11 July 23
“When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m even better!”
Mae West
True effectiveness of machineguns as implements of modern war was not universally appreciated until half-way through WWI, even though they had been around since 1900, because prior to WWI machineguns had seen service mostly with isolated colonial forces (particularly British and French).
Russians used the then-novel Danish Madsen machinegun to great effect during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). In fact, its astonishing effectiveness was not lost on several foreign observers, who subsequently made the story known in the West. But, “colonial wars,” particularly those involving Russians, were disdainfully dismissed by Western war planners, and officers assigned to colonial forces were usually not considered “top-drawer.” Hence, when returning from colonial assignments, their opinions carried little weight. So, the lesson was largely unlearned for the next ten years, and the effectiveness of machineguns was thus an “accidental secret” until half-way through WWI!
In fact, it was the amazing effectiveness of the Danish Madsen Light Machinegun during the Russo-Japanese War that likely inspired Vladimir G Fyodorov (then a Russian Army officer) to design his autoloading rifle, the short-recoil operated “Fyodorov Avtomat” in 1911, the first of an entire generation of military autoloading rifles!
Design, development, and production of the Fyodorov were all interrupted by the Russian Revolution, but 3200 copies were eventually produced between 1920 and 1925 at a factory in Russia (Kovrov Arsenal) that had coincidentally been built by the Danish to produce the Madsen Machinegun, under license (of course that deal dissolved when Communists took-over)
Production Fyodorov Avtomats were chambered for the Japanese 6.5x50SR Arisaka Cartridge (not the larger Russian 7.62x54R), as there was still plenty of Japanese ammunition in the Russian logistics system, left-over from the Russo-Japanese War. Thus, Fyodorov was way ahead of his time in employing an “intermediate cartridge,” similar to those in common use today.
The Fyodorov Avtomat (in various developmental versions) saw no significant use during WWI, nor the subsequent Russian Revolution.
By 1928, Fyodorovs were pulled out of service, but they were suddenly reissued during the Winter War with Finland (1939-1940) , and many were subsequently captured by the Finns. In fact, most copies of the Fyodorov known to exist today are in Finland.
Fyodorov Avtomats then fade from history, never to be produced again.
The Fyodorov Rifle was elegant, but complex and difficult to manufacture and maintain. It also had the reputation of rapidly over-heating when fired full-auto.
Fyodorov and his protegees (which include Vasily, Degtyaryov, Sergei, Simonov) would design other famous Russian small arms, including the twin-barreled Fyodorov/Shpagin Machinegun.
Shpagin would go on to design the famous PPSh-41 submachine gun.
Fyodorov died (natural causes) in 1966.