RIA: Prototype W+F Bern AK44 Copy of the SVT

The Swiss factories of SIG and W+F Bern both produced a remarkable number and variety of experimental self-loading rifles in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Nothing would be adopted by the Swiss military until the StG-57, but these two firms were continuously working to develop a military self-loader for either Swiss or foreign purchase almost form the end of the First World War.

This example from W+F Bern, designated the AK-44 (for its design date, 1944) is not so much a new experimental design but rather a very faithful copy of the Soviet SVT-40 rifle. It uses a mechanically identical tilting bolt and short stroke gas piston, and even shares the metal front handguard, muzzle brake design, and simple manual safety of the Tokarev – although chambered for the Swiss 7.5x55mm cartridge and using a 6-round magazine instead of the Soviet 10-round type (almost certainly because of the Swiss use of 6-round charger clips).

Multiple different variations on the AK-44 were made, with variations in the muzzle configuration (SVT-40 type in this case; others had K31 configurations, FG-42 configurations, and more). Several different types of optical sight were also experimented with on the AK-44, including a German style mount for a ZF-4 type scope on a side rail, and a Swiss periscopic optic in this case – the same pattern as the Swiss K31/42 and K31/43 snipers’ rifles.


  1. Swiss-made versions of foreign designs typically tended to be heavier and more over-engineered than the originals, eg., the Waffenfabrik Bern MG51 7.5mm/7.62mm GPMG, which weighed a full 9.76 lbs./4.43 kg more than its 7.92mm MG42 predecessor ( 35.27 lbs/16.00 kg versus 25.51 lbs/11.57 kg empty ), thanks to the Swiss preference for milled components machined from solid billet or forgings. This also means that older school Swiss-made weapons have incredible durability in the long run.

    • “This also means that older school Swiss-made weapons have incredible durability in the long run.”
      For me Swiss sub-machine gun produced during WWII:
      best show how to make in complicated way thing that can be done simply. Rather than using default for 9×19 sub-machine guns blow-back operation it use… see drawing in link. It is also incredibly heavy for 9×19 sub-machine – mass 5.2kg unloaded is incredibly high even when compared to 1930s wooden-stock sub-machine guns.

      • The Swiss decided to license the M31 Suomi instead, because it was cheaper (!) and somewhat lighter… The Swedes also licensed the Suomi and immediately shaved 800 grams off the weight. Needless to say, the Swiss didn’t 😀

        • However, to be fair, they finally make simple sub-machine gun – namely SIG MP-310 – http://world.guns.ru/smg/switch/sig-mp-4-mp-310-e.html
          but unsurprisingly it fail market-wise – after WWII world was filled with a lot of cheap sub-machine gun.

          “The Swedes also licensed the Suomi and immediately shaved 800 grams off the weight.”
          And soon replace it with simpler Kulsprutepistol m/45 (sometimes called Carl Gustav sub-machine gun after manufacturer) – as interesting note: equipment to produce this sub-machine gun was later sold to Egypt where it was produced as Port-Said sub-machine gun. I’m interesting how many Egyptians paid for that equipment?

          • The MP-310 seems to be a modernized descendant of the pre-war MKPO of the same factory (SIG). The MKPO was simpler and lighter than the Furrer SMG, so it’s strange that the latter was chosen instead. One would not think that the similarity to the Furrer LMG-25 would have mattered that much, but perhaps the Swiss thought that the SMG as a kind of mini-LMG. The Finnish Army had such an idea about SMGs before the Winter War, quickly proven wrong by battlefield experiences.

          • The crazy über-over-engineered toggle-lock Swiss MP from Furrer was thought so temperamental that it was given to fortress troops, with the theory it wouldn’t be as subject to ooze and slime and mud and debris… The MP43, aka. Suomi KP/31 copy was made by Hispano-Suiza. There was also the odd 9x25mm Mauser cal. Neufchatel SIG SMG postwar that had a magazine that folded forward like French practice.

          • Ah-ha! Thank you! Same SMG, different stock, what a difference?!

            I’ve got in mind the MKMP with a two-piece quasi-delayed blowback operating system. 40 and 1/4 inches long (1025mm, or close to SKS length), full-auto-only, with a 40 round magazine and 19 1/4-in. (500 mm) barrel. Also the rather Pattern 13-looking grooves in the wooden fore stock.

            For police, there was the MKPO, using the same retarded blowback system and two-piece bolt, a thirty round magazine, but only 820mm/32.7-in. long, and with a barrel length of 300mm/300mm and using thirty-round magazines.

