Makarov: The Soviets Adopt Some Weird Proprietary Caliber

The Makarov, designed by Nikolay Makarov, was the Soviet Union’s new post-WW2 handgun. The whole Soviet small arms suite was changed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the Makarov was intended to address a number of concerns with the TT33 Tokarev pistols. The Tokarev was a relatively challenging pistol to shoot, with its potent 7.62x25mm cartridge. It was also associated with a lot of accidental discharges, as it had no manaul safety besides a half-cock notch in the hammer. The new pistol needed to be small, lighter, easier to use, and safer. In addition, with the replacement of the PPSh and PPS submachine guns with the new Kalashnikov, the pistol no longer needed to share ammunition with any other small arms. This led to development of a moderately-powered 9mm cartridge, the 9×18 Makarov (actually designed by Boris Semin). That cartridge used a 9mm land diameter, meaning that it was actually 9.2mm by typical Western measurement (groove diameter).

Mechanically, the Makarov drew many design elements from the Walther PP family. It was a simple blowback pistol with a single stack 8-round magazine and a double action hammer fired system. It was formally adopted in 1951, with full scale production beginning at Factory 622 in Izhevsk in 1953 and the final perfected design realized in 1955. It remained the standard Soviet military sidearm right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In addition to Soviet production, the Makarov was manufactured in East Germany, Bulgaria, and China. A greta many of these have been imported into the US, although not very many Soviet examples.


  1. Another reason for abandoning the 7.62×25 Tokarev cartridge was its propensity for over penetration. On the battlefield, if the bullet goes through the target and hits the enemy soldier behind him, that counts as a twofer. But the Soviets wanted a single pistol and cartridge for both military and police use. Over penetration is not good in a policing situation where lots of innocent bystanders are hanging around the person who needs to be shot.

    • In the US, that very rarely happens, generally determined by a police dept investigating their own officer who they find didn’t miss, he just “unfortunately shot through the miscreant.” In the Soviet Union, very doubtful they worried about hitting innocents who were hanging around w/ folks “needing to be shot” by Soviet standards.

      Also easily solved in the Tok’s case by issuing a HP bullet to police if it was a real concern.

  2. The whole process is kind of hilarious in context: copy a mild-recoiling cartridge (but jack up the pressure spec) and a pistol with the most intuitive and ergonomic safety (but delete the safety), then decide that it kicks too much and is unsafe; completely ignore the obvious, cheap solutions to both self-inflicted problems, and start a brand-new R&D program for a weapon you’ve determined is basically irrelevant in combat.

    • Mind that the solution “change the round, and keep on manufacturing an heavy, complex and expensive breechlock, but more complex than before”, didn’t solve much of the problems.

      • Not much need to keep on manufacturing (except the safety mod, which is miniscule in comparison with starting a whole new line from scratch). The Red Army downsized drastically after WW2, making plenty of backups available for wear, losses, etc. – just like our 1911s.

        I’m curious if there’s any original source material (vs fuddlore) for the “heavy” claim. The TT-33 is far from heavy by 40s standards, and is only 4oz heavier than the Mak (lighter than the Mak with integrated-mag holster).

        • Wikipedia talks of 1.300.000 T-33 manufactured (and it has to be seen how many survived WWII. Not many of those manufactured before 1941 probably) vs. 5.000.000 Makarov (also reported in “The Makarov Pistol: Soviet Union and East Germany” as Soviet and Russian production alone), so to modify existing ones would have been a stopgap solution at best.

          • A stopgap solution, OR following their own original, extensively combat-proven lessons / doctrine to a much more logical conclusion?

          • A stopgap solution because, as it’s evident by the production numbers, they didn’t have enough TT-33 to modify to satisfy their needs. They should have manufactured WAY more new guns. So the problem of having to manufacture “an heavy, complex and expensive breechlock, but more complex than before”, was real.
            It can be argued that they followed their extensively combat-proven lessons in ditchig the TT-33 and adopting a new gun. It’s not that you follow the combat-proven lessons only keeping what you already have.

          • Classic “is/ought” problem, with a sprinkling of “affirming the consequent” thrown in. Your argument boils down to “Somebody did something; therefore, that in itself proves they needed to do it and categorically disproves any criticism (even through the lens of hindsight and their own doctrine) thereof.”

          • Sorry, but it’s the exact opposite.

            You started stating that the Soviets ignored “the obvious, cheap solutions” to their problem.
            Well, no. Adopting a modified and more complex version of the TT-33 in a different caliber wouldn’t have solved the problem of having to manufacture an heavy, complex and expensive breechlock.

            Then you stated they could have simply modified plenty of war surplus.
            Well, no. The production numbers alone demonstrate there were not nearly enough war surplus. The heavy, complex and expensive breechlock should have been manufactured.

            Then you stated they didn’t follow, their own original, extensively combat-proven lessons / doctrine to a much more logical conclusion.
            Well, no. That’s just your opinion. The people that historically learned that lesson thought it was more logical to do otherwise. It’s not that you follow the combat-proven lessons only keeping what you already have.

            Your argument seems to just consider stupid/not logical the people that didn’t do what you think you would have done in their place.

