October 06, 2021
The machine pistol is a platypus among weapons. It isn’t really a handgun and it isn’t really a submachine gun. It incorporates elements of both. In appearance it resembles a large pistol, but one capable of full-auto fire, though sometimes only in 3-shot bursts. Generally, it has a holster that also functions as a stock. The holster stock is usually designed to be more effective as a shoulder stock than as a holster, normally being longer than a typical holster and fabricated of polymer or, in cases such as the Mauser 712 “Schnellfeuer”, in wood. The pistol is larger than a typical combat autoloader, perhaps with a greater magazine capacity. Even with the stock attached, most machine pistols are hard to control on full auto.
Conventional wisdom is that in most situations either a good combat handgun or a true submachine gun would be more effective. I agree. I’ve had occasion to fire most of the machine pistols that have seen use during the 20th and 21st Century and have concluded that many are interesting, but few are especially effective. I will grant, however, that the Russian Avtomatichekiy Pistolet Stechkina (APS or simply Stetchkin) is better than the other machine pistols I’ve used. I’ll discuss my reasons for preferring the APS later, but first let me give a bit of its history.
There had actually been an experimental Soviet machine pistol designed by Fedor Vasilyevich Tokarev during the 1920s, but it had proven a dead end. Development of the APS took place at approximately the same time as the 9x18mm Makarov PM service pistol. It was designed by Igor Yakovlevich Stechkin, an engineer at the Tula arsenal. After initial trials of the prototype APS machine pistol, it was redesigned to incorporate many features of the Makarov, including the silhouette, which makes it appear to be a PM on steroids. The slide rails, extractor and take down procedure also owe a debt to the PM. Like the PM, the APS is chambered for the 9x18mm Makarov cartridge.
The mission of the APS was similar to that of today’s PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). It was intended to be issued to vehicle operators, artillery crews, armored crews, radio operators, DShK heavy machine gun crews, some line officers and others who needed a weapon with more range and firepower than a pistol, but was more convenient to carry than a rifle. Basically, it was intended as a defensive weapon for those who were not riflemen.
The APS uses a blowback design and is select fire. The selector has three positions “PR” (safe), which requires the switch to be pushed all the way upwards to the 9 o’clock position; “OD” (single-shot/semi-auto), which requires the switch to be rotated downward to about 6:30 o’clock, and “AVT” (full auto) which requires the switch to be rotated to about 3 o’clock. The “PR” setting also acts as a de-cocker, allowing the hammer to fall safely if the switch is moved to this position when the hammer is cocked. Unlike many machine pistols, on the APS, “full auto,” means full auto. When the trigger is pulled it will continue firing until the 20-round magazines is empty. Speaking of the 20-round magazines, a magazine loader would be highly desirable, as loading a full 20-rounds without one requires quite a bit of effort. If there was a standard Soviet mag loader for the APS, I have never seen one. APS pistols were normally issued with five magazines, one with the pistol and four additional ones in a leather mag pouch.
The APS’s barrel is chrome-lined, a useful feature as corrosive 9x18mm rounds may be encountered. The recoil spring is around the barrel in Walther PP/PPK fashion. In fact, takedown is similar to the PP/PPK. To make the APS easier to control on full auto, its slide travels a longer distance than on typical automatic pistols, thus slowing the slide as it moves rearward and lessoning the jolt when it meets the frame. In addition, there is a lever that helps reduce cyclic rate and slows the opening of the slide, and there is a plunger that delays the hammer dropping after the slide locks forward. Chambering for the 9x18mm cartridge, as opposed to the 9x19mm Parabellum also makes it somewhat easier to control on full automatic.
Early APS stocks were fabricated of wood, but they were later produced of polymer. A sling/strap may be affixed to the holster stock to allow it to be slung with the pistol inside or with the pistol attached to the stock ready for use. The APS’s back strap is slotted to allow insertion of the stock lug to lock it in place. A lever locks it in place, or releases it for removal after use.
Making the APS easier to use as a conventional pistol if so-desired, the trigger is of DA/SA design. This also adds an extra level of safety when the selector is set on full auto, as trigger pull for the first round will be heavier. After the last round is fired, the APS’s slide locks open; however, the bottom “heel style” magazine release does not make for rapid reloads. After a mag change, there is a slide release button that can be hit to run the slide forward. As the APS was designed to give its user more range than a standard pistol, the rear sight is a dial offering the ability to select 25, 50, 100 or 200-meter settings.
The APS was only produced from 1951 to 1955 (though I have seen sources stating production continued until 1958); however, in the period 1972-1973, approximately 2,000 were converted to the suppressed APB version. The APB has seen substantial use among Soviet and later Russian Special Forces units. Instead of the standard holster stock, the APB was issued with a wire stock, to which the detachable suppressor could be clipped for storage.
The APS has remained popular with special units such as the OMON, SOBR, GRU Spetsnaz and FSB Spetsnaz such as Alpha and Vympel. At least some 9th Directorate KGB bodyguards carried the APS because it offered greater magazine capacity and better accuracy at longer ranges. In an attack by multiple assailants, they could also switch it to full auto and fire bursts. One former KGB bodyguard I knew had carried the APS in a shoulder holster with at least two spare magazines under his other arm. He told me he also carried additional magazines in his overcoat, briefcase, or wherever he could stash them. Normally, he didn’t worry about the shoulder stock, but he did say that on some missions he had it available for use when standing post around a residence, dacha, etc.
