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Russian rifles of the great war, revolution & civil war--part I: Russian troops were brave, and there were a lot of them, but shortcomings in supply and leadership squandered their personal sacrifices.

At the turn of the 20th century, Imperial Russia was an anachronism among the world's "superpowers." While democratic governments and constitutional monarchies predominated in most of continental Europe, Russia was still an absolute monarchy ruled by the Tsar and controlled by hereditary nobility and an all-present church. There was no parliament, political parties were banned and the state's power was insured by a vast network of secret police.

Most of her European neighbors had embraced the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century while Russia resisted it, as many in positions of power feared such modern notions would be disruptive to the state. It was only in the latter part of the 19th century that modern industrial manufacturing begin on a limited scale.

The basis of the empire's economy was agriculture, which took place on large estates owned by nobles and worked by illiterate peasants who, in most cases, lacked even the most basic modern farming machinery. These peasants had only been freed from serfdom in 1861, although it meant little to them as most were inexorably tied to the land by tradition, ignorance and debt.

Except for those few individuals who displayed enough promise to earn a place in one of the state gymnasiums (public schools) education was restricted to the wealthy. The growth of railroads had been slow, and so travel by the ordinary citizen was rare, which tended to emphasize regionalism and distrust of outsiders and new ideas. Outside of its major cities, most peasants would have considered anyone claiming to have seen such modern wonders as airplanes, telephones and electric lights as a liar, if not a madman.

Nationalism had swept over Europe in the post-Napoleonic era which led to the creation of unified, homogenous states. In stark contrast, the Russian empire was made up of dozens of ethnic groups, speaking hundreds of different languages and dialects, following different faiths, many of whom resented Russian rule. Except for those educated subjects of Russian descent, nationalism was a foreign concept and loyalty to the Tsar and the Orthodox Church was the only things most of the empire's subjects had in common.

But there was one thing that Imperial Russia possessed that was the envy of most military minded persons--manpower! In 1900, Russia's population was estimated to be in excess of 128 million and from this vast pool of manpower she maintained a standing army of 1.4 million men that (theoretically) with wartime mobilization, could be enlarged to 4 million. Russia's most likely foes, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were awed by this and had an obsessive fear of the "Russian Steam Roller" invading from the east and rolling over their armies.

But while the Russian army was indeed immense it had a number of flaws: an antiquated general staff, incompetent officer corps, uneducated and poorly motivated enlisted men, a criminally inefficient quartermaster department and an industrial base that was not even remotely capable of supplying an army of its size with the necessary numbers of modern weapons.

Many Russian generals, as did some of theirFrench counterparts--by whom they were greatly influenced--valued the infantry rifle primarily as a means of carrying a bayonet into battle than a firearm.

Because of their industrial backwardness, ever since the 18th century the Russian army had been forced to look outside its borders for suitable designs each time they upgraded its weapons. The first breechloading, cartridge firing rifles--the Vintovka Berdana obr. 1868g and obr. 1870g--were in fact American designs.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 Imperial troops had suffered badly at hands of Turkish troops armed with M1866 Winchester repeating rifles, and in 1883, the Glavnoe artilleriiskoe upravlenie (Main Artillery Commission or GAU) was assigned the task of finding a repeating rifle.

This leisurely, bureaucracy-ridden process went into high gear when the French adopted the first smallbore, smokeless powder military rifle--the Fusil d'Infanterie Mie. 1886 (a.k.a. Lebel). Every army of any account--and many of no account whatsoever--raced to adopt similar weapons. Trials of rifles submitted by Lutkovskiy, Kropatschek, Mauser Melkov, Mosin and Nagant and began in 1889 and lasted for two years.

Capt. Sergei Ivanovich Mosin (1849-1902) had a distinguished career as an arms designer that would eventually result in his being appointed the superintendent of Russia's premier armsmaking facility, the Tulslcy oruzheiny zavod (Tula arsenal).

Sergei Ivanovich's rifle utilized a three-part bolt based on those used on earlier French rifles. It was referred to as the Tri lineinaya, as it used a smallbore cartridge whose caliber was three "linii," an archaic Russian measurement which is approximately 1/10", meaning the new cartridge used a bullet of .30 cal. or 7.62mm.

