The Type 56, or Chinese SKS as most folks call it, is a classic Cold War-era rifle. Made by the millions, Type 56s served in numerous conflicts across the world. The Soviet Union designed the SKS near the end of WWII and either sold them to favored nations or assisted countries in setting up domestic manufacturing for the rifle. While no nation manufactures SKSs anymore and hasn't for decades, they are now an extremely popular rifle on the military surplus market.
During WWII, the bolt action Mosin Nagant in 7.62x54R was standard issue for Soviet ground forces. The Mosin Nagant was robust and reliable; however, by the 1940s, it was mostly outdated as self-loading (semiautomatic) rifles became more prevalent on the battlefield. After the Soviet Union's experience fighting against German forces with more advanced firearms, such as the German StG 44, they knew that modernizing their small arms program was essential for their continued success.
Near the end of WWII, the Soviet Union designed several new self-loading rifles in their new 7.62x39 intermediate cartridge. Intermediate cartridges fall between pistol and full-sized rifle rounds in terms of power. Of the ones entered into these trials to select a new rifle, famous small arms designer Sergei Gavrilovich Siminov's version won out as the best. Introduced in 1945, the SKS was semiautomatic and gas-operated. It fed from a non-detachable ten-round magazine. Soldiers could rapidly load the magazine using stripper clips that held rounds in a line rather than slowly loading ammunition one round at a time. The SKS's simple gas system utilized the short-stroke principle, and the rifle featured a tilting bolt design. Overall, the SKS proved to be a very robust design, due to its forged milled receiver and durable components.
The Soviet Union adopted the SKS in the late 1940s and production continued until the mid-1950s. Around the same time the Soviet Union adopted the SKS, the AK47 was also in final development. The SKS mostly served as a placeholder until the Soviet military adopted the AK47 for front line use in the early 1950s. While the SKS stuck around for ceremonial use (parades, guards, etc.) and some second-line troop use, the AK47 mostly eclipsed the SKS by the early 1950s.
The Type 56 or Chinese SKS
During the Cold War, many nations sympathetic to the Soviet Union secured military assistance. Following Mao's victory in the Chinese Civil War after WWII, he established the People's Republic of China. The Soviet Union supplied arms to the Chinese military until the Sino-Soviet Split in the mid-1960s where China and Soviet broke diplomatic ties.
While the SKS was outdated by Soviet military standards in the 1950s, China was impressed with its rugged simplicity that was ideal for a large conscript army. Conscript armies are made up of draftees rather than volunteer professional soldiers, and simpler firearms are often better for these voluntold soldiers with less experience.
After Soviet production of the SKS ceased in the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union sent tooling, machinery, parts, and advisors to China. Soviet advisors set up production in the now-famous Jianshe Arsenal, also known as Arsenal Number 26. Factory workers skillfully produced the SKS with the help of their Soviet advisors, and the Chinese military adopted the SKS as the Type 56 in 1956.
Chinese factories made changes over the lifetime of the SKS’s production to simplify manufacturing and increase efficiency. One notable shift in production was the introduction of a stamped trigger guard. Making the trigger guard from a stamping versus milling from a forging saved both time and money. There is no functional difference between the two trigger guard types; however, some collectors prefer the milled trigger guards since they came first.
China continued to produce the Type 56 for many years even after adopting an AK47 variant for its own front line military use. As crucial as the Type 56 was for the Chinese military, the Type 56 became even more vital for export. Just as the Soviet Union gave and sold military equipment to sympathetic nations and groups, China did the same sending Type 56s around the world, from Vietnam to Africa and all points in between.
Military Surplus Type 56 Rifles
Times are great in the surplus market as we continue to uncover batches of SKSs periodically. After sitting in Albania for decades, we recently discovered a batch of Chinese Type 56 SKSs. These rifles saw service in countless conflicts around the world, and some definitely have the character and wear to prove it. Packed in heavy cosmoline, a thick waxy grease protectant, these SKSs were put into long storage and have only recently seen the light of day.
The SKS rifle is a true classic in the world of military surplus firearms. It is rugged, simple, and designed to be enjoyed by anyone. The Chinese Type 56 SKS is no exception. These rifles have "been there and done that," telling the stories of the people that carried them in far-flung conflicts that we may never know. To own and shoot a Type 56 is to experience history in a physical way. Pick up your very own Type 56 SKS today!