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The Red Army's Self Loading Rifles

A Brief History Of The Tokarev Rifles
Models of 1938 and 1940
From Vic Thomas Of Michigan Historical Collectables

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The Tokarev rifle or Samozaryadnaya Vintovka Tokareva, as the Soviets refer to it and abbreviated to SVT, loosely translates to, "self loading rifle-Tokarev." This weapon was first introduced into Soviet service as the SVT-38. The 38 referring to the year of submittal to the Peoples Commissar of Armament in 1938. After prolonged and repeated trails against other designs and systems of operations, primarily those of Simonov and Rukavishnikov who both submitted promising designs, the Tokarev design for a self loading rifle was awarded first place in the competitions. The rifle was adopted for production on February 26, 1939. This was a questionable decision as the Simonov designed weapon used less material and time to produce, as well as being lighter both in loaded and unloaded overall weight. It is reported that Stalin himself intervened in the selection process to award the contract to his favorite armament designer, Feodor Vasilyvitch Tokarev.


Actual production of the SVT-38 began on July 16, 1939 with regular production utilizing small parts for actual assembly commencing on the 25th of July. Mass production of the rifle began on October 1, 1939, after some assembly flaws were worked out and some parts were simplified to accommodate mass production. The first three rifles from this initial mass assembly were sent to the Peoples Commissar of Armament, B.L. Vannikov, and the Central Committee of the VKP and Peoples Defense Committee.

The SVT-38 was basically a sound weapon. It utilized a two piece stock joined at about the mid point by a square peg fitting into a corresponding square hole in the forend. The cleaning rod was inletted into the right side of the stock in very much the same manner of the earlier Simonov designed AVS-36 , but the inlet was in the center of the stock instead of the top edge. A spring-loaded catch in the end of the T shaped folding handle secured the rod in its inletted groove, the retaining end being metal reinforced with a depression for the spring loaded button to engage. The threaded end of the rod is protected and secured by the rear end of the muzzle extension. The barrel bands had a bend or , "loop," that helped to retain and guide the rod. The SVT-38 utilizes two-barrel bands, the rear being slightly larger to accommodate the thicker portion of the stock.

The handgaurds of the rifle, there are two, are made of wood and pressed sheet metal construction. The short stamped sheet metal is found directly behind the muzzle extension/brake and covers the gas piston and cup assembly that drives the operating rod. Four round holes are spaced along both sides to aid in cooling the barrel and venting of the gas system. Five oblong or oval slots are spaced along each side of the wooden handguard to assist in barrel cooling also. The handguard is much longer than it's revised version found on the SVT-40.

Sling swivels were found under the rear of the buttstock and on the bottom of the muzzle extension/brake on the rear portion. The muzzle extension/brake housed the front sight base and hooded front sight as well as the gas piston and regulator that protruded from the front of the humped section that covered the piston. The gas system had five different adjustment positions to accommodate weather conditions and ammunition. They were marked 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, and 1.7. A special wrench was used that corresponded to the pentagon shape of the regulator. This tool was used to remove the muzzle brake and gas piston.

The safety of this rifle is a simple flag type that is located behind the trigger. It rotated down from the side to block the rearward movement of the trigger. The muzzle extension/brake had six vertical slots that deflected the escaping gases up and to the rear slightly to diminish recoil and muzzle flash. It is reported that some early muzzle brakes have eight slots but I can not confirm this. The front sight was a hooded or globe type like on the Mosin Nagant bolt action rifle and had a screw adjustable post for elevation. The tool to accomplish this was a T shape key cut out to mimic the post shape. Adjustment was done through a hole in the top of the sight that also allowed light to pass on to the post. This tool was also used to remove the cross bolt of the stock when the field stripping the weapon. Windage was accomplished by drifting the dovetail base of the sight. Rear sights were of a tangent type and graduated to 1500 meters in 100 meter increments. With standard Soviet type D ball ammo, 2545 FPS were attained.

