Combloc SAW: Chinese RPD at the Range

I am excited to take an RPD out to the range today – I’ve wanted to try one for quite a while. The RPD is a very light and compact weapon for a squad automatic, and I’m curious how it will actually handle. This particular example is a Chinese Type 56, with many of the improvements that were made over the course of Soviet adoption and field use of the gun.


  1. Of course the big problem of depending on fire discipline to ensure short bursts are fired and the barrel not turned into molten slag is who the guns ended up with. Third World “Peoples Democratic Republics”, “Peoples Militias” and “Armies of National Liberation” are generally not organizations known for their rigorous firearms training. I’m not saying this applies to all of them, but it does to the majority.

    • Oh, don’t be misled by wrong perceptions; discipline was high. The time spent in basic training in “people’s republics” was at least TWO years of stiff training. I think Soviets had it even longer. If you say “boot camp” it is a soft word for service in Soviet land forces. I have seen some part of it on my own eyes. In some cases, there were more people than beds they slept/ trained in shifts. They did not know the term “free from the base” like was common in western armies.

      Of course now it is totally different be it in Russia or China. They have professional force supplemented by part-time volunteers who hold regular civilian jobs.

      • I’ve actually worked with former members of the Red Army who joined the US Army after emigrating. Granted, they were not guys from the height of things, but…

        The one thing I took away from talking to them about their experiences was the “feet of clay” sort of thing that permeated the Red Army. Sure, on paper it looked really good, but like all things Communist, it fell down on execution. You were supposed to spend your entire conscription doing good, solid training, but… Odds are that where you were, you would be doing other things like helping get the harvest in, construction labor for the local military satrap, and God alone knows what else, while much of your equipment stayed in the depot and you got only enough ammunition to say that you fired your weapon. Once.

        If you were taken into one of the elite VDV units, sure… Things could be different. Wind up in one of the MRR outfits back in the hinterlands? Yeah; you’re spending most of your time doing free labor for some other aspect of the economy.

        Soviet experiences in the Red Army were extremely spotty; it very much depended on where you went, which unit you were assigned to. If you look at the hash of things they made of trying to mobilize for intervention in Poland, and the early days of the Chechen War? Oh, dear God… I do not know what WWIII would have looked like, but I’m pretty sure that there would have been enough egg on enough faces of the leadership that we very well might have simply met at the border, shot at each other a little, and then gone home after the whole sorry spectacle became obvious to all concerned. The West didn’t buy enough of the munitions to make their ideas work off of paper, the Soviets couldn’t even manage the minutiae of war enough to ensure their mobilized troops had water or food on the trains hauling them around, and… Well, it goes on and on and on and on. I strongly suspect that WWIII might have turned into a massive Keystone Kops cluster-fark, had someone given the “GO” order off the spur of the moment without taking considerable time and effort to actually test everything and then fix the issues. On both sides… The West had different issues, but we had them all the same. Not enough of those lovely high-tech munitions–We bought enough to look good, but as we can see from the various post-Cold War adventures we’ve gone on, there’s no depth of stock to draw on. NATO could not have pulled off either Desert Storm or Libya, absent US stocks of advanced munitions and the attendant logistics. The US would have been screwed, trying to cover all the needs and necessaries for people like the Dutch, when it came to all that stuff in a general European war. And, the only option would have been to say “Screw you; shoulda bought all you were supposed to…”, and wound up an isolated island of American forces somewhere in Central Germany, surrounded by a sea of slowly starving and very thirsty Soviet conscripts who were probably looking around at all the consumer largesse and going “Man, we’ve been getting screwed…”. I’ll lay you long odds that had WWIII gone off during the mid-80s, the Soviet tank columns would have paused at the first Wertkaupf, then stopped, and then you’d have been able to spot them from the air as they moved again, covered in beer crates and boxes of televisions and stereos. Not to mention, everything else those stores had available…

        Whole thing would have been a huge mess, and I bet that after about a week of “Surprise! Peacetime plans blew the f**k up!!!” for the brass, they’d have negotiated a face-saving withdrawal to pre-war lines, and then tried to explain to the politicians why the whole thing was really just best forgotten…

        • Thanks for response, good observations.