            As for the absolutes, the bold the “categorically” and so on, contrary to you, that absolutely and without appeal state they had been illogical, blind, etc., I never stated they were right. Simply I think they had REASONS to do what they had done, while, to you, everything was down to stupidity.

          • Maybe I did read too much into it. I try to put everything into the big picture; in the context of the WW2 USSR’s chronic shortages, “you almost never used the handgun in combat” seems to lead inescapably to the conclusions that:
            1. If we could do it over again with the same givens (manpower, and the raw material / industrial base to equip them) we would reallocate resources from less useful systems (i.e. make FEWER than 1.3M pistols) toward the war-winning items we never had enough of, and therefore,
            2. Heading into a future with far smaller forces, no conflict approaching WW2 in magnitude, less allied logistics, AND several new competing needs (assault rifles, jets, subs), it’s even more essential to prioritize resources and make do with what we have of the marginal systems.
            3. Finally, it does seem incomprehensible in that context to quadruple down on making something that turned out less useful than one thought. The situation reminded me of our M14 debacle, and your responses got me thinking even further down that road.

          • What seems to have happened to countries that were VERY committed, with all of their men and industrial capacity in a total war (leaving out the US in WWII that, with something like 47% of the world’s manufacturing capacity, could issue the GIs with everything they wanted), is that they discovered they needed A LOT of handguns, much more than they had planned, but they also needed A LOT of other things that were higher priority.
            And so, in WWI, we had massive purchases in Spain of anything was not too crappy to be used, in WWII we have Germans fielding anything and grabbing anything from occupied countries, and so on.
            Because, yeah, they needed handguns, but handguns don’t decide the outcome of battles, so, “as long as it shoots, it’s good”.
            The Makarov, or, first, the Beretta 34 for example, did born from those observations. “let’s adopt a gun that’s functional, not fancy, and that we know that, in case of necessity, we can manufacture en masse, employing the fewer workers possible”.

          • That is very true, but again context is everything. If an army equipping its troops for Napoleonic massed musketry with 4′ rifles then sends them into trench raids or MOUT, handguns will be exceptionally important to them even if not to the outcome of battles. Once it builds a rifle for the realities of modern warfare (and is swimming in SMGs until the AKs arrive), they go back to being status symbols / persuaders for guards and JOs.

  3. when I was young, my father told me another story why Soviets used the nonstandard caliber. After WWII there where a lot of german guns among people. and the goverment did not want to supply with fresh ammo. they definitelly had some ammo, but when they had spend in hills or so… Maybe just an urban legend. who knows.

  4. The Makarov is an excellent recreational pistol.

    I’ve always heard that the Makarov is basically a simplified Walther PPK–cut down on the parts count and make it easier to fabricate–and looking at the two side-by-side, I find that a very convincing proposition. Is it true?

  5. I don’t have it in hand to be certain, but my Bulgarian Makarov has the hammer, trigger, AND mag release springs all worked as a single piece of steel.

    • Not just the mag release spring but the actual catch is formed from the end of that spring, if I remember correctly. And all held in place by the grip screw!

  6. The Soviet military wanted their weapons to be unusable by their enemies. As such, they often had variances in ammunition that would make their ammo unusable in other armies’ ordnance. For instance, the standard Soviet medium mortars of WW 2 (the BM-37 and PM-41) were 82mm weapons; they could use captured 81mm mortar rounds, but their own would not fit German or American 81mm weapons.

    The 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev M1930 cartridge will not function safely in 7.63 x 25mm Mauser chambered weapons. The shoulder is further forward on the case and either prevents it from chambering or will result in a “crush fit” with probable excessive pressure on firing. 7.63 x 25mm Mauser ammunition works quite well in 7.62 x 25mm weapons such as the PPSh-41 SMG.

    The 9 x 18mm Makarov cartridge had its genesis in the wartime German 9 x 18 Ultra round. More powerful than a 9 x 17 (.380 ACP), but again not usable in any Western pistol chambered for .380 or 9mm Ultra. Both those rounds will function in a 9 x 18 Makarov-chambered weapon.

    As stated, the Makarov is basically a simplified Walther PP. Its main difference is the safety, which works opposite that of the Walther; “Up” is “safe”, “Down” is “fire”. This may have been due to previous experience with Colt-Browning type self-loaders with such thumb safeties (both the M1911 and FN Grande Modele were used by the Tsar’s army), or else to maintain congruence with the Stechkin APS machine pistol safety/selector (works like the AK; Up-safe; Middle- autofire; Bottom- single shot).

    In personal use, I found that the 9 x 18 round delivers about the energy of a standard-velocity .38 Special 158-grain RNL to the target, which is enough to inflict a crippling or lethal wound to the vitals. For a compact defensive sidearm, that is probably good enough.

    clear ether


    • I think the Soviets were on the same page as Ian about the realistic role of sidearms in current day combat. So if a soldier would only ever need the lethality and range of a pea shooter, then only spend money on a pea shooter.

