Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tokarev v. Simonov: the Struggle to be Stalin's Darling Designer

Originally, I had planned to write two separate articles: one covering the SVT-40 Tokarev, and the other on the SKS-45 carbine. However, i soon realized both stories are so intertwined that it would have required repeating much of the same information in each article. Plus the story of Tokarev and Simonov's decade long competition was very interesting, at least to me. In the end, I felt a combined article worked best.

Today, the SVT-40 has been forgotten by many; and the SKS is misunderstood by most. These are two very remarkable self-loading rifles, which were both used against the Nazis during World War II. Stalin was a big fan of the automatic rifle concept, and he very much wanted his Russia to be the first nation to adopt one for general military issue. The question is, did either Tokarev or Simonov end up giving Stalin what he wanted?

Fedor Vasilyevich Tokarev was born on June 2, 1871. When he was 17, he entered into the military academy, graduating in 1892. His first position was as a unit armorer. He was soon promoted to master armorer and assigned to work with new recruits as an instructor. Then in 1900, he was sent back to a field unit, now a fully commissioned officer and a qualified master gunsmith. Tokarev defended Imperial Russia during the Great War, and weathered the October Revolution of 1917. He remained an officer in the new Red Army and continued to climb the ranks.
Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov was born on April 9, 1894. Still a young man during the Great War, immediately after finishing his elementary studies he went to work at a metal foundary. Interestingly, the foundary helped with the construction of the M1916 Avtomat Fedorov, considered by some to be the world's first assault rifle. In 1918 Simonov completed a technician's course of instruction, which would lead him to go on to enroll at the Moscow Polytechnic Institute. After graduating in 1924, he took a job at the Tula Arsenal, Russia's largest arms manufacturer. Two years later, he was promoted to a quality control inspector's position, and in 1927 was assigned to Tula's Soviet Design and Development Department. There Simonov would work directly under Vladimir Grigoryevich Fedorov. Later, he would also meet Vasily Degtyaryov; famous for inventing the DP-28 light machinegun.
Fedorov created Russia's first automatic rifle, the M1916. It fired either in semi or full automatic, and used the 6.5x50mm semi-rimmed round of the Japanese Arisaka bolt action. This might seem like an odd choice at first, but Russian troops learned how effective the 6.5mm round could be during the Russo-Japanese War. In addition, the Russian government purchased over 100,000 Type 30 and Type 38 Arisakas during WWI. These rifles were widely issued, and became rather well liked by Russian soldiers. So when Fedorov was designing his rifle, he chose the round as he felt it would work better in an automatic because of its smaller size and lighter weight.
The M1916 Avtomat did go into production, but not many were made before the Revolution. Afterwards, its manufacturing was slowed to nearly nothing. The rifle was innovative, but very costly and time consuming to build, especially compared to the M1891 Mosin-Nagant bolt action. Also, the M1916 was sensitive to dirt and mud, and experienced a high number of broken parts. It really wasn't well suited for either the combat of WWI or for life in the Russian Army. Nevertheless, it prooved the general concept of the automatic rifle and a seed was planted.

Trials & Tribulations:
In the early 1920s, the new Soviet government of Russia along with the new Red Army decided to continue using the 7.62x54mm rimmed round as the standard rifle cartridge. Also, it was decided to focus on improving the existing M1891 Mosin-Nagant, rather than adopting a wholely new rifle. Nevertheless, many designers already inspired by the M1916's (limited) success, would continue working on new automatic rifles throughout the decade. Chief among them were Fedorov, Tokarev, and Degtyarev.
In 1926, the Red Army hosted an informal trial to look at new developments in the field of self loading rifles. All three designers had a prototype of theirs tested, but none were found satisfactory. Simonov also attempted to submit a design, but it was immediately rejected.
Tokarev's first idea was to adapt the Mosin-Nagant into a semi-auto. This was a very popular idea around the time of WWI but it ultimately prooved unworkable for everyone who tried it. Next his designs used a direct recoil system to cycle the action, which worked better. For his part, Simonov after much hands on experience with the M1916, opted to use a gas trap system in his early prototypes. It worked fine when the weapon was clean, but quickly became dirty during normal use and stopped cycling. All gas trap systems are known for being front heavy and requiring very frequent cleanings.
1928 and 1930 both saw more trials and again the military did not see anything it thought was truely promising. Instead a slightly updated and improved Mosin-Nagant was approved for service as the M91/30. However, Joseph Stalin was very interested in automatic rifles, so both the military and the designers continued to try and push forward. Afterall, Stalin would be very pleased with the winner.
After going back to his drawing board, Simonov unvailed a new rifle pattern in 1931. It operated using a short stroke gas piston system, and used a falling wedge to lock the bolt into the receiver. It was striker fired and fed from a detachable 15 round magazine. The military was impressed with Simonov's progress, and several generals promoted the new design. In 1934, a small batch of test rifles was even built at the Izhevsk factory.
During the same period, Tokarev too was hard at work on improving his own rifle system. He also switched to a short recoil gas piston, and the bolt locked by tilting down into the receiver. These prototypes worked much better and were also better received by the military. Tokarev though had something that Simonov did not, and it was very important. Stalin knew him personally, and was very much in favour of Tokarev's work. It didn't hurt either that his TT-30 pistol had just been accepted as the new standard issue sidearm in the Red Army.
By 1935, Tokarev's and Simonov's designs were the only two serious contenders left in the automatic rifle field. Throughout that year, trials were again held and both were riggerously examined and tested. Finally, a decision was made in December. Simonov's rifle would be accepted into military service as the Avtomaticheskaia Vintovka Simonova 1936. Apparently Tokarev's connections just weren't enough. The military thought Simonov simply had the better design and that it was better suited for mass production.
The AVS-36 was chambered for the standard 7.62x54mm rimmed M1908 round, and fired either in semi or full automatic. It weighed in at 9.5 lbs, had a 24" barrel with muzzle brake, and measured 49.5" overall. It fed from an improved 15 round detachable magazine. It used the same gas piston and locking wedge system as the trials model. It was in fullscale production by 1937. So after a decade, it looked like Simonov was the winnerof best Christmas gift of the year for Stalin. He gave him what he wanted; a working military grade automatic rifle that was suited for general issue.
The AVS-36 first appeared in the hands of Russian soldiers in 1938. Its initial recorded use in actual combat was against the Japanese at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, and there some problems began to manifestt themselves. The basic design had many small moving parts, which could lock up if dirt or mud were introduced. Unfortunately, the receiver and top cover did have plenty of open spots to allow such material to get in. Its unique wedge locking bolt was heavy, and the rounds fed into the chamber at a rather steap angle. Russian soldiers found it much more difficult and time consuming to maintain compared to the Mosin-Nagant. The AVS-36 could be ammunition sensitive and firing pins were known to break regularly. Finally, it was virtually uncontrollable and very inaccurate when fired in full automatic.
As a result, a round of trials was again ordered in 1938.
The SVS-38 was a prototype version of the Simonov rifle restricted to semi-automatic. With this model, he abandoned the heavy bolt and complicated falling wedge locking system, instead going to a much simpler tilting bolt. Also the striker firing system was replaced with a more conventional hammer. It was tested against a version of Tokarev's rifle with minor product improvements, but that was otherwise essentially the same. In December, the Defense Committee recommended that Tokarev's rifle be adopted, a decision which Stalin signed off on in February. Insidentally Fedor Tokarev had become a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR a year before. No matter the reasons behind exactly why, the outcome was that it became the Samozariadnyia Vintovka Tokareva 1938. While the SVT-38 did not officially replace the AVS-36, production of the Simonov rifle was ordered temporarily suspended. In 1939, which rifle to mass produce and which to discontinue had become a heated political debate in Soviet Russia.
Proponents of the SVT-38 said it was more reliable and accurate, and that the AVS-36 was simply a flawed design. There was no doubt that Stalin liked Tokarev and favoured his rifle. This simple truth swayed most in the military, and Stalin's recent purges gave an additional incentive. Still, there were some brave souls who continued to support the updated SVS-38. They pointed out that it was sturdier and had fewer total parts compared to the SVT-38. Therefore it was faster and less costly to mass produce. Another argument was that it would be easier to fix its problems than switch to an entirely new and different pattern. Simonov himself supported these ideas, insisting he had already developed new changes to further improve his rifle.
Tired of the seemingly never ending cycle of trials and arguments, Stalin put his foot down in July of 1939. He ordered that the SVT-38 be put immediately into fullscale production, and that the AVS-36 be discontinued. Furthermore, he set a production goal of 2,000,000 rifles per year by no later than 1942. In the end, around 34,000 AVS-36 rifles were produced, though some sources claim it was over 60,000.

