A Look At A Russian Rotary: The GSh-18 Pistol

MVD agent KardeN gives us another look into an elusive piece of Russian equipment, this time the Russian rotary GSh-18 pistol:

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The box it came in is very plain, and lacks a carry handle like most boxes pistols on the American market ship in:

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Accessories are sparing, just a cleaning rod, spare magazine, magazine loader (which, as KardeN points out, is absolutely necessary to load the mag), and an extra spring:



From this angle, the rather crude craftsmanship and lackluster polymer of the GSh-18 begins to become apparent.



The distinctive guide vanes on the barrel are apparent from this angle.


And of course, KardeN gives us a look at the guns internals as well:


Takedown is initiated by using the magazine floorplate to remove the slide catch.




The slide off of the frame. Note that the breechblock and slide are two separate pieces, as we’ll see.



Breaking down the upper yields us this:



Again, the magazine floorplate is used as a tool to remove the breechblock from the slide.

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The extractor is the large shaped piece over the bolt face, though it’s difficult to make out from the bolt itself. Enlarge the image to get full definition of the extractor.




The rotary locking surfaces, ten lugs not unlike the seven lugs of an AR-15, though mounted on the barrel, are evident in this photo. Note that the angled lugs at the front of the barrel to the right are guide vanes only.


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The locking surfaces in the upper are visible, as are noticeable toolmarks.

And the frame:

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The light-colored cradle to the left is somewhat mysterious in function, but my best guess is that it performs a similar function to a Glock’s striker connector. It also appears to act as the ejector.

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I have no idea what the claw-like part does.

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The gun borrows some elements from other striker-fired pistols, like the trigger-block safety, and the striker-fired mechanism:

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Sadly, the gun does not appear to be up to the standards of Western manufacture, despite being an innovative and promising design. The polymer quality, parts fit, and finish all leave much to be desired, as are evident from this rear view:


KardeN mentions, too, that the magazine is difficult to load past ten rounds, necessitating a magazine loading device:


Fully loaded and empty magazines.



The mag loader, an essential tool for magazine loading.



The GSh-18 uses, somewhat unusually, two-position feed magazines. Few other pistols do this, notably the APS Stechkin machine pistol, and the Steyr GB gas retarded blowback pistol.


The GSh-18 is a surpsingly large pistol, as these pictures comparing it to a PYa “Grach” handgun illustrate:


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Despite its innovative design, the GSh-18 is wider and almost as large in other dimensions than the large PYa Grach pistol. It does, however, have an admirably low bore axis.


Finally, we can take a look at the high pressure ammunition the GSh-18 and other Russian pistols use, which are essentially armor piercing +P+ loads of 9x19mm Parabellum:



The two rounds on the left are 7N21 AP (82gr steel cored bullet at 1,510 ft/s), and the rightmost round is 7N31 AP (65gr steel cored bullet at 1,970 ft/s). Both are very high pressure 9x19mm.


TFB friend Retiv graciously gives us the rundown of KardeN’s comments, as well as what his commenters think (my edits for clarity in brackets):

Karden’s impressions:

“- Light, especially without ammo.

– “peculiar” trigger – heavy and unpredictable.

– Recoil is forcing pistol muzzle to “jump” high

– Magazine lips design and impossibility of manual loading of more than ten rounds makes magazine loading an unpleasant task.

– The loading device has no place to attach sling to tie it. Otherwise, it is not difficult to lose …

All these difficulties with loading magazine suggests this scenario of use of the gun – fire two mags, and that forget about the gun.

– Because of the great efforts that are needed to load a mag with the help of the loading device, mag loading can be done only on hard surface/solid support, and it will be very difficult to load mags in any other position.

Of course, the situation with mags loading for pistol in combat is unlikely to happen, but sometimes the life of a military man presents such surprises …”


From comments:

“The desire to carry it is lost because of such miracles [sarcasm, I assume]?

– Yes, it is lost.”


“- I cleaned it twice and both times lubricant was rust-colored …”


“It looks terrible. As if it was machined from billet with a rasp.

– There is some disharmony in how it looks.

– The second assumption have a real basis…”


“From domestic pistols the GSh-18 is probably the best, but compared to our foreign guns – stone age. -rant-

– As strange as it sounds, but I will say as folk said, “There is nobody there to [motivate] designers, manufacturers and officials. We don’t have normal competition and there is no concept of “Doing it for country”


“- Assigned resource – 4000 shots with very [hot] 7N31 bullets.

