By Janne Pohjoispää
There is no doubt that the 7.62 mm M43 caliber Kalashnikov assault rifle is the most popular small arm in the world. Since its introduction in 1949, the Kalashnikov assault rifles have performed well in virtually every battlefield around the world, and have gained a reputation for both poor accuracy and exceptional reliability in adverse conditions.
The Kalashnikov assault rifle’s reliability is usually credited to it’s loose tolerances and operational principle with a long-stroke gas action. That is certainly true, but the magazine should not be ignored as a critical component of a small arm. A majority of malfunctions with self-loading (semi-automatic and full-automatic) firearms are caused by magazines. If you don’t have a magazine which operates flawlessly, you don’t have a reliable firearm.
The AK magazine is reliable, but like the others, it is naturally subject to cause malfunctions if very dirty, damaged or well-worn. I have observed numerous malfunctions with the Kalashnikov-type rifles and most of them, if not all, are caused by extremely dirty, damaged, worn-out or low-quality magazines.
To keep your magazines running there are few rules of thumb to remember. Never store a loaded magazine for long periods as magazine spring can weaken under tension. Strip and clean magazines frequently but never lube magazines, as lubricant will help accumulate debris. If you have a damaged or well worn magazine it is better to replace it with a new one than repair it. It may break down during an important situation.
Development of standard 30-rd box magazine
A 30-round double column curved box magazine stamped from sheet steel is a stereotype of all feeding devices issued for the AK-47/AKM type rifles.
As the first Avtomat Kalashnikov assault rifles were issued for the Red Army in 1949, they came out with a curved, double column box magazine holding 30 rounds. The general configuration bears resemblance to the 7.92 mm Kurz caliber MP43/MP44/StG44 assault rifle magazine, but the first production variations had flat sided bodies without reinforcement ribs. Stamped from 0.04″ (1 mm) sheet steel, the flat-sided AK magazine is both heavy and robust.
The 30-rd steel magazines appears in many forms, from left to right: Soviet flat-sided magazine. Standard-issue 30-rd “ridgeback” magazine as manufactured in Soviet Union and most Warsaw Pact countries, Chinese-made magazine which doesn’t include such edge on the rear side, Finnish 30-rd steel magazine which has a rectangular wire loop mounted on the base plate, and 40-rd RPK magazine. Yugoslavian 30-rd magazine – not included in this row – is similar to standard Warsaw Pact pattern, but includes a follower, which acts as a hold open device. Finish of the AK magazines will vary. Soviet/Russian and Warsaw Pact magazines are usually either blued or painted black like many AKM rifles of the same origin. Finnish magazines are usually bright blued, while many FDF mags carry dull parkerized finish. Chinese-made magazines are also usually blued. Steel magazines have usually no markings, which would reveal their origin.
The flat-sided AK magazines are currently hard to find in the West, and therefore prized collector’s items, but in Russia they are still in active service.Since the days of the Afghan War, troopers prefer to carry heavy flat sided magazines in their chest webbing as they will provide extra ballistic protection. To many soldiers, the plastic magazines are basically shunned as plastic fragments generated by bullet strike are not traceable with X-rays.
In the mid-1950’s an improved pattern stamped steel magazine design with a rib stamping reinforced body was introduced. It has similar size and shape to its predecessor, but it was made from thinner 0.03″ (0.75 mm) sheet steel. This particular type was later manufactured in huge quantities, and was widely issued for both AK-47 and AKM rifles. It became a stereotype of all Kalashnikov magazines. Virtually all AK magazines manufactured outside the former Soviet Union/Russia will follow this pattern.
For a while the Soviets examined an aluminium magazine for the AKM, but found it undesirable and quickly switched to plastics. The first AK plastic magazine has a body made from fibre reinforced phenol plastic. The reddish-brown colored material was likely chosen for its good fire-resistant characters and well known production procedures. Though not as common as ribbed steel magazines, these first generation Soviet plastic magazines are not rare. A similar but scaled-down magazine was also introduced for the 5.45 mm caliber AK-74.
The Russian 7.62 mm M43 caliber black polyamide (nylon) magazine was introduced with the AK-100 series. As there exist huge quantities of AK-47/AKM steel magazines, this type has been manufactured in limited quantities only, and few have surfaced outside Russia. Very similar plastic magazines have been made also in Poland, and were issued with the latest AKM rifles and their semi-auto counterparts manufactured in Poland.
The Finnish created a plastic magazine of their own design. In 1980’s a private contractor developed a 30-rd plastic magazine at the request of Finnish Defence Forces for the m/62 assault rifle (the AK-47 derivative). Differing from earlier Soviet plastic magazine designs, Finnish magazines are all plastic construction (except the spring and mounting hardware), and has a waffle-patterned single piece body similar to the Steyr AUG magazine injection-molded from polyamide plastic. The first Finnish plastic magazines issued were green colored, but colour was later switched to dark gray.
There is a long road – forty years in time – from the first flat sided steel magazines to the latest Russian and Finnish plastic magazines. However, the basic concept of a curved 30-rd double column type is still the same.
Non-standards and experimentals
While it is the 30-rd curved box magazine that is the common pattern available, there exist a number of variations and other magazines which won’t fit in this stereotype.
