The SVT 40 Self-loading Rifle
By the 1940 official TO&Es, the standard Soviet rifle squad was to be fully armed with automatic weapons. A rifle section was to have a leader, a 2-man light machine gun team, 2 men with SMGs and 6 more with self-loading rifles. Over 1.5 million such SVT rifles were produced. They are commonplace in photos of the period and the Finns record having captured 20,000 of them in the Winter War and Continuation War (which clearly must indicate widespread supply to the front line).
But for some reason they are poorly represented on the wargames table and in the hands of model soldiers: the stereotype of the ill-equipped Red horde seems not to allow them the most modern of weapons(1). If tested, wargamers will often dispute the agreed numbers and fall back on the rifles being too widely dispersed to make a difference, even that they may not have been reliable enough to have allowed semi-automatic firing(2).
Re those numbers, we must recall that the SVT was not intended to replace all Moisin Nagants … just for those 7 members of the rifle sections not already equipped with automatic weapons (plus similar personnel in the pioneer and reconnaissance formations) … that’s just under 1,000 (988) of the 3,000 men (3182) of a rifle regiment’s establishment. So at 3,000 or so per division, 1.5 million will go some way to delivering the requirements of the divisions in question.
The 20,000 captured by the Finns seems to suggest there were a large number of rifle regiments with their front line sections fully equipped.
Zaloga, in the Red Army Handbook, reckons that other than for specialists (recon, pioneers, motorised etc.) the true extent was limited to the squad leader, the LMG no. 2 and 2 of the riflemen. Even so, that is half of the section.
Probably more than half, allowing that many would have been below full strength.
Was it really any good?
The design was very ambitious, requiring a lighter rifle than the equivalent Garand. As a consequence the less heavy barrel would quickly overheat if the SVT-38 was fired on full auto. This was fixed by restricting the improved SVT-40 to semi-auto mode – and although it was the 38 that had the reputation for jamming, it was the 40 that was built in the hundreds of thousands(3): tests show the weapon to be durable and accurate. The Finns kept thousands of them in the field so long as they could be used, and the Germans reissued any they captured.
There seem to be no issues with battlefield accuracy or reliability with the SVT-40.
(clockwise: Waffen SS with SVT; ‘fix bayonets’; ‘fully armed with automatic weapons’; Red Army riflemen – all with SVTs)
Note that when huge combat losses and production disruption resulted in shortages of machineguns for newly formed units, SVTs were issued to rifle sections in lieu of DPs and ‘full auto’ specials were issued for AA use. These are obviously desperate measures – but would have been pointless had the SVT’s rate of fire been compromised.
Although the SVT had a relatively short production life, its successor, the AK-47 is probably the most successful rifle design of all time, and the related iconic FN rifle is a modern version of the basic SVT design.
So why did production stop?
Production was wound down from 1942 on. Probably this was less because of dissatisfaction with the rifle than the emphasis on fully automatic submachine guns: SMGs gave the Soviet infantryman the firepower that was wanted in a form that was easier to use and cheaper to manufacture.
Sniper rifles continued in production. Remembering that the original brief was for an automatic light-weight weapon it is easy to see that this requirement was eventually fully met by the AK-47(4).
The purpose of adding the automatic weapons to the rifle platoon was clearly to up the output of fire. If this is not obvious, I think it is shown in the prioritising the LMG no. 2 for the new weapon (upping the rate of fire for the rifle section’s firebase ahead of dispersing the extra firepower across the whole unit). For leading the assault, the Red Army’s preference was for the sub machinegun – again upping the output of fire, in this case at close contact ranges.
(a fire team in the ruins at Stalingrad … a DP LMG, an autoloading rifle – looks to me like an AVS – plus 2 SMGs: NB this photo is frequently seen on the internet but is usually seen back-to-front … an easy error with old film but one that ought to be corrected more often)
Tactically, as well as putting out as much firepower as they could themselves, the Red Army also learned to target the German firebase – the MG42 – ahead of other low level priorities: wherever possible support weapons and local attacks would aim to strip the enemy infantry unit of its dominant fire power (which would enable the remaining soldiers – with their bolt action rifles – to be easily overwhelmed).
The Germans found this unsettling and ultimately sought a solution in the Assault Rifle … a weapon which could disperse more weight of fire across the unit, protect the MG42 against being singled out and match the cheap Soviet SMGs in close range fights.
Recognising an SVT
Looking carefully at wartime photos in my collection of books and guides, more than half the pictures showing rifle section soldiers – so not artillery men, mortar crews, maxim guns etc. (5) – show SVTs. Mostly they are not captioned as such.
