Travel and photography resume next week. Until then:
Welcome to “M” Week at the blog: Mosins, Marlins, and MPRs.
First it’s Military Monday, and we’re going to spend some quality time looking over a trio of Mosin’s 3-Line Rifles Model 1891. Russian versions only today, because there are just too many other variants out there to cover in one short blog article — Finnish, Polish, Chinese, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Romanian, and there are even two U.S.-made variants, Remington Arms and New England Westinghouse. Two of the rifles presented today are of the type with which most of you are probably familiar — The so-called “Mosin-Nagant” (more on that later) M91/30, which is short for Model 1891/1930. The other may surprise you, but we’ll get to that shortly.
But first, a little history:
This rifle goes by a lot of names. Most people here in the U.S. incorrectly refer to these bolt-action rifles as Mosin-Nagants. The official Russian designation however is translated as Three-Line Rifle Model 1891. The Russians also call these Mosin’s Rifles, with not a hint of “Nagant” to be found anywhere. As for “91/30”, that’s shorthand referencing the major 1930 redesign of the original Model 1891 Mosin’s Rifle.
The “Nagant” in Mosin-Nagant derives from Belgian firearm designer and manufacturer Émile Nagant. When the Imperial Russian Army issued a bid for a new 3-line rifle, Émile Nagant put forth a 3.5-line design that competed against true 3-line designs from Captain (later Major General) Sergei Ivanovich Mosin and Captain (later Colonel) Ivan Dmitrievich Zinoviev. At the time of the competition Captain Mosin was working at Imperial Russia’s Tula Arms Plant.
Captain Zinoviev’s design did not make the cut. Neither in the end did Émile Nagant’s. It was Captain Mosin who won the day; but not initially, and only after he “borrowed” some ideas from Émile Nagant’s 3.5-line entry. Specifically at issue was an “interrupter” that prevented the double-feeding of bullets stripped from the magazine. Émile Nagant held the patent for the interrupter, even though he himself “borrowed” the idea from Captain Mosin. The only reason Mr. Nagant was able to file an international patent on it was because Captain Mosin’s design technically belonged to the Russian government, and neither Captain Mosin nor the Russian government bothered to file. Also, Captain Mosin’s interrupter was officially a Russian military secret at the time Mr. Nagant claimed the design as his own. The other two Nagant designed features “borrowed” by Captain Mosin were a five-round clip for loading the magazine, and an attachment on the magazine base plate to hold the magazine spring.
Émile Nagant sued for royalties. The Russians settled, paying Mr. Nagant the same fee granted to Captain Mosin for winning the competition. But Émile Nagant’s name was never officially attached to the rifle. Neither was Captain Mosin’s as it turns out. Thus, the true designation of the so-called Mosin-Nagant was “3-line Rifle, Model 1891”.
By the way, that “interrupter” never even made it into the 1930 redesign. It proved both troublesome and unreliable, and it was replaced with a completely new two-piece design. As for the clip, the ease with which the magazine is loaded made it redundant. So, the only thing “Nagant” about the 91/30 “Mosin-Nagant” is the way the magazine spring is attached to the base of the magazine. And now you know why “Mosin-Nagant” is not a thing except in the U.S.
Okay, now you’re wondering what the heck is a three-line? This may shock you (I know it shocked me), because it goes back to the Imperial Russian way of measuring the diameter of the rifle bore back in 1891, which was in “lines”. Lines were measured in (are you ready for this?) tenths of an inch!
- 1 line = 0.1 inches = 2.54mm
- 3 lines = 0.3 inches = 7.62mm
Since Mosin’s rifle technically had a bore of 0.3 inches, or three “lines”, it became the “Three-Line Rifle, Model 1891”.
