September 02, 2020
By David M. Fortier
I’m hardly a big guy, but it took a bit to squeeze myself into the driver’s seat of the BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) we were training on. Like most Soviet designed armored vehicles, it was cramped. I checked all the gauges, and then turned my attention back to my driving instructor. He was sitting on top of the hull just to the right of my hatch. He signaled to get moving, so I released the parking brake and played with the balky shifter until it snapped into 1st. The manual gear shift lever on a BMP-1 is located on the steering column and it reminded of an old “Three on the Tree” manual shift lever from an American 1960s car or truck. Bringing the RPMs up, I eased the clutch out and we were off and headed down the tank trail at Excalibur Army’s facility in the Czech Republic. During our time at Excalibur Army my partner Joe Kriz and I had the opportunity to see dilapidated Polish Army surplus BMP-1’s torn down to the bare hull, and completely overhauled and refurbished to like new condition. We had gone through the entire process, including watching them test fire and zero the 73mm main gun and coaxial 7.62x54mmR machine gun before heading to the driving range.
After navigating a variety of terrain I had a new-found respect for the old Soviet IFV. While no longer state of the art, it is very fun to drive. I had also noted how ineffective it would be to try to fire an AKM from the rear gun ports while buttoned up and at speed over rough terrain. Climbing in and out of the driver’s and commander’s compartments, as well as the turret also indicated why the Polish military developed a compact submachine gun, the PM-63 RAK, in the 1960s for armored vehicle crewman.
The 9x18mm PM-63 RAK is perhaps most accurately described as a type of early Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). With its folding vertical grip and collapsing stock the PM-63 is not much larger, or heavier, than a machine pistol. Capable of being carried in a hip holster, the PM-63 could be worn like a conventional large service pistol. However, if it suddenly needed to be put into action it would be far more effective with its stock and full-automatic capability than a typical service pistol of its time. It was a weapon built for a specific purpose.
The truth be known, I have always had a fetish for machine pistols and similar size Personal Defense Weapons. I just find them…interesting. Something about their compact nature combined with their ability to unleash a hail of lead on full-automatic. While often not the most practical weapons in the world, they were typically designed with a specific purpose in mind. So I was intrigued by the Polish PM-63 RAK the first time I had a chance to examine and handle one. It was engaging targets on the range though where the PM-63 really impressed me. I can still remember the first time I fired one and thinking to myself, “I’ve got to get one of these!”
While an original selective-fire model may never reside in my collection, Interarms and Pioneer Arms of Radom Poland have worked together and recently introduced a semi-automatic version of this Polish PDW. The result of their work, the PM-63C, is a wonderful piece for collectors, history buffs and shooters alike. Chambered in the original 9x18mm Makarov, the PM-63C is built on a new receiver using some original and some new manufactured components. I knew many of our readers would be very excited about this introduction, so Firearms News managed to obtain the first example in the US. I hope you enjoy the first look.
The PM-63C pistol is manufactured by Pioneer Arms of Poland. The company is located about 100 kilometers south of Warsaw in the city of Radom. Founded in 1340, Radom lies on the Mleczna River in the Masovian Voivodeship. The city’s main claim to fame is for its small arms production, both pre and post-World War II at Fabryka Broni’s (Arsenal 11) sprawling facility. Fabryka Broni is much smaller today than during the Cold War years and has moved into a new facility. Pioneer Arms’ headquarters and manufacturing facility is actually in some of the original Fabryka Broni buildings inside the original grounds of the 1920s facility.
A modern forward thinking company, Pioneer Arms was founded by Michael Michalczuk originally to produce high quality side-by-side shotguns for cowboy action competition. While these were well received, and remain a favorite of Michalczuk, the company eventually went in a different direction. Today their primary business is manufacturing military small arms, including selective-fire Kalashnikov rifles, for the export market. Military sales were their sole focus for a number of years, but late in 2017 they re-entered the US commercial market. They did this by setting up a US subsidiary in Florida and offering a clone of another famous submachine gun, the World War II Soviet PPS-43. Pioneer Arms’ semi-automatic 7.62x25mm PPS-43C pistol has proven very popular with both history buffs and recreational shooters and they followed it up by introducing a line of Kalashnikovs.
Following the success of the PPS-43C pistol Pioneer Arms began working on a new project. After carefully examining the design they decided to build a semi-automatic version of the PM-63 RAK. They had ready access to a few thousand excellent condition originals which could be used for parts to make the project feasible. The major hurdle would be designing and manufacturing an entirely new lower receiver. Before I delve too far into the PM-63C though, let’s take a brief look at the original selective-fire PM-63 adopted and fielded by the Polish Army, police forces and commando units.
