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There are very few firearms that are truly iconic. The M1 Garand, the H&K MP5 and the Thompson SMG are prime examples. But for the Russians in WWII, there’s no better example of a truly iconic firearm than the PPSh-41. Produced during the height of the war in an effort to repel the German invaders, over 6 million examples of this firearm would eventually be produced and it would see action in armed conflicts all over the world. From the frigid streets of Stalingrad to the Cambodian jungle this one firearm would leave an impression on the world that would not soon be forgotten.

The firearm for this (and some other forthcoming reviews) was provided by Battlefield Vegas. Their generous hospitality, seemingly limitless technical expertise, and excellent facilities were instrumental for getting the data and pictures required to make these reviews happen. I regret that it has taken damn near 9 months to actually write these reviews, but hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Many forget that during the opening years of WWII the Soviets and the Nazis worked together to conquer Europe. The Russians didn’t do so hot — a quick detour into Finland ended with their gaining a large portion of Finland’s land and economic capacity, but they paid a heavy price for it. During that conflict the Finns had deployed their Sumoi KP/-31 SMG to great effect in the forests and trenches of their native land. It was extraordinarily deadly in those close quarters situations especially compared to the standard Mosin Nagant M1891/30 deployed by the Russkies.

The Soviets had a comparable weapon in their arsenal called the PPD-40 but the design of that firearm was too complicated for mass production in the numbers that the Red Army demanded. So it was redesigned to keep production costs low, and the result was the PPSh-41.

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The overall design of the PPSh-41 (or “papasha” as it was often called) really couldn’t be any simpler. The receiver (along with most of the other parts of the gun) is made from simple stamped sheet metal, something that could be quickly turned out in great quantities. The stock was designed to be a simple bolt-on addition to the gun made from the readily available raw materials the USSR had on hand (wood) with little additional work.

The barrel was designed to use the same 7.62mm bore as the existing Russian arsenal of three-line rifles so that the same drilling and rifling machines could be used on all production guns to maximize throughput, and often production was further increased by taking an existing Mosin Nagant barrel and chopping it in half to make two PPSh-41 barrels. These design changes meant that the factories in Russia could produce a brand new PPSh-41 in as little as 7.3 machine hours compared to the nearly 14 hours required for the previous generation.

There was also a lot of thought put into the longevity of these guns. The designers knew that they were about to place this in the hands of conscripts who just weeks before had thought that an outhouse was the pinnacle of engineering and these guns wouldn’t be seeing much (if any) maintenance. As a result the gun was designed to run without any cleaning for years on end, as evidenced by the chrome lined barrel and chrome bolt assembly, but it was also designed to be as easy to maintain as possible for those soldiers who felt up to the task.

That’s all good on paper, but in the field that makes for a pretty terrible firearm.

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The PPSh-41 is definitely a no-frills kind of firearm and it lets you know from the moment you first pick it up. The gun feels light, almost hollow, like the tin firearms that were prevalent in the 1950’s but cheaper. The firearm is composed of two parts, an upper receiver with the barrel permanently affixed and the lower receiver with the magazine well, bolt assembly, and trigger pack. The two parts are held in place with a spring loaded catch on the back of the upper receiver much like the dust cover on an AK-47. The two parts don’t really fit together very well — the two halves rattle against each other with only the hinge keeping them in place.

Down under the gun is where all of the controls reside, conveniently located within and around the trigger guard. Convenient for the assembly — not for the soldier. Within the folded metal trigger guard are two protruding levers, the forward one being the rate of fire selector and the rear being the trigger proper. That trigger looks to be one of the few parts that is actually properly machined, sporting an oddly out of place ergonomic look to the blade. The rate selector is more in line with the rushed design and production of the gun, a simple folded piece of metal that toggles back and forth between “full auto” and “semi auto.”