            Then there’s the 9mm parabellum/luger MP44, which, as you note, is a wood-stocked and longer barreled version of the SIG 310, albeit with a separate firing pin. Postwar, there’s the MP46, with a sheet metal forestock and fixed firing pin. Here is the MP310 with a wood butt stock.

            Finally, there was the MP48 with a wire stock, but wood stock, furniture, in 9mm parabellum. This SMG, in turn, was simplified a great deal, using plastics and omitting the safety mechanisms deemed superfluous with the folding magazine, etc. and so finally the SIG 310 emerged in 1958.

            Then there’s the Geneva produced 1950s-era Rexim FAVOR SMG, supposedly a French design stolen by a woman from Tulle and delivered to Switzerland. And indeed, some variants were designed with a very MAS Mle. 1936 spike bayonet under the barrel, while others had grenade launching apparatus on the muzzle!

            Mr. Daweo, please tell me that some Russian firearm website somewhere has details on the French prototype MAC 48-2 9mm that lost out to the MAT-49?! This particular dual trigger SMG is something of an obsession, I must admit… Spacibo! Thanks!

          • “Russian firearm website somewhere has details on the French prototype MAC 48-2 9mm that lost out to the MAT-49?!”
            All French sub-machine gun which that site knowns are:
            No MAC 48-2 unless it is under different designation.

      • As I said, the Swiss preference for machined billet and forged components resulted in a weight penalty in a lot of their firearms. Balanced against this is the extra long-term durability to be had from such over-engineering. However, I will also say that some of this over-engineering is probably unnecessary and sheer overkill in the long run, as in the example of the MG51 GPMG. After all, it’s MG42 predecessor weighs 9.76 lbs / 4.43 kg less and has a sterling reputation for reliability and durability on the battlefield without the ultra-heavy duty construction of the MG51.

        • Well, that is a given that the Swiss guns were unnecessarily overbuilt, but we are talking about arming a militia-based army, not a professional standing army. Would you rather have tons of broken and irreparable rifles or nearly indestructible rifles, given a very constrained material budget and a very small militia-based non-standing army compared to all the other armies surrounding your country? Remember that the Swiss are FORCED to import raw materials (especially steel), and replacing smashed and inoperable rifles and burned-out machineguns by the dozen makes very little sense for a country without convenient iron ore deposits… Or am I wrong?

          • “Remember that the Swiss are FORCED to import raw materials (especially steel), and replacing smashed and inoperable rifles and burned-out machineguns by the dozen makes very little sense for a country without convenient iron ore deposits… Or am I wrong?”
            But notice that generally stamping will create less metal loss (better metal-input-weight to metal-mass-into weapon ratio) than machining.

          • Excellent point, Cherndog. On the other hand, Swiss national servicemen are also rigorously trained and generally take very good care of their issued weapons in spite of the rigors to which said weapons are subject ( even if this doesn’t involve actual warfare ). For example, virtually every Swiss K31 rifle I have ever looked closely at has been in very good or better OEM condition in spite of years of hard use by generations of national servicemen prior to being imported to the U.S. and offered for sale to the public, and this without arsenal re-working or re-finishing. That says quite a lot for the servicemen and the build quality of the rifle itself.

            In the end, I get the impression that the typical over-engineering of Swiss firearms as a whole is something of an ingrained cultural tenet, much like their devotion to very high-quality products in other areas. This does not, of course, take into account products that are sometimes unnecessarily complex or which require constant maintenance to work well — features that can be found in many high-end products from any country.

    • The Swiss weapons may have a ridiculously high price for ordinary people but they are generally guaranteed to not suddenly go kaput without warning. Some will require lots of care, as to avoid jamming… Or am I wrong?

      • “generally guaranteed to not suddenly go kaput without warning”
        Apply to any weapons which passed NOT BIASED military trials.
        High mass of Swiss weapon is intriguing – considering that Swiss army will most probably fight in mountain environment, which might force movement by foot-slogging, their weapons should tend to be light rather than heavy.

          • Very good point. Looking more closely at the side by side comparison in the video, the AK44 did not appear to be more heavily-built than the SVT, especially when looking at both in the field-stripped condition from above and behind. I will be the first to admit, however, that this can be deceptive. There are so many other areas where heavier construction could have been added that was not evident in the video.

            I wonder if Ian would be able to regain access to this particular AK44 at RIA to do a comparative weigh-in?

