Guns of the Spetsnaz part III machine guns: ambushing larger forces was a Spetsnaz specialty, and having fire superiority from the get-go was vital. The RPK and PKM machine guns made it possible.
He was working over southern side of the village of Akbulak where we, as a security sub-group, were to ensure that Muj inside the village could not be reinforced via the one and only road we now controlled. Medium five or six-round bursts were being delivered with deadly precision.
Not wasting any ammo and not letting his barrel overheat, Renat would use long bursts only when needed to suppress resistance pockets or to disperse large enemy groups, wielding his gun like a Heaven's flaming sword. That made my job a lot easier, reducing it to almost to range practice as Muj did not dare to move. Those who did failed.
The small village of Akbulak was nestled at the foot of two large mountains next to a small stream. It was located about 30 km southeast of Feizabad, which was home base to the 860 Separate Infantry Regiment, gracious host to our Spetsnaz detachment.
Our mission was simple. It was to be a quick assault whose goal was to capture or eliminate members of local Islamic Committee (an operational branch that run various Mujahedeen groups). Our intelligence had predicted several high-ranking Muj warlords would be there, possibly including Guilyani, a very influential and elusive commander of large Muj detachment operating in northeastern Afghanistan.
The plan was simple. Advance to Moscow Border Guard Detachment forward post, which was about 12 km from Akbulak, using armor, imitating a regular re-supply trip. Disembark covertly and send the armor away toward the next post. Then wait until dark and advance on foot to the village, block it, observe, make sure the meeting was on and only then assault it.
The fire support for this mission was to be our armor, that after calling on other forward post with a fake re-supply maneuver, would circle back and take a position nearby. Armor was also our extraction.
At midnight, our observation post reported two passenger vehicles accompanied by a pickup truck with security detail entering the village. I could see the two passenger vehicles driving into the large duval (courtyard) on the western side of village. Meanwhile, the security detail disembarked their Toyota pickup and backed it into a passageway across to the street. Additional sentries and foot patrols were set. The meeting was on.
We crossed the stream and took our positions. Two of our assault groups were poised to approach Akbulak from the southeast and north. Two security sub-groups settled on two dominating hills to the southeast and northeast of the village, thus controlling the one and only road in and out of Akbulak. As part of the southern security group, I could see almost the entire village save maybe a few blind spots directly under the western walls of several duvals.
The assault groups sprung to action at about 0400 hours, quietly advancing to the walls of the outmost dwellings. Using silenced APB and PB pistols and AK-MSs with PBS-1 silencers, our marksmen went to work taking down sentries and patrols. The rest of the assault groups' personnel started to penetrate deeper into the village, fanning out using pre-assigned routes leading to the targeted houses.
Several almost simultaneous explosions rang out, breaching the gates and mud walls of duvals and effectively putting an end to all the stealthiness. It was our time to join the fight. Short and medium bursts were coming from the courtyard, suggesting that our assault group was working on the inside.
I could see several enemy fighters running toward the fighting from the southern part of village. I aligned my scope and got ready to fire. I was squeezing a trigger of my SVD rifle when suddenly my target hit the "wall" and dropped to the ground face up. I moved on to next Muj. As I set my "chevron" on him, he dropped, arms flailing.
I took my eye off the scope and saw the cause of my frustration--Pvt. Oleg Lobov, an RPK gunner who had taken a position on the roof of one of the houses and now, partially protected by an unfinished second story, was laying down some serious fire through the village center with his RPK-74. In the matter of seconds, he single-handedly destroyed a squad-sized enemy detachment.
The Muj inside the village was pretty much beaten. Several "survivors" had retreated to the southernmost edge of the village, waiting for reinforcements, whose arrival was only a matter of time after the fireworks display we put up. They did not make us wait long. First, a truck loaded with fighters came down the road from around a mountain toward Akbulak with some haste.
Efreytor Sagdeev waited until it came out into a clearing south of the village and he squeezed the trigger. A long burst from Sagdeev's PKM almost peeled off the hood of the pickup while plastering its windshield with deadly accuracy. The vehicle veered off the road, hit a boulder and rolled, spilling its contents. Not waiting for the "spilled" Muj to come to, Renat and I started working on the individual targets.
The second vehicle, this time a large truck we called "Burbahayka" from Pushtu "buru bahai" which means something like "let's go," would not repeat the fate of the first one and stopped short of the opening, letting a small force of enemy fighters disembark to join in the fight.
Meanwhile, our assault groups set up a defensive front just short of southern edge of the village and got ready for the enemy assault. I could see a small element of one of our assault groups under cover of the north security sub-group making it to the north end of Akbulak with three bound and blindfolded prisoners in tow.
