Box of 9x18mm Makarov ammunition cartridges.

9x18mm Makarov

The 9x18mm Makarov Cartridge

The 9x18mm Makarov cartridge was the standard military pistol cartridge of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact following the Second World War. It played a role similar to that of the 9x19mm Parabellum round in NATO. Many of those countries still use it. Let's learn about its history, its technical characteristics, and what the various Russian-language ammunition labels mean.

Origins of the 9x18mm Cartridge

7.62x25mm Tokorev and 9x18mm Makarov pistol ammunition cartridges.

Left: 7.62x25 mm Tokorev
Right: 9x18 mm Makarov

The 7.62x25 Tokorev cartridge was developed in 1930 as an enhanced version of the 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge. It was based on the Mauser round but it's intentionally just a little bit different. Security through incompatability.

For example, the Tsarist Russian empire built its rail network based on a 1524 mm (or 5 feet) gauge rather than the 1435 mm (or 4 ft 8 1/2 in) gauge currently used in western Europe, the Middle East, China, Australia, and North America. It's unclear exactly why. This may have been done simply for the increased stability of a wider gauge, and a 5-foot gauge was in common use in the southern U.S. when the Russian rail network was first being constructed. However, the increased difficulty of invading across a break-of-gauge may have played a factor. Finland and the Baltic nations used the Russian rail gauge, but Finland was a Russian Grand Duchy and the other nations were under Russian control.

Soviet military doctrine, however, explicitly required designs using ammunition incompatible with that of likely adversaries. This would prevent an invading army from using captured Soviet ammunition.

I have taken two NRA courses, one for rifles and another for handguns. The instructor in both of those strongly emphasized the importance of owning a pistol firing the 9x19mm Parabellum round. This was so when (not if, but when) the U.S. is invaded by foreign military forces, and the U.S. military, supposedly the best in the world, is easily defeated and needs to be rescued by untrained and unorganized citizens, you can just pick up and use the ammunition left lying around by the invaders.

This assumes that NATO will to be the first to invade the US, although that's not the strangest part of this theory.

The Tokarev TT-30 pistol was adopted in January of 1931, and with minor changes it became the Tokarev TT-33, the Soviet Union's standard service pistol from 1933 until the mid 1960s. These fired the 7.62x25mm round. That cartridge was also used in the Czech ČZ-52 pistol and a number of submachine guns including the Soviet PPD-40, PPSh-41, and PPS-43 among several others.

9x18mm cartridge diagram from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9x18mm_Makarov.

9x18mm Makarov cartridge diagram.

The Red Army experienced some problems with the TT-33 during World War II, and a new pistol design was wanted. The TT-33 short recoil action was very similar to John Browning's design for the U.S. M1911. A simpler direct blowback system was wanted, as it would be easier to manufacture and potentially more accurate. The new pistol design should be lighter, including its ammunition load. The result was the 9x18mm Makarov round.

9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges from Bear and Sellier & Bellot.

The 9x18mm Cartridge

B.V. Semin designed the cartridge in 1946, basing it on the German 9x18mm Ultra and the 9x17mm (or .380 ACP) cartridge used by the Walther PP. Two years later, in 1948, Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov designed the pistol which came to be called the Makarov PM and which gave Semin's cartridge the rest of its name. Other Warsaw Pact pistols including the Hungarian FÉG PA-63 were soon designed to use the cartridge.

The doctrinally required incompatability comes from differences in the cartridge case and bullet dimensions. 9x18mm Makarov bullets are 9.27mm in diameter, while 9x19mm Parabellum bullets are 9.017mm.

Here are two boxes of 9x18mm Makarov ammunition, one from Bear and one from Sellier & Bellot.

Sellier & Bellot was founded by Louis Sellier, a French merchant, in 1825. He established a factory in Prague where he manufactured percussion caps for Francis I, the Emperor of Austria. Fellow Frenchman Jean Maria Nicolaus Bellot soon joined the company. By 1830 they were a major ammunition manufacturer for European and overseas markets. By 1837 they were manufacturing 156 million percussion caps per year.

