By David M. Fortier
The short sword carried by Roman Legionnaires was designed for one thing, close combat. Under the cover of his shield the Legionnaire closed relentlessly with his enemy until he was able to dispatch him with an upward thrust of his Gladius. So too during the Great Patriotic War the Soviet Union fielded their own short sword, in the form of the PPSh-41 sub-machinegun. Soviet infantry, armed sometimes with nothing else, closed relentlessly with the Nazi juggernaught forcing the invaders back from the doorsteps of Moscow eventually to Berlin itself.
The Soviet Red Army learned a harsh lesson during the Winter War of 1939-40. Sustaining losses of over a million men compared to 40,000 Finnish casualties the Soviets learned a healthy respect for, among other things, the Suomi sub-machinegun. When the Germans attacked in 1941 the Soviets fielded the PPD-40 sub-machinegun in small numbers. While the Pistolet Pulyemet Degtyarev ( machinepistol designed by Degtyarev) was an excellent sub-machinegun in its own right, it was not simple enough to mass produce in the quantities needed to turn back the German advance. What the Soviets needed was a reliable, easy to manufacture sub-machinegun that was simple to operate and maintain as well as effective in combat. They found all this and more in a design by Georgi Shpagin.
Designated the PPSh-41 ( Pistolet Pulyemet Shpagin-1941), Shpagin’s design would be produced in the quantity of some five million by the war’s end. Developed in 1940-41 the PPSh-41 was designed to be easier to produce than the PPD, which it was to replace. The weapon itself was extremely simple to manufacture consisting of a stamped steel receiver and barrel jacket which was mounted in a simple wooden stock. The barrel was chrome lined for low maintenance and long life. This was done partly because the Soviets traditionally used mercury based primers. While they are the most reliable method of ignition in sub-zero temperatures, they are also highly corrosive. An interesting wartime economy was the use of old and reserve Moisin-Nagant barrels. One Moisin barrel could be cut in half to make two sub-machinegun barrels with a considerable savings in time and machinery. The barrel jacket extended beyond the muzzle to act as a compensator to reduce muzzle rise on full auto. Early models had a tangent rear sight but this was soon changed to a simple flip sight with settings for 100 and 200 meters.
The 7.62x25mm caliber and the 71 round drum magazine of the PPD ( copied after the Suomi’s) were retained. The high velocity 7.62×25 Tokarev round was based on (and interchangeable with) the 7.63 Mauser which had already proven it’s worth in the First World War. The 71 round drum gave a good reserve of ammunition which was handy with a high cyclic rate of 900 rpm. Later in the war a simple 35 round box magazine was also manufactured. The PPSh-41 proved itself to be one of the most effective sub-machineguns fielded during World War II. Simple to use and utterly reliable, the Germans used all they could capture and it came to be the badge of the Red Army soldier.
Now Inter-Ordnance of America LP. has introduced a semi-auto version of the PPSh-41 sub-machinegun. Called the SR-41, it is a faithful copy of the famous burp gun. I have always been a fan of the 7.62x25mm cartridge as well as drum magazines so I was excited when I first saw the SR-41 advertised. I was also somewhat skeptical though as most semi-auto subguns tend to be overly long, heavy, and clumsy. Their usefulness never approaches their looks. So I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the SR-41 as I waited for its arrival.
When I pulled it from the box I could see why it was so popular on the Eastern Front. It was light, handy, and well balanced with a very business like appearance. The buttstock was an original Soviet piece in excellent shape with a nice reddish brown finish. The butt plate has a trap in it and the rear swivel was on the left side of the butt. In compliance with the BATF the receiver is newly made and the weapon now fires from a closed bolt. The receiver and barrel jacket are formed from 3 mm thick metal, this is noticeably thicker than the receiver on an AKM. The slots in the barrel jacket are perfectly executed and very attractive. The protected rear sight is a simple yet effective flip arrangement with settings for 100 and 200 meters. The front sight is a simple post that is drift adjustable for windage and screws up and down for elevation corrections like an AK. It is unprotected like the first PPSh-41 variation. The bolt handle is on the right side of the weapon’s receiver and is two piece. The top piece can be pushed into a corresponding notch on the receiver to lock the bolt either closed or open. I’m sure this was a welcome feature on the original open bolt sub-machinegun.
