Tokarev TT-33, Makarov PM1951 and Grach MR-443

Tokarev TT-33, Makarov PM1951, and Grach MR-443

A three quarter century revolution in Russian Small Arms Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

By Dennis Adler

The gun at left is an actual TT-33, my aged Gletcher at right. There are some minor visual differences between the TT-33 and Gletcher TT, most notably the use of Colt-style rear slide serrations rather than the more distinctive elongated vertical serrations used on the Tokarev, and a slightly different look to the trigger, although accurate in size.

Arms designs were global with differing technologies but many similar ideas; one cannot look at a Colt Model 1911 without seeing similarities to countless other European arms of the period. The same can be said for Walther or Browning designs; the confluence of ideas, though perhaps packaged differently, were much the same, and with few exceptions, most were variations of John M. Browning designs created at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century. The Russians were more often borrowers or outright purchasers of foreign arms in the mid to late 19th century when the Czars were impressed by American guns like Colt and Smith & Wesson. Even with large orders for S&W Americans modified to the needs of the Russian military, leading to S&W producing the First, Second and Third Model Russian variations, the Russian military also sought out sources of arms closer to home, in Belgium, where brothers Leon and Emile Nagant and Fabrique d’Armes et Leon Nagant in Liege developed the 7.62mm, 7-shot gas-seal Nagant revolver. The double action/single action revolver was adopted in 1895 as the standard issue handgun for the Russian Army, and was so well regarded by the military that the Russia government purchased the patent rights and began manufacturing Nagant revolvers in the arsenals at Tula, Sestroryetsk and Izhevsk. Production continued throughout the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and abdication of the Czarist government, through two world wars, and right up until 1945! And even after WWII, the 7-shot Negant revolvers were still carried by Soviet police and the infamous KGB.

With the aged finish and my overzealous staining of the metal to show both long use and storage, the Gletcher looks very real right down to the frame-mounted lanyard loop and hard rubber grips with the original Star and Circle emblem and the letters CCCP.

Semi-autos were slow to emerge in the Soviet Union, first with guns from other nations like the German Mauser, Colt Model 1911 and various Brownings, but when Russia built its first domestic semi-auto it would not be based on any of these established designs. Outside of being chambered in 7.62x25mm, this new handgun had to be the Soviet military’s equivalent of the U.S. military’s M1911. To create such a gun would require a designer with the skills of America’s John Moses Browning (who designed all of Colt’s semiautomatic pistols from 1900 to 1911 and comparable models for FN in Belgium as well as the Browning Hi-Power). In Russia there was such an individual, Fedor Vasilevich Tokarev, a military man and armorer since 1892. In 1900, he became a commissioned officer and his regimental master gunsmith. Tokarev had trained as a gunsmith, and like John M. Browning, he had long been fascinated with the idea of self-loading firearms. Appointed to the Imperial Small Arms Factory in the early 1900s, by 1917 Tokarev had risen to the position of technical director.

As early as the end of WWI the Soviet military had recognized the importance of putting a Russian-made semiautomatic pistol into the hands of its men, and by 1930 Tokarev was about to make that a reality. His TT-30 semiautomatic pistol (Model of 1930) was an adaptation of John M. Browning’s short-recoil, locked-breech system developed for the Colt Model 1911, combined with Tokarev’s own designs for the trigger and its modular hammer and lockwork which could be removed from the frame as a single piece to simplify maintenance and field stripping. Another unique characteristic was the machining of the magazine feed lips directly into the main receiver to reduce cartridge feeding problems. Even still, there was a lot of Browning’s Colt and FN Models of 1903 and the Colt Model 1911 in Tokarev’s TT-30 and improved Model TT-33’s designs.

It’s not unusual to see them in films and television shows today as well. Usually as the gun slipped to an American caught behind enemy lines, sent to some little backstreet shop, where a man hands him a Tokarev wrapped in an old cloth.