          When we are so far on the “tangent” as are most of talks we have here and I am a part of it too 🙂 want to bring my bit of grain to the mill.

          First a joke. This is from a former Soviet Army sergeant who I met in Canada, his civilian job was mechanical engineer. The joke was told among conscripts and goes as follows: “we will declare Americans a war and next day will sue for peace”. This was about the time around Afghan excursion. He was lucky to avoid it. I think, on psychology level it is telling what was state of mind then. I was long time out already.

          Now, the less pleasant part to hear. When I arrived I found, there was absolutely no sign of ANY civilian defense measures. In one town not far from where I live is a remnant of “anti-atomic bunker” masterfully fit into a local park. MAN OH MAN, this “structure would not survive one 5kt blast 20kms away. That’s how shabby it was. So, calling this “won cold war” motto is just utterly foolish proposition. You/ us would not stand a chance – population would be the first target in the REAL one.

          In my long term finding, here was no mental set on this side of pond to do anything of meaningful preparation for ANYTHING of the sort. Like if civilian population did not exist. I hope it will give some “light bulb” reaction to some. It should; same state of thing is still here with us.

          • Civil defense and disaster preparedness are two things that the West does really, really badly. Outside, say, Switzerland or Sweden.

            Thing that really irritates the hell out of me was that it was essentially a deliberate act–They decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. There was also some theorizing that by hardening the population, they were cheating and thus making war more likely, ‘cos if you harden the population, then you’re taking targets off the table that would be likely to discourage war…

            MAD and all the other little insanities are things that make your head hurt, when you get into the weeds of it all.

            Personally, I think we very badly need a better civil defense and disaster preparedness framework to be working off of. The likely issues coming out of either a Cascadia subduction earthquake here in the Northwest, or something like Yellowstone letting go? Yeah; we’re toast. There are a couple of small towns here in Washington that are looking at the fact that Western Washington is mostly a bowl of pudding that’s going to destroy the road networks when it starts shaking, and they’re taking steps. The ones they can afford are nowhere near the ones they’ll need, and the Feds/State level folks ought to be doing a hell of a lot more. They really should be stockpiling portable bridge components all over the state, along with road machinery. Not to mention, standing up a couple of National Guard Engineer brigades equipped and trained like the one solitary urban rescue unit we have outside Washington DC. They also need to be doing all sorts of other preparatory things like enabling quick building assessment and training teams to go out and gather the intel. As it is? It’s gonna be a huge, huge mess.

            Our form of government really doesn’t enable either prescience or forethought; it’s mostly just reaction to disaster after disaster.

          • “(…)that by hardening the population, they were cheating and thus making war more likely(…)”
            No cheating, but rather imbalance Nash equilibrium
            Mutually Assured Destruction, which is founded strongly in game theory and is, in itself, a form of Nash equilibrium in which both sides neither have any incentive to initiate a conflict nor to disarm. In such a game, both players must assume the other is only concerned with their own self-interest and as such, will limit risk by adopting a dominant strategy. If the balance of power was swayed by one nation building an excess of bomb shelters or a missile defense system (such as the proposed “Star Wars” project), it might have violated the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction and consequently initiated a nuclear war. Thus both nations worked to prevent such imbalances, such as targeting enemy missile silos being built while hiding their own nuclear armaments on land, sea, and sky.

          • @ Kirk

            Completely agree with your comments regarding irresponsibility of politicians in maters of civil defense be it in the U.S. or Canada. I do not necessarily expect attack from side of Russia and China. We have however ongoing “sneaking” proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in hands of various factions in unstable countries. Even something like Anthrax or Covid should give us a clue. It can be dispersed by anyone and any time.

