This is a guest post by the Russian firearms expert and historian Maxim Popenker, co-author (with Anthony Williams) of several reference works1, and the founder and owner of the indispensable world.guns.ru website. some time ago, we mentioned in a story on the Quiet Special Purpose Revolver that the US had not pursued such technology, but the Russians had, and Max asked if our readers wanted to know that Russian history. We said they certainly did, and he shared it with us — and now, with you. It has been very lightly edited, which is amazing given that Max is writing in what is to him a foreign language. We have added amplifying footnotes here and there. — Ed.
A very brief history of the internally suppressed, captive piston ammunition and firearms in Russia.
The basic concept of suppression of the firearm’s sound by capturing powder gases inside a closed volume in not new. In fact, it is quite old, with patents to that effect issued in USA as early as 1902 (see US Patent # 692,819 “Means for effecting noiseless discharge of guns” by J.E.Bissell)2.
In Soviet Russia, a similar concept was first researched shortly before and during the Great Patriotic War3. So far we know about two concurrent developments, one by designer Gurevich and another by the Mitin brothers (who also designed more conventional sound suppressors for Nagant revolvers4 and Mosin M1891/30 rifles successfully used by Soviet partisan and NKVD troops against invading Nazis).
Gurevich experimental pistols.
The design by Gurevich was quite similar to that of Bissell; it also used a special cartridge with a piston in front of the powder charge, and a portion of water, which was used to push the 5.6mm or 6mm projectile through the bore; the powder gases were contained inside the case by jamming the piston inside the case mouth. Ammunition was based on 20 Gauge brass shotgun shells, and fired from the single shot, break-open pistols, or, later, through a special revolver with a necessarily long and wide cylinder.
Mitin Brothers’ captive-piston Nagant revolver.
The Mitin brothers’ design was more unorthodox, in a sense. It featured a heavily modified Nagant revolver with two coaxially mounted cylinders. One cylinder sat in its conventional place, holding seven rounds of ammunition with sabots and subcaliber bullets. The second cylinder, mounted on the same axis and rotating synchronously with the first, sat at the muzzle of the gun. The front cylinder was bored through with seven bores, slightly squeezed or choked at the front. When the gun was fired, the projectile with its sabot travelled through the barrel in the traditional way; then, its 7.62mm sabot jammed itself in the constricted bore of the front cylinder, and the smaller-diameter bullet continued forward and to the target. Neither design was successful, and for some time the concept was abandoned.
A couple of Stechkin’s “cigarette cases.”
During 1950s, the famous Soviet gun designer Igor Stechkin5 was tasked to design several deep concealment, noiseless weapons for KGB and GRU6; He then produced an experimental SP-1 cartridge7, similar in concept to that of the Mitin brothers. It used a specially designed bullet which could be squeezed through a constricted bore with an entry (throat) diameter of 9mm and exit (muzzle) diameter of 7.62mm.
Another of Stechkin’s experimental hideout guns.
A special 9mm wad, placed between the projectile and powder charge, jammed itself in the bore to capture powder gases inside the barrel. Stechkin produced several prototype three-barrel guns on this concept, concealed inside a flat tin case imitating a contemporary cigarette case.
Stechkin’s original SP-2 design, showing both the exterior and a cut away.
Later on, Stechkin produced an improved round, SP-2, with long, 7.62mm projectiles consisting of the jacket from 7.62mm TT bullet8, fitted with long aluminum core. The cartridge case contained small amount of powder and a pusher piston, which captured powder gases at the neck of the case.
During the sixties, similar developments were conducted by KGB’s own research institute (yes, they had their own well-funded and top secret scientific and R&D branch at the time). For their own use, KGB produced two similar captive piston rounds of same basic design but of different size and power.
Ammunition: a live and expended round each: PZ, PZAM, SP-3 and SP-4.
S4m pistol. Holds two rounds in a spring clip, and opens by tipping, like a shotgun.
