July 22, 2020
By Leroy Thompson
I acquired my first Tokarev pistol in the 1960s, before I was really interested in collectible firearms. I had a Colt SAA that a friend wanted and was trading me a S&W Triple Lock, a revolver I had wanted since I first read Elmer Keith’s Sixguns. We couldn’t quite make the deal until he threw in a World War II-era Russian Tokarev. In those days, virtually every Tokarev in the USA was a World War II or Korean War Russian bring-back, the former often the result of a trade with a Russian soldier though some were taken from Germans who had captured them. During and after the Vietnam War, a lot of captured Chinese Tokarevs and a smattering of Russian or Warsaw Pact ones came into the USA as well.
In retrospect, that first Tokarev I owned was in quite nice condition. I was a shooter, though, and it was virtually impossible to get 7.62x25mm Tokarev ammo at the time. Occasionally someone who had captured a Tokarev might have a few rounds with it, but this ammo was corrosive and Russian TT-33, and the rarely encountered TT-30, pistols did not have chromed bores. I did shoot my Tokarev once when I found a box of commercial 7.63x25mm Mauser ammo on the shelf of the gun shop I frequented. 7.63x25mm Mauser ammo works fine in the Tokarev, but let me emphasize that even though it will chamber, 7.62x25mm Tokarev ammo should not be fired in your Mauser Broomhandle. A lot of Tokarev ammo was loaded hot for SMGs and can damage a C96. I found my TT-33 to be relatively accurate because of its good rear sight; however, since it lacked a safety and ammo was scarce I didn’t plan to shoot it so I sold it. NOTE: I’ll mention more recent imported Tokarevs with added safeties later.
Years later, when I worked some places where ComBloc weapons were readily available, I sometimes used Tokarevs and Makarovs. I preferred the latter, though if I were using a Tokarev I would carry it in Condition Three. NOTE: The Tokarev does not have an inertia firing pin; hence, Condition Two is not advised! Also, when I was in Russia during the 1990s, most of the police and security personnel with whom I had contact carried Makarovs but there were still some Tokarevs around; hence, I was glad I was familiar with it. Interestingly, one of my Russian law enforcement contacts told me that Tokarev pistols were still popular with Russian Mafia hit men, as there were so many of them around that were untraceable and because of their penetration! Because of the TT-33’s lack of a safety, reportedly at least some killings were made to look as if they were the result of a negligent discharge.
Over the last few years as I’ve had more time to read about historic combat pistols I’ve developed an interest in the Tokarev as a collectible. And, thanks to Prvi Partizan and Fiocchi, which offer non-corrosive, commercial 7.62x25mm ammo, I can shoot my collectable Tokarevs. Surplus 7.62x25mm Tokarev corrosive ammo is also available for those who want cheaper shooting and are willing to do a boiling water/GI bore cleaner/etc. cleaning.
The pistol that would become the TT-30 was designed by Fedor Tokarev as a replacement for the long-serving Nagant M1895 revolver, that rare duck of a revolver that can be effectively suppressed as its cylinder moves forward when firing to create a seal with the forcing cone. NOTE: Evan after adoption of the Tokarev, the M1895 would continue in production until 1945, with TT pistols going primarily to officers and M1895s to NCOs. I mentioned earlier that the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge is similar to the 7.63x25mm Mauser C96 cartridge. This is not by accident. The Bolsheviks were very fond of the C96, especially the model with shorter barrel and grip that become known as the “Bolo” because of its popularity with the Bolsheviks.
