The APS Stechkin: From Sidearm To Spetsnaz

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The Stechkin APS received a mention in the Handgun Radio segment I collaborated on with Daniel Watters, and for good reason. It could be argued that the APS, though and obscure weapon in the West, is one of the very few truly successful machine pistol designs ever fielded by a military power.

The concept of a lightweight automatic firearm goes back to probably before the beginning of the 20th Century, but the successful implementation of the idea has so far eluded almost all who pursue it, with very few exceptions. Russian small arms developers had been playing with the idea since at least the early 1920s, and by the late 1930s were ready to adopt a machine pistol in 7.62x25mm designed by an engineer named Voyevodin. This weapon was a lightweight select-fire weapon with an 18-round double-row magazine. Like many Russian projects of the era, however, it was cancelled with the outbreak of war in 1941.

At the end of World War II, therefore, the Soviet Union sought again to procure a new pistol, as well as a new machine pistol to finally realize a lightweight personal defense weapon. In this effort, they incorporated lessons learned in the war, reducing the engineering and cost requirements of their next-generation of personal small arms by adopting an “ideal” 9mm cartridge. This was an incarnation of an idea formulated before WWII, which split the difference between full-size pistol rounds like 9mm and .45 ACP that require locked breech mechanisms to meet reasonable size and weight requirements, and smaller, lower-pressure rounds like the .25, .32, and .380 ACP, which, though impotent, were suitable for production in lightweight blowback operated pistols. Such a round could dramatically reduce the cost of procuring pistols, while not sacrificing their essential characteristics. Soviet designers Nikolay Makarov and Igor Stechkin designed weapons that would bear their name: The semiautomatic, compact PM pistol, and the select-fire, full-size APS machine pistol.

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The Stechkin APS with attached resin/bakelite shoulder stock/holster. This was one of the very few successful machine pistols, but it proved too inconvenient to carry for its original intended role. Image source: wikipedia.org

 

The purpose of Stechkin’s new machine pistol was to give infantry a combat-capable weapon that would not interfere with other duties they had to perform. New weapons central to Soviet infantry doctrine like the RPG-2 precluded issuing even lightweight longarms like the brand-new Simonov semiautomatic carbine, as those were too unwieldy when carried with a portable anti-tank weapon. Therefore, the APS must be usable as a pistol, but to fully meet the needs of these troops also had to be useful as a submachine gun or carbine as well, and so it was given a detachable resin/bakelite shoulder stock which also doubled as a holster, very similar to the Mauser C96, which had proved so useful as a dual-purpose weapon. The addition of the stock allowed for effective use of the automatic fire mode, as well, further increasing the pistol’s utility, and, unlike the Mauser, the Stechkin was a simple, cheap weapon to manufacture and maintain.

Besides a shoulder stock, the APS also incorporates a very novel plunger-type rate reducer, to which energy is transferred during the cycling of the bolt. The plunger acts on the disconnector; when the plunger is traveling either down towards the butt of the grip, or up towards the firing mechanism, the pistol cannot fire. Once the plunger returns to its topmost position, it activates the disconnector and the gun fires. This adds a slight delay to the guns operation, and reduces the rate of fire from what would probably be well over 1,000 rds/min to a much more reasonable 700-750 rds/min. Other than the rate reducer and the select-fire mechanism, it is a very standard double/single-action blowback-operated handgun, similar to the Makarov or PPK.

The Stechkin proved relatively short-lived as the primary personal defense weapon of the Red Army. The weapon proved too bulky and large, especially with its shoulder stock/holster to be very convenient for carry for such a short-range weapon, and with the advent of compact, folding-stock AKS Kalashnikov assault rifles, the APS machine pistols were relegated to military depots and storage facilities. The Stechkin’s story would end there, as another not-very-successful machine pistol had, in the 1970s, Russian special forces (“Spetsnaz”) not discovered that it proved to be an extremely capable compact suppressor platform. APS machine pistols were modified to the APB configuration, with a longer threaded barrel, suppressor, and wire stock. These weapons achieved a great deal of success with special units, and were used throughout the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and to the present day.

