9 Prototype Soviet Assault Rifles From WWII

Автомат Коровина 1946 года2

While it’s well known that the Germans were the first to field select-fire assault rifles in large numbers during World War II, the Soviets, thoroughly impressed by the idea of an intermediate-power infantry cartridge and intrigued by the idea of the assault rifle, were hot on the Germans’ heels with as many as nine different kinds of prototype assault rifles completed before the end of of the war. Each of these weapons were developed by talented and accomplished Soviet arms designers, and offer a glimpse into the genesis of the Russian assault rifle program that would eventually result in the world-famous Kalashnikov “AK-47” rifle, the most-produced weapon of its kind in history.

To complete this article, I have had to rely heavily on the Russian-language articles written by Alexander at his excellent blog Armory Exotic. Because I do not speak or read much Russian, my information is coming via the imperfect means of machine translation. I will reference each article in the respective segment of the weapon it describes, and would greatly appreciate hearing from our Russophone readers any corrections to errors I may have made with regard to this article’s factual correctness. In addition, I found a wealth of relatively high-resolution photos hosted over at the Ohrana.ru forums, including several models of prototype Soviet assault rifles I do not cover in this post.

All nine of the rifles below would have been chambered in the Soviet 7.62x41mm M43 intermediate cartridge, the predecessor to the now-familiar 7.62x39mm round of the AK and SKS series of rifles.

Sudaev AS-44

Автомат Судаева

The Sudaev AS-44 rifle. Note the tilting bolt. This appears to be a fourth  model, though I am not sure. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

The assault rifle designed by Alexei Sudaev is easily the best-known Soviet assault rifle of the Second World War, and the most successful, as well. However, it’s still quite obscure, despite being produced for field trials just after the conclusion of the war in Europe. In my article Ten 20th Century Military Rifles History Has Forgotten, I wrote the text below about the AS-44:

sudaev_a

One of the most interesting forgotten rifles of World War II, the Sudaev AS-44 was a limited production assault rifle that saw service in 1945 in troop trials just after the victory in Europe. The AS-44 was chambered for the new 7.62x41mm cartridge – the predecessor to the highly successful 7.62x39mm Soviet intermediate cartridge, which arose as a modification to allow the design to use steel-cored projectiles. Like the MP.44, Ribeyrolle CM 1918, and many other early assault rifle designs, the AS-44 was heavy, at around 11 pounds unloaded.

762x41-1

The AS-44 used the highly successful tilt-locking bolt pioneered by the Czechs in the ZB 26 machine gun, and also used in the MP.44, coupled – also like the MP.44 – to a fixed piston similar to that later used in the AK rifle.

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Sudaev’s rifle was promising, but by 1945 Sudaev himself had fallen severely ill, and he died the next year. While development of his rifle ceased, elements were carried forward in the Kalashnikov assault rifle design, which became the world-famous AK rifle.

In fact, seven models of the AS-44 existed, the first six representing incremental improvements to the design which are covered in the Armory Exotic article linked above. The seventh model, however, was a modified version of the fourth model that utilized a gas-delayed blowback mechanism similar to that used in the Heckler & Koch P7, the Walther CCP, and the Gustloff last-ditch carbine. The AS-44 was a very heavy weapon; the first model with integral bipod weighed almost twelve and a half pounds unloaded (it’s unknown whether that’s with an empty magazine or not). His rifles were determined to be reliable weapons in tests, but they were considered too heavy and not as accurate as the existing Mosin rifle. Development ended when the middle-aged Sudaev suddenly fell ill in 1945 and died in 1946. Sudaev’s weapon may have left a lasting mark on the small arms world, however, as it appears the magazine pattern common today because of the AK series of rifles was derived from Sudaev’s design.

1063377_original

An AS-44, which may be a fourth model, showing the tilting bolt, carrier, and fixed gas piston of the design. Note the hinged dust cover, which would be re-incorporated into Soviet assault rifle design with the AKS-74U compact weapon. Image source: raigap.livejournal.com.

 

Tokarev AT-44

1060559_original

The AT-44, bipod deployed. Note the bipod feet with optional folding stake-ends. Image source: raigap.livejournal.com

In what can only be described as a logical step from his AVT-40 select-fire 7.62x54mmR rifle design, Soviet designer Fedor Tokarev developed beginning in October of 1943 (by which point g. Tokarev was in his seventies) an assault rifle of the same basic design, in the brand-new 7.62x41mm M43 caliber. Development was conducted in Nudelman’s OKB-16 bureau in Moscow, and the rifle was complete and submitted for testing by May 7th of 1944.

