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Journey to the AK47 Part 1: The Fedorov Avtomat

Journey to the AK47 Part 1: The Fedorov Avtomat
Did you ever wonder what came before and influenced the design of the AK47? If so follow along in this series as we examine the important Soviet designers, like Fedor Vasil'evich Tokarev, who laid the groundwork for Kalashnikov.

In this series Paul Scarlata will be following the trail of the development of one of the most influential small arms designs of the 20th Century, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov’s (Russian: Михаи́л Тимофе́евич Кала́шников) famous AK47. Starting with the father of modern Russian and Soviet automatic weapons Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, he will examine the lineage of the important designers and their weapons which preceded the AK47. Follow along for an interesting look at the evolution of Russian and Soviet automatic weapons- David M. Fortier.

Fedorov Avtomat
A photo taken of Mikhail Kalashnikov and his Avtomat by Senior Field Editor David Fortier while on assignment in Russia in September 2001.

It is a little known fact that the first selective fire "assault rifle" or Avtomat to ever see combat was designed and manufactured in Russia. In 1906 Capt. Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov (also spelled Federov or Fedorov), an engineer at the Sestroretsk arsenal began work, assisted by Vasily Alekseyevich Degtyarev on a self-loading rifle. It needs to be understood that Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov was a usual man of great vision far ahead of his time. He conceived concepts for an advanced family of automatic weapons and cartridge which were far beyond his peers. Unfortunately he was a bit too far ahead of his time, and what Imperial Russia was capable of. Even so, he pressed ahead and was able to produce a very innovative “Avtomat”. This utilized a short recoil operating system and was chambered for a 6.5mm cartridge of his design. Trials in 1913 proved the feasibility of Fyodorov’s rifle but the outbreak of the war put the skids on further development.

Fedorov Avtomat
Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov (also spelled Federov or Fedorov) was a true visionary who laid the foundation and wrote the books for Soviet designers who came after him.

The Fedorov Avtomat is a selective fire, short-recoil operated, locked-breech weapon which fired from a closed bolt. The bolt locking is achieved by a hinge with dual lugs mounted at either side of the breech, latching barrel and bolt together. When the rifle was fired the barrel and bolt recoiled together about 10mm whereupon a cam in the bottom of the receiver tilted the dual lugs downward unlocking them from the bolt which continued rearward extracting and ejecting the fired case. A separate recoil spring pulled the barrel forward while the main recoil spring pulled the bolt forward feeding the next cartridge from the magazine chambering it. As the bolt went into battery the locking lugs hinged up, locking it in place.

The rifle was fitted with a detachable, 25 round magazine. Because the Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g (7.62x54mmR cartridge) proved too powerful Fyodorov chambered his rifle for a proprietary 6.5mm cartridge that propelled a 132 gr. FMJ spitzer bullet to 2145 fps.1 In 1916 the GAU instructed Fyodorov to begin production of his rifle. However instead of introducing an entirely new cartridge it was decided to chamber the rifle for the Japanese 6.5mm Type 30 cartridge. The Russians already had hundreds of thousands of Type 30 and 38 Arisaka rifles in this caliber in service, so ammunition was readily available. The rifle also used Arisaka-type sights, fittings and bayonet. The rifle was christened the Avtomat Fyodorov obr. 1916g and production was undertaken at the Kovrov Arms Factory.

Fedorov Avtomat
The Avtomat Fyodorov obr. 1916g was the first true ‘assault rifle’ to see combat. Note the curved 25-round magazine, forward vertical grip and ventilated metal handguard.

The first combat use of the obr. 1916g took place on the Romanian front in late 1916 where a special team of the 189th Izmail'skiy Regiment of the 48th Infantry Division were armed with forty-five Fyodorov obr. 1916g automatic rifles. Small numbers were used on other fronts and during the ensuing Revolution and Civil War.

When the Russian Revolution erupted in 1917 Fyodorov threw his lot in with the Reds who ordered him to produce 25,000 of his rifles. The chaos the revolution caused to Russia's industrial base led to constant problems and by the time the GAU ordered production ended in 1925 only slightly more than three thousand Avtomats had been produced. Reportedly, tactically the Russians/Soviets considered the obr. 1916g more of a light machine gun than a rifle and even some water cooled guns were produced in an attempt to increase firepower.2  

The obr. 1916g made a brief reappearance during the Russo-Finnish War (1939-1940) when the Soviets reissued a small number of them. These went to special purpose troops who could put them to best use. Little has been heard of them since.

Fedorov Avtomat
While the Avtomat Fyodorov obr. 1916g first saw combat during World War I it saw service in several wars that followed and is seen here during the Winter War of 1940.

In the late 1920s the Red Army began a program of modernization and standardization of its weapons. The obr. 1891g (Mosin-Nagant) was updated with a simpler receiver, shorter barrel and new sights adjustable in meters. Known as the 7,62mm Vintovka obr. 1891/30g it was the standard long arm of the Red Army through the end of WWII supplemented by a pair of carbines, the 7,62mm Karabin obr. 1938g and 1944g.

But the search for a practical semi-automatic rifle continued. While Fyodorov would write what became the Bible for Soviet small arms designers it was the next generation which were soon busy developing semi and full-automatic rifles and then submachine guns. Names such as Degtyarev, Simonov, Kolesnikov, Tokarev and Konovalov would enter the history books. After a series of trials Simonov and Tokarev's designs seemed the most promising.

Keep in mind though; Fyodorov didn’t simply disappear from the scene with the demise of his rifle. He authored a number of scientific works on the history, design, production and combat use of small arms. He was appointed a small arms consultant at Narkomat and with the Ministry of Arms from 1942 until 1946. He was a member of the Academy of Artillery Sciences from 1946 until 1953. His influence on Soviet automatic weapons designers cannot be understated, and men such as Vasily Degtyaryov, Georgi Shpagin and Sergei Simonov were taught by him. Yevgeny Fyodorovich Dragunov proudly stated, “I am a student of Fyodorov!” and always kept one of his books on his work desk.

As a side note, Fyodorov was so forward thinking he recognized the 7.62x39mm cartridge to be a dead-end, and argued for a high velocity small bore cartridge to be adopted in its place. He was proved correct in his assessment when the 5.45x39mm M74 cartridge was eventually adopted in 1974, but I get ahead of our story.

In Part Two of this series we will meet Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov who worked with, and was influenced by Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov. Plus, we will continue on the trail of the AK47 by examining his Avtomaticheskaya Vintovka Simonova obr. 1936g (Simonov Automatic Rifle Model 1936 or AVS36) automatic rifle.  


Avtomat Fyodorov obr. 1916g Specifications

Caliber: 6.5mm Type 30
Overall length: 40.9 in.
Barrel length: 20.5 in.
Weight: 9.6 lbs.

2   Bolotin, D.N. Soviet Small Arms & Ammunition. Finnish Arms Museum Foundation, Helsinki, 1995. Pages 128 - 133.

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