by Dan Reynolds
The Berdan I was
designedby Col. Hiram Berdan and produced by Colt for Russia beginning
in 1869. It fired the excellent .42 Berdan bottlenecked cartridge
with paper patched bullet. The rifle was a hinged breech design and was
in service for a very short period before Russia decided to adopt a new
bolt action design, which is known as the Berdan II. It is a matter
of conjecture exactly how much of the design of this new rifle can be credited
to Col. Berdan. Unknown Russian designers and the former master armorer
of the Confederacy, James Burton of Virginia, have been cited as responsible
for all or parts of the design.
came from America. A production order of 30,000 rifles was given
to BSA of Birmingham, England, in 1869. The Russian inspectors proved
hard to please, and it eventually became clear that Russia wanted to produce
the rifles, not buy large numbers from England. Negotiations resulted
in only about 10% of the contract being accepted for delivery. In
1871 Burton went to England, where during the American Civil War of 1861-65,
he had made contacts with firms contracting supplies for the C.S.A., the
Confederacy of Southern American States, which were seeking independence
from the U.S.A. J. Burton was a highly skilled ordnance man who was
called upon to oversee the production and setup of the machine tool plant,
which Russia was buying in England to make this new rifle.
The firm of Greenwood
& Batley of Leeds, England, had received a contract for machine tools
to re-equip Tula Arsenal in Russia for the production of the Berdan II
rifle. The actual production of the initial rifles got underway in
England, at Birmingham in 1870 and continued until 1873. Some 30,000
pieces being produced before the machinery was setup in Russia in 1873,
after which all further production was by Tula and eventually Izhevsk and
Sestrorets Arsenals. Burton returned to America in 1873.
The Berdan II was
made in four major types: Model 1870 Carbine with an overall length of
38" and rear sight marked to 1000 arshins; Model 1870 Dragoon Rifle with
overall length of 48.7" sighted to 1400 arshins; Cossack Model 1870 about
the same length of as Dragoon, but differing in details such as having
three barrel bands instead of two, and a special drum type trigger in lieu
of the regular guard and trigger assembly, and minor other points, (although
both had sling slots as opposed to the full rifle); and the Model 1870
Rifle which had sling swivels at the upper band and at the front of the
bow, 53.4" Overall, sighted to 1500 arshins. All chambered the 10.67x58R
(.42 Calibre Berdan) cartridge, the most advanced military round of its
About 30,000 rifles
were made at Birmingham, a small number at Leeds to prove the production
tooling for Tula, and production got underway at Tula in 1874. Izhevsk
began producing in 1878 and Sestrorets at a later date. Total production
was probably well over a million pieces up to 1892. The only major
improvement during the years of production was the fitting of long range
sights, from about 1879 onwards, to exploit the excellent ballistic potential
of the cartridge.
the Berdan II as the Model 1880. It was made in Russia under contract
and marked with the crest of Czar Alexander I of Bulgaria. Later
in the 1890's, Russia provided many Berdan rifles to Slav nations in the
Balkans. Montenegro received about 30,000 rifles, Serbia and
Bulgaria unknown numbers, but including the later version with long range
sights. During W.W.II, the Germans were capturing both Berdan I and
Berdan II types of all variations from partisans on the Eastern Front.
Berdans were found throughout south east Europe through W.W.II. Hungarian
Freedom Fighters in 1956 were pictured using them against the Russians.
The Mosin Nagant
Rifle was an evolution of the design elements of the Russian Berdan II
bolt action rifle combined with ideas from Col. Mosin and the Belgian Nagant
Rifle. Production of the new design designated the Model 1891 was
slow and output low in the early years of the 1890's. Russia turned to
its ally France for assistance in replacing its obsolete black powder Berdan
A contract was let
to Chatellerault Arsenal, MAC, for a large quantity of the Model 1891 and
bayonets. The Russians have a thing for bayonets. No scabbard
was issued for Mosin Nagant bayonets in Russian or Soviet service.
They were always to be mounted on the rifles. The Russians and Reds
always spoke, not of infantry or rifle when describing the strength of
fighting formations, but of bayonets. They believed in mass formation
charges with cold steel, of its psychological impact on the enemy, of its
value in building aggressiveness and morale in its own men.
still not begin to equip the vast Russian Army with the new smokeless powder
Mosin Nagant. So as an expedient measure, the design of the Berdan
II was revised to strengthen the action and convert it to fire 7.62x54R
smokeless ammunition. In 1895, a contract was let to one or more
Belgian firms to rework 500,000 rifles to this new pattern. It was
thought that these rifles would be adequate for arming service troops and
other non line units with a weapon which could fire the new smokeless cartridge.