Автомат Токарева

The Tokarev AT-44. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

The AT-44 was mechanically nearly identical to the AVT-40 that preceded it, the latter simply being a select-fire variant of the SVT-40 rifle that was produced in some numbers. This, plus his political connections, gave Tokarev a considerable lead in development over other designers. The AT-44 utilized a gas regulator mounted to an integrated unit providing the gas block, front sight, muzzle brake, and bayonet lug. Versus the SVT-40, it had a shorter receiver, smaller bolt face, relocated trigger (to accommodate a pistol grip), and a selector lever located on the lower rear portion of the trigger guard. The automatic fire mechanism of the AT-44 was very simple, with the position of the trigger itself determining semi- or fully-automatic fire.

The rifle additionally incorporated a folding bipod with folding stake-end feet, allowing use on either hard or soft ground. With this bipod, the rifle weighed ten and a half pounds. Interestingly, the design also incorporated trapdoor compartments on both the buttstock and bottom of the pistol grip, the latter being a feature that wouldn’t become popular again until the 21st Century.

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Stowage compartments in the AT-44. Image source: raigap.livejournal.com

 

Ultimately, the AT-44’s conservatism was its undoing, as the rifle failed in tests, and the fundamental design was considered too poor to warrant further development. This feeling was shared for the rifle’s bigger brother, the SVT-40, which was so poorly received that production was stopped in mid-1943.

 

Much less information is known about the following three weapons than the preceding two:

 

Korovin AK-44

Автомат Коровина

The Korovin AK-44, apparently missing its receiver cover. The annular piston appears to be visible under the handguards. Note the bipod, a Soviet requirement at the time. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

 

Korovin’s design appeared to use tilt-locking of some variety, with an action powered by an annular gas piston (a design that would crop up again on the Czech vz. 52 rifle). The weapon was, apparently, fully automatic only, though perhaps that was just because it was a developmental model. Interestingly, Korovin may have had the most experience designing assault rifles, as a rifle bearing his name and probably chambered for the American .351 WSL cartridge is known to have been made in 1933.

 

 

Shpagin AS-44

Автомат Шпагина

The Shpagin assault rifle, AS-44. This was a straight-blowback design, and was quickly shown to be unsuccessful. Inset: The AS-44, with receiver “shotgunned” open to show the moving parts. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

Georgy Shpagin, designer of the famous PPSh-41 submachine gun, and co-designer of the 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun, also developed a rifle for the trials before the end of the war. His weapon was an attempt to directly translate the PPSh-41’s design into an intermediate assault rifle, and was unsuccessful. The weapon’s unlocked, straight blowback breech resulted in a very heavy moving mass, and very violent action that spoiled the weapon’s controllability. After only 315 rounds fired, the Shpagin assault rifle was dropped from the competition. However, his design led to a mandate that all further Russian assault rifle designs trialed must be have some kind of breech locking mechanism.

 

Bulkin AB-44

Автомат Булкина

The Bulkin AB-44. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

The translation is difficult to read on how the AB-44 worked, but it appears that the design was intended to minimize the number of machined components needed by offloading the locking pressure to the front of the receiver, a design element that would be repeated in Bulkin’s later AB-46 rifle, and incorporated into Kalashnikov’s AK-46 and AK-47 rifles. To do this, it seems the rifle used a camming, rotating bolt riding in swept locking surfaces, operating the gun via retarded blowback. The AB-44 is the most unusual looking weapon of those covered in this article, taking more of its cues in appearance from light machine guns of the time than submachine guns or assault rifles.

The AB-46, a more traditional rifle also designed by Bulkin, would become one of the front-runners in the Soviet Union’s assault rifle program, and heavily influenced the design of the successful Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle.

bulkinfd6

The Bulkin AB-46. Even from this photo, the design’s influence on the Kalashnikov is clear. Image source: gunandgame.com

 

Korovin AK-45

Автомат Коровина 1946 года

The Korovin AK-45. Image source: forums.obraha.ru

Sources put this rifle as dating from either 1945 or 1946, while the weapon appears in photos with a later-pattern AK magazine, suggesting that somehow the two used compatible magazine patterns. The weapon used a bullpup layout which was extremely innovative at the time, and utilized duralumin for the buttplate and magazine. The latter was very significant, as it would have substantially reduced the weight of ammunition carried on the soldier, and indeed the Czechs put this idea into practice with the vz. 58 rifle. The AK-45 failed initial range tests.

