Like all other world powers of the late-1800s, the Russian Empire sought modernization in its military inventory. This proved particularly important after the disastrous results of the Russian campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the 1877-1878 Russo-Ottoman War in which a bulk of the Russian Army was equipped with the obsolete Berdan service rifle of single-shot. The Berdan held origins in an 1868 initiative by American gunsmith Hiram Berdan and went on to be adopted by several powers of the day including the Russian Empire, Korean and Bulgaria. Some 3,000,000 examples were ultimately produced in several notable forms including the full-length infantry service rifle and carbine type for mounted troops.
The key limitation in the Berdan lay in its single-shot pattern which, when pitted against Ottoman forces wielding Winchester repeating rifles, made the Russian soldier immediately outclassed on the modern battlefield. This spurred internal development of an indigenous Russian service rifle to complete with foreign types and involved the Russian Main Artillery Administration as director of the program. Design began in 1882 and initially looked to simply modify the existing stocks of Berdan rifles but to no avail.
What followed in 1889 were several rifles under consideration including one from Russian artillery Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin and another from the Belgian brothers Emile and Leon Nagant (Emile was credited with design of the Nagant M1895 revolver used by Russian Army forces). A third was entered from a Captain Zinoviev. As with most service long guns of the period, all submissions were, in some way, influenced by the famous German Mauser design. Evaluations of the three competing types continued into 1891 with no clear winner.
With that, it was decided to combine the best features of varying rifles of the period to generate an all-new indigenous design. The final result was a serviceable, repeat-fire long gun capable of replacing the outmoded single-shot Berdans and arming Russian Army forces for the next several decades with a weapon on par with competing designs elsewhere. Due to the design work by the Nagant brothers as well as modifications handled by Mosin, this new rifle became known under the hyphenated name of "Mosin-Nagant". Since its introduction occurred in 1891, the rifle was assigned the apt designation of "Model 1891" or "M1891" for short. The M1891 directly replaced the Russian stocks of outdated Berdan rifles in time. In inventory, the rifles were recognized as "3-Lineyaya Vintovka obr 1891g" translating to "3-Line Rifle, Model of 1891" ("Line" represented one-tenth of an inch as a local unit of measurement in use at the time).
Outwardly, Mosin-Nagant rifles were highly conventional in their approach and action. The firearm was defined by its smooth single-piece wooden stock in which all of the required metal components were attached to or inlaid. Finder grooves were set along the sides of the body. The receiver held the metal action which consisted of the widely-accepted turn-bolt handle with knobbed end (the bolt said to have been inspired by the French Lebel rifle). To open the bolt, the operator turned the bolt handle upwards then rearwards, exposing the chamber within. Unlike later bolt-action types, the Mosin-Nagant sported a 90-degree bolt handle which protruded away from the gun body as opposed to resting against it. The weapon featured an integral magazine to which prepared five-round clips ("chargers") were fed through the open action. A control latch secured the next cartridge in the line and all lower cartridges apart from the first (primary) cartridge to alleviate the primary's cartridge from the magazine spring's pressure during the bolt management action. Once the bolt was closed, the control latch gave up its control and all pressure fell to the magazine spring for the reloading action. This mechanism proved important in feeding rimmed cartridges in an efficient manner, cutting down on potential stoppages in the action. Sighting devices included a rear graduated assembly at the middle of the gun's length and a forward hooded post. Two barrel bands were present for reinforcement along the wooden stock. The cleaning rod was slipped into a channel under the barrel and the rifle further supported a socket-style bayonet. The Mosin-Nagant made use of the 7.62x54R Russian rifle cartridge which gave good range and penetration. Loops at the buttstock and forend facilitated use of a shoulder strap for marching. A cleaning kit (in satchel form) could then be affixed to the shoulder strap for in-the-field maintenance.
Initial Mosin-Nagant production models were the famous "Model 1891" with their full 51.25 running lengths making them a handful to wield in combat (though the accepted norm of the day). A short- barreled version - the "Dragoon Rifle M1891" - appeared with a 28.8-inch barrel and shortened forend for a more compact form (48.75 inches overall) intended for mounted cavalry troops (though not a "true" carbine by official classification for it still remained longer than competing carbines of the day and thusly more cumbersome and heavier). This version remained faithful to the full length rifle in every other way and retained the socket bayonet. The "Cossack Rifle M1891" was similar to the Dragoon Rifle M1891 with the exception that it lacked the bayonet. Production of this select type was limited and its use fell to mounted troops.