the Samozariadnyia Vintovka Tokareva:
The SVT-38 was the first self-loading rifle to be adopted by a major power for general issue to its entire military. It continued the use of the 7.62x54mm rimmed round, and fired only in semi-automatic. It weighed 8.5 lbs, had a 24.6" long barrel with slotted muzzle brake, and measured 48.3" overall. It operated with a short stroke gas piston and tilting bolt locking system. It fed from a detachable 10 round magazine. Other features included a nearly full length two piece wood stock, short metal shroud near the muzzle, dual barrel bands, and a cleaning rod stored on the right side of the buttstock.
The SVT-38 went into limited production at Tula (Factory No.314) in July of 1939. Fullscale commenced in October, and a second line was opened up at Izhevsk (Factory No.74) around the same time. Very quickly it would be tested in actual combat. Russia invaded Finland in November of 1939, starting the Winter War. It wasn't long at all before reports came back from soldiers who had been issued the new rifle. To put it bluntly, it wasn't doing well at all and most hated it. Complaints included that it was too long, too difficult to maintain, and that the magazine could easily be accidentally knocked out. Also, a high number of broken parts was reported, which started the SVT-38's reputation of being a fragile rifle. Part of this was a consequence of the military wanting it to be as lightweight as possible. Another reason can be chocked up to poor training of the soldiers. On the otherhand, those AVS-36s that also saw use in Finland faired even worse. The mud, ice, and extreme cold caused them to fail completely.
After the Winter War was over, SVT-38 production was swiftly haulted in April of 1940. Some Soviet sources claimed that over 100,000 had already been produced, but 75,000 is a more realistic number. Stalin was not pleased to say the least, but rather than allowing yet more trials, he gave his friend a second chance. Tokarev closely examined how his rifle had performed in Finland, and rapidly created several relatively minor but important updates. Some of the changes included going to a single piece stock, shorter forearm and handguard, adding finger grooves to the forearm, switching from two to one barrel band, a longer metal shroud, a slightly shorter muzzle brake, moving the front sling swivel from the gasblock to the barrel band, and relocating the cleaning rod to a conventional spot under the barrel. Also, the mag catch was given a henge so it could be folded up and out of the way when not in use. All changes aimed at making the rifle both stronger and easier for the soldier to operate effectively. As an added bonus, the new version would be a bit faster to manufacture too. It was accepted into service as the Samozariadnyia Vintovka Tokareva 1940.
Tula would begin production of the new SVT-40 in July of 1940. Later in the year, Izhevsk would switch over and a new line would start up at Podolsk (Factory No.460). At the beginning of 1941, over 70,000 rifles had been turned out. By the time of the Nazi-German invasion with Operation Barbarossa in June, the SVT-40 was supposed to makeup fully one third of the rifles in a typical Soviet division. While in reality the percentage was much lower, still the SVT-40 was not uncommon and 100,000s were in use. The Soviet government honoured Tokarev with the Hero of Socialist Labor award and the USSR State Prize out of respect for his years of hard work.
After the Great Patriotic War began, it was decided to focus less on the SVT-40 and to instead simply start building as many M91/30 Mosin-Nagants as was humanly possible. The M91/30 required fewer resources and could be built in a fraction of the time. It was far less complicated than the SVT-40, so also much easier to train new recruits to use. On top of that, newer weapons were beginning to come online, such as the PPSh-41 submachinegun. Simple, durable, reliable, and delivering a lot of firepower at close to medium ranges; the new SMG was fast and cheap to make too. It was a true life saver for the thousands upon thousands of Russian troops who carried it. At the same time, the fighting was creeping ever closer to the Tula Arsenal, so in December the radical decision was made to evacuate all of its assets and personell to a safer location. Everything that could be moved was transported West over the Eural Mountains, and out of immediate danger. The production line at Podolsk was also dismantled. By the end of 1941, even though a million SVT rifles had been made, the model's future was very much in doubt.
Hard use in combat against the Germans in the first six months of the war prooved the SVT-40 to be superior to both the SVT-38 and AVS-36. It did allow an individual soldier to deliver a greater volume of fire compared to a bolt action like the Mosin-Nagant. It had greater range, accuracy, and stopping power than submachineguns like the PPSh-41. It was quite light for an early automatic rifle, its muzzle brake effective, and the ergonomics were good. Unfortunately, Russia hadn't been given nearly enough time to build up a large inventory of SVTs, nor time to thoroughly train its soldiers on proper care and maintenance. The result was that it was often viewed as complicated and confusing by many new operators. Rifles weren't cleaned properly, so became corroded and reliability suffered. The SVT-40, while reasonably durable, was no where near as robust as the Mosin-Nagant. So like the AVS-36 and SVT-38 before, it earned a reputation of being delicate. Finally, while it was accurate enough for general issue, attempts to turn it into a sniper rifle were very disappointing. Shot impact wasn't consistant due in part to the tilting bolt system. Also, a stock that was fitt rather loosely lead to vertical stringing of multiple shots. Originally it was hoped to turn some into sniper rifles, but the program was abandoned in late 1942. Only 51,710 snipers were assembled. In the end, the SVT was primarily issued to non-commissioned officers, specialists, and Soviet marines. Russian factories could have never produced enough during wartime anyway.
By 1942, Izhevsk was no longer producing the SVT-40. It had been ordered to focus on building as many M91/30 Mosin-Nagants as it could. Soon though, all of the assets from Tula were reassembled in Mednogorsk (Factory No.314), and a new Tokarev line was up and running by the summer. Much of the tooling from Podolsk was sent to Zlatoust (Factory No.385). Originally, Zlatoust was to be one of the producers back in 1941, however its first rifles were rejected. The next year it would turn out a few hundred, but ultimately this second attempt would not last long either. For the rest of the war, the relocated Tula would be the sole manufacturer. In its first partial year of operation, it built 264,000 Tokarev rifles. It is worth noting here that the Kovrov factory never produced the SVT series.
In May of 1942, a select fire Tokarev was adopted as the Automat Vintovka Tokareva 1940. At the time, the nation was suffering from a severe shortage of machineguns, and it was hoped the AVT-40 could be an emergency substitute. The SVT and AVT were identical, except that the AVT's safety could be rotated over to the right, which allowed it to fire fully automatic. While an extended 20 round magazine was developed for the AVT, in reality most were used with the standard 10 rounder. In a word, the variant was disappointing. As a result, soldiers were soon prohibited from using the rifle in automatic unless directly ordered to do so in an emergency by a superior officer. By 1943, the AVT-40 was taken out of production and many converted into standard SVT-40s. It is not surprising at all that the AVT-40 was no more successful than the AVS-36. Automatic Fire of the 7.62x54mm round from any weapon weighing under 10 lbs could never be practical or effective.
Tula would continue manufacturing the SVT-40 throughout 1943 and 1944, but the numbers were never that high. Not by Russian standards at least. By the middle of the war, it was becoming increasingly clear that Tokarev's design just wasn't working out as originally planned. Several new and more modern patterns and concepts were starting to emerge. The SVT-40 was rapidly being rendered obsolete. Finally in January of 1945, Tula was ordered to hault production. It would never be made again.
The SVT-40 pattern was altered very little in the general sense during its five year production run. Nevertheless, several small changes and variations did occur. The key though was that if there was to be a change, it could not require new tooling or any kind of major redesign of the production line.
Over time, the rifle's receiver was strengthened in a few key areas, and as the war continued some machining steps were skipped. Starting in late 1941, most no longer had the side rails cut for the scope mount either. Earlier that year, the top barrel shroud went from having 8 vent holes to only 7. Around September, the trigger guard went from a narrow design done to save weight, to a wide style which was faster to machine. Late in the year, one of the most noticeable changes was introduced. The original small 12 port brake was replaced by one with only 4 large ports. While the 4 port style was definitely easier to make, it had actually been tested earlier before the war. The 12 port version while quite effective, was also very loud. The simplified version didn't work as well at being a brake, but was significantly quieter. So there were a couple reasons for this change. Some sources call the 4 port version the AVT-40 type brake, but this doesn't seem to be strictly true.
Other time saving measures included: in late 1941 the rear sight no longer being given a lightening cut and the hole no longer drilled in the safety, early 1942 the bolt carrier's finish switched from being left in the white to being blued, sometime in early to mid 1942 the front sling swivel going from a two to a one piece design, in 1943 the lower barrel shroud was simplified, and in 1944 the rear sling swivel was replaced by a Mosin-Nagant style stock slot. One improvement came in the middle of 1942, when the stock was strengthened. The new style was about 30% thicker than the original. It added some weight but was still an improvement. It was first made to address some problems found with the AVT-40, but was soon being used on all Tokarev rifles. Other than these changes and a few other small ones, an SVT-40 from 1940 was the same rifle as one made in 1945. Total production was approximately 1,600,000 rifles.

the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova:
First tasting success with his AVS-36 and soon after defeat by his rival's SVT-38, Simonov never gave up. Already in 1939, he had worked out many of the faults in his original design, and when the SVT-38 performed poorly in the Winter War, he immediately tried to step in. In October 1940, he offered an improved prototype to the military for testing, but the SVT-40 had already gone into full production.
However by 1941, Stalin's attitude towards Fedor Tokarev was beginning to change. Even his improved model wasn't living up to what Stalin imagined it should have been. He even went so far as to blame his generals for supporting the SVT. As for the few that apposed it and had wanted the AVS instead, they didn't escape criticism either. Stalin accused them for not arguing their case long enough and hard enough. In the end, both failures were attributed to a few things. Chief among them was the 7.62x54mm round itself. It was very powerful for use in an automatic rifle, and its rimmed casing often lead to misfeeds and stoppages. Also, Stalin became convinced that the detatchable magazine was a mistake. He felt it was too easily damaged or lost, and thought manufacturing three for every one rifle made was a waste of resources. Instead he suggested that future designs be fitted with a fixed magazine, same as was used on the Mosin-Nagant.
In April of 1941, Simonov showed off his latest prototype; the SVS-41. It was still chambered for the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, but he did create two different new styles of magazine for it. One held 5 rounds and the other 10; both were fixed to the rifle. In July, a carbine variant known as the SKS-41 with a 20" barrel and an improved fixed 10 round magazine was scheduled to be tested. Most likely it would have gone up against the SKT-40, a similar carbine version of Tokarev's rifle. However, this event never took place as the Great Patriotic War happened first.
After the invasion, Stalin gave Simonov a new priority. He had been working on a 14.5mm anti-tank rifle in his spare time since the late 1930s. Simonov was told to get it ready for mass production immediately. Russia desperately was in need of something to counter rampaging German armor. Naturally he complied and it was quickly adopted as the PTRS-41. Basically, it was a scaled up SVS-38, which fired in semi-automatic and fed from a 5 round magazine. A two man team was required for proper operation. This rifle would earn Sergei Simonov the Stalin prize a year later.
Throughout 1942, Russia was fighting a close war and did not have spare resources to devote to new R&D projects. This is partly why the SVT-40 was kept in production. By the following year though, the tide was slowly but surely turning in Stalin's favour. He again agreed to new tests and trials. Also, he was beginning to learn from his mistakes. While he involved himself in nearly every military project and decision before and early in the war, by the middle he was stepping back and letting his generals handle more and more of the day to day decision making. He even reinstated some officers who had been victims of his earlier purges. Stalin was still a ruthless tirant, but at least he was becoming a better wartime leader.
A Soviet study was conducted on modern combat, and it discovered that most engagements took place somewhere between 100 and 300 meters. This meant that the 7.62x54mm's longer range was basically wasted and a non-factor. It also showed that the 7.62x25mm round, while very effective out of a submachinegun when close in, simply didn't have the range or accuracy for most battles. As a direct result, a compromise between the two cartriges was created. The 7.62x39mm M43 was one of the world's first true intermediate rounds. It could deliver rifle accuracy and power out to about 400 meters, and soldiers could carry more ammunition due to the lighter weight and smaller size.
With the new intermediate round ready to go, the military decided on a plan for a family of smallarms to take advantage of it. Originally there were to be four members: a bolt action carbine, a self-loading carbine, a select fire rifle, and a light machinegun. Interested in the self-loading carbine model, Simonov went back to his SKS-41 prototype and reworked it for 7.62x39mm. He discovered it was a relatively simple conversion and that the new rimless round was much easier to design around. Fedor Tokarev too attempted to rework his SVT-40, but his results were far less encouraging. In the end things just never panned out.
In late 1943 during a new series of trials, Simonov's intermediate chambered carbine showed great promise. It was selected for further development and a small preproduction batch was hastily constructed by Tula. The carbine first was tested in combat on the Belorussian front in late Spring of 1944. For an early prototype It performed well, and Simonov used the feedback to make further improvements. Additional examples were used during the Battle of Berlin during the last weeks of the war. Finally right at the end of the Great Patriotic War, it was officially adopted as the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova 1945.
The SKS-45 was clearly a Simonov design, and it had many characteristics from his older work dating back to the 1930s. It had a 20.5" barrel, short-stroke gas piston system, tilting bolt lockup, and a fixed 10 round magazine. The new 7.62x39mm round allowed it to have far less recoil and muzzle flash compared to the SVT-40. It was also more durable and reliable, and much better suited to the average Russian soldier. It was what all previous Russian automatic rifles should have been all along, and again the key was the M43 round.
For the other positions in the 7.62x39mm family, the bolt action never went anywhere. Instead the 7.62x54mmR caliber M44 Mosin-Nagant was put into production. For the select fire rifle, trials would continue past the war and would ultimately result in the famous AK-47. The light machinegun would be realised in the RPD-44, designed by Degtyaryov.
The end of the war in May of 1945 changed everything. Russia no longer needed more and newer weapons. Instead it needed to rebuild and recover. As a result, both the RPD-44 and SKS-45 were shelved. Even the AK-47's development was slowed dramatically.
In 1949, the SKS-45 was finally put into fullscale production at the Tula Arsenal. This was due in part to the growing Cold War threat and Russia's need to supply its communist allies around the world. Also, the AK-47 program had been experiencing difficulties and delays because of its very modern stamped receiver. Simonov used the interrum years to further perfect his carbine and make plans for the assembly line. For his work on the SKS, Sergei Simonov would receive his second Stalin Prize.
The carbine's design would not be altered much after manufacturing had begun. That said within the first year or so, the folding spike bayonet was replaced with a blade type. Soon after the firing pin would go from being spring loaded to free floated. One important upgrade came in late 1950 when the bore was given a chromelining. The gasblock would go through a few minor revisions too, but otherwise the Russian SKS would remain virtually the same from beginning to end. Originally the metal was blued, with the bolt group left in the white. The furniture was made of birch, either solid or laminated.
The SKS-45 was in Russian frontline service for less than a decade. The truth was that by the time it came out, it was already obsolete. It was built at Tula from 1949 until 1956, and only briefly at Izhevsk in 1953 and 1954. The same year it went into production, the AK-47's receiver was switched to a more traditional style made of machined steel. So it too was in fullscale production by the early 1950s. The final deathnail for the SKS-45 came when the improved and less costly AKM was released in 1959. In 1954, Sergei Simonov was named as a Hero of Socialist Labour for his lifetime of dedication to the Soviet Union.

