The Yugoslav M56 Submachine Gun: Perhaps Too Simple?

The M-56 is a Yugoslav take on the MP-40 design, produced starting in 1956 to replace its previously issued M49 submachine gun (which was a copy of the Soviet PPSh-41). The M56 is simpler than the MP40, however, and chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge. It is a simple gun to make, but quite awkward to use, and has a remarkable potential to disassemble itself while firing if not assembled correctly.


  1. Ian, while the Yugoslav M 49 bears a superficial resemblance to the ubiquous PPSh-41 in terms of general layout, internally it is related to the SMGs designed by Tullio Marengoni, namely the M38A (bolt group), M38/44 and M38/49. The Beretta SMGs were used by the Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia and also by the Partisans and Chetniks. The M38A was highly regarded by Yugoslav technicians in the immediate post-war period, so it is no wonder that they choose it as a model for the the first local SMG to be produced in sizeable numbers.

    • R.Aballe, correct, lineage goes this way:

      M45*, (practically direct copy of M38 Beretta) with single trigger firing group:

      M49, basically M45 with PPSh firing group, stock and barrel shroud.

      M49/57 (added rate reducing buffer)

      M51*, basically M49 with colapsing stock:
      Curiosity about M51 – two examples were granted to Montgomery and Eisenhower. Both are in museums now.

      M56 with wooden stock for police*
      Those with * were not adopted.

      In service it was a popular weapon, even when AKs were introduced vehicle crews prefered it. Well known for accuracy, army used 50 and 150m qualification ranges instead 50 and 100m for other SMGs. Only problem encountered was cracking of the plastic if dropped on hard ground with first series (that did not have wooden insert in the furniture)
      I have never heard of “self disassembly” problem in service or use.

      I have fired it, and rate of fire is low, recoil negligible and gun is easy to control. If I had to I would definitely take it over MP-40 (magazine problems) and Thompson (heavy SOB), but not over Beretta.

      BTW, it had a “bayonet” that was pretty small and useless as a bayonet, but was very good all purpose knife if sharpened well:

      Now, to understand M56 you would have to understand Yugoslavian infantry doctrine of the period:
      1. LMG was a king at a squad level. It was considered main squad weapon at a distance (German WW2 influence). MGs were considered very important part of platoon and company, there was total of 9 tripod mounted MGs in the company.

      2. SMGs were supposed to create maximum amount of fire at short range – expectation was that army would fight vs enemy superior both in technology and firepower, and WW2 partisan experience said that very few things beat SMGs at short distance for an ambush.
      3. Rifles were for non-critical squad members. In 1952 organization out of 10 squad members, 5 had SMGs (squad leader, assistant squad leader, 3 SMG gunners), 1 had LMG (MG42/M53), and 4 had rifles (MG assistant, grenadier and two sharpshooters).

      MG set base of fire, grenadier assisted with rifle-grenades, two sharpshooters picked important targets/targets at range, 2nd in command coordinated them, while squad leader led assault part of the squad (him and 3 SMG gunners).

      Iach platoon had command section (3 men, Plt commander, medic and radioman – all armed with SMGs), 3 infantry sections and 11-men support section with 2 machineguns (MG42/M53 on tripods), two AT weapons (RB M49/M57 or M20 Super Bazooka), 5 SMGs (commander, 2 AT weapon assistants, 2 MG ammo bearers). If needed, SMG armed men would form assault half-section.
      One sharpshooter per platoon would be issued scoped rifle (Kar98k with ZF-41).

      Company had 5-men command section (commander, 2 radioman, medic – all with SMGs, sniper with scoped rifle – either Kar98k or Mosin) , 3 infantry platoons and support platoon with 9 or 10-men mortar section (2×81/82mm 3 SMGs, 6 rifle or 3x60mm, 4 SMGs, 6 rifles), 9 men RCL section (2 x 75mm M20 RCL, 5 SMGs, 4 rifle), 9-men AT section (4 x AT weapon, 5 SMGs, 4 rifles) and 10-men MG section (3xMG on tripod, 4 SMGs, 6 rifles).

