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Unlocking The Mysteries Of A Fallen Empire: A Look At The Soviet 5.45x18 Cartridge

By David M. Fortier

The cartridge in question is the Soviet 5.45x18 7N7. Originally designed in conjunction with, and for, the Pistolet Samozaryadniy Malogabaritniy. This translates to “Pistol Semi-automatic Miniature” and is known simply by its initials “PSM.” It is interesting to note that whereas the Makarov “PM” and the Stechkin “APS” pistols give credit to their designers in their nomenclature no credit is given to the designers of the PSM. It was designed and developed by a three-man team from 1969 until completed in 1974. Heading up the group was Tikhon Ivanovich Lashnev (1919-1988). Lashnev was born in Tula and entered the Tula Engineering Works Technical School after finishing his secondary schooling. After graduating he was assigned to a design bureau and worked with Fedor Tokarev and Sergey Korovin. After the Great Patriotic War ended he participated in the design of hunting and target guns, the latter being used not only in the Olympics but also in shooting contests around the world. His awards included the “Red Banner Order” and the S.I. Mosin Prize (twice). Also participating in the design of the PSM was Anatoliy Alexeevich Simarin (1936-1991). A graduate of the Tula Mechanical Institute he participated in the design of the first pneumatic pistol made in the USSR. A serious international marksman, he also designed a target pistol for silhouette shooting. His awards included a “VDNKh” bronze medal, and the honorary titles of “Socialist Competition Winner” (1973 and 1980) and “Developer of Virgin Land.” The third member of the design team was Lev Leonidovich Kulikov (1931- ). Kulikov graduated from the S.I. Mosin Tula Mechanical-Technical College. Participating in the design of several sporting weapons he was awarded the title “Best Inventor In The Ministry” in 1982 and has been named “Socialist Competition Winner” on several occasions.

The fruit of these three men’s labors was a small, extremely flat, double-action pistol that resembles a Walther PPK. Operating on the straight blowback principle it sports a fixed barrel. It has a slide-mounted safety that protrudes from the rear of the slide to the left of the hammer. The safety is positioned in an arc between the rear sight and the hammer when applied. This puts it in a position that allows the operator to both disengage the safety and manually cock the hammer in one stroke if he so chooses. The magazine capacity is 8 rounds and a European style magazine release is located on the pistol’s butt. While the weapon’s slide locks back on the last shot there is no external slide release; it must be manually pulled back and released, like a Walther. It has aluminum wrap-around grips and sports the usual chrome-plated bore as is conventional on all Soviet weapons. Size-wise the PSM is almost identical to a Walther PPK except that it is 8.2mm (0.32-inch) thinner. The PSM is manufactured at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant in Izhevsk, Russia.

However, a significant change from the Walther is the cartridge the PSM chambers. A tiny bottlenecked round, the 5.45x18 is dwarfed even by the 9x17 Kurz. It has a caliber of 5.45mm (.214 inch) and the brass bottlenecked case has a length of 17.8mm (.701 inch). The projectile is a gilding metal clad, steel cored, flat point with an air pocket in the nose. It has a very high sectional density and a weight of 41.4 grains. Muzzle velocity is 1,033 fps. It is interesting to note that the muzzle velocity is identical to that of the standard 9x18mm 57-N-181S ball round out of a Makarov pistol.

The who, why, where, and when of this cartridge is a little more difficult to figure out. It seems as if the Russians themselves are somewhat ambivalent as to who actually designed the cartridge. Three different authoritative Russian reference works give three different designers credit for the cartridge. One gives credit to a woman named Antonina Deniskaya of TsNIITochmash. Another gives credit to a woman named A.D. Denisova. And interestingly, David Naumovich Bolotin in his work “Soviet Small Arms and Ammunition” lists an Aleksandr I. Bochin as the designer. However Bolotin lists the date for the cartridge development as 1979, that’s 5 years after the PSM pistol was designed and adopted! Obviously that cannot be correct (I have found other inaccuracies in Bolotin’s work). So we have a little bit of a mystery here. One must also take into account the fact that Soviet designers worked together in teams on projects. Therefore the cartridge may have been the result of a joint effort. At this time however it is difficult to say exactly who is responsible for the 5.45x18.

