In 1930, the Revolutionary Military Council approved a resolution to test new small arms to replace its aging Nagant M1895 revolvers. During these tests, on January 7, 1931, the potential of a pistol designed by Fedor Tokarev was noted. A few weeks later, 1,000 TT-30s were ordered for troop trials, and the pistol was adopted for service in the Red Army.
But even as the TT-30 was being put into production, design changes were made to simplify manufacturing. Minor changes to the barrel, disconnector, trigger and frame were implemented, the most notable ones being the omission of the removable backstrap and changes to the full-circumference locking lugs. This redesigned pistol was the TT-33. Most TT-33s were issued to officers. The TT-33 was widely used by Soviet troops during World War II, but did not completely replace the Nagant.
Externally, the TT-33 is very similar to John Browning's blowback operated FN Model 1903 semiautomatic pistol, and internally it uses Browning's short recoil dropping-barrel system from the M1911 pistol. In other areas the TT-33 differs more from Browning's designs — it employs a much simpler hammer/sear assembly than the M1911, with an external hammer. This assembly is removable from the pistol as a modular unit and includes cartridge guides that provide reliable functioning. The Soviet engineers made several alterations to make the mechanism easier to produce and maintain, most notably is that the locking lugs go all around the barrel (not just on top), the side and bottom portions do not perform a locking function, but allow for simpler production. Some models use a captive recoil spring secured to the guide rod which does depend on the barrel bushing to hold it under tension. Production even machined the magazine feed lips into the removable hammer group to prevent damage and misfeeds when a distorted magazine was loaded into the magazine well. The TT-33 is chambered for the 7.62×25mm Tokarev cartridge, which was itself based on the similar 7.63×25mm Mauser cartridge used in the Mauser C96 pistol. The 7.62×25mm cartridge is powerful, has an extremely flat trajectory, and is capable of penetrating thick clothing and soft body armor. Able to withstand tremendous abuse, large numbers of the TT-33 were produced during World War II and well into the 1950s. In modern times the robust TT-33 has been converted to many extremely powerful cartridges including .38 Super and 9×23mm Winchester. The TT-33 omitted a safety catch other than the half cock notch which rendered the slide inoperable until the hammer was pulled back to full cock and then lowered manually to the half cock position. Many newer variants have manual safeties added, these vary greatly in placement and function.