This was of vital importance both logistically, but also tactically as
black powder weapons were dangerously obsolete, as was later demonstrated
in Cuba during the Spanish American War when U.S. National Guard units
such as the 71st N.Y. Infantry were forced to face the Spanish Modelo 1893
Infantry with black powder Springfields. The work could not be done
in Russia as all arsenal facilities were striving to maximize production
of the Model 1891 and to repair unserviceable rifles.
It is believed that
the Nagant firm handled the deal and may have sub-contracted out some or
all the actual work. Russia provided Mosin Nagant rifles to The Kingdom
of Montenegro, despite its own shortage, but no bayonets for them.
Surplus French sword bayonets for the Chassepot rifle were issued in lieu
to soldiers armed with this rifle, but the bayonets were not adapted to
fit these rifles, and so were used only as a side arm according to British
military intelligence reports of the pre 1914 period.
When W.W.I began
in August 1914, Russia was gravely short of rifles to arm its mobilizing
armies. All old Berdan I and Berdan II rifles in .42 Berdan as well
as 300,000 available 7.62x54R magazine conversions were pressed into issue.
This was inadequate to meet demand. Initial battlefield successes
yielded Mannlicher Model 1888, Model 1890 and Model 1895 rifles in 8x50mm
which were pressed into service. However reverses soon followed and
especially after the crushing defeat at Tannenberg at the hands of the
Germans under Hindenberg, losses of rifles far outweighed captured booty
Russia turned to
its ally England for help. The British had no rifles to spare, but
through their banking agents in New York, arranged for the letting of contracts
with Remington Arms and New England Westinghouse for the production of
huge quantities of the Mosin Nagant and bayonets for it. It was now
1915 and as a stop gap measure the British arranged the purchase of Japanese
Type 30 and Type 38 rifles both for themselves and for Russia . These
were in 6.5mm Jap. Despite this shortage of rifles, Russia, for political
reasons, supplied Model 1891 rifles to Serbia and Montenegro to help keep
them in the war, which began because of Serbia.
The British, through
their American financial agents, arranged a contract with Remington Arms
for over a million Mosin Nagant rifles of the latest Russian pattern and
also with New England Westinghouse for the production of 900,000 M1891
on behalf of the Imperial Government. To fill this order New England
Westinghouse purchased the Meriden Firearms Co., which Sears Roebuck &
Co. had formed in 1907 to produce low cost rifles, pistols, and shotguns
for sale in their catalog. Sears had purchased the Freyburg Firearms
Co. of Worcester, Mass. in 1907, chiefly to obtain the highly skilled Swedish
immigrant gunsmiths and machinists, then moved the operation to Connecticut
and set up a new factory. Westinghouse bought the new tooling necessary
to mass produce the Mosins and it was installed in the plant. Czarist
inspectors were used for quality control. Production was halted after
the Red revolution in 1917, and large stocks on hand were taken over by
the U.S. Army for training purposes. Colt then took over the factory
to make parts for the new M1918 BAR. After the war the plant was
liquidated. The total number of rifles produced by both contractors
was far short of the numbers ordered, and of these large quantities were
never sent to Russia.
During the course
of the war, Russia could not acquire enough Mosins to meet requirements
and lost tremendous numbers of these rifles to the Central Powers.
Germany, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria re-issued captured Mosins in large
numbers. Germany sent 27,000 to Ireland to arm Nationalist insurgents in
the spring of 1916, but the ship carrying the rifles and 7.62x54R ammunition
was sunk off the Irish coast before delivery. Zeppelins delivered
captured Mosins and Winchester M1895 7.62x54R Muskets to Muslim resistance
forces in Libya in 1917 to draw off Italian forces. The Austrians
converted some of their Mosins to fire the 8x50mm cartridge which was their
At the end of W.W.I,
many of these captured rifles passed into the hands of Italy, Czechoslovakia,
Rumania, Albania, Poland, France, and the future Yugoslavia. U.S.
Army and Navy personnel engaged in the Bear War in northern Russia around
Archangel were issued Westinghouse and Remington Mosins because of the
huge stocks of rifles and ammo stored there. They had problems with
the ejector springs breaking on their M1917 Enfields and a lack of spares
for their M1903 Springfields, as well as a shortage of .30-06 ammo.
The Mosins were not generally liked by Americans. The action was
not as smooth as those they were trained on. The finely made U.S.
Mosins had a problem with sticky bolts in the cold wet arctic weather.
This was probably due to the lubricant used by the American forces as well
as a failure to properly degrease the new rifles as they came out of the
cases. In any event they often resorted to substituting captured
Russian bolts in their rifles. The U.S. Navy, in 1919, delivered
a large number of American made Mosins to the Finns.
