While bolt-action rifles were the call of the day at the turn of the century and leading into World War 1 (1914-1918), Vladimir Fyodorov (Fedorov) was one of many gunsmiths that look to developing a select-fire weapon set within a portable rifle-style body. An early Fedorov-designed semi-automatic form was briefly tested by the Russian Army and purchased in limited quantities while a follow-up automatic design required the all-new 6.5mm Fedorov cartridge which precluded its adoption and subsequent quantitative purchase by the Russian government (the 7.62x54mmR was the standard accepted Russian cartridge). It was when Fedorov, now stationed in France during 1915, witnessed the practical usefulness of the French "Chauchat" light machine gun that a new design idea came to mind.
Returning to Russia in early 1916, Fedorov tasked himself with perfecting an automatic rifle based on his earlier semi-automatic design while involving the firepower of a light machine gun though straying from using the larger, more powerful Russian 7.62mm cartridge, a cartridge requiring strong internals to work effectively in an automatic action. While much of the internals of the original design were retained, select fire was added to control the action and a detachable, curved box magazine of 25-rounds was used for the cartridge feed. The weapon took on a single-piece, wooden rifle-style body that incorporated the stock, grip and forend while the metal components making up the receiver proper were seated within the wood frame. A straight vertical grip was part of the forend for a sure forward hold and the trigger unit was underslung in the usual way, the magazine feed fitted just ahead between the trigger and the grip. A section of barrel protruded a distance away from the frame and given a slotted metal support structure to serve as a cooling element for a hot barrel. Iron sights were fitted along the top of the weapon. Overall weight was 4.4 kilograms (unloaded) with an overall length of 1,045mm using a 520mm barrel. The action relied on the short recoil principle delivering a muzzle velocity of 2,150 feet per second.
To minimize development delays and increase the chances of procurement by the Russian Army, the idea of a specific Fedorov cartridge was dropped and the Japanese 6.5x50mmSR (Semi-Rimmed) Arisaka cartridge was selected in its place. This round was a dramatic departure from the proven, standardized Russian 7.62x54mmR (Russian) cartridge, holding less power but dimensionally smaller, allowing a greater ammunition load, and putting less stress on the internal components - particularly during automatic fire. Since the Russian government had already imported many thousands of Arisaka bolt-action rifles and stores of cartridges, supply was not an issue and worked in favor of the Fedorov weapon.
The weapon was given the common name of "Fedorov Avtomat" and an initial order of 350 units was slated for use by Russian Army elements for field trials under the designation of M1916. The Kovrov Arms Factory, an Imperial state arsenal, was charged with serial production. However, the order for 25,000 units never fulfilled in whole as the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) disrupted much - it ended Russian involvement in World War 1, limited large-scale procurement of the Fedorov rifle and plunged Russia into civil war (Fedorov Avtomats were used by the Red Army in the subsequent fighting). The country would eventually rise from its ashes to become the feared Soviet Union of World War 2 and Cold War fame. Only a few hundred Fedorov Avtomat rifles were issued to Russian forces and used in an operational nature. For the few that experienced it fully, the rifle proved sound and was praised for its action despite some reliability issues. It was, however, a complex system that required attention and relatively expensive to produce. The Fedorov Avtomat did provided its users with a manageable select-fire assault weapon matched by only a few comparable designs of the period.
In the middle of 1919, production on the Fedorov Avtomat was restarted at the Kovrov plant. However, the Soviet government had moved away from support of foreign cartridge types while technological advances elsewhere began to surpass the World War 1-era design, leading to a cessation of work on the weapon in 1924. By 1925, approximately 3,200 units were placed in storage, the weapons completely retired in 1929 (some testing continued into 1928). The rifle made a brief appearance during World War 2 (1939-1945) when a small arms shortage forced the Soviets - having invaded neighboring Finland to begin the "Winter War (1939-1940) - to reissue its stock of Fedorov Avtomat rifles. Some may have also been fielded by Soviet forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) prior. Very few, if any, are thought to have survived, bringing an end to what many consider as the first "assault rifle" in firearms history.
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