By Frank Iannamico
The Russians began development of a submachine gun as early as 1925. The idea spawned from the brief debut of the German MP18.I maschinenpistole that appeared just prior to the end of WWI.
The Russians first thought that the submachine gun would be ideal for arming field grade officers, replacing the inadequate Nagant revolver. The very first Russian prototype subgun was the 1927 pattern designed by Fedor Tokarev. The weapon closely resembled a carbine and was chambered for a slightly modified version of the 7.62 Nagant revolver cartridge. In 1928, the Russian Artillery Committee suggested that the weapon be rechambered for the more powerful 7.63 Mauser cartridge. There were quite a few other submachine gun designs submitted by Russian engineers through the 1920s and 1930s, although none were adopted, due in part to waning interest in the submachine gun concept. However, in 1934 a new, simple and reliable design by Vasiliy Degtyarev emerged. Degtyarev’s new weapon surpassed all previous designs that had been tested. The new submachine gun was officially adopted as M1934, 7.62 Pistole Pulemyot Degtyarev.
In 1935 approval was finally granted for a small production run of Degtyarev’s 1934 pattern submachine gun. The weapon was chambered for the newly adopted Russian 7.62×25 Tokarev cartridge (the cartridge was an almost identical copy of the 7.63 Mauser round). However, production priority of the PPD 1934 was very low, and by 1939 fewer than 2,000 examples had been produced. In the interim, Degtyarev continued to work on improving his design, introducing the M1934/38 weapon in 1938. The 34/38 model was simplified for ease of manufacture. The weapon used the same curved 25-round magazine as the previous 1934 model, and it had a very high rate of fire. Unfortunately for Degtyarev there was still some uncertainty regarding the value of the submachine gun as a military weapon. A policy change was implemented halting submachine gun production, and existing weapons were withdrawn from service and placed in storage.
In 1939 Russia signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, and agreed to assist them in their planned invasion of Poland. Their agreement not only had provisions to divide Poland, but also had other territorial and political arrangements for future “acquisitions”. After the German invasion of Poland, Finland and her neighbors declared their neutrality, although moves by Russia into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began to concern the Finns. The Soviets invited Finland to discuss the establishment of a Russian naval base in Finland as well as the ceding of several islands belonging to Finland. Finland sent the Russians a curt counter proposal that the Russians flatly rejected. The Finns did not believe that Russia would resort to war to obtain her objectives, and Russia anticipated that the Finns would concede rather than engage in a war against such a powerful enemy. The ensuing months would prove both their perceptions a fatal miscalculation. Russia soon began blaming the Finns for aggressive acts against Soviet troops along their border. (Hitler used the same tactic to justify the invasion of Poland). On November 29, 1939 Russian forces crossed into Finland at Petsamo, and launched a full-scale attack on Helsinki the next day.
The resolve of the Finnish people was strengthened by the knowledge that the Russians had launched a totally unprovoked attack on their country. The Russian Army would soon learn of the Finn’s fierce desire to keep from falling under Russian domination. Although the war was brief, the small, poorly equipped Finnish Army, led by Marshal Mannerheim, was able to inflict heavy casualties on the Russians by sabotage, ambushes and other similar actions. In their guerrilla style tactics the Finns made effective use of their 9mm Suomi submachine guns. The Suomi looked very much like the Russian PPD and utilized a large capacity drum magazine. Although the war ended with a predictable defeat of the Finns, the experience left quite an impression on the Russian military leaders. As a direct result of the “Winter War” against Finland, the Russians immediately began to take steps to get the submachine gun back into the hands of their troops.
Late in 1939 the Russian Supreme Military Council ordered the resumption of submachine gun production, and further ordered that the weapons be issued in large numbers to the Red Army. While still seeking ways to further improve the 34/38-pattern weapon, orders were received to design a large capacity magazine for the weapon. The result of the designer’s efforts was a 73 round capacity drum type magazine. The drum for the 34/38 had a short neck attached to the top, so that it could be adapted to the 34/38 without altering the weapon itself. The neck was necessary in order to reach the magazine well of the receiver through the forearm of the stock.
By February of 1940 Vasiliy Degtyarev had introduced yet another variation of his 34/38 design. The receiver and stock were redesigned so that the neck of the drum magazine could be eliminated. The new drum magazine had two short feed lips at the top; the one on the left was slightly shorter in order to clear the ejector that was mounted in the receiver. With the elimination of the neck, the capacity was reduced to 71 cartridges. The separate firing pin of the earlier design was replaced by a fixed pin, which was nothing more than a machined protrusion on the bolt face. Testing of the weapon exposed problems with the fixed firing pin design leading to a return to the original cam operated firing pin. The newly designed weapon was designated the PPD 1940 (Pistole Pulemyot Degtyarev). The PPD 1940 like its predecessors were designed before the technology and capacity for stamped sheetmetal weapons was fully developed. Like previous Russian weapons, all of the parts used in the PPD1940 were made of milled steel.