      So, company had 9 x tripod mounted MG, 9 x LMG, 2×81/82mm or 3x60mm mortar, 10 AT weapons, 4 scoped rifles and shitload of SMGs covering well longer range engagements –
      rest was mostly a lot of SMGs as they were considered best close assault and defense weapon – almost everyone could be learned to shoot reasonably well @ 100-150m with M56.

      And a bonus, tests of SMGs, target was IIRC ~40cm circle.

      10 rounds burst used at 25 and 50m, 5 rounds burst at longer ranges. Standing shooting position.

      Overall P/H worst to best:
      Sten, MP-40, Thompson, Beretta, PPSH-41, M56.

      25m – all equal

      Sten 80% hit ratio
      rest 95-100%

      Sten – 50% hit ratio
      MP-40 – 60%
      Thompson – 70%
      rest – 90%

      Sten – 30%
      MP-40 – 35%
      Thompson – 40%
      Beretta – 65%
      PPSh – 70%
      M56 – 80%

      200m :
      Sten – 10%
      MP-40 – 15%
      Thompson – 15%
      Beretta – 25%
      PPSh – 35%
      M56 – 45%

      • “army used 50 and 150m qualification ranges instead 50 and 100m for other SMGs”
        When Soviet Union adopted 7.62×25 mm cartridge in 1930, it suitability for sub-machine guns was important. In fact Degtyaryov designed sub-machine gun (yet for 7.63×25 mm Mauser) sub-machine gun in 1929, see drawing here:Пистолет-пулемёт_Дегтярёва_(1929)
        Technically it was similar to DP, but delayed-blow-back instead of gas-operated, using flaps for delaying instead of locking. It was found to be unnecessary complicated in production.
        It was entry for competition of 1930 year for sub-machine gun, where there were also 2 sub-machine guns by Tokarev (one for 7,62 Nagant cartridge), 1 by Korovin, 1 by Shpitalny. Best one was judged to be Tokarev pattern for Nagant cartridge, apparently due to lobby of cartridge producers. None of competitors were adopted by Red Army.

          • Thanks for posting the link for the article on the ОЦ-39 subgun. I read once a mention on this design, but never saw a photo before.

            Somehow, and despite the title of the article (“submachine gun for a retro cartridge”), I think the idea behind it was quite sound, for the 7.62×25 round remains a very solid performer even today, when so many people keep trying to reinvent the wheel.

      • “In service it was a popular weapon, even when AKs were introduced vehicle crews prefered it.”
        Shouldn’t be AKS (folding stock version, I even do not attempt to make plural from of it)? In Soviet Union it was devised for vehicle crews.

        • M70A/AB1/AB2 folding stock versions were issued to vehicle crews since late ’70s (one per tank), but most crews found that old M56 was easier to handle inside turret). On T-54/55s there were original Soviet made AKs when they were acquired in early ’60s, but those were replaced in service with M56s since AKs were not used back then.
          M47 Patton and M4A3E4 Shermans also had their SMGs (M3A1 for Patton, M1A1 for Shermans) replaced with M56 in early ’60s.
          Post early ’60s only M56, M49/57 and PPSh stayed in service in infantry units – Thompsons were sent to border guards (formally army unit), Berettas to the police (prison guards had them until late mid ’80s).
          PPSh and M49/57 were retired from active service to reserves and territorial defense units in about late ’60/early ’70s.
          AK rearmament came only late, for both reason of doctrine and long wondering and blundering with semi-auto/auto rifle:

          1947-48 – ZK-420, tested, but Tito’s split with Soviets put an end to that.

          1948 – StG-44 copy – only partial documentation delivered due the above.

          1951-52 – M52 – copy of G43, not reliable enough, expensive to produce

          1956-57 – First automatic rifle trials (AK) – no conclusion, considered too technically problematic for production (it was early stamped receiver acquired during Hungarian revolution)

          1956-57 M57 – Garand rework (5000 Garands was delivered in 1956) to 7.92×57, 20 rounds box mag – given up as we got SKS production lines for free

          1958-59 – M59 SKS – limited production, did not fulfill requirements

          1962-63 – Second automatic rifle trials (AK, M14, FAL, SIG510, 7.62×39 AR-10 (same as Finish trials rifle) – AK won

          1963-64 – M64, as a result of trials modified AK was chosen, project was too ambitious (required fully modular design with field convertable AR/SAW etc) – ~1500 made and issued for troop trials. Problems with stock (same as on M56) when firing 7.62×39 etc. Judged too expensive to produce and dropped.

