The Moisin-Nagant is distinctly third-rate

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Dunlap gets around to describing Russian small arms:

In the rifle line, the U.S.S.R. used Moisin-Nagants, and M95 Winchesters in 7.62mm (.30 caliber); Pattern ‘14 Enfields and 1905 Ross rifles in .303 British caliber, and Mauser 98’s and M29’s in 7.9mm. The English arms were taken from Latvia in 1939 (England had given them to Latvia in 1918) and the Mausers were captured when Russia and Germany split Poland in 1939. The Winchester 95’s and a large percentage of the Moisin-Nagants were made in the U.S. during World War I. The Winchester is, I believe, the only lever-action rifle used in either War I or II as a military arm by any of the belligerents.


The Moisin-Nagant is distinctly third-rate — meaning not as good as the Mauser or Mannlicher systems, but it was apparently a cheap weapon to make, for Europe was flooded with them; also parts of Wisconsin.


Back in the old days in Russia, the peasant conscripts were usually completely illiterate and ignorant of the metric system, so their weapons were sighted on the old Russian system based on paces. Since the U.S.S.R. has worked up a fair education program in the past 25 years, they began marking their gun sights in the more efficient meters.


To explain, the Old Russian distance measuring method is based on the “arshin” (meaning “pace,” or step, equaling 28″ or .71 meters). Three arshins make one “sazhen” and 500 sazhens equal one “verst”; now you know what a verst is.


The Russians really concentrated on the autoloaders and they had some good ones — the Simonev 36 using the curved 15-round magazine, and the Tokarev 38 and 40 models, 10-shot repeaters.


That carbine is really an infantry weapon — only seven pounds. These guns of course use box magazines and can be clip-loaded as can Mauser and Lee-type rifles. They are gas-operated, as explained in the section of German semi-automatic rifles.


Several submachine guns, including .45 caliber lend-leased U.S. Reisings were used, the best being the M41 described under German guns. The Models 34 and 38 (Federofs) were simple blowback types, using 25-round straight magazines, and all were for the 7.63mm Russian pistol cartridge which is approximately the same as the Mauser 7.63 pistol cartridge in dimensions and ballistics.


The Nagant 7.62mm revolver was seven-shot, and used a cartridge case longer than the cylinder, with the bullet seated below the mouth of the case. When the cylinder revolved it moved back and then forward, placing the protruding end of the cartridge case in the rear of the barrel, the idea being to keep gas from escaping. The gun was smallbore and not very effective, but fairly reliable, and, as previously indicated, popular enough to be used by several other nations.


Personally, I think the diameter too small, though, of course, I would hate to be shot with a .30 caliber pistol.


The greatest asset of the Degtyarov is its ability to operate with an absolute minimum of lubrication, an important point in a cold country, and a point which caused the Germans to send quite a few of the guns to Africa in an effort to test them in desert conditions, where oil meant picking up sand and grit and dry guns were desirable.


  1. TRX says:

    It’s funny how people love to hate on the Mosin. It’s probably even stronger than the Arisaka, the Nagant-designed magazine is dead reliable, and the 7.62×54 was more powerful than the Army-issue .30-06, depending on whose ballistic figures you trust. And it was an American design; Hiram Berdan – *that* Berdan – sold it to the Russians, originally as a single shot, large bore design, the “Berdan II.” Later the Tsar’s armorers did the absolute minimum necessary to update it to a small-bore repeater; essentially adding the Nagant magazine and some front locking lugs to the bolt. Not only to many of the parts still interchange with the single-shot action, during WWI old Berdan IIs were hauled out of storage, refitted with 7.62 barrels, and Nagant magazines cobbled on.

    Early runs of Mosins were made by Remington and Winchester in the US, since the Tsar still had Alaska Purchase dollars to spend. They also had some built by Chateullerault in France while setting up the arsenal at Tula with the latest German-made tooling and consultants; basically the same equipment Mauser was using, except newer and improved.

    The Soviets didn’t bother with prettying up wartime production rifles, but neither did the Springfield Arsenal…

  2. TRX says:

    “The gun was smallbore and not very effective”

    The Nagant pistols were the Soviet version of a British officer’s baton; they were primarily symbols of authority, not fighting weapons. The Russians *knew* about combat handguns; the Cossacks has used their Smith & Wesson .44s to great effect in the field.

