The SKS (Самозарядный Карабин Симонова Samozaryadnyy Karabin Simonova, lit. "Simonov self-loading carbine") was a Soviet self-loading rifle designed in 1944 by Sergei Simonov and produced by the Tula Arsenal and Izhevsk Mechanical Plant from 1945 to 1955. Introduced into Soviet service in 1949, the SKS was one of a series of small arms equipped to use the then-new 7.62×39mm cartridge. Despite having been long phased out of service, the weapon still sees use in a ceremonial capacity in various regions.

History[edit | edit source]

During World War II, most contemporary service rifles of the time, such as the Mosin-Nagant and Karabiner 98k were regarded as being too long, too heavy and used high-powered cartridges; these were often at short ranges of about 300 metres (980 feet; 330 yards), creating excessive recoil. As such, a new intermediate cartridge was developed for use by the Soviets, designed by Nikolai Elizarov and Boris Semin; this cartridge was dubbed the M43.

Designer Sergei Simonov was tasked with designing a new firearm around this new cartridge. This design was dubbed the SKS, with a few being tested on the frontlines in 1945.[1] The weapon was well received during testing, being said to be "simple, light and maneuverable and easily mastered during training".[2]

However, it was only in 1949 that the weapon would actually come to be adopted by the Soviets, along with the AK-47 developed for the same round; at this point, the SKS was immediately obsoleted by the AK-47 in frontline service, for it had a far higher magazine capacity, had a detachable magazine, was easier to manufacture and was capable of fully automatic fire.[3] Despite this, both the AK-47 and SKS would serve in frontline service for a time, with the SKS serving as a stopgap weapon of sorts for units without sufficient AKs.[4]

The weapon would be produced by two state firearms arsenals: the Tula Arsenal and the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant. Production of the SKS would begin in 1949 but would only last a few years, as the AK-47 was the favored weapon of the time; this was not helped with the SKS being relegated to second line service during the early 1950s. By 1955, the production lines for the SKS were cut short and production of the AK-47 set to increase even further.[3]

With production of the AK-47 in full swing, the Soviets decided to turn to sharing their design with other communist countries. Eventually, most communist countries had their own version of the SKS; China had their Type 56 carbine, Yugoslavia their Zastava M59, Albania their Model 561,[5] East Germany their Karabiner S, and so on. The SKS most notably saw major success with the Chinese forces as the weapon was highly suited to their style of warfare.[6]

By the 1970s, the SKS' use was beginning to wane and the weapons were slowly beginning to be replaced; China began their replacement process for the rifles in the 1970s, attempting to replace them and the Type 56 assault rifle with the Type 63 assault rifle, which attempted to combine the best traits of both weapons. The rifle was unsuccessful due to its reliability issues and the weapons which it was designed to replace ended up replacing it in frontline service.[7]

By the 1990s, use of the SKS had mostly been relegated to ceremonial usage.

Design Details[edit | edit source]

The SKS is a gas-operated semi-automatic rifle feeding from a ten-round non-detachable box magazine. Compared to modern firearms, the SKS has a "decidedly eclectic appearance", with a steel receiver with John Browning-esque design elements, a full wooden wraparound handguard (what type of wood used was dependent on who made it), sloped magazine extension, protruding gas tube and most notably, a folding bayonet (what type of bayonet was used was also dependent on who made it, and in a few cases, how early or late it was in its production cycle).[4]

The SKS may bear somewhat of a passing resemblance to an AK, although both weapons are very different fundamentally; the AK-47 features a rotating bolt, while the SKS features a tilting bolt noted to be very similar to that of the PTRS Simonov designed a few years prior; the action is noted to be practically identical to that a shrunken PTRS with various changes, including the trigger, magazine feed and the ability to access the floorplate with the bolt closed. When the weapon fires, the bolt carrier is pushed rearwards, causing the bolt to get lifted and get unlocked as it is carried rearwards using a spring. This causes the spent casing to be extracted, ejected and a new round loaded in. The receiver cover houses both the receiver, a receiver spring and a bolt catch.[4]

