Letting Dushka sing a song of her people
75 years ago today:
The standard service heavy machinegun in the western world is the vintage 1933 Browning M2. Those who have used them lovingly call this .50-caliber warlord, the “Ma Deuce”. What you may not know is that, on the other side of the fence, the Soviets invented their own equivalent heavy machine gun. Like the ‘Deuce, this Russia design, while officially labeled as the DShK 1938, it is better known to the russ simply as, Dushka.
During World War 1, the German Army introduced the Mauser 13.2mm TuF round, a huge cartridge of more than four inches in length. This elephant round was introduced to kill British tanks that were just then starting to lumber about in No Man’s Land. In 1921 the US Army, with a little help from John Browning, developed the 12.7x99mm BMG round in response, known and loved today as the ’50-cal.’ The Army, however, did not have a gun that fired the round, the 121-pound water-cooled M1921 Heavy Machine Gun, until 1929. At the same time, the German army was secretly developing a new 13mm round that would be used in a new series of heavy aircraft machine guns.
With Soviet military intelligence well aware of both these developments, they pressed for a monster machine gun of their own.
Vasily Degtyaryov, the Russian machine gun maker equivalent of John Browning, was scratching his head in 1930. Over the course of a forty-year career, this Hero of Socialist Labor personally invented no less than seven machine guns of all sizes, from the PPD-40 submachine gun to the PTRD anti-tank rifle. He had studied directly under Vladimir Fyodorov, the man who invented one of the first assault rifles in the world: the Fedorov Avtomat.
Dushka in technical development.
However, as gifted Vasily was, he had an issue with designing a large caliber heavy machine gun. His efforts led to the creation of the DK (Degtyaryov Krupnokalibernyi) in 1930, a huge air-cooled, gas-operated full auto weapon that used the new 12.7x108mm BT-3 round capable of piercing a half-inch or armor plate at 500-meters.
It weighed in at about 75-pounds and fired from a number four, right turn threaded 42.29-inch long barrel with numerous distinctive fins on its surface to dissipate heat. This innovative barrel system saved the gun from having a heavy water jacket to cool it, which made it about 50-pounds lighter than Browning’s M1921 design while firing a slightly larger bullet. A large donut-shaped muzzle break further identifies the weapon. When firing, a pair of spade grips at the rear of the gun provided a control surface. Fed from a 30-round drum atop the receiver, the gun had a nasty of bending cases, jamming, and other issues. In short, the Red Army loved the gun and the ammunition but hated the feed system.
Enter Georgy Shpagin. Twenty years younger than Degtyaryov, Shpagin had also studied under Fyodorov and worked in the same programs as his elders. Shpagin picked up the task of modifying the DK gun while Degtyaryov moved on to other projects. By 1938, he had effectively designed a metal link system of 50-round belts that are pulled left-to-right into the DK gun, spitting out brass and links downward through the receiver. This new gun was labeled the DShK “Krupnokaliberny Pulemet Degtyareva-Shpagina, DShK” (Degtyarev-Shpagin, large caliber) and by 1939 was being produced as part of a new Five Year Plan. This soon became changed in the field to “Dushka,” which is a Russian slang word that roughly means baby or sweetie.