The rifle is 122cm ( 48.02 inches ) in overall length and weighted 3.95kg ( 8.75 lbs ) unloaded. It's barrel length is 63.5cm ( 24.9 inches ) long with four groove rifling and a right hand twist. The rifle operates on the rearward motion of the piston rod driving the bolt to the rear to eject the spent shell casing and strip another round from the ten shot detachable magazine. This magazine differs from the later SVT-40 magazine in that it utilizes a cup type bottom which is retained by two tabs that engage holes in the side walls of the magazine. The magazine catch was of a fixed paddle shape protruding down from the magazine to well behind the magazine. Some SVT-38's were used as sniper and I only know of only three such weapons being in US collections. The SVT-38 was not widely used in the sniping role, as the rifle was only in production on a mass scale for some six months. The sniper variant is virtually identical to the standard model exteriorly. The difference lies in the greater attention to the fit and finish of the stock and a more thorough polishing of the bore and the chamber. The receiver is further modified by the milling of a retention notch to retain a specially designed scope mount.

The mount engages a rail or groove milled into each side of the rear portion of the receiver. The mount was seated under some spring tension from a circular "button" inside the mount and locked into place by a small key that slid through the mount engaging the notch and passing out the other side. It was locked into place by a small ledge or catch on the top of the key that snapped up when seated fully. The mount comes together in the rear and curves upward and forward to create a cradle for the scope. The rings are hinged and tightened down by one screw in each ring. A recessed area in the center of the mount corresponds to the raised area of the scope that houses the windage and elevation knobs. This centered the scope in the correct position. The scope was a newly designed short scope of 3.5X and utilizes the traditional European three-post reticle. The optics were manufactured on machinery purchased from Zeiss Jenna of Germany. There were no provisions for focus adjustments on this scope. The scope is 167.39mm ( 6.59 inches ) long and has a field view of 4 degrees. The windage knob has ten settings, 0 for no wind and five marked + for adjustment to the right and five marked -- for movement to the left. The elevation knob is marked 0-13 for less than 100 meters to 1300 meters, in increments of 100 meters. These scopes are generally thought to have been put into service in 1940, but one known specimen is reported to be dated 1939. The last year of production of the Tokarev scope was in 1944


Ishevsk production began in late 1939 possibly October and November. Production of the AVS-36 was curtailed on May 16, 1939. Tooling and personnel for the new SVT-38 was not in place until late 1939, with full mass production getting underway in the early part of 1940 possibly in January/February. An Ishevsk produced SVT-38 is truly a rare piece as production was only run for a few months when it was decided to again modify the design to the SVT-40 configuration. Production on a full scale for the SVT-38 ran from October 4, 1939 to April 13, 1940 when it was decided to modernize the design from field experience and production difficulties. A lighter, simplified version of the rifle was created and called the, "7.62 Tokarev system self loading rifle 1940 model." Total production of the SVT-38 is reported to be around 150,000 , but taken in to account the limited time in production on a full scale was only some six months as well as the Soviet propensity of padding the numbers, a more realistic assumption would be less than 100,000 rifles were produced. Most of these weapons were lost, damaged, or rebuilt into SVT-40's.



The new design and production changes improved the rifles operation and reliability as learned from the Winter War experience with Finland. These changes were as follows: Stock changed from a two piece to a one piece and made from Arctic Birch. The handguard was shortened and stamped sheet metal extensions were used on the top and bottom. The cleaning rod was simplified and placed under the barrel and passed through a redesigned bayonet lug that used a spring catch to retain the rod. The magazine was shortened slightly and now used a stamped plate type floorplate held in place by a stamped lip on the magazine body. The magazine release was now stamped instead of milled and folded up along the trigger housing to prevent accidental release. The magazine locking lug was split to save machine time. The receiver was shortened and the muzzle brake was also reduced in size. The bolt carrier had lightening cuts added to reduce weight. The bayonet was shortened and scabbard to match it, although it still retained it's cutting edge up. The scabbard was in fact just a smaller version of its predecessor. The bayonet was again modified in the later half of 1940 to a cutting edge facing down and a new stamped sheet metal scabbard with reinforcing "fins" at the top. A new way of retaining the belt strap was also introduced on the new scabbard.