The "Carbine M1910" was the first true carbine variant of the M1891 rifle in that it was decidedly shorter at 40 inches long. This made for a more compact weapon system that could be favored by both mounted troops and soldiers fighting in confined environments and at short-to-medium ranges. The action remained the same as in previous Mosin-Nagant rifle offerings while feeding from the same 5-round integral magazine box.
Imperial Russian troops were issued Mosin-Nagant rifles in number during World War 1 against Imperial Germany along the Eastern Front. The rifle series became the standard issue long gun of these Russian troops during the bitter struggle which degraded into trench warfare just as in the West. Millions of the type were believed produced from Russian factories to supply the millions of soldiers in need. The October Revolution of 1917 brought about the turning of the tide from Tsarist Russia to Communism and helped to end the war with Germany, thusly removing Russian participation in full before the end of 1918. A short civil war then followed in which communist power became the way of things in the new Soviet Union.
The Mosin-Nagant rifle was revised for the first time under Soviet rule in 1930 as the "Short Rifle M1891/30" intended to bring the Dragoon Rifle's length to the standard M1891 long guns in service. This was a popular movement within national powers of the world as well, realizing that length could be sacrificed for a less cumbersome service rifle (as in the original German Mauser of World War 1 becoming the Mauser Kar 98K of World War 2). The Mosin-Nagant also saw a new, more rounded, receiver take the form of the older squared off versions and this move further simplified mass production in turn. The old leaf pattern rear sights were given up for a tangent-leaf fitting instead. The front sight was similarly replaced from the original's invert "Vee" post to a more modern tapered hood. The bolt was now turned down and of an all-new design. Overall length of the revised rifle was 48.4 inches while the barrel measured 28.74 inches. The M1891/30 became the standard-issue service rifle of Soviet forces heading into World War 2 and saw frontline use until the end of the conflict in 1945. The line was ultimately replaced by high-volume submachine guns which proved more efficient to mass-produce in the numbers required while offering repeat fire through a fast automatic action (as opposed to manual bolt-action guns).
Also in 1930, the M1891/30 was developed into a specialized variant specifically intended for snipers. A block mount was added to the left side of the gun body to which a 3.5x PU telescopic sight was affixed (though usually replaced with the larger, adjustable PEM twin-ring-mounted version). The bolt was turned down to prevent snagging and, beyond these additions, the Sniper's Rifle M1891/30 did not largely differ from the respective M1891/30 sister. Issue of these specialized guns did not begin until 1937.
The Soviet Union was not shy about deploying large numbers of snipers in-the-field, particularly during World War 2 where a single shot could have a dramatic effect on a battle and enemy morale. Unlike other forces of the world, the Soviets were also keen on the use of women warfighters and many gave their lives in service to the Red Army as specially trained female snipers operating under camouflage and at range while targeting key enemy personnel.
In 1938, a carbine form inspired by the earlier M1891/30 was unveiled as the "Carbine M1938". This version included a simplified receiver for friendlier mass-production, a front hooded sight and all changes brought about by the aforementioned M1891/30 line when compared to the original M1891 models. This variant was 40 inches long and featured the original optional bayonet.
In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland to officially begin World War 2. The Soviet Union joined weeks later and the sovereign nation was subdued. Soviet leaders then turned their attention against neighboring Finland to begin the "Winter War" of 1939-1940 with the Mosin-Nagant rifle still in play. In June of 1941, the German military turned its own attention against one-time ally, the Soviet Union, and began the Eastern Front for World War 2 - a bloody year's long conflict that would take millions of lives in the worst possible ways.
After several years of fighting finally began turning the tide in favor of the Red Army, a new Mosin-Nagant carbine appeared as the "Carbine M1944". This version followed the same form and function of the Carbine M1938 prior. The weapon was nothing more than the preceding design of 1938 though fitted with a permanently attached hinged folding bayonet. For reasons known only to Soviet authorities, this was a production move that was required for Soviet infantry fighting at range in close quarters. Like the original carbine, these weapons measured 40 inches long. As a historical aside, the Carbine M1944 became the last large-scale issue of a bolt-action firearm anywhere in the world.
