Shooting The Tokarev


by R,K, Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

April 25, 2006




For a handgun manufactured in the millions, the Tokarev is not  well known in America. Yet, it should be better recognized. Here is a handgun that is a cousin to our own Colt 1911. The Tokarev obviously operates on Browning principles, but closer examination shows it is definitely patterned after earlier Browning efforts, notably the Colt Model 1903. The Soviet Socialist Republic was late in adopting a semi automatic pistol. The Nagant revolver was standard issue, but the Mauser broomhandle and its Bolo variant were also well received. (Bolo is short for Bolshevik.)

Fedor Tokarev presented his pistol to the Revolutionary War Council in 1931. Favorably impressed, the council ordered 1,000 pistols for testing. The pistol was adopted as the 7.62mm pistolet obrazets 1930 goda or 7.62mm 1930 Model, also known as the TT 30. The pistol featured an exposed hammer with a solid burr, fixed sights, and definite Browning type operation and take down. The caliber has been subject to some discussion.

There are those who have stated the .30 caliber pistol may have been adopted because the same reamer could of been used for lining rifle and pistol barrels. This does not make a lot of sense to me, I prefer to think the popularity of the 7.63mm Mauser cartridge and the Broomhandle pistol in Russia was the reason for adoption of this caliber. However, this may not be completely accurate either as the Tokarev pistol used a more lightly loaded cartridge. In any case, the Tokarev cartridge shot flat at long range, had adequate penetration of military web gear, and was an acceptable submachinegun cartridge.

The pistol was given high marks in service for reliability and handling. It was light enough, and when a pistol was mainly a badge of office, used to direct troops and assert authority, it was as good as any other.  The pistol underwent several changes during its long production life. Early pistols had a removable backstrap which was omitted in later production. Locking lugs were simplified as well. While Tokarev may have been aware of the Browning High Power, he did not go to angled camming surfaces but kept the swinging link of the original Browning designs. A removable, separate barrel bushing was also maintained. An improvement over the Browning design was the ability to remove the pistol's lockwork from the receiver. A step backwards was the elimination of any manual safety. The pistol is not safe to carry hammer down on a live round. The 1911 type half cock notch is maintained.

Evidently the pistol gave good service during the Great Patriotic War. After the cessation of hostility, the pistol was manufactured in many satellite nations. These included Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Egypt. The Chinese and North Korean armies used the TT 30 in great number. Arab produced 9mm caliber Tokarevs known as the Tokegypt were held in great esteem by the Baeeder Meinhoff gang. These early terrorists were by and large Soviet sponsored, often trained at the infamous Patrice Lumumba in Moscow. These groups used the Makarov, CZ 52 and several Tokarev variants.

It was inevitable, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, that communists in need of hard cash would sell their pistols to America. It was found the Tokarev was much more saleable in 9mm Luger caliber. It was a simple matter to rebarrel the pistol and supply appropriate magazines. The majority of Tokarev pistols for sale in the United States are Chinese variants in either caliber. A few Polish and other guns have been imported, including one curious version with a high capacity magazine. Upon examining the pistols, it is obvious that certain concessions were made to the US ‘points’ requirements for importation. An example is the Chinese 9mm that is the subject of this report. In order to secure approval for import-the import system giving points to good safety and target sights so as to preclude importing ‘Saturday Night Specials’-the pistol has been fitted with a manual safety. It goes the wrong way for rapid manipulation and only blocks the hammer, but it is there. Some are trigger locks, and there are several types. For practical purposes I ignore them and never carry a Tokarev chamber loaded.

The grips are black plastic with the stylized Chinese star very evident. The pistol appeared as new. The fit and finish were adequate if not up to the example of the several Viet Cong Tokarevs I have examined. Two eight round magazines accompanied the pistol.

