Vintage Weapons In a Modern War: The TT-33 Pistol In Ukraine

The fighting in Ukraine has seen a wide range of small arms in use ranging from the cutting edge to the antique. We’ve seen a number of older weapons like Mosin-Nagant rifles, M1910 Maxim machine guns and DP light machine guns in service with both sides. [We’ll take a look at those in future videso] The TT-33 pistol, a pistol which first entered service 90 years ago, is another older weapon which is again seeing action. The examples seen in theatre are likely a mix of privately owned firearms and pistols drawn from Ukrainian stores. 

Introduced in the mid-1930s to replace the 1895 Nagant revolver, over a million TTs have been produced. Designed by Fedor Tokarev the pistol became the Soviet Union’s primary side arm, seeing service during the Second World War alongside the Nagant. 

The TT-33 is a semi-automatic pistol, chambered in 7.62×25mm. It feeds from an 8 round single stack magazine and uses John Browning’s short recoil tilting-barrel action. The TT is an extremely robust pistol and remained in service well into the 1950s with the Red Army and continues in service around the world even today.  

A photo of a TT-33 shared by the TDF’s 127th Kharkiv Brigade (via social media)

Pistol use in general in the current conflict doesn’t appear to be prolific but a considerable number of combatants are frequently seen carrying side arms. Everything from Makarovs and Stetchkins to more modern Glocks and Ukrainian Fort handguns. Pistols are often carried by soldiers working in roles which frequently see them separated from their service rifle and by those who prefer to carry a secondary weapon.

While we’ve seen TT-33s in the hands of Russian and Ukrainian separatist troops in this video we’ll largely focus on Ukrainian use. At the fall of the Soviet Union a considerable amount of surplus small arms fell under Ukraine’s control, including substantial numbers of TT pistols. While not general issue it has been in service with the Ukrainian Army, National Guard and the Border Guard Service. This video definitely isn’t an exhaustive survey of TT use in Ukraine but lets take a look at some examples:

At the start of April 2022 the training department of the command headquarters of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces have published a number of high quality videos showing how to disassemble and clean the TT.

The Ukrainian YouTube channel, Boys from the Forest (ХЛОПЦІ З ЛІСУ) shared a video looking at the TT in May 2022. They concluded their video by shooting a block of explosive reactive armour with the pistol – to no effect. In June Alina Mykhailova, a medic with 1st separate mechanised battalion “Da Vinci Wolves” shared a photo of some firearms used by the unit, including amongst other things – a TT pistol.

A photo of a TT-33 shared by an International Legion volunteer (via social media)

In around August some members of a TDF unit posed with a Nestor Makhno banner and a DP light machine gun and a TT-33 pistol. A Russian news report from around Soledar, published on 5 August, featured an interview with a soldier carrying a TT in a front pouch of his load bearing equipment. On the 12 August a Ukrainian operator shared a couple of photos of his side arm, a 1945-dated, Izhevsk manufactured TT-33 with wooden grips. Date and location they were taken wasn’t shared.  

In an interesting video posted around the 25 August, a TT-33 is used to test some captured Russian steel plate. Yurii Kochevenko, an officer of the 95th Air Assault Brigade, shoots a one of the plates point black with TT he carries in a webbing holster. The 7.62x25mm round doesn’t cleanly penetrate the plate but appears to impart enough force to crack the metal.

At the end of November the Military Institute at the National University in Kyiv shared photos of cadets taking part in a shooting championship using TT pistols.

On 30 December, the 247th Separate Battalion of the TDF’s 127th Kharkiv Brigade shared a photo of Vitaly, a member of the battalion, armed with an AK-74 and on his plate carrier he has a TT in a Cytac holster. These tactical holsters for the 90 year old pistol retail for around 780 Hryvnia. On the same day Ukrainian personnel shared an update video from their position in Bakhmut, one of them is carrying a TT on his plate carrier.

A TDF officer, call sign Witch, has been seen numerous times carrying a TT-33 as her sidearm. Videos posted to her TikTok on 24 December and 12 January show it in a holster on her plate carrier, with a coil lanyard fitted. A video shared by the TDF Public Relations Service on 19 February also gives us a good look at the TT carried by Witch.

Ukrainian marksman position with a rotary grenade launcher, a UAR-10 and a TT pistol (via social media)

On 26 February 2023, the TDF’s 127th Kharkiv Brigade shared a gallery of photographs featuring the TT on their instagram page. The caption notes that: “Despite the fact that this pistol was actively used even during the Second World War, it is simple in design, reliable in operation, small in size, comfortable to carry and always ready to defeat the Russian invaders.”

A Ukrainian special operations unit shared a photo of a member of the unit sat beside a Russian prisoner while holding two TT-33 pistols, one in its original finish and the other was a camouflage paint job. Most recently at the start of March a Ukrainian marksman active around Bakhmut shared a photo of his position with a rotary grenade launcher, a UAR-10 and a TT pistol.


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Bibliography:

The Procedure for Partial Disassembly and Assembly of a TT pistol, TDF, (source)  

Rules for cleaning and lubricating weapons on the example of a TT pistol, TDF, (source)  

M110 in Ukraine

Since around September 2022 there have been a small but steady stream of sightings of M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper Systems in use with combatants in Ukraine. The rifles began appearing on the southern Kherson front, before the city was recaptured.  While the Ukrainian 7.62x51mm UAR-10 designated marksman rifles are regularly seen intermittent sighting of M110s have continued. 

From the available evidence it appears that special operations units from the Ukrainian Security Service (the SBU), the Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), the National guard and the Special Operations Forces (the SSO) are the primary users. Units operating with the rifles are believed to include Alpha Group and the 3rd and 8th Separate Special Forces Regiments, as well as a number of groups which, from the available imagery, have been difficult to link with parent units.

