Say what you will about artillery, tanks or helicopters,
the machine gun remains the ruler of the infantry
battlefield. It took a first formal curtain call during
World War I and has never missed a combat performance
since. The result has been a great deal of military
concern regarding the proper form of the machine
When World War II ended the winners opted for a
concept conceived by the losers. By the early 1930s
the German Army had formulated requirements for
an Einheitsmaschinengewehr (universal machine gun).
This single gun - fitted with a variety of mounts and
accessories - was to serve as a squad automatic weapon,
a wheeled vehicle and tank machine gun, antiaircraft
gun and medium support weapon. The German Army
even proposed its use as an aircraft gun to the Luftwaffe.
Production, maintenance and training could be simplified
with a standard MG. The result of this attempt to
cover all bases with a single runner was the impressive,
sinister-looking, less-than-perfect MG34 (maschinengewehr,
A machinist's nightmare, the MG34 has more than 100
finely-fitted components. Even the heavy mount for
the MG34 had some 200 parts. Overly sensitive to
ammunition and environment - as battlefield performance
demonstrated - it was followed by the far superior MG42.
This roller-locked, recoil-operated Grossfuss design
had a cyclic rate of 1,200 rpm. For this reason, it was
soon dubbed "Hitler's zipper" by Allied troops who became
all-too-familiar with its rapid roar. The gun intri-gued
Allied small arms technologists who wanted to convert
it for use by their troops. An attempt by U. S - ordnance
personnel to convert the MG42 to caliber .30-06 failed
due to dimensional effors but a number of the MG42's
features - and the multi-purpose philosophy - were
incorporated into the two most prominent post-war
"general purpose machine guns" (GPMGs).
One of those is the U.S. M60 which is a very bad machine
gun. The other significant example is the Fabrique Nationale
Mitrailleuses D'Appui General (machine gun of general
purpose), otherwise known as the Mitrailleuse a Gaz
(gas-operated machine gun). This Belgian entry is even
more distinguished than its name. Commonly called the
FN MAG 58, this epitome of the GPMG genre was the crowning
achievement of FN's premier designer M. Ernest Vervier.
The MAG is belt-fed, gas-operated and fires from the
open bolt position. It is air-cooled and its 21.4-inch barrel
is designed for quick-change by the gun crew. In the
ground version, i. weighs 231/2 pounds with an overall
length of 49.2 inches. Its adjustable gas regulator permits
the cyclic rate to be varied from 650 to 1,100 rpm.
Some of the MAG's features are fascinating but it helps
understanding to summarize the gun's method of operation
and firing cycle. With the bolt retracted, the first round
of a belt in the cartridge way, and the top cover closed,
pressure on the trigger will drop the sear and release
the bolt. The bolt's feed horns come in contract with
the base of the cartridge and move it towards the chamber.
The locking lever contacts the ends of the front guides
inside the receiver and begins to move downward. The
bolt chambers the round while the extactor slips over
the rim. At this point, the piston extension continues
its forward movement and accelerates the downward
swing of the locking lever until the face of the lever
is in position in front of the locking shoulder. The system
is now in battery. The piston extension keeps charging
onward a short distance causing the firing pin to protrude
through the bolt face to strike the primer. The piston
extension stops all forward travel when its shoulder
strikes the face of the gas cylinder.
After the shot has been fired and the projectile passes
the barrel's gas vent, some of the propellant, gasses
pass through the vent into the gas regulator and cylinder
to drive the piston and piston extension rearward. As
the firing pin is withdrawn, the link connecting the piston
extension and locking lever pivots upward. As the link
lifts the locking lever away from the locking shoulder,
the bolt's front cams exert a backward leverage on the
locking lever. The bolt's rearward travel is thus retarded
and primary extraction is initiated. This system, taken
from the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), insures particularly
smooth and effortless functioning. Free of the locking
shoulder, the locking lever pulls the bolt rearward completing
extraction of the fired case. The empty case is tipped
downward and out through the bottom ejection slot by
the bolt's spring-loaded bump ejector. As the recoiling
components continue their rearward travel, the recoil
spring is compressed. Rearward travel ceases when the
end of the piston extension strikes the buffer. If the
trigger has been released the piston extension will be
caught by the sear and the bolt will remain retracted.