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Some of the weapons used by KardeN, an MVD agent who has released a great deal of photos of his and others’ gear. This picture shows the great size of the APS machine pistol, which is much, much larger than even full-size handguns like the TT-33. Also visible is a top row of various Makarov pistols, a PSS captive-piston silent pistol, and a 9x19mm Russian PYa Grach pistol. Image source: k-a-r-d-e-n.livejournal.com

 

The Stechkin in fact proved so popular with these units that unmodified APS machine pistols are also in use with Russian special forces/special law enforcement teams, as they are very accurate and have a much greater capacity than PMM Makarov pistols, plus the added benefit of emergency full auto fire. These pistols, now nearing half a century old, can still be found in photos of Russian special units teams and their equipment, with plenty of wear from constant use. They are almost never seen with their original bulky shoulder stock/holsters, however, apparently being used as pure pistols, or with wire or folding stock designs.

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The APB suppressed variant of the Stechkin. Missing from this photo is the pistol’s wire stock, which mates with the suppressor to form a single stowable package. Image source: imgur.com

 

Such is the demand for these pistols, that one of Igor Stechkin’s last projects before his death in 2001 was a replacement for the APS pistol, designated the OTs-33 “Pernach” (“Mace”), which is an even simpler design with a much more compact folding sheet metal stock. The OTs-33 is reportedly currently in production and in use with some special police units, like OMON, though I have never seen pictures of it in the field. Like the APS, the OTs-33 is a double-action blowback operated hammer-fired select-fire handgun in 9x18mm PM caliber. Also like the APS, it’s very heavy and large, though made considerably more convenient than its predecessor by the folding steel stock.

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The OTs-33 “Pernach” machine pistol in 9x18mm. Image source: world.guns.ru

 

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OTs-33 disassembled, and with shoulder stock. Image source: survincity.com

 

The APS is therefore – by the skin of its teeth, perhaps – one of the few machine pistol success stories. Though the type was never really successful as a personal defense weapon (the Soviets would eventually develop the AKS-74U subcompact assault rifle to fill this role), as a special, close-quarters weapon for direct action police and military teams, the APS has seen a great deal of use since the 1970s. To get a sense of how effective and controllable a Stechkin APS can be, below are embedded some videos of the type in use. Also, Guns & Ammo recently released a brief treatment of the machine pistol, including a range session, which is well worth watching. At Forgotten Weapons, you can further download the manual for the APS machine pistol in either English or Russian. There is even a website devoted to Igor Stechkin and his designs, stechkin.info.

 

H/T, Grant Cunningham



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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  • MattCFII

    Any idea how many are in the pre-1986 transferable? I can’t imagine that many at all.

    • Tom

      As I understand it there was a complete embargo on Soviet arms in the US so I would guess none. Hence the use of Egyptian, Chinese and Finish AKs in the actions movies of the 80s.

      There are a couple of PSM pistols in the US. which made it in only because visiting Soviet officials gifted them to people but unless a rather generous official gave some one a Stechkin then there would be none in the US.

      • toms

        They were also issued to soviet satellite states and proxy customers in smallish numbers. There is at least one sample in the US that was a bringback pre 68.

        • jcitizen

          That may be that Vietnamese battle field pick up I remember where the suppressor literally looked like it was built into the slide – Not actually knowing how it was built under the stamped metal, I assume most of it was just a heat shield. *as seen in a history book somewhere.*

    • For a Stechkin to be transferable, it would need to have been imported prior to the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968. GCA68 closed the door on imported machineguns long before FOPA86 did the same thing to domestic machineguns.

      • jcitizen

        Some local ATF offices were given discretion for amnesty, if it was registered in any US military records of any kind. That was the only requirement pre-86 – however most districts were not that loose. Some commanders put them in captured inventory, so they had US records on file. A lot of guns made it to the US from Vietnam and were legally registered that way. Veterans were giving great leeway in those days.

    • Nonzero, I think. Not many.

    • INFI

      Like he said…

  • Lance

    I find it funny how the tacti coolers and Russian politicians push 9x19mm pistols and SMG on Russian security force and they reject them for the less powered 9x18mm pistol cartridge. It is a good little round. Shows how Russian solders did stop some interference from Russian politicians.

    • Tom

      For many soldiers a weapon is just something you have to carry around with little chance of ever actually having to use in anger. Thus a Makarov which fits nicely in a pocket is better than a full sized service pistol which needs a holster and weights alot more. British troops loved the Sterling SMG whilst on exercise because it was a lot easier to carry than a SLR but once the shooting started they tended to drop them pretty sharpish in favor of SLRs or M16s. I imagine the Russian experience is the same after all many tankers in Afghanistan found a way to cram AKSU into their tanks.

      Of course there are also examples of combat troops opting for lighter “less capable” weapons in combat like the use of the M1 Carbine by US Infantry in WWII and Korea. I would guess that as long as the weapon has a good chance of getting the job done then lighter weight wins out against heavier but more effective.

