Testfire: Checking Out Century Arms’ Romanian Tokarev Pistol
by John Malloy
Century International Arms Inc. (430 South Congress Ave., Suite 1, Dept. GWK, Delray Beach, FL 33445; phone: 800-527-1252; online: centuryarms.com) is offering Romanian TTC Tokarev pistols as surplus items. The Tokarev pistol is one of the world’s classic handgun designs. It is good to see these historic arms available again to shooters.
Century is bringing the current supply of Tokarevs from Romania, a Balkan state on the Black Sea. Romania has had a troubled history. Its important oil fields (such as Ploesti), and its rich farm lands have tempted many to attempt to take control of the area. During World War II, the dictatorship that had supported Germany was overthrown in 1944, and Romania (then generally identified as Rumania) came into the war on the side of the Allies. However, after the war, the country was taken over by local Communists. By 1952, the Soviet Union was firmly in control. Romanian forces were to be armed with Russian-designed firearms, to be made in Romania.
The handgun to be made was the Tokarev.
The Tokarev pistol had been designed in the USSR in the early 1930s. Fedor (or Fyodor) Tokarev was working at Tula Arsenal in 1929 when the pistol testing program got underway. In 1930, Tokarev had his first pistol model finished. An improved version was adopted in 1933 as the TT-33 (Tula Tokarev 1933). The design was a good one, a combination of proven old features and new concepts.
Most of the proven features came from the 1911 Colt/Browning design. It used the general design of the reciprocating slide and the tilting-barrel locking system with its pivoting link. The stirrup trigger, barrel bushing and disconnector also came from the 1911 design. The general size and shape followed the earlier compact Colt .380 pocket pistol, but with a longer barrel and slide. There was no manual safetythe hammer was simply thumbed back from half cock to full cock when ready to fire. This simplicity worked fine for the mostly-illiterate Russian army of that time.
The Tokarev has a number of excellent original features. It has a removable firing mechanism that also contains the feed lips to guide the cartridge into the chamber. It simplifies machining by using a device reminiscent of a bicycle-chain clip to retain the slide stop. To keep the grip slim from front to back, the mainspring resides, not in the grip frame, but inside the hammer itself.
Perhaps the reason that the mainspring was not designed in the grip frame was that the cartridge was so long that scant room was left in the grip for much else. The cartridge was the world’s oldest successful automatic pistol cartridge. In 1893, the Borchardt pistol had been introduced in Germany, chambered for a .30-caliber bottleneck cartridge designed by naturalized-American designer Hugo Borchardt. Before long, the German Mauser firm designed their own pistol around the cartridge. Mauser increased the power of the cartridge and introduced the pistol as their famous C96 “broomhandle” pistol. The cartridge became popularly known as the 7.63mm (.30-caliber) Mauser.
Russian revolutionaries purchased a number of Mauser pistols for the ill-fated 1905 revolution against Czarist rule. The Czar’s secret police put down the uprising and confiscated the guns. Reportedly, the secret police liked the Mausers, kept them for their own use, and had ammunition produced for them in Russia.
When the Communists were firmly in control in the early 1920s, they eventually turned their thoughts to modernizing Russian arms. When autoloading pistol development began in 1929, the Mauser round was destined to be the new Soviet pistol cartridge. It was a powerful load, facilities already existed for making it, and the new military leaders were impressed with its range and penetration. It became known as the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge.
The Tokarev pistol was made in large numbers, and served Soviet forces well during World War II. As an aside, captured Tokarevs were reportedly used by the Germans with 7.63 Mauser ammunition. (German training manuals recommended this usage.)
So, both the pistol and cartridge have stood the test of time, and have a good reputation.
As we have noted, Romania was forced to equip with Russian-designed firearms in the early 1950s. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Romania began reforms, working toward democracy. The country joined NATO in 2004, and became a member of the European Union in 2007. Recently, Romania began offering surplus firearms to the international market. As has happened before, the largest market for surplus firearms turned out to be the country with the greatest degree of personal freedomthe United States.
So, we are fortunate to have the Romanian Tokarevs offered in our country by Century Arms.
My first look at one of Century’s Tokarevs was positive. The testfire pistol was dated 1953. The all-steel pistol was in very good condition, and came with a leather holster, extra magazine, lanyard, and cleaning rod. I immediately began to think of it as a potential trail gun.
Measuring and weighing the pistol gave these results: the overall length was 7-1/4 inches, while the height was 5 inches. Barrel length ran about 4-5/8 inches, and the pistol weighed 30 ounces. Magazine capacity is eight rounds. The slide is just a hair over three-quarters of an inch wide, and at the front, the lower portion decreases in width to ˚ inch. If one desires, the slim Tokarev can be easily slipped inside a waistband or belt. The all-steel pistol is relatively light for the power level of its cartridge.
In fact, the general appearance of the TTC is that of a pocket pistol with a longer-than-usual barrel. Back during World War II, when the rest of the world first learned of the Tokarev pistol, firearms authority W.H.B. Smith, having only seen a picture, speculated that the Tokarev was probably a blowback pistol using a reduced-power cartridge.
The Romanian Tokarevs coming in to Century International have a feature not found on the original designa thumb safety. A trigger-lock manual safety has been added, with the lever just forward of the left grip. When in the “up” position, the trigger is blocked from moving. A natural downward sweep of the shooter’s right thumb will ready the pistol to shoot. It works well and feels natural. A manual safety is required for importation into the United States, and I think this is one of the best designed for the Tokarev. Of course, a shooter can still use the half-cock position. However, do not put the hammer down on a loaded chamber. The Romanian Tokarev does not have an inertia firing pin!