– Glock is cheaper only abroad. It is 2 times more expensive than GSh here.
There have been cases of premature death of Glocks from 7N21 bullets in units on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • mechamaster

    “There have been cases of premature death of Glocks from 7N21 bullets in units on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

    Wait.. what ? Someone in Russia load the 7N21 into the Glock ?

    • Bronezhilet

      If it fits, it sits. Right?

      • mechamaster

        oh man, that’s funny !

    • iksnilol

      Glocks are indestructable, aren’t they?


      • mechamaster

        Lol. Honestly I’m still curious with that ‘part’.
        But yeah, like the Yargin Pya / MP443, they use similar Browning mechanism like the Glock ( and according to some article ) capable to eat 7N21 too, so ( maybe ) not much problem in short-term for the Glock firing P++ ammo.

        • iksnilol

          I doubt the mechanism is the source of problems, simply that they aren’t made to use such high pressure ammo is.

          Kinda like how you can use open bolt blowback for 50 bmg but it needs to be made for it.

          • Matt L.

            Nah dawg, just shove that fiddy-cal in your Mac-10. Blowback is blowback!

          • iksnilol

            Hmm… Blowback is blowback should mean that fiddy-cal is fiddy cal, right?

            Off to get some fiddy-cal lead balls and some blackpowder. Can we just shove a percussion cap to use as a primer?

          • Matt L.

            Uh, duh.

    • DW

      Comrade, it’s Russia, if a bottle of vodka can fit in artillery piece you bet someone would load it.

  • Darkpr0

    Interesting that they’re talking about Glocks dying from the heavy 9mm, is that something Civilians can even get their hands on in Russian Federation? Guns themselves are challenging to get there, but I suppose nothing’s impossible. I’m not too surprised about the quality of workmanship on the pistols. They were probably made to live hard, get used, and die. Pleasing a commercial list would be at the bottom of the must-have list, though it is always a shame when a product is not as beautifully made as it is beautifully designed. But it if shoots bullets, it shoots bullets.

    • Green Hell

      Lethal pistols in Russia can be used only by LE, Military, licensed PSC’s and gun clubs. Even professional sport shooters don’t own their pistols, they are required to keep them in gun club. There is, however, a bizarre loophole from soviet times alowing pistols to be “rewarded” for civies by the order of government oficials. This was intended for the retired officers and various decorated “more equal” folk, but nowadays its mostly how rich people and bandits with good connections get their guns in modern Russia.

    • toms

      Russia has very restrictive firearms laws especially with regards to handguns. Its very much like Isreal. Only police, military officers and those in power may have one. Also good luck getting legal ammo for it unless you smuggle it out of a shooting club. Ranges own firearms that they rent and they are supposed to count every piece of pistol brass you buy. Of course rich people can bribe those in power for a license and black market guns are common.

      • Green Hell

        Pistol ammo is no problem anymore, pistol caliber rifles were allowed a couple years back, along vith some interesting stuff like Saiga-9mm.

      • I’ll have to disagree. You can buy ammo for your licensed weapons without problems, if you have a license with you. Considering there are few pistol-caliber rifles, not every gunstore carries 9mm ammo (although of course most carry .22 LR). But you can buy it. Especially since there are also service pistols for people like private guards, night wardens, low-tier government workers etc. They also sell ammo for these somewhere (it’s often 9×17 Kurz).

        And when I went to the main IPSC range in Moscow, nobody counted brass. I asked and was permitted to gather half a dozen as souvenirs, and range assistants shoveled the rest into buckets. Now, smuggling outside – that would be a dumb move =) there’s a double scanner and a guard at the entry. But as you can understand I carried brass through without problems.

        Also, you can buy a pistol for sports purposes. No problem. This Glock or STI or CZ stays at the club, and you have to get a release to transport it to other clubs for competitions – you can’t transport it yourself. But it’s yours.

        So your info is very off the mark.

    • Kivaari

      We used Glocks. M 17 went to ~30,000 rounds with +P+ ammo. Then they issued me a Glock 34. I qualified with it, used it on the street for 3.5 hours, and retired.

    • Other commenters touched on this, but I’ll clarify: if you’re reading about practical usage of a pistol in Russia, especially with the named ammo (strictly government, special purpose, military AP ammunition) – you should presume that the author is from LE or military. IPSC and the like are getting some traction in Russia, but both GSh-18 and this AP ammo are strictly military only.