            Your though about vulnerability regarding Yellowstone caldera is the same I realized after my visit there. It would take one well aimed North Korean ICBM and we can say bye-bye to large part of this continent. Of course possibilities of natural disasters which are on forefront of attention (due to changing of climate) are something to think about. If anything, the emergency stockpiles of food and basic necessities, spare parts and fuels should be given attention.

  2. If someone is wondering why changing 4 25rounds magazines are better than changing a single 100 rounds drum-belt…

      • The drum/belt change is definitely a more cumbersome procedure, quite possibly enough to reduce the (theoretical) sustained ROF. If you’ve got an A-gunner to handle magazine changes, you’re almost certainly better off with a top-mounted 20-30 round magazine.

        If you’re alone defending a fixed position where you can have some of your mags laid out in easy reach, magazine feed may still be a win.

        If you’re firing on the move, say during an assault, having a hundred rounds ready to go looks really good – and when it does come time to reload, having to pull spare mags out of belt pouches or whatever each time is something you want to do as little as possible.

        Doctrine drives design. A SAW doesn’t get an A-gunner, has to fire on the move a lot, and isn’t doing sustained fire. The 300-round basic load (and then overheat) means you only have to reload twice, and the Russians seem to have thought that was a good trade.

  3. This gun is talking… and Ian is a bona-fide “poolemyotchik” (ball-thrower).

    To that “overgassed” term which is so often used. The fact is that all Russian guns are designed that way for extreme winter conditions. The AK rifle in both versions has gas piston diameter of 14mm (0.55″) while normally 12mm would be plenty enough. This gun has it in my estimate at least 17mm.

    • I don’t think anyone wants their weapons to freeze solid. It’s worse if someone’s in your face with a sharpened shovel and you’ve got a frozen rifle with no bayonet on it.

    • Yip, Northern China gets about six months of the year at -20°C.

      North of the Amur River, into what was the USSR, there are valleys where the winter temperatures get a lot lot worse.

      “Over-gassed” is a warmer climes problem.

      • One funny story to jive into it. I met a Chinese woman from Inner Mongolia (Chinese province). She told me that they were as kids competing who’s got more red cheeks from frost. In January there can be easily under -30C.

  4. “Such a high rate of fire …” (C)

    This is just one of those “little things”.
    Either improperly assembled or faulty gas regulator.
    For the foreseeable future, we should expect cracks in the receiver.

  5. I seem to recall that the RPD was the favorite LMG of the late Kevin R. O’Brien aka WeaponsMan, who used to share a lot of his practical knowledge and experiences with us on Forgotten Weapons in its early days. Cherndog, Denny and many others from that time will probably remember having some interesting discussions with him.

    • Greeting good buddy! 🙂

      Yes, I do recall Kevin O’Brien, he was a great guy. It feels like times long gone. Lots of people took their turns here since then. Maybe we should do some get-together some place where is no virus covidus.

      • Thanks, Denny, it’s good to hear from you too! I’ve been following most of the articles and comments from all of you, but just haven’t posted any comments of my own for quite awhile. Hope all is well with everyone and their families!

      • You’re welcome —- great to hear from you too! I’ve always enjoyed and learned a lot from everyone’s posts and comments.

  6. Reinventing the Lewis gun? The Lewis may be heavier, but it does use a full power cartridge, is capable of maintaining a higher rate of fire, is super stable, and hyper-accurate. The British were able to replace their cumbersome Vickers with the Lewis. As a real world GPM I’ll take the Lewis. While the RPD is a good weapon, it is really an AKM on steroids.

