The Full Auto SVT-40, The Soviet M14 of 1942

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In retrospect, it’s remarkable how much faith the US had in its soldiers’ abilities to control a full-power automatic weapon. The answer to the question “is a full-caliber automatic infantry rifle a good idea” was well within reach by even the early forties, as this Soviet document on testing of the avtomat variant (AVT-40, pictured at the bottom of the title image) of the SVT-40 proves. From the translation:

Conclusions on the proving ground trials of 7.62 mm automatic rifles, converted from semi-automatic rifles, with 10-15 round magazines showed that:

  1. Groups at 100 meters when firing in bursts increase by 3-3.5 times.
    At 300 meters, only 25-30% of the bullets strike a 3×3 meter target.
    At 500 meters, up to 30% of the bullets strike a 3.5-4 meter target.
    While shooting with a 15 round magazine, grouping gets worse, and it is difficult to fire while prone due to the protruding magazine.
  2. When shooting at targets, only the first bullet hits.
  3. The ability to aim is limited to 50 shots over the span of one minute. After that, the barrel overheats, and a mirage effect is achieved, which impedes aiming.
  4. The automatic rifle jams:
    1. With thick grease: 2-4% of the time
    2. With dry parts: 12-14%
    3. In dusty conditions: 14-50%
    4. While aiming up or down: 8-12%
  5. The barrel life is 6000 rounds when firing 50 rounds per minute, after which the rifle was allowed to cool. Continuous fire brings the life down to 150-200 rounds.
As a result of trials, it was concluded that:
  1. Is is not viable to create an automatic rifle from a semi-automatic one by modifying the trigger group.
  2. It is only possible to aim with such an automatic rifle when using a thickened barrel and lightened bipod.
  3. When converting a semi-automatic rifle to fully automatic by only modifying the trigger group, its combat usefulness decreases to less than that of a submachinegun.
Conclusions
  1. Due to the decreased combat usefulness, conversion of a semi-automatic rifle to a fully automatic one is not rational.
  2. In order to reach required density of fire with a high probability of hitting the target, it is better to use submachineguns, which have the advantages of simpler production, higher reliability, compactness, high magazine capacity, larger stocks of ammunition, etc.”

Indeed! The US was experimenting with automatic rifles in full-power rifle cartridges during the same time, but despite this held firm to the idea that this kind of weapon heralded the future of US small arms. Perhaps their love affair with the full-power squad automatic rifle blinded them to what should have become obvious in testing? Obviously once fielded, this wishful thinking quickly evaporated.

H/T, the imitable Ensign Expendable, of Soviet Gun Archives and Archive Awareness blogs.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Lance

    Well I would say the SVT-40 was not a M-14 but more of a M-1 Grand. The weapon was a good weapon. One of three semi-auto rifles of WW2 (M-1, G-43, and SVT-40). Id put it in 2nd place only behind te M-1. Only reason it never saw much use beyond Soviet Naval infantry is that there brass thought it was too complex for most solders to operate so many still issued the Mosin M-91/30 rifle instead. But it was a good weapon. Sadly replaced after the war by the SKS-45 carbine.

    • iksnilol

      AVT-40 and SVT-40 are not the same weapon. Just like the M14 and M1 aren’t the same.

      • sauerquint

        Just because the parts don’t interchange doesn’t mean they’re not very, very similar. It’s like saying the m16 and m4 are totally different…

        • iksnilol

          Well the M14 and M1 are very similar too.

          IMO M14 and AVT-40 is a really good comparison. Since they both are a full auto version of a semi auto rifle + have a larger magazine.

    • John Yossarian

      While the SVT-40 is obviously more complex to operate, I don’t believe it was abandoned as the main infantry weapon due to the expected overall capability of the Soviet soldier. It seems more likely due to the amount of time it would take to manufacture and train soldiers on the SVT-40.

      While still endeavoring to manufacture these rifles, Russia was over-run by the Nazis to the point that Tula had to be shut down and its equipment moved to Izhvesk.

      There was no time left to manufacture SVT-40’s, let alone proceed with the training program. In fact, there wasn’t enough time to manufacture enough of the simpler Mosin’s, as well-evidenced by the stories of being handed a couple clips of ammunition and told to pick up your rifle from a dead man.

  • Esteparatus

    Agree with Lance – Garand is much more similar, both size of the rifle and caliber. I have an SVT-40 and can’t imagine firing it full auto. I prefer my CMP Garand but SVT is a bad@$$ piece and gets a lot of looks at the range. It is a complex rifle and surprisingly well finished. Nice that 7.62x54R is still cheap and plentiful.