Just forward of the trigger guard is the magazine well. There’s another small folded piece of metal back there to act as a magazine release, but the spring loaded nature means it quickly returns back to the folded position after being used for its intended purpose. There’s a tendency to get your finger caught up when that release snaps back — I only had to do that twice to my thumb before I figured it out.

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The magazines for the PPSh-41 come in two flavors. The ever-popular drum mag held 71 rounds of 7.62 Tokarev ammunition, a funny looking cartridge not entirely unlike .357 SIG with a fatter body tapering down to a smaller projectile. It was easier from a mass production standpoint to stick with 7.62 caliber projectiles and expand the case to fit than to re-work everything to accept the vastly more popular 9mm Luger or 45 ACP rounds.

That 71-round drum magazine is awesome in theory, but the fact that they were made from 0.5mm thick stamped sheet metal made them extremely prone to breaking and malfunctioning. The 35-round box magazine was more popular for its reliability, but later in the war the drum magazine would make a comeback as they increased the thickness of the sheet metal to make it more reliable.

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On the other side of the gun from the magazine well is the ejection port. Manufacturing a side-facing ejection port was simply too time consuming and difficult, so the Russians simply had the gun eject straight out the top of the receiver. Again, a mechanically acceptable solution that sped up manufacturing, but when your field of view is being constantly interrupted by flames and flying casings it makes a soldier’s job of staying on target that much more difficult.

On the other hand, clearing jams and checking the firearm was made simpler by this design since all of the important bits of the gun were instantly visible without angling the gun in an awkward manner.

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The only other truly machined part of the firearm is the bolt. Made from a solid piece of metal, the bolt features a hole for the rear return spring and an extractor that is placed on the top of the firearm to aid in the straight up ejection. The rubber end plate seen in this picture was added by the armorers at Battlefield Vegas to keep their PPSh-41 from beating itself to death, however this was not an original part on the gun.

One interesting design feature is the safety on the bolt. There are a number of Russian firearms that use the bolt as a safety, like the way the end of the bolt on a Mosin Nagant is designed to be turned 30 degrees for the “safe” position. In this case there’s actually a small catch machined into the charging handle on the bolt that’s designed to slide into a corresponding cutout on the upper receiver of the gun. This is designed to keep the bolt from accidentally being pulled back — since this is an open bolt design the gun is usually carried with the bolt forward and is cocked prior to action.

I spent some time with a bunch of Russian reenactors and I’ve seen a situation where someone had slung their PPSh-41 on their back, the charging handle caught on their belt, and it had pulled back the bolt just far enough to allow a round to pop up but not far enough to catch the trigger. When they repositioned their gear the charging handle slipped free and emptied the magazine a few seconds later. Safety first, kids.

Unlike the Thompson SMG the PPSh-41 is extremely easy to disassemble. The upper receiver tilts forward once unhooked, and the return spring can be lifted out just like in an AK-47. No need to mess around compressing the spring and using paper clips on the guide rod to get it in place, it all just works. Easy enough that a Russian peasant can figure it out.

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There are also iron sights on the gun. They are more useless than an anti-gun firearms reviewer. You will never need them or actually see them while firing the gun, but it’s the thought that counts.

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The muzzle of the gun ends well short of the barrel shroud and there’s a very good reason for that. Not only does it cause a massive muzzle flash every time you pull the trigger, it also means that the front of the barrel shroud can be used as a muzzle brake. The hot gasses exiting the barrel act on the inside of the barrel shroud and counteract some of the force of the recoil. Which is good, because this thing is as controllable as Robert around a good pun.

Out on the range this thing is absolutely terrible. The best way to describe this gun is that it’s the exact opposite of a Thompson SMG. Where the Thompson had a smooth and polished trigger, the trigger on the PPSh-41 feels like it would be right at home on a $400 AR-15. The recoil on a Thompson is slightly heavy and controlled, while the recoil on the PPSh-41 is light and uncontrollable.