    The “gas seal” has a lot of misinformation behind it. If they had wanted a more powerful cartridge, they simply would have designed one. The purpose of the gas seal will be obvious if you’ve ever had to clean a revolver after firing corrosive ammunition in it. All primers were corrosive then, and some of the powders were pretty nasty too. And as Hatcher notes, the mechanism behind the corrosion wasn’t properly understood until decades after the Nagant was designed.

    The gas seal meant that, other than checking to make sure nothing leaked around the seal, cleaning was simply a matter of swabbing out the barrel, oiling it, and back into the holster; not the tedious work needed with a conventional design, that sprayed corrosive gas everywhere.

  3. TRX says:

    “U.S.S.R. used”

    The Tsar’s armies didn’t have nearly enough small arms in WWI; they wound up buying anything they could, regardless of design or caliber, just to pass out something that might shoot. Then they stockpiled them all instead of destroying them, like the Brits did after begging for civilian small arms for the US at the beginning of WWII…

    Those stockpiles weren’t enough in WWII either, and they essentially bought anything that would shoot, from anyone, no matter what it was. And some battalions still went into combat with only the first few lines of soldiers armed; the rear echelons were instructed to take the guns from dead soldiers as they became available.

    The logistics guys trying to manage that chaos probably put a spike in Soviet vodka consumption…

  4. TRX says:

    The Degtyarev was a hassle to make, requiring a lot of machining. However, the finished product was dead simple. All the parts were big and easy to handle in the cold or in poor light, there were no finicky bits, and (with the magazine attached) the naughty bits were relatively immune to freezing rain or ice.

    Most of the pictures you find of the DP-28 show it in the hands of women, probably because the Soviets took a zillion propaganda pictures. But when I bought one my wife immediately declared it was “cute” and declared that it was hers. What she expects to do with a nineteen-pound rifle, I don’t know, but if I trip over that wooden case of 54R she bought one. more. time… I’ll hammer them open and use them up in my Mosin and PSL. That’ll show her who’s boss in this household.

  5. Lu An Li says:

    “the only lever-action rifle used in either War I or II as a military arm by any of the belligerents.”

    In the Nineteenth-Century Battle of Plevna the Turk used the Winchester 73 lever-action rifle only at ranges of less than two hundred meters and then only when on the defensive.

  6. Kirk says:

    It should be pointed out that the conventional wisdom about the Battle of Plevna might not be in accordance with reality; and that the supposed lessons it offered to everyone about the value of magazine-fed repeating rifles may have been entirely the product of the popular imagination, taken up by partisans of the repeating rifle to further their cause.

    Which doesn’t mean they weren’t right, just that the basis on which their ideas gained precedence may not have been precisely “the real deal”.

    One of the things that a lot of us have to remember when dealing with this stuff is that weapons are very nearly as much a social phenomenon as they are technical and tactical ones. Witness the M14 for a case study along those lines–One might surmise that had someone come along in 1948 or so with the ideal assault rifle/cartridge/support weapon combination, it still wouldn’t have been adopted. Why? Because of the social impact of the gravel-bellied partisans of the “individual rifleman” social theme. The NRA would have been up in arms, the “people of the gun” would have been outraged that the Army wasn’t paying proper heed to the shibboleths of their creed, and the whole thing would have ended in tears. And, likely, with the M14 or a similar rifle, which again, would have failed in Vietnam when confronted with the Soviet weapons complex. And, like as not, the Army would have been too prideful to go back on its decision, and would have picked something else out of the air, similar to the way they grasped at SCHV rifles, rather than go back to the .280 British that they’d rejected…

    The social issues are far more influential than the mere technical ones.

  7. Paul from Canada says:

    “The social issues are far more influential than the mere technical ones.”

    Exactly this!

    Dunlap is looking at the rifle thru the lenses of his weapon culture. Similar to what Kirk said about the prejudices of the Camp Perry crowd influencing procurement for the worse, he is looking at the Mosin through that same lens.

    A British or American soldier, before and between the wars, was a long serving professional, with lots of training, and long service in which to practice. He could get good use out of an accurate, ergonomic rifle.

