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The Horseman's right arm bolt action cavalry carbines--part 1: while mounted troops were already obsolete by the end of the 19th century, cavalry carbines led the way to 20th century bolt guns.

Ever since the dawn of recorded history, the mounted warrior has been held in high esteem and, sometimes, terror. The charioteers of Sumeria and Egypt dominated the battlefields of the Fertile Crescent and, while the Equites were the eyes and ears of the Roman army, they proved no match for the mounted hordes of Attila the Hun. The medieval armored knight--of fact and legend--was the dominant force on European battlefields during the Middle Ages; but met his match in the horse archers of the Mongols and Ottoman Turks, who came very close to conquering western Europe.

While the English longbowman and Swiss pikeman challenged the dominance of the knight, it was the development of gunpowder and practical, hand-held firearms that sounded the death knell of the armored warrior and his noble steed. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, mounted charges against artillery and steady infantry generally proved to be bloody exercises in futility.

The development of practical, rifled firearms as first used in the Crimean and American Civil Wars, meant mounted troops could accomplish little against entrenched artillery and steady infantry. By the end of the latter conflict, many Union and Confederate cavalry units were in fact mounted infantry, riding to the battlefield but fighting on foot with firearms.

As had happened before and since, the powers that be in most armies tended to gloss over these inconvenient facts in their desire to see the mounted warrior retain his dominant position in the military and social hierarchy.

In most Continental armies, there was great social prestige attached to the cavalry. To the 19th century European military mind, the cuirassier, dragoon, hussar, lancer and uhlan were seen as the modern incarnation of the medieval knight who, it was believed, carried on the chivalric traditions of their forbears. For this reason, cavalry regiments were considered the elite of most European armies and attracted the scions of noble families to their officer corps.

With the experiences of our Civil War, the American army viewed cavalry in more practical terms. Horses were not held in esteem--as was the case in many European societies--but seen merely as a means of transporting troops rapidly where they fought on foot just as often as they did mounted. And while the blue clad troopers were issued sabers, these "pig stickers" were rarely unsheathed as the American cavalryman considered the revolver and carbine his primary weapons.

The latter half of the 19th century saw improvements in military weapons coming at a rapid pace. Breechloading technology and self-contained metallic cartridges increased the firepower, range and effectiveness and both the infantry rifle and artillery. The 1890s saw the general acceptance of repeating rifles and smallbore, smokeless powder cartridges, two developments that made infantry the dominant force on the battlefield and further reduced the effectiveness of mounted units.


While they would prove less than useful in the upcoming Great War (1914-1918), most armies of the day still placed great emphasis upon mounted units. It must be remembered that, before radios, airplanes, and motor vehicles came along, cavalrymen were the eyes and ears of an army. They scouted out the enemy's position and strength, shadowed his movements, picked off stragglers, delivered messages, made lightning fast (well, by 19th century standards that is) flanking movements, and many generals still dreamed that one day their mounted troops would be able to pursue and cut down the retreating foe after the "big breakthrough" had been achieved.

Up until the turn of the 20th century, outside of the United States, many armies considered firearms superfluous for cavalry tactics and equipped mounted units with sword and lance. Revolvers were usually restricted to officers and high-ranking NCOs and those troopers whose duties made the use of the edged or pole weapons impractical such as buglers, bannermen and mounted messengers.

Although carbines were used by most armies, they were often only provided to selected troopers in each unit. But, while they still envisioned themselves making glorious charges with saber and lance, by the late 19th century. even the most hidebound traditionalists had been forced to recognize that firearms were becoming as important, if not more so, as the arme blanche.