After a few rounds the gun starts walking all over the paper — I could put an entire magazine in full auto on a chest plate from a Thompson, but I couldn’t keep the PPSh-41 within a paper plate even at 10 yards. The cyclic rate is simply too high to manage and there’s not enough mass in the gun to keep it controlled.

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This gun is another example of why you should never meet your heroes. The PPSh-41 was one of the coolest looking SMGs of WWII and I had always wanted to shoot it. But when I finally took my first shots it was like learning that [spoiler alert!] Santa Claus isn’t real. The papasha is a fantastic example of the ingenuity of a nation — identifying issues with their existing arsenal, developing a firearm to meet that need, and engineering it to be as quick and cheap to manufacture as possible — but as a shooter, the gun is definitely a let down.

There’s none of the fun that comes with emptying a magazine from a Thompson or an MP5. There’s none of the nostalgia that comes from the thump of an M60. It’s just a bullet hose, living up to its design principles of putting as many rounds downrange as possible in the shortest window of time and as cheaply as practical.

Specifications: Soviet PPSh-41

Caliber: 7.62 Tokarev
Action: Full auto, open bolt
Barrel: 10.6″
Weight: 8 pounds
Street: ~$21,000

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy: *
How about you get a little closer there, comrade?

Ergonomics: *
Probably better used as a stool than a firearm.

Reliability: * * * * *
Not a single complaint.

Customization:
LOL

Overall: * *
The gun is cheap to buy and cheap to run, but that’s about all it has going for it. Not as much fun as other machine guns.

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43 Responses to Gun Review: PPSh-41

  1. From my reading of Russian war memoirs, you never put 71 rounds in because of jammin reliability issues more like 65. Also the drum was matched to the gun and you might have problems using it on a diffrent one because of low production standards.

    • Sounds just like the communist Era IMZ/Ural motorcycles…if you find parts that are compatible, you’re good to go, after a fashion.

  2. From my reading of Russian war memoirs, you never put 71 rounds in because of jamming reliability issues more like 65. Also the drum was matched to the gun and you might have problems using it on a different one because of low production standards.

  3. The weapon was designec for tradtional Russia and Soviet mass infantry tactics. Throw a lot if lead in the direction of the enemy as you expend manpower from a seemingly inexhaustible supply. The AK was designed as a more effective bullet hose. The Russians no longer have an inexhaustible supply of manpower so they fight like NATO.

    • Can you guys please drop this ridiculous stereotype? The gun was designed to match the performance of Finnish Suomi, after the latter duly impressed the Red Army generals during the Winter War. Finns were heavy users of those, and last I checked they didn’t use “mass infantry tactics”. The truth of the matter is that on a densely forested battlefield, as is fairly common in Finland and in many areas of Russia, typical engagement distance is 100m or less, and a bullet hose with cheap-to-manufacture ammo is just as effective as a bolt-action at actually hitting targets, if not more so; and strictly better at suppression. And then of course there’s urban combat etc. No-one designed these with the idea of “marching fire” or something like that, it was thoroughly discredited by then.

  4. Yup, regardless of all it’s flaws, it’s still the #1 gun on my fantasy list, partly because of it’s iconic status.

  5. “The hot gasses exiting the barrel act on the inside of the barrel shroud and counteract some of the force of the recoil. Which is good, because this thing is as controllable as Robert around a good pun.”

    Getting brave, Nick?

    As for yesterday’s news, it’s nice that R.L. allows Fearless Leader a cigar at the range. When he announced a few weeks back he was giving up cigars, I wept a little for him…

    Oh, yeah, about the gun…

    I had some lust for it in the past based on the extreme un-availability factor, but this review neatly squelched that.

    About 15 years back in rec.guns there was a Filipino guy who went by ‘Sick Boy’ who had a compact Glock (I can’t remember if it was the 9 or.40) who had it converted full-auto by his local gunsmith who reverse-engineered an actual G-18. I swapped a few e-mails with the guy and he told me it was for all practical purposes un-controllable. According to him, it didn’t matter how hard you tried to hang on to it, after a full magazine it was pointing at the sky.

