We were watching this on GB, and the price just ran away from what we wanted to pay. But we wanted the gun, as longtime students of rare Soviet weapons. We’ve mentioned it before; in May, 2012, we noted that by coincidence the US and USSR both adopted semi-auto rifles in 1938, the M1 and the AVS-36. Although the AVS was not a semi-auto, but a selective-fire rifle. Built as lightly as possible, they were problematic in service, and soon supplanted by the Tokarev selective fire (AVT) and semi-auto (SVT) rifles of 1938 and 1940. The Tokarevs were practically kissing cousins of the Simonov, being the same caliber, same size in every dimension, using similar magazines and the same gas tappet system of operation with a tilting bolt locking system (a similar locking system to the BAR, SAFN-49, and FAL).
This particular kit is so rare — we cannot recall ever having seen another AVS for sale in the USA, period. Here’s what the seller says:
This auction is for a complete parts assembly for an extremely rare pre WWII-early WWII Soviet Russian Simonov AVS-36 rifle. This parts assembly is all complete including the torch cut receiver and original magazine. The assembly is all matching except for the magazine and the parts that are supposed to be serialized are all matching #Y4287. The parts including the stock and handguard remain in nice condition and have never been repaired or modified. Bore is fine and bright with strong rifling with a pin in the chamber area that can be removed. These rare rifles were only manufactured circa 1936-1938. The first saw actual combat use in the Battles of Khalkin Gol in 1939, also in the Finnish Winter War 1939-1940, and in limited numbers during the early days of WWII. These rifles for any reasons proved unsatisfactory in combat and were quickly superseded by the Model SVT 1938/1940 Tokarev rifles. The AVS-36 Simonov Rifles and any original parts are rarely found anywhere in the world and are extremely desirable in this country. This would be a very rare opportunity for a collector to reweld or have a dummy receiver made for a static display. If you are lucky enough to have a complete registered rifle you would have some great parts which you would never be able to find anywhere.
The Tokarev, too, would be abandoned to return to the 19th Century Mosin-Nagant, for reasons of reliability, training base, and especially, speed of manufacture, once the USSR found itself at war with a peer competitor, Nazi Germany.
Simonov’s team continued designing firearms on the same system. Scaled up, the AVS-36 action became the mighty 14.5 x 115 mm PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle. Scaled down, it became (using some of the innovations from the PTRS, like the fixed magazine), the SKS-45 carbine that is still carried with pride by Russian honor guards. CORRECTION: see UPDATE below.
The prewar Soviet semi-automatic and select-fire rifles were an attempt to increase the Soviet infantryman’s firepower based on the same intensive study of the stalemates of World War I that produced Soviet innovations in tank and airborne forces. (The Red Army was doing tank and airborne maneuvers all through the 1930s… the US Army didn’t create airborne units and tank units capable of operating independently until the 1940s, and Armor (tanks) was not a basic branch in the US Army until 1950!)
Two things strangled the Soviet rifle development. One was, as mentioned, the poor performance of the AVS in practice, especially considering its cost of manufacture (including opportunity costs). The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze; a prefect semi was better in theory than the old Mosin, but the AVS (and AVT/SVT) were demanding and troubled guns (as was the M1 on introduction), and say what you will of the 50-year-old (then) Mosin, it was thoroughly debugged. The other thing that slew semi-auto development in the late thirties was the Great Terror, during which Stalin purged all of the power centers of the Communist Party and the Soviet State, including the Red Army. The brilliant Marshal Tukhachevskiy was shot, as were most of the men he’d mentored. Essentially all of the marshals and higher generals, and most of the lower grades of general officer and colonels, were shot or stripped of rank and thrown in the Gulag, more or less contemporaneously with the short service life of the AVS-36. The men who took the reins — it was not unusual for a division or corps commander to be a lieutenant colonel — were shaken enough that they weren’t going to make waves. The M1891 was just fine for granddad’s regiment, they’d make it work in the 1940s. (And they did).
As a result, relatively few Tokarev and very few Simonov rifles were made in the first place, and the Simonovs were captured in great stands during fighting with the Japanese at Khalkin Gol on the Mongolian border, and in the Winter War with Finland (1939-40). This particular rifle is a Winter War capture. We’ve written before about Finnish captured AVS rifles (and again here); this one might even be in one of those pictures!
Due to the ATF’s interpretation of the Gun Control Act of 1968, even a rarity like this cannot be imported, under the borrowed-from-the-Nazis “sporting purpose” test. Because it has “no sporting purpose,” (and really, no interest except to a rarefied echelon of collectors) its receiver was torch cut. Fortunately, it was imported before the ATF changed their interpretation to require the destruction of barrels as well as receivers of “non-sporting” collector guns.
(Incidentally, there was a budget amendment liberating the importation of curio and relic firearms from the Nazi “sporting” test that passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin. Why didn’t it pass? Because like all the other pro-gun language in the House budget, it was stripped out by the inexplicably NRA A-rated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Good thing you didn’t vote for a Democrat, eh, you might have gotten an anti-gun Speaker… oh, wait).
Looking at this parts kit, we can determine a few things. It is a Finnish capture. That can be determined because it has the Finnish Army property Mark, “SA,” applied to it in various places. The seller also gets the serial number wrong, because he doesn’t know the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
The two Cyrillic letters in the serial number, here in the bolt carrier handle, are Ch and Ts. So the real number is Ch Ts 287.
Here’s a view of the bolt carrier and bolt. SKS owners will see things are fairly familiar.
Here is the Finnish Army property mark, in this case, on the side of the magazine. AVS-36 magazines held 10 rounds of 7.62 x 57R mm ammunition.
Here’s another view of the parts:
And here they are, loosely assembled.
The kit does not seem to be complete. It is missing some internals, such as the hammer. One could probably adapt SKS parts, or use SKS parts as models to scale up, to make a safe, legal semi-automatic fire control group for a rebuilt rifle.
Having a receiver machined would cost in the four figures, is our best guess. And that’s after you’ve done the reverse-engineering and made the drawings. The parts of the cut receiver are some help, but they’re clearly distorted by the torch. You might be able to get a museum that has one to let you measure theirs, at least the gross external measurements. Despite the seller’s suggestion, I do not think this cut receiver is susceptible to being rewelded — better to start over from billet.
The GB Auction page is going to stay live for a while. When it goes away, let us know, as we archived the page this time.
Max Popenker points out in the comments that our description of the locking system as analagous to the SKS and PTRS is not correct. Reexamination of available AVS photos shows he’s quite right, but what is the locking system of the early Simonov?
Forgotten Weapons had a February, 2014 post on the AVS, and identifies the locking method as a block that slides vertically up and down. FW linked to this forum thread at Guns.Ru that shows detail photography of a disassembled AVS, one that appears to have been deactivated in the British style, by torching the bolt head off at an angle. From this incomplete example, it looks to uslike the AVS bolt locked with two wedges emerging from the bolt, roughly similar to the locking flaps of a Degtyaryev machine gun. Is this a locking wedge? Or a safety device preventing out of battery firing?
The thread is also useful for images of the trigger mechanism (much of which is missing from the auction rifle) and for showing the safety, which is very similar to that of the SKS.