The SVT saw only minor use outside of Russia. The first foreign nation to field it was Finland. It captured roughly 4,000 SVT-38s during the Winter War, and another 10,000-15,000 SVT-38 and SVT-40 rifles during the Continuation War. It would reissue them to its own soldiers who would take them into combat against the Red Army. The Tokarev was reasonably well liked by the Finns, though they were more impressed by the PPS-42 submachinegun. After the Continuation War, most of the surviving rifles were pulled out of frontline service. In 1956, Finland sold around 7,500 surplus Tokarev rifles to Interarms, who offered them on the American civilian market.
As the German warmachine battered its way deeper and deeper into the Soviet Union, it captured tens of thousands of SVT rifles; ultimately nearly a quarter million. Not having a self-loading rifle of its own at the time, the German army allowed its soldiers to use the captured rifles against their creators. The SVT-38 was given the designation of G.258(r) and the sVT-40, G.259(r). When the G41(m) and G41(w) were tested, it was found the SVT-40 was superior. The gas system in particular was praised, so when Walther was developing the G43, it simply copied Tokarev's piston arrangement.
In the Soviet Union, soon after the end of the Great Patriotic War, most of the rifles were retired from military service. It was officially declared obsolete in 1955, though in reality it hadn't been fielded for a few years. The remaining SVTs were refurbished and put into storage.
Russia did not give many other communist nations the Tokarev rifle as part of its aid packages either. East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, China, and North Korea did use it in small numbers though. By the 1960s, the SVT-40 was out of regular military service and it quickly slipped into obscurity, becoming a relic of yesterday's war.
In the USA today, the SVT-40 is not terribly rare or uncommon. The first examples sold were those imported from Finland by Interarms. These rifles were refurbished over there, and the serials either did not match or were scrubbed off. The condition could range wildly from very nice, to nearly shot out. Large batches of Soviet refurbished examples were exported from Russia after the fall of communism too. They were most often in excellent condition, with mostly force matched parts. Another SVT type imported into the USA was the so-called Bulgarian light refurb. These rifles came in small numbers and the story is rather vague. They are usually dated 1943 or 1944, and have original stamped matching serials. Finally, there are a tiny number of original WWII bringback rifles that were never refurbished. These are very rare and very valuable to collectors.
Compared to the SVT, the SKS was much more influencial in the postwar world. Dozens of nations purchased or were given examples from the Soviet Union. A few countries even under took licensed production. It has been estimated that as many as 15,000,000 were manufactured world wide.
China was probably the first nation to produce the SKS outside of Russia. It designated it as the Type 56 Carbine, with the first examples coming out of the Jianshe Arsenal in 1956. These early carbines were built with Soviet parts and advisors overseeing the line. After a couple years, they would be made entirely from Chinese parts.
The first Type 56s were virtual clones of the late Russian style. An early change was to move the rear sling swivel from under the stock to the left side. Around 1965, the bayonet would go from a blade type to a spike. Then the sling swivel would be moved back to the bottom of the stock. China would introduce many changes aimed at lowering costs and speeding up production. For example, the lightening cuts on the bolt carrier, rear sight, and bayonet mount were eliminated. The trigger guard would go from being milled to stamped and welded, and the gasblock design was simplified to require fewer machining steps. Finally in the late 1970s, the barrel was no longer screwed into the receiver, and instead was pressed and pinned in. While most stocks were made from various types of wood, China did make some from a fiber glass material (often mistaken for bakelite). This style was intended for use in humid environments where a wood stock might swell or rot.
The majority of Type 56s were made at the Jianshe Arsenal (Factory 26), but several smaller ones started making the carbine in the 1970s. Standard production seems to have ended in 1980, with special runs created throughout the next two decades. Today no one knows exactly how many SKSs China ultimately turned out, but 10,000,000 or more is not an unreasonable estimate.
Another early builder of the SKS was Romania. It made a near exact copy of the late Russian style too. Known as the M56, it was produced at the Cugir Arsenal from 1957 until 1960. It had a blued finish, white bolt carrier, blade bayonet, and a stock made from beech wood. Production numbers weren't nearly as high as those from either Russia or China, but Romania did make over 100,000.
Next East Germany built the carbine under license as the Karabiner S. It was similar to the other variants, except it took a K98 Mauser style sling so had a slot cut into the side of the buttstock. Also, there was no cleaning rod under the barrel, nor a storage compartment for a cleaning kit in the buttstock. Instead, soldiers carried the kit on their belts. It was produced in Sohl from 1958 til around 1961. Production numbers were quite low to begin with, and most still remaining in Germany at the time were given to Croatia in 1991.
Attempting to create a closer alliance, in 1959 the Soviet Union gave Yugoslavia the SKS manufacturing package free of charge. In that nation the carbine was known as the Polavtomatska Puska M59. Production began at the Zastava factory in 1960. The M59 was again another clone of the original design. However, in 1967, it was replaced by the M59/66. This was the same weapon, but with the addition of a 22mm grenade launcher assembly and rubber buttplate. There was also a variant with flip-up night sights named the M59/66A1. Yugoslavian SKSs had either beech or Teak wood furniture. Production seems to have been haulted in 1970, but carbines were being refurbished and reissued well into the 1990s. Many saw use during that nation's Civil War, and others were made for foreign customers. Zastava built between 400,000 and 500,000 including all models and versions.
One of the rarest SKS variants today is the North Korean Type 63. Very little is known about this one, except that some were made with the ability to launch rifle grenades. Manufacturing is a virtual mystery. Another rare one is the Vietnamese Type 1. Some say this was a domestically built weapon, but the evidence seems to point to either Russian or Chinese origins. Of course later, Type 1 carbines were reworked and repaired in Vietnam using some new parts. The carbines we know about seem to be dated 1963 through 1965. Again, the production details are unknown.
By far the most unique SKS model came out of Albania. It has been referred to as the Type 56, Type 561, July 10th Carbine, and just the SKS; but no one really knows for sure its official designation. While based on the Chinese version, it had a spike bayonet, beech wood furniture, longer handguard, redesigned magazine body, and AK47 style cocking handle. Also it had 2 trap doors instead of one in the stock. The second was for an oil bottle. It was originally built at the Umgransh Arsenal from 1967 through 1971, with a second run from 1976 til 1979. Only 17,000-18,000 were ever produced. Most if not all were intended for use by Albanian police and security units. Today very few exist as over half were ordered destroyed by the government in the late 1990s.
Finally regarding the SKS in Poland. In 1955, the Polish government was in talks with Russia to domestically produce both the AK47 and SKS at the Radom factory. The designation for the carbine was KSS, but before manufacturing could begin the line was canceled. The Polish government felt the KSS offered nothing over the AK47, and thus was rather pointless. In the end, only a few were accepted into service; all obtained from Russia. Most were used for ceremonial  dueties, with a few carried by guard units. It seems only about 1,000 KSS carbines were in service. Radom would later refurbish some, rebluing and installing new Polish stocks. These stocks were of laminated wood and lacked the cleaning kit storage compartment. This was as far as the SKS got in Poland.
Back in Russia, most SKS-45s were taken out of service and put into long term storage. Older ones with some wear and tare were refurbished, receiving a thick dark black finish and sometimes new furniture. A few carbines were kept in the military for ceremonial use, such as with honour guards and parades. Also, some small provincial units had the carbine in their armories. Eventually, the SKS was sold on the Russian civilian market for hunting purposes. For legal reasons, the bayonet assembly was removed.
The first SKSs came into the USA as bringbacks with returning soldiers from Vietnam. Naturally the numbers were small, but many variants came in. These included Russian, Chinese, East German, Vietnamese, and North Korean. The first official imports came from China in the mid 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia started sending large batches of both the SKS and SVT to the US. However in 1994; Chinese rifles were banned from import, and the Russian government stopped the export of many military firearms to the US. This included both the SVT and SKS, along with the TT33 Tokarev pistol.
In 2004, a second big wave hit the market when first the Yugoslavian M59/66 and later the Romanian M56 started to be imported. Small batches of the Albanian variant have come in over the years. More recently, Chinese Type 56s have reappeared too. These are surplus military carbines from East Europe and the Middle East; and most are very well used with notable wear. The East German, North Korean, and Vietnamese SKS variants have never been imported. The only ones here were bringbacks or were smuggled in somehow.

Well there you have it, the story of the development of Russia's earliest automatic rifles and what became of them. This was a fun one to write, and I hope it wasn't too boring to read? In the end, I think I'd have to say that between Tokarev and Simonov, Simonov came out on top. That said, both out lasted Stalin, who died in 1953. After suffering a stroke during a meeting at his dacha, he lingered on the floor in a puddle of his own yurin for several hours before finally dieing. It seems he had so long dominated and terrified the other leaders of the Soviet Union, that when this all happened no one felt like doing much except drinking more vodka and stairing. Tokarev passed away peacefully on March 6th, 1968; and Simonov too lived to a ripe old age, dieing on May 6th, 1986. Both are today remembered in Russia as great inventors and true Patriots. Feelings towards Stalin on the otherhand are...more colourful lets say.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Czech Firearms