Those of you who are Star Trek fans will remember that Ensign Chekov would often avow that almost everything was a Russian invention. This was poking fun at the Soviet tendency to appropriate ideas from Western technology. Often, these appropriations were skillfully melded into very effective weapons. One classic example was the Soviet T-34 tank, which adopted many features from J. Walter Christie’s M1928 tank, and was more effective against German tanks than the US M4 Sherman. Fedor Tokarev skillfully blended design features from other autoloading pistols into the Tokarev. The Colt-Browning locked breech system was an obvious influence, even retaining the swinging link system of the Colt 1911. As is normally the case with Soviet weapons, simplicity of production influenced Tokarev’s design. Magazine fabrication was simplified by eliminating feed lips, which were machined into the pistol’s frame. The safety was also eliminated. One of the features I especially like about the Tokarev is that the hammer/lockwork assembly can be easily removed for maintenance. Given the harsh conditions in Russia and the use of corrosive ammunition, the ability to do a more thorough cleaning helped keep the Tokarev pistols running. This feature was also incorporated into the French M1935A and the SIG P210/P49.
As mentioned earlier, the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge was based on the 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge, which was valued for its range and penetration. The Soviets would also chamber the PPSh41 and PPS43 SMGs for this same cartridge.
As the Tokarev pistol was first adopted in 1930, it was designated the TT-30. It had beat out pistols from Walther, Luger (presumably, either DWM or Mauser), and Walther. For troop trials in January 1931, 1,000 TT-30 pistols were reportedly manufactured, though there is some question about the true number. The pistol performed well enough that it was adopted for full production, but with further simplifications to cut production time. Among these changes was replacement of twin locking lugs atop the barrel with two bands circling the barrel. The 7.62x25mm cartridge was so powerful it needed secure locking, which was not affected by the change, but machining of the barrel was simplified. Once the TT-30 was in production, additional internal changes were made to simplify production, resulting in the TT-33 (though actual production did not begin until 1935). Among the simplifications was elimination of the removable back strap on the TT-30, allowing easier machining of the frame. Production of the TT-30 and the TT-33 was at the Tula Weapons Factory until the German invasion when it was moved east to Izhevsk. The “TT” designation for the pistol signifies: “Tula Factory, Tokarev Design).
Less than 100,000 TT-30 pistols were produced (approximately 96,000 is the figure usually accepted). Some TT-30 and TT-31 pistols reportedly got “field tested” with Soviet volunteers during the Spanish Civil War. Prior to World War II, 497,566 TT-33 pistols were produced. During the War, an additional 1,059,687 TT-33 pistols were produced. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941. As a result, in October 1941, the Tula Factory was moved to Eastern Russia. For the remainder of the War, TT-33s would be made at Izhevsk Factory 74 and Izhevsk Factory 622. Wartime production at Factory 74 or Factory 622 shows some labor/cost saving, as wooden grips will be encountered. It is estimated that approximately 46,000 additional TT-33s were produced between 1946 and 1953.
TT-30/TT-33 pistols were captured and used against the Russians as well. On the Eastern Front, German troops and their Finnish allies captured Tokarev pistols, which they could readily use as they had 7.63x25mm Mauser ammo in their supply chain. Presumably, some of the Tokarev pistols brought home by American GIs from World War II could have been “re-captured” from German soldiers.
After the end of World War II, the Soviet Armed Forces began the search for a more compact pistol than the Tokarev, one that would preferably incorporate more advanced features such as double action first shot capability. As a result, the PM (Pistol Makarov) was adopted in 1951. TT-33 production continued until 1953, though at nowhere near World War II rate. The TT-33 would remain in use with second line units and some police units for many years. TT-33s were also held in reserve during the Cold War. Soviet TT-33s were supplied to guerilla movements and other proxies. Just as revolvers continued in use with some security guards after U.S. police departments adopted automatic pistols, in Russia some courier and cash transport personnel continued to use TT-33s, though based on observation when I was in Russia, I believe these have mostly been replaced by Makarovs.
After World War II, Soviet satellite countries as members of the Warsaw Pact were armed with weapons compatible with those of the Soviet Union. As a result, Tokarev pistols were produced outside of the Soviet Union.
