Avtomat Fyodorov – Weapon capable of fully automatic fire
Not so long ago, it was a de facto ideologically motivated duty to declare that the best results in scientific and technical research were always achieved by Russian or Soviet inventors. After 1989, however, the opposite extreme is often encountered. Of course, these ideological shifts also affect weapons. Surprisingly, there is still one interesting type of military technology that has not been the object of uncritical admiration or dismissive scorn.
The rifle, for which the name ‚Fyodorov’s automatic rifle‘ is commonly used today, is an automatic infantry weapon with a small-calibre cartridge, fulfilling the specifications of the category of today’s assault rifles. However, the progressive weapon did not spread very widely and for some mysterious reason still remains to stand aside from the interest of most experts.
Vladimir Grigorievich Fyodorov (1874-1966) served in the Russian army as an artillery officer, but at the same time he was intensively engaged in the development of infantry weapons. He was among those who were aware of the Tsarist army’s lagging behind other great powers. Although the Russians possessed high quality Mosin 1891 repeating rifles, their insufficient number made it necessary to arm many soldiers with only single-shot weapons.
At the same time, the Tsarist army suffered from a shortage of machine guns. Fyodorov therefore attempted to design new types of infantry weapons that would more significantly support the firepower of the Tsarist army’s conventional infantry. Unlike Mosin’s repeating rifle, however, these were to be self-loading rifles, which eliminated the need to discharge/reload by manually moving the breech.
Weapon capable of fully automatic fire
In addition to the designers Tokarev and Roshchepey, Fyodorov also supplied his prototype of the self-loading rifle, who was later assisted in the design by the famous creator of submachine guns and machine guns, Vasily Degtyarev. The prototype of the new weapon was tested in 1906, but it was not until 1911 that the army ordered 150 of the first series.
The self-loading rifle used conventional 7.62×54 mm calibre ammunition with rimfire cartridge and performed well. In 1913, Fyodorov submitted another prototype to the General Staff, but this time it was a more advanced weapon, also capable of fully automatic fire.
Ammunition was another difference, as Fyodorov also designed a completely new cartridge. In doing so, he made a prophetic assumption that would be welcomed by foreign gunsmiths many years later. He stated that common rifle cartridges in the 7 and 8 mm calibre range were unnecessarily powerful ammunition – for a gun firing a burst, he proposed a smaller cartridge. At the same time, however, he reasoned that the fully automatic rifle was a suitable weapon only for disciplined and experienced shooters who would not waste ammunition.
He chambered his Model 1913 automatic rifle for the new 6.5mm cartridge. At the same time, Fyodorov was also impressed by the Chauchat light machine gun, with which he had become acquainted in 1915 in France. But it was too big and heavy, so the Russian engineer decided to go the route of a weapon with the weight of a conventional rifle, but still offering firepower almost on par with a machine gun. A revolutionary idea.
The recoil mechanism
In 1916, he therefore made two modifications to his 1913 concept – firstly, he added a switch for the possibility of firing single shots or bursts, and secondly, he integrated a large magazine. His rifle originally used (like the repeating rifles of the time) an internal cartridge box, while the 1916 model received a curved in-line magazine for 25 rounds. It attracted considerable interest from the army, but the reality of the Russian war economy precluded the possibility of starting production of a new cartridge. Fyodorov therefore rechambered his rifle to existing ammunition of similar parameters, namely the Japanese 6.5×50 mm cartridge used in Arisaka repeating rifles.
The Russian army had a considerable stock of Japanese ammunition – some of it was supplied by England, and some of it was purchased by the army directly in Japan. A rifle using this ammunition received the official name „2.5-linelya vintovka Fyodorova“ in 1916. The army ordered 25,000 of them. Soon it was also known as „avtomat“, which became firmly established in Russian and subsequently became part of the designation of automatic rifles.
It is safe to say that Fyodorov has created a weapon that is very close to the modern category of assault rifles. This is also true in terms of the ammunition used, as the 6.5mm Arisaka cartridge already lies on the border of what is nowadays referred to as the „medium ballistic performance cartridge“, representing the standard ammunition for assault rifles.
Functionally, the first Russian „automaton“ used the recoil concept with a short barrel lock; it fired from a locked breech, which was locked by two bolts located on the sides. They moved vertically and rotated at the moment of firing, allowing the bolt to move to the rear position, ejecting the empty cartridge and inserting a new cartridge into the chamber. The gun had adjustable mechanical sights. When firing single shots, it allowed to reliably hit a circle with a radius of 0,5 m at a distance of 200 m. Batch firing was considered effective up to a distance of approximately 500 m.
Plans versus reality
It was assumed that four soldiers in each infantry platoon of the tsarist army (each platoon had about 50 men) would receive the Fyodorov system rifles, logically the best shooters. However, that order of 25,000 specimens soon dropped to 9,000. This was because the weapon proved to be very complex and expensive for mass production – its price was then approaching that of a light machine gun.
Moreover, the design did exhibit some „childhood diseases“, failing at the beginning of its service, especially when fired in bursts. If the weapon fired approximately 300 rounds in this way, it basically meant the end of the life of the overheated barrel. Therefore, only a few hundred of these rifles eventually saw combat in the First World War, some of which were acquired by a special company of the 189th Regiment, which successfully deployed them on the Romanian front in 1917. A few pieces also went to the naval air force and then appeared on board aircraft.
Automaton for the Red Army
However, the overall influence of the „Fyodorov automaton“ on the course of the conflict was practically nil. The situation changed somewhat with the Bolshevik Revolution, as the commanders of the forming Red Army found a liking for this weapon and supported its production regardless of the cost. Serial production continued until 1925, producing over 3,000 examples in total. „They were mostly used by the elite (and politically most reliable) Red Army units, including those who fought against the then independent Finland in 1921-1922.
The weapons proved quite effective on the northern battlefield, and for a time the command even entertained proposals to introduce the modified Fyodorov rifle as a standard weapon of the Red Army. Subsequently, however, the decision was taken to take all Russian weapons chambered for foreign ammunition out of service (so as not to create supply problems), so by 1928 the army withdrew its „automata“ from service to armories.
During the Winter War with Finland (1939-1940), when the Red Army felt a shortage of automatic weapons, it returned to them for a time. In ever-diminishing numbers, these rifles then fought until the end of World War II. The end of the Second World War and the early post-war period saw the birth of concepts for promising infantry weapons, i.e. modern assault rifles, in the history of which Fyodorov’s design clearly has a well-deserved place.
TTD Fyodorov 1916
Ammunition type: 6,5×50
Magazine capacity: 25 rounds
Weapon length: 1 045 mm
Barrel length: 520 mm
Weight of loaded weapon: 5.2 kg
Max. cadence: 600 rounds/min.
Max. range: 2 100 m