Owing to its non-detachable magazine, the SKS is loaded with either ten-round disposable stripper clips or loose rounds; if need be, the stripper clips may be reloaded and reused multiple times. The SKS has a rotating floorplate which is accessed through a pull of a latch forward of the trigger guard; pulling said latch rearward causes any rounds left inside to fall out the weapon, allowing for easy unloading and cleaning if required;[8] a less standard, but definitely possible and possibly faster way of reloading in absence of a stripper clip is to open the floorplate and turn the rifle upside down, dropping rounds into the receiver, then closing the plate, automatically settling them inside. If done incorrectly, however, this can be detrimental to its performance. The magazine itself may only be removed if the weapon is stripped.[4]

The weapon features a hooded front post sight and a rear notch sight with increments of 100 meters, with settings ranging from 100 to 1000 meters. The sight also has a standard "Battle" setting, which is set at 300 meters.[4] Russian-production SKSs may also feature a number of different variations of bayonets, gas blocks and other minor changes; a Honor Guard variant is also known to exist, featuring a lighter-colored wood stock. In spite of these, all Russian SKSs feature wooden handguards made of Russian birch.[4]

The rear of the stock houses a storage area for a cleaning kit; this is not present on certain foreign copies. SKSs are also notorious for being prone to slam firing, although this usually happens in poorly-maintained examples or when using ammunition that does not have a Berdan primer.[4]

Variants[edit | edit source]

Various countries have manufactured their own versions of the SKS.

Type 56 carbine

Chinese copy. Has non-milled bolt carrier, partially or fully stamped receiver and different types of thumbrests on the takedown lever. Bayonets can be of the blade or spike variety. Features Catalpa furniture.[4] Some early examples may have Soviet-manufactured parts as they were produced by the Chinese but overseen by the Soviets.[9] Estimated 24,000,000 generally thought to exist, but this is more than likely a misconception, as over 100 different arsenal stamps are present in the production cycle, and serial numbers indicate how many were made in that year, rather than over the whole production like most serial numbers.[10] This misunderstanding of the serial number's meaning is most likely the root of the 24,000,000 production estimate, as the highest known serial number for one of these rifles until recently was in the 24 millions. One has also been discovered from the 25,000,000 series as of 2020.

Romanian M56

Romanian copy produced by Cugir.[11] Typically nearly identical to later Soviet models. Estimated 77,000 produced.[11]


Polish version. Features a laminated stock[12] without cleaning kit storage. Used by Honor Guards and for ceremonial purposes. These were mostly converted from Soviet SKSs.

Zastava M59 PAP

Yugoslavian copy. Typically nearly identical to later Soviet models. Produced from 1959 to 1966; many were converted to M59/66 standard later on.[13] 52,169 produced.[14]

Zastava M59/66

Improved Yugoslavian copy. Most notably features a spigot-type 22mm grenade launcher; rifle grenades must be fired using special blank cartridges and with the gas port shut off. Stocks are typically made of beech wood.

UM Gransh Model 561

Albanian copy. Commonly known as the July 10th Rifle[15] as it refers to the day that the Albanian National Liberation Army was centralized to defend the country from fascist Italy, this is a highly uncommon version of the SKS featuring a longer stock, handguard and a different charging handle. While aesthetically unique among its sister variants, it is internally identical to the Type 56 carbine, on account of being licensed by the Chinese.[5] These also feature spike bayonets. Estimated 18,000 produced, of which about half were destroyed.


East German copy. This is a highly uncommon version of the SKS most notably featuring a sling slot in the rear of the stock and lacks a cleaning rod and the cleaning kit found in the rear of the stock.[16] Total production remains unknown.

North Korean Type 63

North Korean copy. This is an extremely uncommon version of the SKS of which three known variants were made; one which was practically identical to the Soviet weapon, one with a similar grenade launcher to the Yugoslavian M59/66 and one with a side-swinging bayonet.[7]

Vietnamese Type 1

North Vietnamese copy. This is an extremely uncommon version of the SKS, with a telltale sign being the "Star-1" mark on a receiver. These are noted to likely be clones of Soviet SKSs.[17]

Similar weapons[edit | edit source]

Type 63 assault rifle

Chinese development of the SKS attempting to combine the best traits of the SKS with that of the Type 56 assault rifle. Entered service in 1968; was not regarded as successful and retracted from service after 10 years in 1978 and replaced by the weapons it was supposed to replace.[7]

References[edit | edit source]

  3. 3.0 3.1
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "model561" defined multiple times with different content
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "type63" defined multiple times with different content
  11. 11.0 11.1
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