WTW: The DP-28 Soviet Infantry Machine Gun

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Weapon Trivia Wednesday: DP-28, The Soviet Infantry Machine Gun

Peter Suciu

Most modern firearms enthusiasts know the name Mikhail Kalashnikov, and certainly his primary accomplishment, the AK-47. However, Kalashnikov was really part of the second generation of Soviet arms designers who owed much of their success to those who survived the end of the Imperial Russian Czarist era, and successfully worked for the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

One such arms designer was Vasily Alekseyevich Degtyaryov, who actually headed the very first Soviet firearms design bureau. During his lengthy career he created several types of machine guns, submachine guns and even anti-tank weapons. He rose to the rank of Major General of the Engineering and Artillery Service, was a doctor of technical sciences and later was proclaimed a Hero of Socialist Labor. He was actually the second recipient of that honor and followed none other than Joseph Stalin!

The iconic DP-28 was introduced in late 1927 and remained in use for more than 25 years with the Soviet Red Army, while being used even later in Vietnam and other global conflicts (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

One of the first small arms he designed was a weapon that today may look rather archaic, but was everything the soldier infantryman in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) would need. It was reliable, efficient, accurate and durable. It could be manhandled and still work like new. It could endure freezing temperatures and continue to lay down fire. It was the DP-28 – the Pulemyot Degtyaryova Pekhotny (Degtyaryov’s infantry machine gun).

The Record Player

One look at the weapon and it isn’t hard to see how it earned the nickname “the record player.” It featured a large drum magazine on top, which was likely inspired by the Lewis Gun wielded by British infantry in the trenches of the First World War.

The “round pan” magazine of the DP-28 most certainly resembled the old school vinyl records of the era (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

While this design may seem questionable now, it must be remembered that round drum magazines had been used on weapons such as the Thompson submachine gun, mounted vertically underneath. Many other arms manufacturers and designers considered how gravity could aid the feeding process, which is why the British Bren Gun and other light machine guns featured top loading magazines as well.

In the case of the DP-28, as with the aforementioned Lewis Gun, this round magazine provided plenty of ammunition and ensured that the line of sight over the weapon wasn’t obscured. By placing the rounds on top of the weapon it also provided mobility that was lacking in belt-fed light machineguns of the era.

It was a light machine gun in name, because a single individual could carry it. Yet as with similar small arms including the American BAR and the Lewis Gun, it wasn’t exactly easy to fire from a kneeling position, let alone standing. Even firing from the hip was difficult and in this method it was far from accurate.

The side view of the magazine and receiver of the DP-28 (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

As noted, the DP-28 was rugged and efficient. It utilized a simple design with very few parts – just eighty in the early models – compared to other machine guns of the era. As with other Soviet small arms it was also highly rugged and could be buried in dirt and still operate. More importantly, it also used the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, which was the standard Soviet rifle round for the Mosin-Nagant and Maxim machinegun. This standardization of cartridges would prove important as the Red Army fought for the nation’s very survival.

The DP-28 in Combat

The gas-operated DP-28 could fire approximately 550 rounds per minute, a lower rate of fire than some machine guns, but this actually helped reduce barrel overheating. Even with this shortcoming in combat situations it filled the role of a squad light machine gun very well. If there was one problem it was the magazine, which took longer to change than on other weapons. The magazines were also difficult to reload.

Soviet troops in a 1944-dated photo (Photo: Public Domain, Soviet Archives). 

With just 47 rounds in each magazine the weapon had a limited amount of ammunition available to the shooter, but in fairness this was still greater than the twenty round magazine of the American BAR or thirty round magazine of the British Bren Gun. Unlike the Bren the DP-28 didn’t feature a changeable barrel, so the firearm’s lower rate of fire and magazine changing time helped reduce the risk of the barrel overheating.

Max Popenker, firearm historian for the World Guns website (http://modernfirearms.net/), noted that the weapon did deliver on the battlefield for the most part:

“The DP-28 was a workmanlike gun, cheap to make and reliable. Its key issue was pan magazine, which was too damn heavy and bulky ‘per round’. It was originally designed in part because Soviet industry of late 1920s was unable to make decent flat springs for box magazines, and in part because 7.62x54mmR round has bad geometry for high capacity box magazines. Overall, it was good gun, and it served as a platform for post-war designs like RP-46 and RPD.”

A display at the Prague Military Museum showing a collection of Soviet uniforms and small arms – including the DP-28 (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

One key point to understand about the DP-28 is that it is really an infantry support weapon. As noted, it is difficult to fire while moving and it operates best where the user is in a prone position or can otherwise rest the weapon on its bipod.

