AVS-36: The Worst Rifle Ever Developed By the Soviet Union

Photo Credit: 1. Apic / Bridgeman / Getty Images 2. Atirador / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: 1. Apic / Bridgeman / Getty Images 2. Atirador / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

While the Soviet Union may have been adept at producing tanks, the same can’t really be said about its handheld weaponry. The interwar period and the Second World War, in particular, saw a number produced, and had featured issues that ultimately led to their abandonment. Among the worst was the AVS-36, which left service almost as soon as it was equipped by infantrymen.

Development of a new infantry rifle

Portrait of Sergei Simonov
Sergei Simonov was a Russian arms designer. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

The AVS-36 was designed by Sergei Simonov, who began work on a new gas-operated, self-loading rifle in 1930. A year later, he produced the first prototype, which showed great promise, and a few years later came out with a trial batch that featured a few tweaks to the original design.

In 1935, a competition was held that pitted Simonov’s design against one developed by Fedor Tokarev. The former came out victorious and was designated the Automaticheskaya Vintovka Simonova obraztsa 1936 goda. Despite being adopted in 1936, however, it didn’t make its public debut until the Mayday Parade in Moscow in 1938.

Sources vary as to just how many AVS-36s were manufactured, with estimates placing the amount between 35,000 and 65,500. A small number of sniper versions were produced, featuring a PE 4x variable-power optical scope. The rifle, however, was expensive and complex to produce. This, paired with its issues on the battlefield, led the Soviets to halt manufacturing in 1940.

It was subsequently replaced by the Tokarev SVT-38.

AVS-36 specs

AVS-36 against a grey backdrop
AVS-36. (Photo Credit: Armémuseum / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

The AVS-36 was a gas-operated, short-stroke rifle with a vertically lifting locking block and two flappers of different sizes. It had a sizeable weight of 9.5 pounds and was 48.5 inches long, half of which was the barrel. The rifle’s 7.62 x 54 mmR cartridges were fed through a 15-round detachable box magazine, and it was equipped with a larger than normal muzzle brake, which aimed to reduce recoil (spoiler: it didn’t).

Capable of semi-automatic and automatic fire, the AVS-36 could shoot 800 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity of 840 m/s. It also had an effective firing range of 600 meters, and, unlike similar rifles, ejected spent cartridges from the top, rather than the right side.

Each AVS-36 came with a knife bayonet, which served two purposes. Along with turning the rifle into a hand-to-hand combat weapon, it also doubled as a monopod, thanks to its ability to attach to the barrel not just horizontally, but vertically, as well.

A long list of issues

Three Red Army soldiers resting behind a trench while a fourth stands guard
Red Army soldiers taking a break in Byelorussia, April 1944. The one on the far right is equipped with an AVS-36. (Photo Credit: C. Peter Chen / Max Alpert / Russian International News Agency / World War II Database / Creative Commons)

Issues began to arise not long after the AVS-36 entered service, and it quickly became apparent it wasn’t a rifle suited for action on the frontlines. It was prone to malfunctioning when fired and was almost uncontrollable during fully-automatic firing. On top of that, it was too complicated for soldiers to operate when in battle, something that was only made worse by the constant dirt that somehow found its way within.

There were a number of problems related to the muzzle, magazine and ammunition. The cartridge feed path was long and steep, making it prone to stoppages, and the muzzle, while large, was ineffective at controling the climb and produced a stiff recoil.

Additionally, when the US Ordnance Corps conducted tests with the AVS-36 in the 1950s, they found that the gas-fed system had a tendency to loosen the rear sight over prolonged use, making it a rather inaccurate weapon.

The AVS-36’s short service life

Finnish troops aiming their rifles while laying in the snow
Finnish troops stationed along the Finnish-Russian Front during the Winter War, October 1939. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

The AVS-36 had a relatively short service life, only being equipped by the Red Army until 1941. It first saw action during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, known for being the decisive engagement of the Soviet-Japanese Border Wars.

Following this, the rifle saw action in the Winter War, also known as the Soviet invasion of Finland. It was during this time that the AVS-36’s issues truly became apparent. Prior to being delivered to troops on the front, the rifles hadn’t been cleaned of the grease used to keep them operational while in storage. The material subsequently froze in the frigid Finnish winter and rendered the affected AVS-36s useless.

More from us: Gewehr 43: The German Semi-Automatic Rifle Inspired By the Soviet SVT-40

While the majority of the rifles were collected, with the aim being to destroy them, around 300 were collected by the Finns, who equipped them until large stores of SVT-38s were captured. After this, the AVS-36 was largely withdrawn from service.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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