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Russia's enigmatic and mysterious PSM Pipsqueak? Clandestine affairs? Badge of rank? KGB Pistol ? Most of us have seen it pictured, but very few have fired it. Kokalis is one of them, and clears up some misconceptions about this little pocket pistol.

During the Soviet era, information about the small arms of the Soviet Union was never easily obtained and all too frequently, wild and mostly erroneous speculation prevailed. The very worst place to obtain valid information about Soviet small arms was and remains, without doubt, the Internet.

Writing under pseudonyms and colorful noms de plume on dozens of firearms blogs, individuals with absolutely no valid credentials of any kind, who have never actually handled or examined the weapon in question, invent "descriptions" and "facts" based solely upon their Vivid imaginations.

A noteworthy example is the PSM (Pistolet Samozaryadnaya Malogabaritniy--"miniature semiautomatic pistol"). More totally incorrect data is floating around in cyberspace about this very small handgun than almost any other firearm.


Various firearms blogs have stated that the PSM was designed in 1969; that it's capable of penetrating 55 layers of Kevlar soft body armor or 30 to 45 layers of Kevlar followed by 10 to 15mm of solid pinewood; that its 5.45x18mm cartridge was designed by Antonina D. Denisova at the Precision Mechanical Engineering Central Research Institute (TsNIITochmash); that it was developed at the request of the KGB (State Security Committee of the Soviet Union); that the stopping power of its cartridge is so "miserable" that some police operatives officially refused to carry this pistol in harm's way; that it was officially adopted in 1972; that its jacketed bullet can seemingly take forever to disable a target; that those,. suffering a fatal shot in the chest area continued to fight or run for as much as half an hour; that during the early 1990s it became a favorite among criminal hit men; that the.25 ACP cartridge (for which the Baikal-441 export model was chambered, although it never went beyond the prototype stage) is actually slightly more effective than the original 5.45x18mm round; and finally, that it is an ideal weapon for personal self defense.

Which of these statements are true? As it turns out, none of them. Let's examine the actual history and chronology of the PSM; who it was actually developed for and the true nature of its cartridge's wound ballistics potential. Reality can be every bit as fascinating as Internet fiction.

First of all, the very controversial 5.45x18mm cartridge was developed in the early 1970s, by Aleksandr Bochin and Antonina Denisova. The bottle-necked cartridge weighs 4.8 grams (74 grains), including an FMJ, spitzer-style projectile with a flat tip that weighs 2.4 to 2.6 grams (37 to 40 grains) and a propellant charge weight of. 15 gram (2.3 grains).

The maximum chamber pressure - generated upon firing is 127 MPa (1300kg/sq. cm). The muzzle velocity is approximately 315 meters per second (1034 fps). While the bullet weight and muzzle velocity are similar. to those of the.22 LR rimfire round, Soviet authorities claimed that the cartridge approaches the "efficiency" (whatever that decidedly unscientific term means) of the, 9x18mm Makarov cartridge. This is, at the very least, somewhat debatable.

Although unreported in the West, there are two distinct ammunition types for the caliber 5.45x18mm PSM--the MPTs and MPTs-2. They differ from each other in projectile design. The MPTs has an FMJ bullet with a lead core. The MPTs-2 has an FMJ bullet with a steel tip in front of a lead core. The MPTs-2 projectile design resembles those of the Russian 7.62x54R 7N1 sniper cartridge and the NATO 5.56x45mm SS109/M855 cartridge, as the steel core is situated at the tip of the bullet, while at the rear is a lead core.

The external configuration of both the MPTs and MPTs-2 projectiles is identical, the only difference being the length of the bullets. The length of the MPTs is 13mm, while that of the MPTs-2 is 14.3mm. The drawings of the MPTs cartridge were signed by Aleksandr Bochin and Antonia Denisova in December of 1971 and the specification drawings for the MPTs-2 were signed during May of 1972.

And, what about the 5.45x18mm cartridge's supposed ability to defeat up to 55 layers of Kevlar? First of all, and most conspicuously, those who talk about this do not say whether they are referring to the MPTs or the MPTs-2 projectile. Undoubtedly, because they are totally unaware that there are two distinct bullet types, which most certainly have different penetration capabilities through a substantial number of different media, varying from tissue simulant to layers of Kevlar.