Further modifications were to the barrel bands, two being replaced by one that also served as the retainer for the sheet metal handguards. The forward attachment point for the sling was also moved to the side of this single band from the muzzle extension/brake. Later modification of this band in late 1942 and early 1943 replaced the swiveling loop with a fixed bar like on a K-98. Finger grooves were also added to the forestock.

Production of the SVT-40 on a mass scale began on July 1, 1940, with the simultaneous curtailment of the Mosin Nagant Model 1891/30. It was the Soviets intention to arm all infantry units with the new self-loading rifle. This explains why early war dated Mosins are difficult to find. Production was slow at first but still ahead of its forebearer, the SVT-38. This was due in part to streamlining the production method and simplified parts as well as the worker's experience. The new SVT-40 was 122cm ( 48.0 inches ) in overall length and 3.9kg ( 8.5 lbs. ) unloaded. It now has a 62.5cm ( 24.60 inches ) long barrel that retained the same four groove right hand riffling. Its sights were set to 1500 meters and the muzzle velocity of the type D ball ammunition was now 765mps ( 2524fps ). SVT-40 production in its first month was reported at 3,416. In August 8,100 rifles were completed and another 10,700 and 11,960 in September and October respectively. No production figures are shown for November and December but an educated guess would be 14,000 for November and 18,000 for December, This would bringing the 1940 production to around 66,000 rifles. Ishevsk started production slightly later than Tula, perhaps in the fall, as they had to cease production of the SVT-38 and retool for the model 1940. Both arsenals produced the rifle right up to the beginning of 1942, when the order was given for Ishevsk to begin production on the Mosin Nagant on a full scale basis again. Tula produced the rifle until the order was given to cease production on January 3, 1945. 

The Kovrov arsenal also produced the SVT 40 in a supplemental role beginning in the later part of 1940 and ending in 1941, less than a year later. At that time the Kovrov arsenal concentrated on producing machine-guns and airborne cannon for the Air Force. The Kovrov arsenal is located some 260 Km east of Moscow and up until recently discovered information was not associated with Tokarev production. It should be noted that the Kovrov arsenal was initially set up in 1916 by the Danish machine gun maker Madsen to produce their weapon but the arsenal was left unfinished due to the revolution. In 1916 Vladimir G. Fedorov was sent to complete the project and organize the work force for production of his light automatic rifle the "Automat". The arsenal was completed in 1918 and at the request of Fedorov, Vasiliy Degtyarev joined Fedorov at the arsenal to work on his machine gun designs. Degtyarev invited the brightest and best armourers from Sestroyetsyk to join him. Those that did received a large stipend in reward. Sestroyetsyk arsenal at that time was nothing more than a large repair/refurbishment depot,  as most of the skilled labor and machinery had been moved from the arsenal. The Tokarev SVT40 rifle produced at Kovrov is a prime collectable and rarely encountered. It was erroneously assumed the arsenal stamp that Kovrov used was that of the earlier Sestroyetsyk as the fletched arrow logo is so similar.

The German Army , or Wermacht, used captured SVT's extensively throughout the war. They were used in such great numbers that the German High Command issued German ID numbers for them. The SVT-38 was known as the SIG.258(r), the SVT-40 as the SIG.259(r), and the SVT-40 Sniper Rifle was designated the SIG.Zf260(r). On April 17, 1942 , the German high command issued order number 1384/42-AHA/In(VII) pertaining to the , "Use and sighting of the Russian self loading rifles." The order was in two parts, the first being regulation pertaining to captured weapons and sighting in at 100 meters using the Soviet 7.62mm s.S.(r) ammunition with a yellow tip. The second part concerned with special instructions on firing three shots and measuring the grouping for acceptable tolerance. That tolerance was to be within 10cm. If after the first three shots further sighting was to be done, only single shots totaling four were to be done for a total of seven cartridges expended. If further adjustment was to be done, the rifle was to be sent to the regimental armourer. Rifles that required repair or further adjustment were stamped with a Waffenampt , or test eagle, on the receiver, bolt carrier, barrel, or the stock. The German troops were very fond of this rifle and used them until they ran out of ammunition. Eventually they were abandoned in favor of the German designed self loaders.

