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Mosin-Nagant Dot Net Presents

The American Mosin Nagants

Text and Drawings From Terence Lapin

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 caught Russia seriously short of military weapons. The existing stockpile of small arms was inadequate to arm Russia’s huge army, and the situation became rapidly worse through the expansion of the armed forces and the normal loss of weapons by capture, accident, and otherwise.

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US Westinghouse Mosin Nagant Model 1891

By the second year of the war the small arms deficit had became critical. Russia sustained frequent defeats at the front, and at one point was suffering a loss of rifles at the appalling rate of 240,000 per month. Despite the purchases of some 2,461,000 rifles from foreign sources during the war ---among them Arisakas from Japan and Great Britain, and Model 95 Winchesters from the U. S.--- and the capture of 700,000 rifles from their enemies, the Russians never acquired a sufficient quantity of firearms for their troops.

In 1915 the Tsar’s government ordered 1,500,000 M1891 infantry rifles and bayonets and 100,000,000 rounds of 7.62x54 mm ammunition from the American firm Remington-UMC, and an additional 1,800,000 of the rifles and bayonets from another American company, New England Westinghouse.

American-made Mosin-Nagants are easily recognized by the makers’ names prominently stamped above the chamber. There are two varieties of the Westinghouse logo. The character next to “1915” on Westinghouse rifles which looks almost like a lower-case “r” is the Russian abbreviation for “year”; it is commonly used in writing dates in Russian. All Westinghouse M1891s are dated 1915, although they were made from 1915 until and including 1918; Remington rifles show the actual year of manufacture. The mark used by Westinghouse on its M1891 parts looks like a capital H with an extended center bar in the form of an arrow pointing right; Remington-made parts are marked with an R-in-a-circle.

Both Westinghouse and Remington made their M1891 furniture from American black walnut. Westinghouse stocks are identifiable by a cartouche on the left side of the butt, consisting of a circle about 7/8” in diameter containing the Russian words englishcontract1.jpg (2716 bytes) (pronounced “Ahn-GLEE-skee zah-KAHZ”), meaning “English Contract”. The inscription is in old-fashioned Russian; the words look somewhat different in the modern language because of orthographic changes made by the Bolsheviks in October 1918.

The meaning of this “English Contract” inscription has been the source of much misinformation: it was not placed there “to fool the Germans about where the rifles came from”, as I once heard a dealer at a gun show say; nor does it mean that the rifles were transshipped via England. The machinery at the Westinghouse factory in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on which the rifles were made was owned by the British government, which also acted as surety for payment for the first million rifles; that is why the rifles are marked “English Contract”.

During 1915-1917 Remington produced 840,310 M1891 rifles, of which 131,400 had arrived in Russia by January 1917. In the same period Westinghouse made 770,000 rifles; 225,260 were delivered to Russia by January 1917.

As early as February 1916 Westinghouse tried to persuade the U. S. government to buy M1891s of its own. Although the War Dept. expressed some slight interest at the time the matter did not proceed further until after dramatic events occurred a year later.

In February 1917 revolution erupted in Russia and the monarchy was overthrown. This was not the Bolshevik Revolution; that took place later in the year, in November (October in the old-style Julian calendar Russia used at the time, hence “Red October”.) Late in 1917 the Russian government defaulted on its contracts with Remington and Westinghouse. The Russians refused to pay for the guns, claiming the rifles were of poor quality, but this was untrue: the American rifles were actually better-made than the Russian ones. The real reasons for default were simply the Russians’ shortage of ready cash and their unwillingness to pay.

The U. S. companies had incurred substantial expenses in tooling-up for and making the Russian rifles, and the default meant financial disaster. In January 1918, to rescue the American firms, the U. S. government agreed to buy the rifles in Westinghouse’s inventory as of January 4th, plus another 200,000. The government also contracted to buy the 78,950 still unpaid-for M1891s then in Remington’s warehouses and an additional 600,000 rifles. Even so, Remington lost a considerable sum on the deal and had to wait several years for the American government to pay its bill.