 

Finally, for the following rifles I do not even know enough about to write descriptions. I know only the names of the designers, and what can be seen from the photos. However, all are equipped with bipods, which was dropped as a requirement before 1946, which suggests to me that they were all developed during World War II, or shortly thereafter:

 

 

Alexandrovich and Ivanov Avtomat

Автомат Е. К. Александровича и В. Н. Иванова

The Alexandrovich and Ivanov avtomat. The pattern of magazine, tilting bolt, and bipod strongly suggest this weapon was developed for the rifle trials at the end of and shortly after WWII, but I do not know that for certain. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

 

Alexandrovich and Kashtanov Avtomat

Автомат Е. К. Александровича и А. А. Каштанова

The Alexandrovich and Kashtanov avtomat, apparently a development of the weapon above, judging by its appearance. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

 

Kuzmishchev Avtomat

Автомат Кузмищева

The Kuzmishchev avtomat. The designer of this rifle is referenced as being involved in the early Soviet assault rifle program here, but I have no other evidence that this is an early gun. Still, it mounts a bipod which indicates it may have been. Image source: forum.ohrana.ru

 

If any of our readers have any more information on any of the weapons covered in this article, please don’t hesitate to let us know.



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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  • Martin Grønsdal

    that bullpup must have been super light – and super hot for your left hand 😉

    • KestrelBike

      They were relying on Магпул to come out with aftermarket handguards.

    • Sianmink

      pipe-clamp a shovel handle onto the barrel and you are good to go, товарищ!

    • Southpaw89

      I’m going with the theory that the user was supposed to grip it like a handgun.

    • thats what gloves are for 😛

    • JK

      Handwarmer for Russian winter

    • BattleshipGrey

      Looks like a great truck gun.

      • Martin Grønsdal

        What is a truck gun?

        • skusmc

          In Soviet Russia it is gun that fires trucks.

        • BattleshipGrey

          I think it should be a light, handy, inexpensive gun… that you keep in your truck. The concept has been debated quite a bit, between whether or not it should even be done, and if so, what it should be.

          • Martin Grønsdal

            I don’t like the idea to store a gun I a truck, other than that, a handy gun is always …. handy

  • mechamaster

    Tokarev AT-44… Russian Ruger Mini-14..

  • Darkpr0

    Interesting that the AT44 was not well-received. We in Canada have often wondered why the SVT is available only in its (very long) full length, whereas the Mosin evolved to have a great many carbine variants. I wonder if the SVT was not developed further because they were wagering on the AT44 as the future of combat, rather than a shortened battle rifle?

    • I dunno, the M1 is a bit fatter, but it’s much shorter and handier, in my opinion.

      • Darkpr0

        I disagree wholeheartedly. Going on weight alone my SVT is most of a pound lighter empty, and the balance is much closer to the person despite the super-long receiver. The Garand is way fatter (plus my extra-fat Italian stock) but I could deal with that if the weight was closer to the rear. The full-length oprod and gas system seriously hurts it. All IMHO, but I do play with them both pretty much every day.

        • Balance is going to depend on a lot of things, but it wouldn’t surprise me for the M1 to be more front-heavy… Weight between the two is going to vary a lot based on whether you added the magazine to the SVT or not, and the weight of the stock for both rifles (a Garand with a fat stock, such as a Boyd’s, is going to weigh a lot more).

          So balance could be a win for the SVT, I suppose, weight is extremely variable between the specific rifles, and the SVT is unequivocally much longer than an M1.

          Anyway, if you want what’s essentially similar to a carbine-length SVT, try the MAS-49/56.

          • Darkpr0

            I’ll put mine on the scale tonight. My Garand is a Beretta M1 with original Italian wood. It’s a fatty. Not as fat as the bloated NM ones I’ve seen, though. I’ll agree that the SVT is longer. It’s every bit as long as a 91/30 despite 4 inches less barrel. Horrible for maneuvering. Really good if someone’s trying to bayonet you with a cavalry carbine.

          • Be sure to throw in the SVT’s mag. Can’t take the M1’s mag out. 😉

          • Darkpr0

            M1 and G43 weigh in at 9.7 lbs, SVT at 9.0, all magazines in. Still feels way better.

          • What kind of stock does your SVT have?

          • Darkpr0

            Standard, not AVT. Early-style SVT with the 6-slot muzzle brake and sniper rails, but no notch.

          • No, I mean does it have a lower or higher density stock? That can affect the weight significantly, though I admit I am not an expert on what variations one can expect in SVT stocks…

          • Darkpr0

            Couldn’t tell you. I have no others to compare against, though the wood is hardwood and appears to be the same material and finish as my Mosin PU. I cannot weigh the wood alone as it doesn’t have enough weight to trip my scale.

          • I am just surprised the SVT is that light with magazine. No, you’re right then, lop some barrel off and you’d have a pretty handy gun.

            Too bad in the Russians’ estimation, the gun didn’t work very well.

          • Darkpr0

            You’re not the first to be surprised by this stupid thing’s weight. It was first handled by a diehard Garand fan, and he has also expressed a desire for a carbine SVT after playing with this one. The wood is very crudely inlet, however, and this probably accounts from some of the accuracy. But that’s not a fatal problem with the gun. The German’s liked it enough to jack the top half for the G43 at least.

