In the wake of World War I, the new Soviet Union was brutally putting down opposition from reactionary forces. Executing peasants was hard work, and the Soviets bought every 7.63 Mauser pistol they could get.
Soviet designers were quite impressed with the zippy, little 7.63x25mm Mauser round. It had more range and penetrated heavy winter garments much better than the .44 Russian and 7.62 Nagant revolvers previously used in czarist Russia.
The head of the new Soviet small-arms design bureau, Fedor V. Tokarev, was directed to design a lighter, less-complicated and more-rugged design to replace the worn-out Smith & Wesson, Nagant and German products (executing peasants was hard on guns). He went with the proven Mauser 7.63×25 as inspiration.
DESIGNED FOR EXECUTING “REACTIONARY” PEASANTS, IT WENT ON TO HELP DEFEAT THE THIRD REICH.
Tokarev’s new round took into account the impoverished Soviet exchequer and the vast stocks of Mauser rounds. He copied the exterior dimensions of the Mauser so that existing stocks could be used in his Browning-inspired TT-30 and TT-33 automatics. Tokarev had originally been working on a submachine gun, and so he increased case wall thickness—and thus, chamber pressures—by a factor of around 10 percent.
This would increase velocity (and allow for executing wealthy Ukrainian kulaks with their thicker coats). But shooting the higher-pressure 7.62 Tokarev round is very dangerous in a C-96 broomhandle. You might get away with it for a couple rounds or even a box or two, but eventually, the doctor at that clinic near the range will be digging the bolt out of your upper mandible or eye socket.
With a light bullet and high velocity, recoil is light in the Tokarev pistols, but it has considerable brisance and tends to sting the hand a little bit. It also has little “knock-down power” (to use a loaded term that usually ignites arguments down at the sportsman’s club). Built around the world, the Tokarev case and bullet dimensions, pressures and velocities all vary wildly.I once watched an improvised bowling pin shoot using foot-high chunks of duct-taped pine 4×4. One competitor used his Korean War bring-back TT-33 and Soviet military surplus ball ammo. He hit the blocks with every shot, and they just fell over and refused to budge—let alone fall off the table.
In World War II, German veterans sometimes suffered and survived dozens of wounds from the speedy Tokarev round, which proved itself a better round for submachine guns. It fueled the iconic, drum-fed PPSh-41 and longer-lived PPS-43, which lived on as the Chinese Type 50. The Soviets equipped entire tank-riding battalions with submachine guns. Like the short Roman gladius, this forced the troops to get in close to engage the enemy (killing Nazis was hard work).
By the 1960s, 7.62×25 was on its way out of official use, with most TT-33s—and later, CZ-52 pistols—exported to the United States for commercial sale and the old subguns worn out and replaced by assault rifles. But in the drug wars of the late 1970s, criminals with hefty bank accounts started using body armor, both purchased and home built.
The Chinese, especially, have been developing steel-core spitzer-bullet rounds for suppressed Type 64 and Type 85 police/ Spec-Ops submachine guns. No doubt, similar research is being made for Russian door-kicking units of the police and military (dealing with Chechen and Uygur fanatics is hard work).
So, this practical round—copied almost exactly from the first successful auto-loading pistol round—lives on well into the 21st century. Old, corrosive stocks are still not exhausted. But superb, new ammunition is still being made and distributed by dozens of suppliers (for example, Berdan and Boxer). Brass cased and steel, some with lead bullets and some with steel, this veteran soldiers on in American homes and is frequently seen at the range (entertaining American shooters is hard work).
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.