One of the longest-serving firearms with the United States military has been the M60 machine gun, a weapon that was first adopted in 1957. Development had actually begun a decade earlier, when the U.S. Army began a program for a new and lighter 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun.
M6o Origin Story
The M60 actually “borrowed” liberally from two German-produced firearms that had been developed during the Second World War. The first was the German MG42 (Maschinengewehr 42, or “machine gun 42”), a general-purpose machine gun (GPMG) that was noted for its high rate of fire and ease of operation. The M60 took that weapon’s feed system, while it also employed the operating system of the FG42 (Fallschirmjägergewehr 42, “paratrooper rifle 42”), a select-fire automatic rifle that was developed for Germany’s elite airborne infantry.
The resulting M60 was a gas-operated, air-cooled, belt-fed 7.62mm machine gun that was technically a crew-served weapon – meaning a team of three would transport, load and fire it – yet it could still be handled by a single soldier. When it was introduced, the M60 was meant to replace both the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle and M1919A6 Browning machine gun, and could be used in both a bipod configuration for rapidly advancing infantry on the move (like the former BAR), or for defense when mounted on the M112 tripod for use as a heavy machine gun (like the M1919 .30 caliber Browning).
Even with its integral folding bipod, the M60 weighed eight pounds less than the BAR, and could be field stripped and reassembled in about half the time. It had the advantages of the M1919 as it was belt-fed and offered a rate of fire of around 600rpm.
First introduced in 1957, it first saw widespread use in combat in Vietnam with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and some United States Marine Corps Units. It wasn’t initially beloved.
Much like the then-new M16, the M60 proved vulnerable to dirt and fouling. Additionally, some users still found it to be heavy to carry, and it soon earned the nickname “The Pig.” However, the gun was further improved as the M60E1 and M60E3 models, where it evolved into an accurate, reliable weapon that was well-respected for its ability to provide suppressing fire in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The M60 proved to be an invaluable asset that no squad could do without, but it was also versatile enough that it could be used with M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), on helicopters and even riverine craft when employed with various mounts.
The 60 remained the infantry’s mainstay squad weapon until the early 1990s when tests began to find its replacement. While the M60E4 is still considered a mechanically perfect weapon, in 1997, the U.S. Army adopted the Belgian Fabrique Nationale-built MAG (Mitrailleuse d’Appui Général) 58 with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization-compatible 7.62×51 round, as its standard light machine gun. Additionally, the M60 had increasingly been used alongside the FN-produced M249 5.56mm SAW (squad automatic weapon, redesignated an LMG, or light machine gun, in 1994).
The M60 has been largely replaced or supplemented in most roles by other designs, most notably the M240 machine gun in U.S. service, but The Pig remains in user around the world and shows no signs of being retired anytime soon.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer to Forbes Magazine.