Thursday, February 28, 2013


Captain V. Fedorov of the Russian Imperial Army (later - a general of Soviet Army) started development of the self-loading rifle in 1906. His first rifle was chambered for standard Russian 7,62x54R ammunition, held 5 rounds in fixed magazine and fired only semi-automatically. In this job Fedorov was supported by his apprentice V.Degtyarov (who latter became one of most important Soviet small arms designers of pre-WW2 generation). Fedorov rifle entered trials in 1911. In 1912 the Rifle Commission of Russian Army decided to order 150 more Fedorov rifles for further trials, and in 1913 Fedorov submitted a prototype automatic rifle, chambered for his own experimental rimless cartridge of 6,5mm caliber. This new ammunition was more compact that Russian 7,62x54R, better suited for automatic weapons (because of rimless cartridge) and has less recoil. This experimental cartridge fired pointed jacketed bullet weighting 8,5 gram at initial velocity of 860 m/s(muzzle energy 3140 Joules as opposed to 3600 - 4000 Joules muzzle energy of 7,62x54R ammunition). 6,5mm Fedorov rifles were tested late in 1913 with good results; these rifles still had fixed magazines loaded from stripper clips.Further trials and development were stopped by the start of World War One. In 1915, however, the need for lightweight automatic arms forced Russian Army to order manufacture of Fedorov automatic rifles with detachable magazines of bigger capacity. Since production of the new cartridge was out of question, it was decided to convert 6,5mm Fedorov rifles to Japanese 6,5x50SR Arisaka ammunition which was in abundance, being purchased through Great Britain along with Arisaka rifles. The change of ammunition involved only minimal changes to the rifle, including chamber insert and new range scale for rear sights. In 1916 Weapons Committee of Russian Army decided that it is necessary to order at least 25 000 of Fedorov automatic rifles. In early 1918 orders for Fedorov rifle were limited to 9000 guns, but as result of turmoil of the revolution and following Civil war only 3 200 Fedorov rifles were manufactured in the city of Kovrov between 1920 and 1924, when production was finally stopped.

Fedorov "Avtomat" - the first practical assault rifle ever adopted

It is interesting that at the time of initial orders Russian Army considered Fedorov automatic rifles as substitute light machine guns; although in actual use Fedorov rifles were used as individual armament for infantry soldiers,exactly in the tactical niche of modern assault rifles. Fedorov automatic rifles served with Russian and later with Red (soviet) Army through WW1, Civil war and until late twenties, when it was decided to retire all rifles and machine guns that used non-standard (other than 7,62x54R) ammunition, and Fedorov rifles were put into reserve storage. The last conflict that saw action of Fedorov rifles was Winter war with Finland in 1940, when some Fedorov rifles were withdrawn from storage and issued to elite units of Red Army.

One important note must be made about the name of Fedorov rifle, which is universally known as "Avtomat" (automatic). This name was apparently devised by Russian small arms expert Blagonravov during mid- or late twenties. At the time, this term was used to designate any shoulder-fired automatic weapon, be that rifle or submachine gun. Up until now "avtomat" is unofficial Russian term for automatic weapon. Today this term is most often used for weapons, generally known as "assault rifles", and therefore Fedorov's "Avtomat" can be considered as one of the world's first practical assault rifles. At the time of its peak usage (1918-1924) there was only one practical automatic rifle made in the world which fell into same tactical class - the Browning's BAR M1918. Initially Bar was intended to be used as assault rifle, with individual soldiers firing itfrom the shoulder or hip during assaults on enemy trenches; however, Browning's rifle was almost twice as powerful (comparing muzzle energy of US .30-06ammunition used in BAR and 6,5x50SR used in Avtomat) and exactly twice as heavy compared to Fedorov's rifle. Therefore BAR soon evolved into light machine gun,while Avtomat set the pattern for the whole new class of infantry weapons, which rose to its heights during late stages of WW2 and especially afterwards.

Fedorov "Avtomat" action, removed from the wooden stock. Note that barrel is in full recoil position and locking plates are lowered and bolt isunlocked (right locking plate is visible in front of the round cocking handleknob).

Finally, we shall note that Fedorov's Avtomat was not without flaws. Its recoil-operated action was sensitive to fouling; early production guns suffered from non-interchangeability of parts, including magazines; disassembly and especially re-assembly was somewhat complicated. Despite these flaws, it was a formidable and historically important weapon, and, ironically, its ballistic properties are very close to modern idea of "ideal" assault rifle and its ammunition.

Diagram showing the locking action of Fedorov avtomat. Top - bolt is locked tothe barrel, bottom - barrel is in full recoil, bolt unlocked and partiallyopened
Parts are numbered as follows: 1 - barrel; 2 - bolt; 3 - locking lug (one of two);4 - fixed lug in receiver.

Fedorov's "Avtomat" is short recoil operated, locked breech weapon which fires from closed bolt. The bolt locking is achieved by two locking plates, located at either side of the breech. Those plates are allowed to tilt slightly down and up, locking and unlocking the bolt with special lugs.The barrel is fluted to save the weight and improve cooling. Trigger unit uses a pivoting hammer to fire, and separate manual safety and fire selector levers are installed within the trigger guard. The stock is made from wood, with semi-pistol grip and additional vertical fore grip in the front of the magazine.The curved box magazine held 25 rounds in two rows, and was detachable. A special bayonet was attached to the front of the steel heat-shield below the barrel. Standard open sights with tangent rear were installed on the barrel.

Caliber: 6,5x50SR Arisaka
Action: short recoil operated
Overall length: 1045 mm
Barrel length: 520 mm
Weight: 4,4 kg empty
Rate of fire: 600 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 25 rounds



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