My security sub-group effectively became our detachment's right flank. We were firing continuously now as the enemy force swelled. But 300-400 meters of an open terrain were a strong enough deterrent for the Muj to take cover and had reduced their effort to "spray and pray" or single potshots in our general direction.
A few brave or stupid souls would try to make a run for it, only to be mowed down by direct fire from our positions. By this time, our defensive positions at the edge of the village were reinforced by another PKM from the northern security sub-group. The big Muscovite Dennis "Martyn" Martynovskiy took a position with his PKM at the far left and immediately went to work. Now any Muj brave enough to try to navigate an opening would find himself in a crossfire from the relentless PKM gunners. Few did.
I felt like we could hold them at bay forever, but that was not required, as just then our armor arrived from the north. It deployed into combat formation at the approach to the village and, supervised by our group's commanding officer, concentrated its fire on the opening between the mountains where the enemy was now hunkering down. After a few minutes of the onslaught, the enemy broke off the engagement and pulled back.
We regrouped, performed a security sweep, searched the village for weapons caches and readied ourselves for the trip home. A battle damage assessment revealed we only had two lightly wounded who did not require evac. In fact, after first aid was administered, both rejoined the fight.
The Muj did not fare as well. Their toll was 44 KTA, three high-value prisoners (no Guilyani, though), a large stash of rockets, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, an 82mm mortar, a DShK. .50 cal. machine gun, numerous rifles and RPGs, thousands of rounds of ammo, hundreds of grenades and three functioning vehicles. There was a reason for that meeting. They planned something big. What exactly I would never know, and quite honestly don't care.
Once again, it was a successful Spetsnaz raid where support weapons like the PRK and PKM and the men behind those triggers played a pivotal role.
We're now in the ninth year of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. After achieving initial success, it seems the U.S. military has gotten drawn into a prolonged insurgency war. IEDs are going off, outposts are being attacked and our brave servicemen and women are fighting and dying on daily basis. Here in the States, the media has all but conceded victory to Taliban. Even our top brass is saying that "they" are winning. Recently we've even heard that the insurgents adopted a familiar term for themselves--Mujahedeen. Where have I heard it before?
To me it all sounds so familiar. So familiar, in fact, that it is almost nostalgic. Except it doesn't bring a warm and fuzzy, sentimental feeling. See, I spent short but what turned out to be very influential part of my life in 1985-'87 in Afghanistan. Yes, at that time I was fighting on the other side of the fence. I was a Soviet soldier.
I suppose that makes it easier for me than for most Americans to draw a parallel between the Soviet-Afghan War then and American "involvement" now. So many things are so similar. In fact, all I have to do is change John to Ivan, Andrew to Andrey, Eugene to Evgeniy and 25-30 years of history disappear.
I had the privilege of repaying my debt to the brotherly Afghan people. Not because I really owed it or wanted to pay it, but because it was thrust upon me and hundreds of thousands of others by our Motherland through its draft board.
I wound up repaying that debt really hard as a member of a Spetsnaz unit fighting the Muj in the east of Afghanistan. A ragged and desolate place, our area of responsibility is described in the Soviet Military manual as Mountainous Desert Area. Basically you either swallow dust in the summer or freeze to death in the winter. In both cases those inconveniences are usually accompanied by hiking up and down some pretty formidable mountains.
Needless to say our gear and equipment got a real workout and was put through the most rigorous testing possible. Including our guns.
Spetsnaz in Afghanistan
Since we are talking Spetsnaz here, I should say a few words about what Spetsnaz did in Afghanistan. As a highly trained, well-equipped and very mobile unit, the Spetsnaz operated in small groups outside the regular structure of the Soviet military. Its main tasks were disruption of insurgents' activities, gathering intel, interception of supply convoys, liquidation of high-value enemy personnel, annihilation of enemy detachments and strongholds and search and destruction of enemy ammo and weapons caches.
It mostly operated in small groups of 20-25 with great effect. While these detachments were almost always out-numbered, superior training, special tactics and weapons meant Spetsnaz would find a way to complete its mission by defeating the enemy over and over. We sustained some casualties. As tragic as it was, the number pales in comparison to the casualties inflicted on enemy. Its effective fighting tactics struck both fear and respect among the Afghans.
After several successful Spetsnaz raids early in the war, Afghans were quick to give men and weapons their own local names. To your face they've called you "Komando" and behind your back--"Kurbanshaheed" (Black Warriors). The guns we used "Kulakof" had "poisoned bullets" that stung like a wasp. The armored truck with a pair of ZU-23s mounted on it as well as MI-24 Hind gunship were "Shaitan Arba" (Devil's Chariot) and so on.