M110 with ATN THOR, taken during a range session, note butt extended (via Social Media)

Developed in the early 2000s by Knights Armament Company in response to the US Army’s requirement for a semi-automatic rifle to equip snipers, spotters and designated marksmen the M110 was adopted in 2008. Based on the SR-25, the 7.62x51mm rifle uses Stoner’s internal piston gas impingement system, and has a 20 inch barrel with a 1 in 11 twist. The rifle comes with a QD Knights suppressor and the initial issue optic was a Leupold 3.5–10× variable power daytime optic few of the rifles seen in use in Ukraine appear to be equipped with US issued optics. Both the US Army and USMC have issued the rifle with some variations in optics used and furniture.

A Ukrainian combatants I spoke to told me: “For a marksman, the top weapon. To work at short distances. The PBS system [meaning the integral suppressor] is standard in the kit. It is quiet compared to other rifles.” But he did note that he isn’t part of his unit’ s sniper group and has only used the rifle on the range. 

Three M110s with various optics, note suppressors not fitted, in their transit cases (via Social Media)

Most of the examples in Ukraine have the traditional fixed stock which was issued with the rifles, rather than the FDE Magpul PRS stock which is length and height which the USMC snipers have been issued. However, at least one rifle with a PRS has been seen in a photo and a least one rifle has been fitted with LUTH-AR MBA-1 stocks used on the Ukrainian UAR-10. Perhaps out of preference or replacing a damaged stock. In theatre the rifles have been seen paired with a variety of optics ranging from the original Leupold 3.5-10x variable scopes to ATN THOR 4 thermal optics and even a Trijicon 6×48 ACOG.

The earliest image of an M110 in Ukraine was shared on a Ukrainian telegram channel covering news around the city of Kherson in the early autumn of 2022. The original post is no longer available but shows a sniper in a ghillie suit unmistakably armed with an M110.

Early November saw Ukrainian operators share numerous photographs from a range session where the rifle can be seen fitted with an ATN THOR. December saw more photos shared of what is likely the same rifle, now equipped with a Trijicon 6×48 ACOG.

Two M110s photographed during a range session, one fitted with a LUTH-AR stock (via Social Media)

More photos of the same rifle fitted with the ATN THOR were posted by another operator in mid-November. Bravo Group shared a photo featuring an M110 in early December. Around the same time the F Spets instagram account shared a photo of a winter range session with an M110 visible. The same account shared a photo of three M110s in transit cases. Two of the rifles don’t have their suppressors fitted – though these may have been just removed for cleaning. The cases also show slings, various models of bipod an two have three mags apiece stored in one of the cases slots. As mentioned earlier one rifle has a PRS stock.

In late January a Ukrainian operator shared a montage video with a short clip of a range session with the M110 fitted with a 6×48 ACOG. A Japanese volunteer with the International Legion shared a photo of a scope-less M110 with his cat on 27 January. At the end of February an M110 with a LUTH-AR MBA-1 stock, possibly taken from a UAR-10 was shared. The same operator shared some new photos of M110s in March. The rifle with the LUTH-AR stock is seen again, in a photo with the logo of a group called ‘НЕПТУН’ (Neptune). In a second photo shared on 17 March we can see a pair of M110s, one without its suppressor fitted.

M110 with ATN THOR during a range session (via Social Media)

How many M110s are in use in Ukraine remains unclear but from a survey of the available imagery it appears that the number is relatively small. Multiple individuals have shared photographs of what appears to be the same rifles, not doubt because of its notoriety as a relatively rare weapon in theatre. Sources suggest that the rifles were available on a first come first serve basis when they arrived during the second half of 2022. Since they arrived they have been seen in various configurations and with numerous different optics mounted on them.


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Bibliography:

My thanks to the guys at the ShriekingDelilah instagram page and to Abraxas Spa, for their help with this article.

Ukrain Adopts New Semi-Automatic Sniper rifle: The UAR-10, TFB, (source)

M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System, DVIDS, (source)

MTs-566 In Ukraine

On 15 March a report from Russia’s Federal News Agency featured an interesting semi-automatic sniper rifle – the MTs-566. The report shows a sniper team from Wagner, Russia’s largest private military contractor, in position in Bakhmut. The date the piece was filmed is unclear but the rifle itself is rarely seen and the footage gives us a decent look at the rifle and even of it firing a couple of rounds.

The MTs-566 is produced by TsKIB SOO, the Central Bureau for Sporting and Hunting Arms at Tula. It’s chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO and uses a short stroke gas piston system. It fulfils a similar role to the US M110 series of rifles or Ukraine’s UAR-10s. The MTs-566 was developed from the OTs-129 designated marksman rifle developed for a Russian military requirement. It has a 60cm or 24in barrel, feeds from 7.62 PMags and has a full length top rail. It also has a pair of folding iron sights and a side folding stock. It has a quad-rail forend and a suppressor which partially shrouds the rifle’s barrel. In the civilian version at least the suppressor is more of an empty expansion chamber without baffles, whether that’s the case with production guns or rifles purchased for military use is unclear. If the expansion chamber can is in use here then it appears to help somewhat. TsKIB SOO list the weight of the rifle as 4.8kg or 10.6lbs and its overall length as 125cm or 49in though other sources do vary slightly. Notably, the weapon’s lower receiver is much shallower with the pistol grip positioned much higher than say on an AR-10, suggesting a different firing mechanism requiring less space than the AR-10’s hammer. 

