Osprey author Leigh Neville starts a new series this week examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. His first instalment looks at the semi-automatic 7.62x39mm SKS carbine, the predecessor to the iconic AK47.
The Simonov SKS was developed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War and began replacing the Mosin Nagant M1944 bolt action carbine in 7.62x54mm. The Soviets had examined data from their long experienc...e in infantry combat and realised that most engagements were conducted at ranges below 300 meters. The otherwise excellent full power 7.62x54mm (still used today in Russian PKM/PKP medium machine guns and the SVD family of marksman rifles) was recoil intensive and difficult to fire accurately, particularly by poorly trained conscripts who often had no firearms experience.
Instead the so-called ‘intermediate’ 7.62x39mm M43 or 7.62mm ‘short’ was developed. Effective to around 400 meters, the round was much less punishing on the shoulder and could even be fired somewhat accurately on full automatic as long as the user kept his fire to short bursts. The SKS however was semi-automatic only but was rugged and simple to operate, perfect for Soviet forces.
It featured a hinged magazine of ten rounds and a permanently affixed folding spike bayonet, a holdover from the Mosin Nagant. The Chinese and most Warsaw Pact nations produced copies of the SKS as their post-war general issue rifle although the Russians replaced the SKS with the AK47 in the early 1950s. During the Vietnam War, both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army units were equipped with both Russian and Chinese SKS carbines although in the later stages of the war, the NVA began to replace it with the AK47 and the Chinese Type 56 copy of the Kalashnikov.