RPK-74 Kalashnikov Light Machine Gun SPECIFICATIONS Caliber: 5.45x39mm Weight w/magazine: 4.7kg Length: 1060mm Barrel length: 590mm Bullet muzzle velocity: 960m/sec Rate of fire: 600 rounds/min Effective rate of fire: 40-150 rounds/min Sighting range: 1000 m Magazine capacity: 45 rounds
Though the 40th Army that fought in Afghanistan was well equipped, Spetsnaz was in a league of its own when it came to weapons and equipment. Unlike any regular infantry unit, we had specialized and "exotic" guns. One thing you can be certain of is that Soviet Spetsnaz had all the tools it needed or wanted for a particular mission.
The initial fire contact with an enemy can determine the course of a firefight to follow. Quickly achieving fire superiority over the enemy is most important when he has superior numbers. This was almost always the case with Spetsnaz units operating in Afghanistan. Engaging an enemy with full force and maintaining a "thick" concentrated fire would initially take out large numbers of personnel. It also would stop vehicles or pack animals, spread disorder and confusion through the enemy ranks and prevent the foe from regrouping and mounting organized resistance.
Along with AKMS and AKS-74 assault rifles and SVDs, Spetsnaz troops had two reliable machgine guns for supporting fire--the RPK-74 squad automatic and PKM light machine gun.
The RPK-74 has tended to get a bad rap. Some compare it unfavorably to its predecessor the belt-fed RPD, or even to the PKM. That comparison is a mistake.
The Soviet Union adopted the 5.45mm RPK-74 with fixed stock and RPKS-74 paratrooper model with side-folding stock along with the AK-74 family of assault rifles in 1974.
The design differences from the AK-74 are similar to the differences of the RPK from the AKM: heavier duty receiver, longer and heavier barrel, attached bipod and a larger capacity magazine interchangeable with other guns of this family. The new components included a cage-type short funnel flash hider and 45-round magazine.
Testing showed reduced recoil energy made the RPK-74 about half again as accurate as the 7.62mm RPK. The 45-round box type magazine was universal, as drum magazine production was abandoned as too complex and costly. The weight of the 5.45 mm ammunition load with the same number of cartridges proved to be 50% less than that of the Mod. 1943 cartridges. However, the RPKS-74 outweighs the RPK by .15kg. Earlier models had laminated wood furniture. Soon the Vyatskiye Plyany "Molot" Arsenal (the producer of RPK family weapons) switched to the high-impact plastic that is in service to this day.
The 5.45 mm RPK-74 light machine gun family also included a side-railed version designated "N" for use with night optics, such as the NSPU, NSPUM, NSPU-3M. The RPK-74N sported handguards and stock made from laminated wood, while the RPK-74N2 has these parts made from plastic (glass-filled polyamide).
The RPK-74 and its versions are still operational in Russia, former Soviet republics and in a number of other countries.
The fact is that an RPK-74 is an excellent weapon when used properly. It is essentially an AK on steroids. That makes this gun a great addition to a squad. There's no need to retrain the operator, and it accepts AK magazines, which is very important in a gunfight. But what makes this gun special is the longer and heavier barrel and 50% larger capacity magazine.
The heavier barrel allows longer bursts and the larger capacity mag provides longer intervals between reloading, which makes the RPK-74 a great support weapon. Obviously it does not come close to the PKM in firepower. But the ability to fire it as a conventional rifle and a weight that allows easily maneuverability makes an RPK-74 a very valuable addition to any dynamic close-contact firefight.
The attached bipod and low recoil make the RPK a formidable weapon at distance as well. It would be incorrect directly to compare the knock-down power of the 5.45x39 cartridge to the standard 7.62x54mm PKM round. But the RPK-74's full-auto controllability allows it accurately to deliver a lot of rounds down-range.
The RPK-74 was always present on any combat mission. If you were the guy who carried it, you had to be especially vigilant when it came to your magazines. Extra-capacity RPK 45-rounders were very popular among soldiers for use in their AK-74s, and if you weren't watching, they'd go missing.
The main fire support weapon was the beloved (by us, at any rate) PKM light machine gun. It was belt-fed and chambered for the 7.62x54 rimmed cartridge.
The light machine gun designated PK (Pulemyot Kalashnikova, and its tripod mounted version PKS (Pulemyot Kalashnikova Stankoviy) were adapted for service in 1961. Two more versions were adopted shortly thereafter: the PKB and PKT for use in armored personnel carriers and tanks, respectively.
In 1969, the new modernized model PKM (Pulemyot Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy) was introduced and adopted for service. It had several improvements over its predecessor. Weight was reduced by 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) and cooling fins were removed from the barrel. The flash hider, operating handle, buttstock plate and trigger guard were changed, while the receiver cover was reinforced and a folding shoulder rest was added.
