Mosin-Nagant: Iconic Russian Rifle
A heavy, powerful, often roughly made rifle became one of the most mass-produced military weapons of the first half of the 20th century. Mosin rifle with its distinctive needle bayonet became the symbol of the Russian soldier. It fought in the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, World War II and 1917 Revolution. To understand how the history of this rifle began, we need to understand the time when it appeared.
The history of the creation of the Mosin rifle
In the late 1880s, with the spread of smokeless gunpowder invented by the French, the leading world powers were in a hurry to adopt new weapons. Smokeless gunpowder was a completely new propellant. Accurate shooting at distances over 400 meters has become a reality, moreover, for every trained soldier. By the year 1890 France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy and some other nations have already adopted the first so-called “small-caliber” rifles. The new weapon gave a huge advantage in battle. Soldiers armed with new rifles could open fire from twice the distance than their opponents. Of course, the largest empire on Earth also needed such weapon.
Back in 1882, a commission of army officers was assembled in Moscow to adopt new “repeating” style of rifle. Time and experience of recent wars have shown that it is absolutely necessary to create a new magazine-fed rifle.
As the famous Russian general Dragomirov said once:
“If you invent a repeating system that is reliable, durable, does not require too careful maintenance … then nothing better can be dreamed of.”
In total, from 1882 to 1890, more than 250 different models and modifications of rifles from all around the World were tested. This allowed the commission of the main artillery department to take into account all the pros and cons of the weapons that existed at that time. They rejected any types of tube magazines (due to the complexity and fragility) and finally in the end of the year 1889 the basic requirements for a new rifle appeared clear.
Caliber for new gun supposed to be 3 lines. (or 7.62mm at that time the “line” was one of the Russian measures equaled one tenth of an American inch). Smokeless powder cartridge with full metal jacketed bullet and rimmed case. Although more modern and better rimless rifle cases were already known, the more archaic design of the cartridge made it possible to make an ammunition and rifle barrels with less accuracy and by using lower standards.
In the end, the commission faced a choice between two types of guns. One was represented by the famous Belgian gun designers Emil and Leon Nagant and the other by the talented captain of the artillery school named Nikolay Mosin. I think that due to the presence of the Nagant brothers the incorrect name “Mosin-Nagant” was later assigned to this rifle in some Western countries.
After many tests of both rifles, the commission concluded that the Mosin rifle was a more reliable weapon. For 15 thousand shots trials the Belgian rifle gave 734 failures to fed and misfires and the Russian “only” 344.
Mosin rifle in Russia
The chairman of the commission general Chebyshev, said:
“And although the Nagant rifles are made with the highest precision and quality of materials, I am more inclined to choose Mosin’s design. In a poorly equipped workshop, in a very short time, he was able to create a rifle that is not inferior in efficiency to the Belgian one. The production of such a rifle will be easier and cheaper to establish in the Russian Empire.”
The Nagant brothers were furious. They believed Mosin had stolen their successful and simple 5 cartridges charging clip design. When leaving Russia one of the brothers said the following:
“If the Russians want to use even a small screw from my rifle, let them pay for a patent for the entire system!”
Despite this, a couple years later, a strange and rather unique Nagant revolver of the 1895 model was adopted in Russia. By the way its caliber was exactly the same as that of the rifle. So for the manufacture of revolver barrels, damaged rifle barrels were often used. The Belgian brothers made a lot of money after all.
Mass production of a rifle
By the end of the 1890s, the production of a new rifle was established at 3 arms factories of the Empire. Sestroretsk, Izhevsk and Tula arsenal.
By the standards of its time, the “three-line Russian magazine-fed rifle” (as it was then called) was an excellent weapon.
The main problem, which Captain Mosin successfully and elegantly solved using unique and cleverly designed rifle part, was the reliable feeding rimmed cartridges from the box magazine.
The rifle was produced in 3 versions.
Long infantry rifle. It had a barrel 80 cm long and a long needle bayonet. A short Cossack rifle with a 73 cm long barrel and a carbine with a more comfortable shoulder strap with a barrel length of only 51 cm.
in 1908, the first major modernization took place. A new cartridge with a light pointed bullet entered service. The new bullet weighing only 9.6 grams had better aerodynamics. From the long barrel of an infantry rifle, such a bullet accelerated to a tremendous speed of 870 meters per second. It was one of the most powerful army rifles of its time. The rifle iron sights were marked at a distance of up to 2500 steps (about 1700 meters). Of course, nobody fired the gun at such a distance. The military of all countries of that time believed that the War of the future would be waged at extreme distances against large groups of the enemy. As the experience of the First World War showed, soldiers rarely fired at a distance of more than 200 meters, so the complex design of the Mosin rifle sight was unnecessary.
