Beryl Tantalsson: The Saga of the Polish Kalashnikov Continues
Improving the Beryl
There were some small modifications introduced during the production run of the Beryl rifle. The fire-selector retaining catch was reinforced to eliminate the unnerving tendency of switching the selector from ‘single fire’ to ‘continuous’ under vibration of the firing. Also, the selector switch got a second, perpendicular arm, to reduce the angle required to select the ‘3-round burst’ position. The soldiers were complaining that their thumbs are too short to switch the selector position to 3-round burst without moving the firing hand from the pistol grip. Now it was finally possible to install a sector limiter for the selector lever – this taking shape of a simple ‘dimple’ pressed to the edge of the receiver cover, interacting with the new second arm of the switch lever. The receiver cover, previously notorious for separating from the receiver by recoil of the rifle grenade launching, was in 1999 latched down with introduction of the automatic latch, replacing the manually-actuated one, itself a carry-over from the wz.60 rifle-grenade launching rifle. This is most annoying of the Beryl improvements, as the cover still detaches most of the times a grenade is launched, but the automatic latch makes re-assembling a nightmare.
Also, fitting the Beryl to modern firing techniques utilizing the front grip and ubiquitous red dot sights proved quite a challenge. The first attempt at putting the Picatinny interface on the rifle proved a disaster. The new ‘2nd Gen’ POPC was a short one, mounted solely on the sight base by a hand-screw. The sight rail was placed on top of an exceptionally high mounting bracket enabling the use of the mechanical sights at the same time – and in full spectrum, from 100 to 1,000 meters. Theoretically it was a great invention; enabling concurrent use of both sights. But the price for that was paid by the shooter who had to raise his head very high to use the already very high-placed EOTech 552 sight selected by the Polish Army. The shooters quickly got their necks stiff and as a result, red dot sights were long considered close to useless. Even that ‘2nd Generation POPC” was – at best marginally – suiting only the short collimating sights. To put an optical or NV sight on the Beryl, a longer sight rail and placing the sight closer to the shooter’s eye was required.
However, the honors of the first Weaver-compatible Beryl went to the short-lived civilian-legal version of the rifle, called first the Beryl-IPSC and then Radom-Sport. Two Polish practical rifle shooters from Silesia, Mr. Michal Lubinski (now owner of the Works 11 Ltd. in Katowice) and Mr. Waldemar Lipinski, then on the factory shooting team roster, set forth a list of requirements duly incorporated in the rifle. One of these was incorporating of a long, trough-shaped sight support bar, replacing the ordinary sight. At the rear end of the trough there was a folding peep hole to use with the folding front sight post as iron sights, and the upper edge of the trough had a Weaver profile, enabling to fix optical and red dot sights on top of the iron sight channel. Later on a similar, but shorter and permanently riveted bar was used in the Mini-Beryl carbine. The civilian rifle also used some of the technologies envisioned for the never-to-be-finished Polish Minimi look-alike, the wz.2003 LMG: a new bird-cage muzzle device, folding front sight base, and the bore of the longer barrel finished with carbon-nitrogen (Tenifer) coating for better accuracy in lieu of the hard chrome. Radom-Sport was Poland’s first rifle with enlarged controls (safety lever finger shelf, P-shaped magazine release), larger ejection opening and new shorter (5, 10, 15, 20 and 25-round magazines fully compatible with the military 30-rounders). The demand from Polish and foreign shooters was overwhelming, but the Police soon suppressed the sales, by simply denying registration and export licenses. After several years of limbo, the factory finally surrendered and the Radom-Sport rifle is no longer offered.
Cooperation with NATO and other modern armies during foreign deployments of the Polish Army revealed many drawbacks of the Beryl rifle, mostly inherited from the old and user-unfriendly AK-47, incompatible with modern infantry rifle usage doctrine and training regimens. The military establishment traditionally opposed any changes, but then soldiers took to tinkering, forming a large grass-root movement for the modernization of the Beryl rifle. The first Polish contingent in Iraq was totally unprepared for the climate. Soldiers had to handle sun-baked rifles with their bare hands, which resulted in common sight of white rags wrapped around buttstocks and pistol grips. The second contingent already had gloves, and the picturesque pirate-gang look of the first contingent was gone, wiped-off with a steel fist by the 2nd Contingent’s CG, Maj. Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek. This was required to restore the discipline, but as usual, some of his subordinates overdid it a bit, and as a result many soldiers were charged with vandalizing military property for applying camouflage, fitting fore grips, Picatinny side rails and other sensible improvements. The spirit survived though, and many photos show the results of soldier’s ingenuity, including fitting a Rumanian AKM handguard with a forward grip, or Picatinny rails bought over the Internet or from US bases PX, bolted to the factory hanguards.
