By Bob Campbell
The Russian Tokarev pistol was manufactured in the thousands by several nations, but few in America are familiar with the gun’s origins or performance. The pistol is more than a little reminescent of the M1911. Unlike most of the handguns based upon Browning’s design features, this pistol is a straightforward adaptation of earlier Browning designs. Fedor Tokarev knew Browning designs well. If the design is uninspired, remember that it works, and works well. The Soviet Union was slow to adopt a semiautomatic handgun, fielding the Nagant revolver well past the introduction of more efficient handguns. The Russians were so fond of the short Mauser broomhandle that its nickname, Bolo, came from the Bolsheviks. But the most common soldier’s sidearm was the Nagant.
Fedor Tokarev presented his pistol to the Revolutionary War Council in 1931. They ordered one thousand for testing and the rest is history. The pistol was known as the 7.62mm pistolet obrazets 1930 goda or 7.62mm 1930 Model. It is most often known simply as the TT 30. It was manufactured at Tula Arsenal. The pistol featured a large exposed burr-type hammer, high profile fixed sights, and a Browning swinging link. The pistol uses a separate barrel bushing, as does the M1911. If Tokarev was aware of Browning’s work on the High Power, in which angled camming surfaces replaced the M1911’s link and the barrel bushing was also dispensed with, he chose not to use them in his design.
The caliber of the new pistol has been subject to discussion. The service handgun at the time was a .30 caliber, and not a very strong one. The concept that the caliber was selected so that the same machinery could be used to rifle both pistol and rifle barrels is unlikely. It’s more plausible that the popularity of the Mauser pistol and stores of 7.63mm Mauser ammunition made the adoption of the Tokarev in caliber 7.62mm more acceptable. The Tokarev shot flat at longer range than the 7.63mm Mauser round and had plenty of penetration against soldier’s web gear. It would eventually prove an acceptable submachinegun cartridge.
The TT33 has always been given high marks for reliability and handling in service. The Soviets and most other Europeans regarded the pistol as a badge of office, used to direct troops and for personal protection. The Tokarev was as good as any. Only the High Power and the M1911 were superior among World-War-II service handguns. The TT33 gave good service during the Great Patriotic War. After the defeat of the Third Reich, Soviet satellite nations produced the pistol. Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and China produced the Tokarev in substantial numbers. When Egypt was in the thrall of the Soviets, the Tokegypt was manufactured in the old United Arab Republic. This pistol was exported as the Firebird. This pistol was a favorite of the Soviet sponsored terrorist band known as Baader Meinhoff. Carlos the Jackal preferred the CZ 52, but this German based gang preferred the 9x19mm Parabellum Tokarev.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the old Evil Empire was hungry for cash. The Chinese followed suit as each exported great quantities of pistols. Some are old, many unissued, and numerous special variants exist. I have seen a Chinese produced variant with a high capacity magazine. The most common modifiction, other than the simple rebarreling to 9x19mm Parabellum caliber, is the concession to the US ATF point system. Intended to preclude the importation of crude ‘Saturday Night Specials’, these points are given for each step toward becoming a ‘respectable’ handgun. Sights, safety, grips and other add-ons are graded. The Tokarev has been fitted with target grips, but most modifications are limited to the addition of a safety. These safeties can be found just behind the trigger guard or just at the rear of the frame. They lock either the trigger or the hammer. The version tested for this report featured a hammer blocking safety which moves in the opposite direction of the usual Browning safety. How does the Tokarev shoot? I selected a like new example in 9x19mm Parbellum for evaluation. The pistol was in excellent condition. Fit and finish were not up to the pistols I saw brought back from Vietnam, but it was more than acceptable. The pistol was purchased for less than $150. My RCBS trigger gauge showed that trigger compression broke at 6 pounds. The sights are large and easily acquired quickly.
I have fired the original type Tokarev and expected no surprises. I had found the pistol in its original caliber fed reliably, ven with handloaded soft point ammunition. I selected a number of full metal jacket rounds for this test firing session, and a number of hollowpoints. Some of these hollowpoints featured a rounded bullet oglive which has always fed in military 9mm pistols, even the Luger. The Tokarev would prove more difficult. I lightly lubricated the pistol with Birchwood Casey gun oil and began an evaluation. The initial rounds were Wolff surplus ammunition, in keeping with the budget theme of this pistol. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. I found the Tokarev comfortable to fire. The grip is slim and rounded, with no sharp corners. The pistol is heavy enough for a 9mm, and the pistol simply does not kick very much. Muzzle flip was light. The sights were well regulated for ball ammunition.
The Wolff ammunition was a surprise, more than worth its modest price. However, I was disappointed that the pistol would not feed hollowpoint ammunition. Even a special full metal jacket bullet, designed to expand, would not feed. It had a slight dimple in the nose. I sacrificed a magazine of my Lapua CEPP anti terrorist loads. The first bullet hung on the feed ramp. I hand fed this round. It fired and the others all fed, but this could not be counted on. Mark the Tokarev as suitable only for ball ammunition. I have polished and radiused the feed ramp on many 1911’s and could do the same on this pistol, but this is not something the average purchaser of an inexpensive pistol would wish to do.
As for accuracy, I fired several three inch seventy foot groups from the bench rest with Black Hills 124-grain ammunition. The heavy trigger was easy to manage off the bench. I would not expect I could do the same with only my arms as a platform. Just the same, the Tokarev handled smartly in combat drills. It was fast on target with little muzzle flip. It was easy to put a magazine in the X ring to ten yards. The Tokarev is easily reloaded in Browning/Colt fashion. As a must-have addition to the armory of the collector of military handguns, this gun is interesting and worthwhile. It can be fired safely and accurately and is pleasant to fire. It would not be a bad choice for introducing any shooter to center fire semi automatic handguns. As a defense gun, there are much better choices available for a few more dollars. The inefficient safety and an inability to feed hollowpoint ammunition make the 9mm Tokarev a poor choice for defense. Just the same, it is reliable and handles quickly. This is an interesting handgun well worth consideration by the handgun enthusiast of historical or practical bent.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N12 (September 2002)|
and was posted online on January 3, 2014