History 101: SKS – Informative Overview [2019]

Most of the gun enthusiasts would accept the fact that the German Sturmgewehr MP-43/44 was the first assault rifle in the world, but few know that the first successful self-loading rifle was created by Manuel Mondragon, as early as 1890.

However, Mondragon´s improved design M1908 was chambered for the rifle caliber 7×57mm Mauser, Mexican service cartridge.

Utilizing lighter, smaller “intermediate” ammunition rounds in WWII is the real breakthrough in self-loading rifles, which eventually replaced full-size rifle cartridges that had been in use since the start of the 20th century.

Why was the SKS Designed and Deployed?

The intermediate ammunition rounds, like the German 7.92x33mm Kurz, achieved universal acceptance.

During World War II, the Soviets examined them with great interest, for they had been doing experiments into short cartridges before the war began.

They developed a lower recoiling M43 7.62x39mm short cartridge with good ballistic properties, and then turned to Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov, and suggested him the creation of a self-loading rifle to suit.

Simonov carbine (SKS) has an eclectic appearance compared to its counterparts. It was a mashup between the powerful, but aging Mosin Nagant bolt-actions, and the fast firing, but short range submachine guns.

Simonov carbine (Source)

In fact, the design was influenced by the combat statistics and fighting lessons learned in World War 2, where most infantry firefights occurred within mid-range of 200 m to 500 m. The military soon discovered that the full powered bolt-action rifles were not well suited for the new form of warfare.

Based on experiences from his earlier AVS-36 battle rifle and PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle, Simonov developed a self-loading carbine in the original mid-range 7.62x41mm cartridge, which would later re-chambered to 7.62x39mm.

At 8.8-pounds and an overall length of 40.16 inches, the SKS carbine was somewhat heavy and long for its intermediate round. But it was also smaller, lighter, and much more maneuverable than the SVT 40 and the Mosin Nagant it preceded.

Simonov improved his first design from 1936 and submitted a new rifle for the test in 1941, but as we all know, 1941 was no time for changing armament, and the idea was put to one side.  

However, he then redesigned it to suit the new cartridge, and by the summer of 1944 pre-production models were in the hands of troops on the First Belorussian Front for practical testing in combat.

After some modifications, in the summer of 1945, his design was approved for issue as the first Russian weapon to fire the 7.62x39mm short cartridge.

The rifle was designated as an SKS-45 carbine, or Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova, 1945 (SKS), meaning Simonov's Self-loading Carbine.

Its appearance was traditional, a fully wooden-stocked weapon featuring forged receiver section with a pronounced Browning Stop and a ventilated wraparound wooden handguard similar to the other rifles of the 1940s.

This gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle features a gas tube and barrel protruding well forward of the furniture, and bracketed very close together and a tall hooded front sight post near the muzzle.

Another SKS trademark is an integral bayonet with spike or sword style blade that recesses into the fore grip, via a hinged connection underneath the barrel when not in use.

The reciprocating charging handle is on the right side of the receiver; it means that handle moves with the bolt when the weapon is fired.

The SKS sports a sloped fixed magazine extension holding ten rounds. With the action locked in its open position, the internal magazine may be fed by hand one round at a time, or almost instantly reloaded using 10-round stripper clips.

Interestingly, you can charge the SKS upside down, from the bottom, as it is faster if the optic is mounted on the rifle. That method also decreases the possibility of a bolt slamming forward on your thumb (a la “M-1 thumb”).

The SKS is a gas-operated rifle that has a spring-loaded bolt carrier and a gas piston rod, employing a tilting bolt locking system instead of the more familiar rotating bolt.

The SKS carbine was intended, during World War II, to supplement the semiautomatic SVT 38, the SVT 40 and the bolt-action Mosin Nagant battle rifles, all chambered to fire the powerful 7.62x54R Russian cartridge.

The mass-production began in 1946, while the Soviet Army's official adoption of the rifle finally occurred in 1949 as the second Soviet weapon to fire the 7.62x39mm cartridge, with the first being the RPD.

Although it became the standard Soviet rifle and later supplied to several communist bloc countries, its front-line service in the Soviet Union was brief, as work on Kalashnikov's AK-47 design was finished around the same time.

Who Manufactures the SKS?

Like many Russian weapons, the SKS was shared with other Communist satellite nations, so it was widely copied in China, North Korea, East Germany and Yugoslavia.

Although millions of SKS were produced during a short time frame, the SKS carbines were building at the Tula Arsenal from 1949 to 1958 and at the Izhevsk plant from 1953 until 1954. They were considered of the highest quality, while the non-Soviet SKS carbines varied significantly in this matter.

