13 Nov 19

Military Autoloading Rifles:

Several mentioned that in my last Quip, I failed to mention the Soviet SVT autoloading rifles, which did actually see active combat during WWII.

Talented Russian arms designers, like Tokarev, Simonov, Fedorov, and Kalashnikov indeed deserve every bit as much credit as do Browning, Peterson, Garand, and Stoner, but the former are not generally as well-known, nor recognized in the West, as are the latter.

They should be!

At the beginning of the 20th Century, nearly all the “Great Powers” were desperately trying to equip their troops with the latest war-winning technology, ie:

Autoloading military rifles!

There was understandably a desperate attempt to “convert” to autoloaders, existing rifles (mostly bolt-guns) that were already in the system in great numbers.

These mostly-failed (albeit ingenious) attempts proved themselves non-starters, in every case, and the abortive effort only delayed the ultimate development and production of the next generation of military rifles.

Fedorov’s recoil-operated, autoloading rifle, with its detachable box magazine, was introduced in Russia in 1915, and along with its proprietary rimless cartridge, the 6.5mm Fedorov (we would call it an “intermediate cartridge.” Many Fedorov’s were later converted to the Japanese 6.5×50mmSR Arisaka cartridge, because that round was in good supply within the Russian logistic system, due to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05)), enjoyed a favorable reception, but the 1917 Revolution sealed its fate, as the new Communist government, suspicious of every new technology, and pathologically distrusting of their own troops, decided to stick with the Mosin-Nagant.

Many consider Fedorov’s creation to be the world’s first “assault rifle!”

Only a few thousand Fedorovs were ever manufactured. Fewer yet saw any significant use. The Fedorov ran, but it tended to be temperamental, and was hopelessly complex and difficult to manufacture. Its recoil system was not copied on any subsequent military rifle, so it represented a “dead-end” with regard to mechanical design.

A few saw service with the USSR as late as the Winter War in Finland (1939-40)

In post-Revolution Russia (now the “USSR”), Simonov’s autoloading AVS36 finally gained favor with Stalin and his war planners in 1936.

However, it enjoyed only a short and unhappy tenure!

Durability issues quickly reared their ugly heads, and the AVS36 was soon cast aside in favor of Tokarev’s candidate, the SVT38, a tilting-bolt, short-stroke gas-gun, similar to what would later be found on the German STG44, and later still the FN/FAL.

Both the AVS and SVT were chambered for the full-power, rimmed Soviet 7.62x54R cartridge, obsolete even then!

The SVT38 was more robust than the AVS36, but it was long and heavy. The SVT40 quickly followed, and it was shorter, lighter, and the Soviets produced over a million of them.

As with all tilt-bolt systems, the SVTs were not particularly accurate, so there was never a successful “sniper” version (just as there was never a “sniper version” of the STG44, nor the FAL).

The full-auto version of the SVT40, called the AVT40, was (like most full-power, 30-caliber rifles) predictably uncontrollable, and not very durable. It quickly fell by the wayside.

Production and distribution of the SVT40 was severely disrupted by Operation Barbarossa (German invasion of the USSR) in June of 1941, so the vast majority of Soviet soldiers during the balance of the War were still armed with the Mosin-Nagant bolt-gun.

Even so, toward the end of the War, SVTs became scarce, because only a few had evaded capture by the Germans, and with extreme demand for rifles, Soviet factories could produce other, simpler designs far faster, such as the original Mosin-Nagant, and the PPSh-41 SMG.

In 1944 the Soviets finally cast-aside the 7.62x54R cartridge in favor of the rimless 7.62×39.

In 1945, Simonov’s SKS rifle (in the new caliber) officially replaced the SVT40.

In 1948, the SKS was, in turn, replaced by Kalashnikov’s AK47.

However, the SKS continued in second-tier service in the USSR for decades, first-tier service in China and many other countries, and continues to serve in many corners of the world to this day!

Russians kept the SKS around into the 1960s, long after they were officially designated “obsolete.” Many among the USSR’s war planners were suspicious of Kalashnikov and his new-fangled AK47 rifle, and wanted to keep the SKS around “just in case!”

Only a few SVTs are around today, mostly in private collections and museums.

Fedorovs are even rarer.

By contrast, SKSs are ubiquitous and many are still in active use (not just a few in the USA), as noted above.

Kalashnikovs even more so!