Read time: 10-12 Minutes
Ah the M240, the legendary medium machine gun workhorse of basically the entire US armed forces. It’s like the Ford Mustang of the medium machine gun world, as there are a multitude of different iterations throughout the years and all of them seemed to be universally appreciated.
For those of you not familiar the M240, it is the general-purpose medium machine gun of the United States Military, used heavily by the US Army & Marine ground forces and pretty much everyone else in some capacity. It’s a belt fed, gas operated, air-cooled, tripod/bi-pod mountable, crew served weapon. While the rates of fire do change depending on the model, its current iteration clocks in at around 650 rounds per minute, and it has an effective engagement range of 1800 meters. Weights change depending on the model but it’s definitely not light. The M240B I carried around on select weekends weighted 27.1 lbs., although there is a new version called the M240L that weighs 22.3lbs.
Regardless of which version issued, you’re looking at carrying around something at least 22lbs with all of your gear. Being a Machine Gunner in the Marine Corps was sold to me as being unique and in some cases elite, but I always chalked that up to bravado. I found that once you had the infantry moniker of “03” in your MOS title, the culture was relatively homogeneous. However, using the M240 around did allow me to learn somethings!
Lesson # 1: Nothing is “light” after a certain amount of distance and time
It could made from the same material as the trident dart from ‘Predator 2’, an unknown element from a distance planet that’s strong as steel and light as a feather, If you’re carrying the M240 with you on a hike (or wherever) however. It’ll soon weigh as much as a brick during whatever horrendous distance you’re now traversing on foot. Whenever I hear a company advertise a “Light” version of the M240, I almost laugh. Yes, 5 lbs. lighter is better than not having a any weight reduction, but the fact of the matter still remains the same: The damn gun is heavy and will always be heavy when you’re hiking 10 or 15 kilometers with it. There really is no real practical way of getting around it, maybe an exoskeleton.
Lesson # 2: You’ll forget something and it’ll haunt you for the rest of our life (even if nothing happened)
The M240 has three pieces to it; 1) The gun itself 2) The tripod and 3) The assistant gunner bag, which has all the parts and spare barrel in it. The gun is carried by the gunner, the tripod by the team leader and the A-bag by the assistant gunner. I was a gunner my first 3-4 years in the Corps and I never had much issue. I only had to worry about carrying the Gun itself, an item that’s hard to forget. However when I was promoted to team leader all of my luck seemingly went out the window. I remember when I was trying to get my team to get up and go during a training event and I left the tripod where we were previously. I figured it was more important to get everyone moving and into their positions for the ordered ambush as opposed to carrying a 12 pound steel anchor for no tactical reason. I went back after setting my team up to retrieve it and there was the 1st platoon squad leader holding it and laughing manically back at me. He explained to me “I was done as a team leader” and would quite literally "tell on me". I had just picked up E-4 at the time so all eyes were naturally on me. It was given to my section leader, and without the ability to explain myself I was punished and treated like a recruit for the rest of the day. What really got me though was the simple fact I hadn't forgotten it, I has simply left my assault pack behind (tripod attached) so I could be a little quicker on the setup. The feeling of knowing my team watched me get dressed down in front of them by our section leader was always a point of shame for me. I don’t think the lesson worked however, I still never got into the groove of being able to juggle leading and performing. I'm sure some would have a different experience but for me, somehow someway something was ALWAYS being left behind.
Lesson #3: The M240 Is Never Really Clean
In my experience the gun is extremely reliable, as long as no one is messing with the feed tray or screwing with the trigger assembly, the damn thing always works. For whatever reason the damn thing can never truly be fully cleaned. We would put it in the solvent tanks deeply scrub it, run through the whole thing through again, scrub it, run rags over it, tooth brushes, CLP wipes and literally one time even a damn pressure washer. No matter what the method, there happened to be carbon in there somewhere. It would only ever get “good enough” (AKA when the CO wanted to go home and ordered all weapons to be turned in). The gun could be completely doused in CLP and when we came to get them again, it was rusty and full of carbon. I even had a theory that our M240’s were secretly Decepticons that would sneak out at night, get into fights with Autobot’s and come back in to our armory expecting to be cleaned and serviced by it’s unknowing human subjects. My theory was never proven, but I still stick by it.
Lesson #4: Machine Guns are accurate
I know. A weird concept but it’s actually true. Obviously there is math in play here, the more rounds you shoot in a general direction of a target increases your chance of hitting it. However the M240, when secured on a tripod and with the Trijicon Machine Gun Optic with a good gunner, is scary accurate. I remember engaging tank silhouettes (it’s a tank to present a large target) that were out at about 900-1000 meters and having to actually slow our rate of fire because we needed to allow the target to reset. We were hitting it so easily and consistently we all felt like snipers. With Machine Gun Optic providing magnification and built-in Bullet Drop Compensator, it was almost as if you were cheating. At least for me and my team, distances out to a kilometer were now as engage-able as something that was only 100 meters away. When I did Machine Gun division school there was a section where we were taught to utilize the tripod with a M240 mounted at different high angles, I could literally lob large volumes of fire over a hill or cover and rain lead upon my enemies (or dirt patch) as if it was a little automatic mortar. The accuracy was pretty impressive and did take a lot of the uncertainty out of the ability to engage effectively at that 1800 meter threshold.
Lesson #5: Myths and misinformation sort of surround it
Like anything gun related, interesting bits of information surrounded the weapon. Everything from “This gun did great in Vietnam” to “Don’t carry it by the carry handle or you’ll break it” were told to me. I think a lot of this comes from the simple fact that in the military you really can’t challenge or question anyone higher ranking. If your Gunnery Sergeant tells you to not carry it by the carrying handle because Gunny read on AR15.com that it ruins the barrel threads. You as an E-nothing really can’t tell him otherwise. I'll give you a hint though,It doesn't. You can literally call FN and ask about that particular factoid and they will tell you that you can carry it by the "carrying handle". While not a "myth" per say here is a personal story about how information is handled in the military: During some range time our Platoon Commander came down to look at our range cards. He came by and checked my range cards after looking through my scope he claimed that the adjustments for the different targets were horribly off and that the reticle on the Machine Gun Optic was no where near the target I had labeled. Perplexed, I checked and re-confirmed that everything was correct. I realized that he had most likely used the 100m reticle for all of the targets and not the BDC drops for the further ones, which naturally would’ve thrown the tripod adjustments way off from what I had written down. To confirm I asked him; “Sir, on those far out targets, are you using the 100 meter reticle or the BDC drop?” He immediately realized his mistake and then proceeded to inform me that my “Natural Zero” needed work, and to do the card again with “adjusted holds”. I promptly redrew the card, and changed nothing. It just goes to show you how such "information" is born.
I hope you enjoyed the piece about the M240! It’s a wonderful weapon system that I hope you never have to carry. Although I’ll admit it is something I like to brag about when lecturing my friends on why “Call Of Duty” isn’t that realistic, or to post 5 year old bad ass Marine photos on my (now banned) Hinge profile.
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Blog Written By: Kent O.