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DShKM or "Dushka" - famous 12.7 machine gun in the Soviet-Afghan War

Updated: May 31, 2023

This article is loosely based on the memoirs of the Soviet tank regiment officer, who had to work both with the DShK installed on top of his T-62M as well as with the Chinese Type-54 copies.

The use of DShKM machine guns in Soviet Army units in Afghanistan

While the rest of the Soviet infantry was still armed with DShKMs, troops in Afghanistan were lucky enough to handle NSV "Utes" HMGs at this point. In units and subunits of the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan, DShKM machine guns were used on regular anti-aircraft installations of T-62 and T-62M tanks. They were also installed on MTLBU vehicles in the artillery regiments.

DShKM in Afghanistan

However, at outposts and sometimes as additional weapons for the BMP-1 and BRM-1 vehicles, captured 12.7-mm Type 54 machine guns, Chinese clones of the DShKM, were widely used. The Mujahideen gangs were armed with 12.7 "Type 54" HMGs in large quantities. 12.7-mm machine guns were also in service with the DRA government troops - both the DShKM and its predecessors DShK, as well as the Chinese "Type 54".

Pre-deployment training for tankers

The experience of using the DShKM in the specific conditions of Afghanistan had to be fully mastered on the spot. For all the time of training at the Tashkent Higher Tank Command School, there were no information about the ongoing war. Something could be gleaned only from the stories of officers who had been on tours.

DShKM in Afghanistan
Soviet tanker with DShKM

A lot of effort was spent on teaching of how to clean and take care of the DShKM machine gun. These skills were brough to the intuitive levels. A lot of time was spent on the procedure for preparing and laying the machine gun belt in order to avoid delays in firing. The main provisions in preparing the belt for shooting were:

  • cleaning cartridges and tape from dust and dirt;

  • loading the belt with cartridges, making sure that each cartridge is correctly fixed in the belt link;

  • wiping the tape with a rag slightly moistened with gun oil;

  • laying the tape in the box neatly and evenly.

The practical use of the tank mounted DShK in Afghanistan

Not all the features of preparing the DShKM for firing turned out to be acceptable for Afghan conditions. For example, in the school it was ordered to lubricated the machine-gun belt with a oily rug, immediately before laying it in the box. This was justified if, immediately after preparing the weapon for battle, firing was carried out. But in the conditions of the mountainous desert terrain of Afghanistan, dust and sand adhered to the surface of the machine-gun belt, covered with even a barely perceptible oil film, clogging the hinged joints of the belt links, contributing to delays in firing. Unlike the 7.62 mm PKT machine gun, the DShKM turned out to be less reliable in use under such conditions.

DShKM in Afghanistan

In the mountains, the anti-aircraft DShKM was the only weapon of the tank, which made it possible to hit targets at heights, since the maximum angle of elevation of the tank gun and the coaxial PKTM machine gun paired with it on the T-62 was only 16°. The non-shootable space in front of the T-62 tank was: for a cannon - 20 m, for a coaxial PKTM machine gun - 19 m, for an anti-aircraft DShKM - 8 m. Although if the enemy us already only 8 meters away from the tank, it is unlikely for the loader to fire from the DShKM, since it was necessary to get out of the hatch.

When on march, the tank commander and loader, as a rule, were each observing the surroundings in designated sector. It was way more realistic to engage the enemy from the DShKM in this case, since it was enough to unlock the anti-aircraft gun installation (ZPU), point the machine gun at the target, send the cartridge into the chamber and open fire. A trained crew could do this in seconds.

DShKM in Afghanistan
Tankers chillin'

To bringing the cannon and coaxial machine gun of the tank to battle readiness took much more time, especially in the case of repelling an enemy attack from the flank. To do this, it was necessary to remove the turret and cannon from the stoppers, and turn the gun towards the enemy. In this case, if you rotate the tower manually, it will take a long time; use the semi-automatic horizontal drive of the turret carefully so as not to injure the loader when he removes a shot from the ammo rack and at the same time does not turn on the blocking of the automated armament drive (when the lock is on, the automated armament drive will not work until the loader loads the gun and turn off blocking).

DShKM in Afghanistan
Soviet soldiers with a captured Chinese DShKM

If you turn on the armament stabilizer, then it will take about 2 minutes until the gyroscopes reach the required number of revolutions. Finally, the cannon should be loaded (for this it is necessary to remove the shot from the ammo rack and send it to the breech of the gun: the standard for such operation is 7 s) and load the coaxial machine gun (remove the machine gun from the fuse and send the cartridge into the chamber).

Disadvantages of the tank mounted DShKM machine gun

A serious disadvantage of the DShKM mounted on the T-62 tanks was the lack of remote control: in order to fire, the loader had to get out of the tank hatch, becoming vulnerable to the small arms fire and shrapnel. A bulletproof armored shield could partially eliminate this problem, however, during the ten years of the war in Afghanistan, this was never done on the industrial scale.

DShKM in Afghanistan
Our team armory with the DShKM on a tripod

Another drawback was the fact that the loader, firing from the DShKM, could not fulfill his direct duties - to load the gun. Thus, the tank was deprived of the opportunity to use its most powerful and effective weapon. In those conditions, it would be more expedient and effective to install a remote-controlled system over the hatch of the tank commander, as was done on the T-64 tank.

And a small bonus video from our team's testing day. The blank firing DShKM never worked as intended, but we are working on it.

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