            I have to say I do like the gooseneck-style pistol grip on the AK44 stock. It seems more ergonomic and reminds me of similar designs on a lot of current-generation precision rifle stocks being offered on the market today.

  2. Is the SVT40 or the STG44 the first downward tilting bolt design ? Or were they inspired by a previous design ?

    • “first downward tilting bolt design”
      Does this question apply to any downward tilting bolt self-loading weapon or only downward tilting bolt gas-operated self-loading weapon? If second I would suggest searching in machine-guns area, as vertically-tilt was quite popular then (French Chatellerault, Vickers-Berthier, Vickers Class K (aircraft machine))

    • The Madsen machinegun as well, also on the manual side, the Martini-Henry single shot rifle (1871), and to be pedantic the SVT-38 semi-auto rifle.

  3. STV with a Swiss twist. Definitely has that Swiss style. I suppose the Germans supplied the Swiss with examples to copy.

    • I’d doubt it; relations between both neighbours were chilly. There were even occasional combat planes duels. Sample rifles must have been delivered incognito.

      • I think that Switzerland might acquire SVT sample from Finland, after Euroweasel comment about Suomi in Switzerland.

        • It’s certainly possible, but I have no information about it. They could have received it also from Italy, which bought Solothurn S18-1000 and S18-1100 AT rifles from Switzerland in 1941 and 1942.

      • Duels? More like the Luftwaffe flew in and the Swiss forced the planes to land. If the intruders didn’t comply, they would get shot down and their employers would have to pay the bills for the funerals. Funny as it is, several Bf-109’s were captured by the Swiss and then pressed into service after being repainted. The Germans felt insulted about the fees charged for housing interned pilots and about the amount of cash required to pay for collateral damage… One however must wonder how American bombers got treated in Switzerland.

        • I’m not sure about Switzerland,

          but there was a top secret agreement between Britain and Ireland for Seaplanes to cut accross counties Sligo and Donnegal. Anywhere else and they got shot at.

          there were also stories of U boats being either given safe hiding places in the deep inlets of the south west – or else ignored there.

          DeValera was in a difficult situation, he appeared to be instinctively pro national socialism, and his policies reflected that – including the free state’s abysmal figures for admitting Jewish refugees (about 40 individuals).

          I would expect Switzerland to have experienced equal or greater pressure from both sides in the conflict – however the Swiss were better equipped to resist any incursions on land or air than the Irish Free State.

          • “- however the Swiss were better equipped to resist any incursions…”

            Yes they were rather safe by having Bank of international settlements(BIS) on their territory. Germany was doing transactions during the war via Swiss banks. But his not make them safe from American bombers, as Cherndog properly mentioned.

          • American bombers were a menace to everyone – including American troops many times.

            It’s interesting that they were never a menace to Ford’s Cologne plant… strange that.

            And not to Leave one of Churchill’s (many) favourite psychopaths out of it; Bomber Harris,
            The RAF even made a point of bombing neutral and absolutely harmless San Marino.

          • Not to mention, among numerous such examples, the dreadful fire bombing of Dresden in conjunction with daylight bombing by the U.S. Eighth Air Force — and Dresden was a target of only very limited actual military value compared to so many other places to which the same attention would have had a far more significant effect on actual war-making capability.

            All the protagonists on both sides committed murderous acts of every possible description for the sake of political and economic expediency, and in the name of God, country, high principle, decency and civilization. I am not speaking specifically of the ordinary soldiers, sailors or airmen — who had little, if any, choice but to do as they were told — but of the leaders, their supporters and, to a certain extent, a duped and gullible public who truly believed what they had been artfully fed by the propaganda machine.

          • I would have to go to the library and scrounge through all sorts of notes and so on, but prior to the U.S. crossing the Siegfried Line and the Rhine river, ol’ Joe Stalin once cynically proposed that the Western Allies go around the Rhine from the south, by attacking through neutral Switzerland.

            After June 1940, Adolf Hitler directed the OKH–Oberkommando des Heeres–to draw up a proposed “Unternehmen Tannenbaum” Operation Christmas Tree/ Fir Tree that called for 21 division to attack Switzerland from Central and Eastern France while Italy would attack from the South into Ticino. The Anschluß of Austria as “Ostmark” to the greater German Reich apparently convinced some fanatic nationalists that the Swiss Germans too should be incorporated within the greater Germany as yet another province. The operation was never carried out, of course, and as noted up post, Switzerland may have been more valuable left as a neutral.