The PPD 1940 weighs 12 pounds with a loaded 71 round drum, and there was no box type magazine designed for the gun. Like many Soviet weapons, the barrel featured a chromed bore for easy cleaning when used with corrosive ammunition. The rear sight on the early models was a tangent style, calibrated for targets from 50 to 500 meters. PPD 1940 weapons manufactured in 1941 were fitted with a simple two-position (100 and 200 meter) “L” sight. The front site was adjustable for windage by drifting it from right or left as required. A detachable spring steel cover was designed to protect the front sight, but these were often lost and are usually missing from the weapons. The PPD1940 is a select fire weapon, the mode of fire is chosen by moving a paddle type lever located above the trigger guard. The paddle of the lever is stamped “1” for semi-automatic and “71” for full-automatic fire. The full auto rate of fire is an exhilarating 850-950 rounds per minute. The weapon’s safety was located on the cocking handle of the bolt. To operate the safety the bolt handle is aligned with a notch in the receiver and the safety slide pushed inward. The bolt can be locked to the rear or in the forward position. Although the well-known PPSh submachine gun was chosen in 1941 to supersede the PPD, the earlier PPD had a few advantages over the PPSh. The PPD ejected the spent cases out of the receiver’s right side, while the PPSh ejected them straight up directly in front of the operator’s face, often resulting in the hot brass hitting the shooter. The case ejection of both weapons is quite violent. The PPD 40 also had a wooden foregrip to protect the operator’s hand from an overheated barrel shroud.
In 1940 81,118 PPD 1940 submachine guns were manufactured. An additional 5,868 PPD 1940’s were produced in 1941 before the weapon was superseded by the PPSh 1941 submachine gun. While many Soviet bloc countries eventually manufactured the PPSh 1941 submachine guns, the PPD series were only manufactured in Russia.
Although transferable Russian PPD 1940 submachine guns are somewhat rare today, they are seen offered for sale from time to time. Even rarer are the original PPD 40 71-round drum magazines that are exclusive to the weapon. However, the inexpensive, and currently plentiful PPSh drums, can be readily adapted for the PPD 40. The conversion can be very easily accomplished by using a Dremel or similar tool and simply cutting a small notch in the rear of the left feed lip, to clear the ejector that is riveted inside the receiver. The 35-round PPSh stick magazines will also work in the PPD 40 when the left feed lip is similarly altered.
The drum magazines while fun to empty are, like most drum magazines, a pain to load. The PPD/PPSh drum must be wound before the cartridges are placed into it. To load push the button in the back of the drum housing, and at the same time push the latch on the front cover downward, and remove the cover. Now wind the rotor counter-clockwise until the follower is at the end of the cartridge track. The cartridges can now be placed into the track. After all 71 rounds are placed into the drum, replace the cover. Depress the button on the rear of the drum to place tension on the cartridges, and allow the retaining latch to be re-secured. The drum is now ready for use. Caution must be used while placing the cartridges into the drum, because of the spring tension on the follower. If the tension is inadvertently released while the drum is being loaded, the unwinding mechanism could cause some serious damage to your fingers.
Field-stripping of the PPD weapon is very basic and easy. First remove the magazine and visually inspect the weapon to insure that it is not loaded. Then simply unscrew the cap on the rear of the receiver and remove the recoil spring and bolt. If the receiver end cap is too tight, it is often necessary to remove the stock in order to get a sufficient grip on the cap that will allow you to remove it. To remove the stock, take out the two screws in the trigger guard. Rotate the fire-select lever so that the lever is facing outward, to allow the trigger guard to be removed. Turn the lever against the stock and remove the stock from the receiver. This will enable the rear receiver cap to be easily removed from the receiver.
The PPSh 1941 (Pistole Pulemyot Shpagin) SMG design that replaced the PPD series in 1941 was made from simple sheet metal stampings and could be manufactured very efficiently with a minimum of machine tools, and skilled labor. The wide scale use of the PPSh 41 in WWII eclipsed all earlier designs.
While the Russians had first shunned the submachine gun, they became the largest users of the weapons during WWII, with over six million issued. The submachine gun is often credited with having a great impact on repealing the German invasion of the Russian homeland in 1941-44. By the war’s end in 1945, images of triumphant Russian soldiers carrying submachine guns in Berlin became a lasting symbol of victory for the Russians.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N12 (September 2002)|