The PKM is gas-operated with a gas system regulator and features a quickly replaceable barrel. The barrel locks by bolt rotation. The firing mechanism is intended for automatic fire only. The thumb safety locks the trigger.
The PKM is fed from a non-disintegrating cartridge belt advanced by a push lever mechanism located on the right side of the receiver. Cartridges are fed by a two-step system for a smooth belt advance. The ejection port on the receiver and belt advance mechanism are covered by spring-actuated doors.
The PKM sighting system has a shielded front post sight and U-shaped rear slot sight with adjustable range slider. The rear sight also incorporates the windage adjustment mechanism.
The gun is fitted with an attached foldable bipod that can be folded forward and back. The skeletonized laminated wood buttstock is designed to be held with the non-firing hand for added stability.
The PKMN version had an optics rail and was intended for use with NSPU, NSPU-3M and NSPU-5 night scopes or the optical sights 1P43 and 1P29.
The PKS model was issued with the tripod mount developed by Samozhenkov (6T2). However, the PKMS featured the lighter mount developed by L.V. Stepanov (6T5). It is approximately 3.2kg (7 pounds) lighter and is equipped with a device for attaching a large capacity belt box.
The PKM general-purpose machine gun is still in service in many countries and has a deserved reputation for efficiency, reliability and ease of use, all of which are the characteristics of a great weapon. Copies of the PK and PKM were made in Bulgaria, China, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.
Each Spetsnaz group deployed with three PKMs, one per squad. Fully loaded with belted ammo, it weight was more than 10kg (22 pounds) and it required plenty of physical strength, endurance and quick thinking from its operator. During combat engagements, a lot depended on skilled use of this formidable weapon. As a rule, only the best soldiers were designated as machine gunners and issued a PKM.
The 1500-meter sighting range allowed for destruction of enemy targets at middle and long distances. This helped avoid the close-quarter fighting preferred by the locals. Keeping the enemy at a distance was where proper use of the PKM was especially important. Letting them get close would hinder effective utilization of air and artillery support and undermine the unit's maneuverability and hinder safe air extraction.
PKM/PKMS Kalashnikov Light Machine Gun SPECIFICATIONS Caliber: 7.62x54Rmm Weight w/o ammo: 7.5kg Length: 1173mm Length with tripod: 1270 mm Barrel length: 658mm Muzzle velocity: 825 m/sec Rate of fire: 650 rounds/min Effective rate of fire: 250 rounds/min Sighting range: 1500 m Cartridge belt capacity: 100, 200 or 250 rounds
Each machine gun would have 800-1000 rounds of ammo with it on a mission. Most was carrier by the gunner; the rest was distributed among the entire squad.
The ammo for PKM was carried in non-disintegrating metal belts. The belts came in three different lengths and would be arranged in zig-zag manner inside metal cans of 100, 200 and 250 rounds.
The Spetsnaz machine gunners preferred to carry their PKMs with no belt box attached and simply wrapped the loose hanging belt around the gun's receiver. They wanted to avoid the belt rattling inside the metal box, and to be able to load a larger capacity belt into the gun for immediate action.
The ammo load in the belt depended on the type of mission and expected targets and resistance. It was determined by the gunner himself or his commander. There were four basic rounds available for the PKM: light ball--LGC, Tracer--T-46 (green tip), incendiary--PZ (red tip) and armor-piecing--B-32 (black/red Tip).
There were several ways of carrying the ammo load for the PKM. Early on, gunners were issued special canvas load-bearing belts that held two 250-round ammo belts. They fit around the waist and were a real pain when you had to extract your ammo in a hurry.
Much better use was made of the standard RD 54 pack. Its square shape was ideal for carrying belted ammo. You could load up to four 200-round belts, making it incredibly heavy. Some soldiers would attach extra belts to the outside of their packs or would wrap them around their bodies, making them look like Mexican banditos during Pancho Villa's times.
The standard PKM was issued with a spare barrel that would be carried by the assistant gunner. They were heavy and so were almost never carried into the mountains.
Our PKMs saw plenty of action. Being designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, the PKM was very reliable and easy to maintain. Only once did we have a hiccup with one of our guns in the fire support role.
A young and inexperienced gunner overheated his barrel in the heat of battle. After his PKM started spitting rounds right in front of him, he had to stop firing to let the barrel cool which brought a wrath of our CO on him. Luckily, by then the fight was almost over. Needless to say, this guy got himself in trouble and for the next week he was humping day and night. It worked too, as we had no more glitches after that.
The RPK and PKM weren't the only support weapons that Spetsnaz units had at their disposal. The NSV .50 cal. machine gun, AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher and variety of shoulder arms were part of the Spetsnaz "tool box". It is hard to describe all of the hardware that soldiers lighting in Afghanistan came in contact with.
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|Date:||Mar 20, 2011|
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