November 2000:

SR-41 7.62x25mm Rifle

SR-41 Type:  Air cooled, magazine fed, self loading rifle
System of Operation:  Blowback
Caliber:  7.62x25mm
Capacity:  35 round detachable box magazine or 71 round drum magazine
Sights, front: Post, adjustable for windage and elevation
Sights, rear:  Rocking "L" adjustable for 100m and 200m ranges
Length: 38"
Barrel length:  16"
Weight (loaded, 35 round magazine):  9.26 lbs
Weight (loaded, 71 round magazine): 12 lbs
Suggested Retail Price:  $750.00
You remember the propaganda photo.  It's the one of the World War Two Soviet infantryman.  He has a Joe Stalin mustache and the weather-beaten, wizened look of a veteran.  His eyes, however, have a kindly, avuncular quality.  The defender of the Motherland and her people:  Strong warrior in battle, and gentle protector in peace.  Around his neck he wears the weapon that came to symbolize the Soviet soldier, much as the M1 Garand did the American and the Sten the British:  The PPSh submachinegun.  The PPSh isn't pretty or sophisticated, with its crudely turned wooden half stock, ventilated sheet metal barrel jacket, and drum magazine.  Despite this simplicity, the PPSh presents a most formidable appearance, and boasts a reputation for reliability under the most adverse of conditions.

The Soviet Union adopted its first submachinegun, the Pistolet Pulyemet Degtyareva Model 1934 (PPD34) in that year.  Designed by a design team led by Vasily Degtyarev, the PPD34 bore a close resemblance to the earlier Bergmann MP18,I.  Both were blowback operated designs using drum magazines feeding through a linear extension to the drum.  Modifications to the PPD34 in 1938 produced PPD34/38.  In turn, the PPD34/38 was followed by the PPD40 in 1940.  The PPD40 incorporated a drum magazine that did away with the extension, and thus mounted the drum much closer to the gun's centerline.  Production runs of all the Degtyarev system guns were comparatively small.  As a result of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, there was a frantic scramble to produce submachineguns in record quantities.  A new, much simplified design, the work of Georgi Shpagin was adopted toward the end of 1941.

The new design, known as the Pistolet Pulyemet Shpagina Model 1941, or PPSh41 was manufactured largely of unfinished pressings and stampings roughly welded together.  The gun's hallmark was simplicity, and in a life or death struggle for national survival, appearance counted for little.  Production was carried out in small peasant workshops, often with little or no machining capability.  Barrels were made from the same rifled blanks as those for the Mosin-Nagant rifle, each rifle barrel yielding two PPSh41 barrels.  It had a wooden half stock without any forward handgrip.  The ventilated barrel jacket extended past the muzzle to form a rudimentary form of compensator.

The basic operation of the PPSh is quite simple.  A loaded magazine is inserted from the bottom, and locked in place against the latch at the rear of the magazine well.  Once the magazine is in place, the bolt can be drawn to the rear and released.  As the gun fires from an open bolt, the bolt will remain to the rear until the trigger is pressed.  There are two safety notches on the receiver along the bolt handle slot, one at the front and one at the rear.  By positioning the bolt at either position and pressing the bolt handle catch inward the bolt can be locked in either position.  Pressing the trigger releases the bolt, which moves forward, stripping a round from the magazine, chambering and firing.  The case is forced rearward under pressure from the expanding propellant gasses, pushing the bolt backwards.  As the bolt moves to the rear, it extracts and ejects the case upwards through the ejection port in the top of the receiver.  As long as the trigger remains depressed, the action will continue to cycle and fire.

While this sort of mechanism is great for a fully automatic military weapon, it has its drawbacks for the average firearms enthusiast.  Specifically, since the arm is a machinegun, it is very difficult and expensive to legally own.   Fortunately, this problem has recently been remedied, as PPSh41's built on semiautomatic receivers are now being offered for sale in the United States.

We first heard about the semiauto PPSh41, dubbed the SR-41, in February 2000.  Very interested, and very curious about these new offerings, we ordered one for evaluation from the sole distributor, Monroe, North Carolina based Inter Ordnance of America.   We were told that the guns were being reworked owing to some previously unknown technical issues, but would be available in four to six weeks time.  Little did we know that we were in for a herculean test of patience! (How easy is it for YOU to wait for a new gun to arrive???)  Four to six weeks became four to six months, which then became seven months, which then became eight.  Lo and behold, one day in early October, a suspiciously weighted package arrived from Inter-Ordnance.  Inside was our long awaited SR-41.

Inter Ordnance does not actually manufacture SR-41's at this time, and the gun we received was not made at the Inter-Ordnance facility.  After obtaining PPSh41  parts sets from eastern european sources, Inter-Ordnance supplies them to Blue Ridge Precision Gunworks, of Fort Mill, South Carolina.  Blue Ridge took over the manufacturing end of SR-41 from AA Arms of Monroe, North Carolina.  The new semiautomatic upper receivers (the serial numbered "firearm" for legal purposes) were made by AA Arms, and completely new fire control system are installed by Blue Ridge.  This is done to ensure that the new gun is capable of only semiautomatic fire.  Key differences between the PPSh41 and the SR-41 are:

Despite these differences, our first instinct was to run out and buy a Soviet infantryman's uniform.  This gun, more than many others we've seen in a long time, evokes a sense of history that is undeniable.  The wooden half stock, while in excellent condition, bears marks of many years of use, and with a drum magazine affixed, one can practically hear the rumble of T-34's, the staccato of MG42's and DP's, and urgent shouts in Russian.

