by Peter Suciu
The former Soviet Union and its client states may not have done much to produce quality “consumer goods,” but one of they did leave a lasting legacy of the Cold War: Vast amounts of surplus ammo. This is especially notable in the rifle caliber 7.62x54mmR; the intermediate “assault rifle” caliber 7.62x39mm; and the pistol caliber 7.62x25mm, which was also utilized in various Soviet Bloc submachine guns. In the decades following World War II, they producedmillions of rounds in those calibers in preparation for a Third World War that, fortunately, never erupted.
While the Soviet Union produced the bulk of this ammo, its client states including East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, as well as non-Warsaw nations such as China and Yugoslavia, also produced tens of millions of rounds for military use. Nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America received a large share of it for the various proxy wars during the Cold War era. With the fall of the Iron Curtain,there was suddenly more ammo than needed.
Much of this ammunition came onto the market beginning in the 1990s. Until around 2012, this surplus ammunition was offered by numerous online dealers at very reasonable prices. During the Obama administration, though, gun prices soared and ammunition became increasingly scarce. Then, in 2014, the Treasury Department used the authority delegated to it by the President under Executive Order 13661, to sanction gun maker Kalashnikov Concerns (formerly Izhmash). Thisaction banned the importation of AK-47 rifles as well as the surplus ammo.
And while it appeared that those vast reserves of ammo would dry up, there is still a vast abundance in existence. With President Trump promising to reverse some of the policies of the past administration — including the importation of some firearms-related items — Soviet Bloc ammo may flow into the country again.
When it does, there are some issues collectors and shooters need to understand: The first of which is that ammo that looks alike and is the same caliber may not be of the same quality. Moreover, while the AK-47 is a very reliable weapon that can endure harsh conditions and will continue to operate with minimal maintenance, the ammunition that has come out of the east isn’t exactly what could be considered the most reliable or clean.
Most Soviet Bloc ammo has one thing in common — namely that it is corrosive. It utilizes a primer that has chemicals leave a residue of corrosive salts when ignited. These primers have potassium chlorate, or sodium petrochlorate which, when burned, decompose into potassium chloride or sodium chloride. This leaves residue in the barrel and create “fouling,” which over time can lead to jamming and poor shooting performance.
The other issue is where the ammo was made. Many shooters may wrongly assume that if they buy 7.62x39mm for their SKS or AK-47, they are buying ammo produced in the Soviet Union (a nation that ceased to exist on December 26, 1991). The truth is that the ammunition was produced in a variety of nations just as the Soviet Bloc firearms. More importantly, much of the ammunition that has come on the market in recent years has come from Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria It is generally considered superior to the ammunition from Pakistan and China.
Trying to determine the “when and the where” can be confusing. Even when buying true Soviet ammo, there is the issue of deciphering the information supplied on the packing containers.
Decoding Soviet Bloc Ammo Crate MARKINGS
It might not be ancient Greek, but the markings on Soviet ammunition crates and tins can be confusing. Military surplus ammunition from the Warsaw Pact was typically shipped in containers that used Soviet military nomenclature from the Cold War.
First, the language and accompanying alphabet is Cyrillic, so that will explain some of the more confusing characters. Understanding exactly what is marked on the cases doesn’t require a working knowledge of Russian, however. The second thing to know is that almost all wooden cases hold two metal cases and this is marked on the outside of the wooden crate.
Common markings include:
ГЖ = bimetallic case; steel clad with gilding metal
ГЛ = brass case
ГС = steel case
Based on the ammo that has been largely encountered for sale, it appears the majority is of the first variety: Bimetallic. This is a combination of gilding metal and clad steel.