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Sixty Interesting Things to Know About the M60 Machine Gun

The M60 Machine Gun might be the single most iconic weapon of the Vietnam War, but young Americans — including several RECOIL contributors and hundreds if not thousands of RECOIL readers — carried it into harm's way during scores of other conflicts around the world.

Since today is the 29th anniversary of the release date of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket we figured a short piece on the venerable “Pig” was in order. Today we discuss the Care, Feeding and Use of this machine gun with sixty interesting things to know about the M60.


1. Care

Though the M60 is reputed to have a mercurial nature, overall it has proven to be a reliable and robust weapon. During its development , one T161E2 machine gun was put through a sustained fire test in which it fired 25,000 rounds over the course of four hours at a rate of 100 rounds per minute with a barrel change every 10 minutes. This demonstrated the viability of the weapon's barrel change system. But, carbon buildup remained a problem with its gas system and the firing pen, which had a tendency to break, could cause the weapon to fire when out of battery. Later several guns were used in capability demonstrations for US allies, each cycling through at least 60,000 rounds. A relatively slow rate of fire did not prevent it from being effective on the battlefield, but as with any machine it had it problems — early models suffered from what was referred to as “receiver stretch”, for instance (a problem with the receiver-trunnion block weld) and stamped aluminum feed tray covers could be damaged fairly easily, often taking the weapon out of action.


2. Feeding

The new M60MG and new NATO 7.62 round were developed at the same time, though not exactly together. Although descended directly from German MG42 and FG42, the T161 machine gun was the first to physically resemble the M60 of today. It came from recommendations put forth by theWar Department Equipment Board in the Army Equipment Development Guide in 1950. The new MG was to weigh no more than 18lb, have a cyclic rate of fire around 600rpm, a disintegrating belt feed, a flash hider and a quick-change barrel with fixed headspace. The T161 was initially to use the extant .30 caliber M2 round, but that requirement was set aside with the advent of the new T65 ammunition — itself the result of another 1950 WDEB recommendation. Beginning during WWII when the US Army Chief of Ordnance directed the research a military version of the .300 Savage cartridge, the T65 ammunition drew inspiration from the German Mittelpatronel intermediate cartridge used in both semi-auto and select fire weapons. The first T65 rounds were .30 cal ball loaded into cases like those of the .300 Savage. The T65E1 used the same cartridge case with a different bullet and propellant charge, and the ammunition was eventually adopted as NATO's 7.62x51mm round. M60 ammunition most often arrived in 100-round belts packaged in chipboard boxes in cloth bags; it also came in longer belts stowed in metal ammo cans for shooting from a bipod or tripod.


3. Use

The M60 was formally adopted in 1957, with the first guns coming off production lines at Springfield Armory in December, 1958. The weapons were received first by the 101st Airborne and some Marine Corps units. The weapon system first saw widespread action in Vietnam, arriving with conventional units in 1965. It was used in large numbers — three in each rifle platoon, for instance, as well as modified variants in SOF units, on helicopters and small riverine craft and on every sort of wheeled and tracked vehicle. Though there are no doubt thousands of harrowing and heroic tales of the M60 in use from Southeast Asia to the Arabian Peninsula and many places in Africa, but a couple stand out.

One is the tale of Medal of Honor recipient LCpl Richard Pittman, a Marine with 1/5 (1st Battalion/5th Marine Regiment), whose actions against numerically superior elements of the 324th NVA (North Vietnamese Army) Division in 1966. An M60 gunner, Pittman fought his way up the trail his platoon as the fight started. He silenced two enemy automatic weapon positions, suppressed enemy soldiers in his immediate vicinity, and advanced another 50m into the face of more attacking NVA. After the fight two-thirds of Pittman's platoon were dead or wounded. In 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented then-Sergeant Pittman with the Medal of Honor.

Another is the tale of Medal of Honor recipient PFC Melvin Newlin of 2/5 Marines (2nd Battalion/5th Marine Regiment) , who that same year was part of the defense of the Nong Son outpost. A night attack left Newlin wounded and several Marines dead. He continued to resist, repulsing two enemy pushes, then was knocked unconscious and further wounded by a grenade. Believing the defenders, dead, attacking Viet Cong moved past his position into the bunkered cantonment area. Newlin regained consciousness, recovered his machine gun and engaged the enemy from the rear, killing or wounding many and disrupting the VC crew of a captured American recoilless rifle before it could be used on Marine bunkers. The VC turned their attention back to Newlin's position, assaulting it twice and wounding Newlin again each time. His actions bought time for the Marines inside the wire to organize a defense, though not in time to keep hm alive. Eighteen year old Marine PFC Melvin E. Newlin was posthumously presented with the Medal of Honor. Years later the Marine Corps established its Warfighting Laboratory in a building called Newlin Hall.

Another occurred the following year at Hill 875 during the fighting at Dak To. There Army PFC Carlos Lozada, an M60 gunner with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, was in a position forward of his unit when an NVA company attacked. Lozada's unit, Company A, was ordered to withdraw, but PFC Lozada knew if no one remained behind to fight a delaying action an effective withdrawal would be impossible and would likely result in many casualties, if not a rout. Therefore despite NVA forces approaching from three sides Lozada remained in place, sending the other soldiers in his position back and engaging the enemy with his machine gun. This focused enemy attention and fires on the blocking position, eventually killing him. PFC Carlos Lozada posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

That's it for now — we said 60, but we lied. Three was a lot easier. However, if you want to know more, there are lots of great resources out there. You can read Kevin Dockery's excellent book (a primary source of information for this article), the Illustrated History of Machine Guns, the Army Study Guide, or this article with video.

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