The T-33 was a further development of the TT-30 pistol series which, itself, was based on the designs of famed American gunsmith John Browning. The TT-33 proved to handle field abuse quite well and maintained those specific "qualities" that endear soldiers to their weapons. The handgun proved a popular system equally at home and abroad, seeing production outside of Russian borders. Approximately 1.7 million TT-33 pistols were manufactured from 1933 onwards and by several facilities across multiple countries. The type saw extensive combat service in World War 2, the Korean War, the Chinese Civil War and the Vietnam War (and undoubtedly other undocumented as well).
The Need Sparks a Movement
New small arms for the Soviet Army were the call of the day by 1930. As such, a new movement culminated in testing such systems for replacing the outdated stable of firearms then available to the Soviet soldier, particularly the Nagant M1895 series - a revolver with her own origins in the previous century, having served the Russian Tsarist Empire with distinction. Tests were conducted on several possibilities in early 1931 with the TT-30 of particular note.
At its core, the TT-30 resembled much of what made the Colt-Browning automatic pistols such a success, particularly the widely popular and oft-copied the .45 caliber M1911 (including its short recoil dropping-barrel system). Effective as the M1911 system was, it (and other Browning types) hardly made for cheap and easy-to-produce yet field-maintainable firearms for a war-ravaged Soviet Union. As such, Soviet engineers took to applying a few changes of their own to make the pistol a more robust system for the Red inventory. One of the more notable changes in the new gun became the machining of the magazine feed lips directly into the main receiver. This worked well to help prevent potentially damaging misfeeds of cartridges. The modular hammer and lockwork mechanism were grouped for easier removal from the frame as a single piece to help speed up cleaning and repair - this module accessed from the upper rear of the frame.
The TT-30 was a single-action, semi-automatic pistol developed by Feodor V. Tokarev in 1930, owing much of its internal and external design to the original John Browning FN Model 1903 automatic pistol. Tokarev designed several other weapons for the Red Army in his time, including other pistol types and automatic rifles. The TT-30 was devised using a simplified unlocked blowback operation system with a swinging link under the barrel, unlocking the barrel from the slide during recoil. Some 1,000 examples were ordered for further trials and the TT-30 was formally adopted as the standard sidearm of the Red Army. Production began at the Tula Arsenal in 1931 ("Tula-Tokarev" making up the "TT" designation in the "TT-30" and "TT-33" series). The TT-30 became the first Tokarev-designed pistol to see notable military service.
As promising as the TT-30 was, developments were already underway on improving the type already entering production. Within three years, the weapon was superseded by the improved TT-33 series, officially introduced to the Red Army in 1933.
The TT-33 existed as a further developed and modified form of the base TT-30. The TT-33 made use of machined locking lugs all around the barrel as opposed to the top-mounted lugs found on the TT-30 to help facilitate production. The sub-assembly was revised to an extent as was the frame and trigger. Like most other war-time equipment fielded by the Red Army, the finish of most TT-33s suffered even before entering combat. However, once in action, this rarely detracted from the functional stopping power of the TT-33 mechanism. The pistol proved relatively accurate, highly lethal, reliable and robust - handy qualities during the house-to-house fighting that raged throughout the closing days of World War 2. The selected round did prove something of note, however, for it was a high-powered projectile producing a fair amount of recoil and showcasing a high muzzle velocity - thus deteriorating ranged accuracy to an extent - especially when compared to its contemporaries.
The TT-33 went on to see marked actions throughout all of World War 2 including the Russo-Finnish War. However, it was never available in the numbers required to fully replace the Nagant revolvers, the latter still held in high regard by its users for its excellent field characteristics. It would not be until 1945 - the final year of World War 2 - that the TT-33 would supplant the Nagant in whole.
Externally, design of the TT-33 was classic and proved outwardly identical to the Browning M1911 to the untrained eye. The pistol was relatively large and could fill up the average hand quite well. The trigger was set within a fixed trigger ring and integrated into the pistol grip. The pistol grip featured horizontal or vertical grooves for a firm grip. Sights were affixed atop the muzzle (blade type) and at the rear (notch type). The barrel maintained a running length of about 8.86 inches and featured four grooves with a right-hand twist. The weapon was chambered for the 7.62x25mm M30 Soviet (0.3-inchTokarev) caliber cartridge of which eight were held in a detachable box magazine inserted into the bottom of the pistol grip. The M30 itself shared some characteristics with the German 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge of the Mauser C96 pistol series. The hammer was buried at the rear and, interestingly, there was usually no noticeable manual safety catch - just a half-cock notch on the hammer. The ejection port was located along the right-hand side of the slide.
TT-33 Production and Variants
After 1945, production and reach of the proven TT-33 continued with deliveries to satellite states and Soviet-allied nations. Some eventually undertook local production of the type to further boost numbers into the hundreds of thousands. Soviet production itself continued on in the post-war world, eventually wrapping up in 1952.
In China, the Tokarev pistols were produced in large quantities under the local designations of "Type 51" and "Type 54". Poland issued theirs as the M48 while Yugoslavia called their local-production variants the M57, M65 and the M70A. North Korea followed suit and named theirs the M68 (also the "Type 68"). Hungary proved one of the largest foreign producers and took the design even further along several respects including manufacturing a 9mm Parabellum form (the M48). One development became the aptly-named "Tokagypt 58" eventually exported to Egypt for police force use. Egypt also produced their own local variant in the 1950s. Romania produced the TT-33 copy as the TTC (or "Cugir Tokarev", also in the 1950s.
Including the aforementioned Soviet Tula Arsenal, production was featured at NORINCO, Femaru, Radom Arsenal, Cugir Arsenal and Zastava Arms at plants worldwide. TT-33 operators encompassed Afghanistan, Angola, China, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Libya, Madagascar, Malta, Mongolia, Mozambique, Soviet Union, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The TT-33 Today
On today's modern battlefield, the TT-33 no longer maintains a large presence in the Russian Army armories. It has also since been dropped in favor of newer systems by other former operators though the type is still in service with several nations - proving the robust characteristics of the war-time pistol to be quite sound. TT-33s (and their respective copies) can still be found on parade or on soldiers with customary ceremonious dress when applicable.
While most often associated with the Red Army soldier, the TT-33 also became a fixture of Red Army military police units, usually carried in a left-side, shoulder-slung holster.
Production of TT-33 copies may be ongoing in nations outside of Russia today.