The Simonov SKS carbine was officially adopted by the Soviet Army in 1949, as a part of the new small arms system, built around the new 7.62mm Model 1943 cartridge (7.62x39mm). The SKS carbine was officially adopted as a primary infantryman’s’ rifle, to replace obsolete Mosin M1891/30 rifles, M1938 and M44 carbines, as well as the Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifles, which all fired the old and powerful 7,62x54R ammunition. The new “intermediate power” small arms system also included the Kalashnikov AK assault rifle, which was initially adopted to replace older PPSh-41 and PPS-43 submachine guns, and the Degtyarov RPD light machine gun.
The primary manufacturer of the SKS carbine was the Factory No.536, better known as the Tula Arms Factory – TOZ. Some SKS carbines were also produced at the factory No. 522, also known as the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (IZHMECH). The TOZ factory made the first SKS carbines even before its official adoption, and continued to produce them until the end of the manufacturing cycle in 1956. The IZHMECH factory made the SKS carbines using some Tula-made parts between 1952 and 1955, and after that most of Izhevsk tooling for the SKS, as well as many semi-finished parts, were sold to China.
Sergey Simonov began his gun design work during the 1920s, and achieved his first break-through in 1935, when the Red Army has adopted his automatic rifle as the AVS-36. However, due to the overly complex design and certain problems the service life of the AVS-36 rifle was quite short. In 1938 the AVS-36 was officially superseded by the Tokarev SVT-38 rifle that fired the same 7.62x54R ammunition. By 1938 Simonov also developed a new experimental rifle, known as the SVS-38, which used a tilting bolt locking that was much simpler than the earlier AVS-36 system. This rifle was extensively tested against the SVT-38 and the latter SVT-40, but was eventually rejected.
Undeterred, in 1940 Simonov began development of a new semi-automatic carbine with a fixed magazine, based on the SVS-38. This carbine design was experimentally made in several variations, with five- or ten-round magazines, loaded with striper clips. In mid-1941 the Simonov carbine was approved for a small-scale production, but the start of the German invasion greatly delayed these plans. In late 1941 Simonov designed a very powerful PTRS semi-automatic anti-tank rifle, which was based on his carbine design appropriately scaled up. As a result of all these events, a small trial batch of the 7,62x54R Simonov carbines was issued for troop trials only in 1944. These carbines found little acceptance among the troops due to the heavy recoil, huge muzzle blast and insufficient reliability. However, by that time it was clear that the 7.62x54R military carbine was an evolutionary dead end.
Red Army ordnance experts began their work on a new intermediate cartridge in mid-1943, and by the end of that year a preliminary design of the “7.62mm Model 1943” round was completed and its drawings were sent out to all small arms design centers. After that, a massive development work commenced by many gun designers to produce weapons of the three basic classes – a semi-automatic carbine, a select-fire assault rifle and a light machine gun (squad automatic weapon). Each class has its own separate trials, with several more or less experienced designers taking their parts. It is believed that carbine trials have had at least a half dozen of various competing designs, including submissions from Degtyarov, Rukavishnikov, Simonov, Tokarev, and others.
By the year of 1946 the Simonov SKS-45 carbine was selected as a winner, and a batch of more than a thousand guns was ordered from the TOZ factory in 1946 and 1947 for extended field trials. Following these trials, the Simonov carbine was adopted in 1949 as the “Samozaryadny Karabin Simonova – SKS” (Самозарядный карабин Симонова СКС, Simonov’s Self-loading carbine), with the GAU index 56-A-231.
After initial field experience with the new small arms system, in 1955 the Soviet Army decided that an assault rifle (Avtomat) fitted with a detachable knife-bayonet is a better general-purpose individual infantry weapon than a semi-automatic carbine. Therefore, with the introduction of the “Lightened AK” (also known in the West as the AK Type 3), the SKS was gradually relegated to the rear-echelon use, and its production in the USSR was completed in 1956. Total of about two and a half million of Simonov SKS carbines were made in USSR. In the second echelon and non-infantry units the SKS served until late 1980s or even early 1990. It is also in the continued use by the Russian ceremonial guards.
During the 1950s USSR sold the manufacturing licenses for the SKS to some socialist countries, including the East Germany, Peoples Republic of China and Yugoslavia. In the German service the SKS was known as the Karabiner-S, in China as the Type 56 carbine, and in the Yugoslavia as the Model 1959 (M59) carbine. It is believed that the Chinese production of the SKS and its clones surpassed combined output of all other makers by a wide margin.
The SKS has seen a significant military use around the globe, fighting in many local conflicts in SE Asia, Europe and Africa, with supplies made from the USSR, China, Yugoslavia or their client states.
Starting in the 1990s a significant number of surplus SKS carbines was made available for the civilian use. The Simonov SKS carbine became a very popular hunting rifle in Russia and abroad, because it was handy, reliable, fired a decently powerful and affordable round, and, last but not least, was very inexpensive. In a short order, a significant market grew around the SKS, offering various custom parts, such as stocks, scope mounts, magazines etc, etc. With many minor variations and many conflicts worldwide the SKS also became a desirable collectible item.
The Simonov SKS carbine is a semi-automatic, gas operated weapon. It uses a short stroke gas piston, located above the barrel. The breech is locked via the vertically tilting bolt. The receiver is machined from steel, and has a detachable top cover, which is held in place by a lock at the rear of the receiver. Barrel has a chrome-lined bore and chamber.
The integral magazine has capacity of 10 rounds, and can be loaded through the top of the action using the stripper clips or loose rounds. The bolt hold-open device has no separate manual release, and to disengage it one has to pull the bolt slightly rearward and then release it over the loaded magazine. The bottom of the magazine can be opened down and forward for a quick and safe unloading, or for maintenance and cleaning.
Manual safety is located inside the trigger guard, to the rear of the trigger. The SKS has a hammer-fired trigger unit and a floating firing pin, so some care must be taken when firing commercial ammunition with soft primers, and it is recommended to do routine checks for a stuck firing pin, to avoid accidental discharges.
SKS carbines are fitted with a U-notch iron sights, marked for ranges between 100 and 1000 meters. Early Soviet-made carbines had folding spike-type bayonets with a cruciform cross-section, which were replaced by the folding blade type bayonets in around 1950.