Ammunition technology advanced, and in 1870 they began manufacturing cartridges. The new country of Czechoslovakia was formed by the treaties ending World War I, and Sillier & Bellot became the main supplier of handgun ammunition for the Czechoslovak Army and police.

Sellier & Bellot is now based in Vlašim, Czech Republic. They were acquired by the Brazilian company CBC, Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos, in 2009. CBC, based in São Paulo, is now one of the world's largest ammunition manufacturers.

Bear is made at the CJSC Barnaul Cartridge Plant in the city of Барнаул (or Barnaul), an important industrial center producing a lot of heavy machinery, tires and furniture.

Barnaul is well to the west of the Ural Mountains in southern Siberia. It's the administrative center of Altai Krai, near Russia's borders with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia. See the yellow cross on this map.

Map of Russia.

In this more detailed map you see the city along the Ob River as it comes down out of the Altai mountains south of Novosibirsk. Look for Барнаул on the map.

Bear's cartridge cases are made from aluminum. The case is the most expensive component of the round, and using aluminum rather than brass significantly reduces the cost.

However, aluminum cases cannot be reloaded.

9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges.  Aluminum cases from Bear and brass cases with lacquered primers from Sellier & Bellot.

Notice the headstamps.

Sellier & Bellot: S & B / 9 mm M

Bear: 9 mm Mak with the CJSC Barnaul emblem.

The Sellier & Bellot primers are sealed with red lacquer. The solvents used for cleaning and the lighter lubricants used for maintaining guns can damage cartridges, causing failures to fire. Even more dangerous than a complete failure to fire is a delayed ignition. The worst case scenario would be that it ignites only after you have opened the chamber to extract the failed round.

9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges.  Aluminum cases from Bear and brass cases with lacquered primers from Sellier & Bellot.
9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges.  Aluminum cases from Bear and brass cases with lacquered primers from Sellier & Bellot.

Soviet / Russian Infantry Ammunition Designations

The Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union, which evolved into the Ministry of Defense of Russia, had a Main Artillery Directorate which later became the Main Rocketry-Artillery Directorate. These were the initial Главное Артиллерийское Управление (ГАУ) and later Главное Ракетно-Артиллерийское Управление, (ГРАУ) what we English speakers would spell and abbreviate Glavnoye Artilleriyskoye Upravleniye (GAU) and Glavnoye Rocketno-Artilleriyskoye Upravleniye (GRAU).

The GAU/GRAU maintains "indices", tables of military standards, for many categories of military equipment. So-called GAU "Division 56" is for infantry weapons and "Division 57" is for infantry ammunition. 57-N is the main category for infantry ammunition. With the update to GRAU, 56 and 57 became 6 and 7, respectively.

Division 56
CyrillicLatinCategory
56-А56-Aautomatic and semi-automatic firearms
56-В56-Vrifles, shotguns
56-Г56-Ggrenade launchers, mortars
56-Ж56-Zhshops, vessels
56-ЖЛ56-ZhLcartridge box (Ammo in strips)
56-ЗТ56-ZTanti-aircraft guns
56-И56-Itools and accessories
56-ИП56-IPKits military calibers
56-Л56-LCartridge Tape
56-М56-MStores
56-Н56-Nautoloading pistols and revolvers
56-П56-Pguns
56-Р56-Rmachine guns
56-Т56-Tmachines
56-У56-UPosition
56-Х56-Khedged weapons
56-Ч56-Chauxiliary elements
56-Ш56-Shbags, belts, holsters, cases
56-Ю56-YuAccessories
56-ЮЛ56-YuLsnaryazhatelnye (stuffing) machines
56-Я56-Yacapping (boxes) for infantry weapons
Division 57
CyrillicLatinCategory
57-Б57-Bcartridges with armor-piercing bullets
57-БЗ57-BZcartridges with armor-piercing incendiary bullets
57-БЗТ57-BZTcartridges with armor-piercing incendiary tracer bullets
57-БТ57-BTcartridges with armor-piercing tracer bullets
57-Г57-Ghand grenades
57-ГК57-GKjet cumulative (anti) grenades
57-ГО57-GOjet fragmentation grenades
57-ГУ57-GUtraining grenades
57-Д57-Dcartridges with long-range (heavy) bullets
57-Ж57-Zhfuses for grenades
57-З57-Zcartridges with incendiary bullets
57-ЗП57-ZPcartridges with incendiary bullets sighting
57-К57-Kcaps
57-Н57-Ncartridges with normal bullets
57-О57-Oclips
57-П57-Pcartridges with sighting bullets
57-СД57-SDsignal cartridges for day action
57-СН57-SNsignal cartridges for night action
57-Т57-Tcartridges with tracer bullets
57-У57-Uspecial ammunition or high pressure with power charge
57-Х57-Khblanks
57-Ч57-Chtraining ammunition
57-Я57-Yacapping (boxes) for ammunition