It was displayed for the first time in 2018 and was reportedly aimed at the civilian hunting market and due to be on sale in 2020. My good friend Hrachya got a good look at one at the 2018 Russian Arms & Hunting Expo. He wrote up a detailed article on it for TFB. The rifle has some interesting features including integral folding iron sights rather than rail mounted sights – the Russian military believed that these could be too easily damaged so Tula engineers designed integral sights, the rear sight folds back into the hinge of the stock. There is also rail space attached directly to the rifles receiver, seemingly for the mounting of accessories. 

The Russian news report says the sniper team is at work in Bakhmut. The sniper describes his rifle and notes its mounted with a 20x optic.  The sniper also says that:“I work at a distance of 700-800, sometimes 1000 [meters],” He also briefly talks about the 7.62x51mm round the MTs-566 uses, noting that: it works well and that it’s a pleasant round to shoot, he also says that while smaller they have good velocity downrange. During the clip the sniper fires two rounds in quick succession while his spotter watches the target downrange. It’s unclear what ammunition they are using but the rifle is said to be capable of 1 MOA accuracy but I couldn’t find any figures from  TsKIB SOO. It’s unclear how many MTs-566s might be in use in the field but this report represents the best look at the rifle we’ve had so far.


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Bibliography:

How Wagner PMC Snipers Work in Bakhmut, RIAFAN, (source)

TsKIB SOO’s archived website c.2021 (source)

TsKIB SOO MTs-566 Rifle, TFB, (source)

MTs-566, Modern Firearms, (source)

Sniper rifle OTs-129, TopWar, (source)

My thanks top Soviet Army Fan over on twitter for some help with translation.

Black Storm Defender – Standalone GP-25 Grenade Launcher Stock

In an earlier video we looked at the Black Storm series of bullpup conversion kits for AK pattern rifles. Black Storm have also developed an interesting standalone stock for the GP-25 under barrel grenade launcher called ‘Defender’. The impetus for this is s aid to be that the Black Storm rifle kits aren’t able to support the grenade launchers so a standalone stock into which they can be mounted was developed.

The GP-25 is a 40mm grenade launcher designed in the late 1970s by the small arms design bureau based at Tula. It is an under-barrel grenade launcher designed to slide onto standard issued AK-74 pattern rifles. Its ammunition uses a high–low pressure system and has a range of up to 400m.

The most interesting feature of the GP-25 stock is that it has a recoil mitigation system. This appears to be a strong spring in the telescoping stock tube which acts as a buffer. The stock kit is made up of a telescoping stock with butt pad, onto which the grenade launcher is mounted – just as you would onto a rifle, a forward vertical grip can be attached by a clamshell pair of metal stampings with allow the grip piece to be centered and held in place by two cross nuts. There is also a press-fit pistol grip extension for the GP-25’s short grip to help improve ergonomics.

Black Storm list the stock kit without launcher as weighing 200g while the Defender with GP-25 is listed as weighing 500g (1.1lbs). Black Storm sell the V2.0 of the stock for 5,950 UAH ($162). 

A GP-25 in a Black Storm Defender stock (via War_Noir)

With some units also transitioning to NATO calibre rifles like the M4A1, MSBS GROT, FN FNC and F2000 amongst others, the ability to use the GP-25 as a stand alone weapon has proven valuable as the GP-25 can’t be mounted on Western rifles but with ammunition for the grenade launchers still plentiful they can continue to be used.

The earliest imagery I could find of the Defender in the field dates to 22 April, when  Russian reporter War Gonzo posted a short video showing a Defender captured by Separatist DPR troops in Mariupol. The DPR soldier examining it notes that the weapon doesn’t seem to work and also compared it to the GP-25 fitted to his own AKS-74.

In May a good, clear photograph of a GP-25 in a Defender stock was shared, shown fitted with a sling. In mid-May Ukrainian operators shared a video of the Defender being fired at the range.

Also in May a short video of a Defender kit being fitted to a launcher was shared – this particular example apparently requiring some hand fitting to the sheet-metal pieces that attach the forward grip.

A number of other stand alone adapters for GP-25s have also been seen in the field, In late May 2022, this example of a simpler adapter was shared online featuring a rigid stock onto which the grande launcher can be fitted. Simple adapters like this may be craft made in the field or manufactured by commercial companies.

A GP-25 in a Defender stock (via social media)

In June a short video was shared of a Ukrainian soldier firing several high-angle rounds from a GP-25 mounted in a Defender stock, we can see that the sight has been set to its highest elevation.

Ukrainian operators shared another photograph of a GP-25 in a Defender stock in September. The North Side Group shared a photograph of a GP-25 in a Defender at what appears to be a range in mid-September.

Russian operator shared photo of two standalone stocks for the GP-25 – the first is the rigid stock type seen in the photo from May. I haven’t been able to ascertain who produces this stock yet. In these photos, however, it is clear that the butt is wider than the Ukrainian design. The second stock appears to be a Black Storm Defender.

On 30 November the Belarusian volunteer unit, the Kalinouski Regiment, shared a video demonstrating the Defender, showing how its loaded, fired and carried noting that it is “designed to destroy enemy manpower located in trenches, and open terrain.”

In early January, Assistance Group – a German group active in Ukraine, shared some photographs of load out for operating in urban and woodland environments and a GP-25 in a Defender feature in both photographs.

At the beginning of February 2023 a video was shared featuring an operator with Russia’s SOBR “Granit”, he fires a couple of rounds from a GP-25 in a stand along stock. It’s difficult to make out but it appears to be a Defender, though it is not fitted with a front grip.

The ‘Lubart’ Ukrainian special operations forces unit recently shared a number of montage video of operations around Bakhmut. In it one operator loads and fires a Defender several times. The Defender in the clip lacks the pistol grip extension that comes as part of the kit.

