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Captured Mosin-Nagant Rifles:

Part 1: 1914 -1919

Kevin Carney and Robert W. Edwards, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
The practice of utilizing captured enemy equipment and weapons is as old as war itself. Bronze Age warriors regularly collected - and reused - enemy arrows and other projectile weapons and the Romans specifically developed types of projectile points which could not be reused by an enemy. However, it was the advent of "industrial war" - and its vast requirement for sophisticated weapons and equipment - in the 20th century which turned the reuse of enemy weaponry from a secondary activity performed by warriors on the field of battle into a systematic aspect of a logistics program. Nowhere is more graphically illustrated than in the example of the Russian Moisin-Nagant rifle during and after WW I.

Germany and Austria-Hungary
By the end of 1914, it was clear to the German High Command that existing stores of the Mauser Gewehre 98 rifle were going to be wholly inadequate to arm Germany’s burgeoning armed forces. Therefore, in early 1915, Germany turned to the use of Beutegewehr - captured rifles - to solve this shortfall. Since tens of thousands of Moisin-Nagant Pekhotniya Vintovka obr. 1891g (Infantry Rifle, Model 1891) had been captured from the Russians in the disastrous battles of 1914 and early 1915, it was natural for the Germans to turn to this source of supply. Designated the 7.62mm Aptierte Russisches Gewehr M91 by German ordnance authorities, thousands of these weapons were soon in the hands German personnel along with large quantities of captured Russian ammunition.

Initial issues of Beutegewehr were to German Naval units in the Baltic. In return for turning in their Maxim machine guns and Gew 98 rifles, U-boats and other small naval vessels were issued Moisin-Nagant’s for the purpose of detonating floating mines until, by late 1915 virtually every small warship in the Baltic Fleet had three Beutegewehr on issue for these duties. In addition to shipboard use, a large quantity of Beutegewehr were issued to the land-based Marinekorps which anchored the German Army’s coastal flank in Flanders as well as to the Luftschiff (airship) detachment at Kiel. Many of these weapons will be marked to their respective ships or land units. At the same time that the Beutegewehr were alleviating the shortage of small arms in the Navy, they were also serving the same purpose in the German Army. Second line units, such ambulance, supply prison camp guards, railway units, and signals were issued Beutegewehr in order to free both Gew 98 and Gew 88 rifles for use by front line units. As with the Naval rifles, many of these will be marked (generally on the tang of the buttplate) with a unit marking.

The supply of Beutegewehr was so substantial and both the German and Austro-Hungarian armies had become so dependent on these weapons to augment their own production that the Moisins (and other captured arms) were overhauled by German and Austro-Hungarian ordnance facilities. German overhauled pieces are often marked "AZR" on the receiver and are also sometimes found with the cartouche of "Deutsche Reich" with an eagle in the buttstock - often over the original Russian stock cartouche. In addition, an indeterminate quantity of the Moisin Beutegewehr had their magazines altered and were rebored to fire the standard German 7.9 x 57mm cartridge.  The Germans were not fond of the original Moisin-Nagant socket bayonet and - although an experimental socket bayonet was developed - a far more popular method of modifying the weapon was to cut back the fore-end of the stock and attach a sleeve like adapter to the muzzle to accept the standard Aushifsseitengewehr 88/98. Some Beutegewehr Moisins were also modified to take German blade bayonets by cutting back the forestock and adding a Gew 98 front band and bayonet lug. These conversions vary considerably in both style and quality and have been seen with both long bayonet lugs (standard) and short bayonet lugs (export). Another form of conversion was the welding of a bayonet lug to both the barrel of the weapon as well as to the original nosecap.

