April - May 2002:

Flag of the People's Republic of Albania, 1946-1992
Flag of the People's Republic of Albania, 1946-1992
Albanian SKS, right side
Albanian Simonov Type Self Loading Carbine as offered by AIM
Albanian Simonov Type Self Loading Carbine (SKS)
Type:  Gas Operated Self Loading Rifle
Chambering:  7.62x39mm
Capacity:  10 round fixed magazine
Sights, front:  Post, adjustable for elevation and windage
Sights, rear:  Tangent type U-notch adjustable for windage
Length: 40.2""
Barrel length:  20.5", 4 groove, right hand twist
Weight (unloaded):  8.5 lbs
Suggested Retail Price:  $229.00
The Albanian Communist Regime
Enver Hoxha would have been pleased.  Right about now you're saying to yourself that while you're sure that Enver However-you-pronounce-it would have been pleased, you're not quite sure what he would have been pleased about, nor are you sure what that has to do with SKS rifles or firearms in general.  A little history please maestro. . .

Enver Hoxha (pronounced "Ho-HA") was born on October 16, 1908, in Gjirokastar, Albania, and was the first postwar communist ruler of Albania.  After the war, Hoxha inherited an Albania plagued by a host of ills: pervasive poverty, overwhelming illiteracy, blood feuds, epidemics of disease, and gross subjugation of women.  In order to eradicate these problems, the communists drafted a radical modernization program intended to bring social and economic liberation to Albania, thus completing the political liberation won in 1912. The government's first major act to "build socialism" was swift, uncompromising agrarian reform, which broke up the large landed estates of the southern beys (the remnant of an Ottoman landed nobility) and distributed the parcels to landless and other peasants. This destroyed the powerful bey class. The government also moved to nationalize industry, banks, and all commercial and foreign properties. Shortly after the agrarian reform, the Albanian government started to collectivize
agriculture, completing this task in 1967. As a result, peasants lost title to their land. In addition, the Hoxha leadership extended the new socialist order (at bayonet point) to the more rugged and isolated northern highlands, bringing down the age old institution of the blood feud and the patriarchal structure of the family and clans, thus destroying the semifeudal class of bajraktars. The traditional role of women--namely, confinement to the home and farm--changed radically as they gained legal equality with men and became active participants in all areas of society. In order to obtain the economic aid needed for modernization, as well as the political and military support to enhance its security, Albania turned to the communist world: first to Yugoslavia (1944-48), then the Soviet Union (1948-61), and finally China (1961-78).

Economically, Albania benefited greatly from these alliances: with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and credits, and with the assistance of a large number of technicians and specialists sent by its allies, Albania was able to build the foundations of a modern industry and defense infrastructure and to introduce mechanization into agriculture. As a result, for the first time in modern history, the Albanian populace began to emerge from eons of  backwardness and, for a while, enjoyed a higher standard of living.  However, all was not well within the Albanian communist world.  Politically, Hoxha was disillusioned with his communist allies and patrons and broke with each one, charging that they had abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the cause of the proletariat for the sake of rapprochement with the capitalist West.  Alienated from both East and West, Albania adopted a "go-it-alone" policy and became notorious as an isolated bastion of Maoism/Stalinism. Hoxha's program for modernization aimed at transforming Albania from a backward agrarian country into a modern industrial society, and, indeed, within four decades Albania had made respectable--in some cases historic--strides in the development of industry, agriculture, education, the arts, and culture. A notable achievement was the drainage of coastal swamplands--until then breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes--and the reclamation of land for agricultural and industrial uses. Also symbolic of the change was a historic language reform that fused elements of the Geg and Tosk dialects into a unified literary language. Political oppression, however, offset gains made on the material and cultural planes. Contrary to provisions in the constitution, during Hoxha's reign Albania was ruled, in effect, by the Directorate of State Security, known as the Sigurimi. To eliminate dissent, the government resorted periodically to purges, in which opponents were subjected to public criticism, dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned in forced labor camps, or executed. Travel abroad was forbidden to all but those on official business. In 1967 the religious establishment, which party leaders and other atheistic Albanians viewed as a backward medieval institution that hampered national unity and progress, was officially banned, and all Christian and Muslim houses of worship were closed.

