Staff Writer (Updated: 9/23/2016):
Outwardly, the M1895 followed long-established design lines of revolvers the world over. There was a solid metal frame containing the internal working components. The revolving cylinder could hold seven ready-to-fire cartridges and sat under a bridge which strengthened the weapon by providing an upper support structure to couple with the support section running under the cylinder. The hammer lay exposed at the rear in the usual way and within easy reach of the thumb. The hammer held a rather long firing pin required of the weapon's rather distinct cartridge and accompanying action. The grip handle was covered over in a checker pattern for a firm hold while a lanyard loop/ring was mounted at the grip base. The trigger was underslung in the usual way and of a noticeably curved design, sitting within an elongated trigger guard. The barrel section just ahead of the cylinder featured an enlarged portion which assisted in the sealing of the cartridge during the firing action. This tapered to a standard section of barrel which was capped by a forward iron sight. The forward sight was paired with a rear notch assembly.
One of the more unique design qualities of the M1895 was its sealing ability intended to extract the maximum amount of energy from the resulting propellant gasses during the firing action. While most service revolvers made due with the gap required of the revolving cylinder against the barrel assembly, the Nagant M1895 was devised a mechanical solution in which the revolving cylinder was moved slightly forward when the weapon was cocked. In this way, a complete seal was attained between the firing chamber and base of the barrel assembly. To this was added a specially-designed cartridge in 7.62x38mmR chambering.
Another unique aspect of the M1895 Nagant revolver was its 7.62x38mmR cartridge which was specially designed for the weapon. In general appearance, the cartridge lacked the usual cone-shaped head of the bullet, the bullet instead seated within the cartridge case itself. This served to further seal the discharged gasses behind the bullet as it made its way down the barrel and out of the muzzle. In theory, this design approach allowed for a higher muzzle velocity which much of the energy being captured and used. The cartridge was visibly much longer than the comparable .32 Smith & Wesson (Long) and easily recognizable by its crimped head. It came known under several other names during its service life as well - the "Cartridge, Type R" and "7.62mm Nagant".
With the M1895 cocked, the operator would release the hammer through a standard trigger pull, the firing pin striking the base of the cartridge as normal. The cartridge's case mouth then expanded in its seating as a result and, coupled with the chamber pushed up against the barrel, trapped the resulting gasses. The weapon reported a muzzle velocity of approximately 1,070 feet per second.
However, this method of operation required unique manufacture which increased cost and complicated production. Additionally, the unique cartridge and action forced the operator to load each cartridge individually via a loading gate and extract each spent case manually. This made the M1895 a slow-loading weapon when compared to her contemporaries, some of which could use "half-moon" clips for speedy reloading and eject all spent cases with a single action.
The M1895 Nagant revolver was adopted as the standard Imperial Russian sidearm moving forwards (now alongside the equally-famous Mosin-Nagant service rifle). Initial production began in Belgium at Liege in 1895 and was then relocated to Russian territory thereafter. The type proved itself a reliable and very robust battlefield weapon and its qualities were highly valued by Russian infantry and officers alike. The revolver was still in standard issue by the time of the Russian involvement in World War 1 (1914-1918) though its revolution and subsequent civil war removed Russian participation from the global conflict. The movement gave rise to the Soviet Union emerging in the early 1920s.
The M1895 Nagant was still retained into the interwar years however. By this time, the revolver had been available through two distinct production forms - the "Private's Model" (or "Trooper's Model") featuring a single-action function and the "Officer's Model" with its double-action function. The single-action model forced manual management of the hammer for cocking, usually with the firing hand's thumb, with the follow-up action of pulling the trigger. The double-action model combined the actions of cocking and hammer/striker release in one. By the 1920s, the double-action breed had taken precedent and many single-action models were reworked to the double-action standard in time, making the single-action models something of a rarity for gun collectors today.
The M1895 revolver managed service into and throughout World War 2 (1939-1945) even as the semi-automatic pistol age was beginning to take hold in the Soviet Union. In 1930, the Soviet Army took on the Browning-inspired Tokarev TT-30 series semi-automatic pistol which led to the more famous, revised version, the TT-33 of 1933. Production of Nagants continued regardless for their worth was proven. By the end of the war in May of 1945, numbers of the revolver totaled around (or over) 2 million units. Even with the introduction of the excellent Makarov semi-automatic series of the 1950s, the Nagant persevered, albeit in limited service.
The M1895 was used in a multitude of conflicts beyond World War 1 and World War 2 including the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the Soviet "Winter War" against Finland (1939-1940), the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950), the Korean War (1950-1953) and even into the Vietnam War (1955-1975). The weapon may still be found in far-off battlefields of today. Operators (beyond Russia/Soviet Union) have included Belgium, Kazakhstan, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia (among others). Norwegian and Swedish versions are notable in their chambering of the 7.5mm Nagant cartridge.