For nearly a hundred years now, the Czech people have been innovators
in the field of small arms. This article takes a brief look at three
of their service rifles since the end of World War II. All three were
designed, tested, manufactured, and issued 100% domestically.
SHE Vz.52 & Vz.52/57 Self Loading Rifle
Often mistaken for a copy of the Russian SKS, the Vz.52 was anything
but. Throughout the decade following WWII, the Czech Army (known as
the Czechoslovakian People’s Army or Ceskoslovenska lidova armada)
 after Communism took hold) issued a mixture of smallarms. Its main
frontline rifles were the German G/K43 and K98k Mauser, and the
Russian M91/30 Mosin-Nagant. By the early 1950s, these weapons were
becoming increasingly obsolete, and the need for a new standard issue
rifle was growing. Czech designers created a new cartridge named the
7.62x45mm (CZ), which was inspired by the German 7.92x33mm Kurz round
used in the MP.44 assault rifle. The new round was to be used in a
self-loading carbine, as well as a new light machinegun.
The carbine itself was designed by Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvíl, who
worked at Ceská zbrojovka. The CZ493 prototypes appeared in 1949, with
an improved version two years later named the CZ502. The final version
was adopted into Czech service as the Samonabíjecí puška vzor 52 in
1952. It was a mix of traditional and very modern features. The
Vz.52's design was heavily influenced by the American M1 Garand,
German G43, and Russian SKS. That said, it was wholely its own thing
and not a copy or clone of anything that came before it. It operated
using a tilting bolt system, however the bolt tipped forward and
locked in the front, rather than in back as with most every other
rifle out there at the time. The gas system was based on that used in
the German MKB42(w) prototype assault rifle, and operated using a
piston sleaved around the barrel. The fire control group was very much
like that used in the M1 Garand, and the stock removed the same way
too. The Vz.52 fed from a detachable box magazine, which held 10
7.62x45mm cartridges. There was even an automatic last-round hold open
device; quite a modern feature for a rifle to have in the early 1950s.
The new rifle featured a threaded muzzle for use with blank firing
devices, hooded front sight blade, adjustable rear sight, Garand style
manual safety, and large receiver port to insure reliable ejection.
The weapon was carbine length, with a 20.5" long barrel, which was not
chromelined. The overall length was 39.5", with an unloaded weight of
9.1 lbs. The bayonet was perminant and was mounted on the side. It
folded out horizontally when needed. The stock was made from wood,
either walnut or beech. A cleaning kit could be stored under the metal
buttplate, and the standard sling was made of cotton with a leather
tab on its end. Soldiers were issued with 2 magazines. One in the
rifle and a spare kept in a small belt pouch.
The Vz.52 was produced from 1952 until 1957. Production occurred at
three factories. Ceská zbrojovka manufactured the majority, using the
code 'SHE'. Považská strojárne using 'AYM' and Strakonice using 'RID'
both each built the rifle in smaller numbers. In all, roughly 150,000
were manufactured. The production run was cut short because of
politics. The Soviet Union did not like that Czechoslovakia had
created its own rifle round. It was not common with the rest of the
Warsaw Pact. By the mid 1950s, it had turned up the pressure, and the
Czech government had little choice but to adopt the standard 7.62x39mm
M43 cartridge. Nevermind that its 7.62x45mm was more accurate and had
a longer effective range, the Soviets were insistant that
Czechoslovakia conform.
Thus in 1957, the Samonabíjecí puška vzor 52/57 replaced the original.
It was very similar but chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. There
were a few other minor differences too. For example, its barrel was
pressed and pinned into the receiver, rather than being screwed in as
with the Vz.52. Also the bore was chromelined. The Vz.52/57 fed from a
reshaped magazine, which was better suited to the new round. The
original rifle had a phosphated finish, where as the new one had a
baked on paint over phosphate type. It used the same stock, though
beech became more common than walnut at the time. Otherwise, same
Between 1957 and 1959, about 100,000 Vz.52/57s were manufactured by
Ceská zbrojovka. Contrary to rumour, no Vz.52s were rebarreled into
52/57s. All rifles were purpose built from the ground up to fire
The Vz.52 series was in Czech frontline service from only 1952 through
1959. It was also adopted by the young communist nation of Cuba and
many were given to Vietnam and Egypt. Others were given to allies in
both South America and Africa. So the rifles did get around a goodly
bit. American soldiers encountered them in Vietnam, and again later
during the Invasion of Grenada. Both the Vz.52 and Vz.52/57 were liked
for their reliability and accuracy. On the otherhand, the design was
rather complicated to field strip and give a complete cleaning. Also,
it was expensive and time consuming to produce. As with so many other
self-loading rifles created after WWII, while it was modern when first
adopted, it was rapidly becoming obsolete by the late 1950s. At the
time, firearms technology was quickly evolving.
Both Century Arms and SAMCO have imported the Vz.52 in to the USA,
where examples were sold on the surplus market. Far fewer Vz.52/57s
have come in though. Some are in very nice condition, and these mostly
came out of Eastern Europe. Others are very well worn, sometimes even
having cracked or busted stocks. These most likely came out of South
America. In a misguided attempt to improve their condition, Century
dipped some of the stocks in black crinkle truck bed liner. Other
Vz.52s have been converted to fire 7.62x39mm by having an insert lock
tighted into their chambers. Guns so modified should not be trusted or
even fired.
CZ SA Vz.58 Assault Rifle
Once relatively unknown in the USA, today the Vz.58 is one of the most
famous Czech smallarms. Its primary designer was Jirí Cermák, and it
had a rather lengthy development process. In fact, it was already
being pland even before the Vz.52 went into service.
The Model 515 prototype dated back to 1951 and was one of the earliest
forerunners of what would become the Vz.58. It was chambered for the
7.62x45mm round, was select fire, and operated from an open bolt. The
open bolt was one of the requirements of the Czech military at the
time. However, it was also why the weapon was quickly rejected as it
could not meet accuracy standards. The next version, the CZ-522 was
altered to fire from a closed bolt and was able to achieve much
greater accuracy. In 1954, the first round of trials was held and the
CZ-522 went up against two other domestic designs. While no one was
declared the winner, both the Czech military and Soviet observers felt
the 522 showed the most promise, even if it clearly still needed
further refinement.
Also in 1954, most privately owned and run firearms factories in
Czechoslovakia were closed by the communist government. In their
place, a state run conglomerate was established under the name
Konstrukta Brno. Soon after, Jirí Cermák went to work at the new
government factory, where he continued to improve upon the CZ-552
In 1955, the Warsaw Pact under Soviet rule declared that 7.62x39mm was
to be the standard rifle round and that all member nations must adopt
it. This meant the 522 had to be redesigned to work with it. The
program was further slowed as the Russians took considerable time in
providing specifications for the cartridge to Czechoslovakia, so for a
time no work could be done. Finally well into 1956, the specs  were
delivered and work recommenced. Also around this time, the 522's
competing designs were withdrawn.
The next prototype was designated as the SA.56 and was the first to be
chambered for 7.62x39mm. It was code named the Košte (Broom). It fired
from a closed bolt, had a machined receiver, was hammer fired, and fed
from steel magazines. It was a large step forward from earlier
prototypes, but there was still room for improvement.
The SA.58 came next and was put through extensive testing through
1958. It had a redesigned milled receiver, with more lightening cuts
and that had been streamlined for mass production. It fired using a
striker system, which allowed it to be more compact and reliable. Its
bolt locked into the receiver using a falling wedge or block, not
unlike that used in the German P.38 pistol. It operated with a
short-stroke gas piston, which was very similar to the one used in the
FN FAL. It fed from curved magazines made of a lightweight but durable
aluminium alloy, which held 30 rounds. Eventually after a few more
small tweeks and changes, it was adopted as the Samopal Vzor 58. This
made Czechoslovakia the only Warsaw Pact nation not to adopt some
variation of the AK47 or AKM.
The Vz.58, like the Vz.52 before it, was its own unique design. It had
a milled receiver, but was still lighter than even a stamped Russian
AKM at only 6.4 lbs. It was very compact too. It measured just over
33" long, with a 15.4" barrel. It had a 14x1mm threaded muzzle and
took a detaching blade bayonet. Everything about it was designed to be
slim and lightweight. Early examples were fitted with beech wood
furniture, but soon this was changed to a bakelite mix reinforced with
wood chips. It went into production at Ceská zbrojovka Uherský Brod
in 1959, and between then and when the line was haulted in 1984, over
920,000 rifles were turned out.
The rifle was offered in three main versions. The Vz.58P or Pechotníor
was the standard fixed stock model intended for infantry and general
use. The Vz.58V or Výsadkový was the folding stock model meant for
airborn and special forces. The Vz.58PE or Pechotní s infracerveným
zamerovacem, infantry with infrared sight was a specialized night
fighting model. Many other configurations were prototyped, such as a
light machinegun variation, but none of these went into production.
The Vz.58 has been in Czech frontline service since 1959. While it is
slowly being phased out today in favour of more modern designs,
several thousands are still in active use. It has also been adopted by
other nations, such as Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Uganda,
Libya, Somalia, India, Lebanon, Angola, Mozambique, Iraq, Tanzania,
and Grenada. The Vz.58 has prooven itself in combat in several
different environments all around the world.
When communism fell and Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic
and Slovakia, the Vz.58 remained the standard issue rifle in both new
nations' militaries. It is a good, accurate, dependable platform but
by the 1990s and after the fall of communism, it was beginning to look
outdated. There have been more than a few attempts to develop its
replacement. One such failed challenger was the NATOCZ 2000 and
another was the Lada-S. Today it is slowly being phased out of
service, and most frontline units are armed with newer weapons.
However, the Vz.58 is still officially issued in both the Czech
Republic and Slovakia, and it is scheduled to remain in service
through at least 2020.
Versions of the Vz.58 limited to semi-automatic fire only have been
sold on the US civilian market for over 15 years now. The first to be
mass produced was the Vz.2000 built by Ohio Ordnance Works of semi BAR
and 1919 fame. The Vz.2000 was built using a parts kit with original
Czech barrel, using a newly manufactured American semi milled
receiver. Because the barrel was under 16" long, an extension was
threaded on and pinned to give it a legal overall length. Most, if not
all, of these rifles were sold during the Federal Assault Weapons Ban
(1994-2004), so they lack the bayonet lug and were offered only with
fixed buttstocks. They were capable of feeding from original high
capacity military magazines though, since the mags were considered
preban at the time. The Vz.2000 is generally considered to be of high
quality, but it came with a very high pricetag. At a time when most AK
types were in the $300-$400 range, the OOW was priced around
$1,500-$1,800 and was often a special order to boot. The model has not
been in production for at least a decade now.
The next semi came along in 2006, when Century Arms began importing
the SA Vz.58 Sporter. This version was manufactured by D-Technik, a
small factory located in Jablunka, Czech Republic. When standard
production of the select fire Vz.58 ended, the rights to its
manufacturing went to D-Technik, who built several versions for the
civilian sporting market. The one imported into the USA was assembled
from mostly refurbished military parts, built onto a new semi only
Czech milled receiver. Again since the barrel was under 16", an
extension was screwed and pinned on and the bayonet lug removed for
import. Also for import, it had a thumbhole buttstock and accepted
only single stack 10 round magazines. The bolt was machined down to
work with the single stack feed too. The Vz.58 Sporter was of very
good quality but again had been neutered for import, and Century was
not interested in converting it back into a military configuration. As
a result, this partnership was very short lived, with Century only
bringing in a few thousand guns. On the otherhand, at least they were
priced more reasonably than the Vz.2000 at around $800. Not cheap, but
at least cheaper and it was a true Czech built rifle.
In 2007, CZ-USA took over the D-Technik Vz.58 Sporter line from
Century. Actually the arrangement was rather complicated. The basic
sporter rifles were imported by Tennessee Gun, converted back into
military configurations by a small company called Czechpoint-USA, and
then marketed and distributed by CZ-USA. The CZ Vz.58 featured
military furniture, and was offered with either a fixed or folding
stock. The magwell was machined out, and it could accept standard
high-cap military magazines too. On the otherhand, it still lacked a
bayonet lug and had a barrel extension perminantly attached. This
rather complicated arrangement lasted until 2010, when CZ-USA, who had
never been terribly interested in it in the first place, withdrew.
Then TGI ran into legal troubles with the BATF and Customs. This left
Czechpoint-USA all alone.
Other American companies however were interested. In 2008, Ohio Rapid
Fire started machining their own semi Vz.58 receivers, and soon there
after began assembling complete rifles using surplus military parts
kits. The first of these used original barrels, while later rifles
were built with US newly made ones. Then a year later, Century Arms
released the Vz.2008 Sporter. The Vz.2008 was built using an ORF
receiver at first, and then later receivers from other manufacturers.
It was constructed using surplus kits too, and with newly made 16"
barrels from Green Mountain. Both the ORF and CAI guns did feature the
original bayonet lug, threaded muzzle, and removable muzzle device.
Some of the parts used were well used, while others nearly new; but so
it goes with surplus. The US receivers were generally good, but ORF
did have problems with heat treating and so some were either too soft
or too hard. The US barrels were fine but were not chromelined. ORF
stopped offering its Vz.58 in 2010, and Century discontinued its
Vz.2008 around 2013 as it ran out of useable parts kits. Prices on