The resulting nation and society were wracked by what is best described as a case of national paranoid schizophrenia.  Cut off from the rest of the world, Albania began to spiral into a slow madness. The countryside was dotted with pillboxes designed to defend against invasions from, alternatively, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States.  Orwellian enigmas and contradictions seemed to rule Albania.  Not the least of these is why the Albanian defense industry, in an era dominated by cheap, mass produced, stamped sheet metal assault rifles opted to produce a resource intensive, obsolescent, heavy, semiautomatic rifle that was tactically hampered by a fixed ten round magazine.  Specifically, why, during the primacy of the various Kalashnikov designs (AK-47, AKM, etc.) did the Albanians choose to produce a large number of SKS type rifles?

The SKS in Brief

Designed by renowned Soviet small arms designer Sergei Simonov, the Samozariadniya karabina sistemy Simonova, or SKS, was the first Soviet weapon chambered for the 7.62x39mm M1943 cartridge to reach series production.  Produced by traditional forging and milling methods, the SKS is a gas operated semiautomatic arm with a ten round fixed box magazine.  The operating system is thought to be a scaled down version of that of the PTRS antitank rifle, using a tipping bolt cammed into and out of engagement with a locking recess in the receiver by action of the bolt carrier on the bolt.  When a round is fired, the bullet moves down the barrel and, approximately halfway to the muzzle, passes the 
Albanian SKS, Spike Bayonet
Albanian SKS bayonet.  The bayonet is permanently attached, and pivots to a stowed position underneath the fore-end.  It is screwdriver tipped and triangular in cross section.
gas port.  A small amount of the high pressure gas is diverted into the gas tube where it acts on the primary piston, driving it to the rear.  This piston bears directly on the head of the spring loaded secondary piston housed beneath the read sight, and drives it to the rear as well.  The secondary piston's rearward movement impinges against the bolt carrier, kicking it rearward.  As the bolt carrier moves to the rear, it cams the bolt out of engagement with the receiver locking recess and pulls it to the rear as well.  This movement effects extraction, ejection and also recocks the hammer for the next shot.  At the rearmost point of travel, the bolt carrier is arrested by the captive recoil spring assembly and forced forward again.  During forward movement a fresh cartridge is stripped into the chamber from the magazine.  There is a last round bolt hold open device present.

The SKS features a permanently attached folding bayonet and a one piece wooden stock.  Fire controls are simple and effective; a large lever alongside the triggerguard pivots forward to block the trigger's rearward motion.   Sights are a tangent u-notch rear and a windage and elevation adjustable front post.  The bolt carrier is milled to accept stripper clips, which make loading almost as fast as a detachable magazine.  Unloading is also quite rapid as the magazine body hinges down to allow for removal of unfired cartridges.

Disassembly is begun by clearing the rifle and placing it on "safe."  A lever on the right rear of the receiver is raised to the vertical and drawn to the right.  This frees the receiver dust cover (a heavy hemicylindrical piece) to move to the rear and be removed from the gun.  The recoil spring can now be drawn out to the rear.  Next the bolt carrier can be pulled to the rear and then up and out of the receiver, taking the bolt with it.  The bolt is easily separated from the carrier.  The lever on the rear sight block is raised to the vertical.  This rotates the flat on the handguard retaining bolt to a vertical position, freeing the handguard to be raised up from the rear and removed.  The primary piston can then be slid out of the handguard.  As the handguard is freed, the spring loaded secondary piston will also free itself.  Finally, the rifle can be inverted for removal of the trigger group.  The rear of the trigger group has what appears to be a dimple.  This is actually a retaining tang that is part of the receiver.  With the safety on, a quick rap on a brass punch will move the retaining tang just enough to free the trigger group, which can then be pulled out of the receiver.  Once this is done, the magazine group can also be worked from the receiver.  Finally, the barreled receiver group can be separated from the stock ( the stock is sandwiched between the trigger group and the receiver, much like an M1 Garand).   Reassembly is the reverse.

(Ensure that rifle is properly cleared and unloaded prior to beginning!)

