When it comes to the scholarly debate about the iconic rifle cartridges of the Cold War, the 7.62x51mm NATO (308 Winchester) and the 7.62×39 Soviet are always omnipresent in the discussion. One became a staple NATO round and the most prevalent big game hunting cartridge in North America, while the other became a symbol of pure, unadulterated ruggedness and dependability.
Both are excellent cartridges and will serve you faithfully, but which is the better choice will depend mostly on your intended purpose.
In this article, we will investigate the origins and history of each rifle cartridge, their advantages and disadvantages, and which rifle cartridge is going to best suit your needs.
It’s time to don your Ushanka and lock and load, comrade, as we are pitting the Pride of Mother Russia against the Freedom Loving long range American powerhouse.
During the later stages of WWII, the Soviet Union decided that they wanted to develop an intermediate cartridge for their new battle rifle. They wanted this rifle cartridge to be suitable for a host of firearms, from a semi-auto carbine for close range to fully automatic machine guns for suppressive fire.
Hundreds of unique cartridge designs were submitted but eventually, the Soviets settled on 57-N-231, which had cartridge dimensions of 7.62x41mm.
The first bullet used was not a boat tail design, as the Soviet cartridge designers assumed (incorrectly) that a boat tail design was best only for long range shots. The designer’s assumption that all combat would be held at close range led them to this decision.
However, after extensive testing, the Soviets determined that the boat tail increased close range accuracy as well and a new boat tail bullet was adopted. This longer bullet required the cartridge case to be shortened to 39mm and the ubiquitous 7.62×39 was born.