these have fluctuated wildly over the years from as low as $400, to as
high as $1,000.
Today, Czechpoint is the only company to offer new semi Vz.58s. After
its partnership with CZ-USA dissolved, it began doing everything. It
imports from the Czech Republic, remanufactures here in the USA,
markets, and directly sells the line. It even assembles rifles from
parts kits on occasion using Czech tooling. Everything is done in
house and several models are on offer. For its part D-Technik changed
its name to Czech Small Arms (CSA) and expanded its own line too. As
surplus parts have run out, it has begun manufacturing its own to use
in their places. This includes barrels. About two years ago, the
supply of original barrels in excellent condition became very small,
so CSA turned to Walther of Germany. Now, Walther machines a 16.1"
long chromelined barrel for CSA, which is used in most new Czech Vz.58
Sporters. One advantage to the change is now the rifles feature a
threaded barrel with removable muzzle device. Still no bayonet lugs
CZ 805A1 & A2 Bren Assault Rifle
While the Vz.58 had a long development program, it was nothing
compared to the twists and turns that took decades to evolve into what
we know today as the CZ-805 Bren. It all began back in 1977, with what
was named the Lada-S project. Lead by Miloslav Fisher, the head of
CZ's R&D department, Lada was an effort to replace the Vz.58 assault
rifle, Vz.61 Scorpion SMG, and even the UK Vz.59 machinegun, with a
new firearm chambered for the then modern 5.45x39mm M74 Russian
cartridge. In 1984, the program was green lit by the government, and
Bohumil Novotny was put in charge of designing the new system. He
invisioned three models, all based around the same receiver and
operating system: sub compact carbine, assault rifle, and a light
machinegun similar to the Russian RPK.
From 1985 through 1989, development continued, with the first fully
functional prototypes appearing in 1987. The Lada was based on the
Russian AK74 and fired the same 5.45mm round. It had some differences
though, such as a redesigned dustcover, adjustable aperture rear
sight, and Galil style left side safety selector. It lacked the AK's
traditional right side selector. The rifle version featured a right
side folding buttstock, and the LMG had a longer and heavier barrel
with bipod. Three different generations of prototypes were created,
tested, redesigned, and tested again before the Lada was declared
ready for mass production in February of 1990. It was accepted by the
military and 300,000 pieces were ordered. However, this was right at
the time when the communist government was loosing control and the
entire Warsaw Pact was falling apart. Furthermore, the military was
bankrupt and did not have the funds to purchase firearms, much less
pay for the introduction of an entire new model and cartridge package.
Thus the Lada was shelved.
In 1993, communism was over and the nation split into the Czech
Republic and Slovakia. A short time later the government owned
Konstrukta Brno conglomerate was privatized, broken up, and sold off.
This was the return of Ceská zbrojovka Uherský Brod  (CZ) as a
privately owned and operated company. This also meant that it could no
longer rely on virtually unlimited funding and manpower provided by
the government. It would have to learn how to be competitive on the
free market once more.
In the late 1990s, the Czech Republic announced its intention to join
NATO, so CZ dusted off the old Lada. It reworked the design so that it
was compatable with the standard 5.56x45mm round. Sellier & Bellot had
been manufacturing the M193 cartridge for the commercial market since
1991, so at least a source of ammunition was not a problem.
Around the same time, a retired military officer named Ladislav
Findorak approached CZ with an idea for a modular and scalable weapons
system he had invented. Named the LCZ, it could be constructed with
blocks or modules, so it could be configured for different situations
and requirements. This extended to its caliber, which could be scaled
down for 5.56mm or up for 7.62x39mm or even 7.62mm NATO. The concept
was solid and sparked some interest at CZ, but ultimately it went no
CZ instead put its efforts behind the Lada-S, which it renamed Project
805. It was based on the tried and tested AK operating system and had
years of development behind it. Even though it was now chambered for
the 5.56mm round, it still fed from AK74 style magazines. The
designers felt reworking it to use standard M16 NATO mags would be too
costly and time consuming. It was slightly updated and submitted for
military trials in 1999.
unfortunately, CZ was not the only one concerned with cost around the
turn of the millenium. While the 805 did fine in the trials, the Czech
military decided not to adopt any new firearm at the time. Instead, it
opted to continue issuing the trusty old Vz.58. CZ was left with no
choice but to put the Lada on the commercial market and hope for an
international buyer. It was again renamed, this time becoming the
CZ-2000. The name sounded new and modern, but really it was just an AK
chambered for 5.56mm and with a few weaver rails tossed onto it. It is
also worth noting that at the time, both the military and CZ mostly
still referred to it as the 805.
The final Lada version had an ambidextrous safety and Picatinny
quadrail handguard. It was configured for entry into a series of
trials held by the Indian military but was never adopted. After yet
another failure, CZ quietly discontinued the program and canceled any
further development. The Lada was nearly adopted twice by the Czech
military over a 25 year time span, but in the end it was a
technological deadend. Still, the Vz.58 couldn't last forever and the
military would need something to replace it eventually. This and by
the early 21st Century, CZ was left without a military rifle program.
Rather than re-equipping all of its soldiers at once with new rifles,
the Czech military went with a policy of gradually purchasing new ones
for select units as the need arose. Between 2000 and 2005, it
purchased several M4 type carbines from Bushmaster. It was briefly
considered to produce under license the M16 and M4 series in the Czech
Republic, but nothing ever came of the idea. The Czechs are a very
patriotic and independent people, so many felt that the Vz.58's
replacement should be both domestically designed and built.  Buying a
few thousand rifles from the USA as they were needed was always seen
as a stop-gap measure and a temporary solution. Everyone knew
something more perminant would soon be needed.
In 2004, CZ laid out new specifications for a future military rifle,
since the military itself was reluctant to move forward. These
specifications were based on the preceived needs of the modern Czech
soldier. The project was first named CZ-XX and was soon changed to CZ
S-805. The 'S' stood for Special and to differiniate it from the
earlier Lada 805. CZ also reached out to someone from its past, Mr.
Findorak. He had impressed the engineers with his very modern ideas
and creativity. He was brought onboard as an outside contractor. CZ
valued his experience with modular designs, and felt hiring him would
both save on time and money.
CZ was right too. Within only one year Findorak had finalized a new
design and even had a few working prototypes to show off. The S-805
was modular, and was initially offered in both 5.56x45mm NATO and
7.62x51mm NATO, with plans for other chamberings such as 6.8mm and
7.62x39mm. A version in .300 Winmag was even considered. The lesser
power versions were grouped in the 'A' family, with the more powerful
ones in the 'B'. Three barrel lengths were planned; a short subcarbine
for CQB, a standard carbine for general use, and a full length rifle
for use as a DMR or LMG. Originally, it was planned to create the
receiver from polymer. However, as a stop-gap solution for the
prototypes, it was made from an aluminium alloy forging, which was
machined into its final shape.
In November of 2006, the military Chief of Staff General Stefka was
shown a fully working prototype. It was chambered for 5.56mm and had
the intermediate length barrel. He did not dismiss it out of hand, but
again the military ended up declining to buy a new rifle model of any
kind. By this point CZ was no stranger to rejection, so it took its
new design on the road. Between 2006 and 2009, the S-805 was taken to
many military tech. shows, and demonstrated to anyone at all who
showed  interest. CZ hoped to attract foreign customers, but its main
goal was to inspire patriotism among its own citizens and have them
put pressure on the military to finally replace the Vz.58.
Ladislav Findorak passed away in 2006, so Vitezslav Guryca stepped up
to continue the S-805's development and testing. Interestingly the
interum metal receiver ended up becoming perminant and the idea for a
polymer one was dropped. Finally in 2009, the Czech military released
requirements and specifications for the new rifle it was looking for.
This gave CZ a true direction and allowed it to taylor the S-805 to be
what the military was wanting.
In November of the same year, CZ submitted its prototype, now named
simply the 805 Bren, for military trials. To simplify and speed up
things, the rifle it submitted was only chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO
and came in only two barrel lengths. The 805A1 was the rifle with a
14" barrel, and the 805A2 the carbine with a 11". The longer 18"
barrel was dropped as the military showed little interest in it. The
805 retained the ability to be converted to fire 7.62mm NATO, however
this version was dropped at the last minute too. Again because the
military was not looking for such a weapon at the time.
As the trials continued, all but two designs dropped out. The CZ-805
remained, along with the FN SCAR-L. Both weapons were very similar and
were nearly equal in every  respect. Both met the military's
requirements, both were reliable, and both were priced roughly the
same. After months of testing and deliberation in March of 2010, CZ's
805 Bren was declared the winner and was announced as the Vz.58's
successor. Most agree it won over the SCAR as it was a domestic
design. Some claim this was unfair to FN, but in all honesty just
about any nation would select a domestic firearm all other things
being equal. At anyrate, FN did not protest the decision. The way was
now clear for something new to enter into service.
The 805 is clearly inspired by the FN SCAR, if not a true clone.
However, elements from the German HK G36 are also quite apparent. It
operates using an M16 type multi lugged rotating bolt, and G36 style
short stroke gas piston. The bolt carrier is massive and recoils on a
single guide rod, much like in the SCAR. There is a firing pin safety
like in the HK416. The receiver is made from a single large alloy
forging, with monolithic top Picatinny rail, shorter bottom rail, and
removable side rails. Standard barrel lengths are 14" and 11". Barrels
are cold hammer forged and chromelined, and can be removed by taking
out 6 screws. The muzzle is threaded 14x1mm and a birdcage flash hider
is standard. The gas valve is adjustable and allows for easy access to
the piston. There is a lug under the gasblock for a blade type
bayonet. The trigger housing and magwell assemblies aare made from
polymer. They can be separated to switch the type of magwell in use.
The safety selector and mag catch are ambidextrous, and the
reciprocating charging handle can be installed on either side. Also,
it can be used as a forward assist. There is an automatic last-round
bolt hold open, but no manual release. This was the same for the
Vz.58. The 805's stock both folds to the right and is adjustable with
4 positions. It has a removable cheak riser and is quick detachable
from the rifle for storage. The 805A1 rifle version weighs 7.9 lbs,
and measures 35.8 with stock fully extended and 26.0" with it folded.
The LOP can be adjusted up to 2" to fit the shooter. The Bren feeds
from proprietary magazines, which are based on the ones used by the
G36 but that lack coupler pegs. The two types are even
The military quickly ordered 6,700 805A1 rifles and 1,250 805A2
carbines. It also took immediate delivery of several advanced
prototypes. After a series of field tests; in May of the same year, it
submitted a list of changes it wanted CZ to make to the 805. One of
the biggest was a switch from a 7 lug rotating bolt, to one with only
6. The military thought this would be stronger and increase
reliability when the rifle was dirty. It also wanted CZ to install a
stabilizing pin to hold the magwell and trigger housing together more
securely. This would make changing the well out more difficult, but
would insure the two pieces would not come apart by accident in the
field. Finally, it wanted a pistol grip with interchangeable
backstraps so it could be sized to fit an individual shooter's hand.
This feature, while common on today's pistols, is still a new one for
military rifles. Of course all of these changes took time and delayed
full production of the 805 for nearly a year.
Finally in July of 2011, the military took delivery of its first batch
of the new rifles. It received examples of both the 805A1 and 805A2.
CZ had the first contract fulfilled by 2013, and then signed a second
one for more 805s. By the beginning of 2016, over 17,000 805A1 and
805A2 Brens are in active service with the Czech military. It has
replaced the Vz.58 in all frontline units, relegating the old design
to the reserves. It has seen combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as
well as other hot spots around the world. It has also been used
extensively in the Mexican Drug War.
In October of 2015, CZ announced the new CZ 806 Bren 2. The 806 is
lighter than the 805 due in large part to its polymer body receiver.
It uses a new style of charging, with a non-reciprocating  cocking
handle. The gas system has been simplified, and there is now an
external bolt release for use on an empty magazine. Other changes
include deletion of the 2 round burst mode, a redesigned buttstock,
and a bolt group that is easier to disassemble for cleaning. Recently
in January of 2016, the military ordered 2,600 806 Bren 2s from CZ for
field use and extensive evaluation. At this time, it is unknown if it
will completely replace the 805 or not. It is honestly just too early
to tell.
In 2015, CZ-USA announced and began shipping a semi-only version of
the Bren in the USA. Named the CZ-805 PS1, it is a pistol without a
buttstock and with a 11" long barrel. It is built entirely in the
Czech Republic, using most of the same parts as are found in the
military version. It feeds from standard double stack AR15/M16
magazines, has a threaded muzzle with removable brake, and even has a
bayonet lug. This year CZ-USA reports it will begin selling a carbine
version too. It will feature a 16.25" long barrel, standard 1/2x28"
threaded muzzle, and an original military folding buttstock. As of the
first of May, 2016, the 805 S1 Carbine is just beginning to ship out
to dealers. A magwell kit is also offered in the USA, which allows
users to switch to the original rock and lock 805 Bren magazine for a
more traditional look. German HK G36 mags will fit the new magwell
So there you have it, three very unique firearms created by a very
determined and patriotic people.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Modern Walther Handgun Thread

