Max Popenker on Russian Pistols and Ammunition: 7N21, 9x21mm, 9x18mm, and more

Today I am again joined by Max Popenker, Russian small arms historian and researcher. Max is explaining the basic history of Russian handguns and ammunition, starting with the adoption of the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge to replace the Nagant revolver. This was satisfactory until the end of World War Two (the Great Patriotic War), when the Kalashnikov in 7.62x39mm supplanted the submachine gun in military service, this removing the need for a powerful handgun cartridge. Alongside this change, the 9x18mm Makarov cartridge was adopted to provide a 9mm diameter bullet, but at a low enough velocity to be used in a compact and simple blowback handgun.

Security service interest in armor piercing handgun ammunition grew as body armor became more widespread, however. This led at first to development of an AP 9x18mm cartridge – which was both quite unpleasant to shoot and also very rough on the Makarov pistol. A new 9x21mm cartridge was then developed, and armor piercing projectiles used. in both it and 9x19mm ammunition as debates over the importance of military vs police vs export requirements took place. We will take a look at the 7N21, 7N30, and 7N31 9x19mm loadings, as well as a few of the pistols (like the GSh-18) developed to use them.

Oh, and also a quick look at the PSM and it’s unique 5.45x18mm cartridge!

Thanks to Max for taking time to chat with me today! I apologize for the video an audio quality; I hope to have a chance to meet up with Max this year in person, so we can record some much better footage.

If you are interested in Russian and Soviet small arms, make sure to sign up for our email list at Headstamp Publishing, to get notifications when we are ready to release Max’s book, “The Story of the Russian Avtomat”!


  1. I heard part of this interview on YT and plan to finish it on Ian’s channel later. One thing which strikes listener right off the bat is Maxim’s knowledge of the subject. Good to have him as a companion on the channel. This is a unique case of American and Russian unofficial cooperation 🙂

    On bit of negative note, his pronunciation is a bit, for lack of other word, obscured; it would be great if there were subtitles. Great interview overall.

  2. If we put aside all sorts of legends and tales, like “the PSM cartridge has a weak stopping effect.” 😉

    The 9×18 cartridge was a trophy development from a Germany. Which, among other things (as the equipment and documentation of the Walter company, which were subsequently used in the development of the PM pistol) were adapted to local standards and technology.
    Some kind of mythical “difference in designations” is completely irrelevant. Despite the not too high level of Soviet designers, at least they knew how to read and use a measuring instrument. 😉

    The optimal caliber for a pistol cartridge was recognized 10mm.
    But, since in fact there was already a ready-made German prototype…
    Today it is already difficult to say why exactly 9,2 instead of 9,0.
    There are several versions.
    The most plausible is the technological reason. The old Soviet gunpowder did not allow achieving the required characteristics of the cartridge with the 9×17 case obtained by simple lengthening, the production of which was established in the USSR.
    At the same time, it was decided to manufacture new cartridges using equipment for cartridges 7.62×25.
    There is also a “fantastic version”. According to which such a caliber was chosen for the possibility of firing a new pistol with 9×17 and 9×19 cartridges. By analogy with the 82mm mortar. It is technically possible indeed. But that doesn’t make this version any less fantastic…

      • “Was it more development than cartridge developed yet in 1940 for Margolin’s ТКБ-205“(С)

        Some “historians” manage to find traces of the development of the 5.45×39 cartridge back in the 1930s. LOL
        The development order was issued at the end of WW2.×18-mm-pm-pochemu-ego-nazyvayut-patron-zhivushhij-na-poslednem-vzdoxe.html#_9x18
        And the fact that someone, imitating the Ultra cartridge, took a scrap of a cartridge case from a Mauser and shoved a bullet from Browning there, can hardly be considered a “development”.

        I think there is no credible source. The story was too short. If ever.
        According to “rumors”, theoretical studies were carried out across the entire range of calibers, from 32 to 45 inclusive.
        Based on the calculations, it turned out that in terms of combining the best action on the target of a conventional bullet with the number of cartridges in the magazine, the optimal caliber is about 10mm.
        But since “the decision has already been made” it turned out that it turned out.
        In 1947 “comparative tests” were carried out.
        During which these boobies managed to “prove” that “the cartridge 7.62×25 is not inferior to the cartridge 11.43”.
        And “cartridge 9×18 is even better than 7.62×25”. LOL

        Since then, they continue to tell themselves that “9mm is no worse than 45”. LOL

  3. This was primarily about cartridges and their capabilities. One of several other issues to discuss is suitability of DAO striker-fired pistols for military. Is there a consensus on the subject?

    One would think (I would) the traditional hammer types are more suitable because of variety of operation modes. Or, more direct control to say it by different words. At least, they seem to be preferred by Russian military and security services. The new Udav is made in that way

    • No way anyone is hitting an .5m diameter circle at 200m with the Udav. I am sure the round has ballistic capability at that range, but it’s not an effective pistol range as that article states. But basically it sounds like they are adopting a magnum handgun as a service weapon.