If not, the firing cycle begins again.
The FN MAG receiver is constructed similar to the Browning
machine guns. The steel side plates are attached to
the bottom plate by means of rivets. The front is reinforced
to accept the barrel nut and gas cylinder which are
permanently mounted. Guide rails which support the
bolt assembly and piston extension during their reciprocating
movement are riveted to the side plates. The bolt's
guide rails are shaped downward to drive the locking
lever into engagement with the locking shoulder - also
riveted to the side plates. The right side plate is cut
out for the retracting handle and the bottom of the
receiver body is cut away in front of the locking shoulder
to eject empty cases. A spring-loaded dust cover of
the MG42 type covers the ejection port. A notch milled
into the receiver floor retains the recoil spring and guide
rod. The rear of the receiver has been reinforced and
slotted to accept the buttstock. Rivets may start to
fatigue at about 70,000 rounds on the MAG, although
the guns usually will remain serviceable for more than
90,000 rounds. This can cause the side plates to separate.
If they break away at the front end, the bolt group
might literally fly out the side during a firing cycle.
Most often they will fail at the rear and spread the
buttstock slots - impeding removal and assembly of
this component. One of the Nicaraguan MAGs that I
worked on in El Salvador exhibited this problem. The
receiver's interior surface is chrome plated to facilitate
The piston, piston extension and bolt group have been
taken from the BAR with the exception of the locking
action which has been moved from a recess in the top
of the receiver to a locking shoulder on the receiver
floor to permit belt feeding. The piston is chrome plated
and has a cup-shaped end. While it is more difficult
to clean this type of piston head, it will operate longer
without servicing and seems to provide a sharper initial
recoil impulse. There are two models of piston assemblies.
The earlier variant featured a floating piston. The
current version has a fixed piston. While they are
interchangeable, the fixed piston requires a shorter
firing pin. There are two types of gas cylinders.
Model A will accept standard barrels only. Model B,
fitted to the British L7A1 and L7A2 GPMGS, will take
both standard and heavy barrels. The piston extension
is cut out to permit the empty cases to eject downward.
At its rear is a massive piston post to which is attached
the locking lever link by means of a removable pin.
The firing pin is retained in the piston post by a roll
pin which is not easily removed. The Israelis have
improved this by use of a split-pin that can be
removed without a punch.
The firing pin moves through a cut in the locking
lever link into its channel in the bolt body. It is not
spring loaded. The locking lever link is connected
to the locking lever by two nonremovable pins.
The front arms of the locking lever are pinned to
the bolt body where they ride and rotate in recesses
on each side. The recoil spring and guide rod are
housed within the hollow interior of the piston extension.
Both multiple strand and single strand recoil springs
will be encountered. Multi-strand springs avoid the
"surging" (wave movement) associated with high
cyclic rates by increasing friction. These springs
last longer and offer better performance under
adverse conditions. An actuator roller which operates
the feed system is mounted on top of the bolt body.
It is spring loaded. If the top cover is closed with
the bolt in the forward position (which some dolt
is always trying to do) neither the roller or feed
channel will be damaged. In addition, the spring-loaded
actuator-roller acts as a self-timing feeder. If the
roller is not in the feed channel, as the bolt moves
rearward, the second phase of the feed cycle will
not take place. Thus, rounds can never be out of
sync with the bolt movement. Try this sometime
with the M60 and see what happens.
The gas regulator of the MAG 58 infantry machine
gun is of the exhaust type. Propellent gases go
through the gas block on the barrel and pass into
the gas regulator assembly. The gas plug is drilled
with three gas escape holes. As the regulator knob
is rotated, the gas regulator sleeve slides along the
gas block varying the exposed area of the block's
three escape ports in alignment with the three gas
holes in the plug. In this manner the amount of gas
permitted to act upon the piston is controlled. When
the gas regulator knob is rotated clockwise all the
way home, the three gas-escape holes are completely
closed and all of the available gas strikes the piston
cup. The rate of fire is at its maximum as is the
stress on the gun's operating parts. As the regulator
knob is backed off (counter-clockwise), the regulator
sleeve progressively exposes the three gas-escape
holes, and an increasing amount of gas is vented
into the atmosphere rather than striking the piston.