SVT40 Sniper Rifle

It was decided that the SVT-40 would be used as the Red Armies sniper rifle in April of 1940, replacing the Model 1891/30 PE Mosin Nagant and therefore the production of the bolt action Mosin was halted. All SVT-38's and SVT-40's had the optical sight mounting rails on the sides of the receiver until late 1942. Some SVT-40's have been observed without these rails most of which were Ishevsk production of 1941 dated guns as well as some Tula produced weapons in 1940-41.   These non railed rifles of early production are very few in number and are a prime collectors item for the Tokarev fan. Rails ceased to be milled into the receivers of the SVT-40 in October of 1942, and the Tokarev was removed from production as a sniper rifle at this time; however, the SVT was used until the end of the war as a sniper rifle. Production of the SVT-40 snipers were approximately 7,000 in 1940, 34,710 in 1941, and 14,200 in its final year of service as the Red Army's primary sniper rifle in 1942. The bolt action Mosin Nagant model 1891/30 PU sniper rifle was reintroduced into production in February of 1942 as the main sniper rifle of the Red Army. It is believed that very few PE sniper rifles were produced early on in 1942 in the side mount variation until the newly designed PU model could be put into mass production in the summer of 1942. A 1942 dated PE is extremely rare as very few were made in this stop gap time frame. One known example of this rifle was produced at the Ishevsk arsenal. Finish is very rough on many Mosin's that were made in this time frame as many rifle receiver and barrels had very poor machining. Some of the very early PU mounts have two "lightening" cuts on the mount instead of a single large one and they were slightly larger. The early PU scopes have a square block type housing for windage and elevation knobs , very much like the earlier PE scope. This was later modified to being round like the SVT scope.

The SVT-40 was a competent sniper rifle but was plagued by problems with first shot inaccuracy. It was found in testing that a 10 to 15 cm discrepancy was evident in patterns fired at 100 meters. The "flyer" consistently being the first shot. It was determined that the barrel shifted longitudinally along with the receiver. Further stock work did not alleviate the problem. It was also determined that the scope mount needed to be attached more securely to the ifle. These problems were too severe to continue production until solutions could be found.


The SVT-40 was also modified to be capable of automatic fire. This version was called the AVT-40 or Automat Vintovka Tokarreva as it translated from its Soviet name "Automatic loading rifle-Tokarev model 1940." This rifle was identical to its semi automatic cousin , except for the additional cut out in the stock to allow the safety to be swung over to the right side to activate the full auto capability of the action. The modified safety simply trips the sear and allows the bolt to travel forward again without locking up. It is reported that a fifteen round magazine was issued with this rifle but none have been confirmed. This rifle was a stop gap attempt to provide a supplement to the squad machine gun, DP-28, which was just beginning to be distributed on a wide scale. Its use in a fully automatic mode was not a success as the gun was prone to parts breakage and stock failures. It also suffered from a tendency to jam spent cases in the chamber when hot. This was probably not the fault of the rifle but the poor wartime quality of Soviet ammunition. This was remedied by "fluting" the chamber to aid in extraction. This fluting is reported in Soviet documents but upon inspection of all models it was found that all have fluted chambers. It is possible that only the depth of the fluting was changed at this time. Stock were also beefed up and different types of wood were experimented with to solve the cracking problems that occurred at the wrist. All of these problems were never solved and the AVT was removed from production soon after it started in August of 1943.