A GP-25 Defender and a pair of customised AKs (via social media)

On 2 March a member of the Forward Observations Group shared a photo of is various weapons including a Black Storm Defender. 

Finally, most recently, a short video from a Russian anti-Putin group – the Russian Volunteer Corps, filmed during an apparent raid into Bryansk. The video featured one of the group’s leaders with a Defender slung at his side.  

It’s unclear just how many of these Black Storm Defender stock kits are being used by Ukrainian personnel but they do continue to appear regularly in imagery from the field. While unsurprisingly they appear to be favoured by units armed with Western rifles they are also being used by combatants armed with weapons which could mount a GP-25, perhaps indicating a preference for using the launcher as a stand alone weapon. 


Support Us: If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including early access to custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Black Storm Defender, Black Storm, (source)

Video demonstrating assembly of Defender, Black Storm, (source)

Thanks to the guys at Streaking Delilah, War_Noir and to Abraxas Spa for their help with imagery for this video.

Black Storm: Converting Ukraine’s AK-74s into Bullpups

We’ve looked at a number of different bullpups currently in use with Ukrainian forces, ranging from Tavors to the locally developed Malyuk/Vulcan – check out those articles/videos if you haven’t already. 

In this article/video we’re going to take a look at another Ukrainian development which converts a standard AK-74 into a bullpup. The Black Storm BS-series of kits has been around since the mid 2010s and in recent months more and more imagery of Ukrainian personnel with Black Storm bullpup AKs has been emerging. 

The Black Storm kits are compatible with both AKM and AK-74 pattern rifle and the relatively simple designs allows the conversion of a conventional rifle into the bullpup with not alterations to the base rifle. 

A suppressed AK-74 next a suppressed BS-3 illustrating the overall length difference (via Black Storm)

To convert the rifle the stock furniture is removed, the pistol grip, forend and butt. The trigger transfer bar is then put in place and the lower receiver of the chassis is then attached which holds it in place. The new lower receiver has the pistol grip already attached. The butt assembly is then slide into place – this also covers the original trigger but leaves the magazine release exposed. There is a hinged cheek piece attached to the butt assembly. This can be pivoted out the way for access into the receiver and to allow the gas piston and bolt assembly and receiver cover to be placed. Finally, a top cover is slotted into place and retained by a catch to the lower. This covers the gas tube and barrel.   

The kit appears to be made from simple sheet metal stampings and is held together by slotting into pre-existing parts of the rifle’s original receiver and a couple of screws. While the chassis obviously adds weight to the weapon it does have the benefit of shortening the rifle and also shifting its centre of balance back.

The BS3 adds no additional controls to the rifle and the weapon is manipulated using it’s existing charging handle and safety-selector lever. The BS4 was developed in 2017 and introduced in 2018, adds a number of new ergonomic features with a left-side forward charging handle which makes the rifle much easier to cock and a new thumb actuated safety – which probably acts on the trigger transfer bar. A new extension to the magazine release lever has also been added to make magazine changes easier. Black Storm describe the BS4 as: “easy to put on and take off in the field, without intruding into the weapon. It is enough to remove the butt and stock, and you can install the Bullpup with one mounting bolt.” Both the BS-3 and BS-4 have a length of Picatinny rail under the lower receiver and require an optic riser rail for mounting an optic.

A BS-3 c.November 2022 (via Black Storm)

How well an optic mounted on a rifle in a Black Storm kit retains zero is unknown but the mount is fitted over the rifle’s rear sight block and held in place by a bracket under the barrel. This is then secured by four small bolts. 

The company says that both the BS-3 and BS4 are made from 1mm stamped steel and polymer. Black Storm list the weight of an AK-74 with the BS-3 kit installed, but without a magazine, as 3.4kgs. The weight of the BS-3 kit’s components is 1.2kg. A 2018 video, however, suggests that the kit’s components weigh just over 1.6kg (not including the rifle’s receiver, barrel and bolt assembly).

Black Storm list the weight of an AK-74 with the BS-4 kit installed, but without a magazine, as 3.9kgs. The weight of the BS-4 kit’s components is 1.7kg. Once installed with either kit the rifle has an overall length of 70cm (27.5in) down from 94cm (37in) for a standard configuration AK-74. 

A video review of the kit by one of the Ukrainian soldiers who has used it in the field

Black Storm list the BS-3 at 14,250 UAH ($387) and the BS-4 at 21,500 UAH ($585). From the information available it appears that the kits are purchased by servicemen privately, to adapt their issued service rifles.

A BS-5 has been developed, it’s unclear if this is in production but it is listed on Black Storm’s site and is said to be available. It has a length of rail along its top cover removing the need for an optic riser and also allowing the use of back up iron sights. It’s price is listed at 28,500 UAH ($775).

BS-3 with an EOTECH HWS XPS2, a laser/light module and a custom green camouflage paint job (via social media)

Photos of the BT-2 were shared in January 2015 and an early version of the kit was displayed at a Ukrainian military exhibition in 2015, the BT-3 and BS-3 variants were introduced in 2017 and 2018. The guns have seen combat use since at least 2017, with Black Storm sharing photos of a BS-3e used in Donbas in July 2017.  Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, a number of photos and videos have shown the conversion kits in use with personnel from a variety of units.

During the first week of April combatants from the Georgian Legion shared a photo featuring a BS-3. In July a member of Azov Dnipro was photographed with a BS-3 outfitted with a thermal optic, bipod and suppressor. Interestingly you can see the remains of a green paint on the AK-74 receiver while the Black Storm kit has not been painted.  

In October 2022 a series of photo featuring rifles outfitted with the kits were shared. Two were shared by a member of ‘Cats Squad Special Company’ showing a BS-3 with an EOTECH HWS XPS2, a laser/light module and a custom green camouflage paint job.

