The DShK is a 12.7x108mm Soviet heavy machine gun. In 1929, the Soviets began developing a weapon with comparable performance to the now legendary M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun. The design was finalized and production began in 1938. During WWII, the DShK was used extensively as an anti-aircraft gun and was mounted mainly on trucks, tanks, and other armored vehicles. A heavy infantry version was also employed with a two-wheeled trolley. The gun itself weighed nearly 75 pounds and was brought to a whopping 346 pounds on its trolley.
Interestingly, the M2 and the DShK are the only .50 caliber machine guns designed before WWII that remain in service in the 21st century. The DShK has been used extensively as an anti-aircraft and heavy infantry gun in Vietnam, the Middle East, and even Northern Ireland. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left with a stockpile of DShK machine guns that were eventually repurposed in a new way.
After the outbreak of fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2014, the conflict largely devolved into trench warfare. Ukrainian troops found themselves facing off with pro-Russian separatists at ranges of 500 meters and beyond. Needing a weapon with greater effectiveness and accuracy than their 7.62x54mmR PKM general-purpose machine guns, the Ukrainians decided to convert their DShKs into shoulder-fired infantry weapons.
First, a massive muzzle brake was developed to tame the DShK’s immense recoil. Second, a bipod and shoulder stock were fabricated to allow the DShK to be carried and employed as an infantry weapon by just two soldiers. With these modifications, the DShK could be placed and used in a trench much easier than with its traditional vehicle pintle mount. After their initial fielding was met with success, the design of the modifications was standardized by the Ukrainian military.
Armed with the power, range, and accuracy of a .50 caliber round, frontline Ukrainian troops are able to engage hardened enemy positions and even armor. Interestingly, the US Cavalry and Springfield Armory experimented with a shoulder-fired version of the M2 called the Anti-Mechanization Weapon in the 1930s. A few variants were created and evaluated but the project was ultimately abandoned before America’s entry into WWII. The Ukrainian infantry DShK serves as a sort of spiritual successor to this experiment.