Production of the carbines in the Tokarev style was undertaken on a limited basis in September of 1940. Trials were conducted with a carbine version of the SVT-38 but were updated with the curtailment of production for this model and an updated version was submitted using the new SVT-40 design. An order for 3,000 carbines was placed in July of 1940. This carbine in it's factory configuration was 166cm ( 45 inches ) in overall length and 3.6 kg ( 7.93 pounds ) unloaded. It had a 47cm ( 18.5 inch ) barrel and retained the wooden handguard with one cooling slot in the rear. The rear portion of the next slot was neatly dovetailed in to provide strength for the barrel band. The barrel band retainer was also carefully inletted into a new position. The cleaning rod was also of a shorter length. Production ceased soon after it started in 1941, probably due to the German invasion.

Non-standard carbines were produced in limited numbers and are sometimes refereed to as "field cuts." These were modified full-length rifles done in 1941 and 1942. It is assumed that these hastily cut down rifles were made due to battlefield damage to the barrel , or its was done to meet the demand for a short self loading rifle during the savage street fighting of Leningrad and Stalingrad. These carbines show rough modifications to the metal handguards that were cut down to an inch or so to accommodate the now cut down barrel that measured only 16 inches or less. The wooden handguard was also modified from the rear in some instances. These carbines in most cases do not have a rear barrel band retainer and cleaning rod. The gas port is also crudely cut into the barrel top


The standard accessories for the SVT-38 and the SVT-40 as well as the carbines were essentially identical. The rifles were supplied with one tool/cleaning kit in a canvas roll type pouch that folded over onto itself and buttoned shut. It has a button hole on the top to be fastened to either shirt pocket or trousers. Each kit consisted of a takedown tool that disassembled the muzzle brake, adjusted the gas regulator, aided in cross-bolt removal from the stock and acted as a firing pin protrusion guide. It also was used as a wrench to remove the gas piston for cleaning. The front sight tool was shaped like a "T" and also was used for cross bolt removal. The rod collar, handle and jag as well as a brush for the chamber and a pick for the gas port that doubled as a punch rounded out the kit. The differences in these kits for the SVT-38 was the omission of the rod collar and handle as the cleaning rod already had these. The combination tool was also slightly larger but the same shape. A double slotted pull thru for a patch was standard in the 38 kit but not in the 40's. Snipers used a modified combination tool that resembles a large key. It has a circular hole in the middle with a slot on the bottom that allowed it to completely disassemble the muzzle brake as well as the muzzle nut for a through cleaning of the baffles. Each kit also contained one oilier of a round shape. Oilers that were produced at Ishevsk have an arrow in a triangle, the secondary arsenal proof, embossed on the front.

Each rifle was issued with three magazines, two of which were carried in a magazine pouch. Early pouches were of canvas and leather construction but later changed to all leather. The pouch had a large single compartment divided by a piece of thick leather to create a front and back and to separate the magazines so that they could not rattle against one another. An interior securing strap crossed over diagonally and held the magazines firmly in place. It ecured to a large brass grommet that also secured the cover flap. Each magazine was numbered to the rifle on the bottom of the magazine body. Directly after the serial number was a period followed by either a 1, 2, 3. These numbers corresponded to the number of magazines issued to that serial numbered rifle. This was true of both SVT38 and 40 magazines.

