For the Soviet Army of World War 2, the ages old PM Model 1910 was a serviceable, reliable weapon for the machine gun role. However, the system was rather weighty - 140lbs with its two-wheeled carriage assembly - and relied on water cooling. Its origins were in the original recoil-operated Hiram Maxim Machine Gun at the turn-of-the-century, the Model 1910 simply rechambered for the Russian 7.62x54mmR rifle cartridge. The weapon was available in such astounding numbers that it was the focal point of machine gun teams in the 1939-1940 Winter War with neighboring Finland.
However, Soviet fortunes changed when Germany led an Axis assault force into Soviet territory to begin the East Front in a June 1941 invasion (Operation Barbarossa). The Model 1910 continued to give good service in the face of the offensives and large stocks were lost in the fighting. Soviet factories were eventually moved to safer locations and production of the guns restarted.
Even before this dark time in Soviet history, though by Soviet warplanners had already turned to acquiring an indigenously-designed, air-cooled machine gun of lighter weight. One of the key deficiencies of the Model 1910 was its cumbersome nature which limited its tactical usefulness and effectiveness. Modern battlefields were envisioned as more fluid fronts and a lighter weapon was now sought. Design of the gun fell to engineer Peter Maximovitch Goryunov in 1940 who was already working on a new tank-mounted machine gun. The same design was reconstituted for the medium machine gun role, retaining its belt-fed, air-cooled function and gas-operation. The same cartridge - the 7.62x54mmR - was still in play for simplicity's sake and the same two-wheeled carriage was used as the support assembly in the new gun. Due to its tank design origins, the weapon also featured a heavier (chrome-lined) barrel which aided in a longer barrel life. Internally, the mechanism was kept clean and simple which helped in cleaning and repairs, helping further push the quality of reliability. The only drawback was a rather complex strip-and-feed mechanism used in management of the incoming cartridge.
With design complete and firing trials hurried along, the weapon proved a sound addition to the Soviet arsenal when it was adopted in 1943 as the "SG-43". It was lighter by about 20lbs, featured a variable rate-of-fire, and increased effective engagement ranges. While intended to succeed the aged Model 1910, factories could not keep up with the Army demand leaving both model types in service side-by-side for the duration of the war. In practice, the SG-43 was as reliable as advertised, capable of 500 to 700 rounds per minute with a 2,624 feet-per-second muzzle velocity. Effective ranges reached 1,100 meters with maximum engagement ranges out to 1,500 meters. Feeding was by way of a 200- or 250-round belt and ranging through a simple iron sight arrangement. In terms of excellence, the SG-43 rivaled the American Browning M1919 series as "true" machine guns on World War 2 battlefields.
Following the war, the SG-43 was finally standardized in Soviet formations and modernized to produce the "SGM" designation. Revisions included dust covers at the feed and ejection port for improved reliability and addition of a barrel lock. The cocking handle, found on the underside of the receiver, was now relocated to the more conventional right-hand side for better access. The barrel was fluted to improve the air-cooled nature of the gun under sustained fire actions. In keeping with the origins of the SG-43, the weapon also became a fixture on Soviet tanks as a coaxial installation under the "SGMT" designation. An alternative vehicle-mounted form was the "SGMB".
As was the case with many successful Soviet-designed weapons of World War 2, the SG-43 and its offshoots were exported to allies and support states all over the world during the ensuing Cold War years. This led to its use by the armies of Afghanistan, Albania, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Hungary, Mongolia, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. A limited stock fell to the Finns in World War 2. Chinese and Egyptian forms were locally produced under license. North Korean and Chinese SG-43s were in service during the Korean War (1950-1953). Afghan SG-43 guns were used against their Soviet creators in the bloody Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s.
The SG-43 series soldiered on for the Soviet Army until warplanners revised machine gun tactics and requirements moving ahead. In its place was the adoption of the Kalashnikov-designed PK/PKM General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) of 1961 which promised the same level of voluminous firepower through a more handier, portable package. The weapon retained a belt-feeding function, was gas-operated, and chambered for the same 7.62x54mmR cartridge seen in the SG-43. Over 1 million of this line were produced with many still in circulation today. For the Red Army, the age of the carriage-based machine gun had ended.
SG-43 - Original Model of 1943
SGM - Modernized form; fluted barrel; dust covers at feed and ejection port; barrel lock; relocated cocking handle to right side of receiver.
SGMT - Coaxial tank machine gun variant
SGMB - Vehicle-mounted machine gun variant
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