Disassembly, 1
Step 1: Raise the takedown lever at the rear right of the receiver from the three o'clock position to the twelve o'clock position, and then drawn to the right.  This frees the receiver cover.
Step 2:  Remove the receiver cover and pull the bolt return spring assembly out to the rear.
Step 3:  Draw bolt carrier group to the rear and lift it out of the receiver.
Step 4:  Disassembled bolt group components.  From top:  Receiver cover, bolt return spring, bolt carrier, bolt
Step 5:  Gas system takedown latch on the right side of the rear sight block.  This latch must be rotated upward (clockwise) so as to free the upper handguard/gas tube assembly.
Step 6:  Gas system takedown latch has been rotated, bringing the flat surface of the lock piece (yellow arrow) to the vertical position.  When it is in this position, the handguard's mating surface (blue arrow) is freed, and the handguard can be lifted up from the rear and rotated forward and off the rifle.
Step 7:  Once the handguard is removed, the gas piston can be removed to the front.  Note that the gas tube runs the length of the handguard.
Step 8:  With the handguard removed, the gas system takedown latch can now be rotated to the twelve o'clock position, which will free the operating piston (housed in the rear sight block).  Be careful.  The operating piston is under significant tension from the coiled wire spring, and should be controlled until tension is released, lest it be launched into orbit.
Step 9:  With the safety on, place a punch or a cartridge tip into the dimple at the rear of the triggerguard.  Apply slow and steady forward and downward pressure to the dimple.  This will press the spring loaded retaining catch out of engagement with the triggerguard and free the trigger mechanism.
Step 10:  Once the the trigger group is freed, it can be rotated up from the rear and off the rifle.
Step 11:  Once the trigger group is freed, the magazine assembly can be pulled down and out of the rifle.
Step 12:  The barreled receiver can now be lifted out of the stock from the rear.
Albanian SKS Trigger Group
Albanian SKS trigger group.  That narrow piece pointing upward and forward is the disconnector.  Just try getting it into the right position when disassembled from the rifle!
A note on disassembly.  Once the trigger group is clean, it is tempting to cock the hammer and pull the trigger so as to get a "feel" for the trigger/sear interaction.  We can tell you from experience that this is an extremely frustrating experience.  In fact, you can probably pull the trigger all day with no movement on the hammer's part.  This is not due to any failing on the mechanism's part; quite the reverse in fact.  Upon examination, the trigger mechanism will be seen to possess a long bar that begins near the hammer pivot point, and extends upward and forward.  This is the disconnector bar, and in the assembled rifle, it extends through a very precisely milled slot in the receiver.  It is the interaction with this slot and the bolt/carrier that allows the disconnector to be positioned for proper operation of the fire control mechanism.  Outside the rifle, attaining just the right
position for the disconnector is nigh impossible.  The moral of the story?  Check trigger function with the fire control mechanism assembled into the rifle!

The SKS is known to have been made in several communist nations, including the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, the People's Republic of China, Romania, North Korea, and East Germany.  While it was speculated to have been made in Albania, that nation's self imposed isolation coupled with a healthy dose of xenophobia made this impossible to verify.  That is, until recently.  When Bryan Flanagan of Springboro, Ohio based AIM Surplus called us to tell us about "something very special," our curiosity was aroused.  Ok, maybe more than aroused - perked up enough for us to place an order just so we could see what was so special. . . . About a week later, the BBT arrived bearing the tell tale long, thin box. . . .


Albanian SKS
Albanian Simonov, left side.
External Inspection
If you've never ordered anything from AIM before, you've missed out on some of the most painstaking packaging in the entire commercial firearms industry.  Our Albanian SKS was no exception.  It was hermetically sealed in bubble wrap and then inserted into a sturdy cardboard box.  The rifle was further cushioned inside the box with a healthy dose of brown kraft paper.  The complete box was then inserted into another box, which formed a protective outer shell, protecting the inner box and its contents.  Did we say "painstaking?"  We meant something more along the lines of "obsessive," or "anal retentive" or some such clinical term.  This isn't an indictment - after all, wouldn't you rather someone took much more care with your rifle?