Physical Inspection
The SR-41 came with a 35 round stick magazine which was in very good to excellent condition, an almost new 71 round drum magazine, a PPSh41 sling, two piece cleaning rod, screwdriver, and an original Soviet steel oil bottle, with a fair amount of original Soviet oil left in it!

All metal parts are nicely finished in a matte black, with the exception of the bolt catch, which is left in the white.  The original wooden half stock, while obviously not new, is in excellent condition, and is heavily varnished.  The "L" shaped rear flip sight moved easily.  That being said, there is no finesse about the SR-41.  It has all the proletarian crudity of its PPSh41 predecessors.  The reciprocating parts do not move smoothly - one can feel lateral torque on the bolt as it is pulled to the rear.  This should not be considered a detriment; in this respect the SR-41 is completely faithful to the PPSh41's design features.  In both, the lower receiver is merely a trough into which the bolt loosely fits and reciprocates - there are no guide rails save for the ejector notch.  Indeed, the loose tolerances contributed greatly to the PPSh41's excellent reputation for reliability.  The safety was simple to operate, being easily manipulated with the trigger finger into both the on and off positions.  When on, the trigger was securely locked.

On inspection, the bore looked bright, shiny, and nearly new, with sharp, crisp rifling.  Some debris remaining from the factory test firing remained, but was easily cleaned out with a minimum of effort.  Our next goal was to check the rifle's headspace.  For this task, we obtained a set of .30 (7.63mm) Mauser headspace gauges (a GO and a NO-GO) from Clymer Manufacturing Company of Rochester Hills, Michigan.  The gauges are manufactured to CIP standards (the CIP is the European analog to SAAMI), with the GO gauge measuring .8077" from the base to the .350" datum line and the NO-GO  .8177".  While the .30 Mauser and 7.62x25mm are not necessarily synonymous, the differences between them are largely ballistic, so the .30 Mauser gauges are sufficient for the task.

Checking headspace on a firearm without a locking breech mechanism (the SR-41 is a blowback operated firearm) requires a bit of thought.  This is because rather than closure, one is seeking to determine see if the gauge has arrested the forward movement of the bolt prior to the point it reaches on an empty chamber.  To do this, we closed the bolt on an empty chamber and marked witness lines with lacquer pencils on two locations:  One line went across the top of the upper receiver by the ejection port and across the portion of the bolt visible through the port, the other went across the upper receiver and onto the bolt handle.  Our test case defined proper headspace as noted above - installation of the GO gauge having the same effect on bolt position as an empty chamber, while the insertion of the NO-GO gauge leaving the bolt slightly further to the rear.   The SR-41 passed the test successfully:   The witness lines matched up perfectly with the GO gauge, and indicated a slightly rearward positioning of the bolt with the NO-GO gauge installed.

After the physical inspection, we disassembled the gun for cleaning prior to taking it to the range.  Disassembly procedures for the SR-41 differ considerably from the PPSh41.  The PPSh41 takedown involved pressing the upper receiver end cap forward to disengage a locking tenon, and then pivoting the receiver at the forward pin.  Once done, the bolt, recoil spring, and barrel could be pulled out by hand.  On the SR-41, the end cap is fixed in position.  Disassembly is effected by driving the forward pin out of the receiver with a drift.  The upper receiver assembly can then be pulled forward and off the lower, exposing the bolt which can then be removed.  The barrel cannot be removed from the upper receiver assembly.  Happily, the gun cleaned up quickly, and we were ready to go to the range.

Lest we be remiss in our reporting, we must inform the readership that all was not sweetness and light with the SR-41.  There were a couple of "warts" that marred an otherwise nicely executed reproduction of this historically significant submachine gun.  To begin with, the example we received was lacking a buttplate. Not that it had fallen or broken off.  It had simply not been installed during the production process.  Inter-Ordnance's reaction to this was an anguished "Oh my Lord!" and the immediate shipment of an as-new condition buttplate and screws.  These installed in about 30 seconds.  Additionally, there were a couple of production omissions which, while irrelevant to function, rankled our historical sensibilities.  The original PPSh41 has a forward sling swivel brazed to the barrel jacket a few inches forward of the chamber area.  This was missing on the SR-41.  Likewise, the PPSh41 has a stamped metal front sight protector which is welded to the barrel jacket. This too was omitted from the SR-41.  Finally, we found the front sight to be loose in its base.  This is probably more a testament to Soviet wartime workmanship than to any inherent fault in the SR-41, and is of little consequence, as it is quickly and easily fixed with either a small dab of blue LocTite or a blow on a staking punch.

