No other cartridge has changed the face of the planet like the 7.62×39. It protected communist ideals and was the bane of freedom for nearly 70 years. The weapons that utilize this round have mostly stood for tyranny at its worst. This Russian medium cartridge is a merciless foe, which soldiers, peasants, and children carry in their weapons. Whether utilized in the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova of 1945 (SKS) or the Avtomat Kalashnikova of 1947 (AK-47), and variants, it has helped change the face of warfare.
Soviet Engineers built the cartridge first while others would design their guns around it. The first firearm that would see its use would be the SKS. The most famous or infamous would be the AK-47.
A German gun and its cartridge, which the Soviets discovered on the battlefields of the Second World War, would give birth to the Russian cartridge. The mother of our cartridge is a German machine carbine, which utilized the reduced 7.9x33mm Kurz found near Cholm Russia. One point of note is that Mikhail Kalashnikov did not design the cartridge. He created the rifle bearing his name, but the cartridge came from others designers. As noted, his rifle was third in the running when it came to a light infantry rapid-fire rifle or machine gun carbine. In the end however, many considered it to be among the best-designed weapons systems ever created.
The concept behind this machine carbine came about following the First World War. Studies revealed that the most effective infantry fire was within 300 meters (328 yards). The heavy ammunition of that war made for large caliber and somewhat unwieldy infantry weapons. That ammunition was effective well beyond the 300 meters but the soldiers could not hit targets beyond that range. With a shorter cartridge, a smaller and lighter infantry weapon was possible.
The German entrance to the game was the Sturmgewehr 44 (storm rifle of 1944) or simply the StG44 or MP43. While the Sturmgewehr was lighter and smaller than most infantry weapons of the period, it didn’t compare well against the AK. The StG44 with no ammunition weights in at 11.5 pounds. A fully loaded Ak-47 weights almost 1.5 pound less than an unloaded StG44. Eventually you need to put ammo in them to make them work. For a soldier walking hundreds of miles in and out of Russia every pound counts.
The 7.62×39 in the AK-47 platform defined the future. A perfect balance of weight and firepower made the single foot soldier a force in and of themselves. There would be no going back since politicians and generals had to redefine the definition of a soldier. An individual with little to no military training, regardless of age, could attain more firepower than a better trained soldier of the First or Second World War.
The military world would not be the only one to redefine its tactics. Law enforcement would soon have to adjust to this level of firepower. When the streets of North Hollywood, littered with 7.62×39 casings following the infamous bank robbery, law enforcement would have to step up and meet the challenge. No longer would the patrol officer be able to leave the station with just a .38 special revolver and a shotgun. Semi Automatic and even automatic weapons would become standard and available.
On a personal note, I love shooting this round on any platform. The 7.62×39, while small compared to other rifle calibers, lets you know when it goes bang. In full auto, it is a handful. You know you are shooting an intermediate military round when shooting it. When firing the .223 / 5.56 NATO, it can be so smooth that I almost miss the recoil. The difference between the two is like driving a sports car or driving a truck.
While many cartridges and ideas follow a well-defined and tested path of previous thought, the 7.62×39 was a truly groundbreaking and innovative idea and cartridge. The chase is still on as to what will truly surpass this cartridge of 1943.
I have a Yugo SKS, and have partially ‘sporterized it (synthetic stock, trigger upgrade, etc), and really enjoy shooting the 7.62×39 round. Light recoil, but plenty of punch downrange.
This past fall, my son wanted to use my FN Mauser 1935 30.06, so I put a 5-round magazine in my $99 SKS (bought in 2005 as C&R), and managed to bring in a nice 4×4 mule deer buck. The 123gr .311 cal. Hornady A-max reloads work pretty good on these big deer!
Now my son wants to use my SKS this year. Maybe he wasn’t so pleased with the recoil of the 30.06, or maybe he didn’t think that the 7.62×39 round was deer-worthy?
Great article. Comments also helpful. I love my SKS and you can’t beat the pricing of the ammo.
the 7.62×39 is a GREAT round. And the AK-47 is quite literally the BEST battle rifle ever designed… ugly as it may be. It is more reliable than the AR platform in virtually every way, even taking a handful of dirt poured directly IN the receiver(!), rounds loaded out of a pile of dirt, then MORE dirt added into the magazine itself, and it RAN LIKE A DREAM(you can see the video on youtube. Look for ‘AK reliability’ by a guy called Sturmgewehre). Now THAT is what a soldier/patriot needs when lives are on the line. People simply can’t/won’t give up their xenophobic brainwashing about “the bad guy gun”. Well you know what? We all hate it when the liberals idiotically blame guns for violence, but then do the same thing when it comes to ‘combloc’ weapons. It was THE POLITICIANS that forfeited the lives of millions to meet their insidious ends, NOT the rifle/round. Sometimes, you want a Ford pickup to do the job, even though you dig the Dodge Viper… and it chokes when you need it most. But that Ford truck keeps on plugging away. ;O)
I clock the 7.62×39 at 1,500 ft-lbs of energy. The 30-30 clocks in at 2,000 ft-lbs of energy. 5.56/.223 clocks in at 1,200 ft-lbs of energy. Accuracy, range, rate of fire, capacity are separate issues from power.
Actually, the 7.62×39 IS very close ballistically to the .30-30… which is NOT a put down, as far as I am concerned! We all know the .30-30 has been used to harvest literally tens of millions of deer, which should make it clear that it is, indeed, an effective cartridge. And as Bryan pointed out, the 7.62×39 also does a fine job of bringing home the venison.
Frankly, I would not want to be shot at with either cartridge….
I learned to hate the original ar15 and loved the AK. The 7.62 . My M-14 was the best but heavy and longer. ( good for longer distance) Th AK shorter and good for 300 yards. ( longer if you practice) I now own both.
That is indeed “stupid,” since everyone knows the .30-30 is just a bit more powerful of a round. It doesn’t take combat experience in Nam to know how fast each round throws a bullet of a certain weight.
Clearly, stuffing 30 of the rounds in a magazine, and giving the weapon to anyone and everyone in the 3rd world makes the AK platform somewhat more noteworthy than a lever action deer rifle.
Back before MS robbed me of my mobility, I used to deer hunt quite a bit and my favorite rifle was a trusty old SKS. It was a bit shorter than my 30-30 or my 12ga and less likely to snag on tree limbs as my brother and I trekked through the pine forests and swamps of South Alabama, sometimes 2 or 3 miles, to get to our tree stands overlooking food plots. Back then, we almost always bagged at least one or two deer per trip and I only remember having to follow a blood trail more than a few yards once. That little SKS usually dropped them in their tracks.
I’ve had people that didn’t know better say that the 7.62×39 was no more powerful than
the old stand-by deer round the 30-30.
I tell them that they never faced this round on the battlefields of Viet-Nam, like I
did, or eles they wouldn’t be saying such stupid things.
I think the first gun to be chambered in 7.62×39 was the RPD
Actually, while the AK-47 was inspired by the STG-44, the 7.62×39 was actually based off of interwar German intermediate rounds, that the 7.92×33 was also based on, the GeCo 7.75×39mm and others.