SVT-40 without magazine from the collections of Armémuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
|Place of origin||Soviet Union|
|Wars||Chinese Civil War
Second Sino-Japanese War
World War II
First Chechen War
Second Chechen War
|Designed||1938 (updated 1940)|
|Weight||3.85 kilograms (8.5 lb) unloaded|
|Length||1,226 millimetres (48.3 in)|
|Barrel length||625 millimetres (24.6 in)|
|Action||Gas-operated short-stroke piston, tilting bolt|
|Muzzle velocity||830–840 m/s (2,720–2,760 ft/s) (light bullet arr. 1908)|
|Effective firing range||500 metres (550 yd), 1,000 metres (1,100 yd)+ (with scope)|
|Feed system||10-round detachable box magazine|
The Samozaryadnaya Vintovka Tokareva, Obrazets 1940 goda ("Tokarev Self-loading Rifle, Model of 1940", Russian: Самозарядная винтовка Токарева, образец 1940 года) or SVT-40 is a Soviet semi-automatic battle rifle. The SVT-40 saw widespread service during and after World War II. Intended to be the new service rifle of the Soviet Red Army, production was disrupted by the German invasion in 1941 resulting in a switch back to the older Mosin–Nagant bolt-action rifle for the duration of WWII. After the war new rifles were adopted by the Soviet, SKS and AK-47.
Fedor Tokarev created the basic design for the SVT rifle in the early 1930s. Tokarev gave up his previous experiments with a recoil-operated self-loading rifle and pursued a gas-operating mechanism instead. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had a great interest in semi-automatic infantry rifles, and the Army held trials of automatic rifle designs in 1935. The winning rifle was designed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov, and was accepted into service the next year as the AVS-36. However, problems with the AVS quickly became apparent, and further trials were held to which both Tokarev and Simonov submitted their improved designs. This time, Tokarev's rifle was chosen and was accepted for production under the designation SVT-38, with hopes that it would become the new standard issue rifle of the Red Army. Ambitious production plans were made: production was anticipated to be two million rifles per year by 1942. Production began at Tula Arsenal in July 1939 (production at Izhmash began in late 1939).
The SVT-38 is a gas-operated rifle with a short-stroke, spring-loaded piston above the barrel and a tilting bolt. This configuration gained wider acceptance later. There is some dispute about who exactly first developed this operating principle, as the SVT's mechanism (as implemented in 1935 competition prototype) closely resembles Dieudonné Saive's design of 1937; Saive eventually designed both the FN-49 and FN FAL, which employ similar operating principles.
Soviet small arms were usually of simple and robust construction, designed for use by poorly educated and sometimes poorly equipped soldiers. The SVT-38, in contrast, had been designed with weight savings in mind, including its wood stock, receiver, and action. It is gas-operated action with a gas-cylinder cup that was not readily accessible. It was complex by Soviet standards, and was not suited to handle corrosively-primed ammunition without frequent cleaning.
The SVT-38 was equipped with a bayonet and a 10-round detachable magazine. The receiver was open-top, which enabled reloading of the magazine using five round Mosin–Nagant stripper clips. Fairly advanced features for the time were the adjustable gas system, muzzle brake, and telescopic sight rails milled into the receiver. The sniper variant had an additional locking notch for a see-through scope mount and was equipped with a 3.5X PU telescopic sight. This instrument was slightly shorter than the otherwise similar PU scope used on the Mosin–Nagant M1891/30 sniper rifle.
The SVT-38 saw its combat debut in the 1939–1940 Winter War with Finland. The initial reaction of the troops to this new rifle was negative. Among the issues were that the rifle was too long and cumbersome, difficult to maintain, and the magazine had a tendency to fall out of the rifle. Production of the SVT-38 was terminated in April 1940 after some 150,000 examples were manufactured. Subsequently, an improved design, designated the SVT-40, entered production. It was a more refined, lighter design incorporating a modified magazine release. The handguard was now single-piece and the cleaning rod was housed under the barrel. Other changes were made in an effort to simplify manufacture. Production of this improved rifle began in July 1940 at Tula, and later at factories in Izhevsk and Podolsk. Production of the Mosin–Nagant M1891/30 bolt-action rifle continued, remaining the standard-issue rifle to Red Army troops, with the SVT-40 more often issued to non-commissioned officers and elite units like the Naval Infantry. Since these factories already had experience manufacturing the SVT-38, production geared up quickly and an estimated 70,000 SVT-40s were produced in 1940.