Shooting the SR-41
Despite the "warts," we were enthusiastic about shooting the SR-41.  Function testing indicated that it should work well.  Additionally, there's always the cachet that comes with shooting the "coolest" gun on the range.  For cool it's hard to beat a World War Two subgun with a 71 round drum magazine!  And so, off to lovely Fairfax and the NRA range we went.

We brought along 7.62x25mm ammunition with which to test the SR-41.  The earliest versions of the gun, manufactured for Inter-Ordnance by AA Arms, had been unable to withstand the high pressures and velocities generated by military surplus, and other high velocity 7.62x25mm ammunition.  We made sure to use a variety of loadings, seeking to replicate the points of failure as faithfully as possible.  To this extent, we brought along the following ammunition:

New Generation Ammunition, 86 grain FMJ, rated at 1,450 fps
Czech military ammunition made in 1951, 88 grain FMJ, rated at 1,450 fps
Red Chinese military 88 grain FMJ
Sellier & Bellot 7.63mm Mauser, unknown velocity.

To make best use of our time at the range, we loaded several drum magazines prior to departure.  The drum magazine deserves special attention as it is a unique mechanism unfamiliar to most firearms enthusiasts.  The magazine is a large, short cylindrical affair approximately six inches in diameter and an inch and a half high with feed lips at the top and a spring loaded spindle in the center.  Pressing the spindle from rear to front allows a hinged retaining plate to pivot down and out of engagement with the spindle.  The cover, which forms the front of the magazine body, can now be removed.  Inside the magazine is a follower which is propelled by a centrally mounted clockwork spring.  The follower works in conjunction with a spiral cartridge track to position the rounds.  To load the magazine, the clockwork spring is rotated seven or eight "clicks" in a counterclockwise direction until it cannot be rotated any further.  Cartridges are then carefully inserted, nose up, along the track.  It is useful to have a small screwdriver to tip up cartridges that fall over on their sides while loading.  Once fully loaded, the cover is replaced.  The spindle is pressed once again, serving to allow the retaining plate to be repositioned and to release the spring to press the follower against the cartridges.

Initial Shooting
Initial results were not encouraging.  Two major problems with the SR-41 manifested themselves almost immediately:

First, the drum magazines had a tendency to work themselves out of the gun during shooting.  This was  directly attributable to the crude wartime machining of the magazines' locking tabs and fifty year old receiver latch springs. As a result, the locking mechanism was unable to support the four pound weight of a loaded drum magazine.  This problem should be easily remedied by replacing the latch spring with one of a heavier weight.  This problem did not manifest itself with the 35 round stick magazines.

Second, and more importantly, we noticed that the hammer would follow the bolt forward almost all the time.  We were never able to get the gun to fire more than four rounds consecutively before this problem manifested itself.  We discontinued testing when the gun began to double (fire fully automatically for two or more shots).

While these problems clearly made our test sample unacceptable, they should not constitute a blanket indictment of SR-41's as a class.  The magazine issue has more to do with the quality of Soviet wartime machining than any inherent flaw with the SR-41.  Moreover, it is something that is readily overcome.  The hammer-follow problem has rather interesting permutations.  When we made Inter-Ordnance aware of our test results, they reacted with no surprise.  The problem had been reported minutes before, and a solution is under development.  Specifically, the hammers that Blue Ridge used in the initial run of SR-41's were modified AK-47 hammers produced in the United States.  Current batches of SR-41's will be manufactured with newly made hammers with geometry specifically designed to meet the SR-41's unique needs.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the SR-41's problems should not have been unexpected.  While it looks like a PPSh41, it is not.  In fact, it is an entirely new firearm living within a PPSh41 lower receiver.  As with any new firearm, from any manufacturer, to include Mauser, Remington, Ruger, Browning, and Winchester, there will be teething problems and bugs.  What one would have hoped is that Blue Ridge Precision Gunworks would not sent beta releases to the public, but would have conducted thorough and complete product testing prior to releasing the guns for sale through Inter-Ordnance.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  While the majority of guns shipped to the public function without problem, there are a number that require repair.  We are pleased to report that Inter-Ordnance reacted immediately and positively to take control of the problem, issuing a UPS call tag for the rifle so that the necessary repairs could be made.

We cannot make a recommendation about the SR-41 at this time as it is very much a product in development.  It is unfortunate that additional time must pass prior to full scale production of an excellent product, but that is the nature of product development.  We fully expect the last "bugs" in the fire control system to be worked out shortly, and await the repaired rifle with eager anticipation.  Our limited experience leads us to believe that the SR-41 will be a great deal of fun to shoot, as well as one of the most interesting pieces in any collection.  CRUFFLER.COM will publish a new product review of the improved SR-41 as soon as one becomes available.

What In Blue Blazes Is A Cruffler??
What Do You Do At Cruffler.Com?
Products & Services
Shops Specializing In C&R Firearms
Links Of Note
Contact Cruffler.Com
Becoming a Cruffler
Secure Communications with PGP
Results >From Cruffler Matches One   And Three And A Consolidated  Match Database!
The Best in South American Military Surplus from JLD Enterprises, Featuring M1911A1 Style .45's!
Paying by Credit Card with!