Was the world’s first assault rifle German, or was it Russian? Read this evening’s Weapon Trivia Wednesday and let us know what you think. Mad Duo
WTW: Federov Avtomat
Coming to you courtesy of Groz
Remember that assault rifle the Russians fielded in World War I? The one with an integral vertical foregrip? Probably, not but after reading this article you can say you do. The weapon system in question is Federov Avtomat, produced from 1915-1924. While usually overshadowed by the German MP-44, the Federov Avtomat is arguably the world’s first assault rifle. With just 3,200 anufactured by Kovrov Arms Factory the Federov is far from a commonly known firearm. This weapon would see limited use in World War I, but would see the battlefield again in the Russian Civil War and the Winter War (or Soviet-Finnish War) of 1939-40.
Interestingly enough, the Federov Avtomat was chambered in the Japanese 6.5x50mmSR Arisaka semi-rimmed cartridge. Using a short-recoil locked breech operating system with a bolt hold open, the Federov had a rather complicated cycle of operation for the time. Fed from a 25 round detachable box magazine it had a cycle rate of 350-400 rounds per minute. The 4.4kg or 9.7lbs weapon was designed by Capt. Vladimir Federov, who would later become a General in the Red Army with the help of Vasily Degtyaryov. Federov first fabricated a prototype in 1906 in 7.62x54R, the standard Russian and later Soviet rifle cartridge. This early design would be submitted for testing in 1911.
After approval the weapon was converted to 6.5Federov and 150 test weapons were produced. The idea of converting the prototypes to 6.5mm and adding a select fire capability was a byproduct of Federov serving as a military observer in France and coming into contact with the Chauchat (see below). Federov believed he could, and successfully did, improve the concept of the Chauchat as a man portable automatic weapon. He produced a far superior weapon in his Avtomat.
To achieve this Federov utilized an intermediate size cartridge to create less felt recoil while still providing adequate range and stopping power. The original intermediate round Avtomat was in his own 6.5mm cartridge. However, the adoption bureau would not approve a new round so in a strange twist of fate the Japanese 6.5x50mmSR was used instead. Before you start wondering why the Russians would use a Japanese cartridge, remember that the two countries less than a decade before fought the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905. During this nasty little conflict (which should have presaged the problems of trench warfare to European militaries, but mostly didn’t) the Russians had encountered the 6.5x50mmSR Arisaka round. They had adopted the use of Japanese rifles firing this cartridge. Since they had around 400 million rounds of 6.5mm Arisaka on hand (purchased through the British), it was decided this would be the round for the Federov. It was also during this phase of adoption that the term Avtomat was adopted as a term used to describe the Federov.
In 1916 the Weapons Committee of the Russian Army requested 25,000 Federov Avtomats as a substitute light machine gun, differing from the intended actual use of the weapon in the field as an individual weapon utilized like an assault rifle. By 1918 during the Russian Civil War the request was dropped to 9,000 units and this would eventually end up with just 3,200 units being produced. Some of this was due to the whole country being thrown into violent revolution and (according to some) the cost. In 1918 era rubles the Avtomat cost 1,090 rubles per unit compared to a Madsen LMG (Light Machine Gun) which cost 1,730 rubles.
Some Russian units in World War I used the Federov, although only in very small numbers. This included aerial gunners. Some ARRs (After Action Report) from the Karelian Uprising of 1921-22 about the Federov were published by the Red Army. Early conclusions were that the weapon did fulfill its intended role very well. A later review in 1924 would cite reliability and performance issues but stated the weapon was accepted as fit for Red Army wide spread fielding. However, the death knell for the Federov sounded that same year, when Red Army command halted the production and use of all weapons which utilized a non-standard cartridge. Due to logistical issues the Federov Avtomats would be placed into storage. This was not the end of the Federov story, as they would be pulled from storage during the Winter War or Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40 when requests for automatic weapons were submitted by the Red Army.
One could ask why was this weapon not fielded in larger numbers by the Soviets or other forces. There are a number of reasons. First was the use of a foreign cartridge, which was not produced in the Soviet Union. Secondly, the Federov Avtomat was not without its faults. The short-recoil operating system was prone to failures when fouled. This may have been exacerbated by the difficult breakdown and reassembly procedures due to its complicated design. As can be witnessed in the video below, the weapon is difficult to field strip. When dealing with a largely illiterate Soviet conscript army this would be problematic. Also early production units had poor parts interchangeability, to include the magazines.
Western analysis (including a U.S. Army study) concluded that the weapon was too complex for mass production and was prone to overheating. A Russian study found that after firing 300 rounds cyclic the weapon became inoperable. However, looking at the Russian study one would be right to ask if during this study the Federov was being tested as light machine gun or an infantry rifle – that would be an important consideration. I would point to the weapon simply being too advanced for the time period it was designed in. Military forces would not request designs for assault weapons until decades later.
Weapon Trivia Wednesday, the Chauchat.
Weapon Trivia Wednesday, the Pecheneg.
Weapon Trivia Wednesday: the AR-18.
About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is a former Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry with combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations. During his tenure as a gyrene many doors were kicked, gates blown and people’s days excessively ruined. During these deployments Sean often instructed the use of foreign weapon systems, helped his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and was his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something). He is a wealth of information regarding al things Cordura, Steel and COMBLOC.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang-CLEAR!