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. In Part Two of our series we meet Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov who is part of the next generation of designers. Follow along for an interesting look at the evolution of Russian and Soviet automatic weapons- David M. Fortier.
While Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov was a true visionary, and grasped the entire concept of a complete weapons complex, his 6.5mm Avtomat fell short for a variety of reasons. His work and his writings though would heavily influence those who followed him, and he is still respected to this day by Russian small arms designers. One key player in the years following World War I was Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov (Russian: Сергей Гаврилович Симонов; 9 April 1894 – 6 May 1986). Simonov is a name familiar to most American shooters, and at the end of his career he competed directly with Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov. In the post-Russian Civil War years Simonov was the arch nemesis of Fedor Vasil'evich Tokarev who will be discussed in Part 3.
Born in 1894, Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov began work as a blacksmith and metal worker after completing his elementary school. By 1917, after completing a basic technician's course of instruction, he worked with Fyodorov’s team on his Avtomat. After the Russian Revolution, Simonov attended the Moscow Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1924 to work at the Tula Arsenal. By 1926 he had become a quality-control inspector at Tula, and by 1927, had been promoted into the Soviet Design and Development Department where he worked directly under Fyodorov.
In the years following the Russian Civil War the Red Army found itself armed with a myriad of domestic and foreign weapons in a variety of calibers. Realizing the need for standardization they removed the foreign designs and those not chambered in 7.62x54mmR from service. They chose to keep the 7.62x54mmR cartridge as standard out of necessity, and in doing so hung a millstone around their neck which remains to this day. Fyodorov’s 6.5mm Avtomat was pulled from service and put in storage, only to reappear when certain situations demanded it.
The specifications laid down by the Red Army Artillery Commission for the next generation semi-automatic rifles were impractical, calling for a weapon chambered for the standard 7,62mm Patron 1908g (7.62x54mmR) but weighing no more than 8.8 pounds and having a fifty round magazine. The magazine capacity requirement was soon reduced to twenty-five and later ten rounds.
In 1926, 1928 and 1930 tests were conducted with rifles submitted by the various designers. During this period Tokarev was working with a recoil operated system that used a recoiling barrel to unlock the bolt. It did not perform well in the tests and so in 1930 he set about designing a gas-operated rifle which showed greater promise. This was perfected by 1932 but Tokarev's hopes were dashed when a gas-operated rifle designed by Simonov was brought to the attention of the rifle testing commission.
Simonov's rifle was nominally adopted in 1936, not so much because of its superiority but because Simonov, a Communist Party member, adeptly used his political connections to get it approved over the protests of the testing commission and the other designers. Simonov's rifle was adopted in 1935 as the Avtomaticheskaya Vintovka Simonova obr. 1936g (Simonov Automatic Rifle Model 1936 or AVS36). It was a gas-operated rifle with a short-stroke piston whose bolt was locked by two asymmetrical locking flaps and a vertically sliding locking block. Interestingly, it was striker fired.
It was capable of both automatic and semi-automatic fire and the barrel was equipped with a large muzzle brake to reduce recoil. It used a detachable, charger loaded 15-round box magazine. It featured a conventional wooden stock and had a side mounted cleaning rod. Sights consisted of protected front post and a sliding rear tangent delineated from 100 to 1,500 meters. With an overall length of 48 inches, it was fairly long.
Service against the Japanese at the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol showed that the AVS36 was not a satisfactory design. The operating mechanism was too complicated, and the rifle's construction let dirt get inside the weapon which caused problems. The rifle was also very ammunition sensitive. Keep in mind, poor quality ammunition was typical during this period in time. The muzzle brake design proved to be a failure in reducing dispersion on full-automatic to an acceptable level. While it did aid greatly in reducing muzzle climb, the rifle still jackhammered around reducing hit probability, especially for a conscript, to unacceptably low levels. It was simply too much cartridge in too light of a rifle for effective use of its full-automatic capability. While Fyodorov had understood the need for an intermediate cartridge, this was lost on Soviet ordnance at this time. Production of the AVS36 was terminated in 1940 and a new design competition was held to which Simonov and Tokarev submitted their improved designs. Experience with the selective-fire 7.62x54mmR AVS36 would lead the Soviet’s to temporarily abandon Fyodorov’s concepts, and to focus on semi-automatic designs.
We will continue on our journey in Part Three by meeting Simonov’s arch rival, Fedor Vasil'evich Tokarev. We will also examine his SVT series of rifles. Read part 1 here.
Avtomaticheskaya Vintovka Simonova obr. 1936g Specifications
- Caliber: 7,62mm Patron 1908g
- Overall length: 48 in.
- Barrel length: 24 in.
- Weight: 9.6 lbs.
- Magazine: 55 round detachable box
- Rate of fire: 800 rpm
- Sights: front: hooded post; rear: U notch adj. from 100 to 1500 meters
- Bayonet: knife style with 10 in. blade