  4. The Swiss incorporated gas shrouds!

    That’s huge difference in culture compared to the Soviets and their brethren in Britain and America – who couldn’t have give a **** for a soldier’s eyesight (or in a lot of cases his life).

    That couldn’t give a **** attitude is still reflected in the absolutely appalling gas handling of a bunch of current day consumer grade rifles – because people got used to using crap military rifles with b all gas blocking.

    Even Spain and Nationalist China made Mauser 98s with the correct inner collar in the receiver ring and a gas blocking flange on their bolt sleeves
    and the pre WWii Japanese did even better in designing user safety into their rifles.

      • Yeah, That’s about the level of it all around;

        My Grandfather said that after the Windscale reactor fire, the hill sheep started losing their teeth prematurely

        the same thing happened again in the 1980s – before Chernobyl. we still haven’t had any official news of that leak, where it occurred or how.
        Chernobyl was conveniently blamed for the Ceasium 137 contamination.

      • Containment shields are for sissies, but not much better than the broken GE reactor at Fukushima. How damaged is the core? The government doesn’t know and doesn’t care. The thing leaks every time there’s a heavy rain. Oil storage tanks of radioactive waste water waiting to be washed into the pacific by a typhoon or a tsunami. So they wont spend money on fixing this problem but they will spend money on 5 new mediocre Lockheed/ Martin F35 fighter planes. Your tax money at work, for the country, for the children of tomorrow.

        • The latest news is that the hard-frozen subterranean ice barrier they were hoping to create beneath the plant with the use of modern thermal technology to prevent the outflow of contaminated radioactive ground water into the sea has failed miserably — which highlights, for the umpteenth time, that there is usually a significant difference between the ideal model envisaged by engineering design on the one hand, and the application of that design in the harsh reality of actual field conditions on the other. Sound familiar?

    • With regard to bolt-action rifles, some modern Western civilian-grade rifles do have additional features to safely contain and vent high-pressure chamber gases away from the firer in the event of an overpressure mishap. The American Weatherby Vanguard and Mark V series come to mind. But I still do agree with you about a lot of firearms that are in the general marketplace.

      • Hi Earl,
        Weatherby mk5 are very good from the point of view of gas handling but have apalling camming, the same could be said of the long defunct Mossberg 800 and 810, and the also extinct Remington 788 on both gas handling and camming.

        I haven’t looked at any of the newer Rugers
        but Winchester Mod 70 have apalling gas control, and Rem 700…

        The 700 has a very good breech, which is the most important bit, but behind that it is apalling, and the Walker trigger in it is (umpteen) deaths and serious injuries waiting to happen and already happened – and Remington has known that for about 50 years.

        • Hello, Keith :

          You are largely correct about the Remington 700, although here in the U.S. you will find no end of Remington 700 aficionados who are willing to accept the rifle’s design limitations in return for the good qualities it offers.

          As far as the Weatherby’s are concerned, the Vanguard series has the same excellent gas handling characteristics as the Mark V, and also doesn’t have any camming issues since the action is similar yet sufficiently different at the same time, being an original and separate Weatherby design made to specification in Japan by Howa, and which gave rise to the nearly identical and outstanding Howa 1500 in turn — a sort of “best of both worlds” combination.

  5. Wow, first Swiss rifle without beer keg!
    Seriously now, this something I’d not expect: copy of Russian rifle made in Switzerland. So now I can see tradition as is in case of another following model – SIG 550 (being inspired by AK 47).

    As usual on FW – interesting showcase sample, splendid presentation!

  6. Too bad we couldn’t see “under the hood” so-to-speak on any variances in the gas system… For example, did the Swiss copy the dreadful Soviet Fëdor Tokarev pentagon section gas regulating nut? I’d be interested to see. At least the Swiss version, in eliminating the cleaning rod, saves a step on disassembly of the gas system! With the Soviet version, one must literally remove the sling, or at least loosen it enough so the sling swivel can slide forward, but first the cleaning rod must be removed so the spring that holds the sling swivel firmly in place as a handguard retainer has to go…

    A 12 round magazine would be mighty interesting… Also, the Swiss stock furniture is a bit different, what with the steeper angle of the pistol grip… A bit like the modern über-tactikewl Magpul stock for the Remington 870 in shape.

    • That gooseneck-style pistol grip on the AK44 looks very ergonomic and possibly helped with accuracy too.

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