Growing up in the south in the early 1980s, I grew up with the mindset that the Russians were the “bad guys.” After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet made pistols were available to whoever had a bottle of vodka and the right amount of rubles. They may have been the bad guys, but you cannot deny that the cold war fostered some pretty cool small arms on their side of the iron curtain.
On the handheld side of the house, the Nagant M1895 was commonplace in the old Soviet Union. M1895 was chambered for a proprietary cartridge, 7.62x38R, and featured an unusual “gas-seal” system in which the cylinder moved forward when the gun was cocked to close the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, providing a boost to the muzzle velocity of the fired projectile, and allows the weapon to be silenced (an unusual ability for a revolver).
Before the Second World War, Fedor Tokarev designed a pistol to replace the aging M1895. The Soviets adopted the TT-30 for troop trials and later adopted it for service. Almost as soon as the pistol went into production, design changes intended to simplify manufacturing went into practice, and the TT-33 was born. At first glance, the TT-33 is very similar to John Browning’s blowback operated FN Model 1903 automatic pistol, but it also used Browning’s short recoil dropping-barrel system from the M1911. However, the TT-33 is not an exact copy of the 1911. It uses a much less complicated hammer-sear assembly with an external hammer. This helps make the gun easier to produce in large quantities. Aside from the hammer, some other differences are a captive recoil spring which is secured to the guide rod, which does not depend on the barrel bushing to hold it under tension. To prevent misfeeds from a distorted magazine, designers machined the magazine feed lips into the receiver.
In the 1950’s, Nikolai Makarov attempted to design a pistol to replace the Tokarev line. Rather than building a pistol to an existing cartridge in the Soviet inventory, Nikolai Makarov utilized the “9mm Ultra” cartridge, which Carl Walther designed for the Luftwaffe in WWII. Walther’s cartridge became the 9x18mm Makarov. Since the bullet is of a slightly different size than the common 9x19mm Parabellum, NATO would not be able to use ammunition from Soviet Sources in the event of war. The Makarov pistol is a straight blowback operation to help simplify manufacturing and maintenance. The PM has a free-floating firing pin, with no firing pin spring or firing pin block. This allows for the possibility of accidentally firing if soldiers dropped the gun on its muzzle. Designer Makarov thought the firing pin of insufficient mass to constitute a major danger. The Makarov is notable for the safety elements of its design, with a safety that simultaneously blocks the hammer from contacting the firing pin and returns the weapon to the long-trigger-pull mode of double action when users engage that safety.
In the United States, these pistols are Curio & Relic eligible items according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, because the countries of manufacture, the U.S.S.R. and the G.D.R., no longer exist.