Recoil|March - April 2021
The Tactical Employment of the Motorcycle DShK Heavy Machine Gun in Syria
Miles Vining

The ongoing Syrian Civil War will perhaps be the most cataclysmic episode in Syrian history for the remainder of the 21st century. The conflict has produced some of the highest numbers of casualties and refugees than perhaps any other in the past decade and is one of the more brutal civil wars still continuing. It has also begot the rise and fall of the worst form of religious extremism that current generations may see in their lifetimes — that of Daesh, or the so-called Islamic State.

Against this ghastly backdrop, we have the invention and tactical application of the “motorcycle DShK” concept. This is the improvised marrying of the original Soviet Russian-produced Degtyaryov-Shpagin LargeCalibre (DShK) belt-fed 12.7x108mm heavy machine gun to local motorcycles in order to create an extremely mobile machine gun platform. The background and original intent of the concept have since been lost in the confusion of the war, but the concept quickly proliferated throughout the conflict, with different factions adopting it and putting their own additions and spins on it.

The basic economy of the design is quite simple and straightforward. Manually geared motorcycles flood the Syrian and Iraqi auto markets from Iran and the Gulf Coast countries. New ones can cost less than 200 or 300 U.S. dollars in Iraqi dinars or Syrian pounds. As they age, they become less reliable, much of the time requiring owners to administer multiple vigorous kick-starts to get the things running.

On the other hand, crew-served DShK heavy machine guns are harder to come by, but due to the war, there’s definitely an ample supply. Russian, Chinese, and Iranian support of the Assad regime has led to DShK and DShKM-patterned variants from all three suppliers ending up in common use throughout Syria — by many factions either allied with Assad, against him or neutral. This has mostly been due to the semi-disintegration of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) from the beginning of the revolution almost a decade ago. Some of the Chinese variants carry the nomenclature of W85, retaining the DShKM operating mechanism but with several differences in external design.

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