      • Darkpr0

        That was actually one of the points I was sort of poking at. I already kind of knew the answer (def not as well as those who have dealt with Russian law obviously), but was asking the question anyway. People are commenting on how the pistol is crudely made, has tool marks everywhere, and whatnot. I’m just having some fun noting that it makes no difference how nice it looks if the only people who use it are police and military, as its beauty and marketability are sort of immaterial compared to whether the gun works or not. If it runs like crap, then that’s a different problem to its exterior being hideous.

  • Looks like a warped child’s toy on the outside.
    On the inside it’s an overly complicated hot mess.

    • AlbertEinstein

      And shipped in a late 1980’s Glock box. Nyet! Glock box is fine!

    • Dan Atwater

      I believe this pistol has fewer parts than a Glock.

  • Spencedaddy

    this is my favorite thing that you guys post, please keep up the good work, full teardowns of obscure guns with high quality images is what I live for.

    • Green Hell

      Visit k-a-r-d-e-n.livejournal.com , that’s where the photos are from. The is a nice guy and answers all the questions.

      • Absolutely. For whatever reason, not all of his stuff is available on his blog, though most is available via Imgur.

  • Lance

    Wish we could get the pistol imported….. Darn Obama.

  • M

    That box is the same type earlier gen glocks used to be shipped in. Thats why called it the Tupperware gun

    • Phil Hsueh

      I was going to mention that, my Glock came in box just like that.

  • David W.

    You said Russian Rotary, and I automatically thought a Lada with a Mazda 13b dropped in.

    • Green Hell

      Not sure if you meant it as a joke or not, but Lada actually made their own rotary engine car in the late 90’s and even sold them in some limited numbers.

      • G0rdon_Fr33man

        Not only that, Lada gets a bad rep in the west, but they make very robust no-nonsense cars in the right Russian spirit that gave us the AK47. You can see this philosophy in many other aspects of Russian manufacturing and defense products.

        • Green Hell

          Frankly, lightly speaking, there’s not much of a good rep for Lada in Russia. Untill just recently, for decades it was an extremely corrupt state-owned manufacturer, which was consuming literally billions rubles of government donations into nothing, while their cars remained the same ancient 70’s-80’s crap and workers suvived on close to minimum wage. And while being simple, Ladas were NEVER any close to being reliable, which is why the factory had to be kept afloat by donations and extreme import taxes to keep people from buying the 20 years old used German and Japanese cars instead, which were still many times better in every way. The only way cars like Niva’s and UAZ’s are any good is because of their military roots and a price.

          • iksnilol

            Not my experience with them.

            They are kinda common amongst hunters and people living up north here in Norway. Some people even have it as an “exclusive” winter car. They work, and even somebody as mechanically challenhed as me can keep them working.

  • Bronezhilet

    KardeN sounds like somebody I can get along with quite well.

  • mosinman

    it didn’t look so bad till you showed the back of the slide, and although it’s hideous looking i bet it works quite well

  • Devil_Doc

    Looks sorta like a Caracal on the outside. Inside looks Norinco-ey… Norinco-ish?

  • Anonymoose

    I need this. For reasons.

  • ostiariusalpha

    The H&K VP70, FNH FiveseveN, and Kel Tec PMR-30 are also members of the exclusive double stack/dual feed magazine pistol club.

    • David

      Don’t forget the late and largely unlamented Steyr GB, which was gas-delayed like the P7 and the Walther CCP. Quite an accurate beast too.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Mr. Nathaniel F already mentioned the Steyr GB in the article, that’s why I didn’t include it in my list. Good work pointing out it’s operation type though!

  • INFI

    Really got to love the ammo tho!!

  • Kivaari

    Crude comes to mind. Striker fired like a Raven. Ugly.

  • JamesRPatrick

    The molding on the back is ugly as sin. Looks like low volume production almost. I wouldn’t mind tool marks but at least have the decency to remove the plastic flash. Very neat design but it seems unnecessarily complex.

    • lapkonium

      it most probably is low volume production

      • Xtorin O’hern

        um, the back of that gun has seen a file of some sort, generally they don’t look that bad

    • Green Hell

      Most of the guns in Russia other than contract military weapons are low volume production. Of course they are, since civilian market is nonexistent and most export markets were lost in the 90’s.

  • nanoc

    If I remember correctly the reason the back is like that is because someone ether in KardeN’s group or before them filed the back. Cant remember exactly but from memory maybe it was slide bite or maybe it was to rough and they took a file to it. If someone looks in the comments of the article these pic’s are from it in there somewhere.