          • I’m not a stranger to the SVT, either, it just didn’t feel as handy to me for whatever reason, or at least that’s how I remember it.

            Thanks for the info!

  • DetroitMan

    Interesting that they all included bipods. I sort of get it, but a bipod is really superfluous for an assault rifle (when used in its intended role). Probably a good thing that the requirement was dropped.

    • It would come back in vogue in the West, though.

      • Major Tom

        It started coming back in the 1960s. Back then bipod accessories for every NATO assault and battle rifle emerged. I’ve seen video from Vietnam where American GIs had M16s with bipods attached.

  • BrandonAKsALot

    Edited to add some stuff after closer inspection:
    Concerning the Korovin AK-45, that is not an AK magazine. If you look closely, the rear locking lug would be visible, the feed lip reinforcement plate would be straight across, at least most of the way, and the front lug plate would also be visible if it were a Kalashnikov magazine. It is possible that the magazine could have been modified to fit the firearm for the photo. It’s a very confusing photo in that sense as that pattern did not develop until the early 50’s and the prototype AKM magazine did not look like that, so I doubt the design originated from whatever that magazine is.

    Now that I’ve checked out the image enlarged, I’m saying that is a Romanian magazine that was modified to fit the gun. It fits the Romanian mag characteristics to the T. In fact, it’s likely it was done just for the photo and would be non-functional considering I can’t see anyway that the gun would retain the mag without both lugs.

    • Brandon, thank you VERY much for this comment. Yes, I think the magazine was probably modified just for the photo and/or museum exhibit.

  • Vasily

    Not gun-related, but it’s Kashtanov and Kuzmishchev. The ending -a in the nominative turns these gentlemen into ladies, but machine translation doesn’t give a crap 🙂

    • Thanks. My Russian is terrible, but I still should have caught that.

      • Vasily

        You’re welcome! I remember even seeing “Kalashnikova” somewhere on the web a couple of times. Arrrgh, the sacrilege! 😀

        • Martin Grønsdal

          Not unless you write Polish. ‘Automat Kalasznikowa’

  • TDog

    Wow! A lot of those are ugly enough to be Hi Points! 😀

    (Just some lighthearted joshing… no offense meant to anyone if they happen to like Hi Points)

  • Kivaari

    Impressive. A great article. Even with all the reference books I own, only printed texts mentions a couple of these. I have contended the SKS with a detachable magazine would have worked and lasted as long as the AK.

    • kyle893

      I was watching the Military Arms Channel and he has an sks “d” which does not work very well and he states from what he has heard the ak mag accepting sks rifles do not function well. I like that channel a lot but that’s not accurate. I have the “sporter”, with the thubhole stock I’ve been wanting to change for a couple years, and took it out after not shooting it for about two years. No cleaning or oiling or anything. Worked through the steel Chinese mag and the polymer tapco mag no problem.

      Im not sure but I think the only flaw is the tilting bolt not handlin debri and not being as accurate as a rotating bolt. The upside is the tilting bolt dampens recoil better than any rotating bolt design. I wish they would have made a kit to replace the trigger grouping and stock, so the trigger guard would be closer and higher up to the mag release and the stock would be more a housing for the mag well/trigger grouping/grip like a modern style weapon. Not to make look like something else or anything like that, but to be a real kit gun capable as anything else and truly different the ar-or-ak fatigue.

      • Kivaari

        The tilting bolt is pretty common in rifles from the WW2 era. Some of the most common include the FN-FAL, which grew out of the FN49, which had been under development prior to the war. Cz 58 as well. Your AK sporter that accepts AK magazines is getting pretty rare. Only a few were imported before the anti-Chinese guns and ammo ban of GHWB. Leave it as is, and buy an AK. A kit to make your gun more user friendly would cost quite a bit. SKS triggers are pretty easy to smooth up. Take it out of the stock, and look at it. Then tear it down. All the surfaces that touch the housing can be polished. Unless you have stoning jigs, don’t mess with the contact surfaces. That is where people get in trouble. All those other contact surfaces can be de-burred and you’ll see a big improvement. I do that to S&W revolvers as well. One doesn’t need to touch the sear and hammer engagements.

  • Do you have a source stating it’s from 1944? I knew it existed, but nothing about it, not even the date. That’s why I hadn’t included it.

    • Alexandru Ianu

      I’ve seen 2 souces, fairly obscure but they might be referencing eachoter. However if it’s 7.62×41 it can’t have been developed after 1944.

  • Cymond

    Why the heck is the AT-44 two pounds heavier than the SVT-40??