Slings for the SVT-38 were initially made of all leather in a belt like fashion. Strap and buckle type attachments on each end to engage the sling swivels. These also provided length adjustment with the longer of the straps being the front or muzzle end. Two leather loops retained the strap ends when adjustment created extra material. Later on a canvas and leather sling was issued with the body of the sling being canvas. One end utilized the strap and buckle type arrangement while the rear used a leather end retained by a brass keeper or sling button. The early model 40 sling was initially leather but much shorter as the front sling swivel was moved considerably back toward the butt. Later canvas issued slings of a course weave and colored either kakhi green, white or tan as well as navy issued grey/blue were used and identical to the leather sling in configuration and length except the attachment points were leather and the body of the sling canvas. The length of a SVT-38 sling is 54 inches with the body of the sling measuring 36 inches by 1.25 inches wide. The SVT-40 sling is also 54 inches tip of strap to tip and is found in a tight weave canvas at 1.25 inches wide a looser weave type a little wider at 1.5 inches. The differences between the two is the body of the SVT-40 sling is only 29 inches long, a full seven inches shorter than the 38's. These are just guidelines as I encountered subtle difference in measurement amongst the six slings used for the measurements. The retaining loops on some later SVT-40 slings may be omitted. Some early war expediency slings use a leather thong to tie the straps rather than a buckle.

Some rifles that saw service with the Soviet Marines had a rear sling slot instead of a swivel and special slings were developed for this rifle . One looks like a SVT sling in the front attachment area while the rear has no strap, just a loop utilizing a leather sling keeper like a Mosin Nagant. Another version of this sling uses an attachment like a regular SVT in the rear but a leather strap comes off at a 90 degree angle with a retaining buckle that goes thru the slot and looks very much like a K98 set up. This set up enabled the rifle to be carried flat on the back with out the sling twisting. Carbines used the standard model 40 sling.

Each rifle also had a bayonet issued to it. Sometimes the rifle's serial number will appear on the wooden grip panels. The model 38 bayonet was a long knife type being 14" in blade length. The blade was polished and the muzzle ring and pommel were blued. It used a scabbard of steel and fastened to the belt by a simple leather loop fastened by four brass rivets. The model 40 used two different bayonets as discussed earlier in the text. The blade length of these bayonets are 9.5" with one having the cutting edge up (extremely rare) and the other down. The finish on these blades ranged from all polished to polished and blued pommel and muzzle ring to all blued. The all blued version is the least encountered of the three. Both Ishevsk and Tula arsenals produced bayonets. There is no mention that I can find that Kovrov produced bayonets but one lone example has been found and bears the Kovrov logo failtly on the blade shank. Bayonets that were captured and saw service in the Finnish Army are not normally marked but two examples have been reported marked with a small [SA] on the blade. These would be the exception to the rule and are extremely scarce. Some Finnish bayonets of the SVT series have been observed with the date and place of capture engraved onto the blade or grip panels. I have one such example in my collection from a battle in 1941 for the recapture of the Isthmus from the Russians by Finnish forces.

Snipers were issued a canvas and leather action cover that also covered the scope. Leather scope caps were also issued for protection of the optical lenses when not in use. The scope cover has leather end caps sewn to the canvas and belted through the trigger guard while the scope was mounted to the rifle. It attached with either a buckle and strap or a strap and grommet made of brass. The cover could also be rolled around the scope and mount for protection when it was not affixed to the rifle. A long thin pocket on the exterior of the cover housed the special combination tool as well a lens cloth and any optical information. A leather flap closed the pocket by either a leather button or a brass grommet. It is rumored that a drag bag or field bag was issued with each sniper rifle also. Wooden transit chests like those for the British No.4 T have also been observed in a Soviet publication.


With the current importation of these historic rifles many rare and collectable SVT's have become available. The initial import of Tokarev's in the early 1950's from Finland, who captured some 15,000 rifles and reissued 10,000 of them, was the only availability of these rifles until now. Rebuilt model 38's into 40's, sniper models as well as the rare Kovrov produced guns. Even late production rifles of 1944, the last full year of production, can occasionally be discovered. These rifles are a joy to collect and even more so to shoot, their gas system and muzzle brake taming the recoil. When in good shape they are surprisingly accurate. It was my intent to be informative in this article so that a novice would have a broad beginning in understanding the rifles and their collectability. This article is by no means meant to be the end all say all on the SVT's. There are always exceptions and a collector always knows that as soon as you say there are none one will show up!

Good luck in collecting,


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