M60 Machine Gun: Devastating Firepower but Hated by Soldiers

M60 machine gun changed the course of the Vietnam War with its incredible firepower and fire range.
M60 Machine Gun Operating

The introduction of the machine gun decisively changed the way of fighting in the Vietnam war as it was a weapon with unmatched firepower that eliminated the enemies in front of it with its incredible stopping force and long range.

Its firepower was so intense that it was even used in the UH-1 Huey helicopter, and the M60 went down in history as one of the Vietnam war’s most iconic weapons.

But.. What makes this machine gun so good? Why has it stayed so long in service?

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The M60 machine gun

Marines fire an M60 machine gun
Marines fire an M60 machine gun by nara.getarchive.net. Public Domain

The M60 is a family of machine guns that started its production between 1952 and 1957, inspired by the design of the German MG42 and FG-42 machine guns.

The M60 stands out for its high effective range, good rate of fire, and caliber larger than that of the U.S. M16 rifle, being a valuable weapon for stopping or deterring enemy forces.

The aim of this weapon was to substitute the Browning M1919 A6 machine gun, which was employed as a platoon support weapon.

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Finally, it was introduced by the U.S. Army in 1957 and since then has been an essential part of the U.S. arsenal but was officially retired after Operation Desert Storm.

M60 machine gun specs

M60
M60 by pixabay.com
  • Unit cost: US$6,000 
  • Produced: 1957–present
  • Mass: 10.5 kilograms (23.15 pounds)
  • Length: 1,105 millimeters (43.5 inches)
  • Barrel length: 560 millimeters (22.0 inches)
  • Cartridge: 7.62×51mm NATO
  • Action: Gas-operated
  • Rate of fire: 550–650 rounds per minute
  • Effective firing range: 1,100 meters (1,200 yards)

M60 drawbacks in the Vietnam War

U.S. Army Soldiers armed with M60 machine guns
M60 machine guns by picryl.com. Public Domain.

Like the M16, this machine gun had some shortcomings in Vietnam since, in extreme conditions, its effectiveness is severely reduced, and in the heat and humidity of the jungle, some shortcomings of the M60 came to light. 

These flaws involved the difficulty of changing the barrel while it was hot, jamming, and the slow process to change the barrel. 

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In addition, even during the Vietnam War, it was called “the pig” due to its insatiable need for ammunition and weight, which in some cases could be uncomfortable when having to move quickly from one point to another with a heavy weapon and lots of ammunition.

M60 performance at war

The M60 has been deployed in a lot of global conflicts, and while it became famous in Vietnam, it has also been in the Colombian armed conflict, the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and the war between Cambodia and Vietnam, among many others wars around the war.

It can also be fired from the shoulders by a single operator, and its cost is relatively affordable for most of the world’s armies, which is why it has spread to so many countries – and we can find the M60 in countries such as the United States, Turkey United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, or Egypt.

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However, although it is still in use, the number of M60s deployed decreases as it’s being slowly fazed out from operational service.

The M60 machine gun is being changed by lighter machine guns of a different caliber like the M249. The problem is that having a smaller caliber, 5’56 mm, represents a shorter range and stopping power… and this has made many armies stay with their M60s as they consider it much more destructive for the enemy.

M60 has been an almost irreplaceable machine gun in war zones

The image of the machine gun remains closely tied to the fighting in the jungle during the Vietnam War, wiping out the North Vietnamese troops or at least keeping them suppressed.

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But this weapon can be used in any terrain with ease, and although its best days are over, apparently it still has a few more years of service ahead of it before it becomes a museum piece.


Feature image credit: M60 Machine Gun by picryl.com. Public Domain