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

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F

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

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

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

And the frame:

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

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

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:

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 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. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.

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  • Skizzums Skizzums on Nov 01, 2015

    I think military contractors may be 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 it be easier to adopt something like the .22TCM and swap barrels on already existing firearms(45 anyway), 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 Fred Johnson on Nov 02, 2015

    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.

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