Guns of the Spetsnaz: Silenced APB Machine Pistol
By Maxim Popenker

Soviet Spetsnaz troops played a key role in post-WW2 Soviet military doctrine, in both local operations (mostly in third world countries such as Afghanistan) and in possible global war in Europe. In either case, Spetsnaz required, among other things, weapons that could be used with at least some degree of stealth. The silenced 9x18 PB pistol was the first mass issue Spetsnaz silenced handgun. It was quite effective, but Spetsnaz was always on the lookout for the more firepower, and one request was for a weapon to match (at least partially) the western silenced 9mm submachine guns, such as the Sterling L34A1 and others.

At the time, submachine guns had no place in Soviet military doctrine, and the closest thing in the Soviet arms inventory was the 9mm Stechkin APS machine pistol. Many thousands of these guns were produced in the USSR during the mid-to-late fifties, and by the early seventies most were replaced by Kalashnikov assault rifles. For a variety of reasons, most APS pistols were withdrawn from service and put into storage. This large pistol featured a 20-round magazine, detachable holster/shoulder stock and a select-fire mechanism with rate reducer, which permitted for a controllable rate of fire of about 600 rounds per minute. Effective range, with shoulder stock attached, was 70-100 meters (although the sights were optimistically marked up to 200 meters). Holstered, this weapon was certainly more compact than most of the contemporary western submachine guns, although a wooden or plastic holster/shoulder stock added significant weight.

The task of designing a silenced version of the APS was handled to TsNII TochMash (Central Scientific Research Institute of Precision Machine building), the key Soviet R&D organization for Spetsnaz equipment and weapons. The development team was led by designer Neugodnov, and the modified weapon was provisionally marked AO-44. After mandatory tests and evaluation, this weapon was officially adopted for use by the Soviet Army in 1972, as “Avtomaticheskij Pistolet BeschumnyjAPB” - automatic noiseless pistol, official military index 6P13. All APB pistols were remanufactured at TsNII TochMash from old APS pistols, and thus bear manufacturing dates from the late 1950s. These pistols were widely used by Soviet Spetsnaz in Afghanistan and are still in limited issue with military and law enforcement of Russia and certain other ex-USSR states: although most were retired from service due to their age, and replaced by more effective and modern weapons.

The author had the chance to fire an APB at one of Russia’s military organizations, and was quite impressed with it. The heavy pistol, with addition of the large silencer, handles already mild recoil of the 9x18 cartridge quite well, in both semiautomatic and automatic modes. Due to the built-in rate reducer, two- and three-round bursts are easy to master; even single shots in full automatic mode are easy to obtain with minimal practice. The single-shot accuracy at 25 meters was hard to judge due to the age of the gun and the well-worn barrel, but it was generally acceptable. In full automatic mode and at 25 meters, when using the standard wire shoulder stock and two-hand grip (both hands holding the pistol grip), the author was able to put 3-4 round bursts into the area 4 to 6 inches in length (with hits spreading mostly in a vertical direction). With the left hand holding the silencer of the gun (with proper heat insulation provided by the piece of cloth wrapped around it) the vertical spread in short bursts can be further decreased by about 30%.

The sound of the firing is mild and roughly similar to that of powerful air-gun or .22LR rifle, although the slide slams back and forth with a loud metallic sound. The wire stock, supplied with APB pistols, is significantly lighter and more compact than the wooden stock-holster of the original APS, but the latter provides a better control over the weapon, at least by the author’s own impression. Unfortunately, no special holster was available for the APB at the time of the informal test, but almost any holster would be more comfortable to carry than the original wooden or plastic holster-shoulder stock of APS. In the field, the APB was carried in the leather flap-type holster with an integral pocket holding shoulder stock with the silencer attached to it. Spare magazines were carried in a double leather pouch, with two pockets each holding two magazines. The standard ammunition load for each APB issued for combat was 100 rounds (one magazine in the gun and four spares in pouch on the belt).

The Stechkin APS pistol, which served as a base for the APB, could in some respects be considered the first “Wondernine” - the high capacity, double action, nine-millimeter caliber pistol. Also, in some respects, it was still influenced by the pre-war machine pistols like the Mauser C96 Schnellfeuer, Astra Modelo F or Star MM. All considered, when originally issued, it failed to fill a predetermined niche as it was too bulky and heavy for a pistol and too weak for a carbine or submachine gun, still less an assault rifle.

