THE CARLOS (The Jackal) CALIBER
Carlos the Shooter
Better forgotten while rotting in a French prison, former Venezuelan playboy turned terrorist Illiych Ramirez Sanchez became the almost mythical “Carlos the Jackal” after several violent Cold War actions, including the famous 1975 hostage taking of OPEC ministers with the German Baader–Meinhof gang in Vienna, Austria. Weapons were provided by the Libyan embassy, but ironically, Carlos expressed his gratitude by executing the Libyan chief statistician during the takeover. This and other actions were sensational operations at the time, and although most of his acts were cowardly, he was a well trained shooter and a cold blooded killer. But in one episode, when outnumbered, he boldly risked arrest and death by engaging in what could have been a one-sided gun battle.
After initial training in Russia and later under the wing of Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis, Ramirez, code name Carlos, conducted several bloody operations in London and then settled in Paris in 1975. While there he continued augmenting his terrorist resume with a variety of grenade, car bomb and shoulder-fired antitank rocket launcher (RPG) attacks against various French targets, including commercial aviation assets. During the course of their investigation into this mayhem, the French captured his PFLP contact and with him in tow, attempted to question Carlos in the middle of a party at a second floor apartment. For some Gallic reason, the two agents went unarmed. Not one to entertain fools and highly unappreciative for being fingered by his Arab contact, he rewarded them by producing a CZ52 7.62x 25mm pistol and, without hesitation, quickly dropped each of them with a fast fusillade. Not satisfied, he administered multiple coups de grace with what rounds remained in the pistol’s eight-round magazine. The full metal jacket slugs (FMJ) not only tore through his victims but also punched through the floor and peppered the apartment below. Carlos escaped to Beirut, where he continued his career as the world’s most wanted terrorist.
The Jackal’s Caliber
Carlos the Jackal received his nom de guerre from a journalist who spied the novel, The Day of the Jackal, among his abandoned belongings. He was definitely attracted to the metric calibers, most likely because of his theater of operations where both good and bad guys relied on what was available to get the job done. Pistol marksmanship
was generally poor among Europeans and operatives employed handguns in “wet matters” as they would a knife at extremely close ranges. With the exception of the nine Parabellum and hotter variations, most European handgun calibers in use are considered anemic by USA standards. However, there is one round that, while it enjoys limited popularity in the West, did cause much concern for the legendary Captains Fairbairn and Sykes in Shanghai, when its antecedent, the less powerful 7.63x25 Mauser, was in the hands of a suspect they were about to arrest. In the chapter on “Stopping Power” in their seminal book, Shooting to Live, these authors stated to the effect that the mere mention of the Mauser military round was sufficient to, “if there was trouble afoot to send men in instant search of bullet-proof equipment.”
Old and Ubiquitous Killer
The European Thirty or 7.63x25mm Mauser is the ancestor of the so called Tokarev round and is one of the oldest
semi auto pistol rounds still in existence. It was designed in 1896 and was used extensively in the exotic Broomhandle Mauser (and its copies) pistol and early submachine guns (SMG). In the 1930s it was replaced by the more powerful 7.62x25mm caliber. Reportedly, the old Mauser load can be used in firearms chambered for the newer round, but not vice versa. The newer round has dispatched enemy personnel out to 200 meters since WWII, and in 1965–66, my rifle company was uncovering weapons caches in Vietnam which still contained K50M SMGs in that caliber.
No Longer Real Cheap
My original interest in this caliber was piqued during the ammo availability crisis of 2010. The cartridge, like the 5.45x39 mm Russian assault rifle round, was abundant and relatively inexpensive. However, like the stock market and the need to get in early before it becomes general knowledge, the surplus Tokarev round has appreciated and is now almost on par with 9x19mm FMJ fodder. Prices range from 16 cents per round for Bulgarian FMJ surplus to $2.89 for a single MagSafe (MS) 52-grain pre-fragmented round.
High Velocity Military Pistol / SMG Round
Ballistically, depending on the weight of the bullet and propellant charge, muzzle velocities for an 85–90 grain bullet range from 1200 to 1700 feet per second (fps). Most loadings consist of FMJ projectiles, but hollow points and pre-fragmented bullets are available. Some wildcatters have produced 55 grain, .22 caliber 7.62x25 mm sabot cased rounds that reportedly have achieved velocities exceeding 2200 fps. While impressive, MS has concocted a 52-grain pre-fragmented, jacketed hollow point (JHP) round that it advertises at 2120 fps from a 4.6 inch Tokarev barrel. This performance compares favorably with FN’s 5.7x28 mm 31-grain round at 2350 fps. However, I was not able to realize MS’s results, but more on that later.