    The PPSh-41 sounds kinda like the same thing.

    • Reminds me of when Red Jacket converted a .380 Cobray M12 to 9mm luger without changing the springs or anything.

      It was fine when bolted onto the rail of a 10lb Tacticool’d Saiga12 but handheld, it was guaranteed to put half a magdump into the sky at what had to be over 1500 cyclic. Utterly ridiculous.

      Nevah been done befo, rite?

  6. The Russians chose 7.62×25 as a pistol round because they liked the C96 pistol and 7.63 Mauser round, but they wanted a domestically produced and developed round for all guns. The Tokarev round is like a magnum version of the Mauser round.

    The tooling theory seems implausible to me since the bullet diameter for 7.62x54r is .311″ and 7.62×25 is .308″. Plus, if you look down a Tokarev barrel and a Mosin barrel, the grooves simply aren’t cut the same. I’ve had a M57 and a M91/30 and the rifling isn’t similar.

    • THANK YOU!!! I don’t know how many times I have seen people referring to the 7.62x25mm as having a .311 bullet. They obviously never put calipers to one.
      I love the x25. It is an excellent cartridge. I really wish that a company or two had worked on a modern, double-stack, handgun in x25 before the surplus disappeared and the cheap ammo bubble burst. It would have also been great to see a new PCC in it that wasn’t just an AR or PPSh/PPS conversion.

      • The Mosin Conversions were not standard.
        They were done in Leningrad during the Siege. The Soviets would take a damaged Mosin, cut the barrel, and make two SMGs. Even the barrel lengths of these were not always to standard.
        The PPS 42 ended up replacing the PPSh-41 in Leningrad, as it took less than half as many machining hours to complete.
        The issue is they were cut off from supplies, and needed something to defend with.
        All kinds of cannibalized firearms were made during the siege.

    • not sure about the tooling but read in a lot of sources abot the use of old damaged mosin barrels to make PPSH I think as it long it went bang they did not care about anyhing else

    • The fact that Soviets deliberately designed the round specs to reuse the barrel tools (and barrels, if needed) is well documented by Russians themselves. If you can read Russian, have a look at this – it’s the official maintenance guide for PPD, printed in 1938:

      http://www.smallarms.ru/arms/ppd/pdd.pdf

      On page 5, under the picture of the barrel, it says:
      “Barrel – caliber 7.62mm (size of the channel and twist rate is unified with 7.62mm rifle model 1981-30).”

      Note that they even matched the original Mosin twist rate, even though it’s clearly non-optimal for this round. Unification was deemed more important than accuracy (and I bet that really paid off during WW2).

  7. Bummer. I’ve always liked the look of it, but never had the chance to shoot one.
    Though, like Anonymous above, I wonder how the semi version shoots.

  8. I like Soviet firearms of this vintage, they are very honest. They do exactly what they needed them to do and not a thing more.

  9. Interesting write-up, and yes, something of a spoiler. In the novel “Cross of Iron”, Sgt. Steiner exchanges his Schmeisser for what the author calls a Russian “tommy gun”, presumably one of those PPsh41s. He is berated by a prig officer , whom he informs that the Russian gun is vastly superior to the crap the Fuehrer has given them to work with. Guess America isn’t the only place where authors ignore facts in the interests of peddling revisionist history.

    • It’s not revisionist history. Soldiers always think the other guys have something better. Russians wanted German sub guns. Americans scrounged and used all the panzerfausts, mp40’s they could lay hands on.

      Germans wanted Russian sub guns because of their high rate of fire. Face a russian human wave assualt and you see the reasoning. Germans also had real lust for the m1 carbine.

      Back and forth it goes. And everybody wanted pistols.

