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April 10, 2023

PPD-40: The PPSh-41 Predecessor

By Kurt Allemeier

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The Pistolete Pulemyot Degtyaryova 40, or PPD-40, was the bridge to making full auto submachine guns a huge part of the Soviet arsenal on the Eastern Front of World War 2.

After World War 1, the Soviets were in need of a submachine gun and tested more than a dozen before the search was whittled down to two designs, one by Vasily Degtyaryov and the other by Fedor Tokarev. Both guns were chambered for the 7.63x25mm pistol cartridge, and while Tokarev’s model was lighter, Degtyaryov’s gun was simpler to make, cheaper to produce, and more reliable.

Eventually, the open bolt PPD-40 submachine gun would make way for the PPSh-41 to spit all kinds of lead and spill all kinds of German blood as the Soviets sent the Nazi war machine scurrying back to Berlin. A PPD-40 is among the more than 100 Class III/NFA offerings in Rock Island Auction Company’s May 19-21 Premier Auction.

The PPD-40 was the submachine gun in the Soviet arsenal on the eve of World War 2 but never met the mass production of its successor, the PPSh-41. Six million of the stamped metal PPSh-41 were made during the war as it became the submachine gun of the Red Army.

Full Auto Inventor

Tokarev, who competed with Degtyaryov on the submachine gun, is best known for the SVT-38 and SVT-40 self-loading rifles and the TT-30 and TT-33 semi-automatic pistols. Degtyaryov, who was born in 1880 headed the Soviet Union’s firearms design bureau and created several machine guns and anti-tank guns.

One of his greatest designs was the DP-27/DP-28, a light machine gun first deployed in 1928 that served as the Red Army’s light machine gun during World War 2. Because of its 47-round circular ammunition pan on top of the receiver it was nicknamed “Stalin’s phonograph.” This gun led to a tank-mounted machine gun and two aircraft machine guns.

Degtyaryov was named “Hero of Socialist Labor,” only the second person to be awarded the honor. The first was Joseph Stalin. He invented more than 80 machine guns, submachine guns, and anti-tank rifles. Nineteen were adopted.

Vasily Degtyaryov designed the PPD-40 as well as several machine guns and anti-tank guns. The DP-28 light machine gun that Degtyaryov designed served the Red Army during World War 2.

No Full Auto Enthusiasm

Degytyaryov’s gun (officially the Пистоле́т-пулемёт Дегтярёва) was originally adopted as the PPD-34, but production was sparse as the Red Army focused on a self-loading battle rifle. A mere 44 SMGs were made in 1934 and even fewer -- 23 -- in 1935 going primarily to the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) and border guards.

The early PPDs fired about 1,000 rounds per minute with heavy recoil. The PPD, whether the 34, 38 or 40 models, fired from an open bolt with a blowback system capable of 800 rounds per minute, had select fire, and wooden stocks and machined metal parts. The PPD-40 would have a drum magazine that carried 71 rounds.

Soviet generals were unsure of how to tactically use the SMG so production was kept low. Production ramped up to 1,291 in 1937, followed by 1,115 produced in 1938, and a whopping 1,700 in 1939 when the gun was decommissioned. Some slight tweaks were made in 1938 to make the gun less expensive to make. Most notably, a wooden two-part stock was made for a separate foreend on PPD-40.

Then came the Winter War with Finland in late 1939. The Finns had the Suomi KP-31 that essentially fired Luger rounds. They used the submachine gun to good effect holding the invaders at bay until the Red Army’s overwhelming force took control. The sides made peace in March 1940, but not after Soviet soldiers found an appreciation for the Finns’ SMGs.

Soviet military leaders were unsure of the tactical use of submachine guns so production of the PPD-40 was limited until the Winter War with Finland in 1939. The Finns used their Suomi KP-31 submachine guns to some success before the Red Army's might took over. The following year, more than 80,000 PPD-40s were made. That opened the door for six million PPSh-41 submachine guns to be made during World War 2.