By the time the German invasion began in June 1941, the SVT-40 was already in widespread use by the Red Army. In a Soviet infantry division's Table of Organization and Equipment, one-third of rifles were supposed to be SVTs, although in practice this ratio was seldom achieved. The first months of the war were disastrous for the Soviet Union, and hundreds of thousands of SVT-40s were lost. To make up for this, production of the Mosin–Nagant rifles was reintroduced. In contrast, the SVT was more difficult to manufacture, and troops with only rudimentary training had difficulty maintaining it. In addition, submachine guns like the PPSh-41 had proven their value as simple, cheap, and effective rifles to supplement infantry firepower. This led to a gradual decline in SVT production. In 1941, over a million SVTs were produced, but in 1942 Ishevsk arsenal was ordered to cease SVT production and switch back to the Mosin–Nagant 91/30. Only 264,000 SVTs were manufactured in 1942, and production continued to diminish until the order to cease production was finally given in January 1945. Total production of the SVT-38/40 was around 1,600,000 rifles, of which 51,710 were the SVT-40 sniper variant.
In service, SVTs frequently suffered from vertical shot dispersion. These rifles were reported to be of "flimsey construction and the(re were) difficulties experienced in their repair and maintenance." Many rifles were poorly seated in their stocks allowing the receiver to shift upon firing, though selective shimming with birch chips was practiced as a field modification. For a sniper rifle, this was unacceptable, and production of the specialized sniper variant of the SVT was terminated in 1942. At the same time, the milling of scope rails in the receivers of standard SVT rifles was also discontinued. Other production changes included a new, simpler muzzle brake design.
To supplement the Red Army's shortage of machine guns, an SVT version capable of full-automatic fire (designated the AVT-40) was ordered into production on 20 May 1942; the first batches reached the troops in July. It was externally similar to the SVT, but its modified safety also acted as a fire selector. The AVT featured a slightly stouter stock; surplus AVT stocks were later used on refurbished SVTs. In service, the AVT proved to be a disappointment: automatic fire was largely uncontrollable, and the rifles often suffered breakages under the increased strain. The use of the AVT's automatic fire mode was subsequently prohibited, and production of the rifle was relatively brief; none were made after the summer of 1943.
A shorter carbine version (sometimes called SKT-40) was designed in 1940 and was submitted to a competitive test with a design of Simonov in the same year; neither was accepted for service. It was reportedly produced in small numbers; but again, this is somewhat disputed. Later, a prototype version chambered for the new, shorter 7.62×39mm round was developed, but was not accepted for production.
The first country outside the Soviet Union to employ the SVT was Finland, which captured some 4,000 SVT-38s during the Winter War, and over 15,000 SVTs during the Continuation War. The SVT saw extensive use in Finnish hands. Germany and other Axis countries captured hundreds of thousands of SVTs from the Eastern Front (World War II). As the Germans were short of self-loading rifles themselves, the SVT (designated as G.259(r) by the Wehrmacht) saw widespread use in German hands against their former owners. The Germans issued their own operating manual for the SVT. Study of the SVT's gas-operated action also aided in the development of the German Gewehr 43 rifle.
After the war, SVTs were mostly withdrawn from service and refurbished in arsenals, then stored. In Soviet service, firearms like the SKS and the AK-47 as well as the later SVD made the SVT obsolete, and the rifle was generally out of service by 1955. Only a few SVTs were exported to Soviet allies and clients. Reportedly, some SVTs were used by Cuban revolutionaries in the 1950s. The Finnish Army retired the SVT in 1958, and about 7,500 rifles were sold to the United States civilian market through firearm importer Interarms. This marked the end of SVTs in regular service. In the Soviet Union, SVTs were kept in storage until the 1990s, when many rifles were sold abroad, along with several other Russian surplus military firearms. Currently the SVT is fairly widely available for collectors and historical enthusiasts, and is highly sought. In Russia, limited examples for civilian use have been sold as the ОСК-88 (OSK 88) with some variations in stock, barrel length and optics. The rifle's popularity is due to a combination of the inexpensive nature of its 7.62×54mmR ammunition, favorable aesthetics, historical significance, and pleasant shooting characteristics.
Despite its relatively brief service career, the SVT was a prolific rifle on the Eastern Front during World War II, and it had considerable impact on European battle rifle designs during and immediately after the war. The German G-43 was influenced by the SVT in its design, as was Simonov's experimental carbine during the closing stages of the war (which would later become the SKS). The FN FAL and its ancestor FN-49 employ the same locking mechanism and operating principle as the SVT, although as mentioned above, this is most likely coincidental. As a service rifle, the SVT had its problems, but so did contemporary semi-automatic rifles made by other countries. The main reason for the gradual downfall of SVT usage in combat was not its technical disadvantages; rather, the reason was that, with the immense, continual demand for rifles in the front lines, Soviet factories could produce other, simpler designs in far greater quantities in the same length of time it took to produce the SVT.
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