Saco M60 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG)
The M60 was once the primary squad support machine gun of the United States military, since replaced by the M240 and M249.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The M60 served as the primary American general purpose machine gun for a good part of the 20th Century, being fielded in the squad support and vehicle mounted roles during its tenure. The M60 appeared following the close of the Korean War. It entered service in 1957 and saw extensive use in all United States branches from 1960 on. During the Cold War and thereafter, the M60 became a fixture of combat actions encompassing the Vietnam War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Gulf War of 1991, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War of 2003 (among others). Some foreign forces today still rely on the firepower inherent in the M60 - this some 50 years since the introduction of the weapon - and some 25+ nations have taken to field the system as their standard multi-purpose machine gun at one point or another. Despite its deficiencies, the M60 has led a long operational life that few modern machine guns can match.
The M60 actually had its origins in several respected German machine guns of World War 2. The excellent belt-fed MG42 was a standard part of the German Army from 1942 to 1959, replacing the expensive yet equally-successful MG34 general purpose machine gun. The MG42 was noted for its in-the-field reliability, ease of use and its durability under true fire conditions - able to spew out an impressive 1,200 to 1,500 rounds per minute. So well-known was the MG42 that American GIs developed an ear for its distinct sound when it fired, recognizing the weapon almost instantly.
The relatively advanced FG42 served the German military as a paratrooper's selective-fire automatic rifle and from 1942 to 1945. Though limited in outright numbers, its combination of size (no bigger than even the standard German Kar 98K bolt-action rifle) and firepower made it a highly portable and yet lethal battlefield implement.
To these ends, American engineers at Saco Defense utilized a modified form of the feed system of the MG42 and the bolt and locking system of the FG42 when designing their new machine gun to a new US Army requirement. The American prototype model became the "T44", retaining some of the look of her German predecessors including the long, squared-off stock, pistol grip and forward-placed bipod assembly. The pistol and trigger group were situated near the middle of the overall design with a ribbed handgrip just ahead. The belt feed mechanism was set off to the left side of the upper portion of receiver. A new easier-to-maintain gas system was developed and fitted to the design. The barrel was specifically designed for quick-changing in the field, denoting its sustained fire role where overheating of the barrel was a sure possibility. Of note here is that this Saco design (becoming the M60) became the first American machine gun to feature the quick-change barrel.
It is also noteworthy that the Americans attempted to outright copy the German MG42 during the war, producing the T24 Machine Gun prototype by Saginaw Steering Gear. However, when it was feared that the cartridge could prove too powerful for the copied design, the project was abandoned in whole.
The T44 was evaluated alongside the competing belt-fed, gas-operated T52 in the 1950s. The T52 was derived from the FG42 itself. The T44 edged out the T52 by way of its reliability under fire and its friendly production make up. The system later received the developmental designation of "T161" before becoming the official "M60" in 1957.
Externally, the M60 has always maintained something of a unique and readily identifiable appearance. Her long stock was squared off, in some ways mimicking the German guns she was based on. The long stock assisted in stability and allowed for a shorter overall weapon. The installation also served as home to the pistol grip and trigger system. The ammunition feed system (for belt ammunition only) was positioned just above the pistol grip with cartridges entering the receiver from the left side and existing out from the right. The ammunition was to be kept in a covered though ventilated container for optimal performance. The rear sight on the receiver was of the flip-up type variety and adjustable while the forward sight only became fully-adjustable later in the M60s production life. The forend served as the forward grip before the addition of a dedicated forward pistol grip debuted in the M60E3. The gas cylinder under the barrel became an identifying characteristic of the M60. The barrel, with its integrated fixed sight, protruded out over the gas cylinder and sported the collapsible integrated bipod assembly, hinged under the barrel itself. The bipod would eventually be relocated apart from the barrel in future M60 forms to help ease barrel changing. Though not the cleanest of designs, the M60 was nonetheless an image born for the utilitarian role it had been designed for.
The M60 weighed in at 23.15lbs and featured an overall length of 43.5 inches, with 22 inches of this made up by the barrel system. The weapon fired the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge from a gas-operated, open-bolt firing action. The feed system took on the M13-series disintegrating belt and could spew out a rate-of-fire of 600 rounds-per-minute at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second. Effective range was out to 1,200 yards while maximum range (at the expense of accuracy) was well further.