The Soviets also deployed a 74-grain steel-core incendiary round version for their PPSh-41 SMG that achieved 1600
fps when fired from these weapons. Chamber pressures are somewhat illusive, because of its dual use in SMGs and pistols as well as its Iron Curtain lineage. I also understand that this round, along with its antecedent, the .30 Mauser, have never been registered with SAAMI at any pressure. The best that I can determine is a lower end of 34,809 psi to a high of 40,000 + psi. Most commercial loads tend toward the lower pressures, because of the surplus firearms they are fired from and manufacturers play it safe. However, military surplus (MILSURP), particularly from obscure sources, is another matter and could produce pressures beyond what your firearm is designed for. For example, a 2007 article entitled, “Tula Tokarev” by Peter Kokalis that appeared in Shotgun News warned that “Czech M48 7.62x25mm ammunition should be avoided in Tokarev-type pistols, as it was designed for SMGs and the very strong roller-locked CZ52 pistol.”
Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing
As indicated by Carlos’ multiple murders, the Tokarev round is a known penetrator and will defeat lighter ballistic
vests and some military helmets. John Ervin of Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing (BFBT) (www.brassfetcher.com) put a CZ52-launched Sellier and Bellot (SB) 85-grain FMJ loading at 1521 fps through a Level II ballistic vest. It continued on and penetrated over 11 inches of gelatin after expanding to .46” caliber. In a similar test, FN’s 5.7x28mm penetrated only 6.2 inches of ballistic media. Because of its ability to punish steel reactive targets such as Pepper Poppers, the caliber is not sanctioned for action pistol competition. Further testing by BFBT revealed the following:
This same round penetrated 16” of bare gelatin, plus 10” of polyester bullet-arresting material. It finally stopped in
1.5” of loose sand. After 7” of gel penetration, the FMJ bullet yawed and exited base forward. The undeformed bullet was recovered sideways in the sand, indicating that it began to yaw again.
Wolf’s Gold 85-grain Copper JHP. Three shots were into bare gelatin and two were into four layers of denim. Average penetration = 13.86” and average expansion = 0.435”
Hornady 85-grain XTP handload. Average penetration = 11.9” and average expansion = 0.510”
Hornady 90-grain XTP handload. Average penetration = 12.3” and average expansion = 0.498”
Hornady 100-grain XTP handload. Average penetration = 13.9” and average expansion = 0.501”
All this history and contemporary data intrigued me, and I wondered if the bad guys could have come up with a round that may have armed their personnel almost as well as we had equipped our military with the .45 ACP pistol. My curiosity was finally satisfied when I learned that Arizona’s J&G Sales was offering a 7.62x25mm conversion kit for 9x19mm or .38 Super 1911 pistols.
The contemplated results were irresistible and I contacted J&G gunsmith Kristofer Gulbrandsen. I was rewarded with a fascinating conversation about kit and cartridge with this talented young gun guru. Shortly thereafter, I purchased the kit and his services and shipped my old Novak 9x19 mm Series 70 1911A1 to him for the work. The kit consisted of the following standard and optional items:
• 5” Government standard, unramped, crowned barrel, 6 grooves, left hand twist, with link, pin and bushing. ($189.95) (J&G also offers a ramped Wilson / Nowlin style 6” barrel)
• Spring kit. Recoil, firing pin and hammer springs. ($14.25). Although it’s a pretty snappy round, recoil is less than the average nine or .38 Super, so a lighter recoil spring is in order. Conversely, a heavier hammer spring is required to ignite hard primers on some MILSURP ammunition.
• .38 Super magazine ($12.95)
• ADCO Super Thumb loader Kris’s workmanship was superb. Everything was snug and although hammer spring weights were increased to compensate for hard European primers, the four-pound trigger felt great. The pistol had a steel guide rod in it and with the new smaller bored barrel with its additional steel, weight went up to 39.7 ounces. With magazine on board, the 40 ounce line was crossed by 2.3 ounces.
The pistol was an early Novak model and was a little tired, so I decided it needed a little dressing up for its SOF appearance. Kris suggested sending its slide to Blues Brothers, a neighbor of the Gunsite Academy, for a little cosmetology. For a C-note, both the external and internal results were quite satisfying and other than its dated beavertail and well worn grips, the old nine millimeter looked new.
Winchester is the only US entity that loads the Tokarev round under their Metric Caliber line. I was fortunate to acquire six different brands and seven types of ammunition for this article. I got very excited when the first three rounds of Polish MILSURP clustered into a .89” group at 25 yards, but was rudely brought back to reality when the next two climbed to 12 o’clock and opened it up to well over three inches.
The best five-round average group of 1.39” off my HySkore rest was produced by Winchester 85-grain FMJ ammunition. J&G provided me with an ADCO loading device, which helped mitigate the difficulty I had in loading the magazines with eight rounds by hand. Although cartridge bullet tips scrape the inside of the tube, internal .38 Super magazine dimensions are just large enough to accept most commercial / military Tokarev loads. The MS round at 1.30” in length was the shortest of all the cartridges involved, but would habitually bind up half way down the tube and neutralize the spring. Subsequently, MS had to be fired one round at a time, which inadvertently possibly saved me from injury.
Mechanical reliability was 100 percent and ejection was robust, with spent cases landing 12 to 15 feet to my right rear. Prominent muzzle blast and flash were evident but quite tolerable, with Wolf Gold JHP making the most fuss. Privi Partizan (PP) was the most pleasant to shoot and although it was not the slowest round in the group, it was the
poorest penetrator. Its importer informed me that the samples sent were approximately a year old and he was not sure they were up to expected levels of performance for that cartridge. Recoil was quite acceptable for these high
velocity rounds and was in the light 9mm class.