A Black Storm BS-4 photographed at the front around Bakhmut, February 2023 (via Yuri)

The member of the Cats Squad shared another photo in November 2022, the rifle can now be seen fitted with a suppressor. On 7 January, photographer Viktor Fridshon took photos of Ukrainian soldiers in Krasna Hora, Donetsk. One of the soldiers had a BS-3 fitted with a micro red dot sight and painted in a green camouflage scheme. A the beginning of February a video of a Ukrainian combatant showing off his BS-3 was shared on line, in it he explains its features and demonstrated how handy it is. He has a vertical foregrip fitted and an Aimpoint red dot.

Most recently in early February, Yuri was kind enough to share some photos he took of a Ukrainian soldier’s BS-4, identifiable by the visible left-side charging handle and safety on the pistol grip. The rifle was kitted out with a vertical foregrip, suppressor, a thermal optic, laser/light module and a red dot sight on a 45-degree mount.

It’s unclear just how many of these Black Storm kits are being used by Ukrainian personnel and this brief look at examples from the field can’t be considered a representative survey. The kit itself, while heavy, does have the advantage of shortening the rifle’s overall length which is useful in some of the urban and close quarter fighting that’s ongoing. The fact the base rifle doesn’t have to be modified is also useful and means that users don’t have to physically modify issued service weapons. 


Support Us: If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including early access to custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Thanks to Yuri, the guys at Streaking Delilah, War_Noir and Abraxas Spa for their help with this video.

Ukrainian Black Storm BS-4 Bullpup Conversion Kit for AK Rifles, TFB, (source)

BS-3, Black Storm, (source)

BS-4, Black Storm, (source)

BS-5, Black Storm, (source)

Black Storm’s Facebook Page (source)

Bullpup AK47/74, Reibert.info, (source)

Right Arm of the Free World: FN FALs in Ukraine

It’s a year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and since last February we have seen a massive influx of Western weapon systems into Ukraine. We’ve seen everything from artillery to infantry weapons and the breadth of small arms has ranged from brand new Polish MSBS Grots and M4A1s to M14s. In recent months another Cold War icon has begun to appear in imagery from the fighting – the FN FAL – the ‘Right Arm of the Free World’.

To date both standard fixed stock and folding stock FALs have been seen in use, though appearances are relatively rare. The first sightings of FALs came in June 2022 when two photos of fixed stock 50.00 metric pattern Type 3 FALs were shared. The first in the second week of June and a second at the end of the month. The second photograph was posted by Ukrainian combatants near Nikolaev, Mykolaiv region. It is possible that both of these rifles may have been a civilian-owned rifle pressed into service.

The most common variant seen in open source imagery is currently the 50.61 or PARA FAL with a side-folding stock and a full length 53cm (21.0 in) barrel. The rifles could also be the visually identical 50.64, which has an alloy receiver, though these rifles are less common. All of the rifles seen in the photographs have Type 3 receivers which date them to post 1973 production. Sadly, photographs showing the weapon’s serial number ranges aren’t available.

A photograph of several crates of these still in their plastic wrapping shared in early October 2022. This is potentially the first sighting of the folding stocked rifles in Ukraine. 

In late November a photograph of five PARA FALs in the same sort of crate was shared and said to have been taken near Bakhmut.

On 10 December, Dmytro Mrachnyk, the commander of a mortar platoon with a Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force unit fighting around Bakhmut, shared his first photograph with his PARA FAL. I contacted Dmytro and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the rifle. He explained that he liked the rifle and has only had one stoppage, he said: “it jammed a cartridge case once during an intense fight, but the problem was quickly resolved.” He also explained that he really likes the 7.62x51mm round and that he had 9 magazines for the rifle.

He confirmed that the rifles are select fire and when I asked him about ammunition availability for the 7.62x51mm FALs, Dmytro said that there is some available but it can’t be found everywhere.

He said that so far he’s only seen the FALs in use with elements of his unit. He opted for the FAL, to replace his AK-74 when he joined the unit.

On the 22 December Dmytro shared a photograph of a PARA FAL which had its forend and stock covered in fur. I asked him about this and he explained that: “My sergeant decided to disguise the rifle for the winter – he partially painted it white and glued on a light fur found among the garbage in Bakhmut.”

On 30 December, Ukrainian personnel shared an update video from Bakhmut, one of the soldiers can be seen holding a PARA FAL. Several days later, in early January 2023, the same soldiers shared another short video filmed in a town square in Bakhmut, again the FAL can be seen. 

Our second sighting of a fixed stock FAL came on 31 December when another Ukrainian combatant shared a photograph holding a 50.00 FAL, with some scrim wrapped around the butt and carrying handle and a bipod attached. He wished to remain anonymous but was kind enough to share his thoughts on the FAL.

He explained that he was issued the FAL instead of a UR-10 (UAR-10/Z-10) DMR rifle and that he was the only one in his company to be issued one. An optic was issued with the rifle but no means of mounting it to the rifle. He was also only provided with two 10 round magazines. Even without an optic he said that: “As a marksman, you can work at a maximum of 500m” and it “hits quite accurately with single shots, automatic fire gives a very large spread, very loud.”

Commenting on the rifle itself he noted that he believed the rifle to date from 1976 and that while ‘cool and a little unusual’ it was “picky, she is afraid of dirt, she was in a swamp and the action almost did not work.” He also felt that it was ‘a little too heavy compared to the AK [AK74].”

He also pointed out that “it is very long and not convenient when storming buildings” he concluded: “In my opinion, it is already outdated and not practical and often very inconvenient.”

The most recent photograph of one I have seen dates from 15 January, when Dmytro posted a photo, holding his FAL aloft, with the caption ‘The unconquered Bakhmut stands’.