The Belgian firm of Fabrique d' Armes Leon Nagant et Freres entered a rifle in the trails that used a single column, charger-loaded magazine with a spring-loaded interrupter that prevented double feeding by holding down the second cartridge in the magazine until it is released by the bolt closing.

This feature permitted the use of rimmed cartridges without the attendant feeding problems, a fact that attracted much favorable attention from the GAU.

Several hundred each Mosin and Nagant rifles were issued for field trials and after extensive testing it was decided that what the Russian army needed was a weapon that combined Mosin's bolt action with a Nagant-style magazine.

Mosin was ordered to design a rifle combining the desired features, and the following year the resulting weapon was adopted as the Tri lineinaya vintovka obr. 1891g--the Three Linii Rifle Model of 1891--or as it's more commonly known to English-speaking collectors, the Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle.' The obr. 1891g was heavy and long and looked even longer because Russian army practice called for the long socket-style bayonet to be mounted all the time. It sported a very short, straight bolt handle and the safety was engaged by pulling the cocking piece to the rear and turning it to the left until it hooked over the rear of the receiver--an effective, if clumsy, arrangement.

Stocks were generally made from birch and a full-length handguard ran from the rear sight to the front barrel band.

All in all the obr. 1891g was clumsy to operate, but simple to manufacture and maintain--both primary considerations for the Russians when one considers their limited industrial capacity and the masses of illiterate--and usually unenthusiastic--peasant conscripts that made up the armed forces.

The new Russian service cartridge, the Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g used a rimmed, bottlenecked case 54mm long loaded with a 201-grain round-nosed, full metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet that was propelled to muzzle velocity of approximately 1990 fps.

But while the Russians now had a modern service ri-fle--they had nowhere to manufacture it! Russia's three arsenals, Tula, Izhevsk and Sestroretsk, had to be completely reequipped with new machine tools, so an order for 500,000 rifles was placed with Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Chatellerault in France.

Like many of the new breed of smallbore military rifles, the obr. 1891g saw its first combat in 1900 with the Russian contingent that helped suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. Production at the Russian arsenals continued at a slow pace, and by the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) only about 3.8 million had been produced.

To equip mounted units, the Kazachya vintovka obr. 1891g (Cossack) and the Dragunskaya vintovka obr. 1891g (Dragoon) rifles were adopted. These used the same action as the infantry rifle but were fitted with shorter barrels and are identifiable by their thin forearms with two spring-retained barrel bands.

Instead of sling swivels, both utilized metal-lined slots in the forearm and buttstock for attaching the sling. The use of this system was extended to all obr. 1891g weapons after 1908.

In 1907, the Karabin obr. 1907g was adopted for cavalry and artillery crews.

After 1908, the stocks on most rifles and carbines were strengthened with a recoil crossbolt and the sling swivels replaced with metal-lined slots in the forearm and butt. That same year, the Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1908g was adopted. It used a 147-grain spitzer bullet moving at 2650 fps. New sights, adjustable to 3200 arshini (2000 arshini on carbines), were fitted to most weapons in service.

With the outbreak of the Great War, Russia aligned itself with the Allies and declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Despite a great wave of patriotic enthusiasm, it quickly became obvious that Imperial Russia was ill-prepared for an extended conflict. For the soldier on the ground the most pressing problem was the shortage of rifles.

By late 1914, the battlefield losses of rifles had exceeded even the most pessimistic prewar predictions, and it was estimated that the Imperial armed forces were losing on average 200,000 rifles per month. It quickly became clear that the Russians would need at least 5.5 million rifles to arm the initial troops placed in the field in 1914, another 5 million to equip men subsequently called into service and about 7.2 million to make good combat attrition. Unfortunately, in addition to the 4.6 mullion rifles on hand in 1914, the three state arsenals only produced 860,000 obr. 1891g in 1915, 1.3 million in 1916 and 1,120,000 in 1917.

After the initial war reserves had-been exhausted, the Russian army was forced to hold troops back from combat for lack of weapons. As the situation worsened, soldiers were sent into battle equipped with axes and pikes--and orders to pick up the rifles and =munition of their fallen comrades or those of the enemy.