The more innovative armies took the opportunity afforded by the introduction of smokeless powder rifles to develop carbines intended for general issue to mounted units and other troops that needed a short, lightweight personal weapon capable of standing up to rifle-equipped infantry. In general, these carbines used the same receiver and cartridge as the standard infantry rifle, but were fitted with shorter barrels, forearms and different sights.
Osterreichisches Repetier-Stutzen M.95

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 from 300 to 2400 schritt
Bayonet: 9.75-inch single-edged knife-style

Here's a sampling of what I believe to be the most prominent bolt-action cavalry carbines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Osterreichisches Repetier-Carabiner M.90 & M.95

In 1888, the Austro-Hungarian army (one of Europe's largest) had adopted a smallbore repeating rifle designed by Ferdinand von Mannlicher and built by Osterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft of Steyr--the Osterreichisches Repetier-Gewehr M.88, which was followed shortly afterwards by the improved Repetier-Gewehr M.88-90. Both used Mannlicher's packet-loaded magazine that allowed a very high rate of fire. While both proved rugged and reliable, their overly long receivers precluded making a practical length carbine.

Mannlicher's solution was another straight-pull design whose bolt was made up of two parts. The "bolt cylinder" contained the bolt handle, firing mechanism and safety lever. Into its front passed a "bolt shaft" containing dual locking lugs that locked directly into the receiver ring, and a separate, non-rotating extractor.

Helical grooves on the exterior of the bolt shaft mated with two ribs on the inside of the bolt cylinder so when the unit was pulled to the rear, the ribs moving in the grooves caused the bolt shaft to rotate 90[degrees], turning the dual locking lugs out of their mortises in the receiver ring and allowing the bolt to be retracted.

Dual wedge-shaped extensions on the bottom of the bolt cylinder ran in matching grooves machined into the receiver to prevent bolt wobble and ensure smooth operation. A knurled cocking piece allowed the shooter to recock the rifle for a second try at a recalcitrant primer, or lower the firing pin on an empty chamber.

This rotating bolt design had the triple advantages of providing greater locking strength, more cartridge support, and improved primary extraction. Finally, the shorter bolt permitted the use of a receiver more compact than that of the M.88 series, allowing the production of a practical length carbine.

The first long arm to use this new bolt system was adopted in 1890 and was designed specifically for mounted units--the Osterreichisches Repetier-Carabiner M.90.

The Patrone M.1890 consisted of a rimmed, bottlenecked case 52mm in length topped with a 244-grain, round-nosed, FMJ bullet that was propelled to approximately 1950 fps.

The following year the Osterreichisches Extra-Korps-Gewehr M.90 was adopted by the Gendarmerie and military police, while three years later the navy took the Osterreichisches Repetier-Stutzen M.90 into service. (2) These differed from the cavalry carbine in the location of their sling swivels and the fact that the latter took a bayonet.

In 1897, two new carbines were approved for issue: the Osterreichisches Repetier-Carabiner M.95 and Osterreichisches Repetier-Stutzen M.95. These used the same receiver, bolt and magazine as the M.90, but had different stocks and fittings. After 1907 only Stutzens, which had sling swivels on both the side and underside of the stock for use by either infantry or cavalry, were manufactured.
Osterreichisches Repetier-Carabiner M.90

Caliber: 8mm M.1890 scharfe Patrone
Overall length: 39.6 inches
Barrel length: 19.6 inches
Weight: 7.25 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, clip-loaded
Sights:Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch adjustable by quadrant from 500 to 2400
 schritt (1)
Bayonet: None

All models of the M.90 and M.95 carbines and Stutzens saw wide service with Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces during World War I. In the interwar years, they were used by the new armies of Austria and Hungary, while many thousands were provided as war reparations to Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Rumania, and Yugoslavia,

They continued in use with all these armies through the end of World War II.

Carabine de Cavallerie Mle. 1890

While the French army was the first to adopt a smallbore, smokeless powder rifle, the Mle. 1886's tubular magazine precluded building a practical carbine on the design. In 1887 Adolphe Berthier, Chief of Office for the Algerian railroad, began development of a repeating rifle that combined a Mle. 1886 bolt with a Mannlicher-type clip-loaded magazine.