          1965-66 – M59/66 – as an interim measure modernized SKS was adopted. Finally we have semi-auto rifle just in the moment everyone is moving on automatic rifles. Doh.

          Third automatic rifle trials (AK, G-3, Vz.58) – G3 won, but due the disagreement about licensing and technology transfer with Germans nothing came out of it.

          1969-70 – M70 – less ambitious backup version of M64 (only partial unification) was chosen in the end and mass production started in 1971. Finally we have AK that could have been introduced almost 15 years earlier. It takes for active units until late ’70s to fully replace M59/66 and M56, for reserves it took until 1993-4…

          There you have it, in minimum of details. There is more,

          • “1951-52 – M52 – copy of G43, not reliable enough, expensive to produce”

            Interestingly, the Brazilian arsenal of Itajubá, in a not very successful attempt at self-sufficiency, also tinkered with a local (heavier, if I remember correctly) version of the G43 in .30-06, the M954, or Mosquetão Semi-automático .30 M954, of which only a few hundreds were made from 1954 onwards:

          • Thanks again for the detailed post, Bojan. I understand this is a bit off-topic, but do you have by any chance more details on the Garand rework in 8mm Mauser w/a 20 rounds’ box magazine? Sounds fascinating…

          • In the end, Brazil adopted a SAFN/ FN49 in .30-06. The cartridges were available from the USA, and the FEB in Italy in WWII had used M1903A3 rifles and other U.S. service weapons. The FN49, in turn, was replaced with the FAL made in Minas Gerais at IMBEL. And so on…

      • Wow, this gives quite better marks to M56 than one would have expected. I have no doubt regarding your account, since you were in that environment. Now, without referring to politics of the time, could you tell us who was considered the likely enemy (50-70s of previous century)? Thanks, Bojan.

        • Yes, thank you very much, Bojan. Not much about the JNA and Yugoslav developments. I do know that Tito supplied a number of movements during the wars of “National Liberation” including Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in Angola…

          I always wondered about HK in Germany developing a roller-locked 7.62x39mm rifle, and now after reading your account above, I’m wondering if that was another weapon developed as part of the Yugoslav JNA rifle trials?

          • Dave, the Swiss Bern arsenal and SiG also developed a few assault rifles in 7.62×39 for export purposes. The Finnish military was a obvious market target, but I always wondered if Yugoslavia wasn’t also a possible candidate.

          • G3 was in 7.62×51, conversion to 7.92x57mm was considered. At a same time MG trials were held, M60 won over M53 and MAG (don’t ask me how, I have no idea)…

            SIG510 trialed earlier was in 7.5×55 Swiss, but possibly 7.62x39mm version was considered, as a lot of weapons were acquired at that time from swiss (20mm single and triple AA guns among others).

            Don’t forget that until 1966 7.62x39mm was not a service cartridge – those were 7.92×57 (rifles and machineguns), 7.62×25 (pistols and SMGs), 30-06 (in mechanized and armored units – garands and vehicle M1919 MGs) and 7.92×33 (StG-44 among paras). Few weapons in 7.62x54R existed, mostly sniper rifles (due the blunders with a domestic production of the sniper rifle) but they were considered minor issue in the logistics. Everything else in 7.62x54R was put in the reserves in 1954 and that caliber would not see big scale use until 1962 and delivery of T-54A tanks (even if there was an idea to rearm those with M53 machineguns).
            In infantry use it would not be until 1985 and M84 (PKM) MG that 7.62x54R made a comeback.

        • Since 1948. Soviets/WP/Albania and maybe (just maybe) Italy. Austria was not considered likely opponent and neither was Greece.

          • There was also mutual agreement with Greece that in case of attack on them we would not allow any transfer of hostile troops over our territory and vice-versa.
            BTW, in Kissinger papers there is a whole chapter about what units should be sent to Yugoslavia as a help in case of Soviet invasion.