As with the Germans, the Austro-Hungarian armies had also captured enormous quantities of Moisin-Nagants from the Russians. These Beutegewehre were quickly issued to military police and other line of supply and communication troops in both Austria and Hungary. Many Austro-Hungarian Beutegewehr were rebuilt by the Artillerie Zeugs Fabrik in Austria and are marked "AZF" on the receiver and/or barrel. In addition, some Austro-Hungarian weapons were overhauled at the Budapest Arsenal and are marked with an "R" on the receiver. Beginning in 1916, The Austrians also experimented with converting the 7.62 x 54mm Moisin to the standard rimmed 8 x 50mm round by modifying and reboring the weapons. These pieces are marked "OEWG" either on the top of the receiver or beneath the chamber. In addition, many of the small parts will be marked with a "K" as was the practice with the Mannlicher Model 1895’s. Unlike the Germans, the Austrians did not attempt to alter the bayonet configuration of the weapon - opting for the original Russian triangular socket design. However, some Austro-Hungarian copies were manufactured and tubular steel scabbards were made by a variety of contractors. These may be distinguished by the presence of the standard stud found on the Model 1895 Mannlicher bayonets. Many are also marked with the Austro-Hungarian eagle.


Turkey

Entering the war against Britain, France, and Russia in November of 1914, Ottoman Turkey immediately found itself faced with a critical shortage of weapons. Much of its existing stockpile of arms and munitions had been used up in the ruinous Balkan Wars and, by 1914, very little was left to meet the needs of an army faced with a multi-front war. As early as the summer of 1914 Turkey had requested that it’s allies - Germany and Austro-Hungary - furnish 200,000 rifles and requests for additional arms were forwarded from Istanbul to Berlin and Vienna on a regular basis. Although severely taxed by their own mobilization, both Germany and Austria-Hungary began to send supplies to Turkey. Along with Gew 88’s and Gew 98’s from Germany, the Austrians also supplied the Turks with sizable quantities of Beutegewehr Moisin-Nagants along with captured Russian ammunition. These weapons were then used for training and line-of-communication purposes to free the Turkish Model 1890, 1893, and 1903 Mausers and the newly received Gew 88 and Gew 98 weapons for issue to front line troops then engaged against both the Russians and the British. In the summer of 1916 Turkey sent an expeditionary force - consisting of the 6th, 15th, and 20th Army Corps - to fight alongside German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops in Galicia, Wallachia, Dobruja, and Eastern Macedonia. This was an independent field force and was supplied from the stores of the German, Austro-Hungarian, or Bulgarian units to which it was attached. Given the shortage of weapons being experienced by all of these armies, it was decided to equip the Turks with the Moisin Beutegewehr in order to simplify logistics. However, other than those Ottoman units on the European Front, the Moisin-Nagant does not seem to have been used as a first-line weapon by the Turks. By 1917, the Ottoman Empire was engaged in a massive conscription effort to meet its manpower needs for fighting a four front war and the Beutegewehr Moisins were increasingly used to arm this massive influx of recruits. In this capacity, the captured Moisin-Nagants made their way - with second line units - as far afield as the Hijaz in what is today southern Saudi Arabia. Some of these Turkish Moisins have been noted with rack numbers and sight graduations in Arabic indicating their Turkish useage. During the civil war in Russia in the early 1920's, Turkey also acquired a large number of these rifles from escaping soldiers of the defeated White Army who traded their rifles for sanctuary in Turkey. These weapons remained in Turkish service until after WWII. However, Turkey seems to have had no explicit program for overhauling and refurbishing these weapons.

United States and Great Britain

Although allied to the Tsarist government since the beginning of the war, by the spring of 1918 Britain, France and the United States found themselves facing an increasingly hostile Russia regime.. When the Bolsheviks under Lenin took the country out of the war with the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk an open rupture occurred and, by the summer of 1918, the three allied powers began armed intervention on the side of the "Whites" to suppress the Bolsheviks (a fact never forgotten by the Russians!). The allied troops of the expeditionary forces in both Northern Russia (in the area around the port of Archangelsk) as well as the Siberian Expeditionary Force (SEF) operating out of port of Vladivostok were equipped with the Moisin-Nagant rifle. This was done ostensibly to simplify logistics and ease the ammunition supply problem by allowing the use of Russian stores. However, at least in the American case, there may also have been a compelling economic reason as well. In 1915 both Remington Arms Co. And New England Westinghouse had contracted with the Tsarist government to produce nearly 2 million Moisin-Nagant rifles. Although large numbers of these weapons were delivered in 1916 and 1917, the October Revolution and the subsequent suspension of arms shipments to the Bolshevik government left both contractors with enormous quantities of these weapons undelivered (and, more importantly, not paid for) and in potentially serious financial difficulties. Thus, it was these "American Moisins" that were used to equip the allied troops operating in Russia. The American rifles were found to be extremely prone to having the bolt freeze up in the intense cold of the Russian winter and the all troops cordially hated the weapons. Many allied soldiers replaced the bolt with one of Russian manufacture or simply "traded" their U.S. built Moisin for a Russian-built weapon. At the time of the allied withdrawal from this Russia in 1920, thousands of these rifles were simply abandoned and fell into the hands of the new Red Army where many continued in use until the 1960’s. Since these were strictly "throw away" weapons, no systematic attempt seems to have been made by any of the allied forces using them to mark the weapons or to integrate them into their stores systems.