On the subject of
the Finns: During the Winter War of 1939/40 and the Continuation War, Finnish
troops would often substitute Russian bolts for their own in the otherwise
fine shooting Finn reworked Mosins. The reason for this was sticky
bolts caused by the reuse of worn mismatched parts in bolts, during the
rebuild of old Mosins, due to cost constraints. The Russian troops
were generally armed with new, well made, M91/30 rifles made in 1936 or
later and the bolts were much better fitting and smoother.
At the close of
the Russian Civil War, fleeing White Russian troops brought out many Mosins
to Manchuria, Turkey, the Baltic states, and Poland postwar. Finland
and Poland used and modified Mosins and made them a standard issue.
In the inter-war
period there was much trading of Mosin rifles between the powers with Finland
being the chief buyer. At the start of the Spanish Civil War in July
1936, Stalin ordered GRU, Red Army Intelligence, to arrange the covert
supply of small arms to the Madrid government forces, prior to the shipment
of Soviet weapons from Odessa in September 0f 1936. At first he wished
to conceal Soviet intervention and so operative Walter Krivitsky was ordered
to buy up all available rifles through a front company in Belgium and ship
them to Spain. Concurrently, the Mexican government shipped rifles
to the left wing government. U.S. surplus Remington and New England
Westinghouse rifles, which had been taken over by the U.S. Army in 1917
for training purposes and subsequently sold off, were acquired in
America and routed through Mexico City. There they were repackaged
and sent on to Spain where they were issued to Communist elements in the
government coalition. In early 1937 when the P.O.U.M. was suppressed
in Barcelona as the Communists, under orders from Moscow, began taking
over control of security and military affairs, smashed this far left political/militia
group which Stalin had labeled Trotskyite. Newsreels show the Assualtos,
the paramilitary police of the left, sent from Madrid to secure Barcelona
were armed with these rifles. This is also confirmed by George Orwell,
the British author who was serving in the P.O.U.M. military.
During the course
of the war in Spain, Russia sent large quantities of M91/30 rifles as well
as some interesting collector class Mosins and M1895 Winchesters.
On the eve of W.W.II,
Poland sold a large quantity of M91/98/25 7.92mm Mosins Nagant rifles to
Yugoslavia. These had been standard Russian pattern rifles of the W.W.I
period which came into Polish hands as a result of the various actions
arising out of W.W.I and the Soviet Polish War. The Poles had adapted
them to use the Mauser M1898 bayonet and the 7.92mm cartridge in the 1920's
for use as a standard rifle for reserve formations. This was due
to lack of adequate numbers of the 7.92mm Mauser, which was the preferred
standard rifle. In 1938 they had enough new Polish made Mausers to
sell off over 50.000 of these pieces to the JUGS. Yugoslavia was
trying to increase the number of 7.92mm rifles available for second line
During W.W.II various
Slav units under Soviet control, including Czech,Slovak, and Polish formations
in the Soviet Order of Battle were issued M91/30 rifles which they took
home when the Red Army over ran their native lands and set up puppet states.
Mosins were also issued to Bulgarian and Yugoslav forces when Soviet forces
entered these states and they fought with the Red Army against the Axis.
were given Mosins as well as captured 7.92mm VZ-24 and other 98 Mausers
when they switched sides and held large sections of front against Army
Group South of the German Army.
In the postwar period,
Hungary appears to be the first of the satellite nations of eastern Europe
to adopt the Mosin as standard, replacing the native Mannlichers in Army
service. Newsreels showing troops parading in Budapest after the complete
Communist take over seem to indicate that sometime in August 1948, at least
the ceremonial parade troops, were rearmed with Mosins although German
style helmets were still worn.
The North Korean
Army, the Immun Gun, was equipped with Soviet M91/30's in the late 1940's.
However Jap rifles were still in use by militia and police units in this
period. In the spring of 1950, the Chi-Coms released Korean formations
which fought in the China civil war, to North Korea for use in the invasion
of South Korea. These units brought with them Mausers in 7.92mm as
well as Jap rifles in 6.5mm of various patterns.
During the Korean
War, captured M91/30 rifles were collected by the U.S.. forces for covert
activities both current and future. G.I's were given Jap rifles when
they tried to get a chit to bring home Soviet rifles.
In 1954, some of
these rifles were issued to insurgents in Guatemala in the revolt which
overthrew the pro Marxist regime of Col. Arbenz, which had just received
a shipment of Czech arms. Newsreels show these anti-Communist rebels
with their Mosins.