Malta’s Service Rifle: The AK

A comment in my recent video about the Royal Bermuda Regiment’s use of the Mini-14 sparked my interest. It noted that Malta, another small island military, uses the AK. I wasn’t aware of this so I decided to do some research.  

Malta’s military, known as the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) is roughly the size of a brigade. In recent years the Armed Forces of Malta have had a strength of between 1,600 and 1,800 personnel. It has three battalions a maritime squadron and an air wing. Malta is a neutral nation and as such the AFM’s role is territorial defence, internal security and border control.

Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, this is when the AFM was founded. With the former link to the UK much of the AFM’s initial equipment was of British origin and the 7.62×51mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was used as the AFM’s service rifle for many years this appears to have changed in the late 1970s early 1980s. The FN FAL-derrived L1A1 is still used as the AFM’s standard drill and parade rifle.

AFM personnel with Type 56/II AK-pattern rifles (AFM)

The AFM celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and shared this time line of their uniform and equipment in their service magazine On Parade which gives us some idea of how their small arms changed over time. We can see that the AK-pattern rifles have been in service since at least the 1980s. 

The AFM’s website lists their small arms with personnel being armed with Beretta 92s, a variety of HK MP5s, and what they describe as the ‘AK 47 Variant’. The site lists the rifles as being manufactured by Russia, Romania, China and East Germany. These rifles are all chambered in the 7.62×39mm cartridge.

Where the first AK-pattern rifles came from is unclear, although one source suggests the German and Romanian rifles were bought second hand in the 1990s. From a survey of images and video shared by the AFM in recent years it appears that East German MPiKMS, Romanian PM md.63 and Chinese Type 56/II are in service.

AFM recruits training with Chinese Type 56/II AKs (AFM)

The origins of the Chinese rifles is easy to trace back to a 2003 donation of small arms and light weapons made by the People’s Republic of China. An agreement was signed with China in June 2001 and as part of this a donation of 150,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. By 2003, however, it was reported by the Time of Malta that this had increased to 500,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. This included Type 56/II rifles, Type 80 general purpose machine guns and RPG-7 clones. The AFM’s acting commander Colonel Carmel Vassallo described the donation as a “dream come true” at the time. It reportedly allowed the entire AFM to be armed with a single type of service rifle.

The reasoning behind the adoption no doubt comes down to financing, Malta being a small island nation does not have an extensive defence budget, reported at 54 million Euros in 2020, and perhaps have chosen to prioritise personnel and procurement of naval and aviation assets over small arms. It is easy to see how the donation of service rifles and other small arms would be welcomed when balancing a modest budget.

AFM personnel with modified AKs (AFM)

Over the last 10 years there have been a number of photos and videos released showing AKs which have been upgraded with some aftermarket modifications. The mods appear to predominantly be sourced from FAB Defense – with their CAA Polymer buttstock and VFR-AK railed forend with a top rail which extends over the top of the receiver cover. This provides the bare bones AKs with some modularity. It’s unclear how widely issued the modified AKs are but from officially release imagery it seems that the basic AK-pattern rifles are more prevalent. In recent years Malta has stood up quick reaction forces and it appears from videos and images shared of the company that they have been equipped with SIG Sauer MCX rifles. 


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Bibliography:

‘AK Variant’, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘AFM sees its dream come true’, Times of Malta, (source)

‘The Historical Timeline of Our Uniform’, On Parade 2020, (source)

“The Budget Speech 2020”, Malta Government, (source)

‘Personnel reveal shortcomings inside Maltese armed forces’, Malta Today, (source)

‘China donates 50 sub-machine guns to Malta, including 10 low-light scopes’, Malta Independent, (source)

Footage:

Various released videos, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘Armed Forces of Malta: Recruit Intakes Nos. 131’, Michael Formosa, (source)

Book Review: Vickers Guide – SIG Sauer Vol.1

It’s been a while since we did a book review so let’s take a look at the latest Vickers Guide. The latest edition of the successful +P+ coffee table series examines the pistols and submachine guns of SIG Sauer and its predecessors.