It’s unclear who provided the rifles to Ukraine as numerous nations around the world have fielded similar variants. In Europe these include Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and the Netherlands. Most of these, however, have long since replaced them in service. If Belgium, one of the most likely candidates, provided the rifles then they have been in store since the late 1990s.

Special thanks to Dmytro and the other anonymous Ukrainian combatant for answering my questions, Dmytro’s details are in the description box below. Thanks also to the guys at Shrieking Delilah on Instagram who have been doing great work on documenting some of the plethora of weapons turning up in Ukraine.

So far, of the three major call war battle rifles we’ve seen the M14, check out my video on that if you haven’t already, and the FN FAL but I’m yet to see any sign of HK G3s. If you spot any or anything else I should cover in a video drop me a comment below or an email


Update 06/03/23:

The social media of the Command of the United Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine shared a photograph of a member of the 103rd Separate Brigade of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force with a tricked out 50.00 FN FAL mounted with bipod and an ATN THOR thermal optic. This configuration is in line with one mentioned by the anonymous Ukrainian combatant who shared his thoughts on the FAL. This FAL with the 103rd brigade, however, has an optic mounting rail and 20-round magazines.


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Bibliography:

Identifying & Tracing the FN Herstal FAL Rifle, ARES, (source)

Authors discussions with Ukrainian servicemen including Dmytro Mrachnyk [PayPal: dmrachnik@gmail.com]

British Use of the AR-15/M16

Last year I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Cody Firearms Museum’s Arsenals of History Symposium. I’ve been working with my friend Jonathan Ferguson of the Royal Armouries on a research paper looking at British use of the AR-15 platform. My focus for the project has been the user experience, I’ve spoken to over 25 veterans from across the British military who have experience using the AR-15/M16 platform on operations. Chronologically their experiences span nearly 60 years and this somewhat informal presentation gives a brief overview of some of the operations where the rifles have been used from the Indonesian Confrontation right through to the present day.

If you’re a member or former member of the British armed forces with experience with the AR-15/M16 platform I would love to hear from you, please reach out via armourersbench@gmail.com. Your help and insights would be invaluable.

Once the project is completed I’ll put together a more in-depth video discussing the history of the UK’s use of AR-15/M16-pattern rifles.


Suppressed Sten Mk4

The MkIV is the missing link between the most utilitarian Sten, the MkIII, and the final iteration – the wooden-stocked MkV. Very little is known about the MkIVs development and more archival research is needed.

The weapon was on display at the Morphy Auctions booth. While they couldn’t disclose which collection it was on consignment from, they noted it was believe to have been brought home by what they described as ‘a US Commando’. Not the clearest provenance but more might be explained in the auction catalogue when it publishes in a couple of months’ time.

There are several variants of the MkIV – what have become known as the MkIVA and MkIVB. This weapon is one of three examples of suppressed MkIVAs, the others are in the Royal Armouries’ collection.

A suppressed Sten MkIVA with stock folded (Matthew Moss)

The Royal Armouries also has unsuppressed examples of the MkIVA and MkIVB. This is an unsuppressed MkIVA. I couldn’t find any decent resolution photographs of the MkIVB but as you can see it has its pistol grip and trigger assembly moved forward significantly.

The gun appears to have been using a Sten MkII receiver and its magazine housing is marked as such. Interestingly, it doesn’t have a MkII serial number, instead it is marked ‘3’. This is similar to one of the MkIV’s held by the Royal Armouries. On the underside of the magazine housing is a further serial number ‘R83297’. Morphy’s noted that they believed the gun, or the MkII receiver used to make it, was produced by BSA.

The trigger mechanism has been moved forward about 1 inch (2.5cm) and unlike any other Sten is enclosed by a large bow trigger guard, suitable for cold weather use with gloves. The unsuppressed MkIVA has a 3.5 inch barrel tipped with a conical flash hider, however, this example is suppressed with what Peter Laidler, in his Sten book, mentions is an MG-D 3748 silencer designed by the Armament Design Department. 

One of the most interesting differences is the shorter cocking handle slot in the receiver and the different design of cocking handle. This gun’s cocking handle is designed to be rotated 90 degrees to lock the bolt in the forward position. This is a departure from the earlier locking method of pushing the cocking handle down to lock into a hole in the other side of the receiver. 

A suppressed Sten MkIVA with stock unfolded (Matthew Moss)

The other most distinguishable feature is the folding stock. This design is shared by the A and B variants and is made of a tick steel bar which pivots. The pivot point is in line with the front of the pistol grip. To deploy or fold the stock a small spring-loaded catch is pull towards the butt, this allows the stock to be pivoted through 180-degrees to the left. While the catch locks positively, if the small coil spring which provides tension was damaged the stock would unlock making it difficult to use. The coil spring is also exposed which could allow it to snag on things or become clogged with mud.

But who was the MkIV designed for? According to FWA Hobart’s book on submachine guns the MkIV was developed for airborne troops – a prior to this paratroops had dropped with the stock removed from their Stens. Hobart suggests that the MkIV guns were abandoned because they didn’t fare well in trials due to a high, uncontrollable rate of fire. Whatever the reason they never entered service and only a handful of prototypes were made.

Thank you to Morphy Auctions for letting me take a look at the MkIV – its set to be on sale at their upcoming Firearms Auction in April. 

One thing I’m looking forward to doing this year is doing some archival work, digging into the surviving records regarding the Sten and hopefully uncovering more on the MkIV.

