Polish AK History, Radom Factory 11
While not necessarily remembered for their active part in modern warfare, not even Poland could keep away from the allure of the AK platform. Even though Poland has not been seen as an aggressor or even the defender in modern military conflicts, its geographic location assisted in the political motivation to become a member of the Warsaw pact which almost cemented a future with government contracts to produce Kalashnikov AK pattern rifles.
The AK comes to Poland
In response to the formation of NATO, Russia essentially wanted to form a coalition of allies that could be used to tame the power of Western European and North American allies in world politics. The Warsaw pact, so called for the Polish city the treaty was signed in, unified the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Of course, the Warsaw Pact is well known for the invasion of the former nation of Czechoslovakia, but few people would point the finger directly at Poland for this move. This is an extremely over simplified version of what happened, but we’re here to talk AKs, not politics.
Since Poland was a friendly member of the Warsaw Pact, they had a political interest in working with the USSR to render aid to Bulgaria in 1957. This was the catalyst that allowed Poland permission to the patents of the Type 3 AK-47. Poland began manufacturing their first version of the AK as the Pistolet Masyzynowy Kalasznikowa, better known as the PMK.
Early Polish AKs
The PMK was a very traditional looking version of the AK-47 but was very notable for the ability to fire rifle propelled grenades. This is a feature that was later borrowed by the SKS and was very popular during the Balkans war. Not all early PMKs sported the ability to launch rifle propelled grenades, but many of them can be easily recognized by the odd looking barrel designed to receive the LON-I grenade launcher that is screwed on, and the 10-round magazine that won’t accept traditional 7.62x39 ammunition if you are lucky enough to come across one in the wild.
In 1966 Poland made some redesigns to their AK as the Krotki Bojowy Karabin Automatyczny Kalasznikowa, much better known as the KBK. This rifle looks like a common AKM from the late 60’s with a slant brake and an underfolding stock. The underfolding mechanism is known for its extremely robust design and excellent lock-up. Most KBK specimens that can still be found tend to have excellent wood furniture with a very pleasant palm swell in the front handguard. Outside of these features, the KBK remains very true to the original design of the Type-3 AK 47 with a stamped receiver and very few frills.
Poland also continued to produce traditional and high quality AKs over the years as the UF. One mark of a true Polish AK to look for is the Circle 11 stamp on the left side of the trunnion showing that the rifle was built in the Radom Munitions factory. Also be sure to look for the generous palm swells in the front handguard throughout all generations of Polish built AKs to at least hint towards the fact that you might be looking at a genuine specimen.
Of course most people hunting for a Polish AK variant will be looking the Tantal. The Tantal project began in the 1980’s and was led by Bogdan Szpakerski and suffered a number of setbacks. Despite the numerous struggles in design and production, the vz. 88 Tantal was adopted by the Polish military in 1989.
The Tantal is based on the AK-74, which will be no surprise to anybody who knows that this rifle is chambered in 5.45x39. The Tantal was designed so closely to the AK-74, that many parts were meant to be interchangeable including the bold carrier, bolt, and magazines. This was no doubt an effort to plan ahead in case of need to source parts in the case of economic struggles during a potential future conflict.
Poland decided to keep rifle propelled grenades in their arsenal, and this required the need for a multi-functional muzzle device and a sturdy stock. The familiar looking AK-74 brake on the muzzle of the Tantal is designed to receive a rifle grenade. The side folding stock is surprisingly sturdy, as it must be to withstand the increased recoil caused by launching grenades from the muzzle. The stock is actually a copy of the stock used on and East German AK variant, so that helps to explain the over-engineering of the component.
The original military version of the Tantal is a select fire weapon with a very non-AK fire control selector on the left side of the receiver. This fire control selector is in very ergonomic location and will offer the option of firing in automatic, semi-automatic, and 3-round burst mode. It is important to note when handling one, that the selector lever is separate from the safety selector switch, and can be operated whether the rifle is in safe or fire mode. The three-round burst is achieved through a ratcheting device inside the receiver that interacts with the trigger group, which will seem crude when compared to an M-16 A2, but remains effective and durable. The safety selector lever is found where you would traditionally find the fire control lever on most AK variants, on the right side of the receiver, and disables the trigger bar while limiting movement of the bolt carrier.
The wire folding stock on the Tantal folds to the right and offers a shoulder pad. If you have a Tantal and wish to eschew the folding stock for a fixed stock you will find it quite easy to do as nearly and AKM or AK-74 stock will fit well. Upper and lower handguards, as well as the pistol grip, were almost always constructed of bakelite but limited numbers of original Tantals were manufactured with black polymer furniture.
If you are a collector and wish to round out your Tantal will a full accoutrement of issued equipment, this rifle came with three spare magazines, a bayonet with scabbard, four 15-round stripper clips, a stripper clip guide, sling, magazine pouch, and a lubricant bottle.
Poland issued an estimated 25,000 Tantals to their troops between the years of 1988 and 2005 when it was retired from military service. Though it did live on in service in Iraq when the modern Iraqi government purchased 10,000 Tantals from Poland. There is also a large number of Tantals available on the U.S. civilian market, though the unfortunately had to be demilled and sold as parts kits due to U.S. import laws.
While most AK fans will immediately recognize Poland’s relationship with the AK in the form of the Tantal, there was nearly three decades of AK service to Poland prior to the adoption of the Tantal. It can be quite difficult to find an authentic PMK today, but due to the import of parts kits many of us will be able to appreciate the high-quality components of the Tantal today and into the future.