    • Yeah, it merits a reply from TFB. Going back to the pics, it looks like the back of the frame seen some file. Sadly I don’t have time right now to scour Karden’s blog for evidence (it might take hours) but it’s feasible.

    • nanoc

      This is how the rear looks unmolested.

  • Dracon1201

    <3 <3 <3 One day, my love. I shall build you anew and love and cherish your overbuilt exterior, GSH 18.

  • disqus_PDmXLtTxJj

    Not a fan of russian stuff in general EXCEPT for the saiga 12 which I think is the best home defense shotgun after you modify and tune it corrcctly. What kind of accuracy does this pistol have at various distances.

  • Dan Atwater

    That claw on the right side of the frame is the barrel catch, helps stop rearward movement of the barrel during recoil.

    • Strongarm

      That hook shaped part retains the barrel in its recoiled back position during the slide backward travel.

  • iksnilol

    The rear has obviously been modified, that looks like somebody used a file.

  • DW

    This is Russia’s Hi-Point : Robust +p+ ammo slingers that does not keyhole, and nothing else.

    Unlike Hi Point tho this actually looks amazing to some people

  • Mowzer

    Looks like the anti-Beretta. The Russians never designed anything beautiful, but functional. The Italians do both.

    • StoictheVast

      “Finish and Ergonomics…….Comrade, what is this finish and ergonomics you speak of?”

  • rambo jones

    That thing looks like it was machined with a hand rasp! Great write up.

  • Frank Martin

    Never thought i would see it.. but Russia can produce a gun more crude than Hi-Points.

  • mosinman

    looks like TFB was wrong about the fit and finish

  • Giolli Joker

    Excessive muzzle jump is not what you’d expect from a pistol with such a low bore axis…
    I’d suppose the rearward travel of the hefty slide has an influence on it.

    • Max Glazer

      The gun itself is very light. Less mass in the weapon – easier it is to throw around. US soldiers noted that M-16A2 has less recoil then A1 version due to A2 gaining some extra mass.

  • guest

    I see some people have a hard time coming to terms with that this is NOT a civilian gun.
    It was designed from the ground up as a kind of “russian Glock”, with emphasis on being lighter, more reliable and fire the +P+ ammo. It manages to do all of that, and for the same weight as an empty Beretta the user can carry this gun plus 2 loaded magazined (18 rounds in each). From a military standpoing this is a huge hands-down win, especially considering that Beretta stops at level IIIA while this will punch trough level III like a hot knife trough butter and there is NO need to adopt some exotic cartridge like the 5,6mm etc. The dual-feed magazine adds to capacity without adding to length, and is responsible for less jams.

    So if it does not please the eye, so what? It was never ment to. Russia has no market for private handguns, and the designers (Grazyev & Shipunov company) manufacture everything for this gun to 6-barreled 30mm gatling guns and rocket systems, it’s not like this gun was made as some bid to take over a market.
    And this is in line with AK and the rest – never ment to look good, if you want something that looks good buy a 5 grand custom made 1911 with a fit so tight you will need a micrometer to measure the gaps. AK was ment to be a pratical weapon to satisfy as specific need, and since many here seem to suffer from the gun fashion faggotry syndrome – that a gun needs to look “cool”, well again sorry to disappoint you, but you hold yourself in too high regard – this is like coming in to a hardware store that sells hammers and ask for a surgeon’s scalpel and a dentist’s drill. Does not compute.

  • skizzums

    I think military contractors are really missing the mark on making the best pistol for AP work. It has to take a whole lot less energy to push a 22 caliber bullet through armor than a 35 caliber. I am always amazed at what anemic rim-fire is able to do to armor, wmr and especially .17. Wouldn’t be easier to adopt something like the .22TCM and swap barrels n already existing firearms, rather than come up new strengthened actions to hold up to the needed increased pressures of +P+ AP 9mm round. I wouldn’t think, in a military firearm anyway, that the difference between .132 would matter much in wounding ballistics, especially when limited to “pass-through” type rounds rather than hollow-points. I could be way off base, i’m by no means an expert, just not the route i would go if the desired result is an armor-piercing pistol.

  • Fred Johnson

    I like it. I like a lot.

    However, I’d like it more with an alloy frame.

    How can one have all those unconventional parts made in metal and go “Glock” on it with a poly frame? Glock has “dime a dozen” mechanicals befitting of it’s “dime a dozen” polymer frame. This Russian is special in comparison.

    Come on. Add the 7 or 8 ounces back into the gun. Make it more badass than it already is.