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The M-1895 Nagant revolver.

* One of the basic problems encountered in the testing of odd, old firearms involves putting gun and appropriate ammunition together at the same time. That doesn't sount like much of a problem, I'll concede--and really it isn't much of one when the arm in question is a garden-variety item chambered for a still-in-production cartridge. But when one's interests turn to exotica, like the M-1895 Russian Nagant revolver in caliber 7.62 mm Nagant, then securing both a gun and something to shoot in it can prove to be a headache.

This is because the Nagant (to pronounce the name properly, one accents the second syllable and drops the "t" ... and yes, I've always mispronounced it too) is not a common collector piece today. Also, the weird-looking 7.62 round is no longer made and is hard to find in quantity, even as (expensive!) surplus.

Imagine then my delight at recently discovering, at a local gun show, both a workable M-1895 test piece and a supply of shootable, for-sale ammunition at a single table belonging to long-time friend/collector John F. Scott, from whom loan of the revolver might be obtained. I'd heard a lot about the Nagant, of course--it's one of an historically small number of revolvers designed to eliminate their own flash gap by camming cylinders forward during the cocking process--but never before had I had a chance to actually examine one.

Eager to see just how a Nagant works, I asked for permission to index the revolver, then draw back the hammer and--kachunk!--the cylinder leaped forward and, with one of its countersunk chamber mouths, engulfed the forcing cone. Gently, I lowered the hammer, then slowly allowed the trigger to return forward. Again that clunking sound occurred as the cylinder sprang back. Fascinating! "And don't forget," said collector Scott, whilst holding out a handful of the rare Nagant fodder, "these are part of the gas-seal system too." How curious were the rounds, which looked for all the world like .30 U.S. Carbine blanks. In light of the Russian Nagant's colorful (and sometimes colored) history, I thought it would be ideal for a "Classic Test Report." It was several days later when I borrowed the revolver, purchased rounds, and headed for the range.

The days elapsing between show and shooting had not gone to waste, however. I'd spent them adding to what I already knew regarding the Russians' final service revolve. What I'd learned was that the M-1895 represented a progressive development of a more conventional, non-gas-sealing wheelgun marketed by the brothers Emile and Leon Nagant of Liege, Belgium. The earlier gun had been an unqualified success for the Nagant firm, having been sold--in different calibers--to the military services of five countries. But as of 1894, Leon, viewing the expired "gas-sealing-revolver" patents of Henri Pieper, decided to try adapting the Pieper system to the basic Nagant design.

What resulted was a seven-shot revolver which cammed its cylinder forward on the second half of the cocking stroke so as to close its own flash-gap. This camming motion was imparted by hand; a section of the breechface also moved forward each time the gun was cocked (either by single- or double-action stroke) so as to support the case head at ignition. What's more, further sealing of the system was provided by a special cartride, the mouth of which protruded from the face of the cylinder and thus actually entered the forcing cone before firing (the .295 caliber FMJ flat-point bullet was seated deep inside the case). A virtually total seal was thus obtained, particularly since at ignition the brass at the case mouth expanded to cover any gap that was remaining.

All of this sounds like one horrendously complex method of gaining an extra 70 feet per second (fps) or so, which is what most ballisticians estimate was gained for all this effort, though at least one authority claims the variance to be as high as 350 fps. But the Russians were impressed all the same, perhaps because shockingly few cartridges of the 1894-era could break 1,000 fps and the Nagant advertised 1,100 fps as its muzzle velocity. The Czarist military thus at once placed a quantity order for the new wheelgun and, in 1985, declared it standard in the Imperial Russian Army.

The earlist Nagants, which are today desirable collector pieces, continued to be built at Liege and were then exported to Russia. But the folly inherent in having one's service arms built in a foreign country quickly become apparent to Czar Nicholas' military men. And so, as of 1898, Nagant production commenced at Tula Arsenal, the Russians having bought all rights to the M-1895--and all tooling as well--from the now every prosperous Nagant brothers.

Production proceeded apace of both the original DA model, for officers, and an SA model, for enlisted men. (Presumably only the "brighter," supervisory types could be trusted with a sidearm which fired could be trusted with a sidearm which fired at a single stroke.) As of World War I, the Model 1895 was the primary Russian handgun, with about 500,000 units in service. It served quite well, too--it was astoundingly rugged for so complex a design--and thus, after the Communist takeover of 1917, it was continued in production. A few subvariants were even created: a .22 for training/target; a 12-inch barreled, target-sighted, custom-stocked formal competition version; and even a short-barreled concealment model which gained much notoriety as an NKVD murder weapon.

Came 1930 though, and the Nagant--now looking pretty hoary in the era of the autoloader--was finally declared obsolete in favor of the new Tokarev TT self-loading pistols. Still, World War II found the old revolver yet in service, and even still in production since it was foolish to allow the M-1895's machine tooling to lie idle in a time of national peril, Tokarev or no.