My close personal friend, Mikhail Dragunov, the eldest son of the late Evgeniy Dragunov--designer of the SVD sniper weapon system--and himself a senior design engineer at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant, which has been the sole series production manufacturer of the PSM, has emphatically stated to me that penetration of Keylar body armor was not at all one of the original design parameters for the PSM RFP (Request For Proposal). It was, in fact, a completely unanticipated secondary effect, not at all either expected or intended by the project team.

Since the PSM pistol and the 5.45x18mm cartridge were developed concurrently, it's obvious that the pistol itself, was also designed in the early 1970s. The design team (typical of late Soviet small arms developments) consisted of Tikhon Ivanovich Lashnev, Anatoliy Alexee-vich Simarin and Lev Leonidovich Kulikov, who worked together at the design bureau at the Tula ordnance works outside of Moscow.

The principal design concept for what was to become the PSM was as a weapon for high-ranking army officers, and, in fact, its unofficial designation was "The General's Pistol." The fact that after its adoption it became the weapon of choice among officers of various state security agencies, including the KGB, and high-level members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was not part of the original RFP


As an example, Boris Yeltsin was issued a PSM since he was the "Prime Secretary" of a regional committee of the CPSU. One of the pistol design team's main goals, and that of Aleksandr. Bochin and Antonia Denisova, was simply to develop a compact, lightweight handgun with a low recoil impulse.

No clandestine or assassination parameters of any kind were associated with the original design concept. A substantial number of PSM handguns that I have examined over the years at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant were ornately engraved and gold filled and thus clearly intended for presentation to high-ranking army officers or persons of high government status.

It goes without saying that during the Cold War, sinister intents were all too often incorrectly attributed to a substantial number of Soviet small arms developments. These misconceptions were not mitigated by the secrecy at all levels surrounding the Soviet small arms industry.

During seven trips to Izhevsk, Russia, I have had several opportunities to examine and fire the PSM. It's a truly small pistol with an envelope reminiscent of the Walther TPH, although slightly larger. The PSM has an overall length of 155mm (6.1 inches), with a barrel, length of 85mm (3.35 inches). The height is 109mm (4.3 inches). The most exceptional dimension of the PSM is its incredible flatness, as it is only 17.5mm (.69") thick. The weight, empty, is 460 grams (16.23 ounces) and fully loaded it's 510 grams (18 ounces). The barrel has six grooves with a l:ll.4 right hand twist.

The specimen that. I examined for this article carries, on the left side of the frame, the serial number "EC2053," followed by the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (where it has always been manufactured) manufacturer's code of an arrow in an isosceles triangle in a circle and "84," indicating manufacture in 1984.

The left side of the slide is marked with only the serial number. Up until 1984, all PSM pistols were fitted with a very thin, wraparound, one-piece, black anodized, machined aluminum alloy grip panel with very fine vertical serrations on each side.






The grip panel assembly extends slightly below the magazine well at the bottom of the frame. All of the pistol's steel components were given a black oxide finish. The backstrap, which is part of the wraparound grip assembly, also has very fine vertical serrations, as does the front strap, which is integral with the steel frame assembly.

After 1984, the grip panel assembly was significantly increased in size and fabricated from a fiberglass-reinforced polyamide (very similar to Zytel).

Both the frame and slide are machine-finished steel forgings. Overall build quality is excellent and the slide-to-frame tolerances have been held quite close. The external configuration and overall appearance of the PSM is quite modern and exceptionally svelte. The method of operation, quite typical of semiautomatic pistols of relatively small caliber and low recoil impulse, is unlocked, pure blowback.

Thus, in the conventional manner, the barrel is attached to the frame and does not move during the recoil and counter recoil strokes of the slide. The single coil recoil spring is wrapped around the barrel and is held in place by the muzzle end of the slide.

The sights are minimalist. The half-moon-shaped, blade-type front sight is fixed and cannot be adjusted. The rather high profile, open square-notch rear sight has been installed in a dovetail at the rear of the slide. It was-adjusted for lateral impact at the factory by means of an index line at the very rear end of the slide. It is not intended that the user will attempt any adjustment of the rear sight. The top of the slide has a raised rib between the rear and front sights, intended to reduce glare.