            After 1968 Romania was also considered unlikely opponent.

          • That is unique prospective and I appreciate to read it. Regarding Romania, it was clear in 1968, when she did nor participate in Czech invasion that she had separate policy. Also as far as I am aware, SFRJ and Romania had some join aircraft projects (Orao, Soko…). Where I would expect some adversary in concerned time would be, and given past history, Bulgaria and you indirectly mention that as being part of WP.

            Today of course we face completely different paradigm.

          • Yes, there were several disagreements, to put it mildly, with Italy in the early post-war era.

          • Still it was considered relatively low priority – when T-54s were sold to Egypt in 1973. they were taken from a units stationed toward Italy, and while Soviets soon sent replacement T-55s (that was a deal – fully combat ready T-54s to Egypt, Soviets deliver T-55s in 6 months period) it took about two and half years for those units to get tanks again – new tanks went to units stationed toward Hungary…

          • Yes, the conflict over the area around Trieste–and Trieste itself was only concluded in 1954.

      • Zdravo, Bojan! Thank you so much for your fantastic and comprehensive post! I am really impressed; also, I’ve always tried to study the history, tactical evolution and weapons of the JNA till the colapse of Yugoslavia. Thanks again for your input and contribution for the discussion. I would also welcome any bibliographical suggestions you might have reg. Yugoslav small arms history (I can read the language). Mnogo vam hvala!

        • Thanks for a compliments, it is a hobby of mine 🙂
          Anyway, in short – organization came from manuals.
          On a subject of armament, Branko Bogdanovic wrote some great books (Mausers, Serbian pre-WW1 rearmament etC), and rest was from Bojan Dimitrijevic (not me! 🙂 )series of books about armored units evolution and cooperation with NATO in ’50s, Nebojsa Djokic’s articles in army’s periodical “Odbrana” articles in local gun magazines, talk with people etc.
          Not to spam further with off-topic, if you have any questions drop me mail to

  2. I can only imagine that the M56 is on par with the old Chauchat in the “awkward handling during usage” department. Thankfully the Chauchat was never in danger of disintegrating while in use!

    • Not bad if you understand limitations. I would say better than PPSh with a drum or any kind of Sten. As a plus, you can use mag as a front handle w/o making feed issues. It takes larger man with long arms to do so, but for me it was OK (otoh, I am almost 2m tall).

  3. I think the whole point with the M56 was that the Yugoslav Army was looking for an SMG that was simple and inexpensive to mass-produce, rugged and reliable in service, and fired slowly enough to be controllable while still delivering enough volume of fire to get the job done.

    It also had to be simple and easy to be learned and maintained in the hands of conscripts.

    I’d say the M56 pretty much succeeded on all counts.



  4. This is definitely a rarity considering its non-western origin. Hmm, not that smart but not terrible either. Does it qualify, due to bolt handle latch as a 2nd generation?

    • “This is definitely a rarity considering its non-western origin.”
      Can you be more exact?

      “2nd generation”
      What is 2n generation (of sub-machine gun)?

      • It may not be an exact formulation as written, relative what I had in mind. By being “rarity” I meant not exactly of either Western or Eastern origin in terms of 20th century definition. Yugoslavia was a “state between” and I recall impacts of it rather well.

        Mr. Popenker states in modern firearms in section of MP40:

        “Nevertheless, MP-38 and especially MP-40 submachine guns were of good design and set the pattern for so called “second generation” of submachine guns (“first generation” being represented by the wood-stocked and carefully machined MP-18, MP-28 and the like). The second generation weapons usually were of compact design, and made using mostly steel stampings and pressings, or castings.”

      • What I would add to it, based on my accumulated reading, is that the “second generation” distinguishes itself by added inadvertent safety features (Star Z60 series would be excellent example). The most vivid of 3rd generation, carrying advanced features would be HK MP5, lately being pushed on by CZ Skorpion III.

      • Sorry for my piece-meal messaging…. you probably want to add some Russian SMGs designs as part of 3rd generation if not beyond (such as Bison, Vityaz, Kedr, Kashtan and so on). Of course there are some unique and hard to classify cases such as Spectre, which may be somewhere between pistol and SMG and so is new UniversalServiceWeapon from BT.