The choice of the 5.45mm (.214 inch) projectile diameter seems strange until one takes into account the fact that the AK-74 in 5.45x39 was introduced at approximately the same time. There was a period at the latter part of the 1800’s when it was popular in Europe for a country to have their service rifle and service revolver of the same bore diameter. The most obvious is the French with their 8x50R Lebel rifle and their Model de Ordnance 1892 service revolver in 8mm revolver. The advantage is that barrel-tooling machinery could be shared for both handguns and long arms. Imperial Russia also became enamored by this idea. They adopted the 1895 Nagant revolver in 7.62x38R to go along with their “Three-Line” 7.62x54R M1891 Mosin magazine rifles. The Soviets continued this when they adopted the TT30/TT33 Tokarev pistol in 7.62x25mm and the PPD and PPSh-41 sub-machineguns. During the Great Patriotic War, barrel blanks could be made for Mosin’s, Nagant’s, Tokarev’s, or PPSh-41’s all on the same machinery. This ability was lost with the adoption of the Makarov pistol in 9x18mm and the retirement of the TT-33 and the 7.62x25mm cartridge. The adoption of the AK-74 and PSM in the same bore diameter may be a money saving return to the old days. Theoretically it would be possible to make AK-74 and PSM barrels on the same tooling. However, it should also be kept in mind as to why this idea quickly fell out of favor in Europe. The cartridges these handguns chambered quickly gained reputations for being underpowered. One country that never went down this path was England. This was due to their involvement in numerous colonial actions giving them sufficient combat experience to arrive at the conclusion that a hard-hitting revolver in the .455-.476 caliber range was most desirable.

Popping a 5.45x18mm cartridge open to have a look inside yields one interesting bit of information. The projectile has a very high sectional density. With a projectile length of approximately 14mm it’s almost three times as long as its diameter. This combined with a small diameter, a sharp ogive, and a steel core, are alleged to allow it to penetrate 30-45 layers of Kevlar. During initial testing in the early 1990’s European military and police organizations were so alarmed at its ability to defeat soft body armor that they designated it an “assassination pistol.” While I have not had a chance to test the PSM and its 5.45x18mm cartridge against soft body armor I have no reason to doubt previous test results (although its velocity is a little low). However, I must also add that I am privy to an independent test performed by a noted student of Soviet Small Arms in which a PSM was fired at a 1/4-inch steel plate at 7 yards. After the PSM was fired, a .22 LR pistol of approximately the same barrel length was fired using .22 Stingers. Interestingly enough the .22 Stinger hollow points left noticeably deeper craters in the steel plate than did the 5.45x18mm PSM round with 7N7 steel core ammunition.

As far as wound ballistics potential goes, by Western standards the 5.45x18 doesn’t offer much. With a diameter of only .21 caliber, a weight of 41 grains, an impact velocity of 800 or 900 fps, and a non-expanding projectile, it is fairly simple to predict that this cartridge will be a poor performer. Whether the bullet yaws immediately after impact is not going to alter this, although this might increase its wounding capability somewhat. We can say that without adding a +P+ Uranium Tip the 5.45x18 will probably take a backseat to a common .32 ACP Silvertip hollow point.

While originally called an “assassination pistol,” by Western intelligence agencies, recent Russian press articles on the pistol reveal a more mundane purpose for the weapons design. It seems the PSM was originally intended for very high-ranking staff officers who didn’t need the burden of a pistol the size of a Makarov, yet still might need to defend themselves. With the wide-scale introduction of flack jackets at that time, especially with U.S. forces, it was felt prudent that the weapon have the ability to penetrate them. As Russian criminals began to use soft body armor more extensively the PSM became quite popular with security and police personnel. The ineffectiveness of the 9x18mm against the widespread use of soft body armor can be seen in the Russian’s introduction of the 9x18mm 57-N-181M High Penetration load consisting of an 86-grain steel core projectile at 1,345 fps.

The 5.45x18mm cartridge is currently popular in Russia and we will probably see more small pistols chambered for it in the future. For the American cartridge collector wishing to add some of these scarce rounds to their collection there is both good and bad news. The bad news is, of course, that the Milspec steel core ammunition is not importable into the U.S. The good news is that Sporting Supplies Int. Inc., the importer of Wolf Performance Ammunition, has a small supply of lead core 5.45x18mm ammunition manufactured at Tula and packed in 10-round collector boxes. The quantity is limited and the price is quite reasonable, so don’t wait.

While it created quite a stir when it was first tested in the West the 5.45x18mm round was designed for far less sinister intentions than originally thought. It seems as though American and Russian thinking when it comes to cartridges differs as much as our thinking on politics. While the 5.45x18mm isn’t much of a defensive cartridge by our standards we should remember one thing: hits stopped by a vest don’t count.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Alan Halla for his help and information.

Finnish Arms Museum Foundation, Hyvinkaa, Finland. 1995.

Handgun Press, Glenview, IL. 1988.

Paladin Press, Boulder, CO. 1998.


2201 E. Winston, Suite K.
Anaheim, CA 92806
(New Production Ammunition From Tula Arsenal)

P.O. Box 406
Glenview, Il 60025
(Bolotin’s Must Have Book For The Soviet Collector And Datig’s Work)

P.O. Box 1307
Boulder, CO 80306
(Charlie Cutshaw’s Work)


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