It was not until 1945 that the very last Nagant was completed. Nor did end-of-war totally spell the end of the Nagant's service to the USSR, for though the military revolvers were indeed recalled precipitously at the collapse of the Reich, the target models continued to make quite a name for the Russians in international shooting competition long after the war had ended.

It was no super-refined target model that this author used to sample Nagant reality out at the rangE, though. Quite the contrary, collector Scott's M-1895 was a wellworn standard military version produced in the year 1925. Barrel length was the usual 4.3 inches, weight the customary 29 ounces. Loading of the free-floating cylinder was accomplished by means of a gate.

Accuracy testing commenced from the 25-meter line. Five shots were subsequently discharged, though a total of nine hammer-strikes was required to accomplish this, thanks to a weakened mainspring. The result was four shots in 2-1/4 inches, with one flier--the first round, fired from a totally clean bore--excluded. Subsequent groups, all fired single action as the first group had been, averaged around three inches even, "good"-class accuracy from a near-60-year-old service revolver.

Double-action groups, fired two-handed from standing unsupported, followed the SA bench efforts. Here, five inches or so was achieved, due not only to a frigid 20-mile-per-hour crosswind, but also to a double-action trigger which--simply put--was in the "impossible" class. Weight was not the problem here as 14-pound triggers are common fare for this writer. Rather, it was the two-stage nature of the DA takeup--a nature occasioned by the need for camming the cylinder forward at midstroke--which caused the headache. All of a sudden, in the midst of what was otherwise a rather slick DA draw, there would be that extra pound or so required to push the cylinder forward! One would struggle to apply just enough extra pressure to break through the transition, but not enough to fire the gun, since sights would twist wildly out of alignment as the transition point was reached. But all too often, one would inadvertently "yank through" and a wild shot would result. How on earth had Russian target shooters ever competed internationally in rapid fire events with a gun based on such an action?

Nor was the DA trigger the only negative Nagant characteristic. Reloadability was poor indeed, the worst ever encountered by this writer. One unloads a Nagant once chamber at a time by means of an under-barrel-mounted ejector rod which must first be unscrewed and then swung out before it can even be used. The rod isn't spring-loaded, so one must work it in both directions. Cases are only partial extracted and must be plucked out by hand.

Replenishing is a matter of inserting cartridges individually thorugh a gate a la Colt Peacemaker. It is difficult to coneive of a slower method of loading a revolver; a Single Action Army is put back in service far more quickly. Nor are sights particularly workable; the rear U-notch is far, too shallow and admits little daylight on either side of the front post. And finally, that cross-sectionally-round butt is a curse, permitting the M-1895 to squirm in the hand under recoil and, in combination with the trigger, would go far to compromise controllability (though in the absence of a reliable repeat-fire mode, no definitive controllability testing of the trial Nagant could be undertaken).

Against so many minuses, there were very few plusses. The SA trigger was good, albeit weighty at six pounds or so. Fit and finish were excellent--shockingly so for a Russian gun (the test Nagant had been finished in a mirror-polished carbon-blue, of all things!). And fieldstripping was simple, which is a traditional Nagant characteristic, incidentally, and one which sold many a revolver for Emile and Leon back in the days when most European wheelguns came apart only with effort.

To strip an M-1895 for normal cleaning, one first opens the loading gate and rotates the cylinder, checking to ensure that all seven of the chambers are empty. Then the ejector rod is unscrewed as for unloading, and the ejector rod collar rotated outward, again as for unloading. In this case however, the collar is turned only some 40 degrees or so, rather than the full 45 degrees. Two scored lines, on collar and barrel, should line up. The cylinder arbor may now be drawn forward out of the frame. When this has been accomplished, the cylinder may be removed from the side of the frame. Reassembly is the reverse.

The conclusion of Nagant testing just happened to coincide with Pennsylvania's first major snowfall of the winter, which quite naturally caused this writer to reflect for a moment on how curious it was that a gas-seal, double-action revolver, of all things, should have been chosen for service in the country where "General Winter" defeats one invader after another. Doesn't everyone know, after all, that DA wheelguns are, by nature, sensitive to the dirt and abuse of war, and that the further complexity added by a gas-seal system aggravates this sensitivy? Well apparently, no one ever told the Russians. To them, the M-1895 was a model of ruggedness--just what a Soviet service gun should be. Indeed, such war literature as has appeared from the Russian side--and some German accounts as well--speak in almost awed terms of the '95's "workds no matter what" robustness. One recalls the words of the Russian soldier as reported to us by Hogg and Weeks (Pistols of the World, DBI, 1982): "If anything went wrong with it, you could mend it with a hammer." Such ruggedness has always been a characteristic of Russian-designed arms, of course. But coming from two Belgians who had never once experienced the minus-60 degrees of the steppe? Truly the Nagant represented an engineering triumph of major proportions, however anemic and antiquated it appears to us today.
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Title Annotation:classic revolver test report
Author:Shimek, Robert T.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
Words:1956
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