Close up of the right side of the Sten’s receiver (Morphy’s Auctions)

Update – 01/03/23: Morphy’s auction listing for the weapon has been published and offers some detail on the Sten’s origins and some excellent photographs. Below is an extract detailing the Sten’s provenance:

“This particular specimen was issued to an American officer who was training in England and was intended to be landed in Japan as part of pre-invasion operations in 1945. According to the officer at the time of the gun’s purchase, when the invasion was called off the authorities never asked for the gun’s return. The officer brought the gun back to the United States and subsequently registered it with the BATF.”


Bibliography:

Special thanks to my friend Hrachya Hayrapetyan for helping with the ad-hoc filming of this video!

Entries in the Royal Armouries collection catalogue: 1 2 3 4

STEN MkIV (Prototype), Historical Firearms.info, (source)

Experimental STENs, Firearms Curiosa, (source)

The Sten Machine Carbine, P. Laidler, (2000)

Pictorial History of the Submachine Gun, F.W.A. Hobart, (1971)


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Ukrainians Training with Bulgarian Arsenal AKs

At the end of January a series of photographs taken by Canadian Army photographers showed Ukrainian troops being trained at sites in the UK as part of Operation Unifier. Unifier is a training mission carried out by the Canadian Armed Forces with training currently taking place in the UK alongside the multi-national training mission Operation Interflex.

What is interesting about the new imagery is that the Ukrainian troops in training are all armed with Bulgarian-made Arsenal AK-pattern rifles. This is the firs time this particular AK has been seen in use. If you saw our earlier videos looking at the other types of AK-pattern rifles procured by the UK for their training of Ukrainian personnel you’ll have seen Zastava M70s, Chinese Type 56s and East German MPi KMS-72s are in use.

It’s unclear who procured the rifles but given the training is being undertaken in the UK, they were probably procured by the UK Ministry of Defence and like the other AK-pattern rifles being used for training they will probably remain in the UK to be used in the training of future Ukrainian personnel. 

A soldier with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, instructs Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class as part of Operation UNIFIER in the United Kingdom, on January 26, 2023. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The Arsenal AKs were seen for the first time in photographs taken on the 23 January, during a lesson on field craft. The Ukrainian troops can be seen taking notes with the rifles slung at their sides. 

The rifles appeared in photographs again  on 25 January, when Canadian medics were instructing Ukrainian recruits on the application of tourniquets. One of the rifles was seen slung over the shoulder of a Ukrainian soldier rendering aid. 

Subsequently on 26 January, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were photographed instructing Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class. The class saw Ukrainian troops learning how to operate NLAWs, grounded on the floor next to them are their Arsenal AKs.

A series of images from a counter-explosive training session on searching and spotting mines and booby traps showed a platoon of Ukrainian trainees equipped with the Bulgarian AKs.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles seen in all of the photographs appear to be basic model rifles, none of the weapons have railed handguards or Picatinny on the receiver cover for mounting optics. This suggests that they are either AR-M9Fs or AR-M14Fs (at least according to Arsenal’s website). The ‘F’ refers to the folding tube metal stock which helps identify the rifles as Arsenal-made AKs. The characteristic flash hider and furniture also identify them as Arsenal rifles.  It is difficult to identify what calibre the rifles are chambered in as the Ukrainians are never seen with magazines loaded into their weapons (as they’re unnecessary for the training being carried out). 

The AR-M9 and M14 are bother available chambered in 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm. Logical arguments could be made for either calibre: the UK MoD has confirmed that other AK-pattern rifles that have been procured are chambered in 7.62x39mm so this chambering would give them ammunition commonality with other AK-pattern rifles in use. Alternatively, the UK has ample stocks of 5.56x45mm and this would also more closely mimic the 5.45x39mm AK-74 rifles the Ukrainians are likely to be issued when they return home. Either way they are AK-pattern rifles which enable training on manual of arms, handling and firing with similar weapons the trainees will probably be equipped with.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles have black polymer furniture and appear to be either new or in excellent condition with few visible scratches or scrapes to the finish or furniture. Notably each rifle has green tape around the base of the folding stock onto which a rack number has been written in black marker pen. 

Addendum:

As is sometimes the case with writing these articles and videos while in the process of research and production new source material emerges. On 1 February, the UK MoD shared a series of new photographs from the training of Ukrainian troops. In these a number of the Arsenal AKs were seen fitted with blank firing adapters (BFAs). This is interesting for a number of reasons – previously we have seen Ukrainian trainees using British L85A2s with BFAs for the elements of their training which required blank fire. We have covered this in an earlier article/videos – it requires additional, and largely unnecessary training on the use of the British bullpup.

Australian soldiers demonstrate section level attacks and how to handle captured enemy personnel to Ukrainian recruits during the first rotation of Operation Kudu in the United Kingdom. (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

BFAs for the 7.62x39mm AK pattern rifles procured earlier by the UK appear to have been deemed either unsafe for use in British training areas or BFAs and blank 7.62x39mm ammunition haven’t been readily available. The new photographs show that BFAs are in use with these Bulgarian AKs – likely because they were procured with the rifles direct from the manufacturer.

These UK MoD photographs also show the rifles with magazines – which indicate the rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm. As I theorised earlier the UK has ample stocks of both blank and ball 5.56x45mm which would simplify the logistics of training the nearly 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers expected to be trained in the UK in 2023.

Australian Army soldiers from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, receive weapon handling lessons from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps as part of the “train the trainer” portion of Operation KUDU in the United Kingdom (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The Australian Army has also shared a large number of photographs from their involvement in the training of Ukrainian troops in the UK. The Australian military have dubbed their effort Operation Kudu. They describe Kudu as: “A contingent of up to 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are deployed on Operation KUDU to assist with the UK-led and based training program.” The Australian photographs show the training and familiarisation of Ukrainian troops with the Arsenal AKs with both Australian and British instructors seen in the photographs.