Tula Arsenal (Source)

Tula Arms Plant was established in Tula, Tula Oblast, in 1712 after the First decree of Peter the Great and its first name was Tula Arsenal.

During the early to mid-Soviet era, the factory produced a variety military arms, including the Nagant M1895 revolver, the Mosin–Nagant, and the SVT-40 rifle.

Due to the the course of German Operation Barbarossa in 1941, it had to be evacuated far to the East. Immediately after the war, Tula began to manufacture the SKS carbines, and a little after that the legendary AK-47.

Soviet AK-47 (top), and a Simonov SKS (bottom) with bayonet folded back (Source)

Currently, the plant also produces small-caliber rifles and double-barreled shotguns such as TOZ-34, as well as large quantities of small arms ammunition.

The Russians founded in 1942, the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant or short IZHMEKH  in the town of Izhevsk, located in the Western Ural Mountains.

During World War II, the plant was manufacturing small arms such as the Mosin–Nagant and the SVT-40 rifles.

Later it continued producing firearms, both for military and hunting applications like the Makarov and the Yarygin pistols. In 2013, Izhmash and Izhevsk Mechanical Plant merged and were formally renamed the Kalashnikov Concern.

Foreign manufacturers includeAlbania, East Germany, North Korea, North Vietnam, Poland, Romania, some Chinese versions, and Yugoslav M59/66 -- which is exceptionally well built compared to other SKS models.

While the design of all produced SKS rifles by the nations mentioned above was mostly unchanged, there is some frequent discussion as to the relative quality of each nation's SKS production.

Variants of the SKS

Yugoslavia/Serbia

One of the most common models on the market is the Yugoslav M59/66 SKS variant. Despite the fact that the barrel is not chrome-lined, Yugoslav PAP M59/66 is generally considered to be better made than Chinese rifles.

Differentiating the Yugoslavian SKS from other SKS variants is the grenade firing capability, which uses a special blank cartridge to propel a rifle grenade.

Yugoslav M59/66 (source)

Unlike the other SKS carbines, the Yugoslavian M59/66 (now Zastava Arms factory, Serbia) was heavier and longer due to the added 3.74 inches NATO spec 22mm diameter grenade launcher.

The M59/66 provisions for launching rifle grenades include a flash hider/grenade launcher attachment, a ladder-type flip up grenade sight, and a gas tube shut-off valve.

Zastava Arms based in Kragujevac, Serbia was founded in 1853 and under their provenience, we have hunting rifles of Mauser 98 type and family of Zastava M70, a Kalashnikov rifle.

China

Although relatively close to the SKS, the Chinese carbines also pop up frequently on the civilian market, due to the enormous production.

Although these variants have some shortcomings, we should point out several Chinese SKS models such as the Type 56, 63, 68, 81 and Type 84.

The licensed copy of the SKS, Type 56 carbines from the Jianshe Arsenal, has remained in production longer than in any other country. You can recognize them by the 26 inside of a triangle on the left side of the receiver.

Type 63 Chinese Rifle (source)

The NORINCO Type 63 is a hybrid of the SKS and the several east-bloc rifles, using the AK-47 style rotary bolt and detachable magazine, as well as a selective-fire rifle.

The Chinese Type 63 is the only SKS variant capable of automatic fire that conducted to the development of a series of new rifles with many design variations between them.

Some variants feature a stamped sheet-steel receiver, three-round burst capability or a shorter 16" paratrooper barrel.

North Korea

Another model that should not be confused with the NORINCO Type 63 is the North Korean variant of the SKS also called Type 63, and it is scarce.

North Korea Type 63 (source)

Its sub-variants may feature a unique side-swinging bayonet or a grenade launching system similar to that on the Yugo M59/66.

North Vietnam

North Vietnam Model Type 1 (source)

One of the rarest SKS variants is the North Vietnam model Type 1. It is similar in configuration to late Soviet SKS, but is identified by a small star with a 1 inside of it. The star is located on the left side of the receiver and is a well-known marker. 

Albania

As Albanians changed sides and their allies, they got different military hardware, including Chinese assistance in producing a copy of their Type 56 SKS rifles.

The Albanian "July 10 Rifle" differs slightly from its original counterpart by having a long three vent hand guards that extends out to the gas block.

With this, there's a slightly different shape of magazine compared to other SKS carbines.

However, the most apparent difference from other SKS carbines is its hook-type, AK-47 style charging handle.

Middle: Chinese Type 56 - Bottom: Romanian M56 (source)

Romania

The Romanian SKS carbines, designated as Model 56, were produced in the venerable Cugir plant and their arsenal stamp is similar to the Izhevsk Arsenal of Russia.

These relatively uncommon SKS versions have no other differences from the original SKS, except the M56 sword type bayonet that is finished in dull chrome plating.