Chambered for 7.62x25mm cartridges (virtually identical to the 7.63x25mm German Mauser Broomhandle round the Soviets had used), the Tokarev models held 8 rounds in a single stack magazine, which used a Browning-inspired, frame-mounted button release behind the triggerguard, instead of the traditional European-style magazine release in the heel of the grip frame. The TT-30 was improved and became the TT-33 when it was adopted by the Soviet army in 1933. Manufactured at the Tula Arsenal, the majority of TT-33 models were issued to Soviet officers, but the pistol was widely used by Russian troops during WWII and remained in use long after.

The Tokarev was to become the most famous Russian handgun of its time, a popular gun brought home by American G.I.’s after WWII, and again during the Vietnam War, thus making the Tokarev almost as well known in the United States. They remained in production into the 1950s, and became the gun carried by KGB agents during the early years of the Colt War.

The .177 caliber muzzle is recessed to give the barrel a 7.62x25mm opening. It is fitted with similarly designed TT-33 front and rear sights. My aged model still has the Cal. 4.5mm markings but everything else has been removed. The airgun has a properly sized ejection port in the slide with a molded in extractor outline for an accurate appearance.

A incredibly robust handgun, thousands still remain in use to this day, not so much by uniformed soldiers but rather in places like the Middle East, and particularly Afghanistan, where Russian soldiers left them behind during the Soviet Union’s failed Afghan invasion in the 1980s. It’s not unusual to see them in films and television shows today as well; usually as the gun slipped to an American caught behind enemy lines, sent to some little backstreet shop where a man hands him a Tokarev wrapped in an old cloth. It’s not even a cinematic cliché, it actually happens.

And so we find ourselves revisiting this once and future famous Soviet pistol invented from fragments of John M. Browning designs and the skill of Fedor Vasilevich Tokarev and recreated by Gletcher as one of the most authentic looking blowback action CO2 models built today.

The sliding safety has the right style but uses a sliding button between S and F rather than having the entire metal safety move, as on the original gun. The safety is also easy to set and release with the trigger finger, another plus for the TT-33’s authentic features. Trigger pull is long with some stacking until the trigger breaks with an average resistance of 7 pounds, 4 ounces. 

The standard Gletcher’s TT-33 Airgun

Using a metal body, powerful blowback action, a sliding safety similar in appearance to the original, identically styled round knurled hammer, long slide release, and frame-mounted lower lanyard ring, the air pistol has a truly realistic feel and appearance. The Gletcher TT has a drop free stick magazine that holds 18 .177 caliber BBs and is powered by a 12 gram CO2 cartridge concealed in the grip frame. Average velocity is 361 fps.

For the example pictured here, I have done a complete age back with worn edges, extra wear on the surface, the high points along the slide buffed down and various marks and stains added. It is a little over the top, but is something you can do if you want using 0000 steel wool, some elbow grease, cold blue and gun cleaning oil. You can weather easily or heavily as I have done, it just takes more rubbing until you get a faded look or go completely though the finish to the bare alloy beneath as I did in several places. I was able to rub off the manufacturer’s markings on the right (but left the caliber) and on the left side I removed the Gletcher name and emblem. After going down to bare metal on part of the slide and frame I used cold blue to darken it back, than reworked the finish, rubbing, staining and adding some gun oil until I had an aged metal look. It takes a few hours and the gun will never look “good” again, but it will appear more authentic.

The one bad feature of the Gletcher, a stick magazine. It can be a bit feisty to load since a finger must be placed behind the loading port or the BBs just fall through and not into the magazine.

The magazine release works perfectly, as does the slide release. In fact, once you start shooting, were it not for the lack of heavy recoil and a louder report, you could be pulling the trigger on a real Tokarev.

The front and rear sights are correctly styled, which is not a great advantage to precision shooting at paper targets, although the airgun is accurate at 21 feet, as shown with this simple cardboard target. X marks the spot.

The Gletcher Tokarev TT has a heavy blowback action, authentic trigger pull and for a 12 gr. CO2 model feels pretty realistic when it fires. As for accuracy, it is not a target pistol but at 21 feet this realistic example of the Soviet’s first Russian-made semiautomatic service pistol is quite the gun to own.

It took Russia until 1930 to develop its first semiautomatic pistol, but only from 1933 to 1951 to build the next generation of Soviet small arms, the Makarov Model 1951. We’ll explore that Gletcher CO2 model in Part 2.

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