Ammunition selection was not difficult, as inexpensive 9mm Luger ammunition is plentiful. Feed reliability has always been good with the original caliber. I have successfully handloaded both hollowpoint and flat softpoint ammunition in the .30 Mauser as we used to call it. The bottle neck round feeds any reasonable bullet style easily. This is the reason most military calibers are bottlenecked. I did not expect the Tokarev to feed hollowpoint ammunition, and my assumptions proved correct. There are several hollowpoint loads which have an excellent reputation for feeding in military handguns. They achieve this by means of a rolled over, round nose like feed profile. The bullet ogive is quite round. These rounds usually stopped on the feed ramp and would not feed the first round. I did manage to hand feed the first cartridge into the chamber and get a full magazine once, but this is not to be counted on. The Tokarev feeds ball ammunition and nothing else.

The Tokarev is heavy enough for a 9mm Luger but has a slim grip. You would expect it to recoil sharply. The opposite was true. This is a very mild shooting gun. To begin the evaluation, I lightly lubed the gun with Birchwood Casey gun oil and set a Kandel instant recognition target at ten yards. In keeping with the budget theme of the test, I loaded both magazines with Wolf Russian ball ammunition. All I knew about the ammunition was that it was cheap. After the test, my opinion was modified. This is affordable, inexpensive ammunition that gives good results. I fired fifty rounds for function. Every round fed, chambered, fed and ejected normally. The sights were well regulated, with most groups clustering into an inch or a little more at this range. The Tokarev trigger compression has shown six pounds on my RCBS trigger pull gauge. I found it free of creep and easy to use well. Next I fired at a number of Law Enforcement, Incorporated silhouette targets. At combat ranges, five to fifteen yards, the Tokarev gave excellent results. It was quite easy to put a full magazine into the X ring of a man sized target, even firing with one hand. The pistol is mild to fire, well balanced, and fast handling.

For the final test I settled to the bench rest and fired three five shot groups with Black Hills 124 grain full metal case ammunition. I was rewarded with a best effort of five rounds in a three inch group. This pistol is more than accurate enough for casual shooting or even defense if it were called upon.

As a service gun, the Tokarev was superior to most European pistols of its day.

It has a reputation for reliability equal to other Browning pistols. It has several drawbacks as a personal defense gun.  Feed reliability is good in the original caliber, but the pistol could be considered for defense use only with special loadings. A sixty grain hollowpoint at fourteen hundred feet per second might serve, but I prefer a subsonic .45 caliber cartridge.  In 9mm Luger, the pistol will not feed ANY type of hollowpoint. This would be a straightforward modification to cure this defect. The feed ramp could be polished and recontoured this is not something most users will wish to do on a budget pistol.  For the fellow who has a good reliable Tokarev—and I am pretty certain unserviceable Chinese variants have been delivered- the Cor Bon PowRBall load is the only choice. This 100 grain bullet breaks 1,400 fps or a bit more from most 9mm pistols. The bullet is completely roundnose in profile, with a polymer ball to insure perform feed and also to instigate expansion as this ball is forced into the bullet on impact. Expansion testing shows the PowRBall load a very good one.

So, back to the wall, the Tokarev might meet a minimal defensive standard. However, the safety is an insurmountable problem.

I find the Tokarev an interesting pistol, one that the student of handgun history should have in his collection.


In the original caliber,  Winchester now offers  7.62 Tokarev loadings, an excellent choice for informal target practice. The Tokarev is a fun pistol, ruggedly made if not usually executed with good fit and finish.

Type  Single Action
Caliber 7.62 x 25 mm or 9mm Luger
Sights Fixed
Barrel length 4.5"
Overall length 7.7"
Weight 30 ounces
Magazine Capacity 8


R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


This young solider sizes up the Tokarev.  “All right, Comrade. KGB. Drop ze bomb.”



Classic burr hammer.



Definitely Browning in profile.



The pistol handled quickly, reloaded faster than most handguns of its day. A winner, suitable for use by the Proletariat.