When the gas indicator is turned counter-clockwise
to position " 3, " the maximum rate of fire permitted
is obtained - 900 to 1,100 rpm. Position "2" will yield
750 to 900 rpm. The lowest rate of fire occurs at
position "1" - 650 to 750 rpm.
The infantry MAG's rates of fire are too high in my
opinion. Without a chronometer it's impossible to
distinguish between the highest and lowest cyclic
rates. Four rounds is the shortest burst possible,
even at the lowest rate. The trade-off is a smaller
cone of fire down range when firing four to six-round
bursts - desirable when engaging point targets, but
cetainly not when area targets are to be covered.
To minimize component failure, conserve ammunition
and maximize hit potential always operate the MAG
58 with the regulator knob at position "1" unless
fouling and adverse conditions require more gas
to be diverted into the system.
The MAG 58 infantry version can be seriously faulted
in only one area. Two split rings hold the gas plug
onto the barrel's gas block. When the gas regulator
sleeve is unscrewed and removed during maintenance,
one or more of these rings will invariably fall into
the weeds. I always carry an extra set.
The MAG's air-cooled, quick-change barrel is 21.4
inches long and weighs six pounds with flash suppressor,
carrying handle and gas regulator. The bore and
chamber are chrome lined. The flash suppressor
resembles those on the M14 rifle and L4 series Bren
guns. The baffel has two sets of external interrupted
threads which mate with the barrel locking nut
threads on the receiver. To change the barrel,
first retract the bolt and push the trigger mechanism's
cross bolt to the right to the "safe" position ("S").
Depress the baffel locking catch button (located
on the left side of the receiver) and at the same
time rotate the carrying handle up to the vertical
position without pulling out on it (old style - Model
A with ribbed handle and integral barrel nut catch)
or pulling up on the separate barrel nut catch of
the new style carrying handle (Model B with smooth
plastic handle grip). This will rotate the barrel's
threads out of engagement with the receiver's locking
nut threads. Move the barrel forward and lift it
off. Replace in the opposite manner. This method
is taken from the Belgian FN Model D Browning
Automatic Rifle, except the direction of rotation
has been reversed.
The front sight is a blade type with a threaded
base. Two blades are available - a high blade
(11.8mm) and a low blade (9.8mm). The blade is
screwed into a dovetailed block with heavy protective
ears. Elevation zero is adjusted by screwing the
blade down to raise the mean point of impact (M.P.I.)
or up to lower the M.P.I., after the retaining stirrup
has been lifted. This can be done only with a special
spanner wrench issued to armorers. The MAG is
usually zeroed at 200 meters. Horizontal zero is
altered by use of the same tool. To move the M.P.I.
to the left, the sight block must be slid to the right
in its dovetail. Securing screws on each side are
alternately loosened and tightened. Front sight
adjustments are always in the opposite direction
of the desired change.
The folding-leaf rear sight provides a peep aperture
in the down position for ranges from 200 to 800
meters in 100-meter increments. When raised,
an open U-notch is used for ranges from 800 to
1,800 meters in 100 meter increments. The rear
sight is hinged to a base with protective ears
that is integral with the receiver's upper forging.
The FN MAG 58 bipod is attached to the end of
the gas cylinder about 12 inches in back of the
muzzle. Its aluminum legs, with their distinctive
splayed appearance, cannot be adjusted for height.
They can be folded back - for carrying or use
as a crude forearm - and secured in slots under
the receiver by their hooks and a spring-loaded
catch. When firing in the hip assault position, the
bipod legs should remain extended and the left
leg grabbed as a brace by the support hand. The
bipod can be removed from the gas cylinder by
inserting a punch through the hole in its head and
tapping the roll pin in the gas cylinder head until
it's flush and the bipod can be rotated enough to
clear the gas cylinder's retaining lugs. I recommend
this procedure each time the weapon is cleaned
back at the barracks after a combat operation,
as considerable carbon fouling accumulates in this
area. The tripod is elaborate, complex, beautifully
designed and executed and practically worthless.
