September 24, 2010
Standbys of the Old Warsaw Pact
Shooting the Polish PA-63.
I've been interested in weapons chambered for the 9x18mm round for more than 30 years. Initially, I found myself working in places such as North Africa, where I often encountered weapons in this caliber.
For a period I also taught a class for those likely to be working where terrorist kidnapping was endemic. As part of the class, I would teach disarming techniques followed by turning weapons against one's captors. Since many terrorist groups at the time were supplied by the Soviet Union or its client states, I taught familiarity with some weapons chambered for the 9mm Makarov round.
I must admit, too, that on occasion I carried pistols chambered for the 9mm Makarov round because if I had to drop them somewhere, they weren't going to indicate a user of U.S. origin. Finally, I just liked 9mm Makarov pistols because they were scarce in the West, which gave them a certain "neat" factor.
With the wide availability today of imported Bulgarian Makarovs and Polish P-64 pistols, the scarcity factor is no longer as relevant, though there are still pistols chambered for this round, which are unlikely to be encountered by most shooters. A substantial number of American shooters are now quite familiar with the 9x18mm round and some of its pistols, and many like the combo.
The most ubiquitous pistol in 9x18mm chambering is the Makarov, which lends its name to the cartridge that was developed for it. As with many post-World War II Soviet designs, the Makarov owes a debt to captured German technology, in this case the Walther PP/PPK. Developed around a half-century ago in the Soviet Union, the PM, as the Makarov is known in Russia, remains the standard Russian military and police pistol today, though it has been superseded with some special units.
Left to right, the .380, 9mm Makarov and 9mm Parabellum rounds.
While the PM resembles the Walther PP and has a similar operating system, there are some notable differences, especially in the safety. The Walther employs a hammer-drop safety that may be set before the slide is operated to allow the hammer to ride forward as the slide returns to the closed position, or it may be operated after a round is chambered.
The Makarov safety/hammer drop operates in reverse of that of the Walther. While the safety is pressed downward to drop the hammer on a Walther, on the Makarov it is pressed upward. Also, when the Makarov safety is in the up position, it locks the action. In order to enable the double action of the Makarov, the safety must be returned to the down position after using it to drop the hammer.
Makarovs have notoriously heavy trigger pulls, quite likely by intent since the pistol was widely issued into conscripts in the Warsaw Pact and among Marxist guerrillas in the Third World. Nevertheless, the Russian special police officers with whom I've discussed the Makarov are relatively satisfied with it. They train to use it quickly in combat scenarios and find it very fast-handling. It is, however, normally a secondary weapon to the AKSU, the SMG version of the AKS-74.
Three popular 9x18mm pistols, left to right: Polish P-83, East German Makarov and Hungarian RK59.
Although the Soviets exported a substantial number of Makarov pistols, they were also manufactured in at least three other countries. China produced its own version, at least a few of which turned up in Southeast Asia. East Germany and Bulgaria produced Makarov pistols as well. I have handled and fired examples of all of these Makarov pistols and have found them all to be of good quality.
The first I owned was a Chinese one I picked up in Thailand 30 years ago. I have used Russian ones quite a bit, including when working with one Russian special police unit, but Russian examples were only imported into the U.S. in limited quantities. Currently, the Bulgarian Makarovs are available at quite reasonable prices and are the most commonly encountered. Quite a few East German Makarovs were imported into the U.S. as well.
In January 1994, production began on the PMM, an improved version of the Makarov that has a double-stack magazine that holds 12 rounds and is chambered for a hotter 9x18mm round. This cartridge, designated the 57-N-181SM, has a muzzle velocity about 35 percent higher than the standard 9x18mm round. The PMM retains a blowback action, but the chamber has three grooves that, in effect, cause it to function as a delayed blowback.
Actually, there are two versions of the PMM: the PMM-12 and the PMM-8. The latter does not have the double-stack magazine but is chambered for the hotter round. The last time I was in Russia, some of the OMOH, the special police unit with which I had contact, had handled the PMM-12 but were still using their older Makarovs. It is my understanding that FSB Alpha, the Russian national counterterrorist unit, and some other units have been issued PMM-12s, though they are now reportedly using a newer pistol chambered for a round hotter than the 9x19mm.
