USSR's B.A.R. Yugosavian Variant The RPK
By James L. Ballou

The Squad Automatic Weapons (SAW) concept is a hand-held, one-man automatic weapon capable of sustained fire served by one soldier. John Moses Browning and Mikhail Kalashnikov were both visionary geniuses whose deadly progeny profoundly affected warfare into, and beyond the 20th century. They both took service rifle cartridges and enhanced their firepower and mobility. Their inventions made one man the equivalent of a squad of men. These Squad Automatic Weapons could, in fact, change the outcome of an armed engagement.

In 1917 John Browning took the .30-06 service rifle round and created the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), which allowed a soldier to walk across “no man’s land” with the firepower equivalent of a squad. Mikhail Kalashnikov, in 1954, took his service rifle in 7.62X39mm and created a Squad Automatic Weapon configuration for it.

Historically, the French M1915 Chauchat was the first successful attempt of such a weapon using a rifle cartridge: perfection came with John Moses Browning’s BAR. Tactically, one must remember the early attempts using a pistol cartridge of a “Trench Broom” of John Marcellus Thompson and the MP18 of Hugo Schmeisser; all of whom dreamed of one man firepower to break the static lines of WWI. What was desired was a weapon capable of suppressive fire at about, 300 to 800 rounds per minute within 100 meters.

It was not until after World War II, with the advent of true intermediate cartridges, that we could truly talk of a real SAW. The 7.62x39 and the 5.56x45 led to several lightweight hand-held Squad Automatic Weapons. Prime examples are the AMELI SPAM, the Minimi M-249, R.P.D., and the Stoner System by Eugene Stoner of Cadillac Gauge.

The salient feature of a SAW is commonality of ammo and/or parts. Ammunition of the same caliber as the rifleman is a must, and the ability to use spare parts carried by the soldier is a real plus.

The Yugoslavian RPK, known as the M 72 R.P.K. (Ruchnoy Pulemut Kalashnikov) has an interesting history. It is of Yugoslavia manufacturer, ZCZ; Zastava-Kragugevae Yugoslavian, with a longer 21 inch semi-finned barrel, which makes the 7.62x39 less ear-shattering, and a longer buttstock that fits Caucasian standards. It has a bipod and is equipped with a forged receiver. The very first RPK prototype was made in 1954-55. Interestingly, the buttstock was identical to the Yugoslavian M-72. The barrel increase led to a 30-m/sec increase in muzzle velocity.

What then, makes this different from all other AK 47 clones and copies? The first is the stock is made to Caucasian, not oriental specifications and has a well-proportioned grip. The most significant difference is the barrel, which is finned at the chamber end. This leads to a most remarkable phenomenon. The barrel and fins are blued with a wondrous precision and after three days of constant shooting and a week of rain and neglect the fins were completely rusted, seemingly beyond all repair. With just a squirt of Break-Free, the bluing came back bright as ever. Whatever the bluing process is, it is nothing short of remarkable.

A little trick may help to make this a more durable weapon. By keeping a peg or spent shell in the ejection port keeps the gas piston rod from freezing in the gas port. Also, Scotch Brite and a shot gun cleaning brush is just the ticket for cleaning the badly fouled gas tubes. Attention to the gas piston and tube will keep the RPK purring at 600 rpm for a long time in the field.

As to the operation, this example has performed in an environment with a chill factor of 60 degrees below zero with winds whipping sand and snow into the action in New Boston and has endured the mud and rain of Stratford Hollow while being fired by scores of novitiates introduced to the joys of automatic weapon shooting. Through it all, it still worked like an old mangy dog. It easily fires thirty round bursts and loves a full seventy-five rounds from a Chinese drum. It has never failed to fire. It is accurate and extremely reliable.

Night after night, you saw this RPK making the streets of Sarajevo uncomfortable for soldiers and civilians alike. Recently a photo appeared of a Zelena Beretke: Tigers of the Croatian Forest, a form of Yugoslavian Green Berets.

The best thing one can say about RPK is that it is the Soviet equivalent of a BAR; a well-designed weapon that works under the most adverse conditions.

Field Stripping

Step One. Remove magazine
Step Two. Check Chamber
Step Three. Remove top cover
Step Four. Remove main spring by pushing forward and lifting up and back
Step Five. Remove bolt and carrier by pulling back and lifting up at notch
Step Six. Remove bolt from carrier
Step Seven. Gas tube maybe removed by rotating latch
(Note; The tube maybe easily cleaned with steel wool on brush.)


Cartridge: 7.62 x39 M- 43 Operation: Gas, selective fire
Method of Locking: Rotating Bolt
Feed: 30 round magazine works with 75 round Drum
Weight: 5 Kg (11-lbs.)
Length: Gun 1.025m (40.25 inches) Barrel 540mm (21.25 Inches)
Sights: Front Post (Pop up Tritium) Rear Leaf Notch 100 to 1,100m
Muzzle Velocity: 7.45 m/s
Rate of Fire: 600 rpm
Range: 800m (875 yd.)
Manufacture: Zavodi Crvena Zastava, Kragujevac, Yugoslavia.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N10 (July 2005)
and was posted online on May 10, 2013


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