After two years of this shadow-boxing, as the 4th Contingent was preparing to go to Iraq in 2004, a new wz.2004 Beryl rifle was on display, fitted with several features taken from the short-lived civilian-legal model, including the bird-cage flash hider, P-handle magazine release, folding front sight base, extended safety lever and a new, translucent magazine. The latter was a disaster. The clear plastic was much more brittle than the black one, shiny, and offered much too much view of the ammunition supply for comfort. Most of these were later on painted by the soldiers, leaving just a narrow stripe on the side to control the contents. But the most awaited feature of the wz.2004 Beryl was the handguard fitted with a fore grip and side Picatinny rails as well as new, ‘3rd Gen’ POPC sight rail. The fore grip used for the wz.2004 was simply another pistol grip, proving that the designer’s knowledge of the modern practical shooting techniques was nil, but even that was still a great improvement over the older model. The side rails were just bolted to the sides of the ordinary handguard with no reinforcements inside, so the rails had no required stiffness to work properly with laser sights. The 3rd Gen sight rail was a most welcome addition, though, being a streamlined version of the 1st Generation POPC, over-the-receiver, long sight rail, with Weaver attachment interface on top. The zeroing eccentrics were gone forever, as the new sights had an all-internal regulation of the sighting mark. The new POPC was a cross-bred of the old 1st Gen rail with the civilian-legal Radom-Sport trough-shaped sight bar. It was fitted in the same way as the old one – with prongs inserted into sight base slots and rear end latched on a POPC attachment pin on top of the butt hinge, but was itself a trough-shaped one, with Weaver slots on the upper edges. The new rail was rigid enough, but completely obscured the iron sights, so later on (2007) a new version (4th Gen) was prepared, with higher trough sides, enabling the iron sight to be used for distances of up to 600 meters – and this time finally with Picatinny slots on top. The new POPC is finally a fully usable and sensible design, of length sufficient to fix the EOTech 552 holo sight with the PCO’s MU-3 NV monocular at the same time, or replacing them with a large, 1.6 kg heavy, day-or-night CKW Bazalt thermal-imaging sight unit, also of the PCO pedigree.
In 2005 another version of the modernized Beryl was presented, with a side-folding telescoping, 3-position stock of Radom’s own design. The same stock was proposed for the Military Police Mini-Beryl variant, but the MPs opted for a standard stock instead. In 2007 another two variants, presented at the Kielce MSPO fair, had US-made commercial (Leapers UTG) quad rail forends and 6-position folding stocks (one by TDi and one by Leapers).
In early 2008, still another modernized Beryl demonstrator was exhibited, known as wz.2007 – but this one is more of a marketing value, than anything else. This is just a wz.2004 with a 4th Gen POPC and folding telescoping butt, uniformly sprayed light OG all over. The new magazine was finally opaque, not translucent, and the new flash hider was compatible with a Rotex-III sound suppressor by Brügger + Thomet. The safety lever was fitted with a new device – an extension enabling the safety to be taken on and off with a trigger finger.
The Mini-Beryl Carbine
Mini-Beryl is the successor to the wz.89 Onyks automatic carbine in 5.56mm caliber. Compared with the Onyks, the barrel is slightly longer (235 mm), and the muzzle device is of slightly smaller diameter. In Mini-Beryl the handguard attachment has been modified in order not to require tools (screwdriver) to strip the weapon. In Mini-Beryl the furniture is attached with a push pin, and not rotated with a screwdriver, like in the Onyks. The sights are taken completely from Onyks, together with their standard tritium night inserts. The Mini-Beryl has both iron sights and optics rail as a standard. This sight bar is riveted to the sight base, extends halfway back over the receiver cover, and has a flip-sight with two U-notches (200-400 m) at the end. The sight bar at first had a PCO proprietary rail to enable the CK-3 collimating (red dot) sight to be mounted directly on the weapon without the need for a POPC rail. The Mini-Beryl has a standard Beryl kit, different only by replacing one of the 30-round magazines with a shorter 20-rounder. Despite the so short barrel, the Mini-Beryl is still capable of launching rifle grenades, which is easily a world record, as no other compact sub-carbine in the world has this capability – probably because of its redundancy. The idea was original enough to warrant a Polish patent PL 17078 in 1997, but on the battlefield it is totally useless. Carbines are usually issued to the personnel whose tasks are more important than mere shooting a rifle: AFV crews, command staff and so on, with neither a need nor a desire to haul rifle grenades with them. And anyone who ever fired a grenade from the Mini-Beryl would understand why. The shorter barrel means more pressure, so the grenade is launched further, but so is the shooter, and woe to anyone who ever dares to shoot that grenade without safety glasses on, for the unfired powder particles can be found embedded deep in the skin everywhere on the face of the shooter.