The Russian Makarov, which is still widely used by Russian military personnel.
At least some commercial PMM-8 and PMM-12 pistols were imported into the U.S. but with adjustable sights to help them gain import points. I have one of these PMM-12 pistols and have fired a few hundred rounds through it. The grip remains comfortable, though thicker, but the trigger pull is among the worst I've ever felt. There are other special loadings for the Makarov, including a frangible load intended for use in aircraft assaults and other specialized hostage-rescue operations or by air marshals.
While many members of the Warsaw Pact adopted the Makarov, others chose to produce their own design chambered for the 9x18mm round. Hungary, for example, manufactured at least two pistols. One of these--my own favorite pistol in the 9mm Makarov chambering--is virtually unknown in the U.S. Usually designated the RK59, this pistol is basically a P
PK with an alloy frame chambered for the 9x18mm round.
I acquired one in the Middle East and used to carry it as a backup gun in a pocket holster when working in that part of the world. It was the lightest and most powerful PPK-size pistol I had ever seen, hence my fondness for it. I doubt it will ever be imported into the U.S., however, since it won't make points.
A Polish PA-63 Machine Pistol in its holster and with a spare magazine pouch.
The other Hungarian 9x18mm pistol is relatively well known in the U.S. Usually designated the PA-63, this FEG product is larger than the previously mentioned RK59 and closely resembles a Walther PP with an alloy frame. It has been imported into the U.S. in the military version with an unfinished alloy frame and as the AP in blued commercial format.
I've shot the PA-63 a few times and find it a reliable design, though it is like the Makarov with a heavy trigger pull. The PA-63 is a good pistol, one with which I would feel adequately armed should I find myself somewhere with it as my only choice, but I would certainly opt for the RK59 if I had the choice.
Poland produced its own 9x18mm pistols as well. The first of these, the P64, is quite an appealing little pistol. Closer in size to the Walther PPK than the PP, the P-64 has a six-round magazine capacity and makes an excellent carry gun chambered for a cartridge more powerful than the .380. Unfortunately, it has an exceptionally heavy double-action pull, one that takes a strong hand to operate.
The sights are pretty rudimentary, but the top of the slide is crosshatched to cut glare. Although the P-64 was normally carried in a typical European flap holster when it was a Polish issue weapon, it is compact enough that it could be carried in a pocket, especially if flat-bottomed magazines were available rather than the finger-rest ones normally available.
A Polish contact did tell me that he has seen this pistol carried with flat-bottomed magazines, but I have not seen any. Perhaps the best feature of the P-64 is that it is currently available in the U.S. at very reasonable prices. This former Polish service pistol is a real buy as a carry or house pistol, and inexpensive 9mm Makarov ammo is available to allow one to become proficient with it.
Far less well known among American shooters is the replacement for the P-64--the P-83--which uses a substantial number of stampings and is therefore easier to manufacture than the P-64. Also known as the VANAD, the P-83 is a bit larger than the P-64 and uses an eight-round magazine, thus giving it two extra rounds over the P-64.
One of the most notable features of the P-83 is its double-action mechanism, which positions the prominent hammer so that it appears to ride in a half-cock position. I have fired a couple of hundred rounds through the P-83, and, as with all of the 9mm Makarov pistols I've used, I find it to be a reliable, serviceable design--not that noteworthy since they are copied from the highly reliable Walther PP/PPK design. There is an updated version of the P-83 designated the P-93 that has replaced it in service. Most of the differences seem to be in the design of the triggerguard and grip.
Czechoslovakia also had its own 9x18mm service pistol while that country was still in the Warsaw Pact. The Vz82 was a 9x18mm version of the CZ83 adopted for military usage. As with all CZ pistols, the Vz82 incorporated many useful features including a 12-round-capacity magazine and ambidextrous safety. The safety system is one familiar to those who use the CZ75 since the pistol may be carried cocked and locked or with the hammer down in double-action mode.
A Stechkin with loaded 20-round magazines, holster stock and spare magazine pouch.