It is what we call a "soft mount." Which is to say,
the gun is attached to a spring-buffered assembly
on top of the mount. By this means recoil is further
diminished and the accuracy potential at extreme
ranges is enhanced. The gun's components are also
subjected to less mechanical stress . Mounts of this
type were designed by the Germans in WWII for
the MG34 and MG42 GPMGs. They are supposed
to overcome the lightweight GPMG's disadvantages
as a long-range, sustained-fire support weapon.
While they certainly increase the weapon's hit
potential, they do not address its inability to provide
heavy, sustained fire without frequent barrel
changes. Tripods of this type are expensive (the
FN MAG 58 or Minimi tripod will set you back close
to $2,500 - the cost of the gun itself) and contain
far too many components for rugged field operations.
The trigger housing is an anodized aluminum casting.
Early versions had an enlarged trigger guard for
winter firing with gloves. Current models have
a removable trigger guard. The trigger mechanism
is exactly that of the MG42 and a fine one it is.
The cross bolt safety operates directly on the
sear and can be manipulated only when the gun
is cocked. Pushing the cross bolt all the way to
the right will expose the letter "S" (Safe) and engage
the safety catch against the heel of the sear. Moving
the cross bolt all the way to the left will expose
the letter "F" (Fire) and disengage the safety catch
from the heel of the sear. There is no provision
for semiautomatic fire.
Because of its high rate of fire, the MG42 trigger
mechanism incorporated a unique sear trip which
has been wisely retained on the FN MAG 58. The
sear trip is spring-loaded and attached to the top
of the trigger. The front of the sear passes through
this sear trip and a T-bar at its end restricts the
sear trip's forward rotation. When the trigger is
pulled the sear trip descends, allowing the front
of the sear to rise while the rear end is lowered,
releasing the piston extension. As long as the trigger
is held back and ammunition remains, the piston
extension/bolt group will continue to reciprocate
back and forth. When the trigger is released, its
front end rises, taking with it the sear tfip as well
as the front end of the sear. As a result, the rear
end of the sear is lowered even further. The sear
trip now projects into the piston extension's path
of travel. The piston extension heel shoves the
sear trip rearward. This frees the front end of
the sear and permits the sear spring to drive the
rear end of the sear upward to grab the piston
extension with the full face engagement in one
sudden, sharp movement.
The sear trip fulfills two important functions. It
keeps the sear bent in a low position except at
the final moment of engagement with the piston
extension, which reduces wear and chipping of
the two mating surfaces. It also prevents the trigger
mechanism from being placed on "safe" when the
piston extension/bolt group is forward, as the sear
could be damaged if the operator attempted to
retract the bolt with the cross bolt on the safe
The trigger pull weight on this gun is primarily a
function of the heavy recoil spring which is under
considerable compressive force when the piston
extension is retracted. My MAG 58 breaks at a very
crisp and consistent 10 pounds.
The MAG's great reliability is in large measure
due to a component never seen. Hidden within
the distinctively shaped wooden buttstock with
its seven vertical grooves on each side is a most
successful buffer system. Because of its high
cyclic rate, the MAG must use a "hard" buffer, as
did the MG42. Thus little energy is lost, counter-recoiling
forces remain strong, functional reliability under
adverse conditions is high and the operator gets
jolted a little harder. Machine guns with lower
cyclic rates, like the Bren and M60 can use "soft"
buffers which absorb more recoil energy and reduce
felt recoil, but drain the available power reserve.
The Bren design along with its adjustable gas
regulator needs no additional power reserve, the
M60 unfortunately does.
When the piston extension reaches the end of its
rearward movement, it slams against the buffer's
face, or "bush," forcing it to recoil slightly. The
bush transfers its movement to a braking cone
which penetrates the braking ring, causing it to
open. As it expands, the braking ring contacts the
interior wall of the buffer cylinder, exerting a
braking action through friction. It also moves back,
flattening a series of 11 Belleville (saucer-shaped)
washers. When this strain energy is released as
the washers return to their original shape, the
energy surge throws the recoiling parts forward
with almost the velocity they possessed on contact
with the buffer.