There are 13 slightly forward-canted cocking serrations on each side of the slide at the rear. The two-piece, spring-loaded extractor is an external type located to the rear of the ejection port, which is located on the right side of the slide.

One of the PSM's most distinctive features, in keeping with the design team's effort to keep the pistol as thin as, possible, is the manual safety lever on the left side at the very rear end of the slide. The lever is completely flush with the slide and its tip wraps inward at the slide rear.

When the safety lever is rotated rearward, a very small red dot on the slide is exposed to indicate that the safety lever is in the fire position. If the hammer is cocked, rotating the safety lever forward into the safe position will drop the hammer and completely block the trigger;

The safety lever can also be rotated forward into the safe position when the hammer is forward in the uncocked position. The safety lever is exceptionally difficult to rotate and this is, in my opinion, a very serious design flaw. The rounded hammer's tip has deep knurling to assist manually cocking it.

The safety lever is not ambidextrous and its large axis pin is exposed on the right side of the slide, but again it's totally flush with the slide.

The PSM has a double-action/single-action trigger mechanism. The trigger is smooth and without serrations of any kind. The first shot can be fired double-action or single-action, if the hammer is manually cocked. The double-action trigger pull weight on the specimen I tested was quite heavy at 12.75 pounds. But, after taking up a small amount of slack, the single-action pull weight was a fairly crisp 4.25 pounds.

The magazine catch/release is located at the bottom of frame, directly to the rear of the magazine well; again, obviously in an attempt to keep the pistol's overall envelope as thin as possible. While this design parameter has been successfully accomplished, once again, as in the case of the safety lever, it was done at the expense of the operator's ability to manipulate the controls smoothly and rapidly.

The serrated tip of the magazine catch/release is difficult to press, rearward with any degree of speed and a so-called "tactical reload" would be impossible. This is but another clear indication that a handgun's applications as a fighting tool were not part of the Request For Proposal of this project. There is an angled-hole at the very base of the wraparound grip assembly that opens on the left side for the attachment of a lanyard.

The eight-round, single-column, detachable box magazine has a steel body that's open on each side in a manner reminiscent of the Makarov's. The sheet metal follower was designed so that it can be depressed by hand, which makes loading it rapid and easy. The oval-shaped, coiled follower spring is held in place by a black anodized, aluminum alloy floorplate, which in turn is retained by the bottom tip of the follower spring. The magazine can be disassembled in seconds.





I have examined two different leather holsters for the PSM. The standard issue holster is a full flap-type with a spare magazine pouch sewn to the holster's front face. This is a typical Russian military-style holster and indicates that the intended end users were military personnel.

The other holster, marked "MADE IN CHINA" on the inside face of the retaining strap, has five cartridge loops sewn to its outside face. In the Chinese manner, it has red velvet lining. I have no idea for whom or what it is intended, although I have seen a number of Chinese-made holsters for various pistols in Russian military clothing and equipment stores in both Moscow and Izhevsk.

What precisely are the wound ballistics potential of the PSM and its small 5.45x18mm cartridge? Is it the totally worthless pipsqueak handgun that its unqualified detractors on the Internet have alleged? Is it a Kevlar-defeating death ray?

We must first define the parameters around which it was designed to accurately answer these questions. It was to be a very small, subcompact pistol intended mostly for high-ranking Soviet military personnel. As such, it was, as handguns have so often been during their entire history, essentially no more than a "badge of rank" and its cartridge and subsequent wound ballistics performance were of decidedly secondary importance.

That it's capable of defeating a substantial number of layers of Kevlar body armor was most certainly a totally unexpected and surprising consequence, as Kevlar body armor was not in widespread circulation when the PSM was developed.

Without doubt, the 5.45x18mm projectile that performs best against Kevlar-type body armor is the MPTs-2 bullet with its steel penetrator frontal core. As a parallel to this, the MPTs-2 bullet will with certainty over-penetrate in unprotected soft tissue, probably to the point of endangering innocent bystanders in an urban environment

But it should also be remembered that a hit to the skull or non-elastic organs, such as the liver and heart, would inflict serious damage. Furthermore, never forget that more people are killed each year in the United States by.22 LR rimfire bullets than all other calibers combined, simply by virtue of the.22 LR cartridge's ubiquitousness and no other reason.