When getting a new gun, one should know how to safely disassemble it for cleaning and routine care. The Tokarev was designed with untrained soldiers in mind, and is relatively easy to take apart and maintain.
First step when observing any semi-auto pistol is to point it in a safe direction and remove the magazine. Then check to make sure the chamber is not loaded.
If you should choose to use the traditional disassembly method similar to that of the 1911 Colt, press in the front recoil spring retainer through the hole in the barrel bushing with a handy item (not surprisingly, the tip of a bullet in a loaded cartridge works fine). Then, turn the bushing (in either direction) being careful to control the spring. Withdraw both spring and bushing forward out of the slide.
This method works fine, but the latest NRA Assembly/Disassembly handbook suggests another way: I have been won over to this later recommendation.
Again, remove the magazine and check to make sure the chamber is unloaded. Use the magazine base to push (or pull) the slide stop retainer clip on the right side of the frame (the part that looks as if it belongs on a bicycle chain) until it releases the slide stop. Then, push the slide stop through from right to left.
Now, here comes the only part where you have to be cautious: Ease the slide forward and off, while holding the recoil spring against the barrel to control it. Continue to control the recoil spring after the slide comes off. Grip the rear recoil spring guide, push slightly against the spring, and lift the guide free from the barrel lug. Now, the recoil spring can be easily removed.
Turn the barrel bushing 180 degrees and pull it from the front of the slide. Now the link can be pivoted against the barrel, and the barrel is easily removed from the front of the slide.
With the slide off, if desired, the firing mechanism can be removed from the frame. Simply grasp firmly and pull upward.
No further disassembly is generally needed for cleaning and maintenance. When finished, reassemble in reverse order. Be sure to keep the recoil spring under control.
For test firing at the range, I had acquired a supply of surplus European 7.62x25 ammunition, which is also offered by Century. The cartridges I got were headstamped “53” and I assumed that meant 1953 manufacture. Initial firing showed this elderly ammunition gave very good results. The ammunition is loaded with 86-grain bullets and the muzzle velocity is in the neighborhood of about 1,400 feet per second (fps), pretty standard for this cartridge.
However, I wondered how it might compare with other types of ammunition. 7.62x25 ammunition is generally not available at your local Wal-Mart (even if they had any pistol ammunitionof any kindin stock.) So, I scoured through my stock of miscellaneous ammunition and came up with these other types:
Chinese surplus military with copper-washed steel cases, packaged by Norinco.
Russian surplus military with brass cases, packaged (long ago) by Interarms.
Winchester 7.62x25 Tokarev ammunition, brass cases, 85-grain bullets.
Fiocchi 7.63mm Mauser cartridges, brass cases, 88-grain bullets.
All of these types of ammunition functioned flawlessly. The shape of the bottlenecked cartridge actually “funnels” its way into the chamber, and good functioning is a mark of that caliber. Also, the final orientation of the cartridge is by the guides inside the pistol, not by the magazine lips. The Tokarev operates very reliably.
All the different types of cartridges gave decent groups of about the same general sizes. At 10 yards, all types shot 5-shot groups between one inch and two inches. There were some interesting “groups within groups” during the firing. The Fiocchi rounds (in one 1˘-inch group) put 3 of 5 shots into 5/8 inch, and the Russian military loads (in one 1˚-inch group) put three into ˚ inch. Could a younger, clearer-eyed shooter have fired consistently smaller groups? I must consider that a possibility.
At 25 yards, 5-shot groups were fired at the NRA 25-yard Slow Fire pistol target, the black of which measures approximately 5-3/16 inches. Groups sizes ranges from 2∫ inches to 5˚ inches. The 5˚-inch group was pretty obviously due to operator error, but for consistency, it was included in the averages. Essentially, all types of ammunition will stay well in the black of the standard target at 25 yards.
In short, using five different types of ammunition, 10-yard groups averaged 1.40 inches; 25-yard groups averaged 3.95 inches. There were no misfires and functioning was flawless with all types. This is splendid performance and very good accuracy for an unmodified surplus military pistol.
I must admit that I tried some loads that did not make it into the group averages. With my initial idea of a trail gun still in mind, I loaded some lead-bullet handloads with 88-grain and 112-grain bullets. Although there was some promise, each of my lead-bullet groups included one or more keyholes or tipped bullets. More work is needed, but I still like the trail-gun concept.
A word about corrosive ammunition: much of the 7.62x25 ammunition available today was manufactured with corrosive primers. In fact, even if vintage surplus ammunition has “non-corrosive” hand-marked on the packaging, I consider it as corrosivewhoever stenciled the mark on the package probably did not speak English, and might not have known what the word meant. Fortunately, simply swabbing the bore with water or US military bore cleaner will remove the corrosive salts. Then the bore can be dried, and cleaned normally. It is very easy to get the barrel out of Century’s Tokarev, so proper cleaning should not be a problem.
In the past, 7.62x25mm Tokarev pistols have not achieved great popularity because of their uncommon ammunition. However, we are in a unique situation at the time of this writing. Because of the anti-gun philosophy of the current administration in Washington, DC, people have been stocking up on firearms and ammunition.
Many local stores remain sold out of the common calibers of pistol ammunition. However, large mail-order ammunition suppliers have good quantities of 7.62x25 ammunition. Under these circumstances, the compact, ultra-reliable Romanian Tokarev, with a plentiful supply of potent ammunition, definitely is worth consideration as your next handgun.
On the Home Page: Malloy shoots the Romanian TTC from a bedroll rest and finds the high-velocity pistol shoots decent groups.
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