The SVT has a larger box magazine set noticeably forward of the trigger guard and a split forestock with ventilation slots (all easily obscured in photos) plus a prominent fore sight and a muzzle brake. Whereas the Moisin Nagant typically has a spike bayonet, the SVT had a sword/knife style bayonet. The prominent fore sight and the knife bayonet are dead giveaways …
(SVTs in action showing all the characteristics – but note the bayonet)
Given that the Russian use of SLRs and SMGs at low levels prompted the German development of the assault rifle, it is obviously as important to model the Russian distribution of automatic weapons as it is the German response.
In operational games there is little that needs to be shown – the whole regiment/brigade/division’s combined firepower and staying power will be important … how each individual delivers their share of the mix will be unlikely to feature.
But in tactical games like PBI it is clearly important to allow properly equipped Soviet units enough firepower to unsettle the Germans in a way the western allies seldom did.
For fully equipped units … motorised, Naval, maybe airborne (though I would expect airborne to be all SMG aside from their snipers) it is easy enough to issue all rifle groups with self loading rifles using the Garand rule and cost. Such units should be Veteran or Average.
If the sceptics are right and some only got 3 or 4 rifles per section, a PBI platoon might look more like this (using my conventional corner clipping notation):
The platoon commander (contra the 2006 book) would not be ‘pistol’, but either SLR or SMG depending on your reading of the evidence. He would have control of a 50mm mortar, and 3 or 4 sections. Each section would have a DP group and a group of bolt action rifles. The other stand should be either SLR or SMG(6).
Later, the mortars would likely be grouped with the Company Commander … but an anti-tank rifle team might be attached to the platoon – maybe a maxim under some circumstances.
Again, use the Garand rule and cost (+1 point per base; +1 die per turn in shooting and in op/ret/HTC fire).
Such units could as easily be Raw as Veteran or Average.
It probably won’t shock the Germans the way the real things did, but it will get us closer to what probably went on.
Modelling the SVT
Nobody seems to make one in 15mm despite the weapon’s wide usage and significance.
Although the rifles on 15mm figures are quite small, the details on small arms are plainly visible and it is useful if the weapon type is properly modelled to aid recognition. The best bet is to resculpt the weapons with a sharp knife and a fine file.
Ideally you need to add a box mag slightly ahead of the trigger guard, re-detail the fore stock and capture the prominent fore sight and muzzle brake. A knife-bayonet would be good too.
(Peter Pig Russians with resculpted weapons and headswaps: I used WWI/RCW figures for these to get the puttees we see on the soldiers with automatic weapons at Stalingrad)
I had a go at some WWI/RCW types in my oddments box and the results look OK (sorry the photo is a little over-exposed, but I wanted to get a reasonably crisp shot of the weapons they are carrying for obvious reasons): hopefully they will be rendered obsolete soon by Martin Goddard making some new figures with SVTs. The magazines had to be added from modelling putty.
(1) in this context we should perhaps not forget the the Soviets were also amongst the first with rocket artillery, surface to air missiles, cluster bombs, parachute forces and were already building the KV and T34 … they were at the forefront of technology in this period.
(2) indeed, one sceptic, confronting the numbers in Finnish hands countered by saying ‘just proves they were useless … the Russians must have been chucking them away as soon as they jammed’
(3) also, much of the jamming mythology comes from Finnish experience with the captured weapons – given that the Finnish standard rifle ammunition was not actually the design size for the SVT (Jaegerplatoon) that may not be the rifle’s fault.
(4) between the SVT-40 family and the AK-47, of course, the Red Army briefly adopted a Simonov designed SKS.
(5) which do account for a lot of wartime pictures as they show troops generally a bit back from the danger zones (where the Press prefer to be …).
(6) if you require a rule to be added to the Russian Company lists, delete the second line in the top box on ‘Russian Rifle Company 1939-1942’ (up to 2 rifle groups ...) and replace with
‘Up to 4 rifle groups per platoon may be replaced with SMG or self loading rifles – all if the Company is of Naval, Airborne or Motorised infantry’
… and in the ‘Infantry Platoon’ box, change the Platoon commander group to ‘(SMG or self-loading rifle)’
Zaloga: The Red Army Handbook; Soviet Army Uniforms in WWII; Rottman: Stalingrad Inferno; Walsh: Stalingrad 1942 -1943; Google Images; (amongst many other casual searches) … http://www.ww2photomuseum.com/GerRusArms1.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SVT-40; http://www.gunpics.net/russian/svt40/svt40.html; http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/RIFLES4.htm