Ireland
 
One of the most interesting (and enigmatic) recipients of German Beutegewehr were the forces of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) both prior to and after the "Easter Rising" of 1916. European sources state that the Germans attempted to use U-boats to bring in a variety of arms to the Irish revolutionaries - including Moisin Beutegewehr. While delivery of much of this equipment was thwarted by the Royal Navy, some of these pieces are believed to have been delivered to the IRA.

Finland

However, the nation which benefited most from the unintentional largess of Imperial Russia was the new nation-state of Finland. Under Russian rule until 1917, Finland seized the opportunity presented by the collapse of Russia in October 1917 to declare its independence. Initially seizing stocks of Russian weapons stored in Finnish armories, the revolutionary forces were soon engaged in a bitter and bloody civil war with indigenous Finnish bolsheviks which extended into the early 1920's. Faced with both internal security problems and an increasingly hostile communist Russia on its eastern border, the new Finnish Army quickly adopted the Moisin-Nagant out of sheer expediency. As a result of the peace accords which ended WWI many of the allied nations - most notably France and Italy - found themselves with huge stores of Moisin-Nagant rifles taken as war reparations from both the Germans and Austrians. The Finns quickly hit upon the idea of buying or trading these sorely needed weapons from both France and Italy at "fire sale" prices. Italy alone supplied Finland with over 300,000 Moisin-Nagants in the early 1920's and the Finns traded the French a supply of K98AZ Mausers received from the Germans for another large quantity of Moisins held in French stores (Note: Part 2 of this series will address the complex network of these Finnish "swaps" - most of which took place between 1926 and 1940). These rifles served Finland through four wars and provided the backbone of Finnish small arms well into the 1960's.

Captured Mosin-Nagant Rifles:

Part 2: 1919 -1929

By 1920 the "War to end all wars" was officially over and, in the words of the British general Sir Ian Hamilton, "The Peace to End all Peace" had begun. In its wake the Great War spawned a series of wars - both large and small - which continued to keep large portions of both Europe and Asia in turmoil. The once great Russian, Ottoman, Autro-Hungarian, and German empires were - generally in a wholly arbitrary fashion - broken into ethnic and religious enclaves designed more to serve the territorial ambitions of the victorious allies than to ensure a lasting European peace. Vicious civil wars raged in Russia, the Balkans, and China and new nation states such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic Republics, Finland, and the Turkish Republic were quickly forming national armies to protect their newly won independence and territories. All of this created an almost insatiable demand for all types of weapons. Since new production in the post-war world could not possibly keep up with demand, the existing stores of weapons created both before and during the Great War became the focal point of often frenetic (and sometimes deadly) business deals by the new "Merchants of Death" - the international arms dealers. One of the most numerous - and therefore most important - weapons in this international trade was the Moisin-Nagant rifle. This article will deal with some of the post-WW I usage of the venerable Moisin-Nagant.

ALBANIA

Although in the period between 1919 and 1939 Albania depended for its weapons on Italy who supplied the Albanian Army with Vetterli/Vitali/Carcano Model 71/87/15 and Carcano Model 1891 rifles and carbines, the Albanians did have a supply of Moisin-Nagant rifles after the Great War. This is evinced by the fact that examples with the Imperial Russian eagle ground off and a small Albania eagle restruck in its place have been found. Since Italian weapons were always first line for the Albanian Army, it is likely that the Moisin-Nagants were held for reserve or paramilitary use.