By far the largest producer of Tokarev pistols other than the Soviet Union was China, which adopted it in 1951 as the Type 51 pistol, a licensed copy of the TT-33. It is speculated that initially Type 51 pistols were built of a combination of Soviet and Chinese parts while China was developing its production capability. Some pistols may have been initially made in the Soviet Union and sent to China. It is also likely that the Soviets may have supplied machinery and tooling to produce the pistols. Within a relatively short time, however, China was producing the Type 51 at multiple factories. There may be slight variations in pistols made at different factories. Estimates of the number of Type 51 pistols produced between 1951 and 1954 are over 235,000. Type 51 pistols encountered in the USA are most likely pistols that were captured during the Korean War and brought home by GIs.
The Type 51 was replaced by the Type 54, which is similar to the Type 51 but was reportedly made entirely of Chinese-made parts. Though adopted in 1954, production does not appear to have started until 1955 and continued until 1985. The most common years of production for pistols found in the USA are 1966 and 1967. That is logical since most are Vietnam War trophies. By 1966, Type 54 bores were chrome-plated; hence, were resistant to corrosive ammo. I’ve owned three Vietnam bring-back Type 54s, two of which came with holsters that had a corduroy lining. Production figures for Type 54 pistols are estimates but in his excellent book The Complete Book of Tokarev Pistols (see review at the end of this article), Cameron White estimates that between 1955 and 1968 about 420,000 were produced. Although Type 54 pistols were produced between 1969 and 1985 (or later), it is difficult speculate on the total.
It seems logical because of the ties between China and North Korea to mention the North Korean Tokarev at this point. Designated as either the Type 66 or Type 68, the pistol resembles a TT-33 externally, but has a shorter slide and beaver tail extension at the rear of the slide and lacks a barrel bushing. Instead of the swinging link system of the TT-33, the Type 66/68 incorporates a linkless system akin to that of the Browning High-Power. The magazine release is at the base of the grip rather than a push button frame mounted release. North Korean Tokarevs are rarely seen in the USA and if found are snapped up by collectors at big prices. Reportedly, a few were captured in Vietnam.
Some Warsaw Pact countries produced their own versions of the Tokarev. At Poland’s Radom Arms Factory, a copy of the TT-33 designated the wz.1933 was produced beginning in 1946 and continuing until 1955. The wz.1933 remained in service as the standard Polish military pistol until replaced by the compact P-64 in 9x18mm caliber. Around 250,000 wz.1933 pistols were manufactured. A substantial number of training wz.1933 pistols were produced, and cutaways are sometimes seen in the USA Tokarevs were also produced at FEG, still the principal manufacturer of Hungarian pistols. Designated the 48M, it was adopted for the Hungarian armed forces in 1948 and manufactured until 1958. It was replaced in 1963 by the PA63 in 9x18mm caliber. Other than different markings and distinctive grips bearing either the Rakosi Crest or the Kadar Crest, both named for Communist leaders of Hungary, the 48M resembles a typical TT-33. The normally accepted production figure for 48M Tokarevs is around 100,000. Among Tokarev collectors in the USA, a 48M without import markings or added safety is highly sought and brings a substantial premium. Even examples with added safeties are scarce.
Romania adopted the TT-33 as the TTC pistol, which was produced at the Cugir Plant. TTC may have stood for “Tula Tokarev Cugir.” The TTC was adopted in 1951, with production continuing until 1957. The total number produced was 155,648. According to Cameron White, pistols were assembled from leftover parts until 1959. TTC pistols remained the primary military and police pistol in Romania until the late 1990s. Not all TTCs stayed in Romania, almost 30,000 having been sold to Syria, Iraq, North Korea, and China.