    • I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. The RPD was clearly not intended for spraying long distance like the Lewis gun was expected to do. The Lewis gun was not intended for firing from the hip (please do not use the cooling shroud as a hand-guard, you’ll burn your hand off). Plus, the Vickers gun was not replaced by the Lewis, because the two weapons occupied different tactical roles. You won’t use the Lewis gun to conduct nonstop barrages, for one thing, and nobody asked the heavy machine gun crew of the Vickers to pack up their gun and then fire on the advance from improvised firing positions. If Kirk and Daweo are right about specified fighting doctrines of each weapon (intermediate-power squad-automatic weapon, full-power light machine gun, and full-power HEAVY machine gun, with the three guns in mutually exclusive roles), you’ve got a lot to learn.

    • “(…)British were able to replace their cumbersome Vickers with the Lewis(…)”
      ??? states that (…)Vickers machine guns survived through 1920s and 1930s and again were used with great effect during the World War two.In fact, Vickers machine guns were among the longest-living ‘first generation’ machine guns, as these were declared obsolete by British Army only in late 1960s. Royal Marines, who knew how to use good guns,despite of age, kept some Vickers guns in stock as late as 1980s.Finally, it was replaced by the lighter and much more modern (although less potent in terms of sustained firepower) L7(…)

      What does this stands for?

      “(…)While the RPD is a good weapon, it is really an AKM on steroids.”
      Are you sure about that? If yes how would you describe RPK?

      • I don’t know about Tikbalang, but I’d describe the RPK as a modern-day Automatic Rifle… That’s certainly the role they’ve pushed it into.

  7. The fact that the RPD was produced for almost 20 years and then replaced by a weapon (RPK) with similar features (cartridge, fixed barrel, belt fed from detachable belt holder, truly an AKM one steroids) which itself remain in production for almost 20 years (1961-1978) and which is still in service today should be reasonable evidence that the concept was not flawed.

    I do find that a great of discussion about military firearm features (e.g. fixed barrel vs. changeable, belts vs. magazine, etc.) rarely includes serious consideration of the doctrinal, logistical, and industrial considerations which have so much influence on the adopted designs, adoption, distribution, and actual use.

    To wave off the belt feed because one believe that troops would not really stick to short bursts and would overheat barrels, in the face of the RPD and RPK having a combined 70+ years of use (1948 to the present day) by dozens of militaries in dozens of actual shooting conflicts … well it seems a bit unreasonable to me.

    • I think the RPD “died” as a weapon system for the Soviets for the same reason that the USMC replaced the M249 with the M27… The belt-fed guns were simply too bulky and slow for what both parties wanted out of their infantry, and if they were going to have a belt-fed slowing them down, they wanted the full-house PKM or M240. Soviets just arrived at that point a few decades earlier than did the Marines.

      As you say, there’s more to it than just the fan-wankery of weapons features that a lot of people wind up discussing in our circles. For me, the interesting bits are the things one might consider “software”, rather than hardware–How does one propose to use the things? What sort of interlocking “hooks” are there to the tactics and operational intent? How are you doing your training?

      I remain fond of the belt-fed “AR-role” M249. I like the sheer volume of fire it brings to things, and I’ll take as many of those as I can get, along with a full-power 7.62 MG in my squads. Ideally, I’ll be able to organize some very flexible little fire teams out of my platoon, and use all that firepower in order to do as much damage as I can, while keeping as many of my guys alive as I can, which is predicated on not allowing those fast little enemy elements to close with me. Belt-feds enable a lot of things, and if you know how to use that, it’s a different kind of war than you will be making with a “highly agile” Marine-style element that lacks that sort of firepower. It’s also a sort of war that’s going to be devastating on certain sorts of enemy, and less effective against others.

      Horses for courses, as the phrase goes. Sometimes you need light and fast, other times, you really, really need mass and volume of firepower. My preference, mostly because I don’t like running around with tons of gear like some sort of demented mountain goat, is to opt for the slower, more deliberate sort of thing where I use my guns to destroy and dismantle the enemy elements foolish enough to engage me.

