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Meet the Mosin–Nagant: The Best Rifle Ever Made?

Mosin–Nagant
Mosin–Nagant Rifle. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Sure, the Mosin–Nagant is ancient by today’s firearms standards, nonetheless, this rifle‘s place in history is quite secure: One of the most widely used weapons of the twentieth century was the predecessor to the legendary AK-47 rifle. Developed at the end of the nineteenth century for the Czar’s armies, the Mosin–Nagant Rifle ended up becoming the standard issue weapon of the new Soviet Union. An unassuming but accurate and reliable weapon, the “Mosin” served well into the twenty-first century, making it one of the few weapons to see continuous service over the span of three centuries.

Mosin–Nagant Rifle: The History 

In the late nineteenth century, Russia’s large land army grew increasingly dissatisfied with its arsenal of obsolete rifles. The standard issue rifle was the Berdan II, a single-shot rifle that fired the 10.7x58mmR bottle-neck black powder cartridge. This arrangement greatly limited the firepower of Russian infantrymen, who needed to load a fresh cartridge after every shot. The Berdan II was also large and heavy, weighing 9.3 pounds with an overall length of 51 inches.

New technologies promised a huge technological shift in small arms already underway in the West. A move away from black powder to more modern propellants would produce higher chamber pressures. This in turn would allow higher projectile velocities while at the same time allowing for a reduction in the size of the bullet. A fixed steel magazine could hold up to five metallic cartridges, eliminating the need for reloading after every shot. The result would be a smaller, lighter, faster-firing rifle.

By the 1880s, the Russian Army had commissioned the development of a new infantry rifle.  Sergei Ivanovich Mosin, a Czarist Army soldier and engineer, set to work on the rifle design. His rifle was a simple bolt-action rifle that relied upon an internal magazine. Leon Nagant, a Belgian weapons designer, contributed to the weapon’s feeding system. A contributing but outside factor was the invention of Russian smokeless powder by chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, which was used in the new Russian 7.62x54R rimmed rifle cartridge.

All of these advances added up to the development of the “Three Line Rifle, Model of 1891”—better known as the Mosin Nagant rifle. The Mosin was adopted by the Russian Army in 1891. The rifle weighed 8.8 pounds and was 48.5 inches long, making it slightly easier to carry than the Berdan II.

The rifle went into mass production and, by 1904, three million rifles were in Russian Army service. The Mosin was first used by the Russian Army during the Boxer Rebellion, then by the Russian Army in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. Next the weapon served on the Eastern Front in World War I, and then on both sides during the Russian Civil War.

The end of Imperial Russia and the establishment of the USSR meant little to the Mosin–Nagant Rifle. In 1930, Red Army engineers shortened it a few inches, calibrated the sights in meters, and built it with cylindrical as opposed to hexagonal receivers. Moscow named the new, slightly upgraded rifle the Model 91/30, and the rifle was the Soviet Army’s standard infantry arm throughout World War II.

Mosin–Nagant Rifle: World War II 

World War II was the high point of Mosin production, as the Red Army struggled to arm millions of conscripts annually. Equipped with the PU rifle scope, the Mosin was accurate enough to serve as a sniper rifle on the Eastern Front. The last official version of the Mosin–Nagant Rifle was the Model 1944 carbine. Ten inches shorter than the standard 91/30, the Model 1944 was also lighter and featured a folding bayonet.

The end of the Second World War and the adoption of the AK-47 in 1947 marked a new chapter in the Mosin’s history. Although the Soviets no longer had any use for a bolt-action rifle, revolutionary socialist movements around the world did, and the USSR exported large numbers abroad. The Mosin appeared in the hands of the Korean People’s Army during the Korean War, the Viet Minh during the war in French Indochina, the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, and armies in South America, Africa and elsewhere. The Mosin even appeared in the hands of anti-Soviet insurgents, including the 1956 Hungarian uprising and the 1979-1988 Afghan War.

Mosin–Nagant Rifle: Still Firing 

Even now, well into the twenty-first century, the Mosin–Nagant Rifle soldiers on. Recently, the Mosin was spotted in the hands of separatist forces in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The Russian 7.62x54R cartridge, first developed in 1890, is still used today in the Russian Army’s PK medium machine guns. This allows the machine guns to access vast stocks of already manufactured (and paid for) ammunition. While the Mosin itself may no longer be in service, clues to its existence will likely haunt the Russian Army for decades to come.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch.

Written By

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Fransisco. His work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Esquire, The National Interest, Car and Driver, Men's Health, and many others. He is the founder and editor for the blogs Japan Security Watch, Asia Security Watch and War Is Boring.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tom

    February 12, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    “The best rifle ever made” is a bit of a stretch. Ever heard of the 1998 Mauser? All modern bolt action rifles still use the basic design. Millions were sold to armies and civilians all over the world. Still being manufactured in Eastern Europe. I’ve shot and owned several. To each their own, I suppose. But my choice would be the Mauser.

  2. Mike Grebe

    February 13, 2022 at 12:59 am

    Workable military bolt action rifle but far from the best ever. I’ll take the German K98k over it anyday. Simpler bolt to take apart, easier throw of the bolt, more accurate, tough as nails and holds up in bad conditions. I own examples of both and wouldn’t feel undergunned with either but the 98 Mauser is my choice.

  3. Rod

    February 13, 2022 at 11:29 am

    Quite like the story of the mosin,been researching them for years after finding one under a grainary on an abandoned farm. My data shows the overall length of the M91 czar models to be 51” and my prize confirms that.
    Rod

    Rod

  4. LB

    February 13, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    I agree about the Mausers superiority. Usually, a disagreement on superiority involves items from different time periods. However, the Mauser was not only a contemporary weapon in the Mosin Nangant’s time, it continued by laying the ground work for sporting and sniping rifles of today. The Mauser action was made into many different calibers and saw service all around the globe for a much longer time.

  5. Dickus Bigus

    February 13, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    Either Kyle is ignorant or he thinks his readers are; both are equally unacceptable. The “improved” mosin is a worse rifle than those with the hexagonal receivers, everyone knows that. Might as well say that Taco Bell tacos are better than authentic Mexican street tacos.
    I’m sure this ignoramus actually believes that the USSR immediately jumped to using the AK, nevermind the SVT-40 or SKS. Those words mean nothing to Kyle.
    The world is run by incompetent professionals and that’s why all the animals are dying. Get better at your job or get a new one. “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family!” -Mushu

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