      • Aha–fair enough. Thanks for the perspective. Shoulda guessed, come to think of it, one thing that has always stuck in my mind is how the soldiers so often think the other side is better fed. The Germans called the sausages they were given “alter Mann” (“old man”) because to them it was so tough and unappealing, but other soldiers were happy to snap it up to get a change from C-rations.

      • PPSh was actually better than the German MP38/40 if you could get your hands on box rather than drum magazines. PPSh box magazine is curved, and so it feeds fairly reliable, while the long and straight 32-round stick of MP40 was prone to misfeeding, especially when using the mag as a forward grip (which troops tended to do because of the lack of proper handguard ahead of the magwell – the intention was for them to grip behind it instead, but it’s fairly awkward and the gun is not very balanced that way).

        German troops also liked the fact that, unlike most other captured guns, PPSh did not require any conversion, as it could be readily used with 7.63×25 Mauser ammo that they had in abundance, with only a marginal decrease in performance (as 7.62×25 TT is hotter).

    • Willi Heinrich, the author of “Cross Of Iron” was a WWII vet who fought (and survived) the battles on the Russian Front. After the war he wrote a series of novels which used the long retreat out of Russia as a backdrop for his fictional narratives. He was apparently the real thing—a combat veteran who could write—and his stories show a lot, whether imagined or real, about that experience. After every war there is a spate of books and novels which depict soldiers’ wartime experiences. Some are good, many are awful, but all reflect a need to tell someone’s story. If you like the genre, Willi Heinrich’s stories are good reads.

  10. I’m sure that hundreds of thousands of WW2 German soldiers would have something to say about the accuracy of the Papasha. Except that they can’t because they are dead. The Papasha was developed to kill Nazis, and did that job very well. It’s not a precision instrument because it was never intended to be one. It’s a meat cleaver, not a scalpel.

    • 1. Ralph, you do realize that the gun was developed in response to the Finnish-Soviet war and designed to fight any opponent of the Soviet Union? -Before mid 1941 fought Finns, Poles, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians and Romanians. All of which mostly were Allies of Germany in her struggle for freedom against the evil of communism. It should be noted that the US lost to wars two wars to countries which used the ppsh-41: North-Korea/China and Vietnam. So the ppsh-41 did in fact kill a bunch of Americans.
      2. When it comes to its effectiveness, the ppsh-41 is not really suited for the tactics (human wave attacks) and terrain tactics it was used for. Most of western Russia and Ukraine is a wide and flat land – as someone else here pointed out. The exception are the Pripjet marches and areas in northern Belorussia with dense forests. A sub-machine gun is only suitable in a very narrowly defined scenario (urban warfare, trench clearing). That is why modern armies today are equipped with machine guns and assault rifles.
      3. The ppd-40 (inspired by the Bergmann mp 18) and ppsh-41 were available at the outset of the Soviet-German war but it did not prevent the decisive defeats received in 1941 and 1942. Nor did it help to limit casualties in 1943 until the end of the war. The battle of Stalingrad was decided by severe cold, lack of supplies and the encirclement. Inside Stalingrad 80,000 Axis soldiers died. Many due to cold, hunger. The soviets lost hundreds of thousands. So even in an urban environment the ppsh-41 did not secure an easy victory.

  11. I shot a couple of mags thru one of those. I found it to be a hoot. I could have written my name with it if the magazine was big enough. I thought it very controllable compared to the M16 and full auto AR in 9mm that we had on hand.
    Everybody that shot it had a huge grin on their face. I think that was because the brass looks like a fountain when it ejects out the top. They said that was to keep troops moving forward while firing. Just a joke but makes sense. Rate of fire was crazy fast. That’s why the old timers call it a burp gun.
    No experience with an MP-5 for comparison though. Hope to fix that someday.

