When it comes to 20th century Soviet-era small arms, the 7.62x39mm AK-47 may be the weapon that first comes to mind. But the classic Samozaryadnyi Karabin Sistemi Simonova (known to most collectors and shooters simply as the SKS) deserves an equally respected spot of honor. While the SKS did not achieve the long-term iconic success of the AK-47, it was an extremely capable and advanced rifle for its time, serving around the world well past the point of the AK’s introduction.

Developed by famed firearms engineer Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov, the SKS was the result of a new approach to not only small arms design but also cartridge configuration. Beginning in the late 1930s, the Soviets set about developing what we would now term an “intermediate cartridge,” concurrent with the efforts of the Germans who were developing their 7.92x33mm round. Upon its appearance, the new Soviet cartridge was dubbed the M43 (to indicate its year of appearance). Eventually becoming the 7.62x39mm we know today, the M43 found its home in a self-loading carbine Simonov had developed, which featured a 10-round magazine and a folding bayonet. Produced in 1944 and sent to frontline troops for battlefield testing, the carbine proved to be a hit with the Soviet troops (no doubt due to its low recoil and semi-automatic operation).

Simonov continued refining and perfecting the design after the war’s end, recognizing that it could still serve an important role with the Red Army. The resulting weapon was the SKS. However, the SKS’ days as a frontline military rifle were numbered, as the detachable-box-mag-fed AK-47 would soon take its place. Despite this, the SKS went on to serve with communist and aligned forces worldwide during the Cold War and was produced outside Russia in such locations as Romania, East Germany and, as a result of early Sino-Soviet amity, even the People’s Republic of China, where it was produced as the Type 56…


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