More importantly, Joseph Stalin found an appreciation for the submachine gun, especially after Degtyaryov intervened when the gun orders were cancelled. The dictator was convinced to resume production of the PPD and he took it under his direct control, with impossible tasks and deadlines. One thing he wanted was a drum magazine that was similar to the Finnish gun and held more rounds than the box magazine. Missed deadlines meant visits from the NKVD and the arrests of the factory manager and chief design engineer.

Stalin wrote, “if deadlines are not met, the government will take the manufacturing plant under special control and execute all the bastards clogging up the factory."

Production was ramped up to around-the-clock shifts and the mass executions were avoided and 81,118 PPD-40s were made in 1940. The one issue that continued to dog the PPD-40 was the cost to manufacture. Producing a PPD cost 900 rubles per unit while machining took 13.7 hours for production. The Soviets started looking for a new submachine gun that was easier and cheaper to manufacture like the stamped metal British Sten or the German MP40.

Full Auto Fury

With these improvements in mind, the Soviets rushed the stamped metal-made PPSh-41 into production in 1940. It had a drum magazine like the PPD-40 and also fired from an open bolt, blowback action. The PPD and the PPSh were each about the same size and weighed about the same despite the PPSh being about three inches longer.

Manufacture of the PPsh-41 was cheaper and took less time to produce than the PPD, using only 87 components compared to 95 with the PPD-40. It also used Mosin-Nagant barrels that were cut in half, providing barrels for two PPSh-41s.

The PPSh-41 was fitted with a gas compensator designed to prevent muzzle rise during full auto bursts. Studies showed shot grouping improved by about 70 percent over the PPD-40. Because of its 1,250 rounds per minute rate of fire, it was nicknamed the “burp gun.”

The PPSh-41 was cheaper to make and took less time to manufacture than the PPD-40 so it became the submachine gun of the Red Army as it faced the Germans on the Eastern Front. This PPSh-41 sold for $51,750 in Rock Island Auction Company's April 2018 Premier Auction.

Finally Full Auto Enthusiasm

The Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Despite the siege of Leningrad and the suffering and starvation that killed hundreds per day, with production left to women and children, 5,868 PPD-40s were made in 1941 as the Soviets stepped up manufacture of the PPSh-41. The PPD-40 remained in use by the Red Army even though the Soviets ultimately produced more than 6 million PPSh-41s during the war, costing only 142 rubles per unit and manufacturing time was a mere 5.6 hours.

In mid-1942, 6 percent of Red Army infantry battalions carried submachine guns but by early 1944 a quarter of the infantry battalion were equipped with SMGs. The Red Army had light machine gun squads dedicated to only carrying the PPSh-41 or PPD-40 along with a light machine gun.

The submachine guns range was only about 200-300 meters so the SMG units would be deployed for surprise attacks. Soldiers might start an attack firing in semi-auto mode to mask their full auto capability. Submachine guns excelled in house-to-house warfare. By the time the Germans were pushed out of the Soviet Union, 30 million soldiers and civilians were dead.

Though it was quickly succeeded by the mass produced PPSh-41, the PPD-40 still found use in World War 2 as the Red Army needed submachine guns. This closeup shows the barrel markings on the PP-40 that is available in the May Premier Auction.

Full Auto Finery

With less than 100,000 of the PPD-40 made, the submachine gun didn’t get the glory that its successor, the PPSh-41 -- 6 million made -- did in the Great Patriotic War. The PPD-40 scratched the Soviets’ early submachine gun itch and serves as an historic reminder of a time when the role of full auto guns in the infantry was uncertain. Time and the Finns proved the usefulness of full auto infantry weapons to the Soviets, but the cost and time to manufacture the PPD-40 made it a less than ideal weapon, so it served as a bridge to one of the Soviet heroes of the Eastern Front, the PPSh-41.


The History of the First Russian SMG – Degtyaryov PPD-34/38/40, by Vladimir Onokoy,

The DP Machine Gun Looks Funny, but Spilled a Lot of Blood, by Paul Richard Huard, War is Boring

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