I was particularly interested in the purported performance of the MagSafe +P round and expected rifle level velocities. I had completed all the accuracy and penetration tests, but when I fired the first MS round through my chronograph, it experienced case rupture at its base. The blast ripped off the inserted magazine’s base plate with its spring and follower rapidly following. Additionally, the wood grips were split apart, my hands stung and my face was peppered with particles and debris. Thankfully, I had only one round in the magazine, or I might have had a mini grenade in my hands if additional rounds sympathetically detonated. Fortunately, pistol, barrel and shooter are still intact. The partially propelled bullet crossed the sky screens at only 1761 fps.
Conversely, the conventional and well behaved Winchester round had an impressive high individual velocity of
Subsequently, I contacted MS, and although there is nothing in the MS literature or on their eight-round ammunition packs or website that cautioned that this ammunition should be fired from barrels with fully supported chambers, the representative unequivocally agreed that there should be.
(There is now and 7.62x25mm is the only cartridge so cautioned.) On the back of the ammo pack it states, “Use this ammunition only in modern, high-quality weapons in good condition, originally chambered for this cartridge. Do not use in auto pistols which have been throated, as cases may rupture dangerously as the case head has inadequate support.”)
Folks, throated barrels and fully supported chambers are two different animals. In addition, the MILSURP cartridge appears to be rough on wood grips. Over an extended period of sustained rapid fire range work, a second set of quality wood grips was fractured.
My experiences may be anomalies, but if you are considering the J&G 1911 conversion, I recommend wearing shooting gloves and using aluminum or nylon / polymer panels for extra safety and durability.
At my behest, gun maven Peter Kokalis consulted with his good friend Mikhail Dragunov, Senior Design Engineer at the Russian Izhevsk Mechanical Plant and eldest son of Evgeniy Dragunov, the designer of the Dragunov sniper rifle system, regarding the Tokarev’s chamber. After consulting the Tokarev drawings, Mr. Dragunov concluded, “There is a feed ramp on the breech end of the barrel which has .13” in depth. Thus it is not possible, in my opinion, to shoot high velocity (+P / +P+) ammunition with Tokarev.” Furthermore, Kokalis advised that he has a copy of every Tokarev model made, including a very rare North Korean Type 68, and none of them possess fully supported chambers.
Hard Target Penetration
At seven yards, the Bi-metal, ferrous jacketed Polish MILSURP was the only round that successfully penetrated all of the following obstacles:
• ¼ “aluminum armor plate
• 14 gage, cold rolled steel
• US military Kevlar helmet and liner
• Level II x 2 Kevlar panels
The “harder” Polish MILSURP bullet passed through the mannequin’s head and lodged into the far side of the helmet. Level II body armor was doubled with front and back panels exposed to the bullet. Polish MILSURP was the only projectile to defeat both front and back panels and was not recovered.
Wolf Gold FMJ, MagSafe and Privi Partisan punched through the front panel only and were not recovered. SB tore through LII front panel and imbedded itself deep into the rear panel. The recovered bullet measured .60 inch. Winchester did not exit the front panel and the imbedded projectile flattened to .51 calibers. Fourteen-gage cold rolled steel, which is similar to vehicle door sheet metal, but thicker, was, except for the Privi Partisan load, compromised by every other round fired. Aluminum armor plate that is used to harden passenger vehicles was easily defeated by all but the Privi Partisan Tokarev round.
Depending on bullet construction and hardness, MILSURP ammunition might defeat LIIIA armor.
Of course, there are contemporary nine millimeter rounds that meet or exceed 1500 fps. Corbon’s 90 grain +P JHPs reach that threshold and 60 grain Le Mas tears along at 1900 to 2000 + fps from pistol-length barrels. Furthermore, Russian “over pressure” rounds, such as the 80.2 grain 7H21 (7N21) designed for the GRACH pistol, will exceed 1500 fps and the 63.3 grain 7H31 (7N31) PBP, loaded into the MP-443 / CSH18 handgun, has averaged 1969 fps at pressures exceeding 40,000 psi. However, over 80 years ago the Tokarev’s velocities were quite an achievement in handguns of that era.
So, where does this leave us with the so called Tokarev round? While its optimized JHP configuration produces decent penetration and expansion in soft tissue, the main benefit from its employment is its ability to defeat light armor and obstacles. This is what military rounds are intended to do. While it will work as a defensive caliber, it primarily serves as a recreational round for American shooting enthusiasts. It has plenty of bark, is a flat shooter, but its felt recoil is relatively light.
Was the cost of the project worth it? While I learned a lot about the “enemy’s cartridge and satisfied a curiosity, I mostly had fun for a relatively inexpensive $160.00 per thousand rounds. Although I was educated the hard way about MS ammunition and fully supported chambers, I also, with the correct ammunition, turned my Novak 1911 into a multi caliber pistol.
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Article by Bob Pilgrim