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.