      On a final note on a point of doctrine the Soviets and later Russians never considered the handgun a mainstream weapon like the Americans. The thinking was simple if you think you need a large pistol with 15 plus rounds and couple of spare mags then what you really need is an AK and a dozen spare mags! I for one am not about to argue.

      • Gjert Klakeg Mulen

        Seems like a perfectly reasonable doctrine.
        Handguns are mostly used by higher ranking officers anyways, and for the soldiers who needs something smaller than a carbine but also needs something bigger than a handgun, a PDW like the B&T MP9, H&K MP7, CBJ MS or PP-2000 is perfect.

    • Gjert Klakeg Mulen

      Stechkin in a modern holster:

      • Roy G Bunting

        120+ rounds in 8+ spare magazines. It’s true, you can never have too much spare ammo 🙂

        • iksnilol

          8*20=160

          + the 20 in the gun.

        • Zebra Dun

          DANG!

    • For those who might by accident be taking Lance even the least bit seriously, there’s a VERY big difference in penetration between 9×18 PBM 57gr at 1,702 ft/s and 9x19mm 7N31 65gr at 1,970 ft/s 7N31.

      • Lance

        Yeah if your dumb enough to listen tacti cool Lardo Nathaniel F yeah on paper your right but most interviews from Russians who carry pistols still use a Makarov even for a back up.

        • Ed

          Stop the brawl guys. Just read last years AK-47 magazine. Said both PM pistol and GSH-18 are in use. Some like the Makarov over the newer pistol some in use some not. Much like Glock vs. M&P here.

          • Just say’n

            Likely because Maks as so amazingly reliable. Shot thousands of rounds through mine (an East German PM and a commercial IJ-70) and never, not once, did they fail to go bang.

        • And you see a lot of 9×19 weapons in use, too, so how exactly is that the fault of politicians and “tacti cool lardos”?

      • 11B

        Lance is the consummate internet troll- just look at KitUp and elsewhere.

  • gunsandrockets

    OTs-33 has a square barrel, how about that.

    • I’ve checked the description and it seems that it is, in fact, barrel (not a weighted part of the bolt hugging the barrel, like in an UZI – like I thought initially). Moreover, it’s a moving barrel! The slide hits it on the rearmost position of its travel, and the barrel moves back a little. Owing to its great mass, it slows down the slide, thus reducing the RoF without any complicated mechanical reducers.

  • Edeco

    Seems like a great idea to me. Just a little tweak; I think the perfect cartridge would be 7.65×21 Lounge-Pistol.

    • The Argentinians played with a full-auto Browning High Power in 7.63x21mm Mannlicher.

  • SirOliverHumperdink

    Why do I love the things I can’t have?

  • Oldtrader3

    Looks as though the Russian’s did their usual and stole the best from John Browning and Walther?

    • INFI

      Don’t worry, it was a long time ago. In both cases.

  • Dracon1201

    But how about that OTS33, or the GSH18?

    • Zebra Dun

      Well, one is a Glock. >runnin’ duckin’ hidin'<

      • Dracon1201

        HOW DARE YOU GOOD SIR! /JK the OTS is beautiful, and I like the GSH being overbuilt. They’re cool guns.

  • INFI

    Always liked this version. With one of the world’s most simple suppressor designs, that work by welded turned washers and volume.

    • iksnilol

      I like that the stock is attached to the suppressor.

      At least it looks like that.

      • Zebra Dun

        Probably where it’s stored along with the wire stock. I wonder if there is a separate holster for both the stock/silencer and pistol?

  • Max Popenker
    • INFI

      Interesting, that cyclic rate is a lot slower than I thought it would be.

      • Dan Atwater

        The APS has a rate reducer similar to the VZ 61, IIRC

        • INFI

          HMMM very interesting……….

  • Henrik Bergdahl

    They have examples of a suppressed stetchkin and other suppressed weapons (like a suppressed mosin nagant) in the central armed forced museum in Moscow. I can recommend a visit. Unfortunately everything is in Russian, sorry tourists. When I went I was there May 8th. The day before the parade. And shared the museum with all the WW2 veterans, medals and all. Was awesome. Got to shake the hand of a geniune hero of the Soviet Union.

  • johngalts_brother

    I love that in the 4th video all the guys start laughing after the gun empties. Guys are all the same the world over.

  • Kevin Harron

    Great article as usual.

  • Zebra Dun

    The machine pistol in a handgun format just will not die.
    this one is probably the best.

  • maodeedee

    What’s the mag capacity?