An Australian Army soldier from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, assists Ukrainian recruits with cleaning their rifles during Operation KUDU (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The photographs feature members of the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and senior instructors from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps, instructing trainees in the classroom before undertaking some fire and movement drills with blanks.


Update 08/02/23:

The Canadian Ministry of National Defense has released a short video showing some of the training Canadian personnel in the UK are delivering to Ukrainian troops as part of Operation Unifier (the Canadian element of the international Operation Interflex.)

The video focuses on some of the field exercises and urban training being provided and heavily features Bulgarian Arsenal AR-M9F (5.56x45mm) AK-pattern rifles.

Update – 14/02/23: A video shared by the Australian Department of Defence showed Australian troops training Ukrainians with Arsenal AKs during Operation Kudu.

Update 15/02/23: The Danish Army has also shared several photographs of Danish troops training Ukrainians in the UK, Arsenal AKs can again be seen in the photographs (fitted with BFAs).


Support Us: If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including early access to custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Assault Rifles, Arsenal, (source)

Operation Unifier, Canadian Armed Forces, (source)

Operation Kudu, Australian Defence Force, (source)

Makeshift Fire Extinguisher RPG Warhead

In December images of Chechen volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces began to feature an interesting craft-made weapon – an RPG munition made from the body of a small fire extinguisher. 

These RPG-warheads improvised from fire extinguishers have appeared in numerous videos and photographs of the Sheikh Mansur Battalion. The battalion was formed back in 2014 and is made up of exiled Chechens who reject Russian control of their region. The battalion itself is named after an 18th century Chechen military leader Sheikh Mansur. The battalion had disbanded in 2019, but reformed in March 2022 following the invasion. Since then they have reportedly seen action during the Battle of Kyiv, in the Donbas, during the Battle of Sievierodonetsk and most recently in the fighting around Bakhmut. 

There’s a long history of improvised warheads adapted for launch from the RPG-7 but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a fire extinguisher body used, at least in this phase of the fighting in Ukraine. 

A section of the Sheikh Mansur Battalion, with a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Sheikh Mansur Battalion)

It appears that the fire extinguisher body has been emptied and filled with whatever explosive and shrapnel material is readily available and then adapted to fit the sustainer motor and booster assemblies. They appear to use V-429 or V-429E point detonating fuzes. These fuzes were developed for use on high explosive (HE) projectiles used by various Combloc weapon systems including the T-12 and MT-12 100mm anti-tank guns and the 115mm main gun of the T-62 and 125mm main guns of the T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90 series tanks. Some other fuzes appear to be used too but conceivably any impact fuze would work. The inertia armed fuzes normally arm within 5-15m of the muzzle once fired from a conventional barrel. It appears that the fuzes have been epoxied into place.

Close up of a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via social media)

How the mass and shape of the improvised round impacts the velocity of the warhead once it is fired is unclear. But Bild correspondent Bjorn Stritzel, who recently met with members of the Battalion while writing an article about them, told me that the range of the warheads is about 100m. He noted that the Chechen’s have found them to be ‘very effective in Bakhmut’ and that ‘apparently its firepower surprised RF entrenched in houses’ according to radio chatter picked up by the Battalion. 

While we don’t have a perfect close up of them the extinguishers themselves appear to be small 2kg (or 5lbs) units which contain powder. From a quick survey of some Ukrainian websites which sell the extinguishers, the price of these ranges between 300 and 500 Hryvnias (or $8 & $14).

A member of the Sheik Mansur Battalion demonstrates a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Sky News)

The fire extinguisher rounds are probably being used as anti-personnel weapons which would be fitting for the sort of fighting occurring around Bakhmut where the majority of the imagery is said to be coming from. The thin steel body of the extinguisher may provide suitable fragmentation or depending on the metallurgy it may just rupture. According to Stritzel the filling of the warheads is around 50% explosive and 50% shrapnel material. He also noted that the Chechen’s described the warhead as being “three times more powerful than a normal OG-7V [fragmentation RPG-7 round]”. 

Two craft-made fire extinguisher munitions, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Bjorn Stritzel)

The first video featuring the improvised warheads was published by the Sheikh Mansur Battalion on their social media in around mid December. In a Sky News report from the 22 December, a member of the Battalion demonstrates how one of the extinguisher warheads is loaded. A video posted to the Battalion’s social media on the 27 December showed a number, perhaps four, of the improvised rounds stacked ready for use with booster assemblies attached. 

On the 31 December, the Battalion shared a photograph of a group of eight Battalion members, one of which can be seen holding an RPG-7 with one of the improvised extinguisher rounds loaded. During the second week of January, a short, undated, video of an individual in a fighting position firing one of the craft-made warheads was shared. We get some idea of the weight of the round in this clip.

The most recent video (see stills above), posted on TikTok, on the 12 January, shows two of the improvised munitions being fired. These warheads follow the same design but differ slightly in that the fire extinguisher body appears to have been cut open at the centre and then welded back together. Perhaps this is done to easier fill the munition or perhaps to shorten a longer extinguisher body. For the first time we also get to see the explosion of the rounds down range. This video again gives us a good indication of the weight of the round from the movement of the shooter. It also illustrates the distances the rounds can travel. Notably it appears to be used here against a Russian field work rather than against a building.

With fighting continuing in Bakhmut we are likely to see more of these improvised fire extinguisher rounds in use, especially if they are as effective as the Sheikh Mansur Battalion suggest.


Support Us: If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including early access to custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

V429 Fuze, CAT UXO, (source)

V429E Fuze, CAT UXO, (source)

‘They prefer death to Russian torture’, Bild, (source)

The Chechens fighting Putin in Ukraine, Sky News, (source)