Surplus Review: April 1999

By Frank Iannamico

Yugoslavian M56 Submachine gun

The influence of both German and Soviet designs of the 1940’s can easily be seen in the Yugoslavian M56 and M65 series submachine guns. The post war WWII weapons were produced in the mid 1950’s and 1960’s when there was a huge surplus of German and Soviet weapons in Europe. It is somewhat of a mystery as to why Yugoslavia would manufacture a weapon at that time period when there was no demand for submachine guns. The introduction of the midrange dual-purpose assault rifle concept by the Germans in late WWII made future demand for short range, pistol caliber subguns doubtful. The M56/65 series of Yugoslavian weapons was proceeded by the 7.62 caliber M49 Model submachine gun that was essentially a copy of the famous WWII Soviet PPSh 41, with a few modifications.

Not surprisingly the M56 and M65 submachine guns were not overly successful. Few were manufactured, and many of those were exported to other countries. Sources indicate that both models are still currently used to some degree by the military in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or FRY (Former Yugoslavia) and surrounding countries.

The Yugoslavian M56 and M65 outwardly appear very similar. The main difference is the caliber. The M56 fires the Soviet 7.62x25 Tokarev cartridge, while the later M65 weapon is chambered for the more common 9mm Parabellum round. The 32 round capacity magazine for the 7.62 M56 is curved, while the 30 round 9mm M65 magazine is of a straight in line configuration. Both weapons are equipped with a lug for the attachment of a bayonet. The M56 and M65 are capable of semi automatic or full automatic fire, and both fire from the common submachine gun open bolt method of operation.

The focus of this article is the earlier 7.62x25 M56 Model. At first glance the M56 appears much like a WWII German MP40. The folding stock is almost identical, and the furniture is plastic, like the MP40. When the curved 7.62x25 32 round magazine is inserted it takes on the appearance of a Soviet PPS43 (without the barrel shroud). The Yugoslav M56 dual feed 32 round magazine is almost identical to the original Soviet PPS43 magazine and will probably interchange with some slight alterations to the strengthening rib located at the rear of the magazine body. The magazine release lever is very much like that of the Soviet PPS43 and is located behind the magazine housing. The lever is protected from accidental release by a shroud formed by the plastic stock.

The rear sight is also similar to the German MP40 and can be flipped for a 100-meter or 200 meter range. The front sight that is protected by a hood arrangement is also similar to that of the MP40. As mentioned previously the folding stock is ver similar to that of the MP40 and operates in the same manner. The button to operate the stock is slightly smaller than on the German weapon. The bolt assembly is one piece with a fixed protrusion functioning as a firing pin. The bolt handle is removable and located on the receiver’s right side. The bolt handle is round (similar to a Sten) and has an L shaped safety device attached to the forward end. The safety is capable of locking the bolt to the rear or in the forward position. The recoil spring is also similar to that of a British Sten submachine gun. The fire control selector is located under the receiver tube, just forward of the trigger. The sliding selector is pushed to the right for full automatic fire (marked RAFAL) and to the left for semiautomatic operation (JED).

The trigger mechanism is very similar to that of the MP40, made of sheet metal stampings. The M56’s designer took the use of sheet metal components to the next level by designing even the sear from a formed piece of heavy sheet steel. The weapon is finished in a dull blue also similar to the finish on the German MP40. The plastic composite furniture is black in color. Integral loops for the attachment of a sling are located at the front of the magazine housing, and at the rear of the receiver.

Weight of the M56 unloaded is 6.73 pounds, with a fully loaded 32 round magazine the weight is increased to 8.38 pounds. Overall length of the weapon with the folding stock extended is 34 inches. With the stock folded the overall length is decreased to a compact 25.22 inches, making the M56 ideal for tank crews. The four-groove barrel’s overall length is 9.85 inches.

Firing the M56

When handling the M56 it felt very similar to the MP40, once you pull the trigger however, the similarity ends. The 600 + round per minute cyclic rate and the powerful 7.62 Soviet cartridge made the M56 performance more exhilarating than a 9mm MP40. The weapon was easy to control in the full auto mode, and it was amazingly accurate. Firing the weapon in semiautomatic at a silhouette target at 40 yards was further evidence that this was an effective weapon. The ejection port is located on the top of the receiver (like a Soviet PPS43), ejection is straight up and violent. The spent cases will often hit your head or go down inside your shirt collar on their descent (also like a PPS43).

Norinco 7.62 x 25 ammunition was used for the test firing and functioned in the weapon without any problems. Velocity of the 86 grain, 7.62mm projectile from the M56’s 9.85-inch barrel averaged 1615 feet per second. The 7.62x25 Tokarev cartridge develops 495 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle compared to the 9mm Parabellum developing 399 foot pounds of energy.

The Yugoslav M56 is not very common in the United States today, though there are a few examples of fully transferable and dealer samples out there. At least one Class II manufacturer manufactured a few transferable receiver tubes prior to the May 1968 cutoff date. Accessories and bayonets are rare for these guns. The Gun Parts Corporation of West Hurley, New York advertises the 7.62 magazines and magazine pouches for the M56.

As an Aside

The “Yugo 56” as it is commonly referred to, has been primarily replaced by Kalashnikov variants in the Army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In a 1996 trip to Serbia, this author had the opportunity to see the Yugo 56 in target use by several different military groups. The younger soldiers were completely unfamiliar with the weapon. I had a conversation with a grizzled old Colonel, who had used them “Way back when”. He liked the submachine gun, and spoke of it with nostalgia. He was unaware that I had owned one for many years, so I let him talk about the positive and negative aspects of the gun without my comments. Apparently he had used it in combat, although he did not discuss the “Where’s or When’s”. His experience was that it was a very reliable arm, and effective as a combat gun.

We got out to the firing line, and the rangemaster directed our fire. After viewing the targets, I was declared the “Winner”, and soon had a more spirited discussion with the Colonel. (Old soldier to old soldier) He discussed his displeasure with youth’s lack of discipline, and then one of the demonstrators began firing the Yugo 56. He experienced what is probably the major problem with this design.

The submachine gun self-disassembled while firing. Here in the United States, there exists a tape of one of SAR’s writers (Not this one or Frank), demonstrating the Yugo 56, and you can clearly see the rear of the receiver lift out of the stock, and the cap coming off, then the recoil spring and bolt flying rearward. In this demo tape, the bolt firmly smacks the operator in the center of the forehead, drawing serious blood. The stunned operator “Safes” what is left of the weapon, tries to act nonchalant about the blood dripping down his forehead, talks to the observers for a minute more, then exits the range. This is almost exactly what happened to the young Serbian private. As the Yugo 56 fell apart, he leaned to the side, and the bolt missed him by an inch.

The old Colonel’s vision grew dark. He glared down at the private, said a few things in Serbian, and then laughed a little. It seems that if you don’t lock down the rear cap on a Yugo 56 when you are putting it together, then this is the result. We joked around about the experience, then moved on to belt fed weapons and ZB26’s. The shooting of the big guns went a lot smoother.

Somewhere in Serbia, I believe that there is a private who is still peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines.....

(As an aside to an aside, I would like to throw a note of caution to our U.S. military friends. I have heard them describe Serb forces as undisciplined. That misconception could prove costly in combat. Of the five different groups that were there that day, from smartly dressed Special Forces to their version of an undisciplined weekend warrior unit, these guys were born to the MG42/Yugo 53. SAR will cover this at another time, but in this writer’s opinion, underestimating the Serb forces could prove deadly.)

- Dan Shea

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N7 (April 1999)
and was posted online on June 17, 2016


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