BULGARIA
Bulgaria's first metallic cartridge weapons were Model 1870 Berdan II's (designated Model 1880 by the Bulgarians) which were produced on contract by Russian arsenals and marked with the "Crown A" cypher of King Alexander I.  However, Bulgaria did not officially adopt the Moisin-Nagant as a replacement, opting instead for the Model 1888 and Model 1895 Mannlicher with which most Bulgarian troops were armed during the Great War. However, as an ally of Germany, Austria, and Turkey in the war against Russia, Bulgaria inherited thousands of Tsarist Moisin-Nagants as a legacy of the Great War. These weapons were subsequently widely used in Bulgarian service and specimens are encountered with the a combination of different markings. Some will appear with a "B" in circle on the right side of the chamber area, while others have the imperial Tsarist eagle ground off of the barrel and/or receiver and a crudely engraved Bulgarian Lion in its stead.

CHINA

While pre-Communist China is generally known for its use of various European export Mausers as well as low-grade domestic copies of these weapons, China in the 1920's and 1930's was actually one of the largest recipients of former Tsarist M91 Moisin-Nagant rifles. This was a function of the wholesale movement of large White Russian formations into China to escape annihilation by the Bolsheviks after the collapse of White resistance in 1922. Having no prospects of survival except as mercenaries, these Russsians hired themselves - and their equipment - out to a variety of warlords who were contesting the control of China by the Kuomintang. Thus, tens of thousands of Moisin-Nagants came to serve in China in these warlord armies. The largest of these armies to use the Moisin-Nagant was that of General Feng. Feng was a nominal Christian and some of the weapons used by his forces will be found with cross marked in either the wood or on the receiver. In addition to the weapons provided by the expatriate White Russian forces, the Kuomintang received shipments of Moisin-Nagant rifles (as well as aircraft, tanks, artillery and military advisors) directly from the Soviets as a part of Stalin's program of attempting to contain Japanese expansion into China. A large shipment of "three line rifles" (the old Russian term for the Moisin-Nagant) arrived in Canton in 1925 and other shipments may have been made in the late 1920's and early 1930's.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA

Established in 1919 as part of the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia - in the early 1920's - found itself with large quantities of former Central Power weapons including large numbers of Model 1888 and Model 1895 Mannlichers as well as quantities of captured Moisin-Nagants. While arming their new army with Mausers - and establishing BRNO as one of the world's leading producers of Mauser rifles - the Czechs saw a little gold mine in their stocks of Mannlichers and Moisin-Nagants. Establishing extensive refurbishing operations, the Czechs rebuilt thousands of these weapons and subsequently sold many of them on the open market for hard currency. Moisins refurbished by the Czechs may be identified by an S Lion 2,4,6 or 8 stamped on the receiver. The majority of these weapons were subsequently sold to Finland.

FINLAND

Declaring its independence in 1917 in the wake of the October Revolution and the subsequent collapse of Russian military power, by 1918 Finland had emerged as new sovereign republic. Still threatened by both external Russian invasion as well as internal Bolshevik subversion, the new Finnish government made the establishment of an effective national army its highest priority. Woefully lacking in all manner of military equipment, the Finns decided on a highly pragmatic solution to their logistic problems - adopt the weapons used by your principal enemy. This approach being significantly aided by the fact that the Finns had seized large stores of these weapons from the Russians at the time of independence. However, the supplies of captured weapons was not nearly sufficient to meet the needs of the newly established Finnish Army and the paramilitary Civil Guard. Therefore, in 1919 the Finns began to produce barrels at a newly established SAT ordnance factory. However, production amounted to only about 200 units and the Finns needed a quicker solution as events within the country were rapidly propelling the new government into an armed confrontation with Finnish Bolsheviks supported by Moscow.

