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* The US Army’s Vaunted M-60 Machine Gun - www.ihfhilm.com

A Versatile, Rapid-Fire Weapon, The US Army’s Vaunted M-60 Machine Gun Had Its Heyday During The Vietnam War, But Remains In Our Military Inventory A Generation Later

by Blaine Taylor

Photo: The author's M-60 gun jeep in South Vietnam, 1967.


The time is early 1967, the place a crowded square over a body of water on a narrow bridge in downtown Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City in unified Vietnam. At the time, the now long-ago Vietnam War was still a-raging, with nine more years yet to go; at least a decade of American involvement had already occurred.

I was on that bridge, a 19-year-old American Army gun jeep commander. At my command, I had a truly awesome amount of firepower as I stood at my post in the rear of the vehicle. My driver-like me-wore a .45 caliber pistol sidearm, and had an M-16 rifle beside him; so did the man seated to his right and my front. Besides the .45, I had an M-79 grenade launcher on the floorboards of the jeep, all of them covered with heavy sandbags, in case our vehicle was hit by a Viet Cong landmine.

All three of us wore steel helmets and flak jackets for protection that were also worn on helicopters and waterborne craft by their crews.

The jeep's principal weaponry, however, was the deadly United States Army standard-issue North Atlantic Treaty Organization M-60 machine gun, which-like the M-16 rifle-fired the basic NATO round, 7.62mm ammunition. With the exception of the 1911-introduced .45, all three weapons had been brought into the NATO arsenal at about the same time, in the early Sixties, and the reason was simple, so that all NATO armies would be armed with the same weaponry and ammunition---for ease of common supply-in case of a land war in Continental Europe with the former Soviet Union and its then Warsaw Pact allies: Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria and Albania.

Today, it is largely forgotten that such a war almost occurred in Germany after the Soviet punitive expedition against Czechoslovakia in 1968, but it was only very nearly averted. Instead, these weapons were employed against two Communist armies on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia: the North Vietnamese Regular Army and the South Vietnamese civilian guerilla Viet Cong forces, whom I faced during 1966-67 as a member of the US Army 199th Light Infantry Brigade.

It was as a combat Military Policeman assigned to road convoy duty getting American infantry into and out of the field under fire areas that I found myself on that lonely bridge in Saigon.

I must say that I was somewhat alarmed to be surrounded by a sea of swarming humanity that day, their intentions toward us unknown. On the other hand, I knew that I was armed with what I considered to be one of the best machine guns in the world, mounted on a cast-iron swivel just under my right armpit. If we had to fight our way out, we were ready. As it happened, we were lucky that day, and allowed to pass unharmed. For that I have always been grateful.

The M-60 machine gun was what the military calls a "crew-served weapon," with a team of three soldiers to transport, load and fire it. It is capable of several types of fire: grazing, plunging, flanking, oblique and enfilading. Aside from vehicular-mounted fire, it is capable of being fired from the shoulder (kneeling and standing), and from a prone position as well.

Its available ammunition consists of the following types: ball (for usage against light materials and personnel, and for range training); armor-piercing (for use against lightly-armored targets); tracer (for observation of fire, incendiary effects, signaling and training); dummy (for use during mechanical training) and blank (for use during training when simulated fire is desired. A blank firing attachment must be used to fire this ammunition.)

Truly, in any modality, the M-60 machine gun was, is and remains a fearsome weapon of great potency in my judgment.

Like other weapons in the US's current military inventory, so, too, the M-60 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) had its evolution out of the end of World War II, asserts one source: "The Allies had been impressed with the flexibility provided by the German GPMGs, and the American M-60 thus incorporated a modified feed mechanism based on that of the German MG 42, with the operating mechanism of the FG 42 assault rifle."

Eventually, the M-60 would go on to replace both the Browning light and heavy machine guns in the American arsenal, with its initial prototype being the T44. Its feed mechanism was bettered with two more variants until the T161 was produced and was introduced into the US armory as the M-60 GCMG.

It could be used in both a bipod modality for rapidly-advancing infantry on the move or for defense when mounted on its M112 tripod as a heavy machine gun.

It was 1,100cm long, weighed 10.48 kg, was gas-operated, had a 50-round link belt of 7.62mm ammunition and a muzzle velocity of 860 meters per second. Its maximum effective range was 800 meters with the bipod and an additional 1,000 meters when the tripod was added; the optimal operating range was 100 meters, and it fired four different types of rounds: ball, tracer, armor-piercing and incendiary.

Notes one source, "Moving away from the recoil mechanism of the Browning machine guns, the M-60 was designed as a gas-operated weapon. As the first round travels down the barrel, it pushed gas into the gas cylinder through a hole in the bore. The pressure in the cylinder then forces a piston down the chamber, moving the bolt back and bringing the next round into place.

