The Baikal IJ-70 (Makarov) Pistol

By Chuck Hawks

Baikal IJ-70
Photo courtesy of Gun Broker.

"Baikal" is the name of a large lake in Siberia. It is also the trade name of Ishevsky Mechanichesky Zavod (SUP IMZ), a large Russian arms and ammunition manufacturing plant founded in 1942 as part of the Russian National Defence Industry. This was the darkest year of the Second World War in Soviet Russia, and guns were desperately needed to fight the invading Germans. European American Armory (EAA) of Sharpes, Florida is the exclusive importer of Baikal products at the time of this writing.

The Russian-made Baikal IJ-70 pistol is often referred to simply as the "Makarov." I call it "The gun that lost the East," since it was the service sidearm of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. At present the IJ-70 is not being imported into the U.S., having been discontinued in 1996

What we have here is basically a Russian copy of the famous Walther PP (Police Pistol), which was widely used all over Europe by both Police and civilians at the time the leaders of the Soviet Union decided to replace their aging Tokarev service pistol. The new pistol was to serve as the duty sidearm of the various branches of the military, as well as the police, the KGB, and all other government agencies. It would become the service standard for the entire Soviet Union and its satellites.

Locked breech designs were rejected in favor of a simple blow back mechanism in order to hold down manufacturing costs. The result was the adoption of the famous Makarov pistol, which is a slightly simplified Walther PP with an enlarged trigger guard. Russian cops and soldiers need to be able to reach the trigger while wearing heavy winter gloves.

It was chambered for a Russian version of the .380 ACP (9x17mm or 9mm Kurz) cartridge, since that was the most powerful round that the basic Walther PP design could accommodate. The new Russian cartridge used an odd diameter .364" (approximately 9.2mm) bullet in a case 1mm longer than the .380's, and became known as the 9mm Makarov or 9x18. Ballistically it remained a near twin of the .380 ACP.

Like the PP, the Makarov pistol has a fixed barrel, a plus for accuracy. It is a conventional double-action/single action semi-automatic pistol with a hammer drop safety on the left side of the slide (up for "safe" and down for "fire"). The Mak has a rebounding hammer, and it is safe to carry an IJ-70 with the safety off and the hammer lowered over a chambered cartridge.

The IJ-70 is a smallish service pistol, about the size of a Glock 19 in height and length, but slimmer due to its single stack magazine. The steel magazine holds 8 cartridges and is released by a European style heel clip. The empty weight is .73 kg (about 25 ounces).

Most of the various Communist countries produced Makarov pistols locally in their own factories. Quality and workmanship varies depending on the country of manufacture. The East German and Russian Maks are generally regarded as the best, and the Chinese as the worst.

The Makarov pistols produced in Russia . . . were available in either .380 ACP or 9mm Makarov caliber. The IJ-70 is an all steel pistol with a polished blue finish and a fully adjustable rear sight. It came with two magazines and sometimes other accessories, such as a cleaning tool and a service style holster.

My IJ-70A Mak, the test gun for this review, is chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. It is a reliable and well made pistol that feeds modern JHP bullets without a problem.

When brand new the actions of IJ-70 pistols are a bit rough, but they smooth up nicely with use. I have shot a lot of service autos with worse triggers.

The ballistics of the .380 ACP and 9mm Makarov cartridges are pretty well known, nearly identical, and I have covered both in some detail in my series of articles on pistol cartridges. Suffice to say that with top JHP factory loads the .380 has proven to be a surprisingly reliable man stopper, about equal to the .38 Special revolver cartridge when fired from a snub-nosed revolver.

Shooting a Mak is a straight forward proposition. The magazine is loaded by simply pressing each cartridge down on top of the last. When a loaded magazine is inserted into the pistol the open slide can be released by pressing down the slide release lever. The slide will strip the first round from the magazine as it runs forward, and the pistol is ready to shoot.

The double action trigger pull is quite heavy if it is used for the first shot, but for subsequent shots the hammer has been cocked by the rearward movement of the slide and the pistol functions in single action mode . . . As with any blow-back action pistol, the slide return spring is pretty stiff, and it takes a fair amount of effort to retract the slide manually.

The accuracy of the IJ-70 pistols I have fired is good compared to most .380 pistols. The owner's manual that came with my IJ-70 states that the pistol is intended for shooting at ranges up to 50 meters.

The Mak has a good, solid feel in the hand, especially with the optional rubber grip. I have found that both men and women enjoy shooting the IJ-70.

For this article I tested my Baikal IJ-70A at 25 yards from a bench rest with three different factory loads. Functioning and reliability during testing were 100%, as they have always been with the Mak pistols I have fired.

A couple of warnings may be appropriate. According to the instruction manual, the safety of the IJ-70 should not be rotated upward to the "on" position when the slide is back (open). When the slide is in this position the safety could inadvertently be pushed past the upper detent, allowing the safety lever and firing pin to come loose. This is, in fact, how they are disassembled. Another warning is not to allow the slide to slam closed with the safety on. In other words, set the safety only when the slide is all the way forward.

The owner's manual is actually pretty good. The IJ-70 is easy to field strip for cleaning without tools.

The Baikal IJ-70 is not only an interesting piece of Cold War history, it is a well made, reliable, and accurate autoloading pistol that is well suited for home defense or daily carry.

Note: A complete review of this pistol can be found in its entirety on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2003, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.