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The Soviet PPSH-41

imagesThe PPSh-41 (Pistolet-Pulemyot Shpagina; Russian: Пистолет-пулемёт Шпагина; “Shpagin machine pistol”); is a Soviet submachine gun designed by Georgi Shpagin as an inexpensive, simplified alternative to the PPD-40. Common nicknames are Pe-Pe-Sha from its three-letter prefix and Papasha (Russian: папаша), meaning daddy.

The PPSh was a magazine-fed selective fire submachine gun using an open-bolt, blowback action. Made largely of stamped steel, it could be loaded with either a box or drum magazine, and fired the 7.62×25mm Tokarev pistol round.

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The PPSh saw extensive combat use during World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the major infantry weapons of the Soviet armed forces during World War II. The total number of PPShs manufactured during World War II is estimated to be more than 6 million. In the form of the Chinese Type 50 (a licensed copy), it was still in use in Vietnam with the Viet Cong as late as 1970. According to the 2002 edition of The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II the PPSh was still in use with irregular military forces.

World War II

The impetus for the development of the PPSh came partly from the Winter War against Finland, where the Finnish army employed the Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun as a highly effective tool for close-quarter fighting in forests or built-up urban areas.

Although the PPD-40 was rushed into mass production in 1940, it was expensive to manufacture, both in terms of materials and labor, because it used numerous milled metal parts, particularly, its receiver. Shpagin’s main idea for cost reduction was to use metal stamping for the production of most parts; that concept was revolutionary in the Soviet Union at the time. Shpagin created a prototype in September 1940, which also featured an accuracy improvement device in the form a a simple gas compensator designed to prevent the muzzle from rising during bursts; this improved shot grouping by about 70% relative to the PPD.

The new weapon was produced in a network of factories in Moscow, with high-level local Party members made directly responsible for production targets being met. A few hundred weapons were produced in November 1941 and another 155,000 were produced over the next five months. By spring 1942, the PPSh factories producing roughly 3,000 units a day. Soviet production figures for 1942 indicate almost 1.5 million units having been produced. The PPSh-41 was a classic example of a design adapted for mass production (other examples of such wartime design were the M3 submachine gun, MP40 and the Sten). Its parts (excluding the barrel) could be produced by a relatively unskilled workforce with simple equipment available in an auto repair garage or tin shop, freeing up more skilled workers for other tasks. The PPSh-41 used 87 components compared to 95 for the PPD-40 and the PPSh could be manufactured with an estimated 5.6 machining hours (later revised to 7.3 hours) compared with 13.7 hours for the PPD. Barrel production was often simplified by using barrels produced for the 7.62mm M1891 Mosin–Nagant rifle: the rifle barrel was cut in half, and two PPSh barrels were made from it after machining the chamber for the 7.62mm Soviet submachine gun cartridge.

After the German Army captured large numbers of the PPSh-41 during World War II, a program was instituted to convert the weapon to the standard German submachine gun cartridge – 9mm Parabellum. The Wehrmacht officially adopted the converted PPSh-41 as the MP41(r); unconverted PPSh-41s were designated MP717(r) and supplied with 7.63x25mm Mauser ammunition (which is dimensionally identical to 7.62x25mm, but somewhat less powerful). German-language manuals for the use of captured PPShs were printed and distributed in the Wehrmacht.

PPSh vs PPS box magazine

One problem that PPSh-41 suffered from was the unreliable drum magazine. Initially made of stamped metal only 0.5 mm thick it was prone to deformations leading to jams. It was also relatively expensive to produce, and fairly slow to load with bullets. It was mostly superseded by simpler box-type magazine holding only 35 rounds, although an improved drum magazine made from 1 mm thick steel was also introduced in 1944.

The PPS, an even simpler submachine gun, was later introduced in Soviet service in 1943, although it did not replace the PPSh-41 during the war.

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The Soviet Union also experimented with the PPSh-41 in a close air support anti-personnel role, mounting dozens of the submachine guns in forward fuselage racks on the Tu-2sh variant of the Tupolev Tu-2 bomber.

Over 6 million PPSh submachine guns were produced by the end of the war. The Soviets would often equip whole regiments and even entire divisions with the weapon, giving them unmatched short-range firepower. Thousands more were dropped behind enemy lines to equip large partisan formations to disrupt German supply lines and communications.ppshcutaway

 

Korean War

After the Second World War, the PPSh was supplied in large quantities to Soviet client states and communist guerrilla forces. The Korean People’s Army (KPA) and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) fighting in Korea received massive numbers of the PPSh-41, in addition to the North Korean Type 49 and the Chinese Type 50, which were licensed copies of the PPSh-41 with small mechanical revisions. The weapon was widely used during the entirety of the Korean War.

Though relatively inaccurate, with a high rate of fire, the Chinese burp gun was well-suited to the close-range firefights that typically occurred in that conflict, especially at night. U.N. forces in defensive outposts or on patrol often had trouble returning a sufficient volume of fire when attacked by companies of communist infantry armed with burp guns. Some U.S. infantry officers ranked the burp gun the best combat weapon of the war; while lacking the accuracy of the U.S. M1 Garand or M1 carbine, it provided more firepower at short distances. As infantry captain (later general) Hal Moore, stated: “on full automatic it sprayed a lot of bullets and most of the killing in Korea was done at very close ranges and it was done quickly – a matter of who responded faster. In situations like that it outclassed and outgunned what we had. A close-in patrol fight was over very quickly and usually we lost because of it.” Other US servicemen felt however that their M2 carbines were superior to the PPSh-41 at the typical engagement ranges of 100–150 meters.