        • “some unique and hard to classify cases”
          If you don’t decided what has priority in distinguishing 1st and 2nd generation, you will fail to classify, for example:
          PPSh, which use stamping technology, but is not of compact design
          FNA-B 43, which use “old” technology, but is of compact design

        • “Bison, Vityaz, Kedr, Kashtan and so on”
          With introduction of avtomat, sub-machine gun become deemed to be unnecessary, this led to introduction of 9×18 and Makarov automatic pistol.
          There was competition for new sub-machine gun in early 1970s, but nothing come then out of it, however 2 designs created for this competition were revived after Fall of Soviet Union: KEDR (which you already mentioned, as name says designed by E. Dragunov) and Kiparis (by Afanasyev)

          • 1990s was in Russian sub-machine gun development was era of trials and errors, especially it seems that different layouts were tested.
            PP-90 – folding sub-machine gun (9×18)
            PP-90M1 – can use either helical (high-capacity) magazine or box-magazine, it have button instead of bolt handle , see photo:
            PP-93 – sub-machine gun which looks somewhat like automatic pistol with stock, it has charging handle of peculiar form underneath (9×18)
            PP-19 (Bizon) – helical magazine (various variants), it was developed into PP-19-01 Vityaz using more classical magazines.
            PP-2000 – magazine in grip, notice peculiar form of trigger guard and ability to use magazine as stock (9×19)

          • I believe that the “period of chaos” in Russia dating from demise of USSR and up to arrival of V.Putin was the right circumstance for all those mini-subguns’ designing we talk about. I suppose they were intended mainly as internal security related. Before then it was practically just Stechkin which was able address the issue.

          • @Denny:
            APS is good design, but after experience gained during intervention in Afghanistan (1980s) there was observed need for better vests penetration. One of possible way of development was heavy-loaded 9×18 . Now it goes as usual – searching for best cartridge-weapon system. Klin is example of sub-machine gun for “hot” 9×18.

  5. While I’m far too short to reach out to the magazine, so if I managed to actually handle an M56, let alone be able to fire one at a range facility, I actually think the rotating safety knob of the bolt handle, and the latch thingy that also rotates with the cocking handle are pretty clever.

    I don’t know or understand why the Yugoslav designers didn’t retain the method of separating the plastic/metal “lower” receiver from the metal “upper” as found on the MP40 however… I gather that it has something to do with the simplicity of the spring instead of the MP40 style with the spring inside of a telescoping tube… Still, an odd ommission.

    Now Daweo over on another discussion thread has posted a San Antonio, TX SMG that is truly “too simple!”

  6. The design of the reassembly process really leaves something to be desired. It could be hazardous to your health since it would cause a runaway gun if it should come apart while firing!

  7. Ian, have you ever come across a Yugoslavian M95M? It’s an oddball pre-WWII conversion of the Steyr M95 that’s modified to fire regular rimless 8×57 Mauser.

  8. Not “Jeu”, but “Jed.”, from – jedinačno , means single, jedan means one in serbian.
    “Ukoč.” is ukočeno – blocked.
    Note that same you have on Zastava m70 AK selector- U R J.

    Funny fact is that once some stupid TV reporter in some documentary, having found that AK somewhere in Africa (where C.Zast.exported heavily), and I suppose not knowing he was pointing to the selector switch, proclaimed these letters mean “United Republic of Jugoslavia” (?!)
    I gotta admit from all the gun nonsense some people present, this stands out in the hall of fame of stupidity and ignorance.

    M49 were notorious for the high cyc.rate, most likely due to the short receiver,
    but also were supposedly very accurate (for open bolt gun) in semi auto- due to the(ir) cocked bolt very close to the magazine, not like some other (sten) where it flys almost through half of the receiver before chambering and firing.

    Since yugo-soviet split happened in 1948, this gun as well could be in some other caliber, but I’m sure they had their reasons, just that sometimes they are clouded in mysteries and often lies (for public), such as one often repeated ; “yugo ak bores were not chrome lined due to the lack of chromate ore in Yugoslavia (!?).

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