First World War
By the beginning of the First World War, 4.5 million Mosin rifles were in the warehouses of the Russian Empire. It seemed quite enough. But the terrible Great War that dragged on for 4 years showed that the combat losses of soldiers and weapons simply cannot be replenished. By the end of 1914, the Russians were losing up to 200,000 rifles a month on the eastern front! Some of them went captured by the Austro-Hungarian and German armies, while most were lost or broken in battle.
Russian industry lagged behind England, Germany, France and other large countries in terms of development. Russia had to urgently buy weapons from America and France. As strange as it may sound, the American company Winchester quickly set up the production of a rifle model 1895 using the Russian cartridge. Real gun unicorn! The Remington and ouse factories began to produce exact copies of Mosin-Nagant rifles. In France, in the arsenal of Chatellerault, more than 100 thousand rifles were also manufactured according to Russian drawings. Nowadays, all these “non-Russian Mosins” are of great interest among collectors. Especially the “Russian Winchester”.
After the First World War, a huge number of Mosin rifles were repaired and assembled from older spare parts. Rifles made in the early years of Soviet rule are often very poorly assembled. All parts are nearly matched to each other, when firing, the screws that hold the magazine unscrew themselves. (I personally witnessed how one of my friends during the shooting lost two screws and almost lost the whole magazine!)
At 1920th a huge number (about 300 thousand) of rifles were purchased by Finland. Most of the rifles were in a bad condition. The Finns replaced wooden parts with more comfortable and high-quality ones (made of a very beautiful kind of wood, Karelian birch) and also often replaced worn-out barrels and installed a new short bayonet in the shape of a traditional hunting knife puukko. The famous Finnish sniper Simo “Simuna” Häyhä (known as the “White death”) used such a rifle with an ordinary iron sights for precision shooting and was reported to have killed up to several hundred enemy soldiers.
Upgrade of the rifle and it participation in the World War II
In 1930, the rifle underwent a slight upgrade. The length of the infantry rifle was reduced by 10 cm. By the end of the 1930s 4x optical sight began to be installed on some rifles. The soviet production PU sniper scope was simple and durable but it was inferior in quality to German samples. However, it allowed Soviet snipers to confidently hit targets at distances of 400 and sometimes up to 600 meters.
During World War II, all the fighting countries quickly realized that the days of the good old bolt action rifles were over. In a new quick and fast changing battlefield automatic weapons were needed. America by the beginning of the War was already armed almost all troops with innovative and effective self-loading Garand M1 rifles. The Soviet Union also had several self-loading models. But the main weapon of the Russian infantry during WW2 remain the PPSh-41 submachine-gun with 71 round drum magazine (!). For urban combat, when you rarely have to shoot at a distance of more than 150 meters, you don’t need a long and powerful rifle with 5 round magazine.
So gradually the Mosin rifle began to go out of use. They remained in service with snipers until the end of the War and for couple years after were supplied to many “friendly” countries. Like North Korea and China.
However, couple thousand very last rifles were assembled from leftover parts in USSR during 1952.
At the end of 1940th USSR abandoned an overly powerful rifle cartridge and began to use 7.62×39 caliber for the SKS-45 self-loading carbine and the Kalashnikov assault rifle. This type of ammunition is called intermediate and in terms of power is located between pistol and old heavy rifle cartridges and is better suited for light automatic weapons. Despite this, Mosin rifle ammo is still in use 130 years after it’s appearance by Russians and other CIS countries with machine guns and sniper rifles. It is the oldest military cartridge in service and the only rimmed cartridge remained for an army use.
Mosin rifle – a legend of its time
Mosin-Nagant rifle was not the best rifle among the great examples which appeared shortly after it such as the German Mauser 98 or the English Lee-Enfield. It had a terribly designed safety and an ancient bayonet (Its shape did not differ from the bayonets of the Napoleonic Wars time). It was a very early weapon designed for the new type of cartridge. Remained in service for over 50 years and still some of those rifles (often with modern telescopic sights) can be found fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan or in other countries.
Due to the availability and low cost of cartridges, this old gun remains popular in the civilian market around the globe. The price of the rifle (except for rare models) rarely exceeds 300 euros. Spent couple hours to “tune” your old rifle. Clean it of cosmoline, sand-paper and polish the bolt and trigger, put a long piece of cotton cloth under and bellow the barrel, tight down the barrel rings. Pick up a good quality ammo and this “old lady” will be able to hit the target like many decades ago. This historical gun took an important role in the history of the 20th century. I am glad to have one of those rifles in my firearms collection.
Greg Part. 2020.