In an attempt to alleviate matters, the Imperial government placed orders for obr. 1891g rifles in the United States with the Remington Arms Company and New England Westinghouse. Due the conflicting demands of the hordes of Russian inspectors who descended upon the two factories, production was slow and between 1915 and 1917, only 1.6 million rifles were completed.

Many of these were never delivered to the Russians because of the outbreak of revolution, and some of them were purchased by the U.S. Army for use as training rifles or to equip National Guard units. Others were used by U.S. troops intervening in northern Russia, while others were provided as aid to the various anti-Bolshevik factions during the civil war (see below).

From the very beginning of the war, the Russians had issued large numbers of obsolete Berdan rifles. Designed by the famous Union army officer Hiram Berdan, the Vintovka Berdana obr. 1868g (Berdan I) was a trapdoor type rifle which only saw limited use, as it was replaced two years later by the improved bolt-action Vintovka Berdana obr. 1870g (Berdan II).

The Russians also manufactured Cossack and Dragoon rifle versions of the Berdan, in addition to cavalry carbines. Around 1892, Belgian companies were contracted to convert some Berdans to fire the Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g, but only a few thousand were converted before field trials showed them to be unsuitable.

All models of the Berdan continued in service through the end of the civil war.

Another obsolete rifle used by the Russians was the ubiquitous Remington Rolling Block. According to George Layman's book Remington Military Rolling Block Rifles of the World (Mowbray Publishing www.manatarmsbookacom), around 1912 Remington sold approximately 2,900 New Model Small Bore Military Rifles to Imperial Russia. Usually referred to as the Model 1902, these were the one and only known Russian order of Remington Rolling Blocks.

Some of the Russian Rolling Blocks had their barrels shortened to 27.75 inches so as to allow the use of an experimental Maxim silencer. According to George Layman, some of these silenced rifles saw service during World War I.

It is a little known fact that the Imperial Russian army was the first military organization to issue a selective-fire assault rifle.

In 1906 Capt. Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov (also spelled Federov or Fedorov), an engineer at the Sestro-retsk arsenal, began work on a semiautomatic rifle that used a short recoil system and was chambered for a proprietary 6.5mm cartridge. Trials in 1913 proved the feasibility of Fyodorov's rifle, but the outbreak of the war put the skids on further development.

In 1915 it was decided to begin production of a modified rifle capable of selective fire and chambered for the readily-available Japanese 6.5mm Type 30 cartridge.4 In 1916, the GAU placed an order for 25,000 Fyodorov automatic rifles. Production at the Kovrov Arms Factory was slow, and as result of turmoil of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war, only 3,200 rifles were manufactured by 1924. They saw very limited use during the war, the Revolution and ensuing Civil War, although some showed up in the hands of the Red Army during the Russo-Finnish Winter War (1939-1940).

Captured Rifles

The Russian army also made extensive use of captured rifles. Their initial, and continuing, successes against the Austro-Hungarian army provided them with large quantities of weapons including M.88-90 and M.95 Mannli-cher rifles and stutzens (carbines).

These Austrian rifles were widely distributed, especially to cavalry and naval units, and saw service right through the end of the civil war in 1922.

The Russians captured smaller numbers of rifles from their German opponents, although after the disastrous battle of Tannenberg (August 23-30, 1914)--which saw 78,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded and 92,000 captured--the Germans continued to defeat the Russians with alarming regularity, giving them little opportunity to capture any significant amount of German equipment. Regardless, Mauser Infanteriegewehre 98, Karabiner 98AZ, Infanteriegewehre 88 and Karabiner 88 were captured by Russian forces although their use was restricted by the limited supply of ammunition.

I would like to thank the following for providing information, materials and photos used to prepare this report: George Layman, Dave Carlson, Stuart Mowbray, Bruce Canfield, Takehito Jimbo, Ted Derryberry (http://7.62x54r. net), Vince DiNardi, John Rasalov, Jean Huon, Heino Hin-termier, Josef Matz, Russ Pastena, Francis Allan, Doss White, Mike Sullivan, Dr. Stan Zielinski, Terry Wilson, Patrick Hernandez, Brent Snodgrass and Drake Goodman (


Next month (12120 issue): Russian substitute standard rifles

1 For those concerned about the niceties of the Russian and Walloon languages, the correct pronunciation is MO-seen Nah-GON.