Deliveries to Russia slowed to a trickle, and soon ceased altogether. The U. S. kept 208,050 of the rifles it bought, some of which were issued to National Guard units, state militia, and similar entities; others were used by the Army, mostly for training purposes. In July 1918, the U. S. Army Ordnance Corps’ Engineering Division officially designated America’s new weapons the “Russian Three-line Rifle, Caliber 7.62 mm. (.3 inch)”, and had them marked with its “flaming bomb” insignia, an American eagle, and otherwise. Some collectors refer to the American Mosin-Nagants as the “Model 1916”, although that term was not used by either the Russians or the Americans. In its records the U.S. Army almost always referred to the guns simply as “Russian rifles”.

A few U. S. Mosin-Nagants were altered to take the Pedersen Device, a semi-automatic conversion system with which Remington was experimenting towards the end of World War I for use on the ‘03 Springfield. A basic blow-back system with a unique bolt, this apparatus was designed to fire a strange little .30 caliber round similar to French 7.65 mm long pistol ammo. The government destroyed the devices and special ammo in 1931, although 20 devices were preserved for posterity; the Springfields were resupplied with standard bolts and simply placed back into military service. The altered rifles ---Mosins and Springfields--- can be identified by an oblong slot cut into the left side of the receiver, which served as an ejector port. A surviving example of these M1891s would be the Holy Grail of Mosin-Nagant collecting. (At least one is alleged to have existed as late as the mid-1950s, but I have not confirmed this as a fact.)

U. S. Army documents from the time make it clear that the military thoroughly disliked the “Russian rifles”, and a large number of those still on the Army’s books were in serious disrepair through neglect and abuse as early as the beginning of 1919.

After the war ended in November 1918, the U. S. government gave 77,000 of its M1891 rifles to the government of the new country of Czechoslovakia. In December these guns went directly from Remington’s Bridgeport, CT facility to Vancouver, Canada; thence to Vladivostok, in Siberia. Contrary to “gun show wisdom” this was not a clandestine operation. Although some of the rifles were used, as intended, to arm the Czech Legion (ex-POWs then fighting the Bolsheviks in eastern Russia), many of them were never issued but remained in storage at Vladivostok, where some were destroyed by accident and sabotage, some rusted away, and some were stolen. The rest just vanished, almost certainly sold illegally in China by the Japanese--- another interesting story.

Other U. S. Mosin-Nagants also made their way to Russia in 1918 via the Arctic port of Archangel, where they were carried by some of the American troops sent to intervene in the civil war then raging between communist and non-communist Russians. This use of the unpopular guns was based on the theory that it would be cheaper to use locally-available ammunition rather than to add to the expedition’s expense and baggage by shipping cartridges halfway around the world for use in standard-issue Springfield M1903 rifles. Most of these American Mosin-Nagants were abandoned in Russia when the last U. S. troops left in 1920.

The U. S. government sold its remaining M1891s as surplus during the 1920s, many to individual Americans for the princely sum of $3.00 apiece; they had cost the taxpayers $30.00 each when the government bought them from Remington and Westinghouse. These rifles were popular as cheap shooters for years, and some were made into hunting- and sporting rifles in the 1920s and ‘30s. One of the commercial sales was to Bannerman’s, the great New York City military surplus house, which had the guns converted to fire the common .30-06 round; the rifles have the new caliber stamped on their actions. These guns can still be found but should NOT be fired: the conversions were not done to modern safety standards and these rifles are considered dangerous to shoot. Though interesting as collector’s items, they should be deactivated by removing the firing pin, or clipping the end off the firing pin, or by any other means to ensure that they cannot be fired by accident or design.

The total number of Mosin-Nagants made by the two American companies is debatable. Although the Russians contracted for 3.3 million of them it seems likely that only about 2.5 million M1891s were actually produced here. Some never left this country, but many more have come ”home” as imports over the past four decades bearing, like campaign medals, the markings of the impressive number of countries in which they served.

Terence Lapin

 

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Arsenal Marking Of Remington, USA

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Westinghouse Logo

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Westinghouse Logo

 

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Westinghouse Parts Logo

 

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Remington Parts Marking

 

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American Troops Leaving For Russia In 1919 Armed With M91's.

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Remington factory.

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Remington rifles packed and ready for shipment.


 
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