The APB pistol is blowback operated, with a fixed barrel. To achieve subsonic velocities under all environmental conditions and with a relatively long barrel (the APS barrel was 140mm long and accelerated the standard 9x18 bullet to transonic velocity of 340 m/s), the barrel of the APB is ported. Two sets of radial holes are drilled, one near the chamber (four holes) and another about an inch from the muzzle (two rows of eight holes total). The barrel is then enclosed in the removable steel tube, which then flows the excessive powder gases forward to the muzzle and protects the internals of the gun from hot gases and burnt residue. This tube extends forward from the muzzle of the barrel for about an inch to provide a necessary mounting interface for a quick-detachable silencer. This interface consists of a single turn of the thread made on the outside of tube. In the original APS design, the return spring was located around the barrel. A new return spring of larger diameter was manufactured and the slide was machined from inside to provide more room for the enlarged diameter spring. During disassembly, the tube can be easily detached from the barrel once the slide and return spring are removed. This is necessary for routine cleaning and maintenance of the gun. Although the gun examined by the author was probably not cleaned for years, it ran flawlessly.

The trigger is double action with an exposed hammer. A three-position safety works as a fire mode selector (safe - semi - auto), and also forces the hammer to decock safely when the gun is set on “safe”. To provide controllable full automatic fire, the APB is fitted with an inertia-type rate reducer made in the form of a steel plunger that reciprocates up and down in the grip just behind the magazine channel. When the pistol is fired in full automatic mode, at the end of its forward movement the slide hits the plunger and forces it down against its spring while at the same time the hammer is held cocked by the automatic sear. Once the plunger completes its down-and-up cycle, it strikes the automatic sear and thus releases the hammer to fire the next shot. The magazine is of the double-stack type with a double feed with the magazine release located at the base of the grip. The sights are of somewhat unusual design with a fixed front and a range-adjustable rear. Rear sight adjustments are made by the rotation of a small drum, which has pre-sets for 25, 50, 100 and 200 meters range. The grip is slotted, originally to accept the shoulder stock-holster, which in the APB version was replaced by a detachable steel wire stock. The stock has spring-loaded clamps, which are used to attach a silencer to it for storage and transportation.

The quick-detachable silencer is of a relatively simple and robust design. It consists of a steel tube, open at the rear, and a steel insert that runs the entire length of the silencer and provides mounting surfaces on the rear and holds four steel baffles at the middle and front. Baffles are permanently welded to the insert, so for all practical purposes, the silencer can be broken down to just two parts: the outer shell and insert. To provide an unblocked sight line with the original sights, the silencer is of an eccentric design, with most of its volume being moved downward from the axis of the bore. It is probably not the most effective design, but it is certainly robust, can withstand rough handling and serve for years without any cleaning and maintenance. To protect the silencer from unscrewing itself through use, it has a spring-loaded lock.

Manual safety: a lever at the left side of the slide. Rotate lever forward and up to turn the safety on; rotate it down about 60 degrees (position marked with a dot) to turn the safety off for single shot mode. Rotate it all the way back to set to the automatic fire mode. When applied, the safety blocks the movement of the slide and decocks the hammer automatically.

Field stripping procedure: 1) remove the magazine by pressing the magazine release button; 2) check that the chamber is empty; 3) pull the trigger guard downwards, then swing it to one side to lock it in the open position; 4) pull the slide all the way back, then raise the rear of the slide to the top, and off the frame rails; 5) carefully ease the slide forward and off the barrel; 6) remove the return spring from the barrel; 7) rotate the gas evacuation tube left or right for 1/4 of a turn, then pull it forward and out of the barrel. Reassemble in reverse order.

APB Spetsnaz Pistol

Trigger type: Double / single action
Caliber / ammunition used: 9x18 PM
Muzzle velocity: 290 m/s (950 fps)
Weight, empty gun w/o accessories: 1100 g (2.4 lbs)
Weight, with silencer and shoulder stock: 1600 g (3.5 lbs)
Length: 780 mm (30.7”) with stock and silencer, 257 mm (10.1”) gun w/o accessories
Barrel length: 140 mm (5.5”)
Magazine capacity: 20 rounds

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N4 (January 2009)
and was posted online on July 13, 2012


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