However, even though the cartridge for this rifle is designated as the 7.62x54mmR (for Rimmed), the actual diameter of the bullet is .312 inches/7.92 millimeters. If you’re like me, then right about now you’re completely confused as to how a 7.92 mm bullet received a designation of 7.62 mm. I guess it’s sort of like the 7.5×55 mm Swiss (see: Military Monday — Swiss K31 “Straight-Pull” Bolt Action Rifle), which actually comes in at 7.78 mm/.306 inches.Now you may be wondering how a military rifle designed in 1891 has any relevance to today beyond the collector community. Mosin’s rifles were manufactured from 1891 until 1973, with the last of Mosin’s rifles being made in Finland. As previously mentioned, design was modernized in 1930, hence the designation 91/30. Russian-produced 91/30 rifles were manufactured at the Imperial Tula Arms Plant and the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (now part of the Kalashnikov Group). All three rifles presented in today’s article came from Izhevsk and are known colloquially here in the U.S. as “Izzies”. Total production numbers are not available, but it is assumed that over the rifle’s 82-year production run some 37 to 38 million examples were made.
These rifles are built like tanks, and many are still used today in armed conflicts around the world. That makes the Mosin probably the longest serving military rifle ever produced. Here are the particulars on the Model 91/30 Rifles you’re seeing today:
Mosin “Three-Line” Model 1891/30:
- Length (without bayonet): 48.5 inches/1,232 mm
- Length (with bayonet): 65.6 inches/1,666 mm
- Approximate Weight (without bayonet): 8 pounds 13 ounces/4 kg
- Approximate Weight (with bayonet): 9 pounds 10 ounces/4.36 kg
- Barrel: 28.7 inches/73 cm
- Capacity: Non-detachable 5-round magazine
This first rifle is an “Izzie” (Izhevsk) from 1938. Serial numbers are a true match, not a “forced” match, which is unusual for an arsenal refurbished example. The arsenal refurbishment stamp on this 1938 Izzie is the square with the diagonal line through it stamped on the butt of the weapon, which indicates that this rifle was refurbished at the 1st GAU (later GRAU) Arsenal in Balakleya, Ukraine.
Being imports, these rifles have two serial numbers. The one BATFE are concerned with is the U.S. importer’s serial number, which in this case was assigned by Century Arms International (C.A.I.) in Georgia, Vermont. The important serial number for collectors however is the one in Cyrillic. On this rifle the Russian serial number is НН1308. And, no, those are not the letter “H”. They are the Cyrillic characters for the English “N”.
The next Model 1891/30 on display today is another “Izzie”, but this one was manufactured in 1943. It, too, contains matched serial numbers, but in this case it’s the more common “forced” match that frequently occurred during refurbishment. Typically, during refurbishment, these rifles were disassembled with little regard toward keeping serialized parts together. So, when it came time to reassemble the weapons, if the part numbers did not match then the magazine number was struck through, and the magazine was restamped with a serial number matched to the rifle. Oddly enough, this rifle does not bear an arsenal refurbishment stamp, but we know it went through the process because of the forced matching of the serial number.
In this 1943 example the rifle has the Cyrillic serial number ДХ4849, but when you look at the magazine you’ll note that part was originally serialized to a different rifle. The importer’s serial number, the one with which BATFE are concerned, was assigned by U.S. importer PW Arms of Redmond, Washington.
Now let’s peek at the third of today’s Mosin trio. It’s a bit of a rare beast, although not that rare. This is a carbine version that was first produced in 1943, but which did not enter broad service until the following year. Officially, this 91/30 variant is a Model 1944. Preceding the M44 was another carbine version known as the Model 1938. Both the M38 and M44 have 39.9-inch/1,013 mm barrels.
While ladder sights on the 91/30 are graduated from 100 to 2,000 meters, the maximum range on the M38 and M44 sights are halved. Whereas the 91/30 went to frontline troops, where maximum range was considered a plus, the M38 went to rear echelons such as artillery, radio operators, and combat support.
