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ShKAS machine gun
ShKAS machine gun .jpg
ShKAS at the Zadorozhny Equipment Museum
Type Machine Gun
Place of origin  Soviet Union
Service history
Used by See Users
Wars World War II
Spanish Civil War
Second Sino-Japanese War
Production history
Designer Boris Shpitalniy
Irinarkh Komaritsky
Designed 1932
Produced 1933-1945
Number built ~ 150,000
Weight 10.5 kg

Cartridge 7.62 x 54 R
Caliber 7.62 mm
Action Gas with rotary feeding mechanism [1]
Rate of fire 1800 RPM (ShKAS)
3000 RPM (UltraShKAS)
Muzzle velocity 775-825
Feed system Belt
Sights Iron

The ShKAS (Shpitalny-Komaritski Aviatsionny Skorostrelny, Shpitalny-Komaritski rapid fire machine gun for aircraft; Russian: ШКАС - Шпитальный-Комарицкий Авиационный Скорострельный) is a 7.62 mm machine gun widely used by Soviet aircraft in the 1930s and during World War II. It was designed by Boris Shpitalniy and Irinarkh Komaritsky and entered production in 1934. ShKAS was used in the majority of Soviet fighters and bombers and served as the basis for the ShVAK cannon.


ShKAS is a gas-operated revolver-type machine gun; it has however a single chamber in which the pin strikes the primer.

A key element of the ShKAS' high rate of fire is the revolving drum (feed cage) that holds ten rounds and provides a very smooth, progressive removal of the cartridges from their disintegrating link belt. Another element is the lightweight recoiling portion of the gun, weighing only 921 grams (2.07 lb).

A declassified US analysis of the feed system, based on models captured during the Korean War, reads:[2]

An interesting departure was made from the heretofore orthodox practice of feeding ammunition to a gun of this caliber. The feed, somewhat resembling a grooved revolver cylinder, is an integral part of the gun, and the cartridges remain axial throughout the entire operation.

The cylindrical feed cage is rotated by an arm that engages a slot in the gas piston. A helical groove in the drum arrangement withdraws the cartridges from the metal disintegrating link belt as it moves through the feedway by engaging their rims and gradually camming the cartridges rearward. The freed cartridges are then presented at the bottom of the receiver for chambering by final rotation.

This circular type of feed holds ten rounds. Several phases are required to completely delink a round and roll it up into position for being shoved into the chamber. A small folding handle held on the top side is used to rotate the feed drum when filling with cartridges.

Camming the round slowly out of the belt with this type of feeder causes practically no drag when the weapon is fired at high speed. It has belt pull enough to take care of practically any length belt desired. [...]

The Russian Air Force nicknamed this circular arrangement the "bird-cage" feed. It is an adaption of a system first used by the Polish designer, Gabriel Szakats.

After analyzing the less unusual parts of the ShKAS, the US source concludes:[2]

Thus the Shkas is an innovation based on the features of the Maxim (ejection and buffer), the Szakats (rotating feed), and the Berthier (piston-actuated, propped breech, locking.)

(Ian V. Hogg called the ShKAS feeding system a "squirrel cage".[3])

Diagram of the ShKAS feed system operation.

Although ShKAS is best known for its high rate of fire, it did have provisioning for slower cyclic rates. This was done by "changing the position of the holes in the gas regulator, which comes with holes of three different sizes, 1/12-inch, 1/10-inch and 1/8-inch. The smaller the orifice used, the more moderate is the rate of fire obtained."[4]


ShKAS in a ring mount

Initial production consisted of cable-charged wing-mounted and turret-mounted ShKAS with a synchronized version entering service in 1936.

By 1952 Western intelligence had identified five different models, all including the number "426" in their markings:[5]

  • a prototype "426" appeared in 1932
  • KM-33, in flexible role, appeared in 1933
  • KM-35, in flexible role (1934) and wing-mounted (1935)
  • KM-36, in flexible role (1935) and propeller-synchronized (1937); the latter had an extra-long barrel
  • a 1941 model, wing-mounted

"KM" stands for "constructed model", i.e. production. The intended role was marked with the letters "T" for flexible, "K" for wing, and "S" synchronized.[5] The flexible version was usually mounted in a Soviet copy of the Scarff ring.[6] The 1937 model had slightly higher maximum rate of fire of 2,000 rounds per minute.[6] The amount of ammunition normally carried was 750 rounds for the fixed models and 1,000 to 1,500 for the flexible.[7]

Soviet archives indicate the following production volumes, by year:[8]

  • 1933 — 365 produced
  • 1934 — 2,476
  • 1935 — 3,566
  • 1937 — 13,005
  • 1938 — 19,687
  • 1940 — 34,233
  • 1943 — 29,450
  • 1944 — 36,255
  • 1945 — 12,455

In 1939, a small number of Ultra-ShKAS were produced featuring a firing rate of 3,000 rounds per minute but these saw only limited use due to reliability problems.


