The old saying "beauty is as beauty does" is particularly apt for the Soviet DP-28 machine gun and its progeny. Certainly one of the least prepossessing, not to say awkward-looking, arms of its era, it performed yeoman service for decades.
The Degtyarev series of machine guns, designed by their namesake, Vasiliy Alekseevich Degtyarev, came about because of a desire by the Soviets in the early 1920s for a lightweight machine gun unlike the heavier Maxim-style Russia had fielded in World War I.
Work began at the Tula arsenal, and by 1924 a couple of designs, the DP-28 by Degtyarev, and a lightweight variant of the Maxim became the main contenders. After considerable testing, it was decided that Degtyarev's gun was the most practical, and it was officially adopted in 1927.
Chambering the rimmed 7.62x54mm round originally intended for the Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant service rifle, the DP-28, as the arm was designated, was simple yet robust. Employing a variant of a locking arrangement that appeared in Sweden a half century before, mated to another Swedish gas-operating system, the whole involved only a half dozen moving parts.
Basically, the DP-28 mechanism employs a pair of locking lugs that cam out of notches on either side of the inside of the receiver walls to effect locking and unlocking. The extractor is on the side of the bolt face, and spent cases are ejected through the bottom of the receiver. The gun was gas operated and had an adjustable gas port. Initially, the recoil spring was located at the front of the action beneath the barrel (DP-28), but it was found that the heating of the barrel after extended firing was causing the spring to fail, so in the mid-1940s it was moved to the rear.
Too, the removable bipod was now permanently attached to the handguard, and the stock was redesigned to eliminate the hump on the lower portion of the butt. On infantry models the gun was given a handy pistol grip. Though this alteration occurred during World War II, few of these DPMs, as they were now called, made it to the front lines prior to the end of the war.
Probably the most distinctive feature of the DP-28 was its 46-round pan-shaped magazine. Fastened on the top of the receiver by a sturdy latch, though quite reliable and functional, it was a bit awkward to handle and transport, not to mention load.
Though a tool was available to charge the mag, if this was not available (as with our Century evaluation model), one had to grip the magazine solidly with his left hand and then hook his right-hand forefinger into a ring on the mag's movable top, then move it to the right, against a sturdy, coil-style follower spring. Rounds could then be inserted through the feed lips one at a time. I found that it facilitated loading to keep a tight grip with my left hand to keep the follower from snapping back completely, permitting ammo to be more easily dropped into the mag's innards.
The DP-28 was relatively easy to use. A magazine was snapped on to the top of the receiver, the hefty bolt pulled to the rear and the trigger pulled to achieve a cyclic rate of fire of some 600 rounds per minute and an effective rate of 80 rpm. When all the ammo had been expended, the latch moved back by way of a sturdy grip at the rear of the sight and the mag was removed.
A special metal carrying case was available that held three magazines. As well, the gun was issued with special cleaning and maintenance tools. A cunning little oil bottle with a brush applicator is set into the tops of DP-28 and DPM stocks. The DP-28 sights involved a sturdy ladder rear graduated to 1,500 meters and an adjustable front post protected by a pair of sturdy, curved lugs. The gun was also kitted out with a long, cone-shaped flash hider.
Other variants of the DP-28 were also designed, such as the DTM for use in tanks and the like. It had a retractable metal stock and reduced-diameter magazine, both more workable in confined spaces. There was also the RP 46, which was basically a belt-fed mod with a heavier barrel with quick-detach feature; aircraft versions; and a Chinese-made DP, which they called the Type 53 (DPM) and Type 58 (RP 46.)
The DP-28 family saw extensive use. As well as in World War II, it was also used in Spain during the Civil War, by the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War, in the Russo-Finnish War, in Cambodia and Vietnam, and during the Chinese Civil War, among others.
Century International Arms offered semiauto versions of the DP-28, DTM and DPM for a number of years. Using original parts and reengineered receivers, all of the guns I've seen are in beautiful shape. Measuring 50.8 inches overall, with a barrel length of 23.8 inches and a heft of some 23 pounds, the guns are not exactly lightweights, but as they are meant to be fired from their bipods or from some sort of rest, this is less of a consideration than it might be otherwise.
Our evaluation gun was a Century Arms DPM, and while the gun cosmetically looks like that model, it still employs the underbarrel recoil spring of the original DP-28.
The DPM was evaluated using Russian-made Barnaul steel-cased FMJ 7.62x54R ammo. Loading the magazine does take a bit of time. When loaded, the mags are a tad on the hefty side themselves.
After a cleaning and checkout, I took the gun to the local range, hoisted it on a bench and began the run-through. The first thing that became obvious was the bipod setup. As the legs fold backward, it is important not to lean into the gun too much when shouldering it, as it will collapse. I found, too, that when one fires the piece there is a tendency to keep pulling rearward on the unit to keep the legs straight, and after a while I worked my way halfway down the bench.
The magazine was snapped on the top of the receiver, though it was necessary to actually pull the bolt to the rear to get it to seat properly. More about this later.
Allowing the bolt to move forward, initial rounds stripped off and chambered well. Firing at 100 yards, accuracy was excellent, with most groups running in the 3½-inch range, slightly high and to the right. That's about as good as I can do with any iron-sighted gun.
Occasionally, we did experience a light strike and failure to fire and eject. After some experimentation it was found that the magazine (as usual) was the culprit, as the feed lips had a tendency to drag on the bolt and slow down the cycling. This was easily remedied at home by a slight honing on the lips — just enough to allow the mag to snap on to the receiver without the bolt having to be pulled to the rear.
After that, functioning was 100 percent. The DP-28 is simply a real joy to fire and extremely accurate. As might be expected from such a spectacular-looking piece, it got much attention from other shooters at the range.
For some reason, in the public imagination the DP series of LMGs just doesn't seem to have the cachet of Brownings, Maxims and others — maybe they just had better press. This is a shame, for the DP-28 and its siblings are historically very important firearms — and damned successful ones at that.