      And, I do acknowledge the issues–You take the M249 to war, you may find that your sub-elements are unable to keep up with the jackasses who’re running around with an AK and a couple of magazines stuffed into their shorts. However, when you do manage to pin them in place…? Ah, but that belt-fed goodness allows you to wreck their days, while keeping your guys well out of the risk zone.

    • Just a little clarification: the RPK is magazine fed only. There was a 75 round drum magazine, but it was never very popular and the standard magazine is the 40 round extended box magazine. It can also accept standard AK magazines in a pinch.

      So, clearly the Soviets came to the conclusion that the added short duration firepower of the belt-fed RPD was not needed on the squad level. Also, with 40 round magazines the practical sustained rate of fire of the RPK probably is not much lower than the RPD, since both are ultimately limited by their fixed barrels.

      • “(…)practical sustained rate of fire of the RPK probably is not much lower than the RPD, since both are ultimately limited by their fixed barrels.”
        Did you take into account RPD is firing from open bolt, whilst RPK is firing from closed bolt?

    • “…well it seems a bit unreasonable to me…”(C)

      You hear “blue plastic is not good for making nails.”
      You know, “blue is not good for nails.” 😉

      Initially, they didn’t want to copy the MP43.
      They saw (as drunk as they thought) an opportunity to reduce production costs and improve logistics.
      They wanted to completely transfer the platoon to a two-cartridge feeding system. 7.62×39 and 9×18.
      The main weapon was to be SKS, and the RPD was to be a support weapon.
      Immediately and “suddenly” it became clear that in many situations the platoon needed a “burst” of fire, for which self-loading carbines and one light machine gun in the squad were not enough.
      To compensate for the decrease in firepower (due to the cancellation of the SMGs), it was decided to replace some of the carbines with AK.

      In theory, they could immediately do what they came to after 20 years – the adoption of an assault rifle with automatic fire instead of carbines and light machine guns. In theory, this looks like a good idea.
      In reality, the huge problems associated with the industrial development of the AK cast doubt on the very prospect of its existence, so there was a parallel production of all three systems.
      As soon as a really working AKM appeared, only he remained and the “heavy assault rifle” (RPK) for reinforcement.

      • I think that’s an excellent way to look at it; the RPD was meant to complement the SKS, and once that was gone the way of all things flesh, welll….. Why bother?

        The transition between the idea of the AK as the replacement for the PPSh and the SKS as the replacement for the M1931 was one that’s fairly opaque to those of us in the West; we simply don’t know what we don’t know. The RPD going bye-bye makes sense once you realize that the main reason it existed was the absence of the full-automatic option on the SKS. Once you bring on “AK’s for everyone”, then the point of the RPD becomes a lot less clear.

        There’s a lot yet to be learned, here. Myself, I think the current evidence shows that the advent of “AKs for everyone” also implies “Don’t need that RPD any more”. Could be wrong–I’m sure that Max Popenker can dig up some evidence for the actual truth.

        • It is difficult to understand what they were really thinking.
          But if you look at the samples presented for the 1943 and 1944 competitions, it seems as if they simply did not understand what to do with the new cartridge. Since he completely broke the existing platoon weapons system.

  8. Recently read “A Few Hard Men” about the bush war in Rhodesia. Actually seeing this weapon fired offhand makes clear why this weapon was so popular.

    • No wonder it shoots so comfortably, as the RPD on the inside is built like the other Degtyarev designed machine guns the DP-26 and RP-46. Both of which have also been known to be actually quite smooth for what they are.

      With the often shortened barrel the RPD fits the role of a lightweight machine gun for breaking contact on a patrol for example. Which fit the mode of operation of the Rhodesian army and police forces emphasizing guerilla style raids and helicopter operations with small teams of infantry.

    • They experimented with various muzzle devices.
      Yes, this slightly reduces the recoil.
      But they failed to create a device that would noticeably improve the dispersion characteristics without crippling the operator’s ears.

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