This guest article written by Andrey Ulanov.
In 1942, the Red Army was experiencing big problems with machine guns. Before the war, great hopes were pinned on Dyagterev’s brand new DS-39 heavy machine gun. But this machine gun was unsuccessful (arguably due to obsolete design requirements and ammo quality problems) and its production was quickly discontinued. Increasing the production of old Maxim machine guns proved to be difficult. The Degtyarev’s older DP-27 light machine gun had also gathered negative reviews from the front lines. It was plagued by shortage of disk magazines, which were too complex to manufacture in sufficient quantities and also failed easily in the battle environment.
GAU KA (Main Artillery Directorate of the Red Army) held a series of competitions for a new machine gun, leading to introduction of Goryunov’s SG-43 heavy machine gun as well as several less known models. However, that was not the only outcome of the tests. Vasily Lyuty and Vladimir Deikin, two young NIPSVO officers (NIPSVO being Russia’s primary weapons testing facility) combined the competition insights with
information from the front lines and arrived at an interesting conclusion.
“The experience of World War II has shown that the decisive phases of a combat mostly happen at short distances, usually not more than 300-400 meters. At these distances, the power of a pistol cartridge with initial speed of about 600 m/s is quite enough to inflict proper damage on enemy troops”.
The choice of the 7.62×25 mm TT cartridge (née 7.63 mm Mauser) greatly simplified the issue of creating a new weapon. This cartridge was already mass-produced for Soviet submachine guns. A weapon built around this cartridge would be compact and lightweight, but Lyuty and Deikin were just test officers. They needed the help of a qualified firearms designer. Nikolai Afanasyev, a former Air Force sergeant turned NIPSVO in-house weapons design specialist, became their third co-author. Several months later in August 1943, LAD LMG (also LDA in some documents) completed a full test cycle at the shooting range with flying colors.
The action of this automatic machine gun combined both free bolt recoil and the gas operation scheme. The weight of the LAD with a bipod was only 5.3 kg (no ammo) or 7.63 kg with 150 cartridges in a belt inside a box. The total length of the machine gun was 956 mm. It was made of 1.5 mm sheet steel. The main manufacturing operations were stamping, riveting and welding. So it was a reasonably light-weight and compact machine gun ready for cheap mass production. Lyuty and Deikin subjected their brainchild to the most severe of tests available at NIPSVO, from leaving it at the bottom of a swamp to covering it in cement dust. Notwithstanding, LAD only had 5 delays out of 1750 shots.
Next came target shooting tests at multiple distances. The test setup was not modern IPSC exercises. The range imitated a battlefield, including multiple targets that were put in line formation to imitate the enemy’s advance and the enemy’s machine gun nest. More targets simulated a bypass maneuver, which required the shooter to shift the direction of fire. The test pinned LAD against PPSh, Russia’s most successful SMG at the time. The first stage showed that the LAD shooter managed to fire 600 rounds in less time yet got more hits. The test report read,
“Basic calculation shows that using a single LDA machine gun as part of a rifle squad almost doubles its firepower at distances of up to 500 meters.”
The LAD machine gun was approved and recommended for the production and armament of the Red Army. But it was too late. At this time GAU was already engaged in several intermediate cartridge projects and corresponding weapons. GAU adopted the “heavy avtomat” idea, which subsequently split into an assault rifle and a light machine gun concepts. Its first results were the AS-44 (Sudaev avtomat) and the RPD-44 (Degtyarev’s light machine gun). As the LAD project was abandoned, Nikolai Afanasyev went on to become a renowned firearms designer and created a whole series of weapons from SMGs to aircraft guns.
Lyuty stayed at NIPSVO, while Deykin was promoted to GAU. In 1946, they both supervised a series of tests of proposed assault rifles. One of those rifles received particularly negative reviews and its inexperienced designer was almost sent home. However, Lyuty insisted on giving the designer another chance. The designer’s name was Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the rifle was named AK-46. Shortly thereafter, Deykin helped Kalashnikov to move to Kovrov factory, leading to the creation of the AK-47, the world’s most popular assault rifle ever since.
Were it not for these two officers the global firearms landscape could have been very, very different.