Carabine de Cavallerie Mle.1890

Caliber: 8mm Balle M
Overall length: 37.2 inches
Barrel length: 17.85 inches
Weight: (unloaded) 6.7 pounds
Magazine: Three-round, Mannlicher-style clip
Sights:Front-- Square block with groove

Rear-- Notch adjustable by ramp and leaf from 400
 to 2000
Bayonet: None

In 1889, he presented samples of his design to the French army, and approval was granted for a small number of trial rifles and carbines to be manufactured at the government facility. Atelliers de Puteaux. After further trials in 1889 and 1890, a Berthier system carbine was approved for issue to mounted troops.

The Berthier used a simple tubular, split-bridge receiver through which the bolt handle passed and turned down to provide additional locking. The two-piece bolt was a modification of that used on the Mle. 1886, in that when locked, the bolt head lugs are in a vertical rather than horizontal position so as to permit smoother feeding of rounds from the three-shot Mannlicher-type magazine.



The magazine's low capacity was felt to be the largest number of the fat 8mm Balle M cartridges that could be accommodated, while the prominent stock bulge around the magazine is often referred to as the "pregnant guppy" stock. As was the French practice on pre-1944 military rifles, no manual safety was provided.

The first Berthiers approved for service were the Carabines de Cavallerie Mle. 1890, Carabine de Cuirassiers Mle. 1890, and the Carabines de Gendarmerie carbines could be fitted with bayonets while cleaning rods were carried in channels in the left side of the forearm.

The French army adopted additional Berthier carbines, the Mousquetons d'Artillerie Mle. 1892, Mle. 1892 M.16 and Mle. 1916. In the postwar years, most were upgraded to Mle. 1916 specifications, which included modifying them to use a five-round clip. These became general issue to all branches of the armed forces and Gendarmerie Nationale, continuing in service right up until the outbreak of World War II. In the postwar years, they saw service with all sides in the fighting in France's colonies in addition to being used by local police forces.

Karabiner 88

When the French army announced the adoption of the world's first smallbore, smokeless powder rifle, the Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1886, the folks at the Prussian War Ministry became extremely concerned and the Gewehr-Prufungs-Kommission (Rifle Testing Commission) undertook an almost panic-stricken search for a rifle to counter the French threat.

Louis Schlegelmilch, senior gunsmith at the Spandau arsenal, entered a rifle in the trials that used a cock-on-opening bold based on the M.71 Mauser's, but with dual locking lugs located on the bolt body directly behind the bolt head, where they locked into mortises machined into the receiver ring providing greater support for high pressure cartridges.

The receiver had a split bridge through which the forward-mounted bolt handle passed. The bolt turned down in front of it to provide emergency locking in case of bolt failure. The German Rifle Testing Commission combined this receiver with a copy of Mannlicher's packet-loading magazine and a unique tubular metal barrel jacket designed by an ex-army officer, Armand Mieg, and the resulting rifle was adopted as the Infanteriegewehr 88.

By late 1889, prototypes of a new carbine had been assembled at Spandau. Officially adopted in November 1891, the Karabiner 88's receiver and bolt were identical to that of the rifle's, except the bolt handle was flat and turned down against the stock to lessen the chances of it becoming entangled in the trooper's leather gear or his horse's harness.

The barrel was encased in a full-length metal jacket, while a muzzle cap had a set of guards to protect the front sight. The straight-gripped walnut stock had the usual recoil bolt, while a slot in the buttstock and swivel on the left side of the single barrel band were used to attach a side-mounted sling.

This enabled a trooper to carry the carbine slung diagonally across his back where it did not interfere with the use of his primary weapons--the saber and lance.


The 7.9mm scharfe Patrone 88, better--if incorrectly--known in this country as the "8mm Mauser," utilized a rimless, bottlenecked 57mm long whose 227-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet had a velocity of 2000 fps when fired from the carbine.


