SKS Rifles - By Adrian Van Dyk

An SKS rifle

The SKS rifle

I became interested in SKS rifles in the 1960’s when the first specimens started to come into the U.S. as part of the “booty” of the Vietnam War. Naturally these were quite scarce, but I did manage to pick up 4 of them. One I remember had a jungle made replacement stock, while the others were in as issued condition. Prices were quite high for these, usually about $325 to $350 each. Of course not much was known about them, and virtually no ammunition was available.

In the late 1970’s rumors started to circulate that vast quantities of these were going to be imported from China. I decided to sell my small collection while the prices were still high, and did manage to “cash out” at no loss. I went on to collect other things, knives, .45 automatics, clocks and whatever happened to catch my fancy at the time. However, I never lost my interest in SKS rifles.

Then about 5 years ago, my interest again turned to SKS rifles, and soon I had amassed a collection of them from various countries and with quite a few variations. Information on these was quite hard to find. There were few books out, and those available did not adequately cover the many variations to be found. With research on the internet, studying existing specimens and lots of other research, I was finally able to sort out many of the details of this fascinating rifle.

The SKS rifle was designed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov. The initials stand for Samozaryadnyi Karbin Simonova, or “Semi-Automatic Carbine, Simonov”. He designed and utilized the basic design in an anti-tank rifle, and also a full size semi-automatic rifle that was designed in competition with the SVT or Tokarev. The SKS, firing an intermediate size cartridge (7.62x39), was first produced in small quantities in 1944. These saw limited usage on the Byelorussian Front, where they received very positive reviews. Full production did not commence until 1949 at the Tula Arsenal. The SKS was produced there until 1955 or 1956. Production also took place at the Izhevsk Arsenal during 1953 and 1954.
With the AK-47 assuming the role of the major weapon in the Soviet arsenal, the machinery for producing the SKS was no longer needed, and so was shipped to various communist states, where, with the help of Soviet technicians and an adequate supply of left-over Soviet parts, production was started.

Besides Russia, the countries that are known to have produced the SKS are China, North Korea, East Germany, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia and North Vietnam. Some people are of the opinion that those rifles designated as having been made in North Vietnam, were actually made somewhere else. As of yet there is no definitive proof as to the actual origin of these rifles.

In addition, there are rumors of other countries having manufactured the SKS, notably Poland and Bangladesh. As of yet, no specimens from either country have been identified, although it is known that both still use them.

Among collectors, the holy grail of SKS rifles is the East German. These exhibit the finest workmanship and are extremely rare in the U.S. Also quite rare are specimens made in North Korea and North Vietnam. Recent imports from Yugoslavia and Albania have made these previously rare rifles available to the average collector. In fact, it was not known that Albania made SKS rifles until a quantity of these was imported after the Balkan War.

The most prolific producer of the SKS has been China. Along with supplying their armed forces, China also supplied arms to many countries. Most of the SKS rifles that came out of Vietnam were of Chinese manufacture. Vast quantities of Chinese rifles were imported into the U.S. before the U.S. government cut off shipments of weapons from China. From specimens that can be found, it appears that China emptied out many of their armories and shipped the contents to the U.S. They also proceeded to manufacture and re-manufacture rifles of many configurations to dump on the U.S. market.

For those interested in collecting SKS rifles, most start by trying to obtain one from each country of manufacture. Others collect variations produced within a given country. One collector, Howie Bearse, has put together a collection of over 50 Chinese variations. He also has compiled a listing of the various Chinese manufacturers’ markings. You can view this information on this web site:

Of the Yugoslavian SKS rifles, there are two major variations, the Model 59, which is an earlier model without grenade launcher and the corresponding sight, and the 59/66 that has both of these features. In addition the 59/66 A-1 has night sights with two distinct variations of these sights that are found. One has radium dots painted on the front and rear night sight, whereas the other has glass tritium vials inserted in slots. Some collectors also collect the Yugoslavian SKS rifles by the alpha prefix of the serial number. They feel that each alpha character represents a different year of manufacture.

The Romanian and Albanian rifles can be collected by dates of manufacture. The date markings are to be found following the serial number. Albanians also can be found with no date, thought to be the first year of manufacture, and with dates from 1967 to 1971. Then apparently there was a lapse in production until 1978 and 1979. Romanians can be found with dates from 1957 to 1960.

Rifles that were brought back from Vietnam attract quite a bit of attention from collectors. These will have no import stampings on them anywhere. However, just because an SKS does not have any import markings does not mean that it was a captured rifle brought in by a returning GI. Without documentation, it would be wise not to pay a premium for an alleged “GI bringback”. The proper documentation can make a rifle worth quite a bit more than a non-documented specimen. Normally such documentation would be in the form of “capture papers” granting the bearer permission to bring the rifle into the U.S. Usually these would be military forms DD603 and DD603-1. Documents from the Provost Marshall also can be found, as well as documents from the Vietnamese government, written in Vietnamese. In addition, some rifles were presented to various officials and can be found with a presentation plaque affixed to the stock. One example I have has a brass plate, engraved in Vietnamese, announcing the presentation to a U.S. Special Forces Lt. Colonel, from a Vietnamese Special Forces Lt. Colonel. I was able to locate the U.S. Lt. Colonel and obtain the capture papers from him, which was a sheer stroke of good fortune! One warning, fake documents do exist, so be careful as to what you buy.

The SKS has generally been replaced by the AK-47 around the globe, it still is found in use for ceremonial occasions. The AK-47 is a clumsy rifle for parade and ceremonial guard use, so SKS can still be found being used in parades and by “Honor Guard” troops. Some of these rifles have been specifically modified for this role by being heavily chrome or nickel plated. They are still relied upon as a service weapon for rear guard and police use, as well as seeing lots of use in third world countries.
The SKS has proven itself to be accurate and reliable in service around the globe. With the many variations to be found, it is an excellent rifle to collect as well as to shoot.

Recommended reading:
The SKS Carbine (CKC45g) by Steve Kehaya and Joe Poyer, North Cape Publications, Inc. P.O. Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781
Simonov SKS-45 Type Carbines, compiled and edited by Wyant Lamont and Stephen Fuller (out of print)
SKS Rifle Simonov Type 56 TC 9-56 Department of the Army Training Circular, Headquarters, Department of the Army, October 1969

I would also suggest the following web sites: relicfirearmsforumsfrm52 

Many thanks to Adrian and Judy Van Dyke for being our Featured Displayers at the November meeting. If you are interested in doing a Featured Display in July, September or November, please contact the Business Office. Tables, hotel for 2 nights are provided. March Display Show Competitors are welcome to also do a Featured Display outside the March display show.