Located in Transylvania, the Uzina Mecanica Cugir plant started metal production in 1799. Cugir more popular products were the Orița 9mm submachine gun, a Mosin Nagant M-44, the Romanian TT-33 Tokarev pistol, the PSL-54c, and many commercial and military grade AK variants, like the md.63 or WASR.

East Germany

Another rare model by SKS standards is the East German rifle called the Karabiner-S, with a specific groove, cut into the buttstock for the sling and swivel.

Karabiner-S (source)

Unlike Soviet`s SKS, Karabiner-S has no provisions for carrying a cleaning kit in the stock, and there is no cleaning rod.

Czechoslovakia

The period immediately after the end of WWII brought many similar self-loading rifles, but the Czechoslovak Vz.52 service rifle manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka was similar in design to the competing SKS. 

Initially, the Vz.52 semi-automatic carbine was adopted in the 7.5x45mm to be later changed into the 7.62x39 Soviet cartridge; it become known as the "vz. 52/57".

While it may bear some cosmetic resemblance to the SKS, the interior was entirely different for the Russian carbine. It featured an operating system based on the tilting block action, with annular a gas-piston in the form of a sleeve surrounding part of the barrel, and action on the bolt carrier.

When this version of the SKS was introduced in post-war years, many nations were struggling with the concept of going from battle rifle to the select-fire, detachable-magazine assault rifle.

Czechoslovak Vz.52 Service Rifle (source)

New rifle designs featured a cheap stamped sheet-steel receiver, while the receiver on the SKS was forged; another reason why the SKS production was phased-out.

However, the Simonov semi-automatics remained in use by second line troops, and reserve forces long after the AK-47 entered into service.

In any case, the venerable Simonov SKS has served with distinction and survived as a beautifully balanced weapon on ceremonial duties. Generally, Honor Guards boast all-chrome metal parts, with a lighter-colored wood stock.

Is the SKS Still In Use Today?

There are many others variants available on the commercial market disguised as sporterized hunting versions usually featuring a thumb hole or one-piece stock, a redesigned front sight, a receiver mounted scope mount, or a modified trigger such as the Serbian LKP 66, with a "Monte Carlo" style stock.

While the hinged sword bayonet was making several generations of conscripts very wary, carbines marked for sale on the civilian market shouldn't have attached blades or grenade launchers.

Accordingly, bayonet mount is sometimes deleted from rifles, but it influenced the operation of the weapon, as it is susceptible to its overall longitudinal balance, which ultimately may affect accuracy.

Molot VPO-208

One exciting project is the VPO Molot that comes from a small arms manufacturer and ammo maker, the Techkrim LTD. Designed for the Russian civilian market, the version of the old Simonov SKS carbine with smooth-bored barrel equipped with Paradox rifling at the muzzle.

Dubbed the VPO-208, this semi-automatic shotgun is chambered for newly developed .336 TKM ammunition with a 7.62×39 M43 case, necked up to 9.55mm (.336") and loaded with FMJ, soft-point bullets or shotshell with shot encapsulated inside a bullet-shaped plastic container.

How Does the SKS Shoot?

The SKS is not a cheap plinking rifle. In fact, it is an improvement concerning firing accuracy to the AK-47 and the AKM.

Service Rifle competitions were always popular, and today you can see on ranges veterans like M-1 Garand, SVT-40, M14 or SKS shoulder to shoulder with modern assault guns.

Unlike IPSC style run and gun matches, Service Rifle competitions focus on practical marksmanship from a variety of shooting stances.

The SKS average accuracy is 4-5 inch groups at 100 yards with military surplus ammo and 3-inch groups with hand loads.

Of course, an SKS trigger has to be set down to three and a half pounds, and the carbine has to be manually charged to cool. It happens if the SKS’ free-floating firing pin is not cleaned properly, or if it is installed upside-down during assembly.

The match usually occurs in three positions like prone, kneeling, and standing, shooting from 200 all the way to 500 meters depending on the range.

As far as precision is concerned, for the SKS is not a problem to hit anything up to 200 m, if the rifle is leaning against the sandbag; but it is very cumbersome and unbalanced for shooting from a standing position.

The balance of the rifle is moved all the way forward, and the buttstock is too short, so it always tends to get out of the shoulder.

Conclusion

Among many gun experts, the prevailing opinion is that the Simonov carbine is probably one of the most underrated rifles in military surplus`s wish lists.

Regardless of everything, with well over 15 million items manufactured, the SKS ensured itself a place in firearms history in many parts of the world.

The number of nations that have operated the SKS is estimated at more than 60 while it appears more popular in the United States, where it is classified as an antique relic and can be sold with most of the military accessories intact.

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