  7. There is an article on the 9mm Makarov cartridge in Handloader magazine of recent publication where the author suggests that the Mak was designed to give Soviet block slave states a less effective round to reduce effectiveness of revolutionary tendencies and to limit ammo interchangeability with the myriad other 9mm cartridges that had been used during both world wars.

      • The Soviets wanted all the countries under their boot to do exactly that same as the Soviet Union did for interoperability of forces. Whatever criteria the Soviet leaders used for their own development was what they also wanted to use themselves.

      • The article I mentioned was on the subject of the Makarov cartridge and the comment on the reason was probably the authors personal thoughts on the subject. No source material was quoted or listed, except for developmental data on the cartridge.

        • Let’s say that I never heard of a revolution whose outcome had been decided by the effectiveness of the handgun cartridge (or can realistically think about a scenario when it counts). Nor to say that, to obtain that result, the Soviets should have decided to condemn their own troops, police forces, etc. to daily, for decades, use such an “ineffective” round.

  8. The 9mm Makarov cartridge may also have some lineade from th late-war German 9mm “Ultra”.

    Or, have I missed something, here?

    • No, the only major difference between the two is the Makarov’s greater bore diameter. As stated, Western 9 x 18 Ultra and 9 x 17 Browning (.380 ACP) both work perfectly well in a 9 x 18 Makarov-chambered weapon.

      The most likely genesis of the 9 x 18 Makarov was the Russian capture of the Carl Walther factory complex at Zella-Mehlis in 1945. Before the war they had developed the experimental “Walther PP Ultra” for the Luftwaffe, and the 9 x 18 Ultra cartridge for it;

      Postwar, after Walther moved to Ulm-Donau, this more-or-less resurfaced as the “Walther PP Super” in “9 x 18 Police”.

      The Russian Army got almost all the data on the original 9 x 18 Ultra cartridge, and decided that a modified version of it would give them two things they thought they needed;

      1. An officer’s sidearm with less penetration than the TT33 Tokarev in 7.62 x 25mm but more power than either the Nagant M1895 revolver or the various 6.35mm Browning (.25 ACP) pocket automatics they’d been using up to that point; and

      2. A tactical machine pistol for “special troops” that had a low enough recoil impulse that with a shoulder stock/holster attached, it was actually more-or-less controllable in full-auto fire but still hit hard enough to be worth the effort.

      Hence, the PM (Pistolet Makarov) and APS (Avtomat Pistolet Stechkin), both in 9 x 18mm. Both straight blowbacks chambering what was at the time believed to be about the most powerful cartridge that could safely be accommodated in a blowback pistol.

      I’ve always wondered what their reaction to the H&K VP70 in 9 x 19mm was.

      clear ether


      • I don’t think the VP70 caused much commotion.
        It used a large application of polymers (not likely in the ’40s) and a “trick” that reduced the muzzle velocity of the bullet by 10-15% to have a 820G automatic pistol in 9X19mm.
        The Romanian Pistol Md. 1998, a direct derivate of the Stechkin, does the same, without performance reducing tricks, with steel frame, and 1.2kg weight.

      • As a rule of thumb, talking of not fancy, blowback, steel frame, 7-8 rounds single stack magazine guns, it seems you need at least a 600 grams gun to fire .380 ACP (IE Walther PPK), 700 grams to fire 9mm Makarov (Makarov), 800 grams to fire 9mm Glisenti / 9mm Ultra (Beretta M1923), and 1 kg to fire 9X19mm Parabellum (Astra 600).

  9. I have fired Tokarev Ammo in a Mauser Broomhandle. There seems to be a difference in loading depending on what Warsaw Pact country produced the round.

    • Beware the Czech 7.62 x 25. loadings.

      In a cz52 pistol, it heaves the emptied int the next suburb..

      I suspect a basic TT-33 might not handle this well for too long.

  10. Out of interest, if anyone “Probably in the U.S” has a (Spare) aye, hear me out; spare… TT33, well; turn the fucker upside down, aye. Now! Weld a handle (On where you’d put your thumb’ish: The underside usually.) For your left hand… Left yes – In order to hold the pistol grip with your right hand “Yes upside down” next part… (Intergral to above parafeckingraph) aye you get it, rewire trigger to fit *Trigger finger… and adjust grip angle – Polymer clay; you know what I mean, eh; adjust, in some form… Adjust- spare TT33… RIGHT!!! Super!! 🙂 🙂 Wack on a bar from the mag well base “Facing the sky now” Aye! That!! I know, super… Said bar has sights on it. See where this is going? You was right top loader under barrel, really high grip pistol. Unload! Better hits than with TT33 pistol grip; great.

    Upside down pistol, 7.62x25mm is the perfect round; just… Just imagine, here a TT33 that could hit at 100m. I am saying it could via; the above layout, calling me? Try 50, 75m compared to normal TT33 or a Glock.

    Premise; muzzle rise, no. Via underbarrel. Fact? No – Try it? Who has.

    Bbbbang! Wee mini 7.62x25mm carbine, whats not to like.

    Mind you I have been reading about quantum entanglement and I am drunk; but… No I stand by that statement.

    Nikky Dandelion… What? Hee! 🙂

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