May 15, 2017
A few months ago, during a gun shop conversation, I mentioned my top handgun choices: the Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and CZ 75.
A gentleman older than myself nodded but added, "Well, that's okay, but when have you heard of a Tokarev failing or tying up?" He wore a leather jacket with a Vietnam veteran chevron. He brushed it back to reveal a Tokarev TT33. "You boys think that good guns are expensive. It ain't so. They just have to be good guns."
I agree on principle and favor military-grade service pistols for my own use and protection, and I have to admit the Tokarev is an effective handgun and perhaps the most rugged service pistol ever fielded. Moreover, the history of the Tokarev shows innovation and intelligent design not often credited to the pistol.
In the 1930s, a talented designer named Fedor Tokarev was tasked to design a new service pistol. There were certain criteria to be met, including simplicity and ease of manufacture, and it had to handle the 7.62x25 Mauser, which fired an 86-grain jacketed bullet at 1,400 fps.
Tokarev designed the TT30 and the improved TT33 for this cartridge. The pistol uses the Browning locked-breech system, barrel locking lugs, a swinging barrel link, a separate barrel bushing, single-action trigger and the Browning-type magazine release. The box magazine holds eight cartridges.
The pistol is compact, thin and fits most hands. The slide seems a little long for the small grip, but it works well, and it sports good battle sights. The TT33 resembles an enlarged Colt 1903 in profile, but there is no grip safety, and Tokarev also added a slide lock. Tokarev also developed a removable hammer group that greatly simplified maintenance and replacement.
The Tokarev features a positive or oversize firing pin to accommodate the inevitable dimensional differences in wartime ammunition as well as stores of German Mauser pistol ammunition.
The TT33 firing pin will always reach the primer, and while this setup would seem to preclude safe hammer-down carry because there's no manual safety, Tokarev solved this problem by adding a positive half-cock to the action.
This half cock position also locks the slide. It isn't safe to carry the 1911 on half- cock for several reasons—including the possibility of a false half-cock—but the Tokarev is another matter. A large spur hammer allows for easy cocking, even on a pants leg.
There have been changes over the years, particularly for guns imported into U.S., where crossbolt and trigger-blocking safeties have been added for legal reasons.
My 7.62x25 Romanian features a relatively unobtrusive trigger-blocking lever. I trust half-cock on this pistol and find the lever useful when doing tactical drills. I may place the piece on Safe and keep my finger off the trigger when sprinting to a different firing position.
The most useful Tokarevs are those chambered for 9mm. Most of these retain the original dimensions, although some have been designed around a thinner grip that makes the pistol even more attractive.
While I appreciate the 7.62x25 cartridge—which shoots flat and hits hard—the 9mms are interesting. As an example, Zastava has introduced an advanced Tokarev, the Model 88, with much to recommend it. This pistol resembles the French 35A in profile but is a bit larger.
The sights, trigger and hammer spur reflect the lineage of the pistol, but the slide is shorter—while still featuring good combat sights. There is a grooved portion in front of the ejection port leading to the front sight, which is dovetailed in place. The cocking serrations afford good leverage.
The pistol is reliable and as accurate as any Tokarev, and I can get 3.5-inch five-shot groups at 25 yards.
However, I am not completely happy with a couple of the modifications. The pistol has a magazine safety that prevents the pistol from firing if the magazine is removed, and the safety is a lever on the slide.
Slide-mounted safeties are never as fast as a frame-mounted safety, although I will admit this one is pretty quick to operate.
I trust this safety for carrying cocked with the safety on. It isn't cocked and locked because the safety moves to cover the firing pin, and if the hammer falls, the pistol can't fire. This adaption of the Tokarev retails for less than $300.
As for originals, they're not going to win any beauty contests, but a friend of mine regards the Polish Tokarev as the finest made, and my Romanian guns are good quality. On the flip side, I've seen Chinese versions that were poor indeed.
Like I said at the beginning, while I have my favorite handguns, I have to agree with the gentleman at the gun store.
While the Tokarev TT33 and its variants may not afford us the emotional attachment and sense of history the 1911 does—and they are not as finely made as the Browning Hi Power or as well-made and accurate as the CZ 75—for first-class reliability and function at a pittance, they are the best deal in town.