I’ll admit it , I’m a nerd. I’ve always had a fondness for history.
What most interests me is European and American history during WWII and the beginning of the Cold War, especially the racing evolution of the time period’s military technology. This era saw the development of mechanized warfare, jet engines, machine guns, and even the atomic bomb.
My fascination for the technological advancement of this time surely contributes to my affinity for the 1911 pistol. The grip angle suits me well, and I enjoy shooting .45 ACP, but I also love the history associated with the firearm (and with three quarters of a century in the service of the U.S. military, there is a lot of it).
However, the Communist bloc weapons of the era hold the same degree of intrigue for me – so much so that I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject. The Tokarev pistol, to me, represents a crossover from the western to the eastern European small arms. Its feel and function echo that of a 1911. It borrows some design cues from the American staple, but its prominence and use in Eastern Europe have given the Tokarev its own long legacy.
The TT-30 (Tula Tokarev) was designed in 1930 by Fedor Tokarev in 1930 to replace the Soviet Service revolver, the M1895 Nagant. As it was put into service in the USSR, the design was improved and re-released in 1933 as the TT-33.
The Tokarev takes several form and function elements from Browning semi auto handguns of the time. The externals mirror Browning’s slim Model 1903 and uses the short recoil operation of the M1911.
However, despite the similarities between the 1911 and TT function, the Tokarev has several unique design elements that separate it from 1911 clones. Some of them made the TT-33 easier to manufacture, like the full circumference locking lugs on the barrel and the captured recoil spring.
Another of the differences between Browning’s 1911 and Tokarev’s TT is the choice of caliber. The M1911 is chambered in .45 ACP, while the TT uses the hot 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge (based off of the 7.63x25mm Mauser round).
One of the most important deviations from the Browning 1911 internals lies in the hammer and sear components. The TT-33 features a modular hammer and sear unit that is simple enough to allow for easy replacement, even in the field of battle. The simplicity of manufacture and maintenance, as well as the stout design are two reasons that the Tokarev is known for its reliability.
The success of the TT style encouraged a wide number of variants on the original TT-30 model, namely the Yugoslavian M57.
The Yugoslavian M57 was produced by Crevna Zastava (which became Zastava Arms in what is now Serbia) and issued as the official sidearm of the Yugoslavian Army in 1957.
The M57 is a Tokarev clone with two notable differences. First, the M57 utilizes a full length articulated guide rod (with a captured recoil spring). The second distinctive design departure is that Zastava extended the grip and magazine to increase the capacity to 9 rounds from the TT-33′s 8.
Zastava Arms still produces model M57s, but to import them into the US, they have been re-tooled to include a 1911 style thumb safety. There are a couple of smaller cosmetic differences (such as the M57′s larger mag release button), but the overall fit and finish, as well as general operation of the two pistols, are largely identical. With the modular firing mechanism and captured recoil spring, it is a breeze to disassemble and reassemble. In fact, I can do it with my eyes closed (check the video below for proof).
My penchant for handguns with history has given me an appreciation for the Tokarev model. However, its elegant look, simplistic design, and ability to withstand abuse all win it points aside from its prominence during World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.
That isn’t to suggest that the Tokarev design is the most remarkable military technology developed during that epoch. But, the small steps toward producing a more effective sidearm have greater implications when the force utilizing the improved technology is as massive as that of the Red Army.
That degree of historical significance is just enough to pique the interest of a gun history nerd like me.