The Soviet-made PK general purpose machine gun—never as widely employed as the ubiquitous the Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle and RPD light machine gun—began to replace the Soviets’ DP light machine gun in the North Vietnamese Army in late 1965. The gun’s open-bolt, gas-operated firing mechanism, which facilitated cooling and prevented “cooking off” during extended engagements, was based on the AK-47 design. The PK’s rear sight, however, differs from that of the assault rifle by having a slight adjustment forward of the hinge.
Cheap to manufacture, easy to maintain and extremely robust and reliable, the PK (short for “Pulemyot Kalashnikova,” or “Kalashnikov’s machine gun”) has little recoil or barrel climb when firing. The belt feed and ejection ports have spring-loaded dust covers so the openings are exposed only when required. The gun also features a “quick change” barrel with a carrying handle that enables gunners to swap barrels rapidly.
At 20 pounds with its bipod stabilizing legs, the PK is slightly lighter than the American M60 machine gun. However, its looser construction, done to reduce sensitive to debris, makes the NVA weapon less accurate. It can also used with a 17-pound tripod or mounted on vehicles and small riverine craft.
The PK’s ammunition comes in 25-round belts that can be linked together using the attached coiling wires to provide additional rounds. The ammo belt can also be drawn from a 100-round rectangular box attached under the gun, which feeds from the right and ejects the cartridges out the left.
The PK fired a more powerful cartridge than the AK-47 or RPD did. The North Vietnamese used it in situations where the infantry’s AK-47/RPD firepower needed reinforcement. For most combat missions, however, the combination of AK-47/RPD guns and rocket-propelled grenades was considered sufficient.
The PK was most often used to cover a unit’s withdrawal or teamed with RPGs and light mortars against enemy strongpoints or small unit concentrations. The PK saw widespread use in NVA’s final offensives in South Vietnam and its wars with Cambodia and China. It has remained in front-line service to this day.
First published in Vietnam Magazine’s December 2016 issue.