"Once the firing pin hits the bullet and sends it speeding out of the barrel, the cycle is repeated for as long as the trigger is depressed. With no gas regulator on the gun, however, there were drawbacks to this mechanism. Accumulated dirt or dust would slow the piston down and result in the M-60 either jamming or 'running away.' The latter term refers to the weapon continuing to fire even when the finger is removed from the trigger.

"An extremely unnerving problem to deal with during the heat of battle, the assistant M-60 gunner would have to hold onto the ammunition belt in order to stop it feeding. Besides the advantage of a quick-change barrel, one of the best features of the M-60 was that the chromium-plated barrel itself had satellite liners for the first six inches along the muzzle from the chamber.

"This non-ferrous lining, combined with precision engineering, considerably increased the lifespan of each barrel. As a result of the practical experience gained during the Vietnam War, a modified version of the basic M-60 was introduced into service. This improved weapon remains the standard GPMG in the US Army.

"The M-60E1 differs from the original M-60 in a number of respects, including the attachment of a bipod to the rear of the gas cylinder , a modified rear sight, the addition of a die feed cover and a new feed tray. A further improvement has been the addition of a hanger assembly that can be used in conjunction with a 100-round ammunition box.

"Known as a 'bandolier,' this enables the M-60 gunner to lay down fire while on the move," concludes Nam: The Vietnam Experience, 1965-75, by Tim Page and John Pimlott.

Adds author Brig. Gen. David T. Zabecki in Volume One of The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, "The M-60 was used in every conceivable role for a machine gun. It was mounted on trucks, jeeps, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and other vehicles; on tripods inside fortifications; and on aircraft and boats. A version designated the M-60D was fitted with a rear trigger mechanism and handles (called spade grips) for use by helicopter door gunners," as this writer personally witnessed for the first time at the US Army Jungle and Guerilla Warfare Training Center in Hawaii, run by the 25th Infantry Division ("Tropic Lightning") in the summer of 1965.

Continues Gen. Zabecki, "The M-60 saw by far its widest use on the ground with the infantry. An infantry machine gun section officially consisted of three soldiers: the gunner, the assistant gunner and the ammunition carrier. In practice, all members of a patrol carried extra machine gun ammunition, which was passed up to the gun crew when needed.

"This accounts for the ubiquitous photographs of American infantrymen with belts of ammunition draped around their bodies. This was the easiest way to carry the heavy load, and it left the soldier's hands free to use his own weapons."

According to the April 1998 M-60 Operator's Manual, "The weapon has a sustained rate of fire of 100 rounds per minute (with a recommended barrel change every 10 minutes), a rapid rate of 200 rounds per minute (with two-three seconds in between bursts and a barrel change every two minutes), and a cyclic rate of approximately 550 rounds per minute (with a barrel change every single minute.)"

Its bandolier capacity is 100 rounds, and the weapon's maximum range is 3,725 meters, with a tracer round burn-out of 900 meters or more; these are the statistical figures for the M-60 machine gun.

The M-60D weighs 25 pounds and is 43.5 inches long. Its maximum effective range is 1,100 meters and the overall maximum range again is 3,725 meters, with the same tracer burn-out as the M-60 itself. Also like the M-60, the M-60D's sustained, rapid and cyclic rate of fire and related statistics are the same.

The rear sight consists of a range scale, aperture, scale retaining adjusting screw, elevating and windage knobs and windage scale.

When mounted on a three-quarter ton truck, the M-60 was fitted onto the M6 Pedestal Mount/M197 Mount, which was different from the jeep mount used by the present author during 1966-67.

Today's M-60 can also be mounted with the night vision sight AN/PVS-4 over top where the pistol grip fits below it.

The Operator's Manual also has an interesting section on "Care, Handling and Preservation of Ammunition: Do not open ammunition containers until the ammunition is to be used. Ammunition removed from the airtight containers, particularly in damp climates, is likely to corrode.

"Protect ammunition from mud, dirt and water. If the ammunition gets wet or dirty, wipe it off prior to use. Wipe off light corrosion as soon as it is discovered. Heavily corroded cartridges or cartridges which have dented cases or loose projectiles should not be fired.

"Do not expose the ammunition to the direct rays of the sun. If the powder is hot, excessive heat my be developed when the gun is fired. Do not oil or grease ammunition. Dust and other abrasives collecting on oiled or greased ammunition will damage the operating parts of the gun, and oil on cartridges will produce excessive chamber pressure."

Every war-or period in history---it seems, has its share of weaponry associated with it, from the Roman broadsword to the short Zulu Impi spear, from the British Brown Bess that held sway from the French and Indian War through the Napoleonic Wars.

So, too, may it prove to be with the reliable M-60 machine gun, as it takes its place in the overall context of the Vietnam War with the Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle, the Viet Cong punji stake, the NATO M-16 rifle and the Bell Huey chopper helicopter that all Vietnam veterans of both sides still remember so well to this day.

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* The US Army’s Vaunted M-60 Machine Gun


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