December 02, 2021
The 7.62x51mm M60 was the US Army's first modern General Purpose Machine Gun. The new design was developed based upon fresh combat experience gleaned during World War II and the Korean War. In both of these conflicts US troops fought with various John Browning designs, which while reliable, had various shortcomings. These included the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the Caliber .30 M1919A6, M1919A4 and M1917A1 machine guns. The M60 introduced a number of new features to US machine gunners. Chief of these was the ability to quickly and easily change barrels. Unlike the old Brownings, the M60 could keep firing, and when its barrel became too hot, the assistant gunner could quickly swap it out for another.
The M60 machine gun was a huge step forward in thinking by the US military when it was adopted in 1957. Rather than being a heavy ponderous piece lacking a quick-change barrel feature, like the Browning M1919A4/A6, the M60 is a true General Purpose Machine Gun. Fired off the bipod it can perform the role of a light machine gun. Its relatively light 23-pound weight allows the gun team to keep up with assaulting infantry. When mounted onto a tripod the M60 can perform as a medium machine gun, with the assistant gunner quickly swapping out hot barrels. One of its virtues is how light it is compared to many other designs of the time, such as the M1919A4/A6 it replaced and the FN MAG58.
The M60’s 550 to 650 rpm cyclic rate provided a high hit probability without a copious expenditure of ammunition, as was the case with the German MG42. It combined controllability for accurate bursts, or extended strings for suppressive fire. Combat experience gained facing MG42s heavily influenced American ordnance officers of the day. Developed from 1952 to 1957, the M60 shows obvious MG42 influence. It was a very different design in concept, materials used, manufacture and how it was employed compared to the old Browning series. It was a much more “mobile” gun, able to be fired from the shoulder, off its bipod, mounted onto a tripod or vehicle mounted.
It’s also interesting to note the US M60 machine gun’s feed system was based on the German 7.92mm MG42 GPMG’s. An excellent design, the MG42 was carefully inspected by US Army Ordnance officers during the war. In the post-war years features of both the German MG42 machine gun and 7.92mm FG 42 automatic rifle were incorporated in the new design. While partly derived from German guns, it contained American innovations as well. Early prototypes, notably the T52 and T161 bore a close resemblance to both the M1941 Johnson machine gun and the FG 42. It should be noted the FG 42 was itself based on the American Lewis Gun. The final evaluation version was designated the T161E3. It was intended to replace the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle and M1919A6 Browning machine gun in the squad automatic weapon role, and the M1919A4 and water-cooled M1917A1 in the medium machine gun role.
The M60 played an important role during the war in Vietnam, and will be forever linked to those who sacrificed so much in an unpopular war far from home. It wasn’t a perfect design though by any means. It was possible to assemble it wrong so it would only fire one shot. It had a number of fleas, and as guns wore out in service and were not replaced its reputation grew tarnished. It was eventually replaced by the heavier, but more reliable, FN 240 series. Today, the M60 lives on in memories and old war movies.
5 M60 Machine Gun Facts
- The M60 machine gun has numerous variants, including dedicated models for use on helicopters, greatly increasing its flexibility and extending out its service life.
- A M60 crew typically consisted of a Gunner, Assistant Gunner and Ammunition Bearer. The Gunner carries the machine gun and 200 to 1,000 rounds of ammunition. The Assistant Gunner carries the spare barrel and additional ammunition. He reloaded the weapon and spots targets. The Ammunition Bearer carries the tripod with T&E plus additional ammunition.
- The U.S. Navy SEAL teams of Vietnam employed shortened and “cut down” M60 machine guns, making a substantially more man-portable platform, easier for single-person use.
- The M60 machine gun bears the nickname "The Pig". This nickname reaches back to its use in Vietnam.
- One downside to the M60 design is the bipod is attached to the barrel. While not an issue when being fired off the tripod, it was a pain changing barrels while firing off the bipod. Plus the spare barrel had the added weight of the bipod.
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About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.