In 1930, the Revolutionary Military council approved a resolution to test new small arms to replace its aging Nagant M1895 revolvers. During these tests, on January 7, 1931, the potential of a pistol designed by Fedor Tokarev was noted. A few weeks later, 1,000 TT-30s were ordered for troop trials, and the pistol was adopted for service in the Red Army.
But even as the TT-30 was being put into production, design changes were made to simplify manufacturing. Minor changes to the barrel, disconnector, trigger and frame were implemented, the most notable ones being the omission of the removable backstrap and changes to the full-circumference locking lugs. This redesigned pistol was the TT-33. The TT-33 was widely used by Soviet troops during World War II, but did not completely replace the Nagant until after the war.
Externally, the TT-33 is very similar to John Browning's blowback operated FN Model 1903 automatic pistol, but it also used Browning's short recoil dropping-barrel system from the 1911 series. The TT-33 is not a 1911 clone, however: it employs a much simpler hammer/sear assembly with an external hammer. This assembly is removable from the weapon as a modular unit and includes cartridge guides that provide reliable functioning. The Soviet engineers also added several other features such as locking lugs all around the barrel (not just on top), and made several alterations to make the mechanism easier to produce and maintain. Production even machined the magazine feed lips into the receiver to prevent damage and misfeeds when a distorted magazine was loaded into the magazine well.
The TT-33 is chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge, which was itself based on the similar 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge used in the Mauser C96 pistol. Able to withstand tremendous abuse, large numbers of the TT-33 were produced during WWII and well into the 1950s.
The Wehrmacht captured a fair amount of TT-33s and issued them to units under the Pistole 615(r) designation. This was made possible by the fact that Soviet 7.62 mm Model 1930 Type P cartridges were nearly identical to the German 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge, therefore German ammunition could be used in captured Soviet arms.
Production of the TT-33 in the USSR ended in 1954, but copies (licensed or otherwise) were also made by China (as the Type 51, Type 54, M20, and TU-90) and Poland (as the wz. 33). Hungary rebarreled the pistol to fire 9x19mm Parabellum (as the M48), as well as an export version for Egypt (the Tokagypt 58) which was widely used by police forces. Yugoslavia produced the TT-33 (as the M57, M65 and M70A) as well as North Korea (as the Type 68 or M68). Romania also produced a TT-33 copy (the TTC, or Cugir Tokarov) well into the 1950s. These have been imported into the U.S. in great numbers in recent years. However, to be importable a trigger blocking safety was added. Police in Pakistan still commonly use the TT pistol as a sidearm, though unofficially, as it is being replaced by modern 9 mm Beretta and Glock pistols. Both legal and illegal TT pistols are still manufactured in various Khyber Pass factories. 7.62x25mm ammo is also rather inexpensive and locally produced or imported from China, made by Norinco.
At one time or another most communist or Soviet bloc countries made a variation of the TT-33 pistol, until it was eventually replaced for use by first-line troops by the 8-round, 9x18mm Makarov PM pistol in 1952.
Norinco, the People's Liberation Army's state weapons manufacturer in China, still manufactures a commercial variant of the Tokarev pistol chambered in the more common 9x19mm Parabellum round, known as the Tokarev Model 213, as well as in the original 7.62x25mm caliber. It features a safety catch, which was absent on Soviet-produced TT-33 handguns. Furthermore, the Model 213 features the thin slide grip grooves, as opposed to the original Russian wide-types. The 9 mm model is featured with a magazine well block mounted in the rear of the magazine well to accept 9 mm type magazines without frame modification. The Norinco model in current production is not available for sale in the United States due to import prohibitions on Chinese firearms, although older handguns of the Model 213 type imported in the 1980s and 1990s are common.
The TT-33 is still in service in the Chinese and North Korean armed forces today. The Tokarev is gaining in popularity with pistol collectors and shooters in the West because of its ruggedness, reliability and ready availability of cheap ammunition (in the US). However, some complaints include poor-quality grips (which are often replaced by the wrap-around Tokagypt 58 grips) and a hand grip which extends at a vertical angle awkward for many Western shooters. Nonetheless, the Tokarev, as well as its variants in 9 mm, is renowned for its simplicity and accuracy.
SpecificationsEditType Semi-automatic pistol
Place of origin Soviet Union
In service 1930–1965
Wars World War II, Korean War, Chinese Civil War, Vietnam War
Designer Fedor Tokarev
Manufacturer Tula Arsenal, Norinco, Femaru, Radom Arsenal, Cugir Arsenal, Zastava Arms
Number built Approx. 1,700,000
Variants TT-33, TTC, M48, M48 Tokagypt, M57, M70, M70, R-3, Type 51, Type 54, Type 68
Weight 854 g (30.12 oz)
Length 194 mm (7.6 in)
Barrel length 116 mm (4.6 in)
Height 134 mm (5.3 in)
Cartridge 7.62x25mm Tokarev
Action Short recoil actuated, locked breech, single action
Muzzle velocity 420 m/s (1,378 ft/s)
Effective range 50 m
Feed system 8-round detachable box magazine
Sights Front blade, rear notch, 156 mm (6.1 in) sight radius