Tokarev Pistols: Browning’s Legacy in a Russian Gun
Decades before Sig Sauer made it seem darn near common, the Russian-designed Tokarev handgun had modularity standardized. The Tokarev was the Soviet replacement for their outdated – and somewhat strange – Nagant Revolvers from the age of the Russian Tsars. While the Soviets strived to cut their own path with maximum simplicity, they also recognized and borrowed heavily from the brilliance of one man: John Moses Browning.
Developed by Fedor Vasilievich Tokarev in the early 1930s, the gun was eventually adopted as the TT-33, which saw service throughout World War II and still serves in some places today, though it was officially replaced in 1952 by the smaller Makarov. Various versions of the gun popped up throughout areas of Soviet influence, such as the Yugoslavian M57 variant we have here.
Still, the gun was more than just a copy of Browning’s designs, it also used an innovative and zippy ammo, 7.62x25mm. The flat-shooting, bottlenecked round balanced power and speed with the need for something compact enough for a pistol. Yet it still performed well in a submachine gun and simplified the logistics to support both platforms.
Browning’s innovations can be found throughout the Tokarev. You’ll notice the familiar front bushing and the locking lugs on the barrel, which replicate the short-recoil tilting-barrel system from the 1911. Overall, the Tokarev has the external look of a Browning gun.
At first glance, one could even be forgiven for confusing this Soviet pistol with the blowback Model 1903. But the Russian design made some distinctly “Soviet” decisions when developing the gun for manufacturing. Indeed, the Tokarev emerged around the same time as one of Browning’s final designs, the Hi-Power. Yet it omits some of the designer’s latest developments and incorporates significant simplifications instead.
Notice the similar barrel locking lugs on both of the Browning-inspired barrels above. The Hi-Power barrel, bottom, was developed at around the same time but features more machining. The Tokarev, top, has similar locking lugs, but the manufacturing process was simplified to allow the barrel to be easily turned on a lathe. The Tokarev also maintains the barrel link from the older 1911, removing even more machining requirements.
These all-steel guns were also quite slender and relatively light. This particular Tokarev variant is an M57 from Yugoslavia. The slide measures in at 0.82 inches wide, compared to the modern 1-inch Glock 17 slide.
The gun weighs 1.8 pounds unloaded, compared to the 2.2-pound Hi-Power or the 2.4-pound 1911. Though, the 9mm Hi-Power – introduced in the 1930s as well – boasted a capacity of 13+1. The TT-33 hosted only an 8+1 capacity, while the M57 bumped that to 9+1. The Tokarev also featured a magazine disconnect.
It’s easy to see the similarities between the Tokarev and other Browning guns, but one glaring difference does stand out. The Tokarev was developed to use the 7.62x25mm cartridge. This round was flat shooting at 1,450+ feet per second and shares a lineage with the 7.63x25mm Mauser.
The round definitely had some heat to it for a pistol chambering, but it’s also surprisingly light recoiling. It’s actually a pleasure to shoot with little muzzle flip. The flat trajectory also makes it effective for close-combat applications.
Russian Simplicity & Hacks
The guts of the Tokarev are a particular blend of simplicity and unique Soviet innovation. While the design owes much to Browning, it also boasts features like a removable hammer assembly. This was meant to make maintenance and repairs simpler for the large Russian army. Instead of mucking about with individual parts inside the gun after a breakage, armorers could drop in a new hammer assembly with ease.
At the same time, the barrel and recoil spring were simplified for manufacture and maintenance. The barrel locking lugs are designed to be easily machined on a lathe, while the recoil spring itself was captured on a guide rod that was also articulated. Tokarevs kept the barrel link similar to the 1911, which cut down on machining as well. This made the barrels easier to produce, and the captured recoil spring made field maintenance simpler. Simplification is a theme that runs throughout the gun.
Simplification was not all “good.” Some of the features on the Tokarev may have been easier to produce, but they were also poorly suited to a service pistol. One that stands out to this author is the slide-stop retainer clip. This was a simple solution to the more complex slide-stop retention system in the 1911 and the Hi-Power. It cut down the need for additional parts and, significantly, more complex springs (which were like the mechanical microchips of the day).
The result is an awkward “paperclip” on the side of the gun. I don’t judge guns by their external looks very often, but that clip also has a nasty habit of weakening and eventually getting bumped off. This leads to the slide release freely swinging against the frame of the gun.
The deep scratch on the left side of the pistol appears to have happened at some point when the retention clip bumped out of placement. This resulted in a circular gouge. There was also an issue with soldiers bumping the magazine release on the side of the gun. This was corrected with the heel release on the later Makarov.
If you were wondering where the safety is on a Tokarev, the answer is … random. The Tokarev originally had no safety, with the exception of a half-cock safety for the hammer. It is not drop safe when carried with a round chambered. That said, armies of the time – and even today – routinely carried their guns without a chambered round. This particular Tokarev was fitted with a trigger safety for importation, though many have a 1911-style safety fitted to the side of the gun.
Tokarevs may be outdated, but they saw wide service in Soviet-influenced nations: China, Hungary, Vietnam, Romania, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Poland, and the list goes on. They are also still in service in the Bangladeshi and North Korean armed forces today, and it is not uncommon to see the old guns with police in Pakistan and other countries from time to time.
The blend of Browning’s genius and the demands of Soviet simplicity resulted in a unique firearm that arrived just in time to take part in a world-changing conflict and the Cold War that followed. You can feel that history when you hold the Tokarev, an odd blend of East and West during a pivotal period.