The Finns turned first to Austria and Germany who had captured hundreds of thousands of Moisins from the Russians during the Great War. These initial purchases were soon supplemented by both increased domestic production of barrels (Note: the Finns never produced receivers, choosing always to "cannibalize" and rebuild existing stores) as well as purchases from the Suiess Industrie Gesselschaft (SIG) in Switzerland and the German consortium of Bohler-Stahl. By 1924, the Finns were again busy supplementing their supply of weapons through trade. In that year, the Finnish Government traded 5,420 captured German K98az carbines and Gew 98's, 8,000 bayonets, and 122 German Maxim 08 Machine guns received from France in 1922 to the new Polish Government in return for 2,151 Moisin-Nagant M91 Dragoon rifles and 405 Russian Maxim machine guns. Also in 1924, the Italian firm Societe Italiana Armamenti Terresti Aerei Marittimi (SIATAM) sold the Finnish Defence Ministry 43,000 rebuilt M91 Moisin-Nagants and 600 Russian Maxim machine guns received by Italy as war reparations. In 1925, the Tikkakoski Arsenal (TIKA) started to actively manufacture barrels and the first Finnish Moisin-Nagant model - the Model 1891/24 - was adopted using the heavy barrels produced domestically as well as those supplied by SIG and Bohler-Stahl.

By 1928 the Finnish Government was again in the market for more rifles. In that year, Helsinki entered into an arrangement with an arms dealer by the name of Benny Spiro. Spiro had excellent international connections and was able to put together a "triangle" deal in which Finland sent 8,170 Japanese Type 30, Type 38 and Type 35 Arisaka rifles and 4,800 bayonets to Albania. In return, Spiro delivered 13,000 Moisins with bayonets from captured stores in Czechoslavakia and Romania. Finland's quest for weapons did not simply center on outside traders. In 1928, the Finnish Government contracted with Helsinki-based Transbaltic Oy for the first of many arms deals. Transbaltic Oy had very strong international commercial ties particularly with the two German firms - J.Veltjens Waffen und Munitions and Daugs & Cie GmbH. The first of Transbaltic's deals involved the trade of 8mm Mauser ammunition stored in Finland for 2,200 M91 Moisin-Nagant rifles shipped from Metz, France.

In 1929 a second ammunition for rifles swap netted the Finns another 4,247 rifles and spare parts from France. Between 1932 and 1934, Transbaltic brokered the exchange of 15,000 Japanese Type 30 and Type 38 Arisaka rifles and carbines for more Moisin-Nagant spare parts as well as artillery. In 1934 Transbaltic arranged the swap of 470 German Maxim 08 machine guns held by Finland for more rifle spare parts and other military equipment. During this period, Transbaltic also arranged to swap 2,039 Mannlicher Model 1888/90 and Model 1895 rifles and carbines and 10 Schwarlose machine guns for 18,400 Moisin-Nagant rifles, 8,500 bayonets, as well as spare parts coming from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. One of the great benefits of Transbaltic Oy's activities was that allowed the Finnish Government to obtain large quantities of arms on a strictly "barter" basis, thereby preserving the new republic's scarce foreign currency reserves. Transbaltic continued to perform this critical function until the outbreak of the Winter War with Russia in 1939. Even with the large scale activities of Transbaltic, entrepreneurial activity in the area was not dead as is evinced by the fact that, in 1936, one Col. Silveberg was able to broker the swap of 600 Madsen machine guns to Estonia for several thousand more M91 Moisin-Nagant rifles.

HUNGARY

Another recipient of a significant number of Moisin-Nagant rifles after the Great War, Hungary refurbished a number of these weapons a Budapest Arsenal. These weapons may be identified by a cursive style "R" on the receiver. Most of these weapons were sold to Finland in the 1920's.

JAPAN


Although not generally thought of as a user of the Moisin-Nagant, in reality Japan was recipient of one of the largest stores stores of captured Tsarist weapons. The Russian disaster in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 left the Japanese with over 100,000 captured weapons. These were stored by the Japanese at Port Arthur until the late 1920’s and early 1930’s when they finally came back into service. After the Japanese annexation of Manchuria in 1931, Japanese Army Intelligence began to supply quantities of these rifles to Chinese warlords who were on the Japanese payroll. These warlord armies as well as bands of Japanese led and financed "Bandits" began a systematic campaign of covert operations to subvert Kuomintang control of the border areas. Although the clandestine nature of these operations means that there is little possibility that these weapons carried any sort of Japanese markings, many were subsequently marked on the stocks by the various warlord armies.


