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The SVT-40 – The First Soviet Semi-Automatic Rifle

A common saying during World War II was that the British paid in time, the Americans paid in equipment, and the Soviets paid in blood. That is probably true, if grossly simplified, but we should remember that Soviet equipment — notably the T-34 tank and PPSh-41 submachine gun — played a major role, just as their soldiers did.

Ex Historiam – SVT-40, the First Soviet Semi-Automatic Rifle

A largely forgotten piece of Soviet equipment is the SVT-40, their first large scale attempt at a semi-automatic rifle. Ironically, despite the advantages that the weapon offered, it was largely withdrawn from service by war’s end . Despite this, it remains an important part of Soviet small arms design.

The Samozaryadnaya Vintovka Tokarea (“Tokarev Self-loading Rifle, Model 1940″), has often been mislabeled as the Soviet’s take on the M1 Garand. This isn’t exactly accurate, in part because gun designer Fedor Tokarev had actually been working on his design at the same as the US was developing the M1.

SVT-40’s Origins

Military planners around the world were working to develop a semi-automatic rifle for the infantry, and a number of concepts were being considered. There is another key difference that should be highlighted –Garand spent 15 years developing the M1, and that was really his greatest success. It can’t be overstated how important this design may have been, but John Garand was no John Browning, who had multiple successful designs to his credit.

The SVT 40   the First Soviet Semi Automatic Rifle photo
The Soviet master gunsmith and arms designer FedorTokarev. For his efforts he was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor award and the USSR State Prize. (Photo Credits: Edubilla.com)

By contrast Fedor Tokarev had already made a name for himself as the designer of the TT-30 and TT-33 self-loading (semi-automatic) pistols. This concept was similar to – and likely based – on Browning’s blowback operation. It utilized Browning’s short recoil titling-barrel system, but also employed a simpler hammer/sear assembly than Browning’s M1911.

Tokarev had long been considering the benefits of a semi-automatic rifle. In fact, while a master gunsmith for the Imperial Russian Army in 1910 he submitted a conversion of the bolt action Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle for semi-automatic operation. This never really advanced beyond the prototype stage, but he remained a gunsmith for the Red Army after the Russian Revolution.