A variety of AK magazines with non-standard capacity have been fabricated primarily for sporting purposes. Shorter, low capacity magazines are frequently required by hunting regulations, but short magazines are also good choices while fired from a bench rest or if a low profile is required in the field.
The most common type in this category is the Chinese 5 round magazine. A five round magazine is a highly recommended accessory to all AK owners for sighting-in their rifles. Russian 5 and 10 round plastics magazines for the Saiga hunting rifles, spin-offs of Russian 30-rd black plastic magazine, are issued for the Saiga hunting rifle. While they are not readily interchangeable with AK mags, the Saiga magazines can be easily modified to fit in the AK rifles.
Other non-standard size AK magazines have been produced by the Chinese and Finnish Valmet (commercial type) at least with 20-rd and 15-rd capacities, respectively. Chinese 20-rd AK magazines are similar to the Type 68 rifle magazines (except that the Type 68 mags have a capacity of 15 rounds), but lack a bolt hold-open device activator.
Although some other commercial AK magazines have been introduced, availability sources of inexpensive surplus magazines have virtually guaranteed that there is not much room for commercial magazines.
The Polish and Hungarian armies, which employed blank propelled rifle grenades with their Kalashnikov-type rifles, were also issued with shorter 10-rd magazines for feeding grenade blanks. This type of magazine won’t accept ball ammunition.
Mainly in Soviet Union, a number of experimental feeding devices for the 7.62 mm M43 caliber AK assault rifles and RPK LMGs were developed.
Some examples of the 7.62 mm M43 caliber AK magazines have been converted to accept a stripper clip guide, similar to the one used with the AK-74 magazines.
The most impressive Kalashnikov magazine ever built was a curved staggered row box magazine with full 100-rd capacity. The bottom of the semicircular-shaped box magazine was fastened on the barrel. There was also a 60-rd four-column AK box magazine, similar to the Linde/Tikkakoski 50-rd box magazine for Finnish and Swedish variants of the 9mm Suomi SMG.
The AK plastic magazines from left to right: the eldest and most common Soviet 30-rd magazine made from reddish glass-fiber reinforced phenol plastic, Russian (this particular specimen is made in Poland) black plastic magazine, older Finnish green plastic magazine and current-issue Finnish dark grey plastic magazine
Magazines for the RPK and Chinese LMGs
Magazines for AK/AKM/RPK family are fully interchangeable as long as the caliber stays the same- 7.62 mm M43. The high capacity magazines originally issued for the RPK LMG can be used with AK/AKM rifles and AK 30-rd mags with the RPK. Interchangeability is also valid among the AK-74 family.
As the RPK squad automatic weapon was introduced in 1961, it came with a 40-rd curved box magazine otherwise similar to the AK-47/AKM standard-issue magazine. The 40-rd magazine was, however, found unsuitable for rough terrain, as it can interfere with firing from a bipod. A 40-rd magazine would perform better if used with an assault rifle. The 40-rd RPK magazines have been seen fitted in AK-47’s and AKM’s on various battlefields, and one should not forget that the Israelis and South Africans employ 50-rd magazines with their Galil and R4/R5 assault rifles in certain applications.
Another RPK magazine is a 75-rd drum. The Soviet drum is completely different from the more frequently distributed Chinese design. The Soviet drum has no openable back cover, it is loaded with loose rounds from the top. The Soviet-made 75-rd drum magazine is reliable and it provides a lower profile than a standard 30-rd magazine, let alone a 40-rd magazine.
Drum magazines were not originally designed for AK/AKM rifles, but the RPK and other magazine-fed LMGs including Chinese Type 74 and Type 81 are naturally adaptable for the 7.62 mm M43 caliber AK-type rifles.
Drum magazines most frequently available in the civilian marketplace are of mainland Chinese origin. Chinese 75-rd and 100-rd drums were originally designed for Type 81 and Type 74 light machine guns, respectively. These Chinese LMGs have virtually no relationship to a Soviet RPK, but magazines bear somewhat of a resemblance to the Thompson SMG drum magazines.
Both Chinese AK drum magazines have hinged back covers, which are opened while cartridges are inserted. Filling the Chinese drum magazines is fast and easy. Both types can be long-term stored with cartridges, as the magazine spring is not wound up while filling, but later when preparing to use it.
In my opinion drum magazines are heavy and bulky; they won’t provide great advantages for a rifleman. However, they are indeed collector’s items, and great conversation pieces, too.
The most popular feeding device on the globe?
As long as the caliber stays the 7.62 mm M43, box magazines are interchangeable with all following small arms:
- The AK-47 and AKM assault rifles, their modified variants and semi-auto only counterparts.
- The RPK LMGs and variants, inclunding RPK-styled semi-auto only rifles.
- Chinese Type 68 and Type 81 rifles.
- Chinese Type 74 and Type 81 LMGs.
- Chinese SKS carbines with detachable magazines.
- Chinese or Russian drum magazines will not fit on Chinese SKS carbines with detachable magazines.
The most important question from a consumer’s viewpoint is: Which magazine is the best, most rugged and most reliable; which one I should choose? In my opinion the best and most economical choice is a standard Warsaw Pact origin 30-rd steel magazine, which is widely available with reasonable prices. The Soviet/Russian and other Eastern European magazines provide superior materials and workmanship with a budget price. Avoid commercial after-market products and stay with military issue hardware.
Comments, suggestions, contributions? Let me know