The FN MAG 58 can be had in versions that accept
either the German DM6 nondisintegrating belt or
the U.S. M13 disintegrating links. The position of
the feed tray's cartridge stop differs and the pawl
angles in the top cover are different. MAG's set
up for the DM6 belts can be field altered to accept
the M13 link (See "Gunning for Gs," SOF, December
'84), but the reliability will be reduced slightly.
The feed mechanism operates in two distinct phases.
When the bolt begins its forward travel, the actuator
roller moves in the straight part of the top cover's
feed channel rail and the feed pawls remain stationary.
During this movement, the bolt's feed horns chamber
the first round. During the second half of the forward
movement the actuator roller reaches the bend in
the feed channel, forcing it to pivot to the right on
its axis. This movement actuates the feed link,
pushing the upper feed slide to the right, taking the
front and rear feed pawls with it. At the same time,
the lower feed slide moves the next cartridge to the
right until it's in contact with the sloping face of the
cartridge guide pawl. With its springs compressed,
the inner feed pawl rides to the left over this cartridge.
All three pawls are engaged behind the cartridge
when the bolt ends its forward movement.
In the second phase, the actuator roller's rearward
movement pivots the feed channel rail on its axis
to the left. The upper feed slide, with the front and
rear pawls, now moves to the left - The lower feed
slide, with the inner pawl, moves to the right. The
inner feed pawl pushes the cartridge on top of the
bolt, as the cartridge guide pawl rises into position
behind the inner pawl. The front and rear pawls are
now riding over the third cartridge moving into position
to recommence their cycle. The pawls do not move
as the actuator roller travels rearward down the
straight portion of the feed channel. As the bolt
clears the feed tray the second cartridge takes its
final position in preparation for the cycle's repetition.
Thus each set of pawls acts, in turn, as feed and
stop pawls as the cartridge slides half way across
with each forward and rearward motion of the bolt.
This method, adopted from the MG42, produces a
smooth belt flow instead of a series of herky-jerky
movements. A similar system is employed on the M60.
The feed channel rail, feed link, both feed slides and
the feed tray are chrome plated. The top cover body
is an anodized aluminum casting.
Two types of assault packs can be used on the FN
MAG 58. The Belgians and British produce a sheet
metal box that clips onto the left side of the receiver
and holds 50 rounds. The South Africans issue a
metal and rubberized-fabric soft-pack that snaps
in place and holds 100-plus rounds. This latter is
the best I have ever used. Metal and plastic assault
packs jam you in the guts, M60 cotton bandoliers rot
in the bush after a few days and 25-round teaser
belts are a pathetic field expediency .
In July 1961, the British Army, after extensive trials
dating from 1957, adopted a modified FN MAG known
initially as the L7A1. A heavy barrel with stellite
lining was to be used for the sustained fire role.
The stellite liner - a non-ferrous alloy of cobalt,
chromium, tungsten and molybdenum - will maintain
its strength at high temperatures. They were an
interference fit and FN was unable to manufacture
them to the close tolerances required. The project
was abandoned with success at hand and a conversion
kit consisting of a tripod, dial sight and two spare
light barrels was issued for the sustained fire role.
The current L7A2, as manufactured by Royal Small
Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock, differs in several
minor, but significant ways from the FN produced
weapon. The gas regulator has 10 positions (the
minimum rate of fire is obtained at adjustment notch
"8"), the bipod legs are adjustable for height, the
buttstock is made of plastic, the gas cylinder permits
installation of a heavy barrel (which does not exist),
the chrome bore plating is thicker, the sear has two
bents, to engaged a special piston extension (for
safety when cocking, should it slip accidently from
the operator's hand) and the cartridge guide pawl
is a two-piece component.
By 1974 the deficiencies of the M73/219 had overwhelmed
even its most resilient supporters (See SOF, FULL AUTO,
October '82) and tests commenced to find a replacement
coaxial machine gun for U.S. fighting vehicles and tanks.
