Back to the war heroes, we come to the PPSh-41. This was one of the Soviet’s most common weapons. The Soviet’s primary SMG, the PPSh-41 is an icon of the WWII-era USSR soldier and is probably one of the most common submachine guns in the former 2nd World and the 3rd World.
The story of the PPSh-41 dates to the 1920′s. The Russian military was trying to get off of a shitload of non-Russian guns and calibers they obtained during WWI and the Russian Civil War. So while they were causing famines and purging everything, they began organizing a number of different designs to get the Red Army on Russian weapons.
These included the Korovin Pistol, the Maxim-Tokarev LMG, and also around 4 different submachinegun designs. These were narrowed down to the Tokarev 1927 submachine gun and the PPD-34. The PPD won and was modified into the later PPD-40 following the fighting in the Winter War.
However, the PPD-40 was seen as too costly as the Germans began invading, so it was simplified into the PPSh-41 we know today and was made in the millions.
The PPSh’s high production numbers made it an icon of the combat of the Eastern Front. It was heavily used by the Russian Army, usually to assist mobile wave attacks. It’s high rate of fire, large 71 round drum magazines and reasonably controllable recoil made it a force to be reckoned with, especially against German troops. Many German soldiers actually tended to steal PPSh’s from captured or killed Russian soldiers and used them. It became so common that the Wehrmacht adopted two models. One modified for 9mm Parabellum as the
MP41® and unmodified ones in 7.62 Tokarev and 7.63 Mauser as the MP717®.
Also made was the PPS-43. This was an even more simplified version made by the Red Army in Leningrad and was noted for a folding stock and modified for 35 round stick mags. Actually many Russian soldiers preferred the stick mag over the drum, as the drum tended to misfeed more and were a lot heavier.
Following WWII, the PPSh-41 series still served as the standard SMG for the Russians until the 1960′s. From there, it was used heavily by the Combloc. East German guards at the Berlin Wall were armed with PPSh-41′s until the 1970′s, North Korean and Chinese soldiers used them during the Korean War, the Vietcong used them heavily in Vietnam. Afghanistan used them, Yugoslavia used them, Guinea-Bissau used them, Siad Barre’s regime in Somalia used them. Even around 60 years later, the PPSh-41 is still showing up in modern conflicts like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and more. Around 6 million PPSh series guns have been made, and are still being used.
With their heavy usage by the 2nd and 3rd World, the PPSh is an icon of the Russian soldier, more so than the AK. WIth such a status, any movie showing off the Red Army, the Vietcong or the 3rd World have a PPSh.
With it’s long use by the USSR, the Combloc and a number of insurgencies across the globe makes the PPSh-41 a common movie gun. WWII films made in or about the USSR heavily feature the gun. And for movies, it was a perfect gun, as it’s high rate of fire combined with hot loaded blanks can lead to a giant muzzle flash and from the East Germans of Bridge Of Spies to the Vietcong of The Green Berets, the PPSh is a common sight.
And just like it’s appearance in movies, it’s heavy usage by pretty much every insurgent force as well as the Combloc has made it a common sight in video games. A lot of WWII games tend to include a Russian campaign, and the PPSh is commonly used as the USSR’s submachinegun of choice. Most games recreating the Vietnam War have the PPSh as the VC/NVA’s standard SMG and a small amount of modern combat games even include the gun for it’s militia factions. It’s big, loud and lethal.
And that is the PPSh-41, the submachinegun of the 3rd World. It’s a war time design that’s seen great success ever since. It’s an icon of the Russian soldier and from the Hungarian Revolution to the modern insurgencies, it’s a common sight. It’s big, it’s easy to make and use, and it’s a revolutionary’s best friend.