To equip artillery, transportation and other ancillary units, a second carbine was approved for issue as the Gewehr 91. In fact, despite being referred to as a Gewehr ("rifle"), it was identical to the Karabiner 88, except that a stacking hook was attached to the muzzle cap.

Production of the Karabiner 88 was originally undertaken by the commercial firms of V.C. Schilling and C.G. Hanel of Suhl. Once these companies had fulfilled their contracts, all Karabiner 88 and Gewehr 91 production was transferred to the state arsenal at Erfurt.

Beginning in 1908, many Karabiner 88 and Gewehre 91 were converted to fire the new 7.9mm Patrone S cartridge that pushed its 154-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet to almost 2900 fps. With complaints voiced about muzzle blast, flash and recoil generated, the Patrone 88 became even more vehement when carbines chambered for the Patrone S reached the hands of the troops.
Karabiner 88

Caliber: 7.9mm scharfe Patrone 88
Overall length: 37.6 inches
Barrel length: 17.1 inches
Weight: 6.9 pounds
Magazine: Five-round clip-loaded
Sights:Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch fixed for 250 meters, a fold up
 leaf for 350 meters
 and a fold up adjustable from 500 to 1200
Bayonet: None

Before 1914, Karabiner 88 saw service with the various German state police forces and German troops in Africa and China. During World War I, they were used by German and Austrian mounted, alpine, artillery and communication troops.

Carabine de Cavallerie Mle. 1889 & Carabina Mauser Argentino Modelo 1891

When the German army adopted the Infanteriegewehr 88, Germany's premier private armsmaker, Waffenfabrik Mauser, was too busy with foreign orders to accept a contract. But this did not stop Paul Mauser from beginning an immediate R&D program to develop a superior rifle. In less than a year, he introduced three improvements that were to change bolt-action rifle technology for all time:

1. A one-piece bolt with dual frontal lugs that locked directly into shoulders in the receiver ring. The firing mechanism is inserted into the rear of the tubular bolt body, providing greater rigidity and strength than any previous bolt design.


2. The charger (stripper clip) loaded magazine was possibly Mauser's greatest achievement. A disposable stamped steel or brass strip used a simple flat spring to retain five cartridges. The charger is inserted into guides on top of the open receiver and the rounds are pushed down into the magazine with the thumb. It permitted faster reloading, a higher rate of fire and the use of a fully enclosed magazine that kept out dirt and debris.

3. A single-column box magazine, which while detachable, was only removed from the rifle for cleaning. No cutoff was fitted, as the rifle was intended to always be used as a charger-loaded repeater.

In 1889, Mauser entered his improved rifle in trials being conducted by Belgium which, after two years of testing, was adopted as the Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1889. It was an ungainly looking rifle with a full-length tubular metal handguard inspired by Germany's Gewehr 88.

The Belgian government obtained a license permitting local manufacture at the state arsenal, Manufactured' Armes de L' Etat, in Liege and a new firm, Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre.

Mauser also designed the new rifle's cartridge. The 7,65mm Cartouche Mle. 1891 consisted of a bottle-necked, rimless case 53 mm long, whose 211-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet achieved a muzzle velocity of approximately 2130 fps.

In 1893, a carbine was approved for issue to mounted units of the army and Grade Civique. The Carabine de Cavallerie Mle. 1889 had its short barrel encased in a tubular jacket, a half-length stock, exposed cleaning rod and turned-down bolt handle. A slotted metal plate on the left side of the buttstock allowed the cavalry trooper to hang the carbine on a leather harness over his shoulder.

With its light weight and attenuated barrel, recoil, muzzle blast and flash were severe, and the carbines were generally unpopular. During World War I, many of these carbines were retrofitted with brackets so as to accept various bayonets, while in the post-war years some received new, full-length stocks.