The smaller (and better known) one was the 7.62x63mm PZ “Zmeya” (Snake) cartridge, which later evolved into cheaper and more reliable PZAM cartridge of the same basic dimensions. It featured a massive steel case with a single-stage piston which propelled a standard 7.62mm PS projectile, taken out of the 7.62×39 M43 intermediate cartridge. Combined with the derringer-type break-open S4 pistol (see http://world.guns.ru/handguns/hg/rus/s4m-silent-e.html ) with two barrels, the PZ was intended for use by undercover agents, as well as by military Special Forces (Spetsnaz) to take out sentries or other enemy personnel during critical missions behind enemy lines.
Ammunition: a live and expended round each: PZ, PZAM, SP-3 and SP-4.
Ammunition cutaways. From top to bottom: PZAM, SP-3 and SP-4.
The larger cartridge is noticeably scarcer even now. It is quite big and heavy (case length is 93mm), and it is available in two varieties, based on the same machined steel case. The PFAM “Falanga” cartridge was loaded with a heavy, pointed 9mm projectile made of hardened steel and equipped with a brass driving band. It was intended to take out NATO personnel wearing body armor, who can be found in the vicinity of critical installations such as C3I, ammo depots, airfields and tactical missile launchers. The PMAM “Mundstuck” propelling round was loaded with an aluminum push rod, used to silently propel a 30mm AP-I grenade, which would deal with the targets listed above, once the guard personnel were accounted for using PFAM rounds. Both rounds were fired from a huge, single shot pistol known as “Device D” (see http://world.guns.ru/grenade/rus/device-d-e.html ), and, later on, through a multi-shot carbine / launcher “Device DM” (see http://world.guns.ru/grenade/rus/device-dm-e.html ).
Device DM, the latest Russian silent weapon, in front of some older exotic weapons
Firing Device DM
The MSP pistol with two-round clip of SP-3 ammunition. The pistol is completely unmarked.
During the early 1970s, the Tula Arms factory developed a more compact alternative to the PZAM ammunition and S4 pistol, in the form of a 7.62×35 SP-3 cartridge and a double-barrel, derringer-style MSP pistol (see http://world.guns.ru/handguns/hg/rus/msp-silent-e.html ). This ammunition also used 7.62 M43 PS bullet, but featured a noticeably shorter and lighter case with a two-stage telescoped piston. To ensure safe containment of a high pressure gases, the thin-walled steel case is noticeably “fireformed” during the discharge. The same SP-3 ammunition was later used for the single-shot NRS shooting knife (see http://world.guns.ru/handguns/hg/rus/nrs-e.html ).
Firing the NRS. Note the guard is the rear sight.
NRS with accessories. The knife and sheath resemble those for the AKM bayonet,
but the sheath extends to form a buttstock.CORRECTION: Per Mac, the sheath is just a sheath. The hinged part is a wirecutter. The sheath stays on the belt, while the operator fires the gun with the blade toward his face, as in the picture above. Recoil is very low so that this is safe. –Ed.
Loading the NRS. The barrel comes out of the base knife, the round is loaded in the barrel, and then it is restored to its place.
The MSP is compact, and was deniable when first issued.
The current author can attest that MSP pistol with SP-3 ammunition is quite silent; it is noticeably quieter than, say, integrally suppressed PB pistol firing 9×18 PM ammunition. However, KGB and GRU wanted their agents to be armed with silenced guns that could offer more than 2 shots and more lethality. This was achieved during early 1980s with introduction of the now well known PSS semi-automatic pistol (see http://world.guns.ru/handguns/hg/rus/pss-silent-e.html ) and its 7.62×40 SP-4 ammunition.
PSS internally suppressed pistol.
PSS with action open and magazine of ready rounds.