    A Russian soldier on the other hand, was always a conscript, usually illiterate, poorly trained, so why give him a better rifle than he needed? The individual soldier didn’t even zero his own rifle.

    The Mosin was tough, “recruit proof”, and very importantly, simple and easy to produce by a country still industrializing. Take a Mauser completely appart down to the last pin and screw, do the same for a Mosin, and count the parts. That was far more important than being comfortable and very accurate.

    The Russians wanted a self loader, and were busy adopting the SVT series, but it was not a success for them. Firstly, because of the time and resources to produce it, and secondly, because they could not give their soldiers enough training to use and maintain it effectively. They ended up giving them to snipers, marines, officers and others who could use and maintain them to best effect.

    This is also why they loved their SMGs so much, cheap and quick to produce,and simple to use and maintain with minimal training.

    One of the reasons I love collecting and studying guns so much is exactly this social political and cultural influence. So much so that you can see the culture reflected in the gun.

  8. Kirk says:

    I’m with you, Paul. I’m convinced that I could probably identify a bunch of weapons points of origins, simply by looking at the design. There are things that only a German would do, and that comes out in the steel–Only a German would take a design like HK’s roller-delay, and try to apply it to absolutely everything under the sun, to include pistols, sub-machineguns, rifles, machineguns, and… Well, you get the idea. I’m actually sort of surprised that HK never applied their roller-delay to a heavy MG like the M2, or a grenade launcher, to be honest.

    You have to go digging for it, but there’s a really strong thread of connection between Russian/Soviet weapons and the US/French designs. The Moisin is basically an adapted Berdan, as Dunlap notes, and the styling of the stock is straight out of a French Charleville musket, with its delicate graceful lines.

  9. Paul from Canada says:

    I would add Belgian, (from the Nagant part of the Mosin-Nagant and the Nagant revolver).

    As for identifying the origin of a gun by design, I actually had a couple of examples I meant to cite in that last paragraph, to illustrate my point, but you totally got what I meant without them.

    It also applies to other engineered things as well. An AK is typically Russian, but if (as I have), you work with their aircraft, it is the same.

    The one country that I find very interesting are the Czechs. They do stuff that nobody else does, with almost German levels of clever to borderline over-engineering. The VZ-52 carbine is a great example, as is the VZ-58, and all of their machine guns. Particularly the VZ-59

  10. TRX says:

    The CZ-52 pistol isn’t exactly a marvel of simplicity, either… though if it had a less-vertical grip angle, it would look like a prop from a science fiction movie.

  11. Kirk says:

    The CZ 52 does have the fact that it’s firing about the hottest loading of 7.62 Tokarev out there, and it handles that with aplomb. Use that ammo in another pistol that will chamber it, and you may well be eating a slide…

    Dude I knew was a bit of a weapons geek; per his testimony and experience, the CZ 52 was about the hottest thing ever, for armor penetration. There’s a mild steel projectile for that thing that was originally meant for a submachinegun that will even zip through most modern body armor–And, it’s from the late 1950s.

    Czech and Slovak armaments aren’t any joke; the history goes way back, and the innovations that they came up with are impressive.

    Tatra is another innovative Czech company whose technology is world-renowned. The chassis on their heavy 8X8 trucks is something else, and I’d love to own some of their toys.

  12. Paul from Canada says:

    They also designed what became the standard jet trainer and light attack aircraft for the Warsaw Pact, and it was widely exported and commercially successful. They also made a reconnaissance vehicle (can’t remember the designation), that was also widely used.

    The CZ-52 is a perfect illustration of what I meant about weird, nobody else did this, almost German over-engineering. A unique roller locked (not roller delayed like the H&K P9S) pistol.

    And that is just one example. Look at the VZ-58, an assault rifle that used a combination of short stroke piston and a P-38/Beretta dropping block lock that even though it has a fully machined receiver, weights less than an AKM. Likewise the VZ-52. Never mind the surrounds-the-barrel-cup piston, check out the bolt. The bolt is a typical SKS/FN style tilting bolt, but the bolt face is elliptical, and the firing pin offset so that it can’t line up with the primer until it is fully in battery, Very clever, AND to make this easier to build, the extractor floats/pivots at the top of the bolt and to accommodate this, the rifle ejects essentially straight up! Mad Scientists I tells ya!

Leave a Reply