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 Russias 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.
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
Tsars 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.
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
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 (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.
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
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.
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 Westinghouses
inventory as of January 4th, plus another 200,000.
The government also contracted to buy the 78,950
still unpaid-for M1891s then in Remingtons
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.
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 Americas 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 Armys
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 Remingtons
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
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 expeditions 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 Bannermans,
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 collectors
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.
Marking Of Remington, USA
Troops Leaving For Russia In 1919 Armed With
rifles packed and ready for shipment.