  12. An 8lb sub machine gun without it’s accompanying 70+ round mag is “light”.
    Yikes! You must have gorilla arms.

  13. More fun facts about this gun. The Soviets were so inspired by the Suomi KP31 that they had a copy of its blueprints and a stolen sample gun smuggled over the Finnish border.

    The Germans loved the things to death and, like the SVT-40, captured and issued them whenever they could. Demand was so high in some divisions that the armorers couldn’t keep pace. Buckets of them were converted to fire both 7.63 Mauser and 9mm and some were even modified to accept MP40 stick mags instead of the drum.

    I recall an excerpt from one German soldier’s memoir in which an officer of the eccentric Sergeant Schulz variety ripped the MP40 from his hands, tossed it aside, and thrust its Russian counterpart into his arms exclaiming, “Put that damned child’s toy away and grab yourself a weapon your life can truly depend on!”

    On the other side, quite a few Russians snagged themselves MP40’s and P38’s whenever they could. This fequent habit of soldiers in just about any war never fails to catch my interest.

    • Russia agreed to not to go to war against Germany. They also provided supplies and raw material to the Germans. And they did invade Poland with Germany. After that their love affair cooled off.

      • It was not so much “conquering together” (this implies cooperation and sharing the spoils) as it was carving it up and not getting into the way of each other’s conquests in designated areas. I don’t think there was any case where German and Soviet troops actually fought side by side, not even in Poland, where such opportunities did present themselves. The closest they came to it was holding a joint military parade in Poland.

  14. >> The designers knew that they were about to place this in the hands of conscripts who just weeks before had thought that an outhouse was the pinnacle of engineering and these guns wouldn’t be seeing much (if any) maintenance.

    Yet another ridiculous stereotype.

    Look, this gun was initially designed, and first prototypes manufactured, in 1940, almost a year before Germany attacked the USSR. Back then, the Soviets were doing quite well, and had universal conscription with a term of two years. So the idea that they’d need to send fresh conscripts with merely a few weeks of training into battles wasn’t exactly on anyone’s mind just yet – that was a desperate measure once WW2 kicked into full gear for the Soviets, but by then the gun was already fully designed.

  15. Just take a gun off a dead body after checking for booby traps.
    Thomas Jefferson’s letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787 have the last word: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” I have the right to feel safe and that includes carrying a loaded firearm. I have the right to protect myself and if you don’t like it tough $hit.
    The 2nd Amendment was put into the Constitution so the people could protect themselves from a corrupt government. No double standards put DC politicians on Obamacare and SS and take away their guns.Thanks for your support and vote.Pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

  16. “Uncontrollable?” I’ve probably put tens of thousands rounds thru mine over 30 years. I’ve competed in the NW and Knob Creek- done very well against MP5s, MP40s, etc. With any full-auto weapon, having a firm stance is imperative; otherwise, .you will have a control problem. My experience is that the PPSh is very controllable and extremely reliable.
    The open bolt recoil is very smooth compared to a semi-auto PPSh. I find the semi PPSh bolt hitting the chamber after firing and putting a fresh round in the chamber is “clunky” and definitely not as smooth as the full-auto PPSh in semi mode. Accuracy is acceptable for a combat weapon. As I stated above, I have been in competition with the PPSh against other SMGs and done very well. In semi at 100 yds I can hit a man sized target chest area easily.
    Don’t know about the PPSh the reviewer used, but definitely my experience. Believe me, in a combat situation, I would not want to be on the receiving end of a PPSh, as the Russians learned in the Finnish Winter War with the Suomi SMGs, which lead to the Russians designing a similar weapon.

  17. With respect to the reviewer’s range experience – utter crap. At ranges up to 25 yards the weapon is devastatingly accurate and completely controllable in fully automatic fire. At 10 yards even a rookie should be able to put an entire stick magazine into a zone little larger than a picnic plate. Your results are the only thing innacurate about this weapon. Readers – get out there and fire weapons yourselves. Don’t rely on rank amateurs to determine your impressions of a firearm.

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