Mauser's new rifle quickly attracted the attention of the always rifle-hungry armies of Latin America. In 1891, Argentina placed an order for 210,000 rifles and carbines with the Ludwig Loewe Company of Berlin (later known as DWM), most of which were not delivered until 1893. These, and the Turkish rifles, differed from the Belgian pattern in that they were fitted with regular wooden handguards, an improved bolt and magazine.


The Argentine carbines were fitted with longer barrels than the Belgian and a full-length stock with a muzzle cap that protected the front sight. Side-mounted sling swivels and turned-down bolt handles made them well suited for use by mounted troopers.

In the 1920s, some Mo. 1891 carbines issued to alpine troops and police were retrofitted with brackets, allowing a saber bayonet to be mounted. When the Argentine armed forces replaced their Mausers with the FN-FAL rifle, thousands of Mo. 1891 carbines were turned over to the national and local police, who were still using them in the 1980s.

Moschetto Mo. 1891

In 1888, Italy's arch-rival, the Austro-Hungarian empire, adopted the clip-loaded Osterreichisches Repetier Gewehr M. 1888 firing a small bore 8mm cartridge. If the Italian army's prestige, and effectiveness, was to be maintained, it had to update its small arms as quickly as possible.

Under Gen. Gustavo Parravicino, the Armi di Fanteria Incaricano (Infantry Weapons Commission), began trials immediately. It was announced that only rifles with a Mannlicher, clip-loaded magazine would be considered for adoption, and it was further specified that the German Infanteriegewehr 88's version was preferred to that of the Austrian M.88.
Carabine de Cavallerie Mle. 1889

Caliber: 7,65mm Cartouche Mle. 1891
Overall length: 34.85 inches
Barrel length: 15.75 inches
Weight: 7 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded
Sights: Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch adjustable by leaf from 100 to 1900 meters
Bayonet: None

A rifle developed at the Fabbrica Nationale d'Armi de Torino by a team headed by Lt. Col. Salvatore Carcano was adopted as the Fucile di Fanteria Modello 1891, more commonly known as the Mo. 1891 Mannlicher-Carcano. It combined a Gewehr 88-style receiver and magazine with a bolt that had features of both the German rifle and Belgian Mle. 1888 Mauser.

Its one-piece, cock-on-opening bolt had dual frontal locking lugs and a forward mounted bolt handle turned down in front of the split bridge receiver to act as a safety locking lug. A flat safety lever was attached to the bolt sleeve and had to be pushed in, rotated up and allowed to move back to lock the firing pin and bolt.

Perhaps the Mo. 1891's most unusual feature was the use of progressive, or gain twist, rifling: 1:19 at the breech end and 1:8 at the muzzle.

In 1893 and 1897 respectively, two moschetti (carbines) were adopted, the Moschetto Mo. 1891 for cavalry and the Moschetto Mo. 1891 per Truppe Speciali (T.S.). They differed in that the cavalry carbine used a short forearm and had a permanently attached folding bayonet while the Truppe Speciali carbine had a normal length stock and took the standard rifle bayonet. Large numbers of both were issued to mounted troops, drivers, gunners, cyclist units, civilian police and the Carabinieri.
Moschetto Modello 1891

Caliber: Cartuccia a Pallottola cal. 6.5
Overall length: 37.5 inches
Barrel length: 17.7 inches
Weight: 6.9 pounds
Magazine: Six rounds, clip-loaded
Sights: Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch adjustable from 300 to 1500 meters
Bayonet: Integral folding spike bayonet

The Cartuccia a Pallottola cal. 6.5 consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 52mm in length, topped with a 162-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet with a velocity of 2395 fps.


The Italian army issued vast numbers of Moschetti and they saw widespread service in both World Wars, while others remained in use with the Carabinieri and local police forces well into the 1960s.