The MAG 58 was pitted against the M60E2, M219, German
MG3, British L7A2, French AAT NF1 (vehicular version
of the AAT 52), Canadian C1 (Browning Model 1919A4
in 7.62mm NATO) and the Soviet PKM. By1975 all were
eliminated except the M60E2 and the MAG 58. Heavy
emphasis was placed upon reliability. Two criteria were
closely examined: Mean Rounds Between Stoppages
(MRBS) and Mean Rounds Between Failures (MRBF).
Stoppages are malfunctions which require no more than
a minute to clear. Failures require more than a minute
to correct and usually involve component breakage.
The test results were as follows.
|FN MAG 58
Only the MAG 58 met the specified minimum. In fact,
it even exceeded the "dreamsheet" (minimum desired).
The MAG 58 coaxial machine gun was type classified
in 1976 as the M240. The first 10,000 were produced
by FN in Belgium. The M240 is now manufactured by
FN Manufacturing, Inc..
The M240 is distinguished from the infantry version
in the following ways. There is no bipod or carrying
handle. There are no sights as the vehicle's main
gun sights are employed. The buttstock is replaced
by a special short buffer block. There is no front
sling swivel and the flash suppressor is a closed type.
Because it is in the interior of a vehicle, the gas regulator
has no escape holes. The principle of gas inlet, rather
than gas exhaust into the atmosphere is used for
obvious reasons. The elusive split rings have been
eliminated. The normal rate of fire is 750 rpm and
this is obtained by setting the regulator on position
"1." (Unlike the MAG 58 ground version, the M240's
barrel must be removed to change the cyclic rate.)
The retracting handle is replaced with a cocking
cable and pistol grip trigger mechanism is of an
Product improvement continues at FN Manufacturing,
Inc., and reliabiliy has now been improved to an
incredible mean average of 25,600 Mean Rounds
Between Failures. Current M240 top covers use
steel pins and rollers, instead of the aluminum
pins found on Belgian produced M240s. Very shortly
the original stamped, riveted and welded feed tray
will be replaced by a hardened, investment cast
stainless steel version. The new tray will reduce
link wear at the feed slot, preclude the loosening
of the cartridge stop rivets, eliminate the need for
chrome-plating and end failure of the tray's ears.
U.S. tread-heads are equipped with the world's
finest coaxial medium machine gun.
FN Manufacturing has designed a modular kit, called
the GMAK (Ground Mount Adaptation Kit), to convert
the M240 to an infantry configuration in a matter
of seconds. The kit includes a skeletal buttstock
resembling that of the Soviet PKM, pistol grip for
the trigger mechanism, colimator-type sights, sling
and a bipod. It will be marketed worldwide.
It takes no more than 10 seconds to disassemble a
MAG 58. First, lift the top cover, remove the belt
and clear the weapon. Ease the operating parts
forward by holding one hand on the retracting handle
while you pull the trigger with the other. Remove
the buttstock by depressing its spring-loaded release
latch on the underside. Lift it up and away from the
receiver. Push in and up on the guide rod and withdraw
it and the recoil spring. Pull back on the retracting
handle with the muzzle tilted upward and the piston,
piston extension and bolt group will slide out the rear
of the receiver. The bolt group can be separated from
the piston group by driving out the locking lever link's
retaining pin. The trigger group and top cover can be
removed from the receiver body by depressing the
spring on their retaining pins and drifting out the pins.
Remove the barrel in the manner already described.
Unscrew the gas regulator sleeve all the way and try
to keep your eye on the split rings as they disappear
into the bush. Tap out the gas plug.
And now the fun begins. The FN MAG 58, especially
the gas system, is more complex and difficult to
maintain than the M60. The Belgians have invented,
for this purpose, about a dozen fiendishly clever
armorer's tools. The function of some of these
esoteric appurtenances is not even addressed in
the FN MAG "Bible" (the telephone-book-sized
technical manual). Not to worry, as they can all
be replaced by one very sharp Swiss Army knife.
The MAG gas system is a veritable labyrinth of
grooves, channels, ports and inaccessible surfaces.