All photos by Matthew Moss

Compiled by Leonardo Antaris (a noted author on Spanish Astra pistols), Larry Vickers and Ian McCollum with photography from James Rupely the book looks at every pistol made by the company from its earliest origins through to the P320 and P365. One of the special elements of the book is that we get to see the iterative development of weapons like the legendary P210, the P220, P365 and the MPX.

For me the highlights are the seldom seen prototypes for projects that never came to fruition like the MP320 submachine gun. I believe there will be a volume 2 in the future looking at the various rifles and machine guns that SIG and SIG Sauer have developed over the years.

As with the other Vickers Guide books they are weighty, beautifully illustrated and while they don’t offer an in-depth level of detail they give us a look at some developmental prototypes and rare models which we wouldn’t otherwise see documented. I love the photography and layout of these books, they show angles and detail that – unless you’re handling the weapons – you’d never otherwise see.


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West German Police Pistols

In 1976, the West German Police issued a specification for a new small, lightweight service pistol to replace their stocks of Walther P38/P1′s and various 7.65×17mm (.32 ACP) pistols.

The police specification limited the new pistols weight to 2.2lb/35oz/1kg, it was to be no larger than 18x13x3.4cm and was to be quick to draw and safe to carry with a round in the chamber.

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SIG Sauer P230 (Edelweiss Arms)

Earlier trials had taken place in 1974 examining pistols chambered in the 9×18mm Ultra round. Walther had submitted the PP Super and SIG-Sauer had entered the P230 for testing but with increasing criminal and terrorist activity in West Germany during the 1970s it was decided to adopt a pistol chambered in the more powerful 9×19mm round.

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As a result a new round of trials with the new specifications was arranged. Mauser, Walther, SIG-Sauer and Heckler & Koch all submitted designs. Mauser offered the HsP,Walther offered the P5, SIG-Sauer entered the P225 (which became the P6) and Heckler & Koch submitted the PSP, later known as the P7.

The trials involved a gruelling 10,000 round endurance test (with cleaning after every 1,000 rounds), a rapid-rifle 500 round test and accuracy testing at 25 metres. One of the main problems of producing the desired sub-compact sized pistol in 9×19mm was that after approximately 1,000 rounds the pistol’s recoil spring may become prone to failure.

The police specification called for a 10,000 round lifespan. Each had their own approach; Walther’s P5 tackled the problem by using the dual-spring system used in the P38/P1 while Heckler & Koch used a gas-delayed blowback system in the P7. SIG-Sauer, however, employed the simplest solution – a heavy gauge braided spring to give increased strength combined with the Short Recoil action. This was also substantially cheaper to manufacture.

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Clockwise: Walther P5, SIG Sauer P6, HK P7 (Matthew Moss)

The short-recoil, lever-locked Mauser HsP was eventually dropped due to durability issues, while the Walther P5, SIG-Sauer’s P6, and Heckler & Koch’s P7 were successful and deemed fit for service and adopted by various German police departments.

The P5 was adopted by Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police as well as the Dutch national police. TheP6 was the most widely adopted as it was the cheapest option available, with a total of seven German state police forces adopting it along with orders from the border police, railway police and the Federal Criminal Police Office. The most expensive of the pistols, the P7 was favoured by more specialist units like GSG9.

Our thanks to our friends at Gunlab for allowing us to take a look at these pistols.


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Walther P5

The Walther P5 was developed in the mid-1970s as an response to the West German police’s continued search for a 9x19mm service pistol to replace the older smaller calibre pistols then in service, like the Walther PP. It was developed to fit the new police specification for a small, handy pistol which could be brought into action quickly. Walther’s design competed against pistols from Mauser, Heckler & Koch and SIG Sauer.