Karabin m/94

Sweden has a long history of neutrality, but the Swedish people realized early on that this could only be assured by having an up-to-date, well-equipped army. Accordingly, when the other European powers began' adopting smallbore, smokeless powder rifles, the Swedes began casting about for new weapons.
Carabina Mauser Argentino Modelo 1891

Caliber: Cartucho 7.65mm para Mauser
Overall length: 37 inches
Barrel length: 17.6 inches
Weight: 7.2 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded
Sights: Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch adjustable by leaf from 300 to 1200 meters
Bayonet: None

At the time, their basic infantry rifle was the old Gevar m/1867 Remington Rolling Block that had been rebarreled for the smokeless 8mm Skarpa Patron m/89 (8x58R Krag) cartridge, so it was decided that the cavalry was next in line for any new weapon.


In 1892, trials were held to evaluate various Mauser, Mannlicher and Krag-Jorgensen designs, which resulted in an order to Mauser Waffenfabrik for a quantity of trial carbines. After extensive testing, the Mauser was adopted as the 1894 ars Karabin (Year 1894 carbine), although the next year the designation was changed to Karabin m/94.

The m/94 carbine was an improved version of the Mo. 1893 Spanish Mauser, with a flush mounted, five-round, charger-loaded magazine. The cock-on-closing bolt had dual frontal locking lugs, a full-length guide rib, turned down handle, safety that could be applied with the action cocked or uncocked, while a checkered ledge on the cocking piece allowed re-cocking the firing mechanism for a second try at a recalcitrant primer. A deep cut out in the left receiver wall facilitated loading the magazine with chargers. A full-length stock with side mounted sling swivels ran all the way to the muzzle band, which did double duty as a front sight guard.


An order was placed with Mauser Waffenfabrik for 12,200 carbines, after which production began at the state arsenal, Carl Gustafs Stads Gevarsfactori in Eskilstuna, and would continue until 1918.
Karabin m/94

Caliber: 6,5mm skarpa patroner m/94
Overall length: 37.4 inches
Barrel length: 17.4 inches
Weight: 7.3 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, charger loaded box
Sights: Front-- Inverted V-blade
Rear-- V-notch adjustable by leaf from 300 to 1600 meters
Bayonet: None

The 6,5mm skarpa patroner m/94 (6.5mm loaded cartridge m/94), consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 55mm in length topped with a 156-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet traveling at 2378 fps. This cartridge produced light recoil, which was much appreciated by carbine users.

In 1917, the carbine's muzzle band was redesigned so a sword bayonet could be fitted. Known as the Karabin m/94-14, most carbines were converted to m/14 specs and became general issue to all branches of the armed forces. After 1941, many carbines were fitted with a metal plate showing the different rear sight settings necessary when firing the 6,5mm.skarpa patroner m/41 with its 139-grain spitzer bullet.

Despite Sweden's neutrality, numbers of Karabin m/94 and m/94-14 saw combat. In 1939, the Swedes provided neighboring Finland with 77,000 Mauser rifles and carbines to assist her in defending herself from an unprovoked attack by the Soviet Union. The Finns, and thousands of Swedish volunteers, made good use of these carbines during the brutal Winter War (1939-1940) and the subsequent Continuation War (1941-1944). Some remained in Swedish army service well into the 1960s.

In Part II (6/20 issue), we will examine the cavalry carbines adopted by Britain, Germany (again!), Japan, Russia, Spain and the United States.

I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Vince DiNardi, John Rasalov, Garry James, Vic Thomas, John Unze, John Eiden, John Crawford, Heino Hintermeier, John Wall, Stuart Mowbray, D.L. Vanderbrink, Fred Honeycutt, John Sheehan, Graf & Sons, Remington Arms Company, Hornady Manufacturing and the Old Western Scrounger.

1 The Austrian schritt ("pace") measured approximately 0.75 meters.

2 "Stutzen" is a term the Austro-Hungarians applied to carbines intended for issue to special troops.

By Paul Scarlata//Photos by: James Walters & Nathan Reynolds (unless otherwise credited)
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 20, 2010
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