Inside the large trigger guard is the trigger and to the front of it the safety. The trigger on my example was a single-stage military trigger that reminded me of the FN-FAL. While a little on the heavy side it broke like a glass rod and allowed surprisingly good shooting to be done. The safety is positioned where the selector is located on the original. A simple switch, push it forward for Safe, pull it back for Fire. Upon first examination I didn’t like it, however once I had used it for a bit I can say it is quick and efficient. The trick I found is to not try to pull it straight back with the trigger finger, but back and down. Once you’ve used it two or three times it becomes second nature.
Caliber remains the tried and true 7.62x25mm Tokarev M1930. The Bolshevik’s had widely used the Mauser Military Pistol and liked the 7.63 Mauser round enough to copy it. They adopted it in slightly modified form as the 7.62×25 in 1930 as a replacement for the 7.62x38R Nagant revolver round. The 7.62×25 propels an 86 grain .30 caliber projectile at 1375 fps from a Tokarev pistol. As this cartridge was widely used in sub-machineguns actual muzzle velocity varies greatly between loads with velocities in the 1400-1600 fps range common out of a pistol. The great thing about this round is that it is a plinker’s delight. Large quantities of inexpensive surplus ammunition are readily available for your shooting enjoyment.
While the SR-41 comes with one politically correct 10 round magazine, it will accept anything the PPSh-41 will. I had Inter-Ordnance ship me a 71 round drum magazine and a 35 round stick mag too. The drum magazines are simple and reliable and measure only 5 5/8 across by 1 1/2 inches deep. The feed lips are very thick to prevent damage. The drum pushes straight up into the mag well and locks easily in place. The front plate comes off easily for loading, unloading, or cleaning. One feature I liked was that as the rounds in the drum are under constant pressure they do not slap back and forth creating a racket. The British complained in 1940 that the rounds in their Thompson drums slapped back and forth creating enough noise to draw fire while on night patrol. Such is not the case here. The 35 round stick magazine has a gentle curve to it and is not quite 1 1/2 inches longer than an AK-74 magazine. Like all Soviet magazines it is of heavy metal construction and features a reinforced top. Like the drum it is of the single feed variety.
Internally the SR-41 is quite a bit different than the PPSh-41. Instead of an agriculturally simple sear release mechanism it now sports a simple hammer and disconnector. The bolt has been modified with a hole running the length of it now allowing the use of a spring loaded firing pin. The firing pin is very similar in dimensions to that used in the Mauser Broomhandle pistol except the firing pin proper is much shorter in length, only about 1/4 inch and thus would not be prone to breakage as is the Broomhandle’s. Being spring loaded there is no danger of the weapon firing out of battery when using ammunition without Mil-spec primers. The take down catch on the back of the weapon no longer functions, having been welded shut. This changes the take down procedure a little bit. Also the 10 1/2 inch barrel is permanently mounted to the barrel jacket. In addition a piece of tubing has been added to bring the overall barrel length to 16 1/2 inches. Yet as the barrel did not originally come to the end of the barrel jacket the actual increase in overall length is only about 4 3/4 inches, the same as for an 11 1/2 inch barrel CAR-15. The addition is so short and light as to not affect the weapons balance or appeal. Except for the barrel extension, the modifications are not noticeable to the casual observer.
Heading to the range I was interested in seeing just how reliable and accurate the SR-41 would be. I brought along quantities of Sellier and Bellots excellent 85 grain FMJ loading, and for something totally different, a quantity of MagSafe’s 52 grain Defender. MagSafe’s Defender is the only modern defensive load available for the 7.62×25 mm Tokarev. It consists of a 52 grain pre-fragmented slug. Basically a copper jacket filled with lead birdshot and suspended in a special epoxy. They list the load at 2120 fps but out of my Tokarev it sizzled across the chrony at an average of 2137 fps! The first thing I noticed at the range was that you can easily fill the 35 round stick magazine by hand without the use of a mag loading tool, unlike a Sten. This is greatly appreciated. The second thing was that like most PPSh-41 drums this one would take 73 rounds without batting an eye.