Before World War II, Soviet production and use of submachine guns was at a minimum. The Soviet Army had some mediocre designs such as the PPD 34/38, which were rarely issued as Soviet doctrine emphasized massed infantry attacks with soldiers armed with bolt action rifles. Then in 1939 after invading Poland, the Soviet Union made the mistake of invading Finland in what would become known as “The Winter War”. The Soviets suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties due to the poor equipment, incompetent officers, fierce weather, and the stalwart defense offered by the Finnish. One advantage the Finns had was an excellent submachine gun design called the Suomi KP/-31. Armed with the Suomi, the Finns wrought terror among the Soviets as they ambushed Soviet columns in dense winter forests.
After the Winter War, the Soviets altered their war doctrine to make more use of submachine guns. In 1940 the gun designer Georgy Shpagin came out with the PPD-40, which was heavily influenced by the Suomi design. Then a year later, he introduced the PPSh-41, a simplified version of the PPD-40 which made use of stamped metal rather than milled steel, making the weapon lighter and cheaper to produced. His invention, the PPSh-41 would become perhaps the most important submachine gun design of World War II, becoming the bread and butter submachine gun of Soviet forces throughout the war. Indeed no World War II movie featuring the Eastern Front would be complete without a band of Soviet infantryman sporting the now iconic weapon.
Simple and rugged, the PPSh-41 fired from an open bolt and utilized a blowback action. It was chambered for the 7.65x25mm Tokarev pistol round, a caliber smaller than its contemporaries such as the 9mm Para and the .45 ACP. However the 7.65 Tokarev sported very high muzzle velocities and allowed for less recoil. This was especially important when it came to controlling the weapon’s high rate of fire, a whopping 900 rounds a minute, nearly twice as much as other submachine guns of the day. Its light recoil, high velocity ammunition, and high rate of fire made the PPSh-41 into a deadly buzzsaw that cut down all before it. To make up for it’s rate of fire, they were commonly issued with a large 71 round magazine, ensuring that Soviet infantrymen could pour out a ton of firepower without having to reload too often. The PPSh-41 was also light and compact. It’s total length was around 33 inches, and its weight was around 9.5 lbs loaded. That’s only 1 lb heavy than its nemesis, the German MP-40, which only had a magazine capacity of 32 rounds. This combination of firepower in a compact package made the PPSh-41 an ideal weapon for close quarter combat in urban areas such as Leningrad, Stalingrad, Warsaw, and Berlin. The PPSh-41 was even loved by it’s enemy, the Germans, who often used captured PPSh’s in favor of MP-40’s, using 7.63X25mm Mauser ammunition which was similar enough to the 7.62 Tokarev. Others captured by the Wehrmacht were converted to 9mm.
Perhaps the PPSh’s biggest advantage was its affinity for mass production. A simple weapon using stamped metal parts, and fewer parts than other submachine guns, the PPSh could easily be manufactured by Russian peasants with simple tools. To ease production further, PPSh barrels were produced by cutting down the barrels from surplus Mosin Nagant rifles, which were also 7.62 caliber (7.62X54R). As a result, two PPSh barrels were produced from one Mosin Nagant barrel. What resulted was a submachine gun that took little work to produced, only around 5.6 hours of machining per gun. This allowed the Soviet Union to be the number one submachine gun producer of the war. During World War II, the Soviets produced over 6 million PPSh submachine guns, and well as millions of other designs to supplement it. Unlike during the Winter War, issuance of submachine guns was widespread. The Soviets even sometimes equipped whole regiments and battalions with PPSh-41’s.
The only drawback of the PPSh were reliability problems due to the large drum magazine. It’s 71 round capacity often weakened it’s large spring, which caused malfunctions. It also had a tendency to warp, which also caused malfunctions. In 1944 a smaller 35 round magazine was introduced, but most Soviet soldiers still preferred the 71 round magazine. Later an improved and more reliable drum magazine was also introduced.
After World War II the PPSh-41 continued to see use with the Soviet Army. It is still often used by reserve units in Russia and the former Soviet nations, as well as rebels, revolutionaries, freedom fighters, and terrorists. Millions were also sold to other Communist nations during the Cold War, such as the Eastern European nations, China, North Korea, and Vietnam. Some nations even manufactured their own variants and copies. As a result they were commonly used in Cold War conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.