A one-second burst from four ShKAS in Polikarpov I-153 or Polikarpov I-16 placed 120 bullets within 15 angular mils at 400 meters (1,312 feet) giving a firing density of 5 bullets per square meter of the sky. This was significantly higher than contemporary aircraft from other nations, especially considering that four guns with 650 rounds of ammunition per gun weighed a total of only 160 kg (350 lb).

But ShKAS had its defects. Soviet machine-gun technician Viktor M. Sinaisky recalled:

" The ShKAS machine gun had a high rate of fire but it also had 48 ways of jamming. Some of them could be fixed immediately, some could not. And 1,800 rounds a minute was an insanely high rate of fire. If you pulled the trigger too long, the ShKAS would fire all its ammo in one go and that would be it!!"


Gun specifications

  • Cartridge: 7.62 x 54 R
  • Caliber: 7.62 mm (0.300 in)
  • Rate of fire: 1,800 rounds/min wing- or turret-mounted; 1,625 rounds/min synchronized. UltraShKAS: 3,000 rounds/min.
  • Muzzle velocity: 825 m/s (2,710 ft/s)
  • Weight: 10 kg (22 lb) empty; 40 kg (88 lb) with 650 rounds of ammunition.

7.62 mm ammunition specifications

Although chambered in the 7.62x54R, the ShKAS guns used cartridges specially built for them to smaller tolerances; to distinguish them from the regular 7.62 ammunition, the letter "Sh" (Ш) was imprinted on the bottom of the cases. The cases, designed by N. M. Elizarov, also had a few additional features like double crimping and a thicker case wall of "bimetallic" construction instead of the traditional brass.[10] The main type of bullet used was armor-piercing incendiary B-32 bullet.

  • Bullet weight: 148 grains (9.6 grams)
  • Round weight: 370 grains (24 grams)
  • Ballistic coefficient: 3.0 lb/in² (2,100 kg/m²)
  • Tracer ammunition duration: 750 m (2,460 ft)
  • Armor piercing: 11 mm (0.43 in) at 400 m (1,312 ft)

Possible influences

Some military historians consider that feed system of the Mauser MG 213C (the seminal revolver cannon for Western designs) was inspired by the ShKAS.[11][12][13]


See also


  2. 2.0 2.1 Chinn, pp. 78-79
  3. Ian V. Hogg (1978). The illustrated encyclopedia of firearms. New Burlington Books. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-906286-41-8. 
  4. Chinn, p. 80
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chinn, p. 72
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chinn, p. 73
  7. Chinn, p. 79
  8. Shirokorad, p. 73; there is no number given for 1936, 1939 and 1941–1942
  9. Drabkin 2007, pp. 60-68.
  11. George Chinn 1951, The Machine Gun: Development During World War II and Korean Conflict by the United States and their Allies of Full Automatic Machine Gun Systems and High Rate of Fire Power Driven Cannon, Volume III, Parts VIII and IX. p. 44
  12. Bill Gunston (1987). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament: A Major Directory of Guns, Rockets, Missiles, Bombs, Torpedoes and Mines. Salamander Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-86101-314-2. 
  13. E. J. Hoffschmidt (1969). German aircraft guns and cannons. WE, inc.. p. 117. 
  • Drabkin, Artem. The Red Air Force at War: Barbarossa and the Retreat to Moscow – Recollections of Fighter Pilots on the Eastern Front. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Military, 2007. ISBN 1-84415-563-3.
  • Романов Д. И. Оружие Воздушного Боя (Romanov D.I., Aerial Weapons)
  • Chinn, George M. The Machine Gun, Vol II, Part VII. US Department of the Navy, 1952
  • Широкорад А.Б. (2001) История авиационного вооружения Харвест (Shirokorad A.B. (2001) Istorya aviatsionnogo vooruzhenia Harvest. ISBN 985-433-695-6) (History of aircraft armament)

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