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Walther P38 (Rock Island Auctions)

The P5′s design evolved from the P38, combining the lock work and dual recoil springs of the P38 (re-designated the P1 in 1963) with a shortened barrel and a full length slide. While a shortened P38k had been produced in the early 1970s, this was only an as an interim solution. The P38K retained the same slide and frame as the original P38s, but had the front sight mounted on the front strap of the frame and none of the pistol’s contours were rounded to aid drawing and returning to a holster. Only around 2,600 P38Ks were produced.

Following the attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics games West German police began the search for a new service police. Walther’s response, the P5, was introduced in 1978. The P5 is a locked-breech pistol and has double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger. It uses the same short-recoil operated system and locking mech as the P38. This means that the barrel and slide recoil together for a short distance before the locking block falls and allows the slide to continue moving rearward, ejecting a spent case and chambering a new round.

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Walther P5 (Matthew Moss)

Walther moved the P5’s decocker from the slide to the frame and this also served as the slide stop and slide release. I would say that the P5’s decocker is easier to operate, with a shorter length of travel, than the SIG P6’s.

Following the West German police specification Walther designed the pistol to be safely and rapidly brought into action, and as a result dispensed the manual safety. Instead, the pistol could be carried in condition two – with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. This was safely achieved by some upgrades to the P5’s hammer and firing pin. There is a small recess in the pistol’s hammer for the firing pin. The firing pin only moves into alignment with the hammer surface when the trigger is pulled.

The P5 has a 3.5 inch (9cm) barrel and fed from an 8-round, single stack, magazine with a heel release. Like the P38 the pistol ejects to the left rather than the right. The P5 has a stronger and more durable fully enclosed slide which is contoured to aid holstering. The pistol has an alloy frame, with full-length slide rails and an enlarged trigger guard for use with gloves.

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Diagram showing the P5’s parts and internal layout (Walther)

In addition to the P5, Walther also developed a compact model for plain clothes use which had a slightly shorter barrel (3.1 inches), slide and a truncated hammer. It was introduced in 1988 and had a lighter alloy frame with the P5 Compact weighing 750g (1.65lbs) rather than 795g (1.75lbs). While early production pistols retained the heel magazine release the majority had a thumb release. A small number of P5-Lang, long barrel target pistols were also produced in the late 1980s.

Disassembly is simple and comes directly from the P38. The slide is retracted a little until the barrel catch can be rotated. The slide and barrel can then be slid forward off the frame once the trigger is pulled.

The P5 proved to be an accurate and reliable pistol and once it was accepted by the police trials (along with the designs from Heckler & Koch and SIG-Sauer – the P7 and P6 respectively.) It was adopted by uniformed officers of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police – these pistols were marked ‘BMI’ for Bundesministerium des Innern – the Federal Ministry of the Interior. This pistol is a BMI-marked gun and dates from February 1983.

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Walther P5 brochure cover (Walther)

It also became the standard issue sidearm of the Dutch police who purchased around 50,000 pistols, becoming Walther’s largest customer for the P5. The Dutch guns were later fitted with aftermarket Houge rubber grips and some changes to the hammer safety system were later made in the mid-1990s. The Dutch police retired the P5 in 2013 replacing it with the P99Q.

The P5 also saw some military sales with elements of the Portuguese Army adopting it and the P5 Compact was also adopted by the British Army. Selected in the late 1980s for issue as a personal protection side arm. It was designated the Pistol L102A1 and was extensively issued to British troops in Ireland for use while in plain clothes or off duty.

The P5 on screen: Sean Connery as James Bond in, the technically unofficial, 1983 Bond movie Never Say Naver Again. Roger Moore’s Bond also carried it in Octopussy (also in 1983)

While certainly one of Walther’s lesser known pistols the P5 is a well-made, well-designed duty pistol, with comfortable ergonomics – the fiddly magazine catch not withstanding – and the slide and decocker are very smooth to operate. The trigger pull in both the single and double action modes is also pretty good. Overall, around 100,000 pistols were produced before production came to an end in 1993.


Specifications (P5 Standard:

Overall Length: 7.1in
Barrel Length: 3.5in
Weight: 1.75lbs (795g)
Action: short-recoil with locked breech
Capacity: 8-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm


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