Finally, the argument with regard to this matter is entirely academic, since it's highly unlikely anyone in Russia would be armed with a PSM and there can be no more than half a dozen PSM handguns in the United States and no source ot ammunition here.

At the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (or Baikal as it's also called), the series production for the PSM has been throughout its manufacturing history, only one PSM for every 40 to 50 Makarov pistols produced. In the United States, two PSM pistols have recently sold for $7,000 and $8,000, respectively.

While there is in reality nothing mysterious about the PSM, except for a truly unusual amount of totally incorrect information about it circulating the Internet, which is mostly a consequence of the very small number manufactured; the pistol itself and its ammunition are fascinating without the need for dark intentions.

Disassembly procedures mimic those of the famous Walther PP and PPK pocket pistols. Remove the magazine and rack the slide to make certain no round remains in the chamber. Rotate the trigger guard downward from its front end. Draw the slide completely rearward and lift it upward at its rear end. Then push the slide forward and off the frame.







Remove the recoil spring from the barrel. Disassemble the magazine. After cleaning and lubrication, reassemble in the reverse manner.


There is also a great deal of confusion and misinformation about variants of the PSM chambered for other cartridges, both on the Internet and published open sources. Versions of the PSM chambered for both the.25 ACP (6.35xl6mmSR) and.22 LR rimfire cartridges were developed by the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant's R&D department. They were intended for export.

The.25 ACP version, designated as the Baikal-441, was sent in prototype form to the U.S. BATE It, of course, failed the import criteria, which is a "factoring" system, established by the BATE The variant chambered for the.22 LR round was designated as the MP-437. Neither of these models was ever placed into series production.

After adoption of the 1993 Gun Law in the Russian Federation, which permitted "civilian self-defense weapons," the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant commenced production of a version of the PSM designed to shoot gas ammunition charged with a non-lethal CS compound (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile--i.e., "tear gas"). This model is called the IZH-78.

Upping the ante of frightening intimidation, last year the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant introduced the IZH-78-9T, which shoots so-called "traumatic" ammunition, or more explicitly rubber balls. This model has a slight constriction in the barrel to prevent firing MPTs or the MPTs-2 ammunition.

Unfortunately, the Russian criminal element, like it's US equivalents, prefers and deploys weapons firing far more lethal loads.

The author would like to express his gratitude and appreciation to his close friend Mikhail Dragunov, a Senior Design Engineer at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant, for the information he provided, which included a substantial amount of historical and technical data that has never before appeared in print in the English language concerning the PSM.



Caliber: 5.45x18mm

Method of operation: Unlocked, pure blowback

Weight: Empty--460 grams (16.23 ounces); Fully loaded-510 grams (18 ounces)

Length overall: 155mm (6.1 inches)

Width, at the grip panels: 17.5mm (0.69-inch)

Height: 109mm (4.3 inches)

Barrel: Six grooves with a right hand twist of one turn in 290mm (11.4 inches)

Barrel length: 85mm (3.35 inches)

Feed system: Eight-round, single-column, detachable, box magazine

Finish: Black oxide

Grip panel: Wraparound, one-piece, black anodized, machinedy with very fine vertical aluminum allo serrations on each side until 1984. After 1984, the grip panel was significantly larger and made of a fiberglass-reinforced polyamide (very similar to Zytel)

Manufacturer: Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (aka Baikal), Izhevsk, Russian Federation.

Status: In production. In service with the armed forces and some security agencies of the RussiariFederation. Reportedly in service with the-Bulgarian armed forces, Not importable to the United States. Extremely rare in the United States. Production at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant is at the ratio of one PSM to every 40 to 50 Makarov pistols

T&E summary: Designed primarily as a "badge of ranlc for high-ranking army officers, in which role it is more than adequate. As a consequence of serious Internet misconceptions, it has been ridiculed for being deficient in roles for which it was never designed. Significant penetration of Kevlar body armor was an unintended consequence of the design project. Serious over-penetration can be anticipated in unprotected soft tissue, especially the MPTs-2 bullet with its steel penetrator frontal core. Of very high quality manufacture and totally reliable for its designed scenarios. It's most distinctive dimensional characteristic is its incredible flatness.

Text and photos by Peter G. Kokalis
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Author:Kokalis, Peter G.
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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