by Jean Francois Legendre
A common feature among all former Warsaw Pact Armies is that ammunition for machine guns is not provided belted from the factories. Unlike Western Armed Forces for which machine gun belts are composed of disintegrating links which are discarded after firing, in the Former Warsaw Pact Armies, the belts for infantry machine guns (up to 14.5mm) are considered as weapon parts and are to be reused until unserviceable. Obviously, the non-disintegrating pattern of the belts helps the recovery for further use.
Since machine gun belts are not factory loaded with ammunition, this task is then delegated down to the unit level. In order to cope with this tedious activity, especially when large quantities of ammunition is to be belted, belt loading machines are especially required.
The former East German Armed Forces had to cope with the same situation, enhanced to an even worse level, due to the diversity of the armament used among its different units (National Popular Army (National Volksarmee - NVA), Police (Volkspolizei - Vopo), Border Guards (Grenztruppe - GT), Militarized Police (Kasernierte Volkspolizei - KSP), etc.). Therefore, a unique multipurpose belt-loading device has been designed to handle all the different machine gun belts in service; in one compact unit.
On the basis of the Second World War German “Gurtfüller 34”, the crank-operated belt-loader for MG34/42 belts, a new multipurpose belt-loader was adopted for service in 1964 under the designation “Gurtfüllvorrichtung 64” (“Belt-loading device 64”.) This modular machine is capable of loading different belts in calibers 7.62x39, 7.62x54R and 7.92x57, thanks to interchangeable inserts. Furthermore, it will also fill AK47 magazines for caliber 7.62x39. Loose cartridges are driven from a curved feed-tray in which the rounds are manually placed side by side which enables the loader to align the required belting sequence (ball, tracer, incendiary, etc.).
In caliber 7.62X54R, belts for the SGM (modernized SG-43) and PK’s family can be loaded. The required insert is engraved “7.62 mR” which reads “7.62 mit Rand” (with rim).
In caliber 7.92x57, belts for the MG34 and MG 42 can also be loaded. The corresponding insert is engraved “7.92”.
Finally, for the 7.62x39 caliber, an extra spacer engraved “M43” is first to be inserted into the feed-tray so as to accommodate the shorter round. Two different inserts are provided to handle the two different types of belts available for the RPD machine guns. The first insert is engraved “M43sG” and is designed for the original Russian style belt where the links are positioned within the cartridge extraction groove.
The second insert, engraved “M43uG” is provided to cope with the later RPD belt style where the link is positioned by a re-curved tab folded over the cartridge base. A third, more complex insert, is provided to load MPi-KM (variant of the Russian AKM) magazines and is engraved “M43 M.”
It is evident that the feature which slows down the rate of belting capacity of this machine is the manual filling of the feed-tray. Therefore, for each caliber, 7.62x39 and 7.62X54R, a special feed accessory is provided, respectively denoted as “GFV-64, Z1” - Zubehör 1 (accessory 1) and “GFV-64, Z2” - Zubehör 2 (accessory 2). This feed-device, in the form of a large pan, is operated by the main crank handle motion by means of a driving chain. This simultaneously enables, in one single turn, to move the belt one step forward, to insert a cartridge into the belt and rotates the pan to feed one cartridge in the correct position. More than 300 7.62x54R rounds and 500 7.62x39 rounds can be thrown in bulk into the pan. By means of a grooved wheel, cartridges are ingeniously pre-positioned in the correct position before being fed into the loader itself.
No doubt that many former East-German armorers and soldiers have been grateful to this loader for having preserved their fingers, as anyone who has ever manually loaded belts can attest to. Since the re-unification of Germany in 1989 and thereafter the re-organization of the Armed Forces, it seems that many of these multipurpose loaders have been discarded. Only the screwdrivers and brushes contained in the boxes have been salvaged for further private use; indeed those tools are invariably missing in every box the author has examined.
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