  4. Current trend of making striker pistols, should be the aim to build similar looking and working pistols to that famous Austrian pistol… It had the simplest, safest and cheapest trigger action ever made as consisting only four moving parts as; Trigger, Trigger bar with integreted sear, Connector/Disconnector and Striker… All other companies tried to copy that lay out but could not achieve by cause of the patent rights… They should make something similar to that very quick rising pistol building trend and made samples through same firing system with look and trigger feeling without providing the same safety but, with much more cost… They could make with hidden hammer samples with same look but they did not preferred…Russian GSh18 may be accepted providing nearly same features nearly with the same cost but even it was acceptable far from the level of western maintainance purposes… After exhausting that trigger action’s patent rights, most big manufacturers seem as engaged to that cost saving, simple and secure construction nowadays which surviving again the striker fire concept… IMHO…

    • Even if these patents have not expired yet, that is not the problem.
      The problem is in the level of production culture.
      Many have tried. But for everyone else, it turns out to be either too expensive or too buggy.
      Look at the rubbish released by Walter and SIG.

      • Thanks for your interest … SIG may be a rubbish but Walther’s effort providing a consistent trigger pull for striker firing might be accepted as respectable since, impact and release elements at striker firing being at locations of two separate and imparting parts, one in frame and the other in the slide, Walther’s trigger action first joins the two on a frame mounted lever and relases them through another frame mounted separate lever as collecting both impact and release elements at the same location providing a stabil let off… Steyr M series pistols use the same concept at even more safer precocked form… IMHO…

        • All their “improvement efforts” would make sense if their pistols were at least firing properly.
          And then, in general, it is not known whether such a pistol will fire again. And where will the bullet fly at the same time, and whether something will fall off when fired.

          • In all fairness, they seem to be focusing all their efforts on providing “Lifetime After Sales Service”.
            Because, it really is “for life”.
            Having bought such a “pistol”, the user is only engaged in shooting a couple of magazines at the shooting range, after which he sends the pistol to the “lifetime service”, and then waits for it back for half a year.
            And then again 2-3 magazines and again in the service.
            And so for life. LOL

            I could be wrong, right? 😉

    • I agree the Glock pistol was and still is an ingenious design. In particular the function of disconnect with movement in 3rd(side) direction is very smart.
      But I have recently seen videos of various modern pistols disassembly/ assembly. Some of them which impressed me were FNS and CZ P10. They are both unique to each other and to the rest. Simple, inexpensive and efficient designs.

      • Glad to be in same thought Denny… In fact, Glock’ s sideward disconnecting action should be a must for a vertical acting trigger bar with an integral sear… If noticed, both FNS and CZ P10 nearly have same trigger action and parts with Glock excepting the disconnector consisting of a sidewardly moving bolt under sepatate coil spring force insread of an angled vertical one piece leaf spring of Glock’s… IMHO…

    • I hope they will keep with promise of Ian’s travel into Russia. That would be a MAJOR event which would supply a lots of material for future presentations. After all Larry Vickers was there several times, why not Ian M.

      • “Ian’s travel into Russia”(С)
        Bite Your tongue.
        It was the biggest mistake Ian had ever made.
        Possibly the latter.

        Or are You already tired of the Forgotten Weapon?

  5. Excellent, really interesting 🙂

    BTW, there’s no lockdown in Belarus, and the bars are open…

    Have Max and Ian covered rifle and machine gun ammunition yet? In particular the 9.3x64mm Brenneke.

    • I was not aware F.Tokarev continued with development of pistols past his seminal TT-33 model. Looking at the experimental model T-38, I wonder if it operates as Lahti’s pistol; it looks as there are clear similarities. The barrel does not seem to tilt in this case. Operation description states:
      “Запирание осуществлялось за счет перекоса запирающей защелки в вертикальной плоскости.”

      This sounds to me like a “vertical locking link activated by short barrel movement”. Is it correct?

      • It does look surprisingly like a Lahti.

        It would be interesting to know what Tokarev did with the distribution of weight between the different recoiling parts.

        Tokarev seems to have understood the Browning slide very well (well enough that it probably wasn’t just luck that the Tt33 worked).

        So hopefully he distributed weight amongst the parts better than Lahti did.

      • “(…)“vertical locking link activated by short barrel movement”. Is it correct?(…)”
        This statement claim locking is done by locking piece tilting in vertical plane.
        There is not claim how it is activated.

  6. “ can cheat on tax laws: you can cheat on traffic laws: but there’s no ways you can cheat on Newton’s laws… but unfortunately most military’s think that they can do, cheat on Newton’s laws.”

  7. My impression that while the Udav/ Boa 9x21mm pistol may be destined to military, the Lebedev 9x19mm pistol by Kalashnikov concern is still on agenda and may go to security forces. The language in information material is a bit clumsy, I agree.

    • You just don’t understand the local specifics.
      Both pistols were extremely successful.
      Because the original chad was to get and spend as much money as possible.
      The task has been fully achieved.
      Moreover, “a pistol is not needed in a modern army” anyway. LOL

  8. I have a cartridge for Russia to test. 9.5×21: .375 inch bullet, Case length, .830 inch. Rim diameter, .394 (sane as 9×19). Case mouth and head diameter both .400 inch. Load a 140 grain bullet to 1250 fps.

    • For that Q&A, I’d like to know how gun advertising is in Russia. In the US, most advertising past the local level and opt-in E-mail is closed off to gun dealers and curious to know if it’s like that there.

Leave a Reply to Stiven Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.