I was watching the news from Libya last month and amid the cruise missiles and precision guided weapons, the rebel forces on the ground wielded any number of small arms, from pistol to large caliber. And amid the crowd, one rebel hoisted a weapon that immediately caught my eye, the Degtyarev machine gun. A weapon first assembled in 1927 and soldiering on in 2011.
The Russian military was equipped at the end of the Czarist-era with essentially versions of the famous Maxim machine gun, along with smaller numbers of other belt-fed machine guns. After the First World War Soviet weapons designers launched a program to develop their own base-of-fire or support weapons. Considered the first entirely Soviet designed machine gun was the Degtyarev, or DP.
The DP fires 7.62 x 54mm, a caliber still in use to this day. The 7.62 x 54mm is dimensionally very close to the post-World War II 7.62mm NATO round, with one difference. The 7.62 x54mm is a rimmed ammunition, meaning the base of the cartidge instead of have a flange or rim that is flush with the case it flairs out, much like Western commercial ammunition.
With the DP chambered in the common rimmed ammunition also meant that the rim caused feeding problems. This reduced the number of rounds in a magazine. Ultimately, the Soviet design team chose a World War I style pan magazine. The pan, loaded with 47 rounds, sat on top of the slim receiver of the DP. The wide pan magazine earned the DP the nickname 'the record player.'
The DP also utilized a locking system that relied on a pair of metal wings.
To operate the DP, the bolt was charged by a handle on the right side of the receiver. The bolt holds to the rear, the firing pin assembly locks back and a pair of flaps fold inwards. The flaps are the mechanism that locks the bolt into battery when firing.
With the trigger pressed and the sear released, the bolt slides forward, stripping a round from the magazine and chambering it. However, with the bolt face married to the chamber, the firing pin propels forward, forcing the pair of locking flaps outward, locking the bolt into the receiver. And upon firing, gas pushes on a gas piston, moving the bolt to the rear, retracting the firing pin and allowing the bolt flaps to do the same.
An open bolt weapon with a manageable rate of fire of around 500 rounds per minute, the DP was considered a reliable machine gun that did not require a changeable barrel.
The DP series of machine guns ranged from the infantry weapon to the DA- aircraft gun and DT- tank gun. And of course the Soviets mounted the DP to motorcylce side car. Soviet satellite states received the DP and later versions by the hundreds of thousands. It's been estimated that nearly 800,000 DPs have been produced and used in wars around the world, from Vietnam to now, Libya.