results with “well nobody hits anything when firing from the hip anyway that’s just in movies”. If you have a solid grip under the gun, you can easily give continuous long burst from the hip even on longer distance once you get the hang of it. The wide-when-folded bipod of the MAG is an excellent grip for shooting like this. Sure, the PKM can be fired from the shoulder but like you said, only in short bursts, like 3 rounds or so. It’s a machine gun, the entire point of it is long bursts which is only possible from the hip. I’d even argue that hip fire is more accurate anyway, as you won’t lose your situational awareness from the gun jumping around in front of your face. The only situation where it’s really advisable to fire from the shoulder is if you’re stuck in terrain where you can’t fire from the hip, let’s say tall grass or something. Otherwise, it’s in general more effective to fire from the hip. You just need some training and a feel for it. Once you get the feeling, it’s not difficult to land very quick and accurate suppressing fire at beyond 100 meters.

Thank you, Carolus, I’m looking forward to continue this conversation with you very soon!


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