An important step in introducing a new weapon is testing it, especially in combat. Rarely, however, have design engineers had a chance to see a new weapon face combat as rapidly as had the PPS-43 submachine gun. Produced at the Sestroryetsk Arsenal near Leningrad during the German Siege of Leningrad, PPS-43s went from the production line into combat within a matter of hours. They served through the end of World War II and continued in production until 1968.
The PPS-43 was designed to be produced faster and cheaper than the PPSh-41, which had been the principal Soviet SMG during the early years of WWII. With Soviet industry overstretched, a key element of the PPS-43’s design was the elimination of as many machine operations as possible, by using sheet steel stampings. In fact, the PPS-43 only required 2.7 hours of machining, as opposed to 7.3 hours of machining for the PPSh-41. Raw materials were also scarce in the beleaguered Soviet Union, so the savings in steel used to create the PPS-43—over 50 percent—was a huge advantage as well.
The PPS-43 is not a select-fire but a full-auto-only weapon. That said, some skilled users have learned to fire single shots by placing the trigger finger very low on the trigger and exerting careful control. Most users, though, have been content with developing the control to fire short bursts. Like other WWII SMGs, the PPS-43 is a blowback-operated firearm that fires from an open bolt. And as was the PPSh-41, it is chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge.
The cocking handle is a simple piece of steel that protrudes from the right side of the receiver and is integral to the bolt. It offers enough leverage to allow a round to be chambered easily and to knock (or kick) a stuck case free, but it is thin enough that care needs to be taken so that the hand does not slip off. The cocking handle is long enough to allow operation while wearing gloves, something that was particularly important to Soviet troops.
The PPS-43’s safety would have been familiar to U.S. infantrymen during WWII as it operates similarly to that of the U.S. M1 Garand. In the safe position, the safety is pushed back into the triggerguard. To move the safety to the fire position, the knuckle of the trigger finger may be used. The thumb may also be used to push the safety off. A magazine-well housing allows good placement of the support hand and also shields the mag release (a paddle style lever located on the rear of the well) so that it cannot be hit inadvertently. I find that, if I let the lower portion of the receiver rest on the top of my hand while I grip the housing, I can control the PPS-43 fairly well. On longer bursts, the housing cuts into the hand a bit, though not enough to draw blood. Care must also be taken if long bursts are fired—especially with two or three magazines in a row—so that the hand does not get burned from touching the heat shield. Shooters must also be aware of finger placement so that a finger doesn’t stray into the path of the bolt as it moves back and forth. I have read that this magazine well housing was designed to also function as a foregrip and prevent soldiers from grasping the magazine, which could impact reliability.
The top-folding stock is released by a button on top of the receiver and rests along the top of the receiver when folded. If the opening in the butt portion of the stock is positioned correctly, it will fit over the rear sight. As with many folding skeleton stocks, the PPS-43’s is not especially comfortable when firing. The PPS-43 uses a front post and a flip-up rear notch sight designed for 100 and 200 meters. They aren’t exceptional, but they suffice for use in combat, where the PPS-43 was designed to go. The PPS-43 uses a 35-round box magazine. The magazine’s forward curve and the forward slope of the magazine well allow faster magazine changes than with the PPSh-41. Also, as with Soviet weapon magazines in general, the PPS-43 magazine is sturdy and should stand up to substantial abuse. Note, however, that this magazine is not interchangeable with the PPSh-41’s box magazine, nor could the PPS-43 take the drum magazines designed for the PPSh-41. Presumably, to prevent logistical problems, the Soviets tried to issue the PPS-43 to units that did not also have the PPSh-41.
One of the most distinctive features of the PPS-43 is its muzzle brake, which is comprised of a bent piece of steel with a hole in it and designed to deflect gases to the side, to help dampen recoil/muzzle rise. I’m uncertain how effective this brake is, but my experience has been that the PPS-43 is certainly loud when fired. The ventilated heat shield helps dissipate heat to some extent, but after a fairly long burst it is still pretty hot. The PPS-43’s all-metal construction, other than its grip panels, would likely pose challenges in the Russian winter: users would have to be mindful of where they placed their face and bare hands so that their skin did not freeze on the weapon’s metal surfaces. Likewise, in hot weather, the all-metal weapon would have the potential for burning the user’s hands. Presumably, Soviet troops knew how to adapt.
The 7.62x25mm chambering of the PPS-43 may lead some to believe it’s not a serious weapon, but the Tokarev round has a high muzzle velocity and good penetration. With the exception of some recent productions, 7.62x25mm ammunition is almost always corrosive, but the PPS-43 has a chromed barrel, a feature deemed important enough to be included in the PPS-43’s simplistic design.
Fire From Leningrad
I haven’t fired the PPS-43 as much as I have many other WWII SMGs, but I have fired roughly 1,000 rounds over a dozen or so encounters with Russian models of the weapon. In addition to those, I’ve fired the Chinese Type-54 copy as well as the Polish PPS-43. I have also fired the Finnish M44, which is a copy of the PPS-43 but chambered for the 9x19mm round and designed to take Suomi magazines including drums. Based on my experiences, the PPS-43 has a good SMG design but not a great one. Just as the Sten gun was designed to arm British troops who needed weapons fast so they could face a potential invasion, the PPS-43 was designed for Soviet forces who needed to send massive numbers of men against the advancing Germans, to stop the Germans and allow the Russian winter to decimate them. The PPS-43 was simple to operate, worked reliably and killed the enemy.
While the PPS-43 was designed to be produced quickly and in large quantities, it (like Soviet weapons in general) also included features that enabled it to be operated under adverse conditions with little maintenance. Its 7.62x25mm chambering made its logistics easier since the PPSh-41 and the Tokarev TT-33 pistol were chambered for the same round. The design of the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round, especially in the SMG, was powerful enough to penetrate heavy winter clothing worn by the Germans and their allies on the Eastern Front.
Recently, I fired a few magazines through a PPS-43 produced in 1945, to reacquaint myself with the design. I was shooting plates at 50 yards mostly and found that the weapon was quite controllable on bursts of up to ten rounds at a time. The sights weren’t great, but I could see the plates and hit them enough that they’d be unhappy if they were Germans on the Eastern Front. Magazine changes were easy, and so was operation of the safety. Speaking of safety, I did use two techniques I learned from my friend T. J. Mullin when handling the PPS-43: If the bolt was forward with a loaded magazine in place, I carried the SMG with my hand behind the cocking handle so it could not jar back and cock the bolt; likewise, when moving with the PPS-43 with a loaded magazine in place, the bolt cocked and the safety on, I placed my hand in front of the cocking handle so the bolt could not be jarred forward. These are good techniques to remember with open-bolt SMGs that have a protruding cocking handle.
My conclusion is simple: the PPS-43, like most Soviet weapons, is straightforward and designed to keep operating, come hell or high water, to get the job done.