Not all of the 9x18mm cartridge types have had GAU/GRAU designations, but this table attempts to list all the variants.

Type GAU/GRAU Description
Cyrillic Latin Cyrillic Latin
9 П гж (гл) 9 P GZh (GL) 57-Н-181 57-N-181 6.1 gram bullet with lead core, brass case, 10.7 gram cartridge
9 Пст гж (гс, гл) 9 PST GZh (GS, GL) 57-Н-181С 57-N-181S 5.9 gram bullet with steel core, bimetal sleeve case
9 ППТ гж 9 PPT GZh 57-Т-181 57-T-181 Tracer bullet, issued from factory NCA in Novosibirsk
9 БЖТ гж 9 BZhT GZh 7Н15 7N15 Steel armor-piercing bullet, muzzle velocity 325 m/s
9 СП7 гж 9 SP7 GZh Expanding bullet with high stopping power developed at order of KGB in late 1970s and early 1980s. Bullet weight 4.2 grams, muzzle velocity 405-420 m/s
9 СП8 гж 9 SP8 GZh Frangible (low-penetration) bullet for anti-terrorist operations and aboard aircraft. Bullet weight 5.0 grams, muzzle velocity 250-255 m/s
9 Ппэ гж 9 PPE GZh Explosive bullet, developed in early 1990s
9x18 РГ028 гж 9x18 RG028 GZh Frangible expanding bullet
9x18 ПС гс ППО 9x18 PS gs PPO Standard law enforcement round. 6.3 gram bullet, 330 m/s muzzle velocity, 330-343 J muzzle energy
9x18 ПРС гс 9x18 PRS gs Standard law enforcement round.
9x18 ПСВ 9x18 PSV Hollow-point bullet, sold on export market. Bullet weight 7.3-7.8 grams, cartridge 10.68-11.63 grams, 280-305 m/s at 10 meter range.
9x18 ПСО гж 9x18 PSO gzh Sport-hunting cartridge. Bullet weight 6.1 grams, muzzle velocity 290-315 m/s
9 УЧ 9 UCh 57-Н-181УЧ 57-N-181UCh Inert training cartridge
9x18mm ПБМ 9x18mm PBM 7Н25 7N25 Armor-piercing round. Semi-jacketed hardened steel core bullet, 3.7 grams, muzzle velocity 519 m/s. Pierces 5 mm steel plates, 2.4 mm armor plus Kevlar.
9x18mm ПММ 9x18mm PMM 57-Н-181СМ, 7Н16 57-N-181CM, 7N16 Upgrade of 9x18mm PM round with increased penetration. Bullet 5.54-5.8 grams, muzzle velocity 410-435 m/s. Bullet shape designed to minimize ricochets. steel core bullet, 3.7 grams, muzzle velocity 519 m/s. Pierces 5 mm steel plates, 2.4 mm armor plus Kevlar.
9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges.  Aluminum cases from Bear and brass cases with lacquered primers from Sellier & Bellot.
9x18mm pistol ammunition cartridges.  Aluminum cases from Bear and brass cases with lacquered primers from Sellier & Bellot.

More about the 9x18mm Makarov and Russian Ammunition

Now that you know about 9x18mm Makarov ammunition, you probably would like to know about a gun that uses it. Or possibly you need to know how to read Russian military surplus ammunition labels.

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FÉG PA-63
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