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Century Arms Tokarev M70A Review

by David Fortier   |  June 11th, 2013 18

Looking for a rugged, affordable 9mm pistol? You may want to consider Century Arms’ M70A Tokarev.

While chatting with the crew of Quantico Tactical in Junction City, Kansas I noticed a customer look confused as he came up to the firearms counter. He had good reason. The pistol cabinets were almost empty and the walls were bare. The continued panic buying had stripped the place of pistols and rifles. While the walls were usually covered in rifles and shotguns, only a Remington 700 and 870 hung there now. The pistol cases had also been ravished. “Are you guys packing for a move or something?” The puzzled customer asked. It took a bit for the staff to explain to him the extent of the recent panic buying spurred on by the Leftist anti-gunners and their attack on the Constitution. As I’m sure most Shotgun News readers are aware, there has been an unprecedented run on firearms, ammunition and magazines like this country has never seen before.

Due to this run on everything firearms related, I have been trying to tread a bit off the beaten path. Rather than writing up the latest Modern Sporting Rifle, which is likely backordered six months, I went searching for interesting deals which were actually available. On my quest I came across Century Arms recently introduced M70A Tokarev in 9x19mm Luger. A simple, durable and reliable piece in a popular and effective caliber, the M70A has a very interesting lineage. While manufactured at the world famous Serb arsenal of Zastava, its roots extend both East to Tula and West to Colt.

A quick examination of the M70A will reveal it’s a variant of the tough Soviet 7.62x25mm TT-33 Tokarev service pistol. But the foundation of the design predates Fedor V. Tokarev’s work by decades. In profile the TT-33 pistol closely resembles Colt’s highly popular Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. While not as small as the Colt Model 1903, the TT-33 is very thin and easy to carry with a short butt. Although outwardly similar to the Model 1903, internally the TT-33 is a relative of John Moses Browning’s much more famous Model 1911. It utilizes Browning’s distinctive short-recoil tilting barrel system of operation, right down to his swinging link. So, in some respects the design is straight Colt-Browning.

However, Fedor Vasilievich Tokarev certainly added his own distinctive touch to the design. He began working on this model in the 1920s as a possible replacement for the obsolete Model 1895 Nagant revolver. One of the Soviet Union’s most prominent small arms designers, Tokarev was born on June 2, 1871. At the age of 17 he was admitted to the Military Vocational School at Novocherkassk. Four years later he graduated as a Cossack noncommissioned officer and was assigned to the 12th Don Cossack Regiment as an armorer-artificer. At the age of 25 Tokarev returned to Novecherkassk as a Master Armorer Instructor and then applied to the Military Technical School. He graduated in 1900 at the age of 29, received his commission and returned to his Regiment as a Master Gunsmith. In the years that followed he would survive the Revolution and become a key small arms designer for the Soviet Union. Like all Soviet designers of this period, he was influenced by Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, although not to the extent Sergei Simonov was. Both his TT-30/33 pistol and SVT-38/40 self-loading rifle were adopted by the Soviet Union and fielded in large numbers.  For his work he received the Hero of Socialist Labor award in 1940. He also served as a deputy for the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1941 to 1950. He passed away in March of 1968 at the age of 96.

While Tokarev ‘borrowed’ some features from the Capitalist Browning, he did more than just copy. His design differs from Browning’s work in certain distinct areas. Most notable are the lock mechanism and safety arrangements. In Tokarev’s design the lock mechanism is ‘packaged’ in that the sear and hammer assembly are removed as a unit. This package also contains two machined guides which act as feed lips to aid reliability. The easily removable firing mechanism allows quick and easy cleaning and maintenance. Plus the machined guides make this design more tolerant of low quality or distorted magazines. Tokarev also ditched Browning’s extractor design. He replaced it with a simpler external extractor pinned in place. While people will argue with me, I feel this was an improvement. Safety-wise he departed from Browning, and the US Cavalry, and threw out not only the grip safety, but also the manual safety. The only safety the Soviet issue Tokarev possesses is a half-cock notch. These changes were less positive in my opinion.

Tokarev’s design performed well enough during trials to be adopted as the 7.62mm Samozaryadnyi Pistolet Tokareva obraztsa 1930 goda (7.62mm Tokarev self-loading pistol model 1930). Developed and produced at Tula Arsenal it became known as the Tula Tokarev 1930 or TT-30. However this model was quickly simplified and improved to become the TT-33. The TT-33 would go on to become the standard Soviet service pistol until replaced by the 9x18mm Pistol Makarov (PM) in the 1950s. It should be noted though that the long obsolete M1895 Nagant revolver remained in service, simply due to need, throughout World War II.

The TT-30/33 performed well during the border wars with Imperial Japan, the Winter War and World War II. It was easy to use and proved reliable even in the harsh conditions of the Eastern Front. While the TT-33 gave as good as it got standing toe to toe with the Wehrmacht’s P-38, it was replaced by a new double-action design after the war. However the TT-33 didn’t simply disappear after being replaced in Soviet service. Instead the Soviet’s shared the design with countries in their sphere of influence. Some of these, such as China, Poland, Romania, Hungry and Yugoslavia produced Tokarevs of their own.

While most countries simply made direct copies of the TT-33, the Yugoslav arsenal of Zastava tweaked the design a bit. Adopted by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) as the Md57, the most obvious difference is a longer grip frame. This makes the Md57 a bit more comfortable in the hand. The longer frame also adds a round to the magazine. So unlike the Soviet TT-33, which holds eight rounds in the magazine, the Md57 holds nine plus one in the chamber. The downside is this precludes using standard TT-33 magazines. Another departure from Tokarev’s original design is a one-piece guide rod. Plus, for whatever reason they also felt the need to add a magazine safety. The Md57 was fielded by the JNA until the break-up of Yugoslavia. It also saw widespread use during the chaos which followed. While an aging design by the 1990s, it still proved rugged, reliable and effective during the fighting and carnage of the civil war.

Today though finds the Md57 put out to pasture, with many available as surplus on the US commercial market. One nice feature, added to allow importation of these surplus pistols, is the addition of a 1911-type thumb safety. Built to a high standard, the 7.62x25mm Md57 is my favorite Tokarev to plink with. The only drawback to this model today is the lack of inexpensive 7.62x25mm ammunition. For a time, surplus 7.62x25mm ammunition was not only readily available but it was also incredibly inexpensive. Unfortunately those days are over. Surplus 7.62x25mm ammunition has dried up, and what is available is being scalped at prohibitive prices.

This is where the M70A really shines; it is chambered for the hugely popular 9x19mm cartridge. Basically the M70A is a 9x19mm variant of the Md57. But, it’s not just an Md57 with a 9mm barrel stuffed into it. There are a few changes to be aware of. Most notable is the slide mounted safety. While surplus Tokarev’s typically have manual safety devices added to them to allow importation, most are crude after thoughts. They are simply intended to get them into the country for resale. The M70A on the other hand has a usable slide mounted safety. While not quite ideal, it is very usable by a right handed shooter. In actual use it gives up nothing to the safety on a Beretta M9 service pistol. I had little problem quickly disengaging the safety with my thumb.

Rather than utilizing the standard 7.62x25mm magazines the M70A uses a dedicated 9x19mm magazine. This is slightly shorter (front to rear) than a Md57 magazine. Due to this a spacer has been added to the magazine well. What does this mean? Simply that you can’t use Md57 magazines in your M70A, or vice-versa. The Md57 and M70A are almost identical in other regards.

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