Features

The PPSh-41 on display.

The PPSh-41 fired the standard Soviet pistol and submachine gun cartridge, the 7.62x25mm (Tokarev). Weighing approximately 12 pounds (5.45 kg) with a loaded 71-round drum and 9.5 pounds (4.32 kg) with a loaded 35-round box magazine, the PPSh was capable of about 1000 rounds per minute, a very high rate of fire in comparison to most other military submachine guns of World War II. It was a durable, low-maintenance weapon made of low-cost, easily-obtained components, primarily stamped sheet metal and wood. The final production PPSh had top ejection and an ‘L’ type rear sight that could be adjusted for ranges of 100 and 200 meters. A crude compensator was built into the barrel jacket, intended to reduce muzzle climb during automatic fire. The compensator was moderately successful in this respect, but it greatly increased the muzzle flash and report of the weapon. The PPSh also had a hinged receiver to facilitate field-stripping and cleaning the weapon. A chrome-lined bore enabled the PPSh to withstand both corrosive ammunition and long intervals between cleaning. No forward grip or forearm was provided, and the operator generally had to grasp the weapon behind the drum magazine with the supporting hand, or else hold the lower edge of the drum magazine. Though 35-round curved box magazines were available from 1942, the average Soviet infantryman in World War II carried the PPSh with the original 71-round drum magazine.

A copy of the Finnish M31 Suomi magazine, the PPSh drum magazine held 71 rounds. In practice, misfeeding was likely to occur with more than about 65. In addition to feed issues, the drum magazine was slower and more complicated to load with ammunition than the later 35-round box magazine that increasingly supplemented the drum after 1942. While holding fewer rounds, the box magazine did have the advantage of providing a superior handhold for the supporting hand. Although the PPSh was equipped with a sliding bolt safety, the weapon’s open-bolt design still presented a risk of accidental discharge if the gun was dropped on a hard surface.

Users

  •  Albania
  •  Afghanistan – in service of Afghanistan army until 1980 also used by self-defense groups
  •  Cuba
  •  China: Made unlicensed copies under the designation Type 50.
  •  Finland: Used captured examples.
  •  Guinea
  •  Guinea Bissau: Used by PAIGC in the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
  •  Hungary: Captured and reissued PPSh-41s in the early 1940s. Produced a local version in the early 1950s called the 7.62mm Géppisztoly 48.Minta, or simply 48m.
  •  Iran: Produced a local version in the 1940s with a tangent rear sight.
  •  Laos
  •  Nazi Germany: Used captured gun, and also converted some to 9mm Luger under the designation MP717r.
  •  North Korea: Made licensed copies under the designation Type 49.
  •  Poland: Produced a local version, identical to late production Soviet design.
  •  East Germany: The PPSh-41 was used by the East German Grenztruppen and became an unofficial symbol of the force. Designated MPi41 in DDR service the PPSh-41 was gradually replaced by the AK47 beginning in 1960.
  •  Romania: Captured and reissued PPSh-41 submachine guns during 1941-1944. Made licensed copies during the 1950s at Cugir Arms Plant under the designation PM PPȘ Md. 1952.
  •  Soviet Union: Entered service with the Soviet Army in 1942.
  •  Vietnam: Primarily the Vietcong used the K-50M license-built copy during the Vietnam War.
  •  Yugoslavia: Locally produced a variant known as the M49 Submachine gun.
  •  Zimbabwe

Variants

  • Type 50: A Chinese-made version of the PPSh-41. Unlike its Soviet counterpart, it only accepts column-type box magazines.
  • Type 49: A North Korean made version of the PPSh-41. This model only accepts drum-based magazines.
  • K-50M: A Vietnamese-made submachine gun based on the Type 50s supplied by China during the Vietnam War. The chief difference was that the cooling sleeve of the K-50 was truncated to three inches (76 mm) and a foresight based on that of the French MAT-49 was attached to the front of the barrel.Modifications include the addition of a pistol grip, a steel wire-made stock and the shortened barrel. The changes made the K-50 much lighter by 500 g (1.1 lb) lighter than the PPSh-41 at 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) as opposed to 3.9 kg (8.6 lb).The weapon uses a 35-round stick magazine, but the 71-round drum magazine can be used if the stock was fully retracted.
  • MP41(r): A captured PPSh-41 converted to 9mm Parabellum caliber for use by German forces.
  • MP717(r): A captured, unconverted PPSh-41 placed in German service and supplied with 7.63x25mm Mauser ammunition
  • M-49: The M49 Submachine gun was a Yugoslavian produced variant of the PPSh-41 design, though it differs in several important ways.
  • PPS-50: A semi-automatic manufactured by Pietta. A non-restricted firearm in .22LR ammunition. The box magazine holds 30 and the drum magazine holds 50. It is cosmetically similar to the PPSH-41, although the two share no other commonalities.
  • SKL-41: A semi-automatic version of the PPSh-41 which became available on the German market in 2008. This version is converted to fire the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. Aside from replicas of its original magazines, it also accepts MP 40 magazines.

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