the Modern Walther Handgun Thread
(The place to discuss all things Walther)

Did you know that Glock isn't the only company to make polymer framed handguns? Yeah I know, its crazy but others make them too! One of the first to get into the game besides Glock was in fact Carl Walther back in the mid 1990s with their P99. Since then, the product line has continued to grow and expand. From the PPQ to the PPS and PPX, there are many modern Walthers on the market today; and the old P99 is still hanging in there too. This thread looks at all the modern centerfire Walthers. Sorry, not putting in the rimfires at this time, and only talking about pistols actually made in Germany. So no PK380 this go-round. Of course you guys are free to post about them or anything else you feel like. Please contribute what you know and your own experiences.
I am hoping to give accurate and useful first-hand information here, so lets get started!

P99 & P99 Compact

(A P99 Gen 1, with 'Military' frame and standard length barrel)

The lack of sales of the P88 and P88 Compact put Walther on shakey financial footing, which allowed Umarex to pickup a controlling share in the company's stocks in 1993. With the old family gone and new ownership, Walther was setup to try something new. In 1994, Horst Wesp formerly of the Austrian company of Glock, was brought in to work on the next generation of military and police handguns. In 1996, Walther introduced the P99. The new pistol unsurprisingly had a polymer frame, but even the first version was much more ergonomic than a Glock. The P99 was the first pistol to feature interchangeable backstraps so it could be customized to fit different sized hands. It also featured a traditional style DA/SA trigger with decocker, even though it was a striker, not hammer, fired weapon. Sights were adjustable too. The rear sight could be moved for windage with a tool and the front sight was replaceable with different height posts for elevation. The P99 came and still comes with 3 different height front sight blades for this purpose. The magazine release was and still is HK style with ambidextrous levers at the base of the trigger guard. All P99 magazines have always been made of metal with earlier ones holding 16 rounds of 9mm and newer ones, 15 rounds with an improved follower. The P99 is 7.1" long with a 4.0" barrel, and weighs 22oz. Other features included loaded chamber and cocked indicators, lanyard attachment point, external slide release lever on the left side, and a proprietary accessory rail under the barrel. It was initially launched for the 9x19mm Para/NATO round. After the new pistol prooved successful, Walther in Ulm Germany ended all metal-framed pistol production in 1999.
The P99 family quickly grew. It was soon offered in the then new .40 S&W caliber, with a 12 round magazine and 4.2" barrel. In 1999, a double action only version was released, targetting police and security firms. In 2000, a Quick Action version was released with a Glock style partially cocked striker for consistant trigger pull.

(A P99AS Gen 2 with standard frame and slide)

In 2004, the P99 was updated with several changes including: extended magazine release levers, optional ambidextrous slide release levers, reshaped trigger guard, larger slide serrations, slightly reshaped slide, standard weaver rail in place of the proprietary one, and improved magazines. This new version became known as the P99 Gen 2.
Also over the years, Walther has offered several special versions. The MI-6 was a James Bond edition released in the late 1990s. The Millenium Edition was released to celebrate the year 2000. The P99 Military had a green frame and either black or silver slide. More recently, about 5 years ago; a P99AS Gen 2 variant was imported into the USA with ambidextrous slide release lever and metal Walther brand night sights. The release lever would later become a standard feature on the PPQ series, and the night sights would be offered on both the PPS and PPQ First Edition.

(A P99c with QA trigger system)

In 2005, a compact version was released simply known as the P99c. It has a 3.5" barrel and is 4 oz lighter than the fullsize. It has a shorter grip and a 10 round magazine in 9mm and 8 in .40 caliber. It ships with 1 flush fit and 1 finger rest magazine.
The P99 Gen 2 is offered with 3 different trigger types: Anti-Stress (AS) which is a DA/SA trigger with large decocker, Quick-Action (QA) which is a Glock style with small decocker, and Double-Action Only (DAO) without decocker. The older Gen 1 series was offered with similar options: P99 (Standard) with DA/SA trigger and larger decocker, QA which remained the same with the Gen 2, and P990 which is basically the same as DAO. It might seem a bit confusing, but it really is not and does allow the P99 to be customized for its intended roll. Just to compare, the P99AS is roughly the same size as the Glock G19. The P99c has the same barrel length as the Glock G26, but the P99c is a bit lighter, while the G26 is a bit shorter.
The German Rhineland-Palatinate police were among the first to adopt the P99. Bremen, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein have all gone with the P99QA model, while Nordrhein-Westfalen has selected the P99DAO. The P99 has been given the designation of P9 in German police service. The German Army has also expressed interest in the design and selected units have been issued the P99 standard. The pistol has also been successful outside of Germany. In Finland it has been adopted into military service as the Pist-2003 and is seeing use with special forces and military police units. In Canada, the Montreal Police carry the new Walther. In the USA, several police departments have authorized the pistol for duety carry, though none have purchased it themselves for their officers. It has seen a great deal of acceptence in Poland by both the military and various police departments. In fact, several variants are produced under license at the Fabryka Broni Radom ffacility. There is strong support to make the P99Rad, a version designed especially for the Polish army, to be that military's next standard issue sidearm.
As for commercial sales in the USA, Interarms was the initial importer, and S&W took over the duety in 1999. It was responsible for distribution and sales, though its advertising was rather limited. All 9mm P99s have always been 100% manufactured and tested in Germany. Around 2000, when Walther could not keep up with demand, some .40 caliber barrels and slides were made by S&W though. In return, Walther manufactured frames for S&W's SW99 series. In the USA, P99s are known for accuracy, reliability with different kinds of ammunition, adaptability, and good ergonomics. Only time can tell just how successful the P99 will be, but it has made it 20 years so it has already outlived both the P5 and P88. While it has mostly been replaced in America with newer designs such as the PPQ and PPX, it is still very popular in Europe. The P99 is currently in production and small numbers are imported each year by Walther-USA, which took over importation dueties in 2013.

(A comparison of the P99 and P99c)

(Video review of the original P99 fullsize with standard trigger system)

(Video review of the P99c with QA trigger)


(A PPS with all 3 magazine sizes)

In 2007, Walther released a new subcompact polymer framed pistol; the Polizeipistole Schmal or PPS. The PPS has been marketed as the replacement for the popular PPK. It is of a comparable size, but fires a full power cartridge, rather than 7.65mm or some other small caliber. The PPS measures 6.3" long, has a 3.2" barrel, and weighs 18 oz. Its grip can be made different lengths by using one of 3 different capacity magazines. The 8 round magazine allows for a fullsized grip and standard single stack capacity. The 7 round magazine gives the shooter a compact grip with pinky rest, and the 6 round magazine gives a subcompact flush-fit size. The PPS uses a Glock style partially cocked striker, like the P99QA but without decocker and with a trigger safety. Sights are 3 dot low-profile and made of metal. The pistol also features what Walther calls 'Quick Safe.' Basically removing the backstrap renders the gun safe and the strap can be removed without any kind of tool. It comes with both a small and large backstrap. The PPS is known for accuracy and low felt recoil for a gun of its size. Today it is manufactured in both Germany and Poland. No police departments issue the pistol as a standard sidearm, but it is popular with both law enforcement and civilians as a concealed backup piece. It could be argued that the PPS is the highest quality, single-stack, full caliber, subcompact pistol on the market today. In fact, it was really the first in its class and spawned a whole range of other slim compact full-caliber guns. These include the Ruger LC9, S&W M&P Shield, Beretta Nano, and the Glock G43.

(A PPS-m2 with both 6 and 7 round magazines)

At the end of 2015, Walther redesigned the pistol; giving it the designation of PPS-M2. The M2 is basically the same gun but with a major facelift. The frame has a new style of ergonomic grip with soft checkering and the accessory rail under the barrel was removed to make it more streamlined. The removable backstrap was deleted, along with the quick-safe feature which worried many. The striker was reworked to give a lighter/smoother feeling trigger, and the trigger guard was made more rounded. The most noticible change however has to do with the magazine release. The paddle lever has been replaced with a Browning type button located behind the trigger guard. The M2's slide was slightly reshaped, making it more rounded and snag free. It received serrations in the front and the striker tail was extended to allow it to serve as a better cocked indicator. Finally, the recoil spring was lightened slightly, to allow the slide to be retracted more easily. As with the original PPS, the PPS-M2 is available in either 9mm or .40 S&W. It has only recently been released, so there are few reviews online thus far. And if you still prefer the original, Walther is keeping it in production as the PPS Classic.

(Video review of the original PPS)


(A typical PPQ pistol)

The PPQ was released in 2011. It is basically a rebranded P99Rad with an improved QA trigger. The original Rad was developed for the Polish military per their specifications. It has both front and rear slide serrations, a true Picatinny spec. rail with 3 slots under the barrel, extended magazine release levers, ambidextrous slide release levers, and a redesigned more ergonomic grip. The PPQ takes all of these features and introduces a new style of trigger; the Quick Defense. Originally the Rad came in only QA and DAO. The Quick Defense trigger is like the QA but witha 100% precocked striker. It has a short 0.1" reset travel and a 5.5 lb pull weight. It also has a Glock style trigger bar safety, as does the PPS. The PPQ has interchangeable backstraps and uses P99 Gen 2 15 round magazines, but does not have a decocker or cocked indicator. It has the same dimensions and specifications as the P99. It is available in both 9mm and .40 S&W. In the USA, it has been quite successful for Walther and has gained considerable attention and praise. A version with an extended 4.6" threaded barrel installed from the factory was sold under the 'First Edition' designation. It also featured night sights and an extended capacity 17 round magazine. It came in a special hard case, with extra room for tools and a suppressor.

(A PPQ First Edition, pictured with Osprey-9 suppressor and factory case)

When Walther-USA took over importation dueties in 2013, it released the PPQ-M2. The M2 is the same firearm, except the magazine release has been changed. The paddle lever was replaced with a traditional Browning button style. The button is oversized and can be swapped to either side to accommodate either hand. The M2 is offered with either a 4.0" or 5.0" long barrel, and the PPQ-M2 SD has a 4.6" long 1/2x28" threaded barrel as well. The pistol is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .22 LR. In 2015, a scaled up version capable of handling .45 ACP joined the lineup. This pistol is notable as it is the first .45 caliber handgun in Walther's company history. It has a 4.3" barrel and larger/heavier slide. It uses polygonal rifling rather than traditional lans and grooves. Its magazines hold 12 rounds. Walther is continuing to expand the PPQ product line, so hopefully we'll keep seeing new variants as time goes on. And again if you prefer the original, it is in Walther's catalogue as the PPQ Classic (sometimes referred to as the PPQ-M1).

(A PPQ-M2 .45 caliber pistol)

(Video review of the original PPQ)

(Video review of the PPQ First Edition with suppressor)


(A typical PPX base handgun)

Along with the PPQ-M2, when Walther-USA took over in 2013; it released the PPX-M1. The PPX is based on the P99 and PPQ, but is Walther's entry level or economy firearm. Rather than being striker fired, it uses a bobbed hammer which works in double action. That said, it still manages to have a 6.5 lb trigger with a very smooth pull. The frame is polymer with a fixed backstrap, PPQ style ergonomic grip, reversible magazine catch, and full length accessory rail under the barrel. The slide is blocky but does have front and rear serrations. Interestingly, all of the small parts such as the trigger, mag catch, takedown latch, and sights are made of metal; not polymer. Like the P99 and PPQ, the PPX has a 4.0" long barrel and standard sized grip. It weighs just shy of 24 oz, so a bit heavier than the P99 and PPQ. It is available in 9mm with a 16 round magazine, and now in .40 S&W with a 14 rounder. The PPX SD variant has a 4.6" 1/2x28" threaded barrel for attaching a suppressor.
The pistol's biggest feature really is its price tag. The standard version comes to market at around $300 new, with the SD coming in at $350. It ships with 2 high capacity magazines and in a hard case. So they didn't skimp too badly there either. The PPX is made in Germany at Ulm, so it isn't a licensed out gun or anything. What Walther did to save on manufacturing was to make many of the metal parts from investment castings. Some others are from stampings. The barrel is made from two pieces, which is both cheaper and faster to produce, while still delivering a safe and accurate end-product. The hammer firing system is also less expensive to assemble than the PPQ's striker setup. It is still perfectly reliable though. Walther made sacrifices with the PPX, but nothing that would compromise the firearm's reliability or effectiveness. For what you pay, you are still getting a true German built handgun from a company that has been in the business for over a hundred years. It is reliable, and surprisingly accurate and comfortable too. It doesn't have much to recommend it in the looks department, however handle one before passing final judgment. It has a very good feel, and is smooth and well balanced.

