The APS or Stechkin Automatic Pistol is one of the most unique and loved pieces of Soviet small arms. And that is not without the reason! The APS Stechkin has both great design and some myths and legends behind it. In this article, which is part of a bigger directory, we will discuss the history behind this gun and its practical use during the Soviet-Afghan conflict. If your are really into the Soviet Weapons, check our Soviet Infantry Weapons of the Afghan War book.
The development history of the Stechkin Automatic Pistol
The development of the Stechkin Automatic Pistol is the most mysterious part of its history. And it is not that we don't know what or who was behind the design, it is just some urban legends that go around its adaptation.
So the Stechkin pistol was developed by, well, Igor Stechkin. Since 1942 he studied at the Tula Institute of Mechanics. For his graduation diploma work, he designed a 7.65 mm self-loading pistol, which was later developed into the APS. And the legend goes like follows - after bringing the blueprints of the future gun to his university supervisor, he was told that the thing was impossible to be built and it would never shoot. Answering the call, Igor Stechkin has pulled a fully functional pistol out of his briefcase.
While the story sounds incredibly cool, I find it very hard to believe. His supervisor was none other than Mykolai Makarov himself - the developer of PM pistol. It is very unlikely that working putin dozens, if not hundreds of machinery metalwork to actually create a working pistol on the university premises was unnoticed. In any case, Igor Stechkin has graduated and proved to be a very capable gunsmith and mechanic. After graduation, he was assigned to one of the design departments in Tula.
The work on a pistol which would later become APS Stechkin automatic pistol started in mid-1948 and by 1949 first working example was presented to the commission. After a very short while, the pistol went through all the tests and checks and was adopted in 1951. This would be quite unusual for the process of small arms adaptation in the USSR. This could only mean how well-designed the APS was and how much the armed forces wanted to have it.
While there is no doubt that Igor Stechkin was a very talented mechanical engineer there is a big question of why the Soviet Army was so desperately interested in a pistol like that. The whole concept of a high-precision long-range pistol with removable stock was generally outdated by the First World War. The guess is that the Soviet industry was incapable of producing limitless amounts of AK and SKS rifles at the end of the 1940s, while the post-war Army was trying to rearm as soon as possible, anticipating a new conflict. So, the Army officials thought that arming non-front line soldiers and officers with such pistols would give them similar firepower to a submachine user at a fraction of the weight.
Use of APS Stechkin Automatic Pistol in the Soviet Armed Forces
Out of all world's armies, the Soviets were the fastest ones to rearm after the Second World War. From the era of Mosin-DP-PPSH, they have quickly moved into the AK-SKS-RPD sectional setup, basically pushing the small arms development into the next (and final, so far) generation. The APS was another example of these "new generation" weapons in concept, but design vise it was outdated before its adoption.
The initial idea with the APS was to arm those soldiers and officers who did not need a full-scale carbine. This would mean tank crews, vehicle drivers, and artillery crews, as well as a secondary weapon for those operating RPG-2, SGM-43 machine guns, or 82mm mortars. It is also believed that the officers were supposed to receive APS pistols in case of war, instead of their usual PMs. While this sounds more like another myth, training your whole life with one weapon system just to exchange it for a new one when things get hot is beyond strange. However, there are some memoirs from Afghanistan, which confirm just that.
To confirm such use cases for APS we could have used photos from the 1950-1960s era. However, these are very scarce and the majority of known ones are actually presented in this article, thanks to the Facebook group which studies the topic.
Overall, the pistol did not get too much love from the forces. The shooting rate was a complete overkill at 1200 rounds per minute, while the practical distance would remain at a regular 30-50 meters. The wooden and especially bakelite stock had its own issues of getting cracks after some use. On top of that, Soviet industrial capacities grew in the 1950s, producing millions of AK rifles. So after a short while, when it was decided that every man in the army has to be armed with a proper weapon - full-scale AK, the production of APS pistols was seized.
What is interesting, is that while the majority of small arms produced in the Soviet Union had a free pass on being exported to Soviet allies and satellites, the APS stands out of the crowd. It is hard to believe that this weapon was not wanted by foreign militaries, so there has to be another reason for the USSR to keep it at home. This whole thing is especially strange given that the Soviet Union really liked to get rid of outdated weapons by exporting them.
APS Stechkin Automatic Pistol in Afghanistan
Since the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan is the major topic of this blog, we can't end this article without talking about Afghanistan at least for a little bit. Even though they were not produced since 1958, at the dawn of the invasion, these pistols were still largely present in the Armed Forces.
There are multiple evidence of Soviet troops using APS pistols during the War in Afghanistan. From the military police to paratroopers and airforces - this pistol was universally loved. Mainly by POGs though. As with any other pistols in the Soviet Army - neither soldiers nor officers had a habit to carry the thing into battle. The reasons were primarily the same as before - it did not provide any meaningful value while adding an extra 2-3kg to the loadout.
These pistols were usually carried around the base by those officers who had little to no experience in the actual firefights and who were unlikely to get it. The idea was to look more cool and brutal by carrying a massive hand weapon. This practice largely stopped after a short while.
The one type of people who did in fact use the APS pistols for their primary intent were the helicopter pilots. In the early years of the war, there were no AKSU-74 to be issued and APS was the next best thing.