In addition to providing a source of clandestine weapons, quantities of these captured Moisins were also extensively modified in Japanese arsenals by the addition of new wood, bands, and sights.and used as training rifles. Although it is impossible to precisely date these weapons, the conversions were probably done between 1937 and 1942.

MONTENEGRO

The Kingdoms of Montenegro and Serbia were joined in 1919 and to this merger Montenegro brought a substantial dowry of Moisin-Nagant rifles. In the early 1890’s Montenegro had initially armed itself with 30,000 Berdan II rifles supplied by Russia. In 1899 the Montenegrin army began to expand and chose the Moisin-Nagant as its principal infantry weapon and placed an order with Russian arsenals for 20,000 weapons. Again in 1905 another 20,000 rifles were ordered from Russia and, by 1910, the Moisin had replaced the Berdan as the country’s first line arm. Theses weapons are marked on the receiver and barrel with the Cyrilic letters "HI" indicating King Nicholas I of Montenegro. After the merger of the two kingdoms, these weapons were absorbed by the new joint army. No dual Montenegrin/Serb marked specimens have as yet been noted. However, some Montenegrin marked rifles also bearing the Finnish "SA" stamp have been noted, indicating that Finland purchased these rifles from Yugoslavia - probably at the time of the Winter War of 1939.

SERBIA

Although Serbia primarily made use of a variety of both Oberndorf and Steyr manufactured Mausers from 1880 onward, a contract had been let in the 1890's to Russia for the production of Moisin-Nagant rifles for Serbian service. These are identical in configuration to the Russian Model 1891's of the period except for unique Serbian markings. Izhevsk supplied a contract run of rifles which bear receiver dates of 1913 - 1916. These weapons will exhibit a Cyrilic letter "C" on the upper right corner of the chamber as well as on various components such as the triggerguard, bolt, and bands. The arsenal at Tula also supplied Serbia with Mosins during the war and these weapons are marked with the Cyrilic letter "D" in a circle on the chamber and major components..It should be noted that this proof also appears on all Serb contract 1910 Mausers as well. Other Moisins are marked with a serifed "T" on the receiver. These appear to be post-1922 markings from the unified Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (ultimately Yugoslavia). A particularly fascinating example of this broad diversity of markings on Serbian Moisins is seen in an example which was produced at Tula in 1912. Its receiver bears a "B" in a circle indicating Bulgarian use. The receiver also has the marking "RZ 9" (German) and "AZF" (Austrian) indicating both German and Austrian ordnance refurbishment. Finally, the Tsarist eagle has been defaced and a Serbian "C" overstamped on the receiver. A history book in wood and steel! 
Coming: Part 3 - Captured Moisin-Nagant Rifles: 1929 - 1975 

 

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Russian Troops In The Opening Days Of WW1

 

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German Marines armed with Moisin-Nagants modified to take a German blade bayonet at Kiel in 1918

 

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A German field ambulance driver of the 5th Korps armed with a Moisin-Nagant in 1916

 

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A Wachtmeister of the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie armed with a Moisin-Nagant, 1914

 

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A Beutegewehr-armed Turkish soldier in the snows of Galicia, 1916

 

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Moisin-Nagant armed American troops leaving England for Northern Russia, April 1919

 

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Aftermath Of The Easter Rising 1916

 

 

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Imperial Russian Troops In Early WW1

 

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Albanian M91

 

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Bulgarian M91

 

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Chinese Troops 1934

 

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Czech M91

 

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Finnish Troops 1942 Outside Of Vyborg, Russia

 

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Finnish Soldier WW2

 

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Japanese Troops Shelling Russian Positions Japanese-Russo War

 

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M91 Supplied To Montenegro

 

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Serbian Issue M91

 

 

 

 


 
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