(Video review of the PPX)


(An early production CCP pistol)

In late 2014, the Concealed Carry Pistol or CCP began shipping. This is an interesting handgun, which is a major departure from the P99/PPS platform. Thus far, only one variation is available. It has a 3.5" barrel, measures 6.4" long, is 5.0" tall, and weighs 21 oz. It is chambered for the 9mm cartridge and has an 8 round magazine. There is a Picatinny rail under the barrel for attaching devices; and a low-profile 1911 style thumb safety on the left side of the frame. The magazine release is Browning style and reversible. The trigger pull is reasonably light at 5.5 lbs and works in single action only. It has a longer pull, which is intended to make it safer for daily carry. The CCP is small but not tiny. It is somewhere between the PPQ and PPS in terms of size (or Glock G19 and G43 if you prefer). It is a compromise between size, and ergonomics/comfort of firing.
Unlike previous polymer framed Walthers, the CCP has a fixed barrel. To operate, a gas port vents under the barrel and acts upon a short piston. Basically, this is the same system that HK used in its P7 handgun. Walther calls it "Softcoil." This configuration has several benefits. First, since the barrel does not move or shift, it is capable of greater accuracy compared to other compact firearms. Second, the gas piston delayed blowback uses more of the energy from firing, resulting in less felt recoil for the shooter. Third, the return spring for the slide is able to be lighter, thus letting it be easier to retract to chamber a round. This is good for those with smaller/weaker hands, and for that matter just more comfortable for anyone.
New to the market, the CCP is still earning its reputation. So far, it seems to be accurate, reliable, and comfortable to fire. As with any Walther, it is well built; made from quality materials.

(Video review of the CCP)

The IWI Micro Tavor X95 Bullpup

Three years ago, American shooters welcomed the IWI Tavor SAR-21
semi-auto bullpup onto the market and into their lives. Since then, it
has received considerable

attention, earning both praise and complaint. One thing is for sure though, not since the Steyr AUG SA back in the 1980s has a bullpup made such a splash in the civilian market. Love it or hate it, most likely you've heard of and even fired a Tavor. Here in April of 2016, IWI has released a next-generation Tavor as the X95 (XB16). With that in mind, I felt it was time to do a little article covering the weapon's development, use, and features.

Development of the Tavor:
In 1982, the Israel-Lebanon War illistrated to the Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF) that the modern battlefield was changing and evolving.
Less fighting was occurring on open terrain, and more and more combat was located inside urban and other CQB environments. Also, night time operations were becoming very
common. At that time, the IDF was equipped with a mix of weapons, including the Colt M16A1, FN FAL, IMI Uzi, and IMI Galil (both ARM and SAR variants). Each firearm
had its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the FAL had range and power; but was long,
heavy, and uncontrollable on automatic. Also it was succeptable to
sand and dirt. The M16 was controllable on automatic, accurate, and lightweight; but it too did not hold up to well against the harsh desert. The Uzi performed better
in the desert, was very compact, and was inexpensive; but it lacked range and power. The Galil was its opposite. It had reasonable firepower and range; but was
expensive to manufacture and was quite heavy for an assault rifle.

Pre-Tavor Weapons:

In 1993, Israeli Military Industries (IMI) began looking into
developing a next generation weapons system for issue throughout the
IDF. It was hoped the new weapon could perform equally well in the countryside, desert, and within a city. It was hoped that it could serve as an infantry rifle and
carbine, as well as submachinegun and marksman rifle. The following year, the Tavor design team was established, being lead by Mr. Zalman Shebs (aka the father of the
Tavor), Doron Erez (the team's chief engineer), Amnon Shiloni, and Erez Boyarski. The team was named after Mount Tabor, the location of an ancient Jewish battlefield. It
was quickly decided that the new system should utilize the increasingly popular bullpup layout. This meant the action and magazine would be located behind the trigger
and grip. This setup allows a weapon to be very compact, while retaining a full length barrel. So small size, with good range and power. Of course nothing comes without
a cost, and bullpups have drawbacks too. Most notably less than stellar feeling triggers and often times some awkwardly placed controls. Also, R&D and construction
are often more expensive and time consuming compared with more conventional designs. Nevertheless, IMI and the Tavor team went forward. The goals were simple. To deliver
a weapon that was smaller, more reliable, more durable, and easier to maintain than the Colt M4 Carbine. It needed to be easier and less expensive to mass produce
than IMI's Galil series too. In 1995, the IDF took note and got involved with the program. From this point, development began in earnest and the pace increased. By
1997, a few soldiers were given early prototypes so they could test and supply feedback on the weapon's ergonomics. Then in 2000, the Israeli NCO School was given
several more prototypes for riggerous field testing and outright abuse. The Tavor team listened and continued to refine its design.

Around the same time, IMI was privatized and became IWI (Israeli
Weapon Industries), but this change did not effect the bullpup program
much. In late 2001, the IDF's Givati brigade was issued several advanced prototypes to test them in real-world situations. Accuracy, reliability, durability, maintenance,
and ergonomics (comfort) during long marches were all evaluated. The bullpups performed
reasonably well, but there was still room for improvement. Most
notably, an issue with fine sand entering the ejection port and jamming the bolt was discovered. So again, the Tavor team tinkered with the design.
Then in September of 2003, after several rounds of product
improvements, the IDF declared its intention to issue the new bullpup
throughout the entire Infantry corps.

It was designated as the TAR-21, short for Tavor Assault Rifle-21st
Century. It was to replace several firearms then in IDF service,
including several variants of the AR15, some older Galils, and even a few Uzis still in the field. In 2006, infantry units began receiving the new TAR-21 and it was
slated to replace most all other rifles in IDF service on or before
2018. The new bullpup had its first major combat debu in late 2008 during Operation Cast Lead by the Givati and Golani Brigades. During this episode of the Gaza War,
soldiers reported the Tavor performed satisfactorally and was definitely more reliable than the Colt M16/M4.

The Tavor is a modern bullpup rifle. It operates using a long stroke
gas piston and heavy bolt carrier. Both features were inspired by the
IMI Galil, and thus the Russian AK47. The gas port is self-regulating and is not adjustable. The bolt rotates and locks with 3 lugs into a barrel extension. The
weapon can be configured for either right or left handed shooters, but this must be done by a unit armorer and does require a different bolt. There is a short side rail
and a longer top one, which features folding backup sights. The body is made of impact resistant polymer and is basically one massive shell. The barrel comes in
several lengths, has a 1 in 7 twist rate, is cold hammer forged, and is chromelined. The IDF issues both 55g M193 and 62g M855 cartridges, and has reported both stabilize
well out of the Tavor's barrel. It seems that the regular infantry uses M193, with sharp
shooters and other specialists going for M855. The Tavor series feeds
from standard M16 GI magazines and is compatable with most other AR15 type mags too.
The charging handle is located towards the front, right above the
handguard. It is tilted upward, not unlike the handle found on the
Steyr AUG bullpup. It does not reciprocate with the bolt carrier. The trigger guard is large and allows for a full hand to fit inside; again very much what is found on
the AUG. The safety-selector is M16/M4 style and can be relocated to the right side for left handed shooters. The magazine release is shaped like a trigger and located
immediately in front of the magazine well. The bolt release is located immediately behind the well and is very large. At the end of the buttstock is a thick rubber
recoil pad.

The Tavor comes in 3 main versions. The TAR-21 has an 18" long barrel
and is intended for standard infantry use. It is most commonly issued
with the Meprolight M21 day/night self powered sight. The CTAR-21 is the carbine with a 15" barrel, and it was designed with commando type units in mind. The
STAR-21 is a DMR platform with a 18" barrel, bipod, and is typically issued with a magnified optic such as the 4x Acog.

The Micro Tavor X95:
In 2009, the Tavor story took an interesting turn. In November of that
year, the IDF announced that the TAR-21 would not afterall become its
standard issue frontline rifle. Instead the X95 or Micro Tavor would fulfill that role. The original fullsized TAR-21 would hence forth be relegated to secondline
and reserve units. The decision was taken after years of soldier feedback and combat
analysis. The X95's smaller size, lighter weight, and more modular
construction better suit the needs of the average Israeli soldier. At least that is what High command thinks. The X95 is to fully replace the TAR-21 and remaining older rifles by
2020. Beginning in 2013, reserve units began receiving their fullsized
bullpups, which they will continue to use for at least a decade. Just as an aside, many Colt M16s and M4s do still remain within the IDF too.

The X95 is similar to the original TAR-21, but differs from it in
several important ways. It has a very compact 13" long barrel,
shortened forend, and redesigned stock which is both shorter and slimmer. The polymer the stock is made from is a different chemical mix, which is supposed to be more resistant to
UV light and less likely to crack from sharp impacts. It is noticibly lighter than the original as well. The safety selector is the same, but the mag release has been
moved up forward near the trigger and is located on either side. The charging handle has been made horizontal and moved back to just above the trigger as well. The
bolt release is in the same location, but it is smaller and more out of the way. The X95 has a long top rail and redesigned forend. There is a quadrail setup and
when the rails are not needed, they can be covered up by flush fitting ergonomic panels. Finally, the grip assembly is now modular. The grip and trigger guard unit can
easily be removed and replaced with a different style when required.
The MTAR-21 was initially designed to meet the needs of Special Forces, of which the IDF has a large number. It was also thought it would be ideal for vehicll drivers, helicopter crews, and others needing something like a PDW. In the end, it seems like the variant actually exceeded its original objectives and requirements.
After it was announced that the X95 would become standard issue
throughout all of the IDF, IWI dedicated more time to tweeking the
design. In 2014, a new version was introduced as the X95-L or 'Tavor-2.' Really what this is is a CTAR-21, with all of the updates of the X95. The X95-L has a 15" long
barrel, and 2" longer handguard.

The longer barrel allows for better range, and the handguard gives
more room for attachments (or just to lay a hand horizontally). Also,
this new version has an improved trigger pack with a lighter and crisper feel. The original X95 is a specialty weapon designed for size and close range combat.
The X95-L is more like a general issue weapon capable of fulfilling multiple rolls. It is still several inches shorter than a Colt M4, but manages to have a slightly
longer barrel. Today it is in widespread use and has seen extensive frontline combat.

The TAR-21 series has been purchased by many militaries, police
agencies, and governments outside of Israel as well. It is mostly used
by elite and special forces units, but has been adopted into standard service by some.
Furthermore, it is built under license in Ukraine as the Fort-221,
Fort-222, Fort-223, and Fort-224. The RPC Fort manufactures all versions, and even has some models chambered for the 5.45x39mm M74 (Russian) round. Ukrainian Special Forces commonly issue the Tavor. Georgia fields several Tavor variants, having purchased over 7,000 units from IWI back in 2005-2006. In fact, at one time it had plans to
produce the line domestically until Russia stepped in and forced the program's cancellation. In India, the Ordnance Factories Board has a license to produce the
Tavor line for both domestic use and foreign customers. Known as the
Zittara, it is in use by several special units such as the Para-Commandos, Marines, and many others. Over 6,000 are in service, and in 2011, 12,000 more MTAR-21
X95s were ordered from IWI. Taurus builds the Tavor family for use by the Brazilian military and other South American customers. It is used by the Brazilian Frontier
Brigade. The Columbian Army and Marine special Forces both issue the TAR-21.
The military of Thailand has nearly 58,000 Tavors in service today.
Beginning in 2012, the Navy and Marines of Vietnam issue the bullpup.
It is standard issue for the army of Chad. Portugal, Honduras, the Philippines, Poland, Mexico, Angola, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Turkey, Peru, and Ethiopia have all
purchased small numbers as well.

Civilian Legal Tavors:

First Production Civilian Tavor X95

In 2008, IWI released the first official semi automatic only, civilian
legal version of the Tavor bullpup. It was named the TC-21 and was
designed to meet the requirements of the Canadian market. It comes with a 18.5" barrel and
either a Meprolight M21 sight or long Picatinny top rail. For over
half a decade, the TC-21 made many American shooters AUG green with invy.
This continued until 2013, when IWI established a USA subsidiary,
which soon started offering both select fire Tavors for military/law
enforcement buyers and semi- autos for civilians (and police departments not willing to issue NFA weapons). As a side note, IWI-USA manufactures rifles intended for
purchase by the IDF. This has to do with spending requirements attached to US military aid money. It is quite an interesting story but lets not go into it right now.
The American Tavor was named the SAR-21, and has been offered in
several configurations. The TSB16 has a 16.5" barrel, black stock, and
long top rail. The TSB18 is configured the same, but with a longer 18" barrel, and also it
features a NATO spec. bayonet lug. Both variants can also be ordered
in FDE or OD Green. The TSIDF16 comes in only one style, with 16.5" barrel, black stock, and a Meprolight sight in place of the top rail. Also, it uses a different
rear backup sight and can not be had with a bayonet lug. A year or so later, a 9x19mm version with a 17" barrel joined the lineup. It was offered as either a complete
firearm or as a conversion kit.