In fact, holding the weapon by anything other than the bipod while moving wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, as Adrian Stevenson, World War II weapons collector and re-enactor explained:

“The DP 28 is really a joy to fire in its intended role on the bipod. The grip safety is easy to use. Using the typical underhand grip favored by the Soviets the gun is easy to control and using short controlled bursts, it is accurate and does not feel like it is running away from you, like the higher fire rate German LMGs. Getting up from a prone firing position and moving off, one does have to remember not to touch any of the barrel shroud, which does get very hot! When firing from the hip, it does feel awkward, having to hold the bipod leg, but the broad pad to the sling does help with the weight distribution and decent suppressing fire can be achieved.”

The Legacy of the DP-28

In total only about 795,000 DP-28 light machineguns, including variants, were produced by the Soviets between 1928 and the early 1950s. Copies of the weapon were produced by Poland in the early days of the Cold War, and Communist China produced its own copies of the late-war DPM as the Type 53.

These later versions did improve, if not entirely perfect, the DP-28. Said Stevenson,

“The later DPM44 certainly improved the rigidity of the bipod, which could be an issue at times. This version’s pistol grip is easy to hold and the safety became a conventional switch. I find the magazine loading tab a very useful feature. This provides the loader with a visual means of seeing how much ammo is left in the 47 round drum. This tab moves around as the gun is firing and one can observe when the ammo is about to run out. Changing magazines is easy, but refilling does take time and magazines need to be topped up whenever possible.”

A display at the Military Museum in Budapest. This shows post-1945 Soviet soldiers, who still relied on the DP-28 as the primary light machine gun until it was replaced by the RPD (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

Because the DP-28, as well as the DPM and other variants, used the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, the weapon saw much use following World War II. This included the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War and even the Vietnam War – where both DP-28s and DPMs were provided to the PAVN and VietCong forces. Examples have been found in modern conflicts including Somalia, the ongoing civil wars in Libya and Syria and even in Afghanistan.

It remained the de facto light machine for the Soviet’s Red Army until it was replaced by the Degtyaryov-designed RPD (RuchnoyPulemyotDegtyaryova or Degtyaryov hand-held machine gun), which utilized the intermediate 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge – the same as was used in the AK-47.

The longevity of the DP-28 remains a testament to Degtyaryov’s unique, and apparently enduring, design.

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The DP-28 in Pop Culture

While seldom seen in western movies, the DP-28 actually made an appearance in the 1936 Soviet war film Trinadtsat (The Thirteen). What is unique about this film is that it was essentially a remake of John Ford’s 1934 movie The Lost Patrol, with the action moved from the Middle East to Central Asia. The DP-28 can be seen in several scenes and this is notable in that the Soviets made little effort to hide their fairly new weapon – which it would do later with the AK-47.

The DP-28 appeared in several Soviet wartime propaganda films, as well as those made in the early Cold War films. Its first appearance in a western-made film may have been 1959’s Pork Chop Hill, where it’s used by People’s Liberation (Chinese) soldiers. However, those were modified Lewis Guns made to resemble the actual DP-28! The first time an actual DP-28 may have been on screen in a non-Soviet movie was thus likely the 1989 Finnish film The Winter War, which chronicled the 1939-40 war between Finland the Soviet Union, and those examples were likely original weapons that the Finns captured in actual conflict.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the DP-28 suddenly became a bit more available, and in recent years the weapon was seen in numerous films including The Pianist (2002), the Vietnam War film We Were Soldiers (2002), and Downfall (2004).

The view down the top of the DP-28. It would be a difficult weapon to wield while on the move (Photo: Peter Suciu). 

These films typically depicted the proper way to hold and fire the DP-28, but the inclusion of it in numerous video games has led to some confusion on how it can be fired. It appeared in Battlefield 1942, where the player can not only fire it while standing but can even “run and gun,” a feat the beefiest Red Army soldier couldn’t pull off even in the most desperate moment! The DP-28 has been more accurately depicted in the Call of Duty franchise and notably in Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45.

While the weapon wasn’t produced in huge numbers, parts kits were available for years and dummy guns of the DP-28 are common. In addition Century International Arms even offered a semi-automatic version that utilized original parts and reengineered receivers. These have become highly sought after by collectors, ensuring that the legacy Degtyaryov will endure for years to come.

DP-28 Specs

Type: Light machinegun

Caliber: 7.62x54mmR

Weight: 20.11 pounds

Length: 50 inches

Barrel Length: 23.8 inches

Capacity: 47-round pan magazine

Fire Modes: Full-automatic

Action: Gas-operated

Muzzle Velocity: 2,755 ft/s

Effective Range: 875 yards (800 meters)

-Peter Suciu

 

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