2 Arshin (plural--arshini) is the Russian word for "pace" and equaled 0.7 meters.

3 The Kazachya vintovka obr. 1891g was identical except it did not take a bayonet.

4 The Fyodorov obr. I916g used Japanese Type 30 sights, fittings and bayonet.

5 Schritt is the German term for (pace( and measures approximately 0.75 meters.



Caliber: Patron 4.2 linii obr. 1868g

Overall length: 53.4 inches

Barrel length: 32.8 inches

Weight: 9.8 pounds

Magazine: Single shot

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from 200 to 1500 arshini

Bayonet: Socket-style with 23-inch blade



Caliber: 6.5mm Type 30

Overall length: 40.9 inches

Barrel length: 20.5 inches

Weight: 9.6 pounds

Magazine: 25-round detachable box

Rate of fire: 600 rpm

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from 300 to 1500 arshini

Bayonet: Knife-style with 15.5-inch blade



Caliber: 7.9mm scharfe Patrone 88

Overall length: 48.8 inches

Barrel length: 29 inches

Weight: 8.6 pounds (unloaded)

Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style

Sights: Front-V-blade Rear-Fixed 250 meter notch, fold up notch for 350 meters and fold up leaf adjustable from 450 to2050 meters.

Bayonet: Knife-style with a 11.75-inch blade



Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone S

Overall length: 49.2 inches

Barrel length: 29 inches

Weight: 9 pounds

Magazine: Five-round charger-loaded box

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from400 to 2000 meters

Bayonet: Sword-style with 16-inch blade



Overall length: 50.4 inches

Barrel length: 30 inches

Weight: 9.6 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, clip-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from400 to 1800 schritt. Long-range volley sight adjustable from1800 to 3000 schritt.5

Bayonet: Knife-style with 9.85-inch blade



Caliber: 7.9mm scharfe Patrone 88

Overall length: 37.6 inches

Barrel length: 17.1 inches

Weight: 6.9 pounds

Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style clip

Sights: Front-V-blade Rear-V-notch fixed for 250 meters, a fold up leaf for 350 meters and a fold leaf adjustable from 450 to 1200 meters

Bayonet: None



Caliber: 8mm M.1893 scharfe Patrone

Overall length: 50.1 inches

Weight: 8.3 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, clip-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from 300 to 2600 schritt (paces)

Bayonet: Knife-style with 9.75-inch blade



Caliber: 8mm M.1893 scharfe Patrone

Overall length: 39.5 inches

Barrel length: 19.7 inches

Weight: 6.8 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, clip-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from300 to 2400 schritt

Bayonet: Knife-style with 9.75-inch blade



Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone S

Overall length: 43 inches

Barrel length: 23.6 inches

Weight: 8 pounds

Magazine: Five-round charger-loaded box

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from200 to 2000 meters

Bayonet: Sword-style with 14.5-inch blade



Caliber: Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g

Overall length: 51.25 inches

Barrel length: 31.6 inches

Weight: 9 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from400 to 2700 arshini2

Bayonet: Socket-style with a 16-inch cruciform blade



Caliber: Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g

Overall length: 40.15 inches

Barrel length: 20 inches

Weight: 7.5 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from300 to 1800 arshini

Bayonet: None



Caliber: Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g

Overall length: 48.75 inches

Barrel length: 29.9 inches

Weight: 8.6 pounds

Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded

Sights: Front-Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from 400 to 2700 arshini

Bayonet: Socket-style with a 16-inch cruciform blade



Caliber: Tri lineinaya patron obr. 1891g

Overall length: 46 inches

Barrel length: 30 inches

Weight: 8.5 pounds

Magazine: Single shot

Sights: Front-Blade Rear-V-notch adjustable from500 to 2300 arshini

Bayonet: Sword-style with 15.5-inch blade
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Nov 20, 2014
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