SMG: Russian PPSh-41

Russian PPSh41 Tilt

SMG PPSh-41 Manufacturer Various
Cartridge 7.62x25mm Overall Length 33.2″
Action Open Bolt, Blowback Barrel Length 10.6″
Magazine 35rnd stick, 71rnd drum Weight 8 lb


Perhaps the only Russian firearm more iconic than the Mosin-Nagant, the PPSh-41 appears in numerous prints, posters, and statues dedicated to the Great Patriotic War.  Let’s cover a few more details.

The trenches of WWI had spawned a real need for close automatic fire and subsequently we saw more military interest in a new class of weapon; the submachine gun.  Post war some countries embraced the concept while others abandoned it entirely.  For the most part, they were relegated to limited assault roles and as tank defenders.

Finland adopted the Suomi KP/-31, initially using it as a replacement for a light machine gun (and therefore developing a 71 round drum).  Winter War experience, however, would reveal just how useful it could be at close range, fast attack in wooded areas and against marching columns.  The Russians learned a painful lesson in its potential.

Before WWII the Soviet Union had already adopted a submachine gun derived from the Bergmann MP 28, this eventually evolved into the PPD-40.  While certainly capable among contemporaries, the Soviet Union was facing a world at war and needed to arm millions of troops quickly and effectively, while wasting as few resources as possible.  With a renewed interest in the SMG, it was time to pick up the pace.

Russian PPSh41 leftIn steps Georgy Shpagin, previously of the DShK 1938 heavy machine gun fame.  Using the then-advanced concepts of sheet steel pressings, he designed an open-bolt, blowback powered submachine gun which could be assembled quickly and easily by unskilled labor with little machining.  While bolts were milled, they would ride in a stamped steel trough set in the wood stock.  The receiver, barrel shroud, and much more were also pressed and then welded together.  The bolt buffer was even made of a simple leather washer!

Chambering the 7.62 Tokarev cartridge, it benefited from the TT-30’s ability to share time on Mosin-Nagant barrel making machinery.  Moreover, surplus Mosin barrels could be cut in half and shared between two of Shpagin’s guns.  The lighter cartridge also made recoil much more controllable, which would be a benefit for a gun approaching 1,000 rounds per minute.  Originally the sights were an adjustable leaf up to 500 meters, not unlike a rifle’s.  These were eventually replaced with a simple two position L-shaped sight marked for 100 and 200 meters.

Shpagin’s gun was also designed to be easily maintained.  It incorporated a hinge between the barrel shroud and receiver, allowing for easy cleaning.  The single recoil spring was set over a captive guide rod, helping prevent its loss.  Disassembly was simple, just push forward on the rear of the exposed metal and tip up.  With a simple safety which locks the bolt open from the handle and a stamped fire selector inside the trigger guard, this was a very user-friendly SMG.  It was adopted as the Pistolet Pulemjot Shpagina Model 1941.

Russian PPSh41 anatomyThe PPsh-41 proved to be a complete success.  Production figures were massive, with over 3,000 units assembled in a day.  Due to the German invasion, shortages were soon felt everywhere and so the new SMG, being faster to assemble than a rifle, would be issued to whole companies in need of small arms.   What they lacked in range and accuracy was made up for with sheer volume of fire.  First paired with a 71 round copy of the Finnish Suomi drum mag, this proved to be too thin-walled and easily damaged.  For a time more reliable 35 round stick magazines were substituted but by the end of the war a thick-walled drum made its return.  With the lighter 7.62x25mm cartridge, more ammo could be easily carried to the front line and distributed, rather quickly, into the enemy.

While the PPSh proved to be a problem for the Germans they were not above using it.  Large numbers were captured and reissued as the MP717(r) and some were even rechambered to 9mm Parabellum, becoming the MP41(r).  Guns were also dropped or otherwise distributed behind enemy lines to partisan units to good effect at very little cost.  Post-war the gun would be shared with Soviet satellites and allies.  Chinese and Korean copies would be used to great effect in jungle warfare during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During WWII another similar SMG of all metal construction would appear as the PPS-43.  This handy weapon supplemented but did not replace the PPSh-41.

From a construction stand point we tend to compare this Russian wonder to other simple, rapidly made SMGs like the STEN and M3 Grease Gun.  This is fair from a design-centric perspective, but culturally the Shpagin is better remembered by Russians in the same way Americans love the M1 Garand.  It was the soldier’s friend and, especially in the hands of millions of poorly trained troops, proved to be a direct tide-turner in the war.

Russian PPSh41 POV


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