Originally, IWI said it would release a Tavor chambered for 5.45x39mm
Russian, however when 7n6 ammunition was banned from import in 2014,
this variant was canceled due to lack of interest.
Most recently in April of 2016, IWI has begun offering a civilian
legal, semi-automatic version of the Micro Tavor X95. It has all of
the latest upgrades from the IDF rifle program, including the lightened trigger pack and quadrail forearm. Since the original X95 has an overall length of just 23", IWI
based its semi on the X95-L, with its OAL of a bit over 25". The barrel was extended to 16.5" and the recoil pad made slightly thicker. These changes give the firearm
an OAL of 26.1", with its birdcage flash hider removed. This is the shortest possible length allowed by the NFA and BATF, without crossing over into SBR Title II
territory that is. The first semi X95s are coming with black furniture, but soon the FDE and OD Green variants will be released. Also, a 9x19mm version should be
appearing later this year. There is talk of a factory SBR with 13" barrel, and even an X95 in .300 Blackout to come. Hopefully, these versions won't meet the fate of the
one in 5.45mm. Sadly, a Canadian legal version has not yet been announced. Americans had to wait for years on a fullsized while Canadians enjoyed theirs, so now
the tables have turned.

Fullsized Tavor Variants:
> TAR-21: standard assault rifle, 18" barrel, rail or fixed M21 optic, bayonet lug,
> CTAR-21: assault carbine, 15" barrel, rail most common,
> STAR-21: Dedicated Marksman Rifle, 18" barrel, rail, magnified optic, folding bipod (Harris),
> TC-21: Canadian civilian version, semi-auto, 18.5" barrel, M21 sight or rail,
> SAR-21: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 16.5" or 18" barrel, M21 sight or rail,
> SAR-9: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 9x19mm NATO, 17" barrel, rail, Colt AR15 9mm magazines,

Micro Tavor Variants:
> MTAR-21 X95: subcompact assault rifle, 13" barrel, shortened forearm, rail,
> X95-L: compact assault rifle, 15" barrel, intermediate length forearm, rail,
> X95-SMG: 9x19mm SMG, 13" barrel, rail, feeds from uzi Pro type magazines,
> X95-R: subcompact assault rifle, 13" barrel, chambered for 5.45x39mm M74 Russian, rail,
> X95-S: 9x19mm SMG, intragle supressor, 11" barrel, rail, Uzi Pro magazines,
> X95 (XB16): USA civilian version, semi-auto, 16.5" barrel, X95-L forearm & trigger pack, rail,
> X95-SBR: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 13" barrel & SBR, short forearm, rail,
> X95-9: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 9x19mm NATO, 17" barrel, rail, Uzi Pro mags,

Tech Specs:
3.27 kg (7.21 lb)(TAR-21)
3.18 kg (7.0 lb)(CTAR-21)
3.67 kg (8.1 lb)(STAR-21)
2.95 kg (6.5 lb)(MTAR-21)
3.05 kg (6.7 lb)(X95-L)
3.19 kg (7.0 lb)(TC-21)

720 mm (28.3 in)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
640 mm (25.2 in)(CTAR-21, X95-L)
590 mm (23.2 in)(X-95/MTAR-21)
670 mm (26.4 in)(TC-21)

Barrel length;
460 mm (18.1 in)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
380 mm (15.0 in)(CTAR-21, X95-L)
330 mm (13.0 in)(X-95/MTAR-21)
419 mm (16.5 in) (SAR-21, XB16)

Rate of fire;
750–900 rounds/min

Muzzle velocity;
910 m/s (2,986 ft/s)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
890 m/s (2,919.9 ft/s)(CTAR-21)
870 m/s (2,854.3 ft/s)(MTAR-21)

Austrian Steyr AUG vs. Israeli IWI Tavor:
(Taken from a comparison I wrote 2 years ago)

I have been playing with side by side, both a current Steyr Arms
AUG/A3 and IWI-USA Tavor IDF model all week. The long and the short of
it is the two weapons are remarkably similar. Both are about the same size and weight. Both are black with 16" barrels (ok 16.5" for the TAvor and 16.25" for the AUG
but close enough), and of course both fire the standard 5.56mm NATO (and .223 Rem) round. The AUG has a 1-9 twist and the Tavor a 1-7. So the AUG can handle both
55g and 62g stuff well enough, while the Tavor prefers 62g and heavier loads. Both come standard with a long top rail and a removable shorter side rail. Both operate using
a multi-lug rotating bolt and piston driven gas system. Both have huge trigger guards and
one-piece polymer stock shells. So in otherwords, the two are very similar. Even their construction follows a similar path. Since both are foreign designs which are
banned from importation as-is by current federal law, each is assembled from parts imported from their home nation. These parts are built onto a USA made receiver, using a
USA made contracted barrel.

In the case of the AUG, the receiver is made by Vltor but thanks to an
ATF varience is only marked Steyr Arms. The barrel blank is brought in
from Austria and finished out by FN-USA. The other parts are imported from Austria as a kit. The final assembly is done by Steyr Arms in-house in America.
As for the Tavor, it has a similar story. Parts are brought over from
Israel and assembled by IWI-USA, using their own domestically made
barrel and receiver. IWI setup a plant in America not only to sell semi-auto Tavors to civilians, but also to build select fire TAR21s for the IDF. Israel receives a lot of
military aid from the USA, and one of the strings attached is that a large fraction has to
be spent with American companies. So to get around this, IWI just
opened an American factory. So the IDF is using American aid money to purchase American made rifles, which just so happen to be licensed copies of an Israeli design.
Selling to the American civilian public (and some law enforcement agencies too) is just the icing on the cake for them.

AUG/A3 & Tavor SAR Similarities:
> Roughly equal weight
> Similar triggers (though my own AUG/A3 has a slightly better one than the Tavor)
> Removable slotted flash hider
> Ambidextrous magazine release
> Dual rails as standard
> Corrosion resistant surfaces and parts
> Reversable ejection port (combined with appropriate handed bolt)

AUG A3 Benefits:
> Quick change barrel
> Two position adjustable gas system
> Folding charging handle with built in forward assist
> Cleaning kit storage compartment in buttstock
> Absolutely no tools required for complete field stripping/disassembly

Tavor SAR Benefits:
> 1" shorter than AUG with same length barrel
> Reversable controls to make friendly for either left or right hand shooter
> Better placed and easier to use magazine release
> Better placed and ambidextrous bolt release latch
> Brass deflector (reversable)
> Flip-up backup sights
> When disassembled, no small parts to loose (buttplate is henged and all pins are captured)

The Tavor is marketed as a 100% ambidextrous bullpup. This is strictly
speaking not true. While the magazine release and bolt release are
truely ambidextrous; the charging handle, safety, brass deflector, and ejection port must be configured for either right or left handed shooters. In addition,
different bolts are used for each. This means the TAvor isn't really ambidextrous, but rather has reversable controls. The switch does require a bit of time and tools
too. The AUG/A3 is not fully ambidextrous either. The safety and magazine
release are, and the charging handle and bolt release are not. Like
the Tavor, the AUG has a reversable ejection port, which must be used in conjunction with the appropriate bolt. The AUG is slightly more friendly to use left
handed, while in the right hand configuration due to its ambidextrous safety. On the otherhand, there is no way to reverse the charging handle. Also, the AUG does not have
a brass deflector like the Tavor. Both bullpups feature ambidextrous sling swivals too.

The Magazine Issue:
Most people consider the fact that the Tavor takes standard AR15
magazines to be a large plus, and indeed it is for those who already
own an AR15 and like mag commonality. However, objectively speaking, the proprietary Steyr AUG magazine is of excellent quality, feeds reliably, is lightweight, and
is easily checked to determine ammunition count. It is drop-free, despite what some might
think. It is also very easy to drop any AUG into a NATO stock, which
allows for the use of standard AR15 magazines.

Cost & Pricing:
Nearly exactly the same. Both bullpups come to market at just under
$1,700 (adjusted for 2016 pricing) for the flat-top railed model. The
Tavor is offered witha fixed Meprolight M21 sight, where as a 1.5x Steyr optic can be added to any AUG/A3 as it clamps onto the main rail.

So that was my comparison review from awhile back. In 2015, Steyr
released the AUG A3 M1, and in 2016; IWI released the X95 XB16. So how
do these newer versions stack up against both their older ones and each other?

Changes from AUG A3 to AUG A3 M1:
> Ability to switch from different top rails, as well as easily adding a traditional Austrian style optic.
> QD socket instead of fixed front sling swivel
HOnestly, that is about it, not a big difference. The M1 can be
purchased with either: short low rail, long high rail, 1.5x A2 style
optic, or 3.0x A2 style optic. Not

much difference and both are equally as good as the other.

Changes from Tavor SAR to Tavor X95:
> Overall slimmer and more compact body
> One pound lighter
> Quadrail handguard, with removable panels
> Removable trigger guard
> Additional QD swivel spot for a total of 3 per side
> Relocated mag release
> Relocated charging handle
> Lower profile bolt release
> Lighter and crisper trigger
The X95 is a clear upgrade and improvement on the original SAR. In my
opinion, it is in every way a better firearm.

AUG A3 M1 vs. Tavor X95:
Alright so now, how do the two latest models compare to each other?

Equal> Both are priced right in the $1,750 range for factory new.
Equal> Trigger - Difficult to call. X95 is lighter, AUG has a somewhat
crisper feel, with a more noticible reset.
X95> Rail Options - X95 has both more rail space, as well as very well
done covers, so is probably better.
X95> Weight - X95 is at least a pound lighter than AUG.
X95> Length - very close due to the 26" minimum, but X95 is a hair shorter.
X95> Reliability - Both very reliable, however my AUG requires I use
the adverse setting to run lighter loads and some steel cased. X95
does not and seems to eat it all without issue.
AUG> Removable Barrel - Both barrels come out, but hands down the AUG
does so faster and more easily. Also steyr offers 16", 18", 20", and
24" units.
X95> Magazine release - Hands down, the X95 has a superior design and
is the best bullpup release I've used so far.
Equal> Bolt release - Both are good and useful but work differently.
AUG> Safety - Both well done, but personally I prefer the AUG style.
Plus it is truely ambidextrous and doesn't require reversing.
X95> Charging handle - I prefer the X95, finding it easier to use and
less in the way of optics.
AUG> Takedown/Disassembly - While the X95 comes apart easily, the AUG
is even better. Both good but AUG allows faster and more access to its
interior. That said, at least the X95 has no small/loose parts.
X95> BUIS - Since the AUG has none, the X95 wins by default.
AUG> Recoil and muzzle climb - Due to its greater weight and gas
system style, the AUG has a bit less felt recoil.
Equal> Magazines - Personal choice, X95 takes nearly all AR15/M16; but
AUG takes the very excellent Steyr magazines which are extremely
reliable and lightweight.
X95> Muzzle Threading - X95 has 1/2x28, AUG has 13x1mm, so most all
will prefer the X95.
AUG> Gas valve - X95 is non-adjustable, AUG is adjustable. Also AUG's
is easier to get to for cleaning.
X95> Foregrip - AUG has folding VFG only, X95 has rail with cover, so
more options, including VFG if desired.
AUG> Storage - AUG has compartment in the stock for cleaning kit, X95
basically has no storage for parts/batteries/cleaning kit.

So I have to say, tallying up everything, the X95 appears to be a bit
ahead of the good old Steyr AUG. However, that doesn't account for the
AUG being a true classic and the most combat tested bullpup in the world. The X95 is a very recent development, so is loaded with modern features; but the AUG has
stuck around for a long time and prooven itself over and over again.

Which would I pick?

Both! This is America and I am allowed to love both!