In 1891, after testing was done on several bolt-action, repeating rifles, the Mosin-Nagant rifle was adopted by Russia. It is a collaboration of the designs by Sergei Ivanovich Mosin, Captain of the Russian Imperial Army and a Belgian designer, Leon Nagant. The official designation for the Mosin-Nagant rifle is: “3 line rifle, model 1891.” A “line” is a unit of measure that is equal to 1/10 of an inch. The production of the 1891 model occurred at the Russian arsenals located at Izhevsk, Sestroryetsk, and Tula. Due to the fact that domestic production got off to a slow start, a production contract was issued to Chatellerault, a French arms company. They built approximately 500,000 M91 rifles.
During World War I, contracts were issued to New England Westinghouse for 1.8 million and Remington for 1.5 million M91 rifles. Both of these companies were located in the United States. At this time, both Remington and Winchester were supplying ammunition. Because of the Russian revolution, contracts were not fulfilled and the rifles ended up being sold to on the civilian market in the US and also to the US government for training. Mosin-Nagant M91 models were used widely in WWI. They can be found with various markings according to the country in Europe that either captured or purchased them. There are also several unusual variations that can be found.
Some of the variations are an 8mm conversion in Poland and various sling and bayonet mounting systems. Additionally, there were some post-war conversions to .30-06 new and Remington rifles, but these are considered to be unsafe by the standards today.
Early in its life, there were two Cavalry rifles adapted from the Mosin-Nagant M91. These were known as Cossack and Dragoon rifles. They are 2.5 inches shorter than the M91, which is 51.25”. The main difference is the fact that the Cossack rifles were not issued with bayonets and the Dragoon rifles were sighted with the bayonet attached. Today, the Cossack rifles are very scarce and are very easy to recognize due to the mark “Ka3” on the chamber.
A carbine model was adopted in 1907- the M1907- but it is very rare and is hardly ever seen in the United States. The production of the M91 model ended in the mid-1920s, when all the production was shifted to the Dragoon rifles.
Updates were made to the Dragoon rifle in 1930, thereby creating a “new” rifle, called the M91/30. The changes included both the rear and front sights, split barrel bands held by springs, and the hexagonal receiver was replaced with a round one. The changes didn’t all take place right away, but were slowly put into place. Until the new machinery took effect, the existing parts were used up.
The hexagonal receivers were used until 1935 in Izhevsk and 1936 in Tula, the two arsenals that produced the 91/30. Many of the rifles that are dated before 1930 are found in the M91/30 design. This is a result of programs that were put in place to update the older rifles by the Soviet Union. In the US, these are known as “ex-Dragoons.” The primary production of these rifles ended in 1944 with a few samples, mostly sniper rifles, with later dates. The M91/30s were used as the foundation for the sniper rifles from the mid-1930’s with various types of scopes and mounts. Today, the most commonly seen rifle is the PU, which uses a side rail mount, was adopted in 1942.
A 40 inch carbine was adopted in 1938 as the M38, but wasn’t produced until 1939. Basically, it is a shorter version of the M91/30 and was built until 1945 at Izhevsk. Additionally, there was a limited production run at Tula in 1940 and 1944. Both of the arsenals built some M38 models on both recycled hexagonal and round receivers. The M38 was not designed with a bayonet, since it was intended for use by the rear troops.
In order to speed up the production of the Mosin-Nagant rifles, some minor changes were made. The most noticeable of the changes is the lack of the dished out area on the left side of the ejection port. In 1943, approximately 50,000 carbines were built and then tested in the battles. These are basically an M38 with a side folding bayonet attached. These were adopted in 1944 as the M44- production of these continued until 1948.
After the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Union shared a lot of its technology regarding weapons, including the Mosin-Nagant rifles and carbines with satellite countries, which resulted in many different variations of the rifle.