He is a big, strong guy and without the stock mounted had learned to fire controlled 3-5 round bursts on targets to 10 meters. I have tried this drill as well and found that by leaning into the pistol, firing bursts I can keep all 20 rounds of a magazine on a silhouette target at 10 yards. I have also tried this with a Glock 18 and managed almost as well. The APS’s 9x18mm chambering lessons recoil and muzzle rise a bit, while the Glock’s polymer frame seems to absorb recoil to some extent. I did find that the APS’s larger grip allowed me to hold it on target better firing bursts than did the Glock 18’s grip.
Using the shoulder stock, firing bursts, I can normally keep a full magazine on a silhouette target or only drop a couple of shots. Using the stock and firing on semi-auto, good accuracy can be attained to 50-yards. I have to admit I’ve only tried the APS at 100 meters once and didn’t do that well. Firing prone I scored a few hits. However, my Russian contact, who used his APS when working on security details with the 9th Directorate, told me he had practiced with it at 200 meters and scored some hits, I don’t know how many “some” equaled. When doing the tests for this article a friend and I fired 5-shot semi-auto groups at 50 yards that ranged between four and six inches. As the APS or APB is used by some Russian units with a hostage rescue mission, we fired a pair of double taps at 50 yards into the head of a hostage taker target as well.
One of the most interesting aspects of the APS and APB are that they have remained popular with some of the most elite Russian units. As of a few years ago, FSB Alpha, the premier Russian counter-terror unit still used the APB during aircraft assaults because of its handiness in close quarters. GRU Spetsnaz, or other operatives, has been found posing as international truckers to get close to NATO installations. In some cases an APS or APB was found hidden in their trucks. Spetsnaz advisors in various countries have been seen carrying an APS in a conventional hip holster. In fact, in Russia an array of combat holsters is available, including canvas ones in current Russian camo patterns.
Carrying the APS as a tactical pistol isn’t that outlandish if it is considered that the Colt 1911 is 8.2 inches in overall length and has a loaded weight of 3 pounds. The APS is only .5 inch longer and fully loaded is slightly lighter than the Colt 1911. Plus, the Russian operator carrying an APS gets 20+1 magazine capacity and full-auto capability.
According to one Russian source, some Russian snipers choose the APS as their close defense weapon rather than an AKSU or AKS74. Remember that the SVD is a self-loading rifle with a 10-round magazine capacity and the VSS suppressed sniping rifle is also a self-loader with either a 10 or 20-round magazine. These rifles can be used for defense of the hide more effectively than a bolt-action sniping rifle, so the compact APS suffices as a useful companion pistol.
In my own experience with the APS, I’ve found it a reasonable compromise between firepower and size. Remember, the Stechkin was a DA/SA/Select Fire, high-mag-capacity pistol available in the early 1950s, years before the later Wonder Nines. For use in a machine pistol, the 9x18mm Makarov round proved a fortunate choice. It still provided a cartridge with relatively good stopping power, especially when delivered with multi-round bursts, yet it was a cartridge that did not offer excessive recoil in the big pistol. The APS was and is especially easy to shoot in semi-auto mode. It would be possible to argue that many pistols designed since the APS have surpassed it as a pistol, and possible to argue that the FN P90 and maybe some other PDWs have surpassed it as a modern riff on the machine pistol. However, some very tough, highly-trained and effective Russian operators still choose to use the Stechkin. Yes, that’s partly because it is still in their armories, but these very elite Russian units have access to the latest generation of Russian and foreign military weapons. Yet, they still use the APS!
I never got to shoot the APS as much as I would have liked to. But I have shot it enough to appreciate it. The first decade after the Great Patriotic War saw Soviet Weapons designers develop the AK47, Stechkin and Makarov. Lessons learned on the battlefield were applied to a new generation of Soviet weapons that served throughout the Cold War and into the 21st Century with the Russian Federation. Agreed, the APS was not as widely distributed as the AK47 or the Makarov, but it is still one of the classic modern Russian weapons.
I’ve known at least a couple of US special operators over the years who’ve been impressed enough with the Stechkin that they carried a captured one in combat. Both were experienced, weapons-savvy troops who used the Stechkin because they thought it might help keep them alive. They especially liked it as a companion in supposedly “secure” areas. Actually, I think “companion” is a good word for the APS. It can be kept close, but it shoots a lot of rounds fast at close range or slower at longer range. With the shoulder stock in place it can be hugged close. In Russian, it’s a tahvahrisch (comrade or friend)!
Stechkin APS Accuracy
Load: Sellier & Bellot 95-grain FMJ
50 yards (inches): 4
Load: Red Army Standard 93-grain FMJ
50 yards (inches): 5.8
Groups were shot semi-automatic using the shoulder stock.
Stechkin APS Specifications
- Operating System: Direct Blowback, DA/SA, Select-Fire
- Caliber: 9x18mm Makarov
- Overall Length: 8.8 inches, 25.2 inches with holster stock attached
- Barrel Length: 5.5 inches
- Weight: 2.7 pounds loaded, 3.9 pounds with holster stock affixed
- Magazine Capacity: 20 rounds
- Sights: Rear: adjustable dial 25-200 meters, Front: Post
- Cyclic Rate: 750 RPM