On a cold and damp Kentucky morning, the author fires an MP41(r) converted from a beautiful Korean-war era Polish PPSh41.
By Chuck Madurski
Chronically short of small arms to issue to troops for a variety of reasons, the German Army often reissued captured weapons when available in quantity. Due to their early battlefield successes on the Eastern Front, they captured fairly large quantities of Soviet arms, among these the PPSh41 submachine gun. These were highly favored by German troops for its large magazine capacity when equipped with a 71-round drum magazine as well as its powerful ammo and rugged construction.
As is typical in warfare, when weapons are captured, ammunition is too. Captured PPSh41 submachine guns were issued to German troops and their allies as the MP717(r) in its original chambering of 7.62×25 (7.62 Tokarev). A bit later, if not simultaneously, a 9mm conversion was developed for the PPSh by the Germans. The nomenclature for this version was MP41(r). One obvious reason is the logistical nightmare of trying to supply several different calibers and loads to the troops in the field. Double that effort when one considers that German industry was not going to load the 7.62×25, so all ammunition for issue would likely have come from captured stocks. In one scenario the ammo is captured, brought to the rear areas for accounting and redistribution, and then shipped back to the soldiers actually using the arm, all the while consuming precious fuel and space on trucks, etc. If the captured ammo is simply kept at the front and re-issued, one hoped the ammo was captured near the users of the foreign made weapons. This would not work very well either.
Additionally, war being the chaotic, split-second decision making activity that it is, sometimes something as simple as an outline or profile is all one needs to open fire at a moment’s notice. The PPSh has a unique profile; its outstanding feature to an observer being the shape of the magazine protruding from the bottom of the weapon. This is so whether a drum or, especially, the curved stick magazine is in place. It is entirely plausible that German soldiers could open fire on other forces fighting on their side at a distance simply because of the profile of their magazines. Since the German-developed 9mm conversion for the PPSh uses the MP38/MP40 9mm magazine, it makes the submachine gun look quite unlike the Soviet PPSh. From afar, it may even look somewhat like the Hugo Schmeisser designed MP41, considering the wood stock and straight magazine.
The Conversion Kit
Long time SAR readers may recall an article about a very rare original 9mm converted PPSh41 back in the March, 1998 issue (Vol. 1, No. 6). In that article, author Frank Iannamico detailed that the German conversion consisted of a 9mm barrel and a removable magazine well that used MP38/MP40 magazines. Available from InterOrdnance, as well as various vendors at the larger machine gun oriented gun shows, the reproduction kit under review here is made in the same manner as the originals, which makes it a very simple and reversible conversion. Further, this is not meant to be solely an expedient way to convert a PPSh to fire the ubiquitous 9mm Parabellum cartridge, but it is an historical item as well. The magazine adapter is made to accept MP38/MP40 magazines, just like the originals, instead of something more common such as the Sten mag or some other single feed submachine gun magazine. Also, the adapter has several markings on it attempting to make it look like original Nazi issue. On the right side is stamped the weapon nomenclature MP41(r), and on the left side there is a manufacturer code and a date (44) along with an ersatz Waffenampt that, while stamped deeply, is nearly impossible to decipher. Probably for the best, but it does add a little to make it appear more authentic.
Fitting the Parts to Your Gun
The barrel provided is unmarked as to origin or chambering, though a box of conversion barrels were seen at Knob Creek and little bits of paper in the box said “Made in Bulgaria.” The barrel is fully chambered and blued and only needs to be fitted to the gun. This is a relatively simple task. First the diameter of the barrel near the chamber must be reduced from its (thankfully) slightly oversize condition to fit into the trunnion of the gun. This is quickly accomplished by spinning the barrel by hand lightly against a one inch belt sander and test fitting until it slid in with only a little force. Due to the construction and method of operation of the PPSh, true precision is not required here – but you don’t want the barrel loose enough to the point it has any discernable movement when in place.
The final step in fitting the barrel is cutting the notch for the hinge pin, which not only couples the receiver with the stock assembly but also retains the barrel in the gun. Pay attention here. The original 7.62×25 ammunition for the PPSh is a bottleneck round and feeds quite easily, therefore the barrel only has a rounded edge leading to the chamber instead of a feed ramp of any kind. This has several advantages, chief of which is that, when originally manufactured, no mind needed to be paid to the orientation of the barrel when the notch for the hinge pin was cut. It also allows a barrel to be reused and fitted to different guns too since the barrel can simply be rotated when fitted to a new gun, and a new notch cut. Not so with the 9mm barrel. Being a straight walled cartridge, the system requires a feed ramp to ensure reliable feeding. When the notch for the hinge pin is cut, attention should be paid to the rotational orientation of the barrel, making sure the feed ramp is positioned properly at the bottom.
The makers of this kit manufactured their parts to require fitting, which is preferable to having parts oversize and unable to function correctly. Considering the various countries that made PPSh submachine guns and their sometimes casual regard to tolerances, this was a wise decision. Not only will the magazine well adapter need fitting to the lower receiver and stock assembly, but in this case, the well itself needed several minutes of filing to allow the MP38/MP40 magazines to fit in the fore-aft direction. Side to side fit was fine. Due to the tightness of the mag well, the much more plentiful and cheaper Belgian Verignon magazines are not able to be used in this example. However, if one wants to open the mag well up even more, they can probably be made to work, though at the possible loss of functionality with the original German magazines.
In fitting the mag well to the lower receiver/ stock assembly, the only area that required attention was the ramped rib on the rear which is engaged by the original mag catch. Make sure to maintain the same slope to the surface while filing to fit. The rest of the mag well is a snug, but not too tight fit in the gun.
How Does it Shoot?
A blustery spring day at the Knob Creek Range was scene for trying out this historical recreation. After firing several 32- round magazines and passing it around to fellow shooters for a test drive, a few trends were noted. First, the cyclic rate is noticeably slower. Where the stock PPSh is known for a fairly high rate of fire at around 900 rpm, the 9mm converted gun seemed to be in the 700-750 range. It was also considerably easier to hold the gun still and keep the sights on target while firing long bursts. Though the 9mm typically fires a heavier projectile, it is launched at a much lower velocity with less pressure. In the heavy PPSh, this makes for a sweet, easy to shoot platform. It was definitely a crowd pleaser and led directly to several more sales of conversion kits in the pole barn that weekend.
The question often posed is, why convert? Especially using these parts and expensive MP38/MP40 magazines. Many PPSh owners will say they only need a 9mm barrel and are then successful in using original 7.62×25 drums and sometimes even the curved stick magazines. That is great, and satisfies one of the answers as to why. The full answer being, though, at the moment 7.62×25 ammunition is readily available and in most cases more affordable than 9mm: the Parabellum round is easily the most common centerfire pistol and smg cartridge. Certainly, eventually, supplies of 9mm will far outstrip those of the old Tokarev round; it is only a matter of time. Further, the conversion turns the PPSh into a different, calmer shooting experience. Lastly, this is an historical copy of a unique adaptation and use of a captured weapon from a desperate time long ago.
Where to get it:
Inter Ordnance I.O. Inc,
3305 Westwood Industrial Drive Monroe, NC 28110(866) 882-1479
Barrels may be available separately, call and ask
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N2 (November 2007)|