First up was shooting across the chronograph. The Sellier and Bellot averages 1458 fps out of my Tokarev. It clocked an average of 1761 fps through the SR-41. That’s a gain of over 300 fps! The MagSafes average 2137 fps out of my Tokarev and blistered out of the SR-41 at an average of 2514 fps, a gain of almost 400 fps. Moving to the 50 yard mark I locked a 35 round magazine in place and did some rapid fire on a silhouette target. The trigger broke cleanly without a hint of over travel allowing a high rate of fire. Muzzle rise was nil and the weapon was very easy to control. Ejection is straight up and vigorous enough that I could do a slow three count between firing a round and hearing the empty brass hit the ground! Muzzle report was very similar to an M-1 carbine. The stock has a comfortable 13 inch length of pull allowing the SR-41 to be shouldered easily. The sights come quickly to eye and allow rapid target acquisition. Magazine changes are easily and rapidly accomplished with the off hand. An odd feature is that the magazine release folds up flat to prevent accidentally ejecting a magazine during rough handling. Yet it is designed in such a way that even folded flat the thumb of which ever hand is being used to change magazines can easily manipulate it. With a fresh magazine inserted, simply canting the weapon slightly to the left allows the bolt handle to be operated by the left hand. Rounds loaded effortlessly into the chamber. Both the stick and drum magazines performed flawlessly.
Moving to 100 yards and firing off the bench for accuracy I was amazed to walk up and see a 1 1/2 inch group. So I tried again, same results. The little thing shoots! All I can surmise is that Sellier and Bellot make excellent ammunition and the fixed barrel and closed bolt really help accuracy. Shooting the SR-41 with its closed bolt brings to mind why the MP-5 is so popular. I moved up to 50 yards to fire the MagSafe ammunition as it is a drastic change in both bullet weight and velocity from what the weapon was designed for. Upon squeezing the trigger I noticed the report was much, much deeper than with the Sellier and Bellot. Walking over to the silhouette I was pleased to see a nice 3 inch cluster at the point of aim. The terminal effects of the MagSafes was spectacular. Shooting a melon at 15 yards literally vaporized it so that a small piece hit my photographer, and she was standing 12 feet behind me.
I had no problems of any kind on the range and the weapon ran like a champ, except with the MagSafe ammunition. I did not expect it to feed due to its flat nose configuration, and it didn’t. I had been told by an acquaintance that it wouldn’t feed in a PPSh-41 either. The gun was simply designed with ball ammunition in mind. Now saying that, I have to be honest and say that after looking the feed ramp over I’m sure that ten minutes spent polishing it would allow the weapon to feed empty cases. Otherwise the weapon ran flawlessly feeding, extracting, and ejecting perfectly through 500 rounds non-stop. Since that first time at the range I have had a chance to put another couple hundred rounds through it without incident.
Without a doubt the SR-41 is a fantastic historical plinker. Incredibly fun to shoot it is surprisingly accurate and eminently reliable. 7.62x25mm ammunition is both plentiful and inexpensive. Short and handy it will basically do anything a .30 carbine can do, and it takes 71 round drums. Negatives? About the only thing to complain of is that the rear sight notch is a little small for my tastes, but that can be fixed in two minutes with a flat file. The PPSh-41 was used to great effect by the Soviets, and still soldiers on today in odd hot spots around the world. Just the other day I saw a Yugoslavian militiaman carrying one on the news. Tough, reliable, with a high rate of fire and a large magazine capacity it is easy to see why it would still be popular. Almost 60 years after Georgi Shpagin designed the PPSh-41 it is also easy to see that the SR-41 is going to prove to be very popular.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Gabe Sende of The Russian Store for supplying the Uniform and gear used in the Photo’s, and the technicians at Sierra Bullets for the trajectory information!!
INTER-ORDNANCE OF AMERICA LP.
3305 Westwood Industrial Drive
Monroe, NC 28110
(SR-41’s, Magazines, Accessories, Classic Military Weapons)
P.O. Box 1506
Beaverton, OR 97075
(A full line of Sellier & Bellot Ammunition, and Quality Surplus Ammunition)
THE RUSSIAN STORE
7657 Winnetka Ave., Suite 203
Winnetka, CA 91306
(Specializing in Russian Uniforms and Insignia)
MAGSAFE AMMO CO.
4700 So. Highway 17-92
Casselberry, FL 32707
Call (407) 834-9966 for the Dealer Nearest You.
( Pre-fragmented Safety Ammunition, Rated #1 in the Strasboug Test)
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N12 (September 1999)|