Then again, all the care in packaging may have been superfluous.  The SKS was packaged in what must have been enough cosmoline to affect the prices on the CCM (that's the worldwide Cosmoline Commodity Market. . . .).  Indeed, removing the cosmoline from the rifle required the better part of three hours, a detail disassembly, large numbers of clean rags, two rolls of paper towels, a can of mineral spirits, half a bottle of Windex, most of a bottle of bore cleaner, about forty patches, and the unending patience of family members, of both the biped and quadruped variety.  The bolt and carrier were in the white and polished bright, while the remaining metal was polished to a satin finish and deeply blued.  While there were some tiny blemishes on the bolt carrier, and one or two small scratches on the blued portions of the gun, the metal was easily in ninety seven percent condition, with a strong claim toward ninety eight or ninety nine percent.  The visual effect of the contrast between the blued metal and the bright bolt carrier was both striking and attractive.  The receiver was marked on the left side with a year marking indicating manufacture in 1977 and a four digit serial number.  Once cleaned of cosmoline and properly lubricated, the Albanian SKS's bolt operation was exceedingly smooth.   The fire control mechanism, including the trigger and safety were similarly smooth.  The trigger broke crisply and cleanly each time.  The bore was perfect and mirror shiny.

Albanian SKS Handguard
Close-up of the Albanian Simonov's idiosyncratic handguard.
Albanian SKS Bolt Handle
Albanian Simonov bolt handle.  Not at all the cylindrical type one is used to from Soviet and Chinese variants!
Perhaps the most idiosyncratic feature of the Albanian Simonov is the stock/handguard configuration.  The stock is a pistol grip type, which like all SKS stocks, is a one piece affair that entirely encases the lower receiver.  The forward end of the stock is grooved on the bottom so as to provide a shielded channel for the permanently attached folding "T" section bayonet.  However, the stock extends significantly further forward on the Albanian Simonovs than on other rifles of the pattern; almost to the gas block.  The handguard follows suit, and is significantly longer than that of other SKS type guns.  Integral to the handguard is a gas cylinder.  The cylinder mates with the barrel's gas block and is perforated approximately an inch from its front end.  This provides a venting mechanism for the propellant gases and prevents the system from being overcharged.  The bolt handle is also unique.  Instead of the knobbed cylinder usually found on SKS rifles, the Albanian Simonov uses a hook not unlike that found on an M1 or an AK.

A headspace check yielded no surprises, with the bolt closing easily on a Clymer 7.62x39mm GO headspace gauge (1.2713"), and failing to close on a NO-GO gauge (1.2773").  Note that these are CIP standards for the 7.62x39mm, and not necessarily those that the Albanian military or defense industry used when manufacturing the rifle.

Shooting the Albanian Simonov Type Carbine
The SKS has a reputation for being an extremely pleasant rifle to shoot.  This in large part stems from the combination of relatively high weight (almost nine pounds for a twenty inch barreled carbine) and a relatively low powered cartridge.  The 7.62x39mm is a true intermediate cartridge that develops nowhere near the recoil energies of full power rounds such as the 7.62mm NATO, the 7.9x57mm Mauser, the .303 British or the .30-06.  It also has a reputation for reliability that rivals that of the Kalashnikov series of assault rifles.  What it did not have a reputation for was gilt edged accuracy.  Given that its always fun to shoot a reliable rifle with a mild recoil, we were quite happy to pack our range bags and head out to the  NRA range in Fairfax, Virginia.

We brought along several types of 7.62x39mm ammunition to run through the Albanian Simonov.  The selection included:

Barnaul 123 grain FMJ
Wolf 123 grain FMJ
Wolf 123 grain JHP
IMI 123 grain FMJ


Albanian SKS Rear Sight
Albanian Simonov rear sight.  The 1,000 meter marking is somewhat ambitious.
As expected, accuracy was not the Simonov's strong point.  In part this stems from the nature of the sights; the rear sight is of the tangent u-notch type and is not adjustable for windage.  It is positioned relatively far from the shooting eye, above the chamber.  The foresight is a hooded post that is adjustable for both windage and elevation with the aid of a special tool.  The combination is very reliable and rugged, and well suited for the vagaries of the battlefield, but it does not make for the best showing on the target range.  The combination of a shorter sight radius, thick front sight, and our meager abilities did nothing to showcase the rifle's capabilities.  Targets were 3" black centers with 1" orange dots set at the range's maximum of 50 yards.   Group sizes ranged from 1.25" to 2.9" with the larger groups being more the norm than the exception.  The best groups of the day were turned in by the IMI ammunition.   Accuracy results are indicated below, and represent slow fire from a bench rest position:

Group Size
MOA Extrapolation
IMI 123 grain FMJ 1.25" 2.5 MOA
Barnaul 123 grain FMJ 2.20" 4.4 MOA
Wolf 123 grain JHP 2.40" 4.8 MOA
Wolf 123 grain FMJ 2.90" 5.8 MOA

Accuracy, as can be seen, was, well, a bit on the lackluster side.  While it can be argued that four to six minute of angle groups are perfectly adequate for a weapon that will generally not be used at ranges beyond 200 meters, we do not believe this to be the case.  The Simonov's contemporaries, such as the Model 1944 Mosin Nagant, the StG44, the M1 Garand, the and the MAS 44 will all turn in significantly better accuracy results.  It's not for want of manufacturing quality either; the Albanian SKS is a forged and milled affair made from the best materials and with a fit and finish second to none.  The matter bears further analysis, and it is possible that the basic system, once divorced from the antediluvian sights may prove capable of significantly greater accuracy.

Recoil and Ergonomics
Recoil was minimal at most.  This isn't surprising - the rifle is heavy and the cartridge is light.  Combine this with a stock that is almost ideally proportioned and you have a rifle that you can shoot all day with no ill effect.  The only thing we wished to change was the position of the rear sling swivel.  It is positioned on the wrist of the stock just in front of where the shooter's face sits.  If the swivel isn't consciously pushed forward, one's face sits against the swivel, which is decidedly uncomfortable.

While reasonably well balanced, the rifle feels very heavy, and is not well suited for offhand or snap shooting.  In this respect it stands in marked contrast to rifles of similar weight such as the M1 Garand or the M14.  Both of those are heavier than the Albanian Simonov, but are far better balanced, come to the shoulder and point more naturally.

Fire control surfaces were positive and easy to manipulate.  The positioning of the safety on the trigger group enabled it to be taken "off" without disturbing the firing position.  Trigger pull was a very nice two stage type with almost no slop or overtravel.

We fired approximately 800 rounds through the Albanian SKS without a hitch.  It fed, fired, extracted and ejected every round we put through it.  It never failed to lock back on the last round, and accepted both loose cartridges and strippers with equal ease.  Attempts to engender failures by holding the rifle loosely or in unconventional angles or positions were not successful.  Reliability was 100%.


The Albanian SKS satisfies two niches very nicely.  It is excellently suited for informal target shooting or "plinking", being both wonderfully reliable and chambered for a plentiful and inexpensive cartridge.    However, there are both less expensive and more accurate plinkers.   There are few, on the other hand, that possess the same air of history, intrigue and nostalgia.  These rifles are artifacts of a regime, a political system and an economic philosophy that no longer exists.  They are relics of the Cold War, of a fifty year period during which the world was poised to rip itself to shreds.  They are, in effect, pieces of history; clues, as noted above to the enigma that was communist Albania. 

In other words, one doesn't purchase an Albanian Simonov simply because one wants to kick tin cans around on a Saturday afternoon.  One purchases this rifle because it is that rare combination of mechanically interesting, technically capable, and historically fascinating.  In a larger sense, the Albanian Simonov represents an opportunity for the average American to own and, more importantly, to preserve, a piece of history. . . . and all for less than $300.00.  Moreover, with its fixed ten round magazine and lack of protruding pistol grip, the Albanian SKS is available in many jurisdictions that have banned military style self loading rifles with a number of "evil" features.  The Albanian Simonovs are a rare and interesting example of Balkan intrigue and Cold War history, and traditional European craftsmanship that should not be passed up. 

Albanian SKS Receiver Markings
The Albanian Simonov's only receiver markings, serial number and year of production.


And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for the Albanian Simonov Carbine:


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