The SKS Rifle
The SKS is one of the best all-purpose rifles ever made. In the following pages are general information and my thought’s on this weapon platform.
The SKS is a Russian 7.62x39mm caliber semi-automatic carbine, designed in 1945 by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov. SKS is an acronym for Samozaryadniy Karabin sistemi Simonova (Russian: Самозарядный карабин системы Симонова), 1945 (Self-loading Carbine, Simonov’s system, 1945), or SKS 45. The SKS carbine was rather quickly phased out of first-line service, replaced by the AK-47, but remained in second-line service for decades afterwards. It remains a ceremonial arm today. It was widely exported and produced by the former Eastern Bloc nations, as well as China, where it was designated the “Type 56”, East Germany as the “Karabiner S” and in North Korea as the “Type 63”. It is today popular on the civilian surplus market in many countries. Together with the RPD light machine gun the SKS was one of the first weapons chambered for the 7.62x39mm M43 round later used in the AK-47 and RPK.
During World War II, many countries realized that existing rifles, such as the Mosin-Nagant, were too long and heavy and fired overly powerful cartridges, creating excessive recoil. These cartridges, such as the 7.92x57mm Mauser, .303 British, .30-06 Springfield, and 7.62 x 54R were effective to ranges of up to 2,000 meters (2,200 yd); however, it was noted that most firefights took place at maximum ranges of between 100 meters (110 yd) and 300 meters (330 yd). Both the Soviet Union and Germany realized this and designed new weapons for smaller, intermediate-power cartridges. The German approach was the production of a series of intermediate cartridges and rifles in the interwar period, eventually developing the Maschinenkarabiner, or machine-carbine, which later evolved into the MP44 Sturmgewehr, or “assault rifle”, which was produced during the war, chambered in the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate round.
Design-wise, the SKS relies on the AVS-36 (developed by same designer) to a point that some consider it a shortened AVS-36, stripped of select-fire capability and rechambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. It also owes heavily to the earlier SVT-40 and M-44 Mosin-Nagant rifles that it replaced, incorporating both the semiautomatic firepower of the SVT (albeit in a more manageable cartridge) and the small, fast-handling size and integral bayonet of the bolt-action carbine.
In 1949, the SKS was officially adopted into the Soviet Army, produced at the Tula Armory from 1949 until 1955 and the Izhevsk Armory in 1953 and 1954. Although the quality of Russian SKS rifles manufactured at these state-run arsenals was quite high, its design was already obsolete compared to the Kalashnikov which was selective-fire, lighter, had three times the magazine capacity, and had the potential to be less labor-intensive to manufacture. Gradually over the next few years, AK-47 production increased until the extant SKS carbines in service were relegated primarily to non-infantry and to second-line troops. They remained in service in this fashion even as late as the 1980s, and possibly the early 1990s. To this day, the SKS carbine is used by some ceremonial Russian honor guards; it is far less ubiquitous than the AK-47 but both original Russian SKS rifles and copies can still be found today in civilian hands as well as in the hands of third-world militias and insurgent groups.
The SKS was to be a gap-filling firearm produced using the proven operating mechanism design of the PTRS and using proven milled forging manufacturing techniques. This was to provide a fallback for the radically new and experimental design of the AK-47, in the event that the AK were to prove a failure. In fact, the original stamped receiver AK-47 had to be quickly redesigned to use a milled receiver which delayed production, and extended the SKS rifles’ service life.