    • This article is actually about the AVT-40, an experimental full auto SVT. It’s therefore more comparable to the T20 or M14, not the Garand.

      The thrust of the article, anyway, was that the Russians experimented with – and forwent – full power automatic rifles in the early ’40s (after Barbarossa no less!), while the US would insist on fielding them into the 1960s, until the myth that it was a good idea simply became unsustainable.

  • iksnilol

    So Ruskies found out in the 40’s what Americans found out in the 60’s?

    That a powerful cartridge (.308 class) + full auto is a bad idea for a infantry rifle? I am honestly surprised that anybody thought that was a good/viable idea.

    • ColaBox

      What about the SCAR? That fair any better?

      • iksnilol

        Do they regularily use full auto on the SCAR-H?

        • ColaBox

          No idea, seen early footage of the L, but not H on full auto. If YouTube is anything to go by, I don’t see why not, at least for suppression.

      • Commonsense23

        The SCAR is not really a popular rifle in the SOF community, it doesn’t do anything amazing and a lot of initial quality controls and controversy of how it got selected. And the US military has realized that full auto is best left to actual machine guns.

      • James Kachman

        Aside from the fact that it’s used completely different, yeah, it works perfectly.
        It’s either used in semi-automatic at long distance, for which the .308 is great, or with a CQB barrel for room clearing, in which case it works a bit better than an M4.

    • n0truscotsman

      They technically found about this with the Federov Avtomat (designed in 1915), which is the reason why it was chambered in 6.5 arisaka to begin with (and that was still too powerful).

    • Ge

      Well, to be fair, the world was on battle rifles for a while. The Americans IMO were playing catch-up with the Germans. At the end of the war, they took in weapons like the MG-42 and the mission was: “what were they thinking???” An example is how the M60 has a firing pin spring for no reason, simply because it was in the FG-42 (the logic being: if they thought it was a good idea, it must be). I wonder if they saw a light automatic battle rifle like the FG-42 and thought: if they thought it was a good idea, it must be!

    • gunsandrockets

      Actually the Americans knew this from testing the T-25 rifle before 1952.

  • dan citizen

    Great article.

    I like full power full auto. But realistically, the problems that arose here have not been resolved well enough even in the venerable G3, which is arguably the benchmark .308 select fire rifle.

    If they had been resolved to the world’s satisfaction we’d likely see a lot more full power/ full auto .308 out there.

  • The_Champ

    It’s my understanding that the SVT-40 didn’t see much use because the pressures and demands of wartime lead to the Soviets reverting to production of the Mosin Nagant which was cheaper and simpler to build.

    Pre-war, the plan was to make the SVT-40 the standard infantry weapon.
    There also seems to be lots of photos of German soldiers carrying captured SVT-40s, suggesting they found it a suitable weapon.

    As of late a ton of SVT-40s came up for sale in Canada for cheap. One of the few rifles that we have in excess that are hard to find the USA, I’m told.

    I find mine to be a comfortable shooter for a full power rifle, functions reliably, accuracy is nothing to write home about. The muzzle brake(mine is a later simplified version with just two big slots on each side) does a phenomenal job of reducing muzzle climb, the gun seems to kick straight back into your shoulder.

  • gunsandrockets

    Makes me wonder if the Soviets ever experimented with selective-fire versions of the SKS.

    • Eric S

      Well there was the AVS-36. I believe that was burst fire in 7.62x54r and I don’t think they liked it. Not sure how similar it was to a SKS, cause there aren’t many of them.

      Now, I wonder if the Chinese played with the idea of a fun switch in the SKS-M/D.

      • AVS-36 was fairly closely related to SKS; they had the s ame designer.

    • Hoff

      Select fire version of the SKS is the AK/AKM.

    • The Chinese had a select fire SKS variant, IIRC.

  • gunsandrockets

    Considering that the Tokarev rifle was too flimsy for a satisfactory semi-auto rifle it’s not surprising it functioned even worse as a fully automatic rifle.

    • I know at least one SVT owner who would disagree with you on that count.

  • Dwayne Phillips

    So how did the BAR work well? Really, I would like know. It seemed to work fine. A full-powered cartridge, full automatic. Please help me with this question.

  • guest

    Those that don’t learn from history…. yada yada yada.
    BTW the AVT had one feature which the M14 did not have as far as I know – a special bayonet that could be pointed at a 90 degree angle downwards and stuck into the soil to stabilize FA fire. But that did not help much either.