The Mini-Beryl was not officially introduced into the inventory together with the “big” Beryl. It was tested however by various special units who ordered short batches. The first big order was by the Military Police, and not sooner than 2004: and then in wz.2004 version, with fore-grip-and-side-rails handguard. The front grip of the Mini-Beryl is the same pistol grip as the rear one, which might even work in the Beryl rifle, but here the grip most often interferes with a magazine change, especially using the 30-round magazines. The prototype wz.2004 Mini had the same proprietary folding-telescoping butt as the wz.2004 Beryl but this was replaced by the old model folder in series-production variant. The wz.2004 Mini has got a fully Mil-Std-1913 conforming sight attachment interface on the sight bar sides, enabling it to be used with all compliant red dot or other sights. Also, the flip sight was changed. The U-notches were replaced by a peculiar combination of peep hole and a U-notch, both set to 300 m. In 2005, the Military Police had introduced the Mini-Beryl as their standard long arm and ordered several thousand of these. Now, finally with a good buyer in sights, the FB Radom improved the Mini, replacing the Onyks-inherited gas block with a new one, modifying the gas piston, and introducing a completely new bird cage flash hider. Later on the Mini was introduced in the Army (airmobile and chosen mechanized units) as well, slowly replacing the inefficient and obsolescent 9mm PM-84P Glauberyt submachine guns. Some demonstrators of that model were also fitted with commercial Leapers UTG 6-position telescoping stock.
The newest model, painted light OD overall to match the wz.2007 Beryl, has a new bird-cage flash hider for a Rotex-III sound suppressor attachment.
In 2006, another variant of the Beryl rifle was tailor-suited to the needs of the 1st Commando Special Regiment of Lubliniec. This was a ‘midi’ version, halfway between the big Beryl and the Mini, with a 375 mm barrel, almost matching the M4 barrel length of 378 mm. The short rifle was called the Beryl-Commando and featured a folding and telescoping butt – not the Radom proprietary 3-position folder-slider, but a commercial Leapers 6-positions M4-style butt, installed in a hinged attachment. Later on, another demonstrator was unveiled, also along the lines of the Commando, but this time with ambidextrous safety-selector lever and without the 3-round burst capability. Both models were experiments and no series production Midi rifles were ever ordered.
Pros and Cons
The Beryl rifle is the last link in the Kalashnikov rifle development in Poland, carrying with it most of the AK-47’s good heritage (simple design, easy operation, reliability and durability) but also the darker side of the Kalashnikov pedigree – bad ergonomics, inability to mount and operate optical sights without having to take them off for each cleaning session, the magazine change is slow and cumbersome because of the fore-and-aft lug arrangement requiring rotating the magazine in place instead of just pushing it up, and no bolt hold-open, slowing the magazine change even more, with cocking handle hard to operate with a supporting hand. With the flat trajectory 5.56mm cartridges enabling the direct shot to 350-400 meters, fitting of the tangent leaf sight scaled 100-1,000 with 100 meters increments is a plain anachronism: more so fitting it with a U-notch.
Beryl is a rifle already standing with its back to the wall. There’s no way to revive it again; its modernization potential is already used to the limit. Maybe there would be another handguard model, with or without rails and fore grip, another butt stock – but without major overhaul changing the receiver design to an upper-lower receiver standard, nothing really important can be done with it.
However, Beryls are here to stay with the Polish Army for a while. It is a testimony to the lost chance in the 1990s, when another, more modern design could have replaced it. Let’s hope the ultra-modern piston-driven MSBS-5.56 project being now developed would succeed and the Polish Army would finally replace Comrade Rifle with something newer and more user-friendly.