The M60: Lipstick on a Pig

The M60 machine gun is a legendary weapon amongst American military small arms. It was our first real general-purpose machine gun, and it’s been in service since 1957. It’s also one of the few weapons that’s transcended from the minds of small arms aficionados into the general world. It’s a cultural icon in films, TV, and video games. One of my proudest accomplishments was getting a gold M60 in Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare. Today, we’ll explore the M60 in depth.

We’ll dive deep into the weapon, its use, its continued use, its problems, and its time to shine as a movie star.

Early Origins of the M60

World War I taught us that we needed machine guns. World War II taught that the infantry needed portable machine guns. The Allies entered the Second World War with the machine guns of the first. Big, heavy, and hardly portable. Guns like the BAR were designed to give portable firepower but were found lacking.

T44 prototype
The T44 was a very early prototype. Notice the side-mounted top cover.

As such, American armories modified existing belt feds like the M1919A6 for the infantry, but it was a stopgap. In fact, it was the Germans with the MG34 and MG42 that proved the concept worked and worked well. When World War II ended, the military began work on the M60.

The design uses cues from the German FG42 and the MG42, as well as the M1941 Johnson Machine gun. The weapon was intended to replace both the BAR and M1919A6 with the infantry, and it would serve as a GPMG. GPMG, or general purpose machine gun, is a weapon that fulfills multiple roles, including use with the infantry on trucks, aircraft, armor, boats, and beyond.

M60 prototype
The T52E3 was an evolved prototype.

The finished product was known as the T161E3 until it was adopted by the US Army and designated the M60 in 1957. The M60 is a gas-operated, belt-fed, air-cooled, fully automatic-only, open-bolt medium machine gun that fires the 7.62 NATO cartridge. The weapon could be fired from a bipod or mounted to the M122 tripod. It utilized a disintegrating belt and had a quick-change barrel design.

The final design competed against modified versions of the MG42 and FN MAG, but Congressional requirements noted a preference for American designs and firms.

Trial By Combat

It wasn’t long after it was adopted the M60 made its way to war. Vietnam kicked off, and the M60s got their first trial by combat. The M60 became the squad automatic weapon for infantry forces and found its way onto Hueys, M113 Armored personnel carriers, and river patrol boats.

M60 in vietnam
The M60 was known as the PIG in Vietnam.

The M60 gave the infantry a fairly lightweight machine gun. At only 23 pounds, the M60 was nearly 10 lbs lighter than the M1919A6. The weapon could be fired from the shoulder at close range or mounted in the defense on a tripod to give soldiers and Marines an effective range of 1,200 yards. It proved versatile, and most soldiers seemed to like the weapon. They gave it the Pig nickname due to its weight and the amount of ammo the gun would chew through. SEAL teams reportedly trimmed the barrels and lopped the front sight off. They even built backpacks with feed chutes to give the gunner hundreds of rounds of ammo.

The M60 was an effective gun, but it wasn’t perfect. Vietnam was harsh on weapons, and the M60 had parts that wore out quickly. Bolts and operation rods were common breakages. The weapon was also very sensitive to fouling and dirt.

M60 with soldier
The M60 got its trial by fire in Vietnam.

Eventually, the M60 was phased out in the 1990s and replaced by the M240, which is the American designation for the FN MAG. However, the M60 stuck around in various configurations for decades after the adoption of the M240.

Why It Stuck Around

The M60 is lightweight, and that’s the major reason why it’s remained in service with Special Operations communities as well as international military forces. It also has a low firing rate of around 550 rounds per minute, making it easy to control.

The M60 began being upgraded in various ways to enhance the weapon. These became the E series of the M60s. The first significant upgrade was the M60E3, which was able to trim five pounds off the original weight. This made it one of the lightest 7.62 machine guns on the market.

M60E3 on white
The M60E3 provided a much lighter M60.

The M60E3 also attached the bipod to the receiver and added a front pistol grip, an ambidextrous safety, multiple sling points, a lighter barrel, and a barrel carry handle. While better, the gun still had issues. A big cut in weight made the weapon more fragile and prone to wear. The M60E4 returned the weapon to its original weight but kept the reliability upgrades. The Navy designated this model the Mk 43 mod 0.

Finally, the M60E6 arrived and brought the weight down to 20.4 pounds. Users got a redesigned quick-change barrel design, and a number of internal improvements have improved reliability. This variant can easily accept optics and accessories. This variant was adopted by the Danish military as well as the Navy SEALs.

M60 in IRAQ
The M60 was used in the GWOT extensively. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson. (RELEASED)

While SEALs have access to guns like the Mk 48, the M60E6 continues to be chosen and fielded by SEAL teams. It’s heavier than the Mk48 but has a slower firing rate. The combination of a little more weight and a lower firing rate makes the weapon easier to control.

M60E6 modern M60
The M60E6 is the latest variant of the old warhorse.

Becoming a Cultural Icon

The M60 and all its variants have served in hundreds of films, TV shows, and video games. The weapon’s profile is instantly recognizable. This includes your typical Vietnam movies like Full Metal Jacket, but it’s in comedies like Tropic Thunder and movies like Blade Trinity. It’s everywhere, but what really made it a cultural icon was its use in a string of 1980s action movies.

Notably, the first Rambo, our titular character, uses one mainly to cause chaos and never harms anyone. He shoots out lights and windows and starts fires. He fires it from the hip and supports a belt of ammo in a number of striking scenes. The gun comes back in Rambo 2, where it most certainly harms people.

chuck norris with M60
What’s more 1980s than a hip-fired M60? (Credit: IMDB)

It pops up in Commando, Predator, Terminator 2, Missing In Action, and many more. This cultural exposure helped the weapon become well-known outside of military and firearm circles. The M60 is a cultural icon, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s huge, loud, and creates a great flash. Belted blanks look great, but unlike other medium machine guns, they can even be fired from the shoulder, and that looks cool and doesn’t challenge the actor to struggle with a weapon.

The M60 Forever

The old M60 still has a lot of life in her. Even with these new fancy cartridges and M250 making the rounds, it’s unlikely the M60 will retire any time soon. The M60 will stick around with numerous military forces and still maintain its aptitude as a cultural icon for some time to come.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap