RIFLES PART 4:

Semiautomatic and Automatic Rifles

 

7,62 mm Automatic Rifle M/36 Simonov:

(Avtomaticeskaja Vintovka Simonova obr. 1936 g. AVS-36)

PICTURE: Soviet AVS-36 automatic rifle (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). The rifle can be maybe best identified from its massive muzzle brake. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (37 KB).

Calibre:

7,62 mm x 54 R

Length:

1232 mm

Barrel length:

612 mm

Weight:

4,3 kg

Fire-rate:

25 - 40/minute (practical)

Magazine:

15, removable

Official abbreviations:

"7,62 aut. kiv/36"

Country of origin:

Soviet Union

Prototype:

1931

Production:

1934 - 1940, mass-production 1937 - 1940

Finnish use: Captured and used by Finnish troops in small numbers during WW2. Rifle was never as popular as Tokarev rifles were among Finnish troops.

Automatic rifle using 7, 62 mm x 54 R ammunition had been in wish list of Soviet military from the start, development work had been started soon after revolution, but results were slow to surface. First tests were arranged already in 1926, but useful weapon was not found in it and situation didn't get better in tests of 1928 nor tests of 1930. Best weapons-developers, like Degtjarev, Fedorov and Tokarev participated to these tests, but none of the designs was impressive enough to get into production. However, 1930 tests led into decision that future automatic rifle should be gas-action weapon, because of this rifles with other action-systems were dropped from further tests and all those who continued development by concentrating to gas-action.

Yet another tests were organised in 1931, this time both Tokarev's and Simonov's rifles were promising enough for test series of 400 to be made in 1934 - 1935 and tested after that. Simonov's rifle became the one that was accepted to mass-production. Izhevsk arsenal started mass-producing AVS-36 year 1937. Most sources agree that only some 33,000 - 34,500 Simonov automatic rifles were manufactured before the production ended in summer of 1939. Only one source (Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition) claims total production having been about 65,800 rifles and it to have continued until year 1940. Anyway, problems started to appear soon, the weapon proved to be difficult to both manufacture and use because of its complicated mechanism. In use it proved to be near impossible to control when fired on full-auto mode. The Soviets found also it its bolt mechanism to be sensitive to dirt and extreme weather conditions. As these would have not been enough variations in ammunition could jam the weapon.

As mentioned Simonov AVS-36 is select fire gas-action rifle. The selector switch is located to front part of trigger guard. The safety system is not terribly secure, but simple it is - since it physically blocks movement of trigger. The 15-round magazine was removable, but could also be loaded from the top with same 5-round cartridge clips as Mosin-Nagant rifles without removing the magazine. The rear sight was tangent type with setting all the way up to (rather optimistic) 1,500 meters. The rifle had cleaning rod attached to its right side and very large muzzle brake in end of the barrel.

Soviet military soon got more than enough negative experiences, the new automatic rifle was not working as it should have. New tests were organised already in 1938. This time Tokarev's rifle, improved version of Simonov's AVS-36 and Rukavishnikov's rifle participated to tests and this time Tokarev won the tests. These tests and their aftermath proved to be quite a colourful play. Soviet high command (including Stalin) mixed into selection and the final decision that favoured Tokarev's rifle seems to have been politically influenced. To be exact this means that Stalin decided to favour Tokarev (possibly because of Tokarev being more successful that far than Simonov) and did not leave any room for other opinions. Tokarev SVT-38 started replacing Simonov AVS-36 in production around 1939, but also AVS-36 rifles remained in use of Soviet military. The Soviets issued also small number of AVS-36 sniper version, which was equipped with PE (PT) rifle scope. The PE (PT) scope used in this sniper version was installed off centre to left side of the rifles receiver. The Germans called AVS-36 Selbsladegewehr 257 (r).

Finnish - Soviet Winter War was the high point of using AVS-36 among Soviet military, needless to say it offered just the extreme weather conditions, which had already proved problematic to AVS-36 already earlier. Finnish troops captured hundreds of AVS-36 rifles both during Winter War and early part of Continuation War, but it never got very popular among Finnish troops either. Unreliability and shortage of spare-parts were seen such a large problems that during Continuation War AVS rifles were gathered off from troops and warehoused for repairs, but those repairs never happened. Instead large amount of AVS were scrapped around 1943 - 1944 and the rest soon after ending of World War 2. While Finnish Army wasn't too favourably impressed about AVS-36 automatic either, many Finnish soldiers during World War 2 seemed to have been rather happy with them.

 

7,62 mm Semiautomatic Rifles M/38 and M/40 Tokarev:

(Samozarjadnaja Vintovka Tokareva obr. 1938 g. SVT-38)

(Samozarjadnaja Vintovka Tokareva obr. 1940 g. SVT-40)

7,62 mm Automatic Rifle M/40 Tokarev:

(Avtomatizeskaja Vintovka Tokareva obr. 1940 g. AVT-40)

PICTURE: SVT-38 semiautomatic rifle (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (54 KB).

PICTURE: SVT-40 (top) semiautomatic rifle and AVT-40 (below) select-fire rifle. Notice the differences in front-stock area when compared to SVT-38 above and location of cleaning rod under the barrel. Typical AVT-40 had more robust rifle stock and muzzle brake with four large ventilation holes. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (87 KB).

Calibre:

7,62 mm x 54 R

Length:

1225 mm

Barrel length:

620 mm

Weight:

4,2 kg (M/38) / 3,9 kg (M/40)

Fire-rate:

25/minute (practical)

Magazine:

10, removable

Official abbreviations:

"7,62 kautkiv/38" and "762 KAUTKIV 38"

"7,62 kautkiv/40" and "762 KAUTKIV 40"

Country of origin:

Soviet Union

Prototype:

1933

Production:

SVT-38: 1939 - 1940. SVT-40: 1940 - 1942.

Finnish use: Finnish troops captured some 3,000 rifles SVT-38 during Winter War. Another 17,000 or so SVT-38, SVT-40 and AVT-40 were captured during Continuation War. Finnish frontline troops used these captured rifles, but their durability proved so weak that most broke or worn down and were warehoused for repairs, which never came. Only about 6,000 or so remained in use of Finnish fronts until end of Continuation War.

This Tokarev rifle won the Soviet automatic rifle tests of 1938 and got accepted to use of Soviet military in February of 1939. It also replaced Simonov AVS-36 in production in 1939 - 1940 and the Soviet leadership made plans for really large-scale production (by 1943 the yearly production would have been 2 million SVT-38/year). Also a scoped version was introduced already in April of 1939. Just like with AVS-36, Winter War proved to be a high mark for SVT-38 in Soviet use. Experiences the Soviets gathered in battle also lead into designing of improved SVT-40, which replaced SVT-38 in production already in July of 1940.

SVT-40 was lighter, had a new kind of stock and basically was simpler rifle. Early on the rifle looked very good in tests so the Soviet leadership decided to put into mass production - later this proved to be serious mistake. Once started production of SVT-40 increased fast and largest production numbers were from 1941 (over million SVT-40 were made during that year). Once experiences started to pile up SVT-40 didn't look so good anymore. Its parts proved to have durability issues, the shooting accuracy typically wasn't too great either and also reliability proved worse than expected. However it took some time until the Soviets noticed the problems and before that they had SVT-40 production running in a full swing. They found that fixing the problems would have required so extensive changes to structure of the rifle, that they didn't make sense. Year 1942 Soviets started concentrating their resources to submachinegun production, so production numbers of SVT-40 started to rapidly decline and soon remaining SVT-40 resources were redirected to production of AVT-40 automatic rifle. Yet it took a while for the production to shift from SVT-40 to PPSh-41. So in between 1941 - 1942 Soviet armament industry manufactured still almost 1.3 million Tokarev rifles. Captured Tokarev rifles seemed to have enjoyed some popularity among German soldiers, who knew these rifles as Selbsladegewehr 258 (r) and Selbsladegewehr 259 (r).

Just like Simonov AVS-36 also SVT-38 and SVT-40 are gas-action rifles, but they are capable for semiautomatic fire only. Tokarev SVT rifles also have similar tangent-type rear sight as in AVS-36. SVT-38 has two-part rifle stock while SVT-40 had new one-part stock. The two rifles can easily separated from location of their cleaning rod (located right side of rifle in SVT-38 and below barrel in SVT-40) and differences in front part of their stocks. Both rifles had 10-round removable magazines, which when the bolt was open could also be reloaded from the top with the same cartridge clips as used in Mosin-Nagant rifles. This reloading process was easy as after firing and ejecting the last round bolt stopped locked the bolt open. Both SVT rifles have similar muzzle brake, which had 12 vents - 6 per side. Safety switch is located in rear part of trigger guard.

Besides normal "plain vanilla" SVT-40 the Soviets introduced also two its special versions: SVT-40 sniper rifle and AVT-40 select-fire rifle. However both of these had their own share of problems. Sniper version had short scope (basically the same as PU scope later used in M/91-30 sniper rifle, but with with slight structural difference), which did not interfere loading and used cartridge case ejection processes of the rifle. The Soviets stopped manufacturing of M/91-30 sniper rifles in favour of SVT-40 sniper rifle year 1940, but this proved to be bad decision. While bore of the sniper version was more high quality work than usual, its other parts and structure were not on par for sniper use - the accuracy of SVT-40 sniper rifles proved less accurate than the M/91-30 sniper rifle that it replaced. Only some 58,000 or so SVT-40 sniper rifles were ever manufactured, before the Soviets decided to undo their earlier decision. October of 1942 they stopped manufacturing of sniper rifle version of SVT-40 and restarted production of M/91-30 sniper rifle variant.

PICTURE: Finnish soldier with captured SVT-40 sniper rifle. Photo taken near Osta March of 1942. (SA-kuva photo archive, photo number 76622). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (108 KB).

AVT-40 automatic rifle was accepted to manufacturing in May of 1942 and the first weapons came out of production line already in July of the same year. When the production shifted into making AVT-40, this also resulted manufacturing of normal SVT-40 rifles ending sometime in summer of 1942. The reason that allowed AVT-40 to enter production so fast was rather simple - the changes required for making SVT-40 select-fire automatic were only minor. Only real change happened with trigger group used in these rifles. While in SVT-40 the safety switch had only two settings - (semi auto) fire and safe, in AVT-40 the switch had also third setting for automatic fire. However, it is likely that AVT-40 rifles were mostly used in semi auto mode, since full automatic fire proved quite difficult to control and its use caused durability issues with the rifle. All the reliability issues of SVT-40 were still included to the design and now the automatic fire caused additional problems. The main visual difference between SVT-40 and AVT-40 is in their muzzle brakes. Muzzle brake of AVT-40 has only 4 large vents - 2 in each side. In addition new stronger stock version was manufactured for AVT-40. Sometimes AVT-40 muzzle brakes and/or AVT-40 stocks can be found in SVT-40 rifles, but these might be results of later repairs and arsenal refurb work. According most sources the Soviets stopped manufacturing of AVT-40 in summer of 1943, but apparently some were still manufactured in 1944.

Finnish troops captured over 3,000 SVT-38 rifles during Winter War. Additional 17,000 SVT-38 and SVT-40 were captured during early part of Continuation War. These rifles were very popular among Finnish troops (hundreds were estimated being taken home as war souvenirs), which often took immediately captured Tokarev rifles to their own use. Sniper versions of both Tokarev rifles were very rare finds among weaponry captured by the Finns. However shortage of spare-parts was constant problem with these rifles, so before end of Continuation War over 14,000 of them had been handed over by the troops that had captured them and warehoused. Most of these rifles had ended to warehoused because of worn barrels and/or other broken parts and waited repairs, which were never done. The reasons why these broken rifles were not repaired during the war were probably related to limited Finnish industrial capacity and not having any other source for spare parts than cannibalising some of the rifles for parts. But considering that the most common problems seem to have included broken rifle stocks and worn out barrels, which there the parts that Finnish industry could have rather easily manufactured, best guess is that limited industrial capacity with likely low priority value compared to other firearms in Finnish inventory resulted them being left them in warehouses for rest of the war. One of the reasons behind these numerous breakages was likely Finnish standard issue ammunition (with 13-gram/200-grain D166 bullets), since these rifles had been designed for much lighter bullets. January of 1945 Finnish military ordered all not fit-for-combat Tokarev rifles to be scrapped. In 1950's remaining Tokarev rifles were used for training and some were repaired. Due to not having other source of spare parts they were typically fixed with parts cannibalised from other captured broken Tokarev rifles. Even plans about using their parts for new domestic automatic rifle surfaced around that time. But as intentions soon focused to assault rifles the whole plan for developing domestic automatic rifle was buried. Year 1958 remaining Tokarev rifles were declared obsolete and sold abroad around 1959 - 1961.

While Tokarev automatic rifles seem to have been popular among Finnish soldiers during World War 2, Finnish Army wasn't quite as impressed about these rifles. Official wartime Armed Forced Ordnance Department report notes that while benefits of automatic rifle (vs. common bolt-action rifle) are obvious, durability and reliability of these captured rifles was still considered poor for combat use. The report lists following details:

  • Structure of the rifle stock is very weak. Almost all of these rifles handed over by the troops that captured them have broken stocks.
  • Receiver of the rifle is weak, it bends or even breaks easily.
  • If the cartridge chamber is dirty or corroded even in minor extent, the weapon will fail to extract used cartridge case. (Writer's note - rather harsh text, failure to remove used cartridge case is the typical problem for these rifles, but the harsh tone suggests that ammunition was not necessarily correct type or gas-regulator setting may have been false).
  • Piston rod may slip from the piston preventing the bolt closing.
  • Sod and other remains of burned gunpowder will make the gas piston very dirty and (without proper maintenance) it will rust, making its removal impossible.
  • The gas-regulator adjustment may move on its own. (Writer's note: Especially if not tightened correctly).
  • If attachment of the gas-regulator is too tight, it may distort the barrel.
  • Parts between individual rifles are not compatible.
  • When very worn, the rifle may go full-auto when fired.
  • How reliably the rifle works depends how tight the shooter is holding it. If hold loosely the rifle tends to work less reliably. (Writer's note: Which seem to apply most semiautomatic weapons at least in certain degree).
  • Finnish Army captured also few hundred select-fire AVT-40 rifles (mainly in summer of 1944) and as with other Tokarev rifles Finnish troops usually took them immediately to their own use. In Finland these rifles got the same fate as Tokarev semiautomatics. Finnish troops captured also small number of SVT-40 sniper rifles. As Finnish troops suffered constant acute shortage of sniper rifles these were pressed immediately to their own use. As usual the soldiers, who captured them also took many of the captured SVT-40 sniper rifles home as "war souvenirs".

    Tests made by Sako factory with captured SVT-38 in year 1940:

    Finnish military was so interested about captured Soviet automatic rifles, that it ordered research of them from Sako factory. Sako tested and researched captured SVT-38 rifle and reported back in November of 1940. While not mentioned in the report the timing of tests and certain details (such as mentioning two part stock and two barrel bands) indicate that the rifle Sako made this report from was indeed SVT-38. Findings of Sako testing personnel are quite interesting - even if they seem to partly reflect the (overly?) high accuracy standards set by Sako for military rifles. The main content of this report:

    First SVT-38 based prototype made by Sako - TaPaKo

    Sako report from November of 1940 also contained list of recommended improvements and Sako also manufactured from SVT-38 their own prototype rifle, which contained many of the suggested improvements. This Sako prototype rifle was unofficially named TaPaKo, a name containing first letters from last names of the persons, who mainly took part designing it. These persons working in Sako were N. Talvenheimo (Ta), O. Paronen (Pa) and N. Koivula (Ko). This Finnish version makes interesting comparison with the improved rifle based to SVT-38 that the Soviets introduced - SVT-40. The Sako list of improvements and info about Sako prototype rifle compared to SVT-40:

    Sako tested its modified prototype rifle before delivering it. The test results showed that the prototype showed the accuracy approximately the same as with M/28 and M/28-30 rifles, whom Sako had manufactured. Just introducing heavy one part rifle stock and improving attachment of receiver to it, reduced vertical dispersion of shots in target to one third of the original. Finnish Armed Forces Ordnance Department tested this rifle against original SVT-38, VKT L-39 prototype and Pelo automatic rifle prototype as comparison weapon in autumn of 1941. Only one prototype of "TaPaKo" was ever manufactured. Even if the Sako prototype had proved quite favourable in tests this didn't lead to further production. Finnish military captured some 17,000 Tokarev semiautomatic rifles year 1941. While this might have made sense modifying captured SVT-rifles with improvements suggested by Sako would have demanded much too work and would have been too expensive for limited Finnish industrial capacity during the war. However the effect of Tokarev SVT rifles was such that Finnish industry kept designing new automatic rifle prototypes based to Tokarev rifles as late as year 1956. But in the end none of these prototypes saw production beyond prototype stage.

    PICTURE: SVT-40 diassembled for routine maintenance. Gas piston and trigger mechanism have not been removed, because the photographer was lazy and the rifle clean. :-) While cleaning the rifle removal of gas piston and its careful cleaning are highly recommended. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (79 KB).

    Writer's personal experiences concerning shooting with SVT-40 Tokarev rifles: As you have probably already noticed, both accuracy and reliability of these rifles have been debated over and over again. Based to writer's own experiences of shooting with SVT-40 rifles, which had good bores, these rifles have more than enough accuracy for hitting man-size targets from typical combat distances. In fact in my opinion for practical combat use the difference in accuracy between these rifles and bolt-action rifles of World War 2 era is basically negligible. While most scoped SVT-40 probably would not have passed the accuracy requirement of western sniper rifles, the typical scoped SVT-40 was likely accurate enough to fit use not very different to rifles used today in fire support sniper and designated marksman roles. Reliability-wise these rifles have certain issues, but with good maintenance and proper ammunition they are not as unreliable as often blamed. Due to fluted cartridge chamber I recommend steel cased ammunition for gaining good reliability. Also, it is highly recommenable to use ammunition loaded with light bullets (Soviet issue ammunition for this rifle was with 9.6-gram/148-grain bullets). Likely first impression for anybody first time taking SVT-40 in their hands are its considerable length and light weight giving (somewhat rightfully so) impression of fragile and delicate rifle. As noted in reports, above the attachment of receiver and barrel to rifle stock is rather flimsy - locked in place by crossbolt on the other end of receiver and trigger guard + receiver combination in the other end.

    Reloading magazines and inserting/removing them to/from rifle is easy. Safety switch (physically blocking movement of trigger) is idiot proof in its simplicity, but difficult to use with gloves on. Sights with M/91-30 type tangent rear sight and front sights are fully adjustable. Front sight has both windage and elevation adjustments for zeroing in the rifle. Elevation adjustment in front sight requires a tool (most if not all AK-47 and SKS sight adjustment tools will work for this). In addition also gas-regulator requires its own tool, which can be difficult to find, but luckily reproductions are now manufactured in USA. Sight picture with good U-notch on rear sight and reasonable large square bead in front sight surrounded by front sight hood is pretty good both for fast and accurate shooting. Trigger is somewhat heavy but perfectly workable two-stage with some creep. I have noted that the groove in the rifle stock intended for the weak hand is too far front in the stock for most shooters - grabbing either magazine or the part of stock just in front of it works better for my left hand. As already noted carrying the rifle on shoulder with its sling for extended periods of time is not very comfortable, since the attachment points for rifle sling are rather poorly located. Original Soviet magazines are expensive and are not compatible with all rifles, but seem to work fairly reliably. As to be expected basic maintenance disassembly and re-assembly of this rifle is much more complex than with bolt-action rifles, but still manageable and relatively swift process after getting used to it. For basic maintenance the rifle breaks into about 18 - 20 parts, depending if trigger mechanism is removed and if spring is removed from rear spring guide. If cleaning rod is used the correct way (from the rear) for cleaning the barrel, it must be rather thin to get through hole in the rear receiver. The original cleaning rod works like this, but all after-market cleaning rods necessarily don't.


    SOURCES:

    Markku Palokangas: Sotilaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918 - 1988 osat 1 - 3 (= Military Small Arms in Finland 1918 - 1988 parts 1- 3).

    Timo Hyytinen: Arma Fennica 2, sotilasaseet (Arma Fennica 2, military weapons)

    D.N. Bolotin: Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition.

    Bruno Bogdnovic and Ivan Valencak: Das Groze Buch der klassischen feuerwaffen.

    Jan Kronlund: Suomen Puolustuslaitos 1918 - 1939 (= Finnish Defence Department 1918 - 1939)

    Timo Räätäli: Kolmen linjan kivääristä automaattiin (= From Three Line Rifle to the Avtomat).

    Article: Puna-armeijan automaattikivääri malli 1936, Simonovin erävoitto by Mika Vuolle in Kaliberi magazine vol. 2/1996.

    Article: Kerta-automaattikiväärit malli 1938 ja 1940, Tokarevin pitkä tie by Mika Vuolle in Kaliberi magazine vol. 1/1996.

    Article: Tokarev SVT-kiväärien heikkoudet by Matti Ingman in Ase-lehti magazine 3/2005.

    Article: Toveri Tokarevin SVT-38 by Mika Pitkänen in Kaliberi magazine vol. 8/2011.

    Aleksandr Borisovitsh Zhuk: Ase-Atlas, Maailman käsiaseet (= Weapons Atlas, World's Handguns)

    Special thanks to Sotamuseo (Finnish Military Museum), Helsinki.


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