There is a trade off. The MAG will operate far
longer under adverse conditions without maintenance
than the M60. One of the Somozista Nicaraguan
MAG 58s I brought to the Atlacatl Battalion had
a gas system so fouled that I could not remove
the gas regulator adjustment sleeve no matter
how hard I beat upon it in the vise or how large
the pipe wrench I torqued it with. In desperation,
I took the entire gun to the battalion range to
observe the magnitude of stoppages that would
result. The gun fired and continued to fire without
malfunction of any kind. Amazing.
Lubricate everything except the gas system and
piston and re-assemble in the reverse order. The
trigger and feed mechanisms should be detail stripped
only by trained armorers. You can teach anyone
to field strip a MAG 58 in just a few minutes. On
your first attempt you will probably try to replace
the buttstock upside down. All else is self-evident.
Belgian, British and South African SOP specifies
the MAG is to be carried with the bolt forward
and a belt in the feed way. The weapon must
then be cocked first to bring it into operation.
No matter how you slice it, that's pure baloney.
The MAG's cross-bolt safety engages the sear
directly. The possibility against its failure is
astronomical. On combat operations the MAG
should be carried in "condition 1" with bolt retracted,
the safety on (until engagement is imminent) and
a belt in the feed way.
To load the MAG, squeeze the top cover's two
spring-loaded catches and rotate upward to the
vertical position. Retract the bolt and place the
system on safe. Place the belt, with the open
portion of the links down, across the feed tray
with the first round resting against the cartridge
stop. Rotate the gun clockwise on the bipod so
the belt will remain in position and gently close
the top cover. Slamming the top cover down with
an iron fist looks professional - to amateurs, but
only hastens damage to the top cover catches.
The MAG should be carried by the sling with the
bipod legs extended so that it may be fired from
the hip assault position at the instant of contact.
Carrying guns of this type across the shoulders
or by the carrying handle looks cool, but it's
downright dangerous. Whenever there is time
to do so - and most often there is - GPMGs should
be fired off the bipod from the low prone position
behind cover and concealment.
Sturdy, reliable and accurate, the FN MAG 58 is
the very best GPMG ever fielded. More than one
million have been manufactured and issued. It
has cut terrs in half from just 10 meters away
on the jungle trails of Rhodesia. It shot back at
itself in the Falklands. It waves proudly from
the turret of Israeli Merkava MBTS. I have even
set a few to snapping angrily at the communist
guerrillas of El Salvador. The MAG 58 has proven
itself many times over on the field of battle in
the last quarter of a century.
Does that mean the GPMG concept has proven
viable? I think not.
At 23 1/2 pounds, machine guns like the MAG 58
are too heavy in the Squad Automatic Weapon
(SAW) role. An Israeli "MAGist," the No. 1, must
carry the gun and 450 rounds of ammunition. His
No. 2, the assistant gutiner, carries his Galil, nine
35-round magazines and another 500 rounds for
the MAG. This is a tremendous burden for each.
While the MAG 58 can certainly lay down an effective
base of fire at the squad and platoon level, it fails
to provide the effective sustained fire base still
sometimes required during battalion level operations.
Too heavy as a SAW, the GPMG is too light for the
sustained fire role without the heavy barrels that
have never been manufactured.
The solution is to reject this "neither-fish-nor-fowl"
concept and return again to both squad automatics
and medium machine guns. The M249 SAW weighs
only 15.5 pounds. Its ammunition weighs only half
that of the 7.62mm GPMG. The 7.62mm NATO cartridge
is an excellent medium machine round. Water cooled
guns like the Browning M 1917A1 or the Vickers,
chambered in 7.62mm NATO, would be ideal sustained
fire weapons - as they already have proven themselves
to be. The M249 is with us. But, it's unlikely the U.S.
armed forces will ever again return to the Browning
M1917A1. Instead, we can expect to see GPMGS, like
the MAG 58 and M60, shuffled upstairs to fulfill the
sustained fire role.
That's a mistake, as the FN MAG 58's future is clearly
in the form of the M240 coaxial vehicular machine gun.
We grunts rarely ever get everything we need or want.
Far too much emphasis is placed on high technology
these days, when all we really need sometimes is a
few more water-cooled guns.
First published in the March 1985 edition of
Soldier of Fortune Magazine