The M44 however was designed for another job altogether. And that goes back to the brutal urban warfare that broke out in the later stages of World War II. The considerable length of the original 91/30 proved too cumbersome in that environment, so 8.6 inches/219 mm were shaved off the rifle.
Unlike the M38, the M44 came with a bayonet. And on the M44 the bayonet significantly improved upon the major shortcoming of the 91/30 design by mounting a pivoting bayonet affixed to the rifle via a special barrel bayonet lug. This allowed the bayonet to be folded to the right alongside the forestock when it was not needed. I call this a huge improvement because the 91/30 bayonet is notoriously difficult to dismount once it’s affixed to the barrel. Removal may require any or all combinations of the following accessories: a hefty hammer, a sacrificial flathead screwdriver, Hercules, and a prodigious four-letter vocabulary. At any rate, having heard firsthand some of the horror stories, I’ve avoided actually trying to install and remove a bayonet on either of today’s 91/30 examples.
Let’s look at the particulars for the Mosin M44 carbine:
- Length (bayonet folded): 39.9 inches/1,013 mm
- Length (bayonet extended): 52.4 inches/1,330 mm
- Approximate Weight (if the bayonet is missing): 8 pounds 9 ounces/3.9 kg
- Approximate Weight (with bayonet): 9 pounds/4.1 kg
- Barrel: 20.2 inches/514 mm
- Capacity: Non-detachable 5-round magazine
This particular example dates from 1944 which, despite the “M44” designation, was actually the second year of production. As with the two 91/30 rifles above, this one is also an “Izzie”. The Cyrillic serial number is ГФ4900. Like the 91/30 from 1938 in today’s article, this M44 is another C.A.I. import. Parts are matched, but as with the 1943 91/30 the magazine is an arsenal refurbishment “forced” match.
There is one other carbine variant that I’ll bring up now, and I’ve held one and briefly considered purchasing it. That is the Model 1891/59. These carbines began life as full-length 91/30 rifles that were sent to Bulgaria. There, the rifles were cut down into what was basically a Model 1938 clone. Being clones of the M38, they do not have the M44’s bayonet.
Some collector points:
- Any 91/30 variant made prior to 1945 almost certainly saw combat. Extensive combat in most cases.
- As such, many 91/30s have seen a lot of rounds, and WWII-era Russian ammunition was notoriously corrosive. Check for corrosion damage.
- The exception to that “saw combat” rule is the M44. These did not see wide use during World War II. They were however considered frontline equipment during the early stages of the Cold War.
- Almost any 91/30 you get will have gone through post-war refurbishment, regardless of whether or not the butt displays an arsenal refurbishment stamp.
- If the rifle you’re looking at was refurbished, chances are the magazine will be force-matched to the serial number of the rifle. This is not uncommon and doesn’t adversely affect value. Indeed, finding an example with a non-forced matched magazine is the exception.
- Most refurbished rifles have been counterbored to mitigate wear at the muzzle. Done properly, this does not adversely impact accuracy, nor does it greatly impact value. Most examples were done properly.
- A good friend, fellow collector, former Green Beret, and salesman at my second favorite local gun shop showed me this neat trick without using a borescope or looking down the barrel to see if that gun store find is counterbored, and if so, how deep:
- Take a 7.62x54r round and insert it bullet first into the muzzle.
- If bullet stops at the widest part, the muzzle has not been counterbored.
- If the bullet slides in beyond the widest part, the muzzle has been counterbored.
- The depth at which the bullet slides in beyond the widest part will give you a clue as to how deeply the muzzle was counterbored. If it goes in easily all the way to the casing, you may want inspect further, or pass on that particular rifle altogether.
A great site for collector information is 7.62x54r.net, but be advised that it is an unsecured website. Some of the pages at that site relevant to today’s examples and other mentioned variants:
- Russian/Soviet M91 (the original production variant)
- Soviet M91/30
- Soviet M38
- Soviet M44
- Soviet M91/59