The latter featured a single-stage pusher piston, jammed at the neck of the case, and unique projectile, made from steel rod and equipped with brass driving band at the front. This weapon is still issued to special elements of Russian army and police, and appears to be quite popular for its intended role – taking out bad guys (these days it’s mostly Muslim terrorists or organized crime strongmen) with as little sound as possible. The only weak spot of the PSS, besides its unique and expensive ammo, is, surprisingly, its semi-automatic action, which produces most unwelcome sounds during the cycle.
OTS-38 opened up to show the unusual reload process.
OTS-38, side view, closed.
To alleviate this problem while maintaining adequate capacity, the late Igor Stechkin designed an unique OTs-38 revolver (see http://world.guns.ru/handguns/double-action-revolvers/rus/ots-3-silent-e.html ). This five-shot revolver produces noticeably less sound when fired, compared to the PSS. It also features a barrel, aligned with the bottom chamber of the cylinder, a manual safety for cocked and locked carry, and a built-in laser pointer above the barrel. And if all that is not enough, it also features a unique side-swinging cylinder, a system developed to ensure ideal coaxial alignment of the bore and cylinder chamber, which is especially important due to blunt shape and hard nose of the SP-4 bullet.
Finally, we must mention two underbarrel grenade launchers, built to same concept of capturing powder gases inside the closed volume. The first is “Tishina” (Silence) system, developed during 1970s to be mounted below the barrel of AMK / AKMS rifle. It used 30mm AP-I grenade, similar to that of used in D and DM devices, and propelled by a special blank 7.62×39 round Powder gases were captured after each shot gy a piston, located inside the rear part of the launcher’s barrel. With introduction of the 5.45mm small arms systems into the Soviet Army, it was reworked into the “Kanarejka” (Canary) system, mounted below the AKS-74U assault rifle. It was similar to the predecessor in concept, but used 5.45mm blank cartridges (see http://world.guns.ru/grenade/rus/bs-1-tishina-e.html ).
Artists rendering of a carbine with the “Kanarejka.”
Actual weapon, shown with ammunition, including a sound suppressor for AKSU carbine.
- Those books include (stolen links from Forgotten Weapons, containing his code, so Ian gets any Amazon kickback):
- Assault Rifle: The Development of the Modern Military Rifle and its Ammunition
- Machine Gun: The Development of the Machine Gun from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Day
- Modern Combat Pistols: The Development of Semi-automatic Pistols for Military and Police Service Since 1945
- Sub-Machine Gun: The Development of Sub-Machine Guns and their Ammunition from World War 1 to the Present Day
- While we’ve linked to the patent, you can also find it in a previous article Max wrote for Forgotten Weapons. Yes, if you’ve read that you still need to read this one. And vice versa (it’s Part III of a three-parter on Spetsnaz weaponry).
- You guys probably know this already, but The Great Patriotic War is the Russian and Soviet term for World War II, which began for them when Hitler broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941.
- Russian Nagants were well-suited to suppression because of their gas-seal design, unlike other revolvers (even other Nagants, many of which were produced in Belgium with no gas-seal mechanism).
- Stechkin is best known in the West for his select-fire pistol with a stock holster, the APS, which was produced in the early 1950s and remained in Soviet and Russian service for a long time. Some were exported to friendly states and guerrilla movements; one was a favorite of Argentine Communist revolutionary, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
- Two Soviet intelligence agencies. The KGB stood for Committee for State Security and was a political/civilian intelligence and counterintelligence organization like the FBI or CIA (although its officers had military ranks, and in some assignments, wore uniforms). Its successors in the Russian Federation are the SVR (foreign intelligence gathering) and the FSB (counterintelligence and domestic security) of Russia. The GRU was the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff — military intelligence; it still exists except as a function of the Russian not Soviet General Staff.
- “SP” stands for Spetsianiy Patron, “special cartridge.”
- This is the 7.62 x 25mm Russian round of the TT (Tula-Tokarev) pistol of 1930 and 1933, also used in the wartime submachine guns PPSh-41 and PPS-43.