Yugoslavian/Serbian development of a TT-33 began in 1952 with what was designated the M54. However, this pistol never went into production. Instead, development began in 1957 on what became known as the M57. Actual production of the M57 for the Yugoslavian armed forces did not begin until 1963 with production continuing until 1982. It remained the standard Yugoslavian military pistol until 1988. The most noteworthy feature of the M57 is its longer grip, which takes a 9-round magazine rather than the standard 8-round TT-33 magazine. Other differences from the standard TT-33 design include incorporation of a magazine safety and a captive recoil spring. Military issue M57 pistols incorporate a crest atop the slide. Grips have embossed letters in the middle—either “FNRJ” or “SFRJ”—the former on pre-1963 pistols and the latter on 1963-1968 pistols. The number of M57 military pistols produced is over 250,000. There were also commercial versions of the M57 manufactured, including the M60 and M70 in 9x19mm caliber.
An especially interesting Tokarev, which is based on the 48M, is the Tokagypt that was manufactured for Egypt. Originally, the Tokagypt contract was for 30,000 pistols, but it was cancelled when less than half had been delivered. Those undelivered were sold on the commercial market with some coming to the USA. There are obvious differences from a typical TT-33 copy: the Tokagypt is in 9x19mm caliber, has a factory thumb safety, has a wrap-round grip, and has magazine extension/finger rest. I’ve fired a few hundred rounds through the Tokagypt and found it a well-made, reliable pistol.
One other Tokarev-type pistol that might be encountered is one that was hand made in small workshops, often using questionable steel. Returning veterans of the War on Terror would be a likely source for what are often called “Khyber Pass” pistols of Tokarev type. As these copies normally incorporate attempts to duplicate markings of mass-produced pistols, they can at first glance appear authentic. Because of the pressures generated by the 7.62x25mm round, shooting a “Khyber Pass” copy should be considered a form of “Peshwar Roulette”! My advice is don’t shoot a Khyber Pass Tokarev but find a collector who will pay well to add it to his collection. Although I don’t recall seeing a “Jungle Workshop” copy of the Tokarev brought back from Southeast Asia, it is entirely possible that some exist.
Currently, Tokarev pistols available in the USA are surplus pistols from former users of the TT-33 and its copies. These have had a manual safety added, which makes them less desirable as a collectible, but more desirable as a shooter. I got an indication of how many of these Toks with safeties have been sold during the COVID SHUTDOWN/ANTI-POLICE RIOTS of spring 2020 the ammo shortage when I checked suppliers to buy a couple of boxes of 7.62x25mm non-corrosive ammo to shoot for this article. Although a few sources had bulk corrosive ammo available, few had any current commercial ammo for sale. Although various Tokarev TT-33 copies have been imported with added safeties, based on a quick check, those currently available seem to be primarily Romanian and Yugoslav.
A friend and I decided to use this article as a reason to shoot his Chinese Tokarev. Because we had non-corrosive 7.63x25mm Mauser ammo, which we shoot in C96 Mausers, we had normally fired his pistol or my Russian one using that ammo, since it works fine in Tokarevs. However, as I had finally managed to track down a couple of boxes of Fiocchi 7.62x25mm Tokarev ammo, we decided to see if there was any difference in accuracy between the two types of ammo. Using PPI 85-grain 7.63x25 mm rated at 1,510 fps muzzle velocity (according to the factory) and Fiocchi 88-grain 7.62x25mm Tokarev rated at 1,450 fps muzzle velocity, we both shot better groups with the 7.63 Mauser ammo. The difference in group size wasn’t dramatic, but it did indicate that 7.63x25mm Mauser ammo is accurate in a Tokarev pistol.
Our shooting session also reminded me that other than being sensitive to the TT-33’s lack of a safety, it is a pleasant pistol to shoot. Recoil is not unpleasant, trajectory is flat, sights are good; it’s an enjoyable pistol to shoot. BUT, I would only carry it in Condition Three.
Tokarev T-33 Specs
- Action: Short-Recoil, Locked Breech, Single Action
- Caliber: 7.62x25mm
- Overall Length: 7.6"
- Barrel Length: 4.6"
- Weight: 30.1 ounces
- Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds
- Sights: Rear-Notch, Front-Blade