The "reach" of the Mosin-Nagant line cannot be understated for the weapon fought in all major conflicts of the 20th Century. It was first used in anger during the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 and saw action in the upcoming Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. From there, the type was featured in World War 1, the Turkish War of Independence, the Polish-Soviet War, the Russian Civil War, the Chinese Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, World War 2 (including the Winter War and Continuation War), the Finnish Civil War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War among other clashes. The rifle saw widespread service in the Southeast Asian wars and civil wars as well and was in use during the more modern Russian-Chechen wars. The rifle was still being encountered by coalition troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq following their respective US-led invasions in 2001 and 2003.
With this in mind, production totals for the rifle line are estimated at some 37,000,000 having been produced since inception/adoption in 1891. Initial production originated from the storied Tula Arsenal and joined by the Izhevsk and Sestroryetsk arsenals. Localized versions existed in Czechoslovakia, China, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland and Romania. US firearms producer Remington was charged with production of the Russian rifle in 1916 to help shore up stocks for its wartime ally.
Manufacturing Tula, Izhevsk, Sestroryetsk - Russia / FEG - Hungary / China / Finland / Romania / Remington - United States
Afghanistan; Albania; Angola; Armenia; Austria-Hungary; Belgium; Bulgaria; Cambodia; China; Cuba; Czechoslovakia; East Germany; Egypt; Estonia; Finland; Georgia; Hungary; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Israel; Japan; Laos; Latvia; Mongolia; Montenegro; Nazi Germany; North Korea; North Vietnam; Philippines; Poland; Romania; Russia; Serbia; South Korea; Soviet Union; Spain; Syria; Taiwan; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United States; Vietnam; Yugoslavia
- Close Quarters Battle (CQB) / Personal Security
- Manual Repeat-Fire
- Long-Range Precision
- Frontline Infantry/Rifleman
Model 1891 Infantry Rifle - Base Rifle; underwent a variety of minor modifications up to 1910.
Dragoon Rifle - Shortened Base Rifle for use by cavalry troops.
Cossack Rifle - Shortened Base Rifle similar to the Dragoon Rifle for cavalry troops, sans Bayonet.
Model 1907 Carbine - Shortened and lightened rifle form for use by specialists and mounted troops.
Model 1891/30 - Definitive Rifle Variant; standard issue from 1930 to 1945.
Mode 1891/30 (Sniper) - Fitted with optional telescopic sights.
Model 1938 Carbine - Shortened Rifle form of the M1891/30.
Model 1944 Carbine - Shortened Rifle form replacing the Model 1938 Carbine.
Model 1891/59 Carbine - Shortened M1891/30 rifles; revised rear sights.
M24 ("Lotta Rifle") - Finnish model based on Russian Model 1891; utilized by Civil Guard.
M27 - Finnish Army Designation
M27Rv - Cavalry Carbine based on the M27; 2,217 examples produced.
M28 - Finnish Civil Guard Variant
M28/30 - Upgraded M28 rifles
M91/35 - Proposed M27, M28 and M28/30 replacement; never produced.
M39 - Standardized rifle for the Civil Guard and Finnish Army.
M56 - Finnish experimental version utilizing 7.62mmx39 cartridge.
M28/57 - Finnish 7.62mmx54R cartridge version.
7.62 Tkiv 85 - Modernized sniper-marksman variant; produced by Valmet.
VZ91/38 Carbine - Czech model similar to the Model 1891/59.
VZ54 Sniper Rifle - Czech model based on the Model 1891/30.
Type 53 - Chinese license-production model of the Model 1944 carbine.
M/52 - Hungarian copy of the Model 1891/30 sniper rifle.
M44 Pattern - Hungarian locally-produced version of the Model 1944 Carbine.
M44 Pattern - Romanian locally-produced version of the Model 1944 Carbine.
M91/30 Pattern - Locally-produced version of the Model 1891.
wz. 91/98/23 - Polish designation; chambered for 7.92mmx57 Mauser cartridge; fitting for Russian "spike" bayonet.
wz. 91/98/25 - Polish designation; chambered for 7.92mmx57 Mauser cartridge; fitting for Mauser 1898 bayonet.
wz. 91/98/26 - Polish designation; chambered for 7.92mmx57 Mauser cartridge; fitted for Mauser 1898 bayonet; revised ejector.
M44 Pattern - Polish designation; locally-produced Model 1944 Carbines.
US Rifle, 7.62mm, Model of 1916 - US Designation of Remington Arms-produced Model 1891 rifles.
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