PPSh-41 Submachine Gun
Submachine guns have been around for a century, with John T. Thompson coining the term near the end of the First World War. Prior to the introduction of the assault rifle, submachine guns filled an important tactical niche. Designed to discharge pistol ammunition at a high rate of fire, they were ideal for cleaning out trenches, foxholes, or bunkers of enemy soldiers. World War II marked the apex of submachine gun production, with dozens of different models appearing on the battlefield over the duration of the conflict. By the early 1940s, millions of these weapons flooded the international arms market.
Practically every major power held claim to a domestically produced version of the submachine gun, with several nations producing some very effective weapons. United States servicemen were armed with the iconic “Tommy Gun,” the Nazis made use of the exceptional MP 40 Maschinenpistole, while the British Sten gun became one of the premiere counterinsurgency weapons of the mid twentieth-century. Arguably the most influential of all WWII submachine guns, however, was the Soviet PPSh-41 pistolet-pulemyot Shpagina, or “Shpagina machine pistol.” Also referred to as the “papasha” (Russian, “daddy”), the PPSh-41 permeated virtually every aspect of Soviet war effort from the early 1940s onward.
Although five million copies were produced by the end of the war, PPSh-41 production got off to a slow start. Moscow factories only managed to squeeze out a few hundred of the guns, during their first run, in 1941. Only several months later, however, 3,000 of the weapons were being produced per day. Chambered in 7.62x25mm Tokarev, the PPSh-41 utilizes a relatively simple design, relying upon a stamped receiver and gas suppressor to both facilitate production and increase performance, respectively. The design was so sound that the Germans officially adapted a version later in the war, the MP 41 (r).
All said and done, the simple effectiveness of the PPSh-41, coupled with the sheer volume of copies produced, made the papasha a tactical mainstay of the Red Army. On several occasions, entire companies or platoons were armed with these weapons, who swarmed Nazi soldiers in bloody close quarters combat. Thousands of PPSh-41s were also dropped behind enemy lines for use by Soviet partisans acting against their German oppressors. The PPSh-41 saw extended action throughout the remainder of the twentieth-century, especially in parts of Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Thousands of copies remain in circulation even today, wreaking havoc in many third-world countries across the globe.