The Vz82 pistol has been replaced as a front-line military and police pistol by the P01 9mm, and I hope that some Vz82s may be imported for U.S. sales. Recently, a limited number of CZ83 pistols in 9x18mm caliber were imported into the U.S. Though these pistols do not have the large, round triggerguard found on the Vz82, they otherwise are very similar. I acquired one of these CZ83s and have been very happy with it. As with every CZ pistol I have fired, it is reliable, accurate and ergonomic. I'll still buy a Vz82 if any are imported, but the 9mm Makarov CZ83 is a pretty good substitute.
The 9x18mm round has proven to be a relatively popular chambering for machine pistols as well. At least three select-fire pistols have been chambered for this round and saw quite a bit of use in former Warsaw Pact countries. My own favorite, and arguably one of the best machine pistols ever developed, is the Stechkin. This Soviet-era machine pistol is really only about nine inches overall without its holster stock attached. Magazine capacity is 20 rounds, yet the grip is surprisingly comfortable.
Former KGB bodyguards with whom I have discussed the Stechkin chose it for its high magazine capacity and its full-auto capability when needed to break an ambush or mass attack. At lease one former KGB agent who carried a Stechkin showed me a special shoulder holster he used to carry the pistol and two spare 20-round magazines. He did not carry the bulky holster stock.
I have fired the Stechkin with stock attached and without, in semiauto and full-auto mode. It is a very controllable pistol on full auto even though its cyclic rate is about 750 rounds per minute. With its shoulder stock attached and firing in short bursts, I can normally keep a full magazine on a silhouette target at seven yards with it.
I have also fired bursts without the stock and can keep bursts on a silhouette at seven yards if I start aiming low on the target and let the burst stitch up. I shoot the Stechkin every chance I get and would feel adequately armed if I found myself in some faraway place with a strange-sounding name and a Stechkin in my hands.
Another well-known machine pistol chambered for the 9x18mm round is the Czech Skorpion. The Skorpion is best known in .32 ACP chambering, and most I have encountered are for this round. However, it is also produced for the .380 round and the 9mm Makarov.
The Hungarian RK59 is a rarely seen 9x18mm pistol, but it is the author's favorite.
I have shot the .32 ACP version quite a bit and have handled
a .380 version, but I have never even seen a 9mm Makarov Skorpion. They are cataloged in reference works such as Jane's Infantry Weapons, so they must exist, but I believe this is the least popular chambering for the Skorpion.
Poland has produced some interesting machine pistols for the 9x18mm round as well. The PM-63 (a.k.a. Wz 63) is larger than the Stechkin, at around 13 inches overall with stock retracted. Still, the PM-63 is designed to be carried in a webbed holster. Fifteen- and 25-round magazines are available. The PM-63 is relatively easy to control since its cyclic rate is 600 rounds per minute, and its integral shoulder stock and fold-down front pistol grip allow the shooter to keep it on target relatively well.
As machine pistols go--and bear in mind, this is a very specialized weapon--the PM-63 is a fairly good weapon. However, if I had a choice among the 9x18mm machine pistols, I would always choose the Stechkin. The PM-63 was superseded by the PM-84, another compact 9x18mm weapon, but now that Poland is in NATO the 9x19mm PM-98 has replaced both.
This overview of those pistols chambered for the 9mm Makarov round has been intended to show the diversity of pistols that evolved in those countries where the 9x18mm round was the military and police standard. While the chill of the Cold War was still causing the world's teeth to chatter, the 9x18mm pistol rode on the hips of those charged with keeping order on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Today, however, many of those same countries are U.S. allies and, in many cases, now carry weapons chambered for cartridges such as the 5.56x45mm and 9x19mm, which are standard in the West. Pistols chambered for the 9mm Makarov, on the other hand, are continuing to serve in the U.S., where they have proven to be very popular as reliable, inexpensive self-defense pistols.
Indicative of the popularity of the 9mm Makarov round in the U.S. for self-defense is the fact that ammo is widely available in a variety of loadings. Currently, the Makarov and Polish P-63 are available to U.S. shooters for around $200. For that price, one not only gets a good combat pistol but a piece of 20th century history. I think that's a good combo.