The 9x18mm PM-63 (Pistolet Maszynowy wz. 1963 or submachine gun model 1963) is a distinctly Polish design. It was developed after licensed production of the traditional World War II designs, such as the 7.62x25mm PPS-43, had ceased in 1955. In the late 1950s the Polish Army saw the need for a light and very compact defensive weapon for rear-echelon troops, vehicle crews and specialty troops. Basically they were looking for a PDW. Warsaw University of Technology responded by proposing a machine pistol as a solution. Now, keep in mind short barrel AKs like the AKS-74U did not yet exist. Plus, it had only been a few years since Waffen SS troops had fielded 7.63x25mm Mauser M712 Schnellfeuer machine pistols on the Eastern Front. Plus, the Soviet Union had recently developed a modern machine pistol of their own in the form of the 9x18mm APS Stetchkin to perform a similar function. Their idea was subsequently developed into a selective-fire ultra-compact submachine gun operated by straight blowback.
Development on this model was begun by Piotr Wilniewczyc at the Warsaw University of Technology. However, he lost a fight with cancer and passed away in 1960. With his passing development of the design was taken over and completed by a team of engineers. To make the design more suitable for production another team at Radom (R. Chelmicki and E. Durasiewicz) further refined it. The new model was submitted for military trials in 1964 and after successful completion of these went into series production from 1967 until 1977. There were a number of small refinements made to it during its life cycle based upon field experience. These included refining the magazine release lever to prevent accidentally dumping the magazine, a simplification of the stock design, extractor and recoil spring assembly and a redesign of the rate reducing mechanism. In all approximately 77,000 pieces were produced.
The PM-63 is very different from the World War II vintage pm wz.43 (Polish built PPS-43). The PPS-43 is a full-size submachine gun developed to be extremely cost efficient and simple to produce. The PM-63 on the other hand is akin to a machine pistol and produced using traditional manufacturing techniques. Due to the machining operations involved the PM-63 was a relatively expensive piece to produce. This eventually led the Polish Army to search for a less expensive and easier to produce alternative.
What I find interesting is that it utilizes a conventional slide like a standard pistol, but fires from the open bolt position. So the slide is to the rear when the piece is ready to fire, which looks a bit odd. The design is chambered for the Soviet 9x18mm cartridge and it incorporates an effective rate reducing device. This reduces the rate of fire down from approximately 840 rpm to just 600 rpm. A notable reduction on a weapon of this type, it makes the piece relatively easy to control and hit with. This is a useful feature as machine pistols are traditionally very hard to control due to very high cyclic rates. To further increase the weapon’s hit probability a simple compensator is included in the design. This device can also be used to cock the weapon using just one hand. Pressing the compensator firmly against a hard surface will push the slide to the rear.
The PM-63 is very light weighing in at just 3.5 pounds. With the stock extended overall length is just 23 inches. Collapse the stock and this reduces to just 13.1 inches. Barrel length is 5.9 inches and the design features a chrome plated bore with a 1-10 inch twist. Feed is from either 15 or 25-round detachable box magazines. The rear sight features two settings, for 75 or 150 meters. To provide a bit more to hold onto a folding vertical grip is also incorporated into the design. This folds neatly out of the way when not required. Muzzle velocity of ball ammunition is approximately 1,150 fps.
Light and compact, the PM-63 was issued to Polish Army truck drivers, armored fighting vehicle crews, military police and Special Forces. Small quantities were also exported. East Germany purchased a quantity for issue to their Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of State Security, Stasi. Vietnam also fielded quantities and China captured a small number from Vietnamese tank crews during their war in 1979. These were later copied by Norinco and offered for export sale.
I thoroughly enjoy an opportunity to spend time on the range with the PM-63. It is an extremely fun piece to shoot. Very compact and light, you would think it would be like trying to hold onto a scalded cat. However thanks to the stock, vertical grip, compensator, rate reducer, low rate of fire and 9x18mm cartridge it is shockingly easy to control. The progressive trigger design makes firing single-shots easy. Press the trigger all the way to the rear and the piece chugs away on full-automatic putting rounds where you want them. With the 15-round magazine, while very compact, the fun ends much too soon. If there’s shooting to be done, the 25 rounder is much to be preferred. All in all it is a darling to shoot.
With this in mind, I was very interested to get my hands on the new PM-63C pistol. It arrived with a Polish military holster, 15 and 25-round magazine and an oil bottle. Original Polish Army surplus accessories are readily available from a number of companies, so I ordered three more 25-round magazines, magazine pouch, cleaning kit and sling from Apex Gun Parts (ApexGunParts.com). These all arrived in excellent condition and I was very pleased with the quality. Next I rummaged around and pulled out some Wolf Performance Ammunition and CCI 9x18mm ammunition. It was time to have some fun!
Out of the box the PM-63C looks just like the original. Pick it up and it looks and feels just like a Polish Army issue PM-63. However, due to it being a pistol the stock is spot welded shut and the vertical grip does not unfold. The basic design of the pistol has also been altered to make it fire from the closed bolt position. A simple firing mechanism now sits in the rear of the receiver. The rest of the piece looks true to the original and original slides complete with the original markings are utilized. Mine was dated 1970 and produced by Factory 11 in Radom.
Feed is from double-column single-position steel magazines. These are very nicely designed and manufactured. Being single-feed I was initially worried they would be hard to load to capacity but that was not the case. The magazine release is easy to reach on the butt of the pistol similar to the famous Israeli UZI. The safety is located on the left side of the receiver and is easy to reach and manipulate. Up is Safe and down is Fire.
Heading out on the range for a quick function check I immediately noticed three things. The first is the rear sight is a very small “U” notch, and like the original is a bit hard to use if you have middle-aged eye-sight as I do. The second is the trigger is surprisingly good. It is light and while it has some creep it breaks cleanly. The third is it is a very fun piece to shoot. I did some quick shooting at 25 yards and noticed it was shooting a couple inches to the right and a bit high. Checking the rear sight I noted it was on the 150 meter setting, so I flipped it to the 75 meter setting and tried again. This brought the point of impact down where it needed to be.
Moving to the bench I proceeded to fire groups at 50 yards. Four five shot groups were fired with the two loads. Accuracy proved quite acceptable despite the sights being a bit of a challenge. The CCI 95-grain FMJ load averaged 5 inches while the Wolf Performance Ammunition 94-grain FMJ load averaged 5.2 inches. Impressed, I moved to shooting on steel silhouettes. Starting at the 25 yard line I worked my way back to 100 yards. The PM-63C proved a lot of fun with zero issues encountered. It functioned flawlessly and rang steel at 25, 50 and 75 yards without issue. Firing offhand at 100 yards required a bit more concentration, but if you did your part the PM-63C whacked steel with a nice “thwok”.
Next I ran some drills, including from the holster just for fun. The pistol was intended to be carried in the holster with the 15-round magazine inserted, to prevent the longer magazine from catching on things. While it’s no quick draw rig, the Cold War era piece performed fine. I had zero issues with the safety, magazine changes were straight-forward and easy and the slide locks back on the last round. Recoil is mild and it’s an easy pistol to control. The relatively light trigger aids making hits and has a nice reset.
When your day is done the PM-63C is very easy to strip. Just check to ensure the pistol is empty and remove the magazine. There are two witness marks on the slide and one on the frame. Retract the slide to line these up and place the safety on. Next rotate the barrel to disengage it. Release the safety and the slide can be slide forward and lifted off the frame. The recoil spring and guide rod can now be removed as can the barrel. Reassembly is the reverse.
Will the PM-63C appeal to everyone? No. However, collectors and those who dig classic Combloc firearms and military firearms in general will appreciate it. It is nicely executed, reliable and very fun to shoot. I was curious to see how well the design would actually function and was a bit surprised when it gave zero issues of any kind during testing.
Pioneer Arms states that the magazines for the original PM-63 submachine guns were adjusted at the factory and serial numbered to the gun. I was told that they are function checking to ensure the included magazines are properly fit to the PM-63C, but that surplus magazines might need their feed lips tweaked for proper function. I was interested to see if I ran into any problems, but the three 25-round mags I purchased from Apex all fit and functioned without issue.
Another group who will really like the PM-63C is those who are willing to register it and legally turn it into a Short Barrel Rifle. This allows you to make the stock and vertical grip functional.
With these two simple additions the fun goes to another level and turns the piece into something much more practical and effective. It would be the route I would go.
Pioneer Arms PM-63C Specs
- Caliber: 9x18mm Makarov
- Operation: Blowback
- Barrel: 5.9 inches, chrome-lined with 1-10 inch twist
- Overall Length: 13.1 inches
- Feed: 15 and 25-round dual-column single-feed detachable box
- Weight: 3.5 pounds without magazine
- Sights: Unprotected front